The Nobel Prize in Medicine: Was there a Religious Factor this Year?

The Nobel Prize in Medicine
Author(s): Michael Ruse

Metanexus Salus

In the op/ed piece below, Michael Ruse, Professor of the Philosophy of
Biology at Florida State University, considers the possible political
and religious issues at stake in the selection of winners of the 2003
Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. The 2003 prize was awarded to
Dr. Paul Lauterbur and Dr. Peter Mansfield for their work in magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI). Amidst the controversy surrounding the Nobel
committee’s exclusion of Dr. Raymond Damadian despite his groundbreaking
work in MRI, Ruse speculates that Damadian’s exclusion was motivated by
knowledge of his religious commitments, specifically his support of
creation science.

Michael Ruse was born in 1940 in Birmingham, England. He received a B.A.
in Philosophy and Mathematics from Bristol University in 1962, an M.A.
in Philosophy from McMaster University in 1964, and a Ph.D. from Bristol
University in 1970. Ruse has worked at the University of Guelph in
Ontario, Canada since 1965, obtaining the rank of Professor. He has been
a visiting professor and scholar at Cambridge University, Harvard
University, and Indiana University. Ruse is a fellow of the Royal
Society of Canada, the AAAS, Guggenheim, Killam, the John Templeton
Foundation, and a Gifford Lectures. Ruse is the author of many books,
including The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw. 1979;
Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy 1986; The
Philosophy of Biology 1989; Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in
Evolutionary Biology 1996; Readings in the Philosophy of Biology, 1998
with David Hull; Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social
Construction? 1999; Can a Darwinian be a Christian? The Relationship
between Science and Religion, 2001; The Evolution Wars, 2000; The Nature
of Science, (forthcoming 2001); Darwin and Design: Science, Philosophy,
Religion, 2003; Cloning (edited volume), 2001.


The Nobel Prize in Medicine – Was there a Religious Factor in this
Year’s (Non) Selection?

By Michael Ruse

Dr. Raymond Damadian failed to be included in this year’s Nobel honors
for work in Medicine, and feels sore about it. Although he was the
inventor of the first machine that discovers cancers through magnetic
resonance imaging, the award went to two other and somewhat subsequent
scientists, Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield. Notoriously, the Nobel
committees never reveal their deliberations (until everyone is long
dead) and never change their minds. So, although by having taken out
advertisements of protest in the New York Times and the Washington Post
may make him feel somewhat better, and draw attention to his bad luck,
Damadian seems fated to remain with the rest of us who are not Nobel
Laureates. He will join Charles Best of Banting and Best fame who
discovered the significance of insulin treatment for diabetes –
Frederick Banting and his boss J.J.R. McCleod (who was on vacation at
the time) got the award and Best the junior scientist was left out.

But perhaps Dr. Damadian does have reason to feel having been slighted
for the wrong reasons. He is not just an inventor, but also a very
prominent Christian. And not just a Christian of any bland kind, but a
Creation Scientist – one of those people who believes that the Bible,
especially including Genesis, is absolutely literally true – six days of
creation, Adam and Eve the first humans, universal flood, and all of the
rest. It is as least as likely a hypothesis that Damadian was ignored by
the Nobel committee because they did not want to award a Prize to an
American fundamentalist Christian as that they did not think his work
merited the fullest accolade. In the eyes of rational Europeans – and
Swedes are nothing if not rational Europeans – it is bad enough that
such people exist, let alone give them added status and a pedestal from
which to preach their silly ideas. Especially a scientific pedestal from
which to preach their silly anti-science ideas.

Is this unfair? One certainly feels a certain sympathy for the Nobel
committee. Creation science is wrong and (if taught to young people as
the truth) dangerous. It does represent everything against which good
science stands. However, even the best scientists believe some very
strange things, and if we start judging one area of their work in terms
of other beliefs that they have, we could well do more harm than good.
Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist of them all, had some very strange
views about the proper interpretation of such Biblical books as Daniel
and Revelation, and in respects believed things about the universe – its
past and its future – that make today’s Creation Scientists seem
comparatively mild. More recently, Alfred Russel Wallace, the
co-discoverer of natural selection along with Charles Darwin, became an
enthusiast for spiritualism, believing that there are hidden forces
controlling every aspect of life. People knew this and were embarrassed
by it, but it did not stop them from celebrating and praising Wallace’s
great scientific work. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and
given Britain’s greatest award for achievement, the Order of Merit.

All of my life I have fought for evolution and against Creationism – in
writings, on the podium, and in court in 1981 as a witness in Arkansas
against a law demanding that Creation Science be taught alongside
evolution in the state supported schools. But as one who loves science
above all and thinks it the greatest triumph of the human spirit – as
one who has no religious beliefs whatsoever – I cringe at the thought
that Raymond Damadian was refused his just honor because of his
religious beliefs. Having silly ideas in one field is no good reason to
deny merit for great ideas in another field. Apart from the fact that
this time the Creation Scientists will think that there is good reason
to think that they are the objects of unfair treatment at the hands of
the scientific community.