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Limited role of Darwinism in medicine

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From a review of Medicine and Religion: A Historical Introduction

In eight well-written and thoroughly researched chapters, Ferngren takes the reader from ancient times to the Greco-Roman period, early Christianity, into the Middle Ages and the Islamic world, to the early modern period, and on into the 19th and 20th centuries. The roots of Western medicine, we learn, can be found in the transformative effects of Judeo-Christian traditions.

But the story told here is also about the eclipse of those traditions. While it is not a book on or about Darwinism, Ferngren states accurately that “Darwin’s theory did not make a significant contribution to clinical medicine.” However, he adds:

The widespread adoption by physicians of evolutionary naturalism as a world-view was a factor in divorcing medicine from traditional religious ideas and creating a new image of medicine as a scientific enterprise. Perhaps its greatest influence on medicine, however, was that it professionalized science and recast society as one that specifically privileged scientific enquiry. (p. 176)

Ferngren’s brief but insightful treatment of the rise of Darwinism and its attendant doctrine of methodological naturalism shows him to be a careful historian of ideas. One cannot help but note his phrase “evolutionary naturalism,” as opposed to merely “evolutionary theory,” as one of the significant factors contributing to the secularization of medical practice in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ferngren understands well that not all forms of evolutionary theory have been inimical to religious thought.

No indeed. The concept of “progressive revelation” is a well accepted one in theology. What was new was the “nature is all there is” stuff.

Anyway, it leaves some of us wondering what the role of evolutionary medicine is, if not to provide a stalking horse for whatever modern cause follows on the heels of eugenics (the original “evolutionary medicine” cause).

2 Replies to “Limited role of Darwinism in medicine

  1. 1
    Barb says:

    Following the link labeled evolutionary medicine gave me this:

    Now that one half of Americans are overweight, however, it is time to answer the evolutionary question: why are our bodies designed so that most of us eat too much and exercise too little?

    Evolution is an unguided process; it does not design anything.

    In the natural environment, fat, salt, and sugar are in such short supply that when they are encountered, the useful response is to consume them. Fat provides twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates. Sugar is often associated with ripe fruits, and seeking it out was usually beneficial. Now that we can choose our foods, we prefer what was in short supply on the African savanna.

    Absolute B.S. Read Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us for a comprehensive look at how the food industry has been using chemistry (particularly HFCS) to make foods taste a certain way and how that—and not some evolutionary pattern—is what’s making people fat.

    …tendency to be sedentary, in combination with our preferences for large amounts of high-calorie, high-fat food, has resulted in an epidemic of atherosclerotic disease. Natural selection will eventually fix such design problems, but it will take hundreds or thousands of generations to do so.

    You don’t get “design problems” without a designer, author. Natural selection will not fix anything. Running, walking, jogging, swimming, aerobics, and weight lifting will help. In fact, later in the article, we get this: “Most people think that the answer is simply that natural selection cannot make the body any better than it has. After all, it is a random process with no direction or coordination.”
    No direction or coordination is the antithesis of design.

    Instead of seeing disease as a defect in a previously perfect machine, Darwinian medicine allows us to see the body as a product of natural selection, full of trade-offs and vulnerabilities that all too often lead to disease.

    In other words, there’s no possible way the Bible’s account can possibly be true. Really. We weren’t created “in a fear-inspiring way” at all.

  2. 2
    JWTruthInLove says:

    eugenics (the original “evolutionary medicine” cause).

    Is artificial selection evolution? IDist sez No.

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