The Evolution Litmus Test

A couple days ago when I was waiting for my Biomedical Ethics exam to begin, I started chatting with this girl sitting near me. She was in my recitation class, but I didn’t really know anything else about her. Somehow I mentioned I was a biology major, and she brought up the one biology class she took as an Animal Science major: it was my favorite Biology class at Purdue, Evolution of Behavior.

Now, even though one of my research advisors teaches that class, I promise I’m not being biased – every day I left that class absolutely amazed at how interesting and inventive nature was. I’ve always been more of a lab rat and genetics nerd, but this gave me real appreciation for natural history and behavior. We talked about insanely interesting topics like the evolution of echolocation, altruism, dominance regulated ovulation suppression, and electric fish communication. And as a perk, I thought the class was pretty easy; if you just understood basic evolutionary principles and paid attention at all (which was a given, since it was so cool), you’d do fine.

So when this girl brought it up, of course I gushed about how much I loved that class. To which she replied,

“Oh, I don’t believe in evolution. I just took that class to see what the different opinion was like.”

The only thing that kept me from calling her out on the stupidity of her statements (EVOLUTION IS NOT FUCKING OPINION) was the fact that I didn’t want to totally upset myself right before I had to take a difficult exam. But of course, she had to go on,

“It was so hard! I didn’t understand anything he was saying all semester!”

I asked her if she took the required introductory evolution classes before taking this one, and she said no – her Animal Science advisor said the class was easy and she waived the requirements. This made me fume. Evolution of Behavior is a 500-level class meant for upperclassmen and graduate students. We spend about a day reviewing the principles of evolution because it’s assumed you’ve already learned them in the various required classes. So if you stick a creationist in that class with no knowledge of evolution, of course they’re going to be totally confused. And now they can proudly claim “well I took a class on evolution and so I know it’s wrong” just because they didn’t have the skill set to understand the class!

The thing that annoys me the most is that this person is graduating with a degree in Animal Sciences. If you are getting a degree in something biology-related, you should understand and accept evolution. Hell, I know Biology students (mostly molecular or pre-med people) who don’t accept evolution, so it’s not a matter of curriculum*. But to know that we’re giving degrees to people who fail to understand – no, outright deny a basic tenet of biology is shameful.

Would chemistry give degrees to someone who thought the five elements were more accurate than the periodic table? Would physics give degrees to a someone who thought gravity was fairies holding us down to the ground? Would earth and atmospheric sciences give degrees to flat-Earthers? Would astronomy give degrees to people who think the moon is made of cheese?

Maybe with the way American education is set up, you can’t stop someone from graduating based on these things. Maybe they adamantly believe in fanciful superstition, but are smart enough to give the desired (aka correct) answers on exams. How do you hold back someone with crazy beliefs if they got As in all the classes?

And while I hate giving creationists undeserved credentials (“I got a degree in Biology, and I know evolution is false, trust me!”), I guess they can go have jobs where evolution doesn’t matter as much. Go pipette for hours at some company for all I care. But when these people are going on to become teachers or scientists, it’s scary. You need to be able to understand and accept evolution to 1) Teach it to others so we don’t keep perpetuating ignorance, and 2) Come up with plausible hypotheses, do good research, and interpret results correctly.

This is why I think we need an Evolution Litmus Test in these fields. Do not accept people into your school or Masters/PhD program unless they accept evolution. I don’t care how you do it – a written test, an essay question on the application, a simple check box to weed out the honest, asking pointed questions during interviews, sending grad student spies to mingle and get the truth out… But figure out what people deny basic science before you turn them into scientists. A friend shared with me a story about a fellow grad school interviewee at a very prestigious university who was a unabashedly proud young earth creationist around the other prospective students (but not current ones or professors) – do not let this ignorance infiltrate your program.

I know people are going to claim I’m just putting an “atheist requirement” on studying biology, but I am not. There are many many biologists who are religious but still accept evolution. I have friends here at Purdue who go to church weekly, are in religious clubs, and will still laugh at Intelligent Design for it’s anti-science lunacy. This is just a scientific standard. If you don’t believe in a fundamental of the field, you should not be able to claim some sort of expertise in it. It’s as bad as graduating in History with a focus on WWII and believing the Holocaust was a hoax. It proves you do not understand the topic, and it is embarrassing to the school.

But really, is it that outlandish to require people to understand the field you’re hiring them in?

*Note for non-Purdue people: AS is part of the College of Agriculture, and Biology (what I’m in) is part of the College of Science, so we have very different curriculum. Hence why she didn’t have to take those intro Biology courses that teach evolution (though those still fail to educate some bio majors).


  1. says

    That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. I mean, I’ve only once had one person try to tell me Intelligent Design was science – nobody had ever, ever said straight up that “I don’t believe in evolution”. I can’t imagine how that would feel.Definitely, if you’re going to work in biology, you should understand and practise the content that is central to all biology since the 1800s – evolution.

  2. says

    …I have people tell me “I don’t believe in evolution” on such a regular basis that I don’t even know how many times I’ve heard it. Yay Indiana.

  3. says

    I don’t understand how you can say “I don’t believe in evolution” and “I couldn’t understand anything in the evolution course” at the same time. How do you make the decision to reject something when you don’t even understand it? Boggles my mind.

  4. says

    Don’t you know? “I personally can’t comprehend something, therefore God did it” is standard creationist logic.

  5. says

    Education isn’t necessarily about instilling a set of beliefs as it is learning a set of facts and a way to think about things. One may be able to both of these and still come out with what, for many of us, would be an incorrect conclusion. On the other hand, people who haven’t been ‘indoctrinated’ by thinking about things a certain way often can provide some intellectual insight or scientific breakthroughs. I’m not saying that creationists would be the ones to do so, but I totally disagree with the notion that education should also require adherence to a particular philosophy, regardless of whether or not I agree with that philosophy. I don’t see this as being much different than requiring kids pray in school or some such.It’s quite possible to not believe in evolution while still being a good vet or vet tech (which is the type of thing this person would be doing) because what they’re doing is practicing a procedural-based medicine, not trying to develop medication or find cures for things. I think that fields that require this type of knowledge will naturally weed out people who refuse to believe in well-established scientific theories because they can’t or won’t be able to progress to a certain level without acceptance of fundamentals.But yeah, very annoying. :-)

  6. the_Siliconopolitan says

    Iono. I think plenty of people pass exams in, say, calculus without understanding it. They just manage to learn to go through the motions. And for many that may be enough.So I guess I can’t demand that people understand evolution either. As long as they can go through the motions enough to answer the questions correctly.Not an ideal situation obviously, but …Oh!, I forgot: You need to shame Rebecca Watson. She didn’t get McCreight right on SGU this weekend.

  7. says

    My mother once had a doctor ask her if she’d heard about dianetics. (Shudder.)I think the truly dishonest will still find ways to sneak through, but it certainly is not too much to ask that people understand the field they’re working in. And anyone who argues that requiring an acceptance of evolution is requiring atheism is doing exactly what atheists are accused of doing all the time: pigeonholing religious belief to the most extreme and untenable.My professor for astronomy (a low-level class for non-science-majors) said to us on the first day of class, “I’m a practicing Catholic. My church teaches yada yada yada. But that’s not science.” He understood the difference and wanted to make sure we did too, right off the bat. And he was a great teacher.

  8. says

    I can understand it. We have a primary education culture that promotes grade inflation to protect a child’s precious self-esteem, an educational administration culture that values political expedience over truth, and a collegiate culture of letting people continue as long as their checks clear, it’s not surprising.You can’t fail out someone like that if you wanted to. Hell, most of the time professors can’t fail people for blatantly cheating.The theory of evolution by the process of natural selection is better understood than gravity, the evidence supporting it is essentially airtight, and I agree, those that deny it have no business working in the biological sciences.It comes down to evidence; denialists like this clueless girl should be told to put up or shut up. You likely won’t change her mind, but others around her should get the point – don’t say (what appears to be) stupid shit unless you can back it up with evidence.

  9. Frank says

    Jen,You do seem to be jumping around between two different things: understanding and belief. I don’t think anyone would refute that understanding the basic concepts of a field of science should be required for a degree in that field. Where it will get controversial is whether a person should also be required to believe those ideas. There are people who do understand evolution but don’t believe in it for religious reasons. Should they be able to get biology degrees? Should a young-earther be able to get a PhD by writing a thesis about things that happened millions of years ago, as Marcus Ross did at the University of Rhode Island a couple of years ago, or should such a thesis be considered fraudulent? This is where there will be disagreement, and I can see a legitimate argument based on the first amendment. However, given my experience this past year, I am totally with you, people who do not believe the basic concepts of a scientific field should not be able to get a degree, or a job, in it.

  10. says

    It didn’t help that she was probably already preconditioned to think that the theory of evolution is in direct conflict with biblical teachings, which is why so many blindly refuse to accept it. the whole issue seems to have evolved into a ‘them and us’ situation, which certainly doesn’t help.When all’s said and done, it is incredibly frustrating when people are unable to grasp the concept of rational thinking, instead of just remembering what they were taught, whether it’s right or wrong. I’m old enough to remember that things I was taught, overturned later in life as new discoveries shed new light on the matter, and that’s the difference between learning and being educated. A dog can learn to sit, but is it able to rationalise why it sits, conversely, if someone is properly educated they can go on to expand on knowledge gained to further the knowledge of mankind.If we all blindly accepted what we’re taught, there would be no new discoveries, people like Galileo would be accused of hearsay……… oh wait, he was wasn’t he! Stupidity is easy to live with, but willful ignorance is just bloody frustrating!

  11. says

    I think that a scientist should only accept things critically, skeptically, not blindly, and that includes evolution, gravity and so on. I mean, that’s what science is all about, do you agree? Check even the obvious or you’re in danger of reaching a dead end some day.

  12. The Crocoduck Hunter says

    Brilliant post, Jen. I feel this way pretty much every day at Minnesota; it’s certainly not restricted to Purdue.

  13. says

    To be fair to chemists, the monkey on *our* back was phlogiston, and it kept us under thumb until it finally got resolved at the turn of the 19th century when oxygen was discovered.

  14. GS North says

    I wonder what this girl would do with a biomedical ethics question that conflicted with her religious beliefs.

  15. says

    I can already tell you how creationists would react to such a thing. Hell, let me use their own words, as coincidentally enough I was writing about creationist conspiracy theories about science last night (’ll say a litmus test is “deliberate censorship” of contrary ideas, that it’s “basic villification” and “censorship in the form of criticism” to support a “revisionist agenda” that denies God’s truth. It’s all part of “a deliberate, purposeful, orchestrated modus operandi to not tell the students all the truth.”But I’m sure you’ve seen all those types of complaints before and just don’t care if these people get their knickers in a twist. And I’d be right there with you, except part of me fears that everytime some new Dover trial comes along most people, who possibly haven’t given any thought to whether they believe in evolution or creationism (or might not even care about what’s true), will just reflexively go along with one or the other and not actually think about it. And thus people don’t learn.What needs to be done, and I don’t think I need to actually say this with this audience, is to educate people about not just what evolution is (it’s not just “survival of the fittest” or species adapting to their environment as if by any kind of plan), but also all the evidence for it. That blogpost I just linked to? There’s a video in it where a creationist says that the short arms of an Albertasaurus illustrate God’s sense of humor. Whereas the actual, logical explanation is that flaws such as that point to a random process (ie. evolution).I should stop myself here before I’m ranting.

  16. says

    Requiring an acceptance of evolution is not requiring atheism, this is true; I have trouble requiring an acceptance of evolution though. The ethical questions are complicated.Yes, anyone teaching science (or specifically biology) should be willing to teach evolution, giving it every scientific endorsement. If someone has a reason of conscience not to, then they shouldn’t be forced to, but they shouldn’t be teaching science. This isn’t banning people from the profession for their belief – Quakers aren’t banned from the military, but they aren’t allowed to join up and then demand to never have violent duty.Giving people biol0gy-related degrees on the other hand should only require a formal demonstration of knowledge and skills. I’m a Quaker and thus a pacifist, and would be a CO if there were a draft again; this shouldn’t stop me from gaining qualifications in military history, strategy, leadership, marksmanship, whatever, if I so choose.Any requirement should be on conduct, not belief, and should relate to a job or profession, not a degree. Should someone who conscientiously refuses to conduct tests on animals be unable to get the required qualifications to work in a medical research lab that would use animals? IMO, no. Should they be able to get a job in that lab? No.

  17. ethanol says

    While I absolutely believe that anyone involved in biological sciences should understand evolution, requiring a statement of belief on an issue to progress further in science education is antithetical to the philosophy and the mechanism of science. It is true that a lack of belief in a strongly supported field like evolution is often an indication of lack of understanding, as with this girl. However, we ought to focus on the lack of understanding, not the lack of belief. It is true that in evolution in particular, you have a group of people willing to learn the science sufficiently to obtain degrees, while secretly retaining an anti-scientific agenda. However, this is more a problem of how the public views science than a problem of science education. A PhD who is unable to defend their beliefs on a scientific basis has scientifically worthless beliefs. Scientists are right not by virtue of being scientists but by their ability to convince other people (usually, scientists) of the validity of their claims, and thus an accredited scientist with crazy beliefs ought to be harmless.

  18. MGP says

    I probably would have responded to her opinion comment with something like, “Oh, I’ve always thought about doing the same thing with the bible, but there are so many actual important things to learn and so little time.” It’s fun to be antagonistic toward ignorance, then feign innocence/misunderstanding when they get upset.

  19. walterberk says

    There was an interesting but terribly produced documentary (starring Ben Stein) about intelligent design and how many scientists in America have basically been banished for being connected to Intelligent Design. Essentially, the scientific community says what you are saying and is closed-minded about alternative opinions. Your point though, that biologists MUST accept evolution is as closed-minded as religious fundamentalists saying evolution is bullshit, depending on your perspective. I agree with you though that evolution is a crucial component of a biology education but disagree that graduate schools should interview deny admission/ advanced degrees to those who doubt. This is science.

  20. says

    Jen, at least in college you have some more like minded individuals around you. In my everyday environment, I am more shocked when someone says they believe in evolution. I agree that believe is not the correct term, still it is encouraging.

  21. grail76 says

    I think that people begin with what they’re used to. I think it’s hard to maintain an anti-evolution stance when exposed to information. I think the advisor who waived the background requirements didn’t do the girl any favors and I’d like to hope that if the they’d known she didn’t believe in evolution, they might have pointed her to a different course of study.

  22. says

    Just to be play devil’s advocate: don’t many of us atheists say that we don’t believe in God and also that we don’t understand Trinitarian theology? Even so, Jen’s story still makes me want to burn the heartland to bedrock.

  23. N. Auyeung says

    I wholeheartedly agree that there should be an evolution litmus test, even for people who pipette all day because there are really serious environmental and health consequences at stake here.Every single time I read another news story about antibiotic-resistant bugs like MRSA and now, Bt-resistant pests like the bollworm, I cringe. People keep on overusing antibiotics because they don’t fully understand that all it takes is one surviving mutant to be resistant to the antibiotic and before you know it, the antibiotic is useless. And planting millions of hectares of Bt-corn and Bt-cotton? That’s just asking for a Bt-resistant insect to come along and wipe out acres of food and that’s exactly what happened.

  24. Amy says

    The problem with the way you are describing the situation is that evolution is not a “philosophy”. It is a proven scientific theory. And allowing someone to graduate with a degree in a scientific field (applied, theoretical, or otherwise) who is willing to say, “I just don’t accept that proven scientific theory because it doesn’t agree with my religious beliefs,” is dangerous. If she said she rejected the “philosophy” of gravity, or the “philosophy” that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa, would you so easily say, “Well, she just has a different philosophy”? I don’t think so.

  25. chutz says

    It was my understanding that the trinity was something that nobody understands. I sort of got the impression that it is something that “we aren’t meant to understand”. Of course, I could be completely off base here, I am not and have never been religious.

  26. mcbender says

    Jen, I wholeheartedly agree with you here. I’m in engineering so I don’t have a comparable issue in my own field to discuss…Anyway, I’m of the firm belief that we should have no tolerance for bad ideas. I don’t really know how you’d implement an “evolution litmus test” but I definitely think it would be desirable – I do not know how somebody could be considered qualified in biology without (a) understanding evolution and (b) having some understanding of the evidence for it.I don’t care if the religious feel persecuted – we need to keep the pressure and scrutiny on, so that they’ll be more likely to reconsider these horrible ideas. If they don’t like it, that’s too bad – they’re the ones choosing to believe in such nonsense, so it’s their own bloody fault.

  27. Pablo says

    In fact, the problem with Expelled wasn’t that it was terribly produced, but that it was untrue. Creationists, like all the religious, love to claim persecution when they don’t get their way, but upon further inspection, you would see these cases weren’t so much about religion, but about poor scientists, if it even happened in the first place.

  28. Julie says

    As a Purdue ANSC major, I have to say I that I very much disagree with you.*Most* ANSC majors are trying to break into vet med, yes, but some of them go on to work as consultants and managers at major feed and production companies making genetically-engineered foods that you or your pets eat. Either career requires us to be good scientists. Blowing us off as being procedural monkeys playing The Game of Operation is disingenuous.

  29. Julie says

    I have to say the tone of how you regard the Animal Science major is a bit snooty. We have very different curiculums, yes, but the implication there that ANSC majors are somehow less than because we don’t belong to the school of Science is very off-putting.Yes, it’s in the School of Ag, but we aren’t treated with science kid gloves. We are required to take a heavy load of life and physical science classes. I don’t buy that this girl had become a senior and never had a class that taught evolution before. It’s simply not possible. She might not have taken the specific pre-reqs for that particular class – which, looking it up, is actually just one class, and a 100 level class at that, but not one that we’re required to take, although we are required to take two other 100 level biology classes our freshman year – but she had certainly been taught the basic tennants of evolution in at least 3-4 classes before that.

  30. says

    I think understanding requires the ability to explain a concept in terms appropriate for your audience. Since no one has ever been able to explain to me how trinitarian theology works in simple terms, I suspect they either don’t understand it themselves, or know it doesn’t actually make sense and are trying to confuse people to keep the idea going. It’s the same way I feel about a lot f post-modern philosophy. I don’t disbelieve it because I don’t understand it, I disbelieve because when I ask for clarification, no one can give it, which to me is evidence that those who espouse it don’t understand it either.Evolution, on the other hand, can be described in simple terms for non-scientists, while you can add more nuance as you learn more about biology and related fields.

  31. Julie says

    Oh, and actually there are several ANSC majors or even DVMs that go on to work for drug companies like Eli Lilly to develop medications. I happen to know of one myself who hired on with Bayer. Just for future reference.Something else I wanted to mention is that being a vet is not just practicing the medicine that you learned in school for the next 30-40 years until retirement. Being a vet is to be a lifelong student, particularly of science. It means staying on top of the current scientific literature being published on physiology, pharmacology, surgery and behavior. It means meeting a quote of continuing education seminars in order to maintain your license. A vet that can’t grow and adapt and *understand* any advancements in the science behind why and how we do what we do is one who will quickly leave the field. Once you’re graduated and pratcicing, there are no professors there to explain a journal article on why our approach to renal disease management for the last 20 years is no longer valid. You’ve got to be able to tell good experimental design, sample size, methods and interpretation yourself and apply it. In other words, a vet has to be able to differentiate between good science and bad science.

  32. says

    The way I’ve heard it explained, we can’t understand it, only apply the formula. Bit like quantum physics in that you can run the math, but you can’t visualise what’s happening because our minds aren’t equipped for it. But then, they would say that, wouldn’t they? I’m sympathetic to Jeff on post-modern philosophy. Yes, it was a poor example, my bad. Not at my best today. Though some of us might usefully learn more about what we don’t believe in. Re Frank’s point about Marcus Ross further down: I help a theology professor friend with his English and end up “doing” NT exegesis and theology with him, he thinks I’m good at it and I make contributions. Although I don’t believe in it! It gets a bit weird even for me…..

  33. says

    Evolution is a theory. A theory which has not been disproven. Under the scientific method, this only means it hasn’t been disproven yet. That being said; evolution makes bloody sense. I’m not an atheist. I do think evolution makes sense. And most folks who try and put evolution down or claim its falsehood demonstrate a lack of understanding of the theory.I don’t think believe in evolution and faith in god are mutually exclusive. Evolution could easily be the mechanism by which God created life. Why would God use evolution instead of just bringing us into existence? Who knows? There are a lot of things we don’t know.

  34. brantl says

    ” If you are getting a degree in something biology-related, you should understand and accept evolution. ” You’re half right. They should have to understand it. Now, you may have a point that if they understood it, they would have very few ways of believing that it wasn’t true, as well, but it’s at least possible. (There are a lot of different cognitive disorders out there, you know.)

  35. A-M says

    I totally agree with your point of one should not be able to obtain a degree in a subject when one ignores one of its founding principles. I have a degree in Modern Languages (French, German and Dutch precisely) and I knew plenty of fellow students who couldn’t see the point of learning grammar. In language, grammar is as basic as it gets. It drove me crazy that they somehow passed the degree (admittedly with far worse grades than those of us that learnt the damn subjunctive tense!). But at least we linguists aren’t shaping developments and technological advances of the future. The notion that some science graduates have the same lack of understanding of their subject worries the crap out of me. They probably won’t go on to be amazing researchers, so we won’t find a cure for cancer any sooner, but they could well (as you pointed out) become highschool teachers and go passing on their daft ideas to future generations. ARGH!

  36. Pablo says

    Julie – while it is true that Ag students take many science classes, even within the college of science, it is also true that they are “watered down versions” of those sciences. I’ve taught science classes to Ag students at Purdue, and I can tell you they are absolutely treated with kid gloves, especially in the amount of content they get. An Ag student who takes the CHM 111/112 /257 sequence at Purdue has no where near the background of someone in science (like Jen) who would have gone through 115/116/255/256.Not saying she wouldn’t have seen evolution in some biology class, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see a less than comprehensive biology background.

  37. jwalker1960 says

    I think colleges in the U.S. should adopt the old ways where before a student was awarded a degree, they had to sit before a panel of professors from their discipline and answer all questions that are thrown at them. These questions would be asked to establish if the student really “got it”, if they truly understood all aspects of their chosen discipline. This method should be able to catch those who have little or no understanding of things that should be fundamental to their studies, like evolutionary theory is to animal science.

  38. says

    My gf’s school fired a professor who kicked a disruptive and abusive student out of class and refused to let him return. The student threatened to sue due to the “hostile environment” and they decided his tuition was worth more than a department cornerstone. Clearly, they have no interest in protecting their institution’s intellectual integrity; they see education as a product.

  39. chutz says

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that doing theology is weird even if you don’t believe in it. It’s pretty regular that literature students are analyzing the thoughts and motivations of fictional characters in the works that they are studying. I don’t think that _any_ English majors believe that the characters that they are studying ever existed.There are also the common arguments about some finer point in fandom. A prime example is the common arguments about the science of Star Trek that certain types of geeks engage in. I doubt that any of them actually believe that anything they are arguing about is remotely in the realm of possible, but they like the thought experiment of it all. Another good example would be the discussions that some people have about the abilities of super heroes. I don’t think that one needs to believe in super heroes to analyze their motivations or the limits and/or sources of their abilities.

  40. says

    It’s frustrating at times. I was in a systematics lab, where one of the other grad students was a creationist. I don’t know how she got into the program. But she was a nice person and all, but it was annoying. Her whole project was based on evolutionary history of certain sensory pits. She gave the answers she needed when she needed to get a degree. I don’t know if her opinion changed. I was graduated long before she completed her degree. Every school as at least one major that really isn’t a major, just look for the pre-meds and football players. After TAing a several biology class, my opinion of pre-meds has greatly diminished.

  41. says

    How, exactly, are they dangerous? This sounds no better to me than religious folks saying athiests are “dangerous”. There’s no substance to that argument.

  42. says

    Indeed. The time and place to shut these people down is at their oral defense. Or and undergrad thesis that demonstrates clear understanding of the topic. The strength of science is in its redundancy, not the expert testimony of one person. However, you can’t poll the entire “scientific community” as if it were some monolithic group, nor can you have an auditorium full of evolutionary biologists as a guest on CNN to refute the creationist. Journalism relies on conflict to drive interest. A creationist shouting “You’re wrong!” is a much easier conflict to understand than a biologist explaining that invasive species will destroy ecosystems. Most journalists aren’t qualified to cross-examine guests or interview subjects, and thoughtful, well-reasoned arguments take more time than TV allows and more column inches than print allows. It’s not malicious, but the media is stacked against science.That’s why it’s crucial to avoid granting credentials to people who clearly do not understand the material properly.

  43. shadowgm says

    I’m simply gobsmacked. The young lady in question doesn’t understand any of the subject material? Can’t get her head around the concept of successful/useful traits/behaviors persist, are reinforced, passed on … while unsuccessful/obsolete traits/behaviors are left out?::: bangs head against wall :::

  44. islandbrewer says

    @HolytapeYou weren’t at UC Berkeley, were you?At UC Berkeley, in my grad school days, there were a couple grad students who professed to not “believe” in evolution. I sincerely doubt that they could get very far in actual science careers without understanding evolution. And I don’t see how you can get very far in (accurately) understanding evolution without accepting it.So, yes, these people can work for some company as pipetting robots, until the actual robots come and take their jobs, but don’t expect them to first author a peer reviewed paper in developmental biology, or get tenure as a professor when they can’t accurately relate how evolution affects their field of study.Oh, and one of the grad students did get a lot of mileage out of graduating with a PhD from UC Berkeley, but not as a scientist. Jonathan Wells is now busy pretending to be a scientist for the Discovery Institute.

  45. says

    I applaud those who have very high standards for their educations and careers. The fact of the matter, however, is that a good number of people can and do earn degrees in the fields you mention without believing in evolution and end up having productive and successful careers. For some, a good working knowledge of evolution is a must. For others, not so much. Their lack of willingness to believe in a scientific theory does not mean they are incapable of performing their job.I don’t think there should be a litmus test because I think that’s no better than the current system that is in place. People can fake those things out just as easily as they can get through the system without a good working knowledge of evolutionary theory. And, again, it is just advocating group think, in my opinion.It totally drives me nuts, for instance, that Brian May (former guitarist of Queen who has a PhD in astronomy) runs around saying he thinks global warming is bunk. But should we revoke his PhD based on that? No. His (IMO, stupid) opinion on global warming doesn’t invalidate that he is a capable and intelligent astronomer. I would just hope he’d learn to keep his opinion to himself in areas where he is less informed.

  46. says

    Except inasmuch as it might be good tactics to show we understand their schtick (which isn’t real) while demanding that they understand our schtick (which is)? @Chutz: Last year when the Tamil Tigers were wiped out and V. Prabakharan killed, some supporters started on the “He ain’t really dead” thing. When my Tamil friend, who is a Catholic, told me this, I immediately said: “Exactly like the situation with Jesus, then”. It’s not every day that you get to watch mythopoiea in action, is it?

  47. Julie says

    CHM 115, 116 255 and 256 are required by ANSC pre-vet majors. I think you need to do some research before you try telling me about my major’s science requirements.

  48. Alexrkr7 says

    I think I tentatively agree with you here Jen although I could understand why others can see that as a bad standard. It sounds on the face of it that one has to believe what you believe to get the degree. Not just understand it and convey it to others clearly but believe it. That’s almost like thought crime in a slanted way. I understand YEC have ulterior motives for getting the degrees but innocent until proven guilty I say. Many won’t end up teachers and others who do will have their hands tied by the school.I guess it depends on how you see school, as a service to get you to where you want that only tests you for the sake of future employers or a place that gives out degrees contingent on whether or not you accept the curriculum. I think it’s the former with a dash of the latter while I think (emphasis on the think) you believe it’s mostly the latter with a dash of the former.

  49. Julie says

    At no point did I mention evolution or any sort of litmus test. I was simply refuting your claim that people who study animal sciences only go on to become vet techs or vets, and that they are simply procedural machines going through pre-programmed motions with no real understanding of science. I think I made my case pretty strongly in my previous post, actually, and have nothing further to say on the subject.

  50. says

    I have several of my HS friends who went through Biology, Astronomy etc with god helping them each Sunday. And no desire to ‘believe’ in evolution, though at least they could understand it.

  51. S. says

    I think litmus tests for anything in science are a bad idea. As an extreme case, picture tossing Einstein out because he didn’t fully “understand and accept” Newtonian mechanics…Creationists are tiresome, I know, but let’s not cut off our own noses to spite our face here.

  52. says

    Wowzer. I am in Canada and I have NEVER, EVER heard a person say they didn’t believe in evolution. But we also teach sex-ed and real science in highschool. In Canada, that sort of statement would get you shamed out of a university by the other students.

  53. DavrimBashier says

    I see you went to school with my sister. She won’t even meet me half way and claim that god works through evolution. *Sigh* What’s a brother to do?

  54. says

    No, I was at Riverside. And to tell you the truth, I don’t think anyone realized the extent off her beliefs until she was in the program. I think people just assumed that since she graduated from a major university and had good recommendations from the faculty there, that she accepted twentieth century science.

  55. says

    I have to agree with this. what is it with “waving requirements” anyway? they’re called “requirements” for a reason!I understand proficiency tests that let one skip on pre-requisites when the knowledge already exists, but simply letting someone skip over without making sure they know the material? Absolutely irresponsible.

  56. says

    It’s dangerous in its consequences. People who treat scientific conclusions as opinions to be discarded at will are the ones who refuse to vaccinate their kids, hinder attempts at mitigating global warming, and risk the lives of people by proclaiming that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.Creationism specifically is dangerous in a less direct way, as one of the main tools by which science, research, development etc. are becoming an endangered species in the U.S.A.

  57. says

    I don’t know specifically about a “litmus test”; but a proficiency test (not multiple choice!!!) is an absolute must. I’ve only heard of a single creationist ever who actually understood evolution, and that dude was almost certainly shamelessly lying to get a cushy job at a bible college. Understanding evolution usually seems to take care of the vast majority of “not believing” in it.

  58. John Sherman says

    Dear Jen:I would be wary of such a litmus test. One wouldn’t want to “weed out” the next Einstein or Darwin simply because he or she had ideas that seem crazy now. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to Creationists.

  59. says

    The trinity, who knows? It’s probably more to do with explaining how a man could be god but it might just be like triangle composition in painting. Triangles appear strong and three objects will draw your attention while your brain connects the dots.Religions are usually made with lots of symbolism so it could very well be intentional in the same way that Christianity incorporated a lot of pagan traditions in to itself.I was raised Roman Catholic but I’m probably more interested in that church and other religions now. It’s nice having something to laugh at and some dirt to throw at them.Christians usually don’t like it when you remind them that their holidays are pagan holidays with a facelift. Ask them about Easter Bunnies, almost everyone does it but it’s 100% Paganism (or whatever the Pagans got it from).

  60. says

    My perspective as a physicist (and atheist, and Canadian who has lived and worked in the States both within and without academia):Other fields have similar issues. Certainly physics does. We have hangers-on who don’t understand the foundations of the field, who are apt to deny conservation of energy (possibly cloaked in ‘vacuum energy’ or similar language) or the laws of thermodynamics. I’ve seen fairly big names confronted by such people, and the most gracious response was from a very big name in relativity (Wheeler, I think, but don’t actually recall) who started his reply with, “Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but the people I like to call MY friends believe…”His point was that science has these social divisions and currents, and part of the price of admission to his “circle of friends” was accepting a particular set of foundational beliefs.In physics, we work fairly hard to conserve and preserve those beliefs. I once forced one of my grad students to take a quantum theory course even though he was a “medical physicist” because he was getting a Ph.D. in physics, and every physicist whatsoever requires a 900-level course in QM. It’s part of the price of admission to be exposed to that kind of deep look into the abyss.My impression is that biologists have yet to work out a similar set of requirements that you simply have to accept to be part of the game. Your course requirements in grad school are minimal, course-wise, and there’s not much in the way of common mathematical ground due to the way the field has grown up. This could and should change, and while creationists would whine about it the model in other sciences should be clear justification for it. You don’t get to be a geologist (at least outside of China) without knowing something about plate techtonics. Most sciences have these sorts of foundational requirements, and biologists shouldn’t be shy about promoting them for biology.

  61. says

    I have to disagree with you on this Jen. I think that understanding doesn’t require belief. I personally understand many older philosophic positions from the 1800s, but I think that they are all bunk and don’t believe them. And I’m happy that my academic success doesn’t hinge on my acceptance of one of these systems. Rather than a litmus test, academic achievement should be awarded based upon, well, academic achievement, and not personal non-academic beliefs. That said, as rational people, we should eviscerate these beliefs whenever we encounter them. And if they ever try to publish papers in peer reviewed journals based on these beliefs and not evidence, well, it’s open season on creationism then…

  62. says

    If I had to be charitable, I’d guess that the student told the advisor why she wanted to take the course, and knowing that she’s never going to use any of it, the advisor let her do it.At my school you’d just audit the course, but hey, whatever works I suppose.

  63. BrianSchaan says

    I think that if you have an alternative explanation to evolution based on scientific evidence and rational thought (i.e. an alternative to both evolution AND intelligent design), so long as you understand the principle of evolution and accept it as a credible scientific theory, you shouldn’t HAVE to believe in it. An example that’s a little closer to my field of study would be the role of dark matter and energy in cosmology: the commonly held belief in the scientific community is that it exists, but I’ve had astronomy professors who completely disagree with the idea (and I’m more than a tad inclined to agree with them). Although in this example, I would argue that the concept of dark matter is unscientific. As for the litmus test part of it, the head of the math department at my university jokes that there should be an exiting exam that you have to get 100% in order to get your degree: “Q1: What’s a basis? Q2: How do you prove injectivity? Q3: How do you prove surjectivity? Q4: What’s an automorphism?”, so maybe they could do something similar for biology.

  64. says

    I’m not as annoyed with this student as you are. It seems like she did try to make an effort to understand something she disagreed with. That earns her a lot of points in my book. It seems like she was given very bad advice on the whole. I do agree that if you don’t understand something then rejecting it for that reason alone is (generally) fairly stupid. Regarding earlier comments above comparing this argument to theological claims about the Trinity, the fact is that many theologians make a big deal about how one cannot in fact understand the Trinity and that is a great mystery. No evolutionary biologist would ever say anything remotely like that about evolution. So the comparison breaks down massively.

  65. says

    FWIW, the oral exam at the end of my senior design project (nuclear engineering) was possibly the most harrowing yet satisfying exam I ever took. You either know your subject or you don’t and it’s a simple matter for the examiner to find a loose thread in your argument and pull it to see where it leads. Nobody expects you to be perfect, but they do expect you to present a logical narrative, either to explain a phenomenon or diagnose a problem.To me, someone in biology who denies the validity of evolution via natural selection without some pretty impressive evidence is like an engineer that denies the laws of thermodynamics or a physicist who denies quantum theory. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence and it is a waste of faculty time and student time and money to waste effort on someone who’s essentially a crank. Best to weed them out as soon as possible. And it’s not a purity test or groupthink – we’re not demanding anyone toe the party line on Marxism or postmodernism. Evolution is based on 150 years of consistent evidence, quantum mechanics, about half that. Simple denial doesn’t overturn that much evidence; only further evidence does.

  66. Kaotik4266 says

    I have to admit, I still think something I was told trumps the evolution comments:”The Great Flood appears in so many cultures because it actually happened!”Really? Not because, say, big floods occur in lots of places?

  67. Amy says

    Yes. Exactly this. “I reject science that doesn’t fit into my religious philosophy” waters down the entire realm of science, which is turning us into a society that makes decisions about important issues based on personal “philosophies”, and not the facts. Which is dangerous in all of the ways that you mention.Plus, someone graduating with a science degree has a better than average chance of ending up teaching science. So if we send people off into the world with the credentials to teach science who don’t actually accept the science, we’re only compounding the problem by creating a whole new generation that doesn’t understand the difference between proven scientific ideas and matters of faith/belief. Which is downright scary.I have no problems with religion, and don’t believe that religious faith is incompatible with a strong understanding of science. I just believe that science and faith belong in two different realms. W hen people try to blend them, it get s scary, especially because those who would blend them tend to trump science with their faith. And I for one want scientific decisions – medical research, climate change research, energy research, etc. – being made by those who don’t muddy their science that way.

  68. MGP says

    They also really don’t like it when you tell them that Christmas is descended from the pagan Yule celebration, and that, according to the Biblical account and what we know of history, Jesus was born some time in the spring.

  69. shac says

    First off you say mostly molecular biologists you meet don’t believe in evolution. What The **? As a molecular biologist I would never higher someone who didn’t believe in evolution! Even if they were just pipeting for PCR experiments. If they don’t understand evolution how will explain anything they are doing in the lab, how will they design primers for novel genes? How will they design tests for HIV or vaccines to prevent HIV if they don’t understand that this is one of the most rapidly evolving genomes around? As a molecular biologist I would say it is probably easier to get away with not believing in evolution if you are an Animal Sciences major (whatever that is). I do agree with you that evolution understanding should be required on an exit exam for all biology majors!

  70. mybabysweetness says

    I have to fully agree that one should understand that theory of evolution when graduating college REGARDLESS of your degree / major. (I was not a science major. I won’t understand it the way you understand it, but I think I have the basic concept down.) That said, it is called the “theory” of evolution. Yes, it’s the most widely accepted theory for how we got here, but can you make someone say that they accept (not understand, accept) a particular theory to graduate? I don’t know about that…BTW, yes, I do believe in / accept / etc. evolution. As a theist, I believe that God had something to do with all that, but that’s besides the point.

  71. Der Cat says

    >____>   <________< We gotthe Rabbits= Fertility from err….watchingRabbits…having…sex…a..lot..  Thisis why Rabbits foot is considered “Lucky” in Witchcraft. Back in”Ye Old Days” Having lots of children meant more hands on the farm.People who could produce lots of children with little pregnancy complicationsand trouble conceiving were considered Lucky. There for Rabbits foot wasConsidered Lucky. Although this is only what I heard, so this is only Hearsay,and not  definitively reliable. But it ispossible explanation for the association with Rabbits and Fertility and thenRabbits Foot with Lucky. I need to dig through books and website to find outWHERE I heard this. I swear someday I will make a blog and post shit when Ifind out random interesting shit. I know this is not the point of the subject,but I thought you might find it interesting, from a sociological prospective. Acquiringmore knowledge is FUN.  And I’m sorry for Gratuitous Thread Necromancy Jen, I can’tresist. It’s…a problem…I have…I find…Interesting conversations onmessage boards and…I jump in…No matter how old they are. I just…love conversingabout interesting things and working my squishy Grey-Matter. Sometimes I swearit’s as good as sex!

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