The Troubled Youth of Great and Revolutionary Ideas

darwin-ape

When Charles Darwin presented his ideas on evolution and natural selection, he faced much ridicule and mockery, despite the fact that his ideas were, and still are, intuitively and scientifically sound. It wasn’t until many decades after Darwin first presented his theories that it became widely recognized that he had been right all along.

Many, if not most, great and revolutionary ideas are bullied and made fun of when they are young. Usually, the bullying gets less severe over time; however, it doesn’t necessarily cease completely. In some instances, the problems start all the way back at birth. The birth of many great ideas is lengthy and burdensome and involves a lot of kicking and screaming. This has become clearly evident throughout history. Many clever people have found it difficult to get their ideas out to the masses because they challenge established notions regarding what’s right and wrong or meet a wall in the form of powerful organizations and people.

Only ideas and concepts that survive birth and are able to stay strong, intact, and resolute in the face of attacks and ridicule make it in the long run. 

It’s a lot easier to just accept the status quo and/or mentally block out or make fun of ideas that conflict with what one wants to believe is true or clash with ideas or concepts that one is invested in, than to accept new and perhaps inconvenient truths; hence, it’s not surprising that many great and revolutionary ideas face a lot of resistance, particularly in their youth.

One could argue that it’s a good thing that we don’t automatically accept new ideas and concepts into our world without first doing due diligence. With that said, we should obviously be open to accepting new ideas, particularly if they are scientifically sound and have the potential to contribute a lot to our society.

Darwin’s theory of evolution via natural selection is a stereotypical example of a great and revolutionary idea that had a difficult youth

One idea that falls into the category of great, but controversial ideas is Charles Darwin’s idea on evolution via natural selection. When Darwin first presented his ideas on evolution, they were violently opposed and ridiculed by large parts of the society, including by some members of the scientific community.

Darwin had his supporters, but he also had a fair share of enemies. One of the main reasons why many people were opposed to Darwin’s ideas was that they conflict with the teachings of the Church. Darwin’s version of how humans, as well as other organisms, came to be is very different from the one that is presented in the Bible. Not only did Darwin challenge the idea that birds, sheep, cows, and other animals were created by an almighty God, but he also argued that humans are no different from other life forms on this planer, in that we too are shaped by natural selection and take part in the struggle for existence in nature. He argued that the human lineage is just another branch on the tree of life. This is not something he got into in his most famous book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life; however, in some of his later writings, he “came out” and stated what he’d probably been sure of for some time: humans are, like all other organisms on this planet, a product of evolution.

There are many plausible reasons as to why Darwin didn’t get into the origins of man in his most famous book. He probably felt his ideas were controversial enough as they were. The society in which Darwin lived was heavy on religion. Darwin undoubtedly knew that if he were to make the argument that man is aligned with other organisms in nature (i.e., just another animal), he would face massive criticism and attacks from the Church and its followers, one of which was his wife, Emma, a godly woman who Darwin cared greatly for and didn’t want to upset.

Moreover, Darwin was a very cautious man. At the time when he wrote the first edition of the Origin, he was still fairly young. He may have felt that it was premature to make any bold statements about the evolution of man, a subject he may at the time have had some insecurities about.

Despite not getting into the origin story of man, Darwin was heavily criticized and faced much ridicule when he published his first book on evolution. He took some of this criticism to heart and in later editions of his book (he published 6 editions of the Origin in total) he modified some of his statements and edited and toned done things down. Many historians and evolutionists consider this to have been a mistake and argue that the first edition of On the Origin of Species is the best edition, because it presents the original, unadulterated version of Darwin’s theories. In the time that has passed since Darwin’s time, science has made it clear that Darwin was right the first time around. Many of the “corrections” he made for later editions of the Origin actually diminished the accuracy of the book.

Some new and (r)evolutionary ideas on health and nutrition, many of which are extensions of Darwin’s theories, face similar obstacles as Darwin’s ideas on evolution faced when they were first presented to the world more than 150 years ago

hunter-gatherers-shopping-carts

Some people loudly criticize the idea that we should use the Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer diet/lifestyle as the basis for designing a diet/lifestyle that matches well with the human biology, despite the fact that throughout 99.6% of the evolutionary history of our genus, Homo, all humans on this planet lived in the wild as hunter-gatherers. This tells us a lot about human nature and highlights the fact that even logically sound ideas face attacks and ridicule.

Other great and revolutionary ideas face or have faced similar attacks as Darwin’s ideas on evolution faced in their youth. One such idea is the idea that we humans are genetically adapted to conditions that differ markedly from those in which we currently find ourselves and that we would be wise to bring certain aspects of the diet and lifestyle of our Palaeolithic forebears, in particular aspects related to nutrition, exercise, sleep, microbial exposure, sun exposure, and stress, into our modern lives.

Despite the fact that this idea is backed by an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence, it had been subjected to many attacks and even ridicule. Some may argue that this was to be expected, seeing as the idea goes against much of what we as a society hold true about health and fitness. Some parts of the evolutionary health concept (EHC)/the Evolutionary Mismatch Concept (EMC), in particular those that have to do with nutrition, are very non-conventional and oppositional, just like Darwin’s concept of evolution was when it was first presented.

Besides conflicting with some mainstream views on nutrition and healthy living, the EHC is built on a set of ideas and principles that most people know little about. The vast majority of people who criticize the idea that it’s healthy to eat a hunter-gather type diet or question the notion that evolutionary principles can help us enhance our physical well-being seem to be largely unaware of the fact that both of these ideas are supported by well-established evolutionary theories regarding how the world works. They are supported by Darwin’s teachings on evolution and natural selection, as well as by other powerful concepts that have been built into the foundations of modern science.

This is not to say that the EHC, as it was first presented in the scientific literature, was necessarily perfectly designed and immune to all forms of weapons and attacks. After all, science is always in motion. With that said, I’d argue that we can learn a lot from the past, in particular the story of Darwin and his most famous book. In retrospect, it’s become clear that Darwin should probably have stuck with most, if not all, of the initial ideas he presented Origin, instead of altering some of them in response to criticism.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be open to adjusting the original evolutionary health model that was created via scientific processes if we are presented with new evidence that suggests a change is needed; however, I’d argue that the evidence would have to be strong and convincing to warrant a change.

Great and revolutionary ideas are often misused

Just like Darwin’s scientific ideas on evolution were, and sometimes still are, misused by some people, among them certain so-called social Darwinists, the EHC has also been misused by some people who don’t know that much about its origin, composition, or structure. For example, the idea that we would be wise to emulate the nutritional characteristics of hunter-gatherer diets when we plan our modern diets has been misused by some people with financial interests, who’ve used it to sell processed food products that in reality bears little or no resemble to any of the foods that were a part of the original human diet. In doing so, they have weakened the validity of the Paleo/evolutionary diet concept, one of the components of the EHC, in the public’s eye.

With that said, this is all noise. It affects people’s perception of some of the ideas that are integral to the EHC, but it has obviously no impact on the actual validity of the concept or its scientific foundation. This is very important to remember. Darwin’s concept of evolution via natural selection was ridiculed by some when it was first presented; however, that obviously didn’t change the science underlying the concept. Whether or not the EHC will end up on a similar path as Darwin’s main idea on evolution remains to be seen.

Key takeaways

Many great and revolutionary ideas are violently opposed and ridiculed when they are first presented. It’s always important to look past all the noise that follows the emergence of a new and potentially great theory, concept, or idea. Instead of evaluating an idea based on its standing among the public or the degree to which it conforms to widely accepted, but not necessarily true, notions regarding how the world works, we should evaluate it based on its scientific merits and whether or not it makes logical sense.

Pictures: 1: No copyright restrictions. 2: By Lance Robotson. Some rights reserved.

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