Re: Professing evolution column by Maggie Gallagher

From: Dr. Blake Nelson (
Date: Fri Feb 07 2003 - 13:25:30 EST

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    This all depends on what basis you think it
    appropriate to give someone a letter of

    Implicit in this person's description on the web of
    under what circumstances he will give a recommendation
    for even medical school was, "if you are some
    religious nut who thinks that praying for some one is
    the way to heal them, I don't trust that you will do
    your job as a doctor with the tools of modern
    medicine." He does not say that, but that is the only
    way you can take it.

    Let's use an engineering analogy rather than a physics
    analogy for medical school since being a doctor, or
    design prosthetics, is an applied science. Lots of
    engineers model things using linear equations, even
    though they know the real world processes are
    non-linear. Why? It is less computing intensive. I
    can do a job as an engineer in applying the science
    whether I believe that particular foundations of that
    science are true or not.

    If I don't follow the prescribed rules for
    engineering, I don't get out of school, or I don't
    pass my licensing exams, or I get fired and/or my
    certification revoked because I did not design a
    building -- or whatever -- properly.

    Now, because I may not do one of those things should
    someone not give me a letter of recommendation? Well,
    I think the prudent person wouldn't want this guy to
    recommend them anyway. But a letter of
    recommendation, depending on the field covers a very
    limited set of areas 1) how well you know the person,
    2) the person's intellectual and social skills that
    pertain to the course of study, and 3) their promise
    to successfully complete a course of study and
    contribute to their field. It seems that no. 3 is the
    only area where a litmus test might be applicable and
    I find it dubious that this particular litmus test is
    applicable there for a variety of reasons: a) it is
    not really clear what he considers problematic -- is a
    believer in some sort of theistic evolution
    disqualified? b) do I have to subscribe to a
    particular evolutionary mechanism? c) if not, can I
    believe that some supernatural force intervenes from
    time to time? (not that I do) d) If I believe in
    speciation, but a young earth, is that good enough?
    If not, why not since I don't deny genetic mechanisms?
     Etc. This is just a silly polemical stand by this

    I think George's comment about the interpretation of
    different data is a good point, but I think it cuts
    strongly against this fellow. Whereas George seems to
    be saying that evolution as a fact is different than
    the interpretation of quantum indeterminancy, I think
    that both are interpretive for the reasons described
    in 3(a)-(d), this professor seems to have an
    ill-defined response that is certainly not applicable
    to an applied science like medicine.

    If I am a republican/conservative, should that
    disqualify me from being recommended for graduate
    school in political science, because I do not share
    the ideological bent of 80%+ of the
    professors/researchers out there in academia? I
    actually know people who have tried to deny tenure to
    someone because they were a republican. I have heard
    well-respected, nationally known professors say that
    so-and-so is one of the few republicans that actually
    does good research in political science. I actually
    know some people who think being a conservative would
    make it highly unlikely (if not disqualify you) that
    you will do good research in political science.

    Is that a correct stand? Can I deny a letter of
    recommendation to graduate school in political science
    because I know the student is conservative?

    Should I deny a letter of recommendation to law school
    because they believe that Roe v. Wade was incorrectly
    decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and the right of
    privacy was made up out of whole cloth by a crazily
    activist Justice Douglas? Or is the law the law and
    if he thinks that Roe v. Wade is wrong he is
    unqualified to be a lawyer? In these cases the answer
    is obviously (I hope) not.




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