Charles Robert Darwin has by some proponents of Darwinian or evolutionary medicine been described as a sort of guardian angel for medicine. Historically, this spiritual helper hasn’t regularly come to our rescue, but that’s not because it hasn’t been willing to, but rather because we humans have ignored it and the assistance its willing to offer. Basically, we haven’t let it protect or help us.
One of the most adamant Darwinian ‘apostles’ in this regard is myself. I’ve long made the case that evolutionary science, and in particular the theory of evolution via natural selection, can help us get out of medical troubles and “save” medicine by guiding it in fruitful directions, protecting it from impurities and harm, and consolidating its various branches. It won’t generate quick fixes to all of the medical problems we face or dramatically change emergency care; however, it bestows us with a set of principles which together form a framework by which all of medicine can be organized, refined, and sustained.
The village of medicine
Modern medicine is in some ways analogous to a sizeable town or village composed of a number of houses. At the main gates of the village, there’s a large building that houses a number of generalists – medical professionals who know “a bit a bit about everything”, as opposed to a lot about just one or a couple of things. These generalists receive the sick people who enter the village and do a general assessment of each individual’s condition. In some cases, they proceed to prescribe some type of treatment on their own, whereas in others, they simply direct each patient to another building within the village.
Each of the scattered houses within the village houses experts or specialists who deal with a particular organ or aspect of the human body. For example, in one house, you’ll find people who are almost exclusively concerned with the liver and its associated diseases, such as hepatic steatosis and Wilson’s disease, whereas in another, you’ll find specialists who receive and treat patients who struggle with disorders of the skin like acne vulgaris or eczema.
Typically, the focus is narrow/confined to a specific part of the body, as opposed to holistic; however, many different practitioners and approaches may exist (some of which may be at odds with one another), either grouped in independent houses or in different sections of one house. On the outskirts of the village, you’ll find the “alternative” practitioners, who tend to be more holistic, albeit sometimes less scientific, in their approach.
Is this a good way of organizing things?
At first glance, it may seem sensible, at least to the untrained eye; however, following greater scrutiny, it becomes clear that several problems are intrinsic to the village, one of which is particularly severe. This problem has to do with the fact that each building within the village exists as a separate entity, largely disconnected from the rest of the community. There’s some traffic and communication between the houses; however, each structure is clearly separate from one another. They’re not bound together by anything or supported by a common foundation.
This is where Darwin comes to the rescue!
Evolutionary science is arguably the only thing that can truly consolidate and unify the different branches of medicine. Basically, it can bring all of the people in the village we’ve now had a look at under the same roof; confined within a building that has evolutionary theory at its foundations. At first, this may seem like a far-fetched or quixotic idea; however, when one accounts for the fact that the human body, in its entirety, is a product of evolution, much skepticism immediately evaporates.
How evolutionary science could refine, guide, and consolidate the various branches of medicine
So as to ground the aforementioned concept in reality and make it a bit more tangible, I’ve created a picture that describes how evolutionary science could augment some medical disciplines. I know the illustration is a bit heavy on the text, but hopefully it doesn’t come across as too elaborate.