Before answering this question I will explain what being a creationist means, and the different types of beliefs a creationist can hold. Then I shall go on to explore the reasons why you might want to disqualify a medical school applicant on the grounds of being a creationist, the reasons why being a creationist and medical student should not matter, and then reach a conclusion.
Creationism is the belief that each species was created separately, in its current form, by God. It has experienced a rise in popularity in the last century, especially in America. In a 2005 survey, it was found that 42% of Americans believe that ‘humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time’.1 Creationism encompasses many different beliefs – the main ones being Young-Earth and Old-earth creationism, which I will explain further.
Young earth creationism is the belief that the bible is literally true; that God created the world in 6 days, and that the world is between 6,000 and 10,000 years old as according to the bible, rather than 4.5 billion years according to most scientists. 2 Young-earth creationists generally view the bible as equal to textbooks in scientific accuracy. A 2009 survey by the Theos Think Tank showed that 11% of people in the UK believed that ‘God created the world sometime in the last 10,000 years’, and 21% thought it was probably true. 1
Old earth creationism itself encompasses several categories such as gap creationism, day-age creationism and progressive creationism, although what defines it from young-earth creationism is the belief that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, rather than 10,000 years old as a literal belief in the bible would make it. Gap creationism is the belief that there was a long period of time between God creating the earth, and the rest of the creation story. Day-age creationists believe that each ‘day’ in the creation story refers to a non-specific period of time (perhaps millions of years) rather than 24 hours. Progressive creationists believe that creation was a progressive, gradual process involving evolution within species (microevolution), but new species were created by God’s intervention and not evolution.
Intelligent Design is a recently-developed belief which stemmed out of creationism. Believers in this theory do not agree with natural selection as the driving factor for evolution, as this is an ‘unguided, purposeless change.’ 3 They believe the best explanation for the complexity of life and the universe is the existence of an intelligent creator.
On one hand, there is an argument that being a creationist should disqualify you from medical school. If the medical student decides to go into research, they may be biased by their creationist views, which may then hinder scientific progress. ‘Creation Science’ is where creationists try to use scientific research to prove the Genesis account of creation, and has been consistently rejected by scientists as valid research. As Darwin himself said, ‘we can only say that…it has pleased the Creator to construct all the animals and plants…but this is not a scientific explanation’.4 It includes creation biology, which attempts to prove that different species did not originate from the same ancestor, and flood geology, which tries to show how a world flood as documented in the bible is compatible with geological evidence. Many of these theories for flood geology were published in the book ‘The Genesis Flood’ by Morris and Whitcomb in 1961. 5 The popular geology journals of the time completely ignored the book, and one review by the ‘ASA Journal’ called them ‘pseudo-scientific pretenders’. Yet despite all this, creation science was taught in many American schools. In 1921, the Butler Act in Tennessee disallowed publicly funded teachers ‘to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals’, and this was the law until 1967. This could not have progressed scientific education.
Furthermore, if a medical school applicant was a young-earth creationist, this may suggest that their personality is unsuited to that of a doctor. There is overwhelming scientific evidence for the earth being 4.5 billion years old. Examples of this are radiometric dating, which uses the half-lives of radioactive elements in rocks to determine their ages, observing ice cores, and dendro-chronology – analysis of annual tree rings. 2 An inability to accept this evidence might demonstrate an inflexible, irrational personality. This would be disadvantageous as a doctor, where the ability to work in a team and to consider many different viewpoints is crucial. They might hold their views on contentious issues such as abortion very strongly, perhaps influencing a patient on important decisions and not giving them a balanced view.
However, there are also many arguments why being a creationist should not disqualify an applicant from medical school. To begin with, being a creationist does not necessarily affect the quality of care that a doctor would give a patient, so it is an irrelevant criterion to judge a potential medical student by. Perhaps if they were a young-earth creationist this might indicate more radical views, but old-earth creationists agree with some scientific views such as the age of the earth. Thus they will be less likely to hold radical views on other topics, and other factors such as communication skills and academic ability should be considered more significant. Their belief might even be considered a positive attribute – it suggests they know where they stand on difficult issues, and as a result are wiser, more thought-out doctors.
Furthermore, as creationists believe each species was created separately by God, they may have a high regard for human life, of value as a doctor. The concept of evolution is that the fittest survive and breed, the weaker die out. At the time this led to the belief of eugenics – ‘good genes’. Darwin’s cousin, Dalton, recommended that the fitter, more intelligent, are encouraged to breed, and the less fit are discouraged. Later, this belief was taken up by Hitler, who wanted to rid the world of ‘inferior races’ and populate it with a pure, arian race – a line of thinking totally and utterly opposed to medicine. Perhaps the compassion and desire to help others needed as a doctor is found more in creationist views than in evolutionary principles.
In Conclusion, I believe that it depends on the type of creationist that you are. There is an argument to disqualify Young-Earth Creationists from medical school, as they are disagreeing with a large amount of scientific research on the topic. They might make more irrational doctors and, if they were to go into research, may hinder scientific progress. In terms of other creationist views, as long as these beliefs do not adversely affect your treatment of a patient, it should not disqualify you. It may even suggest the student is more thought-out, and holds human life in high regard – a valuable characteristic for a doctor. Finally, in a letter, Darwin once wrote: ‘There is no reason why the disciples of [religion and science] should attack each other with bitterness, though each upholding strictly their beliefs.’6
1.‘Rescuing Darwin: God and evolution in Britain today’ Nick
Spencer and Denis Alexander, 2009:
Chapter 2: God after Darwin: The twentieth century and the
rise of creationism. Page 26.
Chapter 3: Darwin today. Pages 29-33.
2.‘The Rough Guide to Evolution’ Mark Pallen, 2009.
Creationism: A House Divided, page 284.
How we know the earth is old, pages 12-13.
Can a Christian believe in evolution, pages 280-281.
3. ‘Testing Darwinism’ Philip E Johnson, 1997.
Chapter 1: Emilio’s Letter. Page 16.
4.‘The Origin of Species’ Charles Darwin, 1859.
Chapter XIV: Morphology. Page 383.
5. ‘The Genesis Flood’ Morris and Whitcomb, 1961.
6.A Letter from Darwin to his friend and local vicar, John Brodie
Innes, on November 27th, 1878.