Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Nov

Life, Rare and Fragile

A young planet sits in wobbly orbit, still a bit amorphous and unsure of its final shape. A gurgling, bubbling primordial soup simmers on the surface, stewing and brewing for millions upon millions of years as massive temperature fluctuations, atmospheric pressure shifts, and extended bouts of thunderous lightning mar the landscape. Radiation is a constant, steady force. Deep within the soup, a spark! The beginnings of life, the organic, single-celled compounds that will grow and reproduce and mutate into a hundred million fantastical forms, emerge. All the while, similar – yet totally different – conditions are occurring on other planets concurrently, but no spark is seemingly produced. Why is that?

Consider, for a moment, the plight of the modern feedlot cow, a species that evolution has “constructed” to subsist most effectively on open grassland with plenty of access to sun and the freedom to roam. Instead, we stuff it full of corn, jam it into a filthy muddy pen, and pump it full of medication. Is it any wonder corn-fed cows sicken and produce substandard meat as a rule?

Sometimes called the Hawaiian squirrel, the mongoose has overrun most of Hawaii’s islands and disrupted the wildlife. Originally a transplant meant to combat the hordes of rats decimating the cane fields in the 1880s, the Hawaiian mongoose has decimated the wild bird population by targeting its eggs and nests. A seemingly innocuous, rather small species of mammal was essentially enough to damage an entire ecological niche beyond repair. It being island-based made things even worse, because the native inhabitants lived in a totally insular world. The longer you go without outside influence, the bigger an impact any outside influence will have.

Or what of the young boy who captures a handful of fiddler crabs at the beach and decided he’ll keep them as pets? Is table salt added to sand and water a suitable environment? Or is every single mineral present in seawater also crucial for the fiddler crab’s survival? Calcium, magnesium, potassium, chlorine, and sulfate are all present in seawater, along with sodium, to form the crab’s natural habitat. Tap water with salt added doesn’t work; I know because I was once that young boy.

The sad, slow decline of the giant panda can also be attributed to a series of unfortunate environmental shifts. The first shift was whatever made pandas switch from an omnivorous, diverse diet to a bamboo-based one, with the most plausible theory being that they did it to avoid competition with other, more capable omnivores. Rather than die out (like many species might have), they simply moved onto the low hanging fruit – the endless, untouched forests of bamboo. Of course, this move set a course toward an evolutionary dead end, but that happens from time to time. They came to rely on a totally unnatural food source: bamboo. These are animals with the digestive system of a carnivore attempting to thrive on a diet of low-nutritive, starchy cellulose and plant matter. To get sufficient nutrients, pandas had to consume over fifty pounds of bamboo each day. They survived, but only barely. Females were fertile for a few days a year at the most, male sex organs were sometimes too small to get the job done, and the infants they sometimes produced were completely helpless for too long. And when man began leveling bamboo forests to make way for development, the panda’s already tenuous dominion over its ecological niche was shattered. Conservation efforts haven’t helped much, either. Even with all the bamboo they can eat made available, male pandas in captivity often have no idea how to mate with a female, and panda numbers only manage to stay consistent (or rise somewhat). They’re still in cages, or behind bars betting gawked at by zoo goers. All in all, the panda made a tragic turn somewhere along the road. What began as a momentary adaptation to a change in environment (the introduction of a rival, perhaps) has ultimately forced the panda into an unsustainable, unnatural lifestyle punctuated by even more damaging, man-made environmental pressures.

Both individual species and life itself requires a specific set of environmental parameters to be satisfied.

Life, scientists conclusively agree and these examples show, is exceedingly rare and fragile in all its forms. An impossibly complex sequence of specific, precise machinations and circumstances were necessary for life as we know it to come into existence – so complex, in fact, that we’re still figuring out exactly how it all went down. We do know that life (on Earth) is a system of proteins and nucleic acids forming structures that reproduce and evince genetic variability with each successive generation (evolution). We suspect that before life, there were pre-biotic chemicals intermingling in what Darwin called a “warm little pond” of primordial ooze, and that these chemicals reacted with each other and certain environmental pressures (radiation, heat, moisture) to produce something approximating a living organism. In 1953, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey sought to reproduce primeval conditions by subjecting water, ammonia, methane, and hydrogen (atmosphere) to electric currents (lightning); amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, were formed. And just recently, researchers created RNA, which counts as its descendant DNA, by mixing an assortment of phosphates, sugar, and nucleotides in water and heating, evaporating, and irradiating it. But researchers had been trying for decades to create RNA, and it’s only recently that they actually succeeded.

How many times has nature “tried” to do the same thing and failed miserably? Among all the billions upon billions of planets in the universe, how often have the perfect conditions arisen to allow the creation of life – let alone its affluence? There’s no way to know (yet), of course, but I’d imagine that since the sky isn’t lit up with a steady stream of interstellar traffic, intelligent life on the level and complexity of Earth’s isn’t very common. We had committed, brilliant minds whose sole fixation was to produce a key precursor to organic life working around the clock, and they still barely managed to do it.

The basic building blocks of life aren’t unique to Earth, either, so other planets have had their chance. Meteorites and comets are known to house amino acids, nucleotides, and other prebiotic materials and many scientists posit a hail of prebiotic-bearing meteorites actually sparked life on Earth. Those same prebiotics undoubtedly slammed into every other planet, too, but whether any were able to make use of them remains to be seen. As far as we can tell from observing those planetary bodies within range of our instruments and assuming similar contact with prebiotic-bearing interstellar bodies, life had its chance to arise but did not (or if it did, it was brief and generally unsuccessful).

So, why us? Are we special?

We’re not exactly special; we aren’t anointed, chosen beings. We’re just lucky. And that’s even more beautiful, in my opinion. Just think. Life almost didn’t make it! If one little variable’s off – maybe, I dunno, the seas were twice as salty – life doesn’t form. How crazy is that?

On the global scale, life on Earth could not, and would not, survive, prosper, or even have come into existence without things the way they were and are. All those chemicals, elements, swirling gases, molten lava, boiling seas, lightning strikes, and shifting tectonic plates made life possible. Without each and every environmental variable in place, those phosphates and nucleotides might never have produced anything but inert brown goo. And without water, and an oxygen-rich atmosphere, life wouldn’t have flourished. Life, then, is completely reliant on a very specific environment.

The same holds true for individual species, which arise because of extremely specific environmental pressures and often come to thrive only when continually subjected to those same pressures. If the environment in which a species evolved changes or is eradicated, the species’ fitness suffers. Sometimes that species adapts successfully, while others like the panda attempt to adapt but may ultimately fail. Either way, it changes the species forever. Individual species, then, thrive in the environment in which they were conceived and to which they are adapted.

For some reason, people forget that humans are beholden to the very same rules as every other life form. We forget that we remain animals, that we are the only remaining hominids heading a long line of bipedal, big-brained, meat-eating tool users. As such, we are even more susceptible to environmental pressures that conflict with our natural tendencies because we largely discredit evolution and ignore its implications for our lives.

Ignore evolution at your peril. Ignore the undeniable fact that the human animal (like any other) arose under certain environmental pressures, pressures that persisted for most of our formative years. Even more important than what our ancestral environments looked like is what they did not look like. They were not grocery stores with tons of refined carbohydrates and cereal grains lining the aisles. They were not sitting in traffic for an hour each way. They were not gallons of vegetable oils. They were not legions of obese diabetics.

And I’ll be the first to admit that we’re highly adaptable. We are, thanks to our massive meat-fueled brains. But though we can adapt to an alien lifestyle and survive, bear children, and lead seemingly normal lives, it isn’t ideal. It’s like the cow chowing down on soy and corn; he’s just eating what he’s given. It seems sufficiently food-like for his purposes, just as a breakfast of white toast, margarine, and jam seems like food to most people. That’s just skating by, though. That’s just surviving. Do we really want to be like the panda and subsist on nutritionally-bereft food just cause it’s there?

No!

We are animals, and we are subject to evolutionary pressures. We came of age in a time without processed foods, sedentarism, and chronic stress. That is the environment for which we are adapted, and it is the environment towards which we should strive – if we’re interested in optimum health, happiness, and longevity, that is.

Let me know your thoughts in the comment board. Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Very interesting about the pandas…so how do we convince the conservationists at the National Zoo to let them eat something more biologically appropriate? According to wikipedia they won’t reject the meat if offered it. Certainly wouldn’t hurt the struggles they have with mating.

    Matt wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  2. Nice post. I often get strange looks for telling people that I don’t consider grains, beans, potatoes or sugars to be proper food for humans (or cows). Just because you can eat it does not mean that you should. Dogs and cats can live on the bizarre mixes of rice and chicken meal passed off as food for them, but they do best on a carnivorous diet. Humans evolved as hunters, gatherers, and fishers, and even lived well on a nomadic, Masaii-style pattern of feeding before anyone started eating rice and wheat and corn all day long. Some humans still live well as hunters, gatherers, fishers, and nomads, and we would do well to heed their wisdom.

    I would add one thing, though: the aurochs, the predecessor of the cow, evolved to eat grass. Cattle evolved from the aurochs as creatures nourished by humans – a predator – and who, in return, nourish us with their milk and meat. As with maize, I highly doubt that domesticated cattle would be able to survive long without human intervention. They need freedom to roam only as long as that roaming does not include being prematurely eaten by wolves, mountain lions, or other non-human predators, or freezing and/or starving to death during extreme winters.

    Icarus wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  3. …or perhaps it is because evolution is jsut a theory and we actually have a young earth that was created by our lord Jesus Christ…. just saying…

    Susan wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Kind of like how gravity is “jsut (sic) a theory”, and instead of being moved by the sun, the moon, and the other planets in our solar system, the earth is REALLY held on the back of a giant invisible turtle “swimming” through space and time.

      Icarus wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • Watch it there – gravity’s merely an explanation of observed phenomena. An invisible force acting on objects at a distance in ways physicists don’t completely understand. A force that we can experience only through it’s effects, not directly. Of course gravity’s a BETTER explanation than the competing explanations for those phenomena, but it’s still just an idea….just saying….

        Geoff wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • And “It’s turtles all the way down.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down

        Richard Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
    • The belief in God isn’t even good enough to be considered a theory…just saying.

      Michael wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • Right. “Faith” isn’t really part of the realm of science.

        FlyNavyWife wrote on November 3rd, 2009
        • faith is completely part of the realm of science. it was in a very functional sense faith that led to low-fat, high-carb diets being promoted as ‘healthy’ and saturated fat being promoted as ‘artery-clogging’.

          the evidence wasn’t there, despite dogged pursuit of it. but yet we all received and heard the faith-based information about diet and nutrition.

          faith is part of all human thought processes. as humans, our inputs are quite limited, and we rely on faith to get anything done, including form hypotheses and theories.

          fbw wrote on November 4th, 2009
      • Yep. “Not even wrong.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong

        Richard Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
    • Sorry, I’m cracking. Too much dissonance – I’m inciting Poe’s Law here: Were you being factious?

      TaydaTot wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • Just to clarify, this is in regards to Susan’s statement.

        TaydaTot wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • Fantastic. I hadn’t heard of that one.

        http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Poe's_Law

        “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.”

        Richard Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
    • And dinosaur bones were planted in the ground to test our faith!

      Nelter wrote on November 4th, 2009
    • Please keep these views to yourself as they are unsubstantiated and damaging to others.

      Al wrote on November 4th, 2009
  4. Susan,

    Thanks for the theory.

    Wyatt wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  5. I’m surprised it took to the third post before the religion came in.

    turling wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  6. Great post! It is unfortunate that many people are missing the complex beauty of life and its origins by hoping that humans are something other than they really are. Progress will always be limited if people only consider the human body a vessel containing their special soul waiting to be evacuated to another realm.

    Jeremy wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  7. Linking how humans “get by” on refined carbs and processed junk to how CAFO herds are forced to eat grains was excellent.

    Great piece of writing.

    Scott J wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  8. I’m with Susan. And creation is still consistent with a paleo diet. I’m pretty sure there were no bakeries in Eden. And with all that other food so abundantly available, why bother with all the work that wheat growing and baking bread entailed? All the pain of growing and harvesting didn’t come until after the fall, which tells me that it’s just another one of those things that’s less than perfect.

    dave, RN wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Is it primal to eat a talking snake?

      Ridgeback Runner wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • if jesus served however many people with fish and bread and bread came after the fall would that make jesus a sinner? just sayin…

      Jeremy wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  9. I’m surprised that anyone is talking about religion on this site at all. I thought it was a site for people who are smart enough to question conventional wisdom, and what is religion but conventional wisdom?

    Alex wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • So what are you saying? Is MDA only good enough for unbelieving atheists? Why all the mysteries about how things came together? The answer is, there is a God.

      Lute Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
  10. It is ridiculous that debates like who’s right or who’s wrong spring up because someone wanted to express their views. Then it comes to a matter of questioning another’s intelligence about being “smart enough” to even be on this site. As far as the beauty of life and its origins..I guess coming from a primordial soup is just that, beautiful. The article is about food, and how to BETTER our and each others lives…criticizing or insulting is doing just the opposite.

    James wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  11. Awesome piece Mark!

    *biting my tongue and trying to not reply to the religion post* I’d hate to sully such a great piece of writing.

    Lovestoclimb wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  12. Alex,

    You’re 100% right. It’s funny people question their dietary habits, but religion is untouchable territory. Once you tell them their religion might not be accurate, they dismiss it as garbage. They refuse to question it, but not anything else.

    Chris wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Religion is not supposed to be “accurate” religion is about having “faith” in something you can’t see or quantify. That’s the point. You should be ashamed of yourself for ridiculing someone for believing in something. I used to love this site…but the self-righteousness of the people posting here make me sick…and I’m not even religious.

      Rachel wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • I agree, Rachel.

        A lot of hard-headed, agnostic, self-righteous windbags chiming in here.

        Thought this site was more open-minded than that . . .

        Terry wrote on November 4th, 2009
        • Some of us simply aren’t open minded enough to allow our brains to fall out.

          Richard Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
      • Faith is like trying to breathe life into a lie by masking reality with the beauty of wishes.

        Nelter wrote on November 5th, 2009
    • I’ve only recently integrated religion with my life, having previously preferred to treat all matters through science. But I strongly believe that the strength of religious ideas, just like scientific ones, comes *from* constantly questioning. Ideas that withstand scrutiny are those that have the fitness to continue to evolve (in evolutionary-speak).

      Jordan wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • But how is that possible, according to “the open minded” and our brains lying on the floor we all must be too stupid to understand the science involved. Albert Einstein said that science without religion is as bad as religion without science.

        Lute Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
        • Actually he didn’t say that… the religion of the world like to misquote him… Also when Einstein refers to God, he does not refer to the Judeo-Christian god… he is referring to “laws of the universe”… I reckon Einstein would have believed in “The Force” if he was around when Star Wars was released.

          Luke wrote on June 12th, 2010
  13. Did you steal some of this from somewhere? The opening in particular sounds a lot like Carl Sagan or something.
    The old American dream is something like this “Oh man I’m stressed out because I slept too long with my low blood sugar and now I have to eat my jelly donut breakfast and get my big fat ass into my big fat car so I can get to my stressful job so I can keep making money to afford my jelly donuts, and my big fat car because I’m too fat to do anything else.”
    The new American dream should be something like “It is so great to get up early and eat this healthy breakfast and then ride my bike to work. Boy I really like my job because I don’t expect much from it other than to give me the income to live a modest, healthy, happy existence with the people I love….”

    Jimmy wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • The New American Dream. That’s pretty much my idea of perfection.

      Another great post, Mark. These last two have had more of a relaxed tone, and are, in my opinion, somewhat reminiscent of poetry at times.

      Haha wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Fortunately individual beliefs have little influence in constructing an idea as big as the American Dream because frankly, both of your scenarios sound terrible to me.

      Michael wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • Hear, Hear!

        Given the two, I’d take the doughnut. “I really like my job because I don’t expect much from it…” GAH!

        Fortunately, those aren’t the only two alternatives, in spite of what the masses think.

        Biscuit wrote on November 4th, 2009
  14. Very nice, Mark! Could I have permission to copy and give this to my biology students when we cover evolution?

    By the way, if someone says “just a theory” then they do not know the meaning of the word as used in science. A theory in science is developed when every bit of evidence and all the facts we have point to the theory as the explanation for those facts and evidence. A theory is an explanation. And Mark’s explanation of the theory of evolution was beautiful.

    lbd wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Right. Theory in its colloquial usage (i.e. just a theory) corresponds more to the scientific term hypothesis.

      And evolution is definitely not “just a hypothesis.”

      Icarus wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Very true.

      “Theory of relativity.”

      And it will always be a theory no matter how many thousands of times it has stood up to efforts to falsify it.

      Ah, falsification, the absolute requirement for _any_ proposition to be a scientific one.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

      And here’s a great example from Carl Sagan in ” The Demon-Haunted World: Science As A Candle In the Dark”

      — The Dragon in My Garage —

      “A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”
      Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

      “Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle–but no dragon.

      “Where’s the dragon?” you ask.

      “Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”

      You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

      “Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floates in the air.”

      Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

      “Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”

      You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

      “Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.”

      And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

      Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

      The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility.

      Richard Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
  15. Jimmy, I’m familiar with Sagan’s writings, and I see no evidence of plagiarism. Are you claiming this piece was lifted wholesale from another article? That’s a pretty bold accusation. You could have just mentioned that it was a bit reminiscent of Sagan but you didn’t have to suggest it was stolen.

    Dee wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  16. Oh dear, religious speak really should be banned on this forum…just saying.

    baz wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  17. ‘Religion is the most important decision you will never make.’

    And that’s all I’m going to say on that. :-)

    Great post, Mark. If I were to add anything to that, it would probably be a quote from the old Babylon Five TV series, about how the atoms inside us were forged in the stars, and we are the universe, trying to figure itself out. But then it would probably be TOO deep and philosophical.

    gcb wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  18. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/

    How we became human.

    Marshall wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  19. To those critics of the religious Groks.
    I thought this was a site dedicated to open minds.

    I’m always amazed at how supportive, and encouraging everyone one this site is. If you go through the forums you would have a tough time finding someone being rude or arrogant, but the second religion pops up there it is.

    I’m not religious myself but certainly dont look down upon anyone who is.

    brad wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  20. Great post, beautifully written! And love to all the Giant Pandas out there.

    As CW poisons our bodies, religion poisons our minds. I cannot take anyone serious who blindly follows CW or baby jesus.

    Ridgeback Runner wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • i cannot take seriously anyone who believes that it’s only Christians who ‘blindly’ follow religion.

      fbw wrote on November 4th, 2009
  21. This very complexity that you write about, the extreme fine tuning (obht molecularly and in the cosmos) that had to be required for intelligent life to have evolved are precisely a couple of the big reasons why I for one believe that we are not just “lucky” or “accidents” that appeared on the scene purely by random chance over geologic time. Remember, scientists in Darwin’s day considered the cell a blob of protoplasm. They had no idea that a single cell is infinitely more complex than anything mankind has ever dreamed of! If they had, they may have rethought things.

    By the way, I believe in “evolution”, but that word has many meanings. Evolution certainly happens, that is obvious.

    But isn’t it also religion to assume tha the universe popped into existence by itself, or that the primordial soup just sprang forth over millions of years with the prebiotic compounds necessary to create self replicating cells? I mean, how does that happpen, where did that stuff come from, and whatever the answer to that question is, where did THAT come from? (and keep going back).

    By the way Mark, I love your stuff, love your book, and I tell everyone to read it and buy it, but I also believe in God AND science. So there! :-)

    Craig wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Evolution by natural selection is not a random ‘accident’, it is exactly the opposite. This really is important to understanding evolution…

      cheers,

      pieter d wrote on November 4th, 2009
  22. This post wasn’t about religion but it’s interesting how quickly the discussion went this direction…

    I am all for a good, heated debate but let’s just all be sure to keep it friendly.

    Mark Sisson wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • We sometimes become so attached to ideas that we believe we own them; they seem to become an extension of us. A challenge of an idea or concept is not a challenge of an individual. Don’t let them get conflated.

      Michael wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Mark, your’e absolutely correct, but some find it necessary to be condescending to those who have a belief in God Almighty.

      Lute Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
      • So what?

        As an athiest, I can’t speak my mind or discuss what I believe except in very rare, specific places, because I stand the risk of extreme hostility against me. And I don’t really care, or whinge on about being mistreated.

        I’m not condoning the condescension – but I also don’t condone the appeal to authority to make it go away.

        Biscuit wrote on November 4th, 2009
        • As a christian, I also am afraid to speak about God in large settings. Go figure. It’s almost as if we should both believe what we want and love each other anyway. Oops, did I say that? :)

          knifegill wrote on December 2nd, 2011
  23. Mark, precisely. We must be respectful. It is hard to avoid the discussion going that direction when suppositions about the very origins of life are made. I mean really, how do we know where the elements that comprised the Big Bang came from? They certainly didn’t create themselves? I could also argue that an infinite universe (temporally) is illogical, so it’s fun to think about what caused all of this, right? I like how you describe how vanishly unlikely it is that it even happened in the first place.

    Craig wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  24. Someone needs to play the role of Thomas Aquinas here. Religion and science can live together. You can scrutinize the beliefs you have, religious or otherwise, without condemning others to hell. Mark presents a compelling article that makes us think about where we stand in the “universal” scheme of things. He seems to submit that humans
    have the choice to believe (and eat)
    what we want, right? We may make choices to our benefit and to our peril. Anyhow, I said all that to help provide a non-biased (although I favor religion) view between evolutionary eating habits and religion. Hopefully some of the steadfast atheists can appreciate an alternative view points, as the belief in “nothing” is clearly in the minority in the United States and around the world; and would therefore be considered “alternative”.

    D wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Right on. Like my biology professor says, “If science and religion where in conflict, I wouldn’t be sitting in a pew ever Sunday morning.”

      I view them as different disciples. To use a sheepishly simple analogy – you don’t use math to appreciate literature in English class. And vice-versa.

      But does conflict occur when religion and science take on the same task? That is they function as as explanatory mechanisms?

      Michael wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  25. Interesting article, but it’s a bit preachy and negative-oriented. Most of the other stuff on this site are directed towards positive changes. It would be nice to have a warning up top that this piece is more op-ed than educational.

    Jordan wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  26. Here’s something… wonder is not religious. Wonder is as paleo as it gets. Wonder is as necessary to our well-being as good food and moving our bodies. Whether it’s directed toward a God-figure or the amazing chance of evolution, it’s still a primal urging to acknowledge the Big-ness.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1EOnVSSJYs&feature=related

    Michelle wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  27. Well written. It’s interesting the conflicts between definitions of biomechanical optimization from an evolutionary perspective and a cultural norm. It’s funny how people regard prehistoric societies as unhealthy based on their diets and cultural norms (as a result, look at their small bone structures and short lifespans), but don’t consider how their own cultural norms create who they are physically in the same fashion. We “know” so much more now, but still have our own biases, including that optimization = the best life.

    I respect the ideas you stand for and am wrestling with my own vegetarianism. You’ve really opened my eyes to the concepts, if not to the lifestyle yet.

    e wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Maybe I’m reading what you are saying wrong, but prehistoric people did not have small bone structures – their skeletal health was quite robust, in fact, much more so than that of any agricultural society.

      Lifespan of paleolithic folk is a whole ‘nother can of worms, but it’s safe to say that infant mortality and accidents would have dragged that number down quite a bit more than they do in the modern day, when nearly everyone everywhere has access to a hospital in times of emergency.

      Icarus wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • I should have clarified. I had ancestral Puebloans in mind (Chaco Canyon culture), but I see now that was not specific enough. So, after development agriculture/domestication of animals but before writing systems.

        e wrote on November 4th, 2009
  28. I am not religious and do not fully trust Darwinian Evolution as it relates to the fossil record, rapid gene expression, and common sense. My doubts arose 20 years ago studying Biology under one the nations most ardent advocates of evolution. I was a strong proponent of Evolution until I began to test the various tenants of Darwinism objectively. Contrary to popular belief, you are NOT an uneducated idiot to question the current state of Darwinian Evolution. There are many in the scientific community (both religious and non-religious) who are looking at alternative theories. There are also many who outright reject Darwinism.

    I do love the blog!

    james wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  29. Someone’s been reading some Sagan! lolz… good post.

    wd wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  30. I’d just like to point out that some form of belief system is believed to have existed for nearly every human culture, as far back as we can tell. Religion may actually be…primal. A good read on the subject is Matthew Alper’s “The God Part of the Brain”.

    I would like to point out that I grew up religious but became agnostic during high school. The matter of religion has always intrigued me, but I do agree that it is beyond the scope of this website. But once you open a can of worms…

    Great post Mark! It’s sparked some good dialogue.

    Kristin J wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  31. Well played sir.

    nblezy wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  32. Great post Mark!

    RE: Religion…

    I bet Grok carved little good-luck totems, said some kind of “prayer” while watching the sun set each night, and “prayed” for blessings of good fortune in the hunt, good health for his family, for the dearly departed, etc…

    Perhaps there is something primal in all of us about needing a spiritual element in our lives?

    Mike Stone wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • There should be no doubt about that.

      The question is, do you take it literally or use it as inspirational?

      That’s really y only beef with religion. I enjoy the family traditions, Xmas, etc., as much as anyone. I just don’t take any of it literally.

      Incidentally, you’ll find that theme very common in Eastern thinking.

      Richard Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
  33. Agreed, I believe that we humans do indeed have a spiritual nature. And why is that?

    Craig wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • spirituality may serve as an explanatory mechanism?

      Michael wrote on November 3rd, 2009
      • Yup, Michael. You hit on one likely possibility. Humans view the world causally (and I’ve even found evidence that rats do too, to an extent). Most causes, however, are hidden. To discover those causes one has to be able to manipulate them (termed an intervention). Spirituality may stem in part from entertaining and modeling hidden causes that are out of our reach, so to speak. That is, that we cannot intervene on. Science uses our predilection to learn through intervention (i.e., experimentation), while scientific theory and technology combine to continue to extend our reach. Thus, science continues to advance into territory historically the purview of religion and faith. And therein the wild rumpus starts!

        Aaron Blaisdell wrote on November 5th, 2009
  34. Hi Guys,

    I would just like to say that the religious issue in here stemmed not from comments criticising people for being religious but for stating incorrect ideas/facts…

    This all stemmed from Susans comment “…or perhaps it is because evolution is jsut a theory and we actually have a young earth…”

    This above statement is flat out incorrect/impossible and yet is put forward like it is a plausible alternative idea.

    Johnie Doe wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • no, actually there is some evidence for a younger earth than billions of years. is it uncontestable? of course not. what there is not is evidence of a scientifically conclusive sort that the earth is a few thousand years old max.

      geologists actually discuss the implications of discontinuities among themselves and do in fact recalculate areas to be younger when it appears more likely.

      based on, er, primal data from local people where i live (PacNW), there is compelling data that some of the geological phenomenon in the area occurred merely thousands or tens of thousands of years ago rather than a couple million. and some of it has been recalculated, but some of it is disregarded as ‘fairy tales from brown people’.

      the whole ‘age of the entire planet’ thing is actually very nuanced and not nearly so cut and dried as you’d think.

      this is true of all sciences, actually. very little is conclusively proven, even our primal eating choices (because the studies have small samples, or are not fully falsified before being set up, or are not properly controlled, etc.)

      this doesn’t mean it’s time to hop back on the grain train, but it does mean that the CW regarding science (that if someone asserts a scientific belief, it’s been conclusively proven every single time) kinda gets us all. we sigh at our friends telling us the science proves meat is evil, but then some of us are doing the same when it comes to other scientific topics that are highly politicised and in which scientists debate the matter among themselves.

      fbw wrote on November 4th, 2009
  35. Just watched Surrogates yesterday and i am reading this post makes me wonder how far we would go to rely on machines and robots to do anything without giving ourselves time to evolve to such sedentary lifestyle.And such a lifestyle would defeat the purpose of our existence.
    Life as we know it itself is far too sedentary.
    If everything(or atleast only laborious and dagerous stuff) was automated, every human being would be at a desk job except may be ppl in sports and fitness.
    How can we avoid technology and how should we not avoid technology to be more sustainable even in day to day life?
    eg. it wouldn’t be remotely possible for me to gather the knowledge without a computer and internet connection. Previously i would have relied on printed material which is a technology that is much older than internet.I am subjecting myself to a very vast information at a given time that none of my ancestors including my parents have ever done.
    How will this impact our evolution of brain and body?

    Madhu wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  36. ^ I agree

    Being in agreeance with the entire primal lifestyle and philosophy means by default you must accept the earth is ~4.6 billion years old and that all life on earth is the product of evolution by natural selection churning away for over the last 3 billion years!

    Personal opinions on religion and religious beliefs don’t need to enter this debate! Whether god created the universe or possibly gave that initial spark to life or doesn’t exist at all don’t inform the discussion regarding this article of Mark’s on life and evolution and its natural environments and optimal living

    Peter wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  37. That piece about the panda blew my mind.

    THAT is going to be my new argument in defense of Grok from now on.

    Going to watch myself some Cosmos while we’re talking about it :P

    Gary-A wrote on November 3rd, 2009
  38. Mark, you stated that this post wasn’t religious. Below is a definition that might interest you.

    re⋅li⋅gion  [ri-lij-uhn]
    –noun
    1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.

    Now according to this definition the THEORY of evolution in my opinion is religious.

    I enjoyed your video called big fat lies. I did find it odd however that you were quick to point out how Ancel Keys pushed his obvious agenda by extrapalating the data that fit with his theory and purposefully excluded the data that flew in the face of his theory. I regret to inform you that the scientists that keep trying to prove evolution go about it in much the same fashion. All of the supposed “missing links” that were discovered were proven to be frauds, yet many of these “proofs” for evolution are still being taught in text books today (there is no bias there). The results for dating the age of the earth using carbon dating and other methods are as about as obscure as Keys trend line in your big fat lies video. Using these methods the scientists have gotten several different ages for the same animal. They have even dated living animals and gotten results that said the animal was “millions and millions of years old”. But like you said, “you can’t make a big splash in the scientific community with a trend line that looks like that”. Now these scientists were not following the truth were it led, they were pushing their agenda, which I believe is religious. There is plenty of good science that supports creation and doesn’t defy the first and second law of thermodynamics. Don’t worry I won’t bore your readers with all of them. But I would urge them to seek out and research the truth for themselves and not to swallow every little thing that they are fed by the masses. Especially when the masses claim to deliver their message under the guise of science. After all, back in the fifties when Ancel Key’s published his study, I am sure he would have stated that he conducted it “scientifically” and because it was done in the name of science many people have believed it ever since.

    alex wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Alex, the definition of religion is based upon belief. A belief is an assertion based upon faith rather than evidence. The theory of evolution is supported by evidence, not faith. This is why a discussion of evolution is not a religious discussion.

      This piece is one of the best posts I have seen on this blog.

      Shine wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • “There is plenty of good science that supports creation and doesn’t defy the first and second law of thermodynamics. Don’t worry I won’t bore your readers with all of them.”

      I’m quite sure Mark’s readers would love to see some of this good science. Do you have links? Or names of books?

      We love science around here and there are plenty of us who read research in our spare time.

      FlyNavyWife wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • Umm Evolutution is the theory that describes how life on earth changes over time. It postulates NOTHING about the origins of said life let alone the cause, nature, and purpose of the Universe. The origin of life falls under the category of abiogenesis for which there are a variety of non-mystical hypotheses that do not violate any physical laws. The cause, nature, and purpose of the Universe falls under the philosophical category of metaphysics. Describing the natural laws falls under physics.

      The failure of the fat hypothesis has no bearing on the validity of the premises of Evolution let alone the entirety of the theory.

      Concerning thermodynamics I assume you are referring to The Big Bang. Well keep in mind that there is a viable alternative hypothesis that does not violate any fundamental physical laws (or introduce logical fallacies a la Creationism). This is referred to as the Electric or Plasma universe. You will be saddened to hear that this model does even less to support Creationism as it postulates no origin of the universe, simply maintaining, which is perfectly logical, that the Universe has always existed — no singularity needed.

      Marnee wrote on November 4th, 2009
      • Ah, Hannes Alfven and Eric Learner (“The Big Bang Never Happened,” 1991).

        Thanks for reminding me. ‘Twas a very interesting read.

        Richard Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
      • Hi, Marnee!

        Fancy meeting you here! :D

        “Evolution is the theory that describes how life on earth changes over time. It postulates NOTHING about the origins of said life let alone the cause, nature, and purpose of the Universe” PRECISELY!

        Biscuit wrote on November 4th, 2009
    • Wow. It’s far worse than I even imagined.

      ‘Evolution is religion and creationism is science.’

      Goes right along with atheism as religion, war as peace, and all other violations of the Law of Identity.

      Astounding.

      Richard Nikoley wrote on November 4th, 2009
  39. Anyone interested in the “THEORY” of evolution should read Richard Dawkins’ new book! :D

    Jamie wrote on November 3rd, 2009
    • I don’t agree! They should not read his new book, they should read ALL of his books. And the one from Steve Gould, and Dennett, and …

      pieter d wrote on November 4th, 2009
  40. About religion being primal, true, however I’d also like to point out that in that case, it was formed during a time when perhaps our ancestors’ brains were simpler…

    Eyeshield9 wrote on November 3rd, 2009

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