Tag Archives: evolution

Can A Christian Be A Paleo Advocate?

If you’re squeamish about discussions of religion and God, read no further! What follows is controversial and much of it not subject to scientific investigation.

In case you’re wondering, I’m a Christian.  This simply means I believe I was given life by God, that His son Jesus became a man and died for my sins, and that I will have everlasting life in heaven for believing on this.  I strive to live the way God would want me to live, as written in the Holy Bible.  I was brought up in the Catholic faith, even attending parochial school in grades 1-8, but I’m Protestant now.  I went through an agnostic period between the ages of 19 to about 38—I’m glad I made it through that alive!

I’ve been learning more about paleo eating over the last year since it overlaps a fair amount with low-carb eating. (Paleo-style eating is also referred to as ancestral, Old Stone Age, hunter-gatherer, or the caveman diet.) The Paleolithic Era covers about 1.5 to 2 million years of human evolution, admitting that there probably hasn’t been much genetic change over the last 50,000 years (debatable). The cornerstone of paleo eating is that we should eat the things we are evolutionarily adapted to eat. We’ll be healthier that way. We didn’t have corn chips, soda pop, and candy bars 20,000 years ago, so we shouldn’t be eating them now.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Various species of animals thrive on certain foods and not others. My horses eat three meals a day – all hay; you and I couldn’t survive on that.

I have a college degree in Zoology, so I was thoroughly indoctrinated in Charles Darwin‘s evolutionary theory, at least the version current in the mid-1970s. Darwin’s theory requires no God, or didn’t include a role for God or gods. How Darwinians answer the question of Creation, I don’t know.

Many proponents of evolutionary theory seem to be atheist or agnostic. Natural selection determines who lives or dies, not the hand of God. Some brands of Christianity, but not all, reject the idea of human evolution in its entirety. They believe God created us just as we are about 6,000 years ago. So can a Christian be a paleo diet advocate?

(I don’t know where Judaism, Islam, and other major religions stand on evolution.)

Human evolution is central to paleo diet theory. A religious person may reject the idea of human evolution; can he nevertheless participate in the modern “paleo community”?

I believe God made us and the universe. There’s no proof – it’s a matter of faith. I don’t know if He made us 6,000 years ago or two million.  The bulk of the science speaks clearly against 6,000 years ago.

Our bodies are made to thrive on certain foods and not others.  That’s true for all animals.  If you find an injured bird in your yard and hope to nurse it back to health,  you better find out what it eats naturally and provide it, or you’ll fail.  The range of foods humans can thrive on is pretty broad. Whether the optimal way of eating is determined by godless evolutionary processes or by the intelligent design of a Creator doesn’t matter so much if you’re looking at it from a purely nutritional viewpoint.

From an “everlasting life” viewpoint, it matters.  Big time.

The paleo guys might be right about the best way to eat. Science continues to accumulate evidence one way or the other.

Christianity and paleo diet theory are not mutually exclusive. A Christian can ignore the possiblity of a million years of evolution, believing instead that God made our bodies in such a way that we’d be healthier eating certain foods and not others. Those foods may be the components of the paleo diet, whatever that is.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Further reading:

Carl Drews has written extensively on Christianity and Evolution, including his essay on Theistic Evolution.

Phil Porvaznik’s article on theistic evolution and the Roman Catholic Church.

Wikipedia: Catholic Church and Evolution.

Can a Christian follow a paleo low-carb diet? at Jimmy Moore’s Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb blog.

A few questions for the atheists.  Where did the universe come from?  Was it created? By whom or what?  What if God exists, and he made us for a reason and wants us to live a certain way?

Consider this excerpt from Walter Isaacson’s book, “Einstein: His Life and Universe”:

One evening in Berlin, [Albert] Einstein and his wife were at a dinner party when a guest expressed a belief in astrology. Einstein ridiculed the notion as pure superstition. Another guest stepped in and similarly disparaged religion. Belief in God, he insisted, was likewise a superstition.

At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs.

“It isn’t possible!” the skeptical guest said, turning to ask Einstein if he was, in fact, religious.

“Yes, you can call it that,” Einstein replied calmly. “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent, I am, in fact, religious.”

Is Evolutionary Medicine a Valid Concept?

Not Harriett Hall, M.D.

Dr. Harriett Hall over at Science-Based Medicine has written a couple reviews of “evolutionary medicine” books.

Of the 2009 book, Dr. Hall writes:

Seeing everything in medicine through evolutionary glasses impresses me as more of a gimmick than as a clinically useful approach. Evolution clearly informs medical practice, but I can’t see the value of “evolutionary medicine” as a separate discipline and I can’t recommend this book.

 Her conclusion about the 1994 book:
I’m sorry, but I just don’t “get it.” Am I missing something? Am I just a contrary curmudgeon? Evolution is already an essential part of all science. Medical scientists already understand evolution and apply its principles appropriately. I didn’t see a single example in their book of any significant practical development in medical care that would not have occurred in the general course of medical science as it is commonly practiced, without any need for a separate discipline of “Darwinian medicine.” Evolutionary explanations, whether true or speculative, may satisfy our wish to understand “why,” but I can’t see that they have much objective usefulness.  Instead, they have produced at least one major annoyance: a movement that preaches to us how we ought to revert to the supposed diet of our ancestors (the Cave Man Diet, etc.).
My sense at this point is that evolutionary concepts do have a place in modern medicine, a role that has not been adequately explored and exploited.

Alex Hutchinson on the Paleo Lifestyle

Fleas from rats spread Yersinia pestis to humans

Alex Hutchinson has a recent article in Canada’s The Globe and Mail on the potential health benefits of the paleo lifestyle.  His conclusion:

So will going paleo really pay off with better health? As a big-picture guide to how to organize your life, definitely. But don’t get carried away with trying to recreate the exact details of a long-lost diet. Humans have changed and diversified even over the past few thousand years, so the only way to know what works best for your genes is to experiment. Go wild.

The article mentions the “increasing pace of human evolution,” an idea I’m still not convinced is valid.  Sure, a large population of critters should produce more genetic variation and mutation.  But it could take longer for a successful variation to spread through that population, compared to a smaller population.  It depends on selection pressure, to some extent.  The Black Plague in 14th century Europe changed that population quicker than any single genetic mutation I know of.  It wiped out 40% of the population.  Were those who survived genetically different from those who died?

I have much respect for Alex’s thoughts on exercise.  He usually puts more research and thought into his writing.  Check out his Sweat Science blog.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Natural Selection

Paleo diets (aka Stone Age, Paleolithic, or caveman diets) have been increasingly popular over the last few years.  The idea is that, for optimal health, we should be eating the things that we are evolutionarily adapted to eat.  Those foods pre-date the onset of large-scale agriculture 10-12,000 years ago.  So grains, dairy products, and industial seed oils play little or no role in someone who has “gone paleo.”

My recollection from college courses years ago is that average lifespan in paleolithic times was perhaps 25-30 years, or less.  If you’re going to die at 25, it may not matter if you eat a lot of  wooly mammath, berries, insects, cholesterol, saturated fats, Doritos, Ding Dongs, or Cheetos.  The diseases of civilization we worry about today—coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, dementia, type 2 diabetes, etc.—don’t usually appear until after age 30.  Paleolithic Man worried more about starvation, infection, and predation.

More recently, I’ve read that average lifespans of Paleolithic man were so low due to high infant and childhood mortality.  If you survived early childhood, you had a much better chance to hit 50 or better.

But now we live to be 80, long enough for diet-related diseases to appear. We have cancer, heart attacks, and strokes that paleo man rarely saw because he died of trauma or infection or starvation. We even see the expression of genes that were not subjected to survival or selection pressure: Alzheimers disease, Huntingtons chorea, and some breast cancers, for example.  People with genes for these diseases reproduce before the genes do their damage.

In other words, we carry genes that don’t matter if you die at age 30. If you live longer, they express themselves, and I believe we can modify their expression through diet and lifestyle. 

Jenny Ruhl, at her Diabetes Update blog, takes a critical look at the paleo diet concept.  I’m not saying I agree or disagree with her.  Newbies should look at all sides.  

Steve Parker, M.D. 

Extra credit

For purposes of discussion, let’s assume that human evolution actually occurred over millions, or at least hundreds of thousands, of years.  In other words, assume that God didn’t make Adam and Eve in human form in one day.

The theory of evolution proposes that genes that allow an animal to live and reproduce more vigorously in a particular environment will be passed on to the animal’s offspringNature will select those genes to spread through the animal population over time, assuming the environment doesn’t change.  The offspring with those genes will be able to compete with other animals more successfully for food, shelter, and mates.  Factors that promote the persistence and inheritance of specific genes are called “selection pressure.”

Here’s an example of selection pressure.  Remember when you were in grade school on the playground, some people could naturally run faster than others?  Were you one of the fast ones?  If you’ve never seen it for yourself, take my word for it: Some people are naturally gifted with athletic genes.

Let’s say you and I are outside collecting berries and nuts in paleolithic times.  A saber-toothed tiger spots us and charges, hungry for a meal.  You don’t have to outrun the tiger: you just have to outrun me.  I’m slower than you, and get eaten.  I can no longer pass on my slow-running genes to the next generation.  You live another day and pass on your fast-running genes to your children. 

Viola!  Natural selection, via selection pressure, has promoted your genes over mine.

The tiger also passes on her genes since she was fast and smart enough to catch me, preventing starvation of her and her offspring.

[I’m 99% sure I wrote the preceeding few paragraphs originally a couple years ago.  My notes, however, hint that they may have been written by Dr. J., a regular contributor at CalorieLab.  Dr. J., let me know if I’ve plagiarized you and I’ll give you full credit and delete my writing.]