In the world of medicine as a whole and as it exists today, chaos is the norm, whereas order and cohesion is the exception. There is no foundational, scientifically robust paradigm in place, which helps explain why a number of disparate theories, concepts, and practices abound, many of which haven’t got a solid premise behind them and as a result are flimsy and dodgy. This is obviously very concerning, and is at the root of much confusion, suffering, and disease.
All robust and durable disciplines have one thing in common, and that is that they are supported and guided by one or more well-established, authenticated foundational concepts or theories. In that sense, Darwinian medicine is unique and represents a rare beacon of light in the world of medicine. This light is not clearly visible to the average Joe and Jane; however, it’s plainly perceived by people who are trained in the Darwinian arts and are knowledgeable about evolutionary medical methodologies. A widespread incorporation of Darwinian principles into the world of medicine as a whole could potentially bring a sense of peace to a world that has known much conflict, chaos, and suffering.
The origin and nature of natural selection
In the mid-1800s, the scientific maverick Charles Robert Darwin unearthed and described a fundamental biological principle that would go on to transform our understanding of the origin, evolution, and nature of life. The principle I’m talking about is obviously Natural Selection.
Darwin informed humanity that the organisms that make up the ecosystem of the Earth take part in a never-ending struggle for existence, in which those organisms that are best suited, trait wise, to the conditions under which they live are at an advantage, in the sense that they are more capable of surviving and reproducing than organisms that are not as well equipped to deal with the challenges and obstacles they face.
The implications of this assertion are that heritable traits that are beneficial under the existing environmental conditions become more common over time, whereas deleterious traits are weeded out, and that life has changed (evolved) over time. There is no governor that oversees everything and decides what is to happen; rather, the changes occur naturally as a result of variation in reproductive success.
When Darwin presented his groundbreaking ideas some 160 years ago, he provided humanity with the basic means to understand life: how and why species emerge and go extinct, why organisms instinctually operate the way they do, and why there is such an abundance of varied life in nature. It’s almost impossible to overestimate the value and usefulness of Darwin’s principle theory. Pretty much everything that has to do with life on Earth can be effectively organized and understood via Darwinian thinking.
The ascent of Darwinian science
In light of the information we have at hand today, it’s quite obvious that Darwin was right. One doesn’t even have to look at any of the countless scientific experiments that have verified his seminal theory of evolution to reach this conclusion; all one has to do is inspect how things work in nature. Given that one is perceptive and possesses basic knowledge about genetics and heritability, one will quickly deduce that organisms take part in a battle for existence, in which the “winners” are those that are best suited to their environment.
Back in 1859, however, when Darwin published his most famous book, On the Origin of Species, not much was known about biological inheritance, at least not when compared to how things are like today. Naturalists had obviously noticed that closely related organisms tend to resemble one another in certain ways, which implies that certain characteristics are passed down from parents to offspring; however, they didn’t know how such traits were transmitted or expressed. This uncertainty undoubtedly contributed to fostering some of the controversy that arose following the publication of Darwin’s theories.
In the time that has passed since Darwin entered the scientific stage, the principle of evolution via natural selection has flourished, in the sense that it has gained widespread recognition among natural scientists and become a bedrock of biology. Or perhaps more accurately, biological science flourished as a result of the theories and concepts that Darwin and other like-minded individuals presented to the world.
Medicine has been excruciatingly slow at adopting the science of evolution
Evolution via natural selection is the most fundamental organizing principle in all of biology. It makes up a critical part of the foundation upon which the field was created and forms the basis of countless biological inquiries. Unfortunately though, certain sections of the sphere of science that deals with phenomena related to living things were created and developed in the absence of Darwinian wisdom and have historically remained largely shut to evolutionary additions. Perhaps the most striking example in this regard is the field of medicine, which in its broadest sense encompasses all health and nutrition related endeavors.
A number of enlightened individuals, including many nutritionists and scientists, have expressed great concern regarding this exclusion. This is nicely embodied by the quote below.
It is truly unfortunate that the science that dictated the molding of the human body is not studied by its healers. (1)
Medicine needs evolutionary science. In the absence of evolutionary wisdom, there can be no true or real medicine. The reason I hold this belief is simple: Medicine inherently revolves around healing living things that don’t function appropriately. Every organism on this planet is an evolution-created biological composite; hence, it goes without saying that we need to take evolutionary theory into account if we are to understand the functions, properties, and vulnerabilities of organisms. Personally, I find it absurd and tragic, bordering on comedic, that humanity’s been investigating and practicing medicine, including nutrition and psychiatry, in near complete absence of evolutionary science.
At present, there are no fundamental rules in place that dictate the workings of “the medical game”. This helps explain why medicine as a whole is a very chaotic enterprise. The theory of evolution via natural selection, which forms the foundation of Darwinian/evolutionary medicine, could potentially turn this around and bring about a medical revolution. It won’t solve all our problems or provide quick fixes to the many medical-related problems we face; however, it could bring order and structure to medicine, including nutrition, psychiatry, and health care, and help us understand why disease exists, as well as what’s required of us if we are to effectively prevent and treat it.
(Note: The second and last installment of this 2-part feature on evolution-based medicine can be found here.)