Saturday, December 18, 2010

Can Christians Be Paleo? Christianity, Faith, Evidence, Dobzhansky, Evolution, and More

by Chris Masterjohn

Jimmy Moore recently raised the question, "Can a Christian Follow A Paleo Low-Carb Diet?"  He raised the question because he has received emails from people who find it difficult to answer why God created grains if they are bad for us, why God put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden eating a vegetarian diet if we are not meant to eat such a diet, and why the Bible would emphasize bread both in meals and metaphors if it is so awful.  He provided insights from several paleo researchers and bloggers, most of which focused on evidence for evolution and the ability of the Bible to be wrong, and only one of which was from a Christian, which stated that Genesis 18 proves that any meal God personally eats contains protein and fat.


I would like to offer my own take here, which is a synthesis of my views on nutritional science and what I believe is the most genuine, ancient, and traditional appraoch to Christianity.

The crux of this view is this:


Jesus said, "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart," but he did not say, "Learn from me, for I eat fish and bread."


More broadly, this post will cover the following: why you can be a creationist and still eat paleo; why you can be a Christian and believe in evolution; the relationship between faith and science; the proper approach to understanding the Bible; what, if anything, the Bible teaches about how we should eat; a glimpse of some interesting Christian hunter-gatherers from our own continent; and how Loren Cordain accidentally introduced many in the paleo community to an ancient form of Christianity often overlooked in the modern West, and how he completely forgot to point that out.


I realize that religion is a touchy subject, and I am not trying to force any of the non-scientific information in this post on anyone else.  Please feel free to take what you find interesting and leave the rest, and to speak your mind and heart as much as you wish in the comments. 


Paleo As a Heuristic, Not a Diet or Dogma


While some people may see paleo as a definitive diet and argue something along the lines of "paleolithic man ate fill in the blank, therefore I will eat fill in the blank, and if you don't eat like me you will die an early death," the wisest people within the paleo movement do not treat the paleo principle this way. 


Wise people within the paleo movement treat the paleo principle, the idea that the diet and lifestyle of our distant ancestors provides critical information about how we should eat and live, as a heuristic.  In other words, they treat it as a mental model or framework through which they organize information, develop hypotheses, and then test those hypotheses with personal experience and science. 


Richard Nikoley of the Free The Animal blog articulated this in his post, "The Paleo Principle Is Neither Authoritative Nor Dogmatic."  Richard runs an excellent and widely popular paleo blog, but refuses to eschew the modern white potato.  He is also a very happy atheist, even though atheism, as Ned Kock recently pointed out, is a recent neolithic invention.  Of course, it is important to note that Ned defined "atheism" loosely as non-spiritualism and Richard is not against all forms of spiritualism per se.  Richard learns what he can from what he considers the best science of the paleolithic era, but he doesn't pay unthinking subservience to what that science uncovers.


Stephan Guyenet of the Whole Health Source blog likewise refuses to eschew the potato, and while he often incorporates paleo perspectives into his posts, he provides rigorous and objective scientific analyses of everything he posts about, and frequently incorporates information generated by other ideas as well as by paleo. 


Melissa McEwen, who co-organizes the Eating Paleo in NYC meetup group with John Durant, with whom she has also been featured in the New York Times, recently made several posts, including "How Do I Love Thee, Neolithic Foods," emphasizing the need to evaluate ideas generated by the paleo principle with solid science.


Thus, we arrive at the question, must someone who rejects the heuristic used to generate ideas and results also reject those ideas and results?  Certainly not. 


Consider, for example, some of the ideas we currently hold to that were generated using Biblical literalism as a heuristic. 


Most of us are familiar with continental drift theory.  I was first taught in fourth grade science class that all the current land masses were originally one land mass and have since separated by sea-floor spreading and the resulting drifting apart of continents.  Let's take a moment to consider how this theory formed:
The first credible proponent of continental drift was Antonio Snider-Pellegrini, a belated advocate of catastrophism who, in 1858, ascribed the biblical flood to the former existence of a single continent that was torn apart to restore the balance of a lopsided Earth.
That a single land mass existed "in the beginning" is implied by Genesis 1:9 and its division after the flood could potentially be read into Genesis 10:25, but Snider-Pellegrini also provided observational evidence for the theory, including a map of how the continents could have fit together and how the fossils of plant and animal life at the edges of these continents fit together similarly.


Would any of us reject the theory of continental drift simply because one of its early proponents used a Biblical heuristic to shape it?  Of course not.


Why, then, should a Christian who believes the earth is roughly 6,000 years old and that humans have no common ancestry with apes or any other creature reject dietary principles developed within the paleo framework if, in fact, they are validated by modern science and are helping people improve their health?


The answer is that there is no reason.  Just like folks who believe the earth is billions of years old should feel free to accept continental drift and people who accept the paleo principle should feel free to eat white potatoes, people who believe in a young earth and the independent creation of created kinds or species should feel free to eat whatever aspects of the paleo diet they deem likely to help improve their health.


Cordain, Dobzhansky, Evolution, Orthodox Christianity


Loren Cordain wrote the following to Jimmy Moore:
The great evolutionary biologist, Dobzhansky said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Cordain could have communicated his point more effectively to the Christians that Jimmy's post was aimed at if he had pointed out what the commenter Patrik pointed out on Richard Nikoley's post:
The only thing I would add to this discussion, if someone else hasn’t already mentioned it, is that evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky who wrote the essay: “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” was a devout Russian Orthodox Christian.


Indeed, in the very essay that bears this oft-quoted title, Dobzhansky, generally credited with the modern synthesis of genetics and evolutionary theory, stated the following:
I am a creationist and an evolutionist.


He continued:
Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts. As pointed out above, the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.
He concluded by commenting about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French geologist and paleontologist:



Teilhard was a creationist, but one who understood that the Creation is realized in this world by means of evolution.


Just how devoutly Dobzhansky held to the beliefs of the Orthodox Church is a matter for debate.  Francisco Ayala, who credited him with contributing "to evolutionary biology perhaps more than any scientist since Darwin," described his beliefs in this way:
Dobzhansky was a religious man, although he apparently rejected fundamental beliefs of traditional religion, such as the existence of a personal God and of life beyond physical death.  His religiosity was grounded on the belief that there is meaning in the universe.  He saw that meaning in the fact that evolution has produced the stupendous diversity of the living world and has in fact progressed from primitive forms of life to man.  Dobzhansky beheld that in man biological evolution has transcended itself into the realm of self-awareness and culture.  A metaphysical optimist, he believed that somehow mankind would eventually evolve into higher levels of harmony and creativity.
Ayala offers no citations for these statements and I am therefore unsure of how much more I should trust them than the Wikipedia article that completely ignores them.  Nevertheless, Dobzhansky's personal religious beliefs should not hold captive the religious beliefs of evolutionists or the scientific beliefs of Christians any more than the timeline of the domestication of the potato should hold a paleo dieter captive.


The Orthodox Church, often called "Eastern" or associated with various ethnicities, initially existed as a single multi-ethnic entity in North America.  Owing in part to the loss of Russian financial support as a result of the Bolshevik revolution, it was later broken up into multiple ethnic jurisdictions, contributing to the misconception that it is somehow integrally tied to these ethnicities.  While its distinction from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism owes historically to the divide between eastern and western Christendom that culminated in the eleventh century, Orthodoxy sees itself as continuous with the western church of the first thousand years of Christendom.


While Dobzhansky's faith in the teachings of Orthodoxy may be unclear, many traditionalist Orthodox Christians who take the Church's teachings very seriously do believe in biological evolution.  OrthodoxWiki provides a list of publications by Orthodox Christians with varying views on evolution.


One does not need to look as far as Orthodoxy to find Christians who accept evolution.  Indeed, while Orthodoxy has no official position on evolution, the Roman Catholic church has essentially endorsed it, and there are also many Protestants who believe the same.  Indeed, while the Apostles and most Christians through history seem to have considered the events of the Old Testament to be historically true, even within the New Testament we can see that the overwhelming use of the Old Testament Scriptures has been allegorical and spiritual, considering them to be prophecies of Christ and lessons about the spiritual life.


The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction."  Paul wrote to the Galations that Abraham's two sons were a metaphor for the Old and New Covenants.  The Apostle Peter wrote that the Great Flood represents the saving power of baptism.  Indeed, it is quite telling that Peter refers to the saving power of the water, and not its destructive power.


Thus, it was not difficult even for Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, to convert to Evangelical Christianity, more commonly associated with literalist interpretations of the Old Testament.


While these allegorical interpretations are available to all who use the Christian Scriptures, the rich abundance of allegorical and Christ-centered interpretations of the Old Testament found in Orthodox hymnography would certainly assist many people who question literal historical interpretations of the Old Testament grapple with the meaning of those passages.


When Orthodox Christians begin Lent, for example, they commemorate three stories of exile: the self-exile from Eden, the capativity of Israel to Babylon, and the story of the Prodigal Son.  The story of Eden tells of man's alienation from God and the Prodigal Son tells of his return.  In each story, the exile is self-induced.  Humans leave God, rather than God leaving humans.  Israel's captivity to Babylon represents the captivity of humans to sinful patterns of thought and behavior.  "Sin" is seen in the context of the literal meaning of its Greek word, amartias, which implies the "missing the mark" of divine likeness.  The seemingly gruesome line at the end of Psalm 137 is understood to mean the dashing of angry, hateful, lustful, greedy, selfish, unloving thoughts against the rock of Christ before these "infant" thoughts grow into mental and behavioral patterns that will hold us captive.  Lent, for Orthodox Christians, is thus a time to make the resolve to use this rock for strength, and make the return home to God.


While there is nothing in Orthodox hymnography that indicates these stories are not historical, it would be easy to become immersed in these interpretations and realize that they have meanings that go far beyond the historicity of the events to the point that the historicity becomes of secondary importance, and one is willing to tolerate discussion and debate about the historicity while realizing it has no bearing on the central theme.



Orthodox Christianity may be of interest to those in the paleo community for several other reasons: we have an example of an Orthodox Christian hunter-gatherer population on our own (American) shores; many of the dietary practices of Orthodox Christians have parallels in the paleo community; and Orthodoxy provides some valuable input on faith and reason that may appeal to many scientifically oriented people.


Orthodox Christian Hunter-Gatherers


We hear the story over and over again.  The natives eat traditional diets, have beautiful teeth, well formed dental arches, robust skeletal frames, and they live vibrantly healthy lives.  In come the missionaries, bringing Christ, money, English, flour, and sugar, and it all disappears.


There is an interesting counter-example to this.  The Russians brought Orthodox Christianity to the Inuit and Aleuts native to Alaska in the 1700s.  The missionaries had profound respect for the natives, their culture, and their language, and had very little impact on their diet.  Until the twentieth century, these Christian natives remained hunter-gatherers. 


This topic deserves its own blog post, and I will write about it in the future.  Two books of interest include Fr. Michael Oleska's Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission and Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, a collection of primary source documents that Oleska compiled.  Oleska, though not a native himself, is married to a Yup'ik native and is recognized as an honorary Elder by the Alaska Federation of Natives.


Orthodoxy, Intermittent Fasting, and Protein Cycling


In my recent review of Tim Ferriss's The 4-Hour Body, I discussed Ferriss's comments on intermittent fasting and protein cycling as ways to increase longevity.  Paul Jaminet over at Perfect Health Diet considered these to be "Art De Vany-related ideas."  De Vany is considered the "grandfather" of the paleo movement.


In fact, Orthodox Christians incorporate these concepts extensively, in a way that looks very much like Ferriss's diet.  For example, Ferriss recommends one day a week bringing protein down to 5% of calories and practices 18-hour fasting once a week, eating his first meal around 2:00 PM on Saturdays.  Orthodox Christians eat a near-vegan diet on Wednesdays and Fridays, reducing protein intake to a similar level, and, if they follow the strictest form of these fasts, eat one meal on these days at or around the ninth hour after sunrise, which is generally around 3:00 PM.


Some evidence suggests that Christians have been fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays since the first century.  Some people interested in paleo for its ancientness may also be interested in this practice for its ancientness alone.


Of course, Orthodox Christians have other fasting periods and the purpose has nothing to do with longevity.  Nevertheless, folks worried about the conflicts between Christianity and paleo might also be interested in these points where the two seem to collide.


Incidentally, Nicholas Taleb is a prominent Lebanese Orthodox Christian who considers himself paleo.  Here's John Durant paying him some love.  Here's Taleb appearing in the NYT with Durant and Melissa McEwen.


Orthodoxy On Faith and Reason


Many Christians seem to need "empirical evidence" to support their faith.  This can be witnessed, for example, in the recent Intelligent Design (ID) movement, or the older Creationist movement. 


Personally, I have much more respect for Creationism than ID because the ID'ers seem to believe that God is incapable of making a physical or chemical law that spontaneously leads to marvelous beauty.  If God wanted to create by using evolution, would he really have to constantly intervene in the process?  Is this the same God who can raise the dead, who can't make a self-perpetuating material system?


Regardless of how beautiful the theory is, of course, the desire to provide empirical evidence for it is fundamentally flawed.  Intelligent Design and Creationism are both entirely legitimate theories.  However, neither of them are scientifically testable, and thus one can hardly complain that they are being "expelled" from science.


Here is an excellent diagram from Dr. Kirk Fitzhugh (original source) demonstrating what an experimental test of Intelligent Design might look like:






Since we have no ability to randomize some organisms to the power of God and others to the power of Satan or an intelligence-free control, we can never perform an experiment demonstrating or falsifying Intelligent Design. 


Dr. Fitzhugh has elaborated his criticisms of Intelligent Deign in the journal Evolutionary Biology, available here.


Whether one can test the hypothesis of universal comment descent that underpins what is colloquially called "evolution" is a more complicated question that I will address in a future blog post.


Another example of the search for empirical evidence can be found in Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a VerdictWhile I think this book is an interesting read, most of the "evidence" provided in it could hardly nudge a skeptic. 

McDowell: Jesus's tomb is empty. 


Skeptic: That's not Jesus's tomb. 


McDowell: Why did Jesus allow us to believe he is God when there is no evidence he was a liar or insane? 


Skeptic: Who cares?
McDowell's "evidence" contrasts greatly with the evidence that St. Athanasius the Great wrote about in his On the Incarnation in the fourth century.  St. Athanasius considered the masses of martyrs in the preceding centuries to have shown the evidence that Christians did not fear death.  Christ destroyed the power of death with his own death, setting humans free of the fear of death.  Like Paul before him, Athanasius considered faith the "evidence of things unseen."


Would this "evidence" convince a skeptic?  Hardly.  But it makes no pretension to. 


Indeed, anyone with an interest in history, I would think, would at least consider it a rather fascinating curiosity that while Christianity had no state power, it managed to spread through all of western and eastern Europe and into parts of Asia and Africa, when the promise of Christianity was often death in the arena at the hands of gladiators or wild animals.  That Christianity grew in response to persecutions rather than being eradicated is an interesting phenomenon. 


But it's not empirical evidence of anything.  And empirical evidence wasn't really what Athanasius was writing about.


The recent book The Mountain of Silence features a "Fr. Maximos," an Orthodox priest-monk from Mount Athos (the "Holy Mountain," a peninsula of Greece dedicated to monasteries) who is now a bishop of Cyprus, who transmits the teachings of Orthodoxy through dialogue with the author, a sociologist with a western, rationalistic and relativistic mindset that he only partly shakes off by the end of the book.


In the chapter "Knowledge of God," Fr. Maximos explains how logic and empiricism are simply the wrong tests to use in order to obtain knowledge of God:



"Let's assume that we wish to investigate a natural phenomenon.  As you very well know, in order to do so we need to employ the appropriate scientific methods.  If we wish, for example, to study the galaxies, we need powerful telescopes and other such instruments.  If we wish to examine the physical health of our hearts, then we need a stethoscope.  Everything must be explored through a method appropriate to the subject under investigation.  If we, therefore, wish to explore and get to know God, it would be a gross error to do so through our senses or with telescopes, seeking Him out in outer space.  That would be utterly naive, don't you think?"


"Yes, if you put it this way," I replied.  "Can we then conclude that for modern, rational human beings, metaphysical philosophy like that of Plato and Aristotle or rational theology is the appropriate method?"  As I raised the question I thought I knew what Father Maximos's answer would be.


"It would be equally foolish and naive to seek God with our logic and intellect.  . . . Consider it axiomatic that God cannot be investigated through such approaches."


. . . "Does that mean that God cannot be studied?"


"No.  We can and must study God, and we can reach God and get to know Him."


"But how?" I persisted.


Father Maximos paused for a few seconds.  "Christ Himself revealed to us the method.  He told us that not only are we capable of exploring God but we can also live with Him, become one with Him.  And the organ by which we can achieve that is neither our senses nor our logic but our hearts." . . . This is the meaning, Father Maximos argued, of Christ's beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." 


"Do you understand what that means?  Those who wish to investigate whether God exists must employ the appropriate methodology, which is none other than the purification of the heart from the egotistical passions and impurities."
In modern discourse, we use the word "dogmatic" to mean unthinkingly proclaiming that something must be so while refusing to consider evidence to the contrary.  I believe this comes froma  misunderstanding of the Christian usage.  "Dogma," is, after all, a Greek word.


St. Basil the Great, who many credit with having invented the hospital and orphanage, presided over the Second Ecumenical Council in 381, which finished formulating the last passage of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan, often called Nicene, Creed.  In his work, On the Holy Spirit, he uses the word dogma to mean what the Church proclaims outwardly.  He never contrasts it with evidence.  He contrasts it with kerygma, that which the Church holds in secret as the inner mysteries of the liturgical life and spiritual life.


Indeed, Fr. Maximos would shudder at the thought of anyone believing anything unthinkingly, without evidence, or in the face of evidence to the contrary:



"If people manage to cleanse their hearts and still fail to see God, then they are justified by concluding that indeed God is a lie, that He does not exist, that He is just a grand illusion.  Such people can reject God in all sincerity by saying, 'I followed the method that the saints have given us and failed to find God.  Therefore, God does not exist.'  Dont' you think that would be utterly misguided," Father Maximos continued, "if we believed in a God for whom there was no evidence of existence, a God that was utterly beyond our grasp, a God that remained silent, never communicating with us in any real and tangible way? . . .


"So when during the liturgy we recite the prayer 'I believe in one God . . . ,'" Father Maximos went on after I shifted to second gear, "we try in reality to move from an intellectual faith in God to the actual vision of God.  Faith becomes Love itself.  The Creed actually means 'I live in a union of love with God.'  This is the path of the saints.  Only then can we say that we are true Christians.  This is the kind of faith that the saints possess as direct experience.  Consequently they are unafraid of death, of war, of illness, or anything else of this world.  They are beyond all worldly ambition, of money, fame, power, safety, and the like.  Such persons transcend the idea of God and enter into the experience of God."
With this view in mind, the conversation with the skeptic might go something more like this:


Christian: I love God.
Skeptic: Prove it.
Christian: Come and see.


[Skeptic freely comes to learn or walks away.  Peace remains.]


There is no weakness of faith in this conversation so great that one begins to bend and twist science into proving what it cannot prove. 


And likewise, there is no challenge to faith by open-mindedly considering scientific evidence about the valuable information it may provide about how we can improve our physical health and quality of life.


Conclusion: What Does the Bible Teach Us About Food?


The Bible teaches us that all foods are clean, that in the last days scoffers will come and tell us we can't eat meat, that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that we should become partakers of the divine nature so that we be transformed by the Spirit in greater and greater degrees into the likeness of God.

Jesus said, "Learn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart."  He did not say "Learn from me, for I eat fish and bread." 

Moses descended from Sinai, not the great walls of the Food Pyramid.  And he descended with the Ten Commandments, not the periodic table of the elements.

God made the human mind; it should hardly offend God if we choose to use it.  Thus, he has left most of the science to us.

For those specifically interested in the topic of the Bible's relationship to wheat, I would recommend reading some of the cardiologist William Davis's posts on this topic,
here (In Search of Wheat) and here (Ezekiel Said What?).

In future posts, I will provide a series of critiques of Dobzhansky's essay from a scientific perspective, as I have several quibbles with it.  This should prove of interest to creationists, evolutionists, and people who couldn't care less how we got here but are interested in the fascinating story of how twentieth and twenty-first century genetics has pushed us into new understandings that we, stuck in 19th century views of heredity, have stubbornly resisted.

For now, the verdict is: can Christians eat paleo?  Of course they can!


Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

106 comments:

  1. who the eff cares if "christians" can eat paleo or not. you could as well ask if the star trek enterprise crew were allowed to eat tomatoes.

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  2. This nonsense seriously undermines the credibility of all your other postings.
    If delirious religionists harm themselves as a consequence of their madness let evolution take care of them in the long run.
    Let stupid people reject paleo diet more meat will be available to more enlightened ones.

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  3. Thanks for this post. I found it most interesting. I look forward to all your posts and enjoyed the subject of this post. As for kensho and jld, just because you don't care about ideas of this nature doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of people who do. Do you guys think you are the only people who read what Chris writes?
    Chris you are an incredible teacher and I hope you continue to share your insights.

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  4. Hi Kensho,

    That's a pretty good point. I think the fact that Jimmy Moore made his original post and that people like Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf responded to it indicates that there are a lot of people grappling with this question. I thought it might be valuable to some people to articulate a synthesis of Christianity and paleo a little more nuanced then "God eats meat," which was the only one available among the responses given on Jimmy's site.

    Jdl, I read Thomas Malthus's _On Population_ when I was 14 or 15, so I am familiar with that argument. However, I'm not so sure it is desirable to successfully populate a world in which people do not care about other people.

    In any case, does the fact that Dobzhansky lowered himself to address similar questions somehow indicate to you that the modern synthesis of Darwinian evolution and genetics has its credibility completely undermined? I kind of doubt it.

    Deb, thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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  5. I confess I'm a little bit lost with all this. We sometimes make things far too complicated!

    I have noticed a tendency in many blogs lately: people feel the urge to test using their own body. I'm referring to many paleo and gluten-free blogs, among others. I find this curious, since most readers of these blogs, like myself, have been or are acutely ill -not really a great time for further testing if you can avoid it I would say.

    I just wish my great grandma was here and could show me how to take care of myself. I don't trust science, or religion for that matter, with dietary advice. Eating is far too complex a process!

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  6. I added the sentence:

    Thus, it was not difficult even for Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, to convert to Evangelical Christianity, more commonly associated with literalist interpretations of the Old Testament.

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  7. Hi M,

    The alternative to testing things on yourself is to use methods to improve your health without paying attention to the results. That, in my opinion, is a little more risky than trying things and paying attention.

    Chris

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  8. Ned Kock's thesis, that atheism is neolithic, kinda takes liberty with what atheism means or at least should mean.

    Atheism is merely the lack of belief in the supernatural, particularly as when expressed in terms of some supreme being. "Atheists" who go a step further to assert that "there is no God" are stepping out of line, asserting things that can't be tested.

    On the other hand, the question is no more important than would be the wringing of hands over whether unicorns exist. Yes, asserting they do not is stepping out of line, but mainly, it's stepping out of line because until there is actually some testable evidence for unicorns, the entire thing is _arbitrary_.

    So, the whole religion thing ought properly be rejected on grounds of _arbitrariness_. It's that that makes it ridiculous, and that's the proper atheist position in my view.

    And so as a principle of thought, reason, logic, it is not neolithic but as paleo as you can get.

    We evolved the capacity of complex conceptualization, and logic (non-contradictory identification), reason, rationality are essential characteristics of that.

    Making up arbitrary stuff out of whole cloth and thin air because we do not have the capacity or the knowledge, as of yet, to explain ultimate origins or to explain how the notion of an ultimate origin is bogus (I'll assume some familiarization with the logical can of worms "nothing exists" implies), is testament to our fallibility in emotion (fear, principally), authority seeking and a host of other things.

    Put another way, it is a fundamental misuse of our minds which, so far as we know -- and have no good reason to doubt -- are merely evolved organs with the amazing capacity to integrate sensory data in order to perceive and then conceptualize reality into a logical hierarchy of conceptual tags we call words (and words are tools and we're tool makers first and foremost). The human mind is not a reality creating organ.

    Religion merely represents another stepping out of line in order to attempt to create reality.

    But I suppose it's baked into the cake. Complex conceptualization implies metaphor, simile, allegory, parable and so on.

    Yes, it is a marvelous thing that we can learn great lessons and meanings in a social animal context from mere "made up stories." The vast and rich world of literature is testament to that and yes, in some respects, so too is the world of religious literature. It is a profoundly good thing that we can make up a story to teach valuable lessons in social cooperation and personal development.

    ...Which gets me back to my original point from my post that was linked here: literalism. In the simplest sense, what's really going on here is that some literature (religious) is afforded special dispensation. And I suppose how that happens is an interesting study.

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  9. Hi Chris,

    I've been a little puzzled at this discussion because it seems the familiar "problem of evil" in another guise: "God created creation so it must have been good, yet it contains evil ... why?" "God created plants that contain toxins ... why?"

    Since we can't deny there's evil and suffering in the world, it doesn't seem that the Paleo diet issue should present any special conundrum that Christians haven't already grappled with. Yet some people seem to think this is a new and special case.

    Best, Paul

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  10. gods are just concepts about which belief systems, meme systems have developed. Some is real some is not. We are driven by our beliefs, our internally accepted concepts, real or imaginary. Do not stress over which is true, but test and through out your wrong beliefs. Clarity of thinking has followed.

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  11. Actually some great comments here already.

    I guess some background on this post could come from me since I have had a long and fruitful correspondence with Chris about this. This plus Jimmy Moore's post might be the catalyst for this post. So y'all can blame me a little. For those of you who say this is irreverent, I disagree since even those of us who are not religious often have religious friends and family.

    The missing piece here that isn't being addressed, but which Ned hints at, is what is the effect on our psyche of not having spirituality anymore? If our evolutionary past is important, we must consider that our ancestral past is one of spirituality.

    Maybe people are happy to cast this aside in anger and adopt complete atheism. I thought I could do this, but let's be honest: I was not a psychologically healthy person as an atheist. The paleo diet had healed my body and some basic psychological problems, but I still deeply felt as if something was missing. I wonder how many other atheists feel this way and keep it to themselves in fear of ridicule?

    When I had that unexplained sickness (this sickness unto death?) this year I decided to start exploring religions. I've done a lot of reading, gone to religious services and performances of spiritual music, and generally done some soul-searching.

    I'm still in a nascent phase of this, so I won't elucidate further. But I will be bold and say my life is better and my psyche is healthier now, but I still have a long pilgrimage of exploration ahead of me.

    My family is religious and they never had trouble accepting paleo. I think the most challenging thing about paleo and Christianity is the large population of paleo followers who openly mock religion, sometimes in rather cruel ways. I think it was just last spring when I personally called Christianity barbaric, but now I feel a bit more humbled than I did back then :) Either way, I don't feel comfortable mocking people's personal faith anymore.

    I find the smugness of internet atheists to be very familiar to the Christian fundamentalist smugness I was raised with. That makes me intensely uncomfortable. I guess both groups are more than happy to belittle the personal philosophies of people they feel are inferior.

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  12. You can be paleo (it's a diet, after all) and christian. If you have a problem with the whole evolutionary approach to paleo diet, then just call it ''ancestral/traditional/old school diet''. The goal here is to avoid dangerous foods. Really, We need to stop bringing religious issues in every topic.

    As for Melissa's comment, All I have to say is that I'm an atheist. I don't believe things that lack evidences. I'm psychologically healthy. I'm not an atheist because I am angry. I agree that if something make you feel better, then you should probably focus on it. I value science and when religion make scientific claims (they always do) that have little evidence, I will call them on it. I'm not into forcing my way of life/beliefs/opinions/etc down someone else throat. I'm into debate.

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  13. Chris, this is one of the most thorough, thoughtful, and relevant posts on the topic. Thank you. And Melissa, thank you for your comment as well.

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  14. Responses to Richard, Melissa, gilliebean, and others.

    Great comments, people.

    Richard, I think we mostly agree up until a certain point. Like I detailed in the post, views on theism are not amenable to scientific testing. However, I am also a strong proponent of the concept that how to deal with scientific uncertainty is an individual choice. I support it with vitamin D supplementation at levels beyond those yet shown to be effective experimentally and I support it in people's spiritual investigations.

    After all, the criteria one uses to deal with uncertainty is not amenable to scientific testing, nor is the concept of philosophical materialism, nor are the presuppositions of the scientific method. Ultimately, we choose to use the scientific method because in our experience it not only makes sense, but works -- not because we have
    experimentally tested its presuppositions.

    I agree that Ned takes some liberty, and I also think there's lots of uncertainty in interpreting how cave paintings were used, but
    ultimately I think the historical record shows that atheism is pretty recent.

    The definition of atheism is a semantic point over which there is disagreement. There are two reasons I consider atheism to denote a positive belief that there is no god. The first is that I think the word agnosticism is much more appropriate for the belief that we have no idea if there is a god and should rely on the scientific evidence, for which there is none. And agnosticism is already widely used to denote that. The second is that most words beginning with an "a-" or "an-" usually denote the absence of something. Anarchy, for example, doesn't denote ambivalence toward government but its absence. I realize this is semantics and people can disagree on it. It makes little difference as I did not give any specific criticisms of atheism in my post.

    Melissa, you make a lot of important points and I think that is something perhaps you or Emily Deans or other bloggers will be better suited to addressing than I am.

    I should have included this discussion by Dr. Davis about the bible and wheat:

    http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/in-search-of-wheat.html

    I will add it soon.

    And gilliebean, thank you so much for your kind words.

    Chris

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  15. Taboo food precepts seem to show up in most groups. Who ate what and when is something that is tied up with social arrangement.

    Paleo-centric dietary advice is a construct without definite context of who ate what and when. We do not know specifics of the absolutely first taboo's influence on the dynamics of genetic selection.

    Certainly the first Christians heard some of the Kosher dietary instructions. And a protracted fast in the desert can be typified as calorie restriction.

    There was a woman once wearing a tee-shirt saying: "Lips that touch meat shall never touch mine". Paleo-diet fed brains should be able to come up with a catchy phrase.

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  16. There are types of psychopathology (borderline and narcissistic personality disordes in particular) that are conceptualized (by some) as being caused by lack of faith or a deficit in spirituality. For some, social psyches cannot feel empty and exstitientially alone without negative behavior, anxiety, anger, and depressive symptoms. Others could care less and are happiest alone. For those who struggle, finding "religion" can be curative - I've seen it. "Religion" can mean actual religion, or an Einsteinian atheism where the world is a glorious and amazing place and we have our tiny spot in it, meaningless yet infinite and beautiful, or simple generativity with respect to reaching out to the community in charitable ways. I have no quibble with those who would point out that organized religion is responsible for horrific acts in human history, but "religion" is a necessary ingredient for many people to have a healthy psyche.

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  17. @Melissa:

    Recently I attended the memorial service for a friend who passed. It was at a Unitarian church and I can honestly say that this form of "spiritualism" was not only not offensive to me but rather enjoyable. In speaking with the female minister (also my friend) and harpist after the service the thing that impressed me most was their sense of uncertainty. Thus, their worship is not about submission or service to some literal higher power but about worship and ritual of real and meaningful things, and ancestor worship plays a big role in that (it was coming up on Halloween so that theme -- All Saints Day -- figured prominently).

    Anyway, it's not something I feel I need but it's also not in the slightest something I would ever need to speak out against. In my view, they get it right and keep it in context. If you haven't already, you might want to check out the Unitarians. Do note that this was but one service and not a standard church service so I may be assuming a lot that's not really there.

    @Chris:

    I have no problem with various reasonable approaches to deal with uncertainly. Plainly, that's a hugely valuable aspect of humanity. But, I think that things like inspiration, visualization, emotional excitement and a host of other things have a real place in our psyche and don't depend on a literal belief in the supernatural or a being with sooper powerz.

    On the question of agnosticism, I don't think it's particularly helpful to map out a position because it smuggles in the assumption that the question of a supreme being is somehow a legitimate one rather than arbitrary.

    IOW, what's the term to describe an agnostic in terms of a belief in unicorns?

    There is no doubt that we can learn, teach, experience and improve ourselves and even mold society and culture by means of made up stories and it's a big part of what differentiates us from other animals. There are huge lessons to be learned in literature, from Mother Goose to the great classics.

    I just don't see any need put "religious" literature in a special category simply because so many people actually take the stories literally.

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  18. Chris,

    I agree that atheism is probably a new development. (Perhaps since the Enlightenment?) Anthropologists find that belief in supernatural events and agents appears in all cultures. Since this post concerns evolution and religion, I thought I would bring up some books that bear on the evolution of religion. Religion is a natural phenomenon that requires an explanation and we should be curious about the explanation and approach it scientifically. For those who are interested, science has actually come along way in trying to understand the neurological basis for belief in the supernatural and the reasons for which these mental faculties may have evolved. I would recommend books by Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran, or for quicker summaries Breaking the Spell by Dan Dennett.

    On the issue of whether religion is psychologically healthy, I think there are some good arguments there, particularly for certain individuals with certain kinds of minds. Some arguments can be found in the work of Jonathon Haidt, who discusses an evolutionary psychology perspective on our sense of morality. The Happiness Hypothesis is an easy read, and explains the many reasons why religion is a very human thing to do. How can it not be, if almost all humans do it?

    As to the whether atheism require a positive belief in no god, I agree the terms are a little confusing here, and two people with basically the same belief may be confused over whether to call themselves and atheist or an agnostic. However, one view is that atheism literally means without belief in god. The “a” means without, “theism” means “belief in god.” So it is not necessary to believe there is no god to be an atheist. In any event, I like Dawkins’ line about people’s reluctance to use the word atheist. He says something like: “no one has a problem saying they are an atheist with respect to Zeus, Apollo or Wotan - I just go one God further.”

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  19. Nice post Chris. You definitely went in a different direction than I will be going in my post covering the same topic. Partly because I am incorporating another post from a different blogger, (Hallee the Homemaker), and partly because I will be slightly more confrontational in what I consider to be wholly inadequate responses from all corners in Jimmy's post.

    Still your post and comments have provided much food for thought and I could say much especially regarding this:

    After all, the criteria one uses to deal with uncertainty is not amenable to scientific testing, nor is the concept of philosophical materialism, nor are the presuppositions of the scientific method.

    I will be commenting at length on this in my post, because frankly I think this is the heart of the matter in discussions of this nature. While I believe St. Photini is the primary example for most Orthodox in dealing with these issues as you note in your Josh McDowell critique, St. Paul also provides an intellectual model for reasoning in a more "learned" environment.

    Of course over the years you have seen me write on this topic but I have never treated it at full length. It's time, even if it has to go on my personal blog. :-)

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  20. Well I wrote a post that seems to have gotten lost, so I guess I will just save my comments for my own post.

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  21. Chris, I too think this is a very important topic. I make other points in the post you linked, including some related to cave paintings and shamanism. I hoped that the post would serve as a basis for some lively debate. I guess this is happening, so I am happy to have contributed and continue contributing.

    Richard is right about my post. In fact, I did say at the beginning of the post that:

    For the sake of simplicity, this post treats “atheism” as synonymous with “non-spiritualism”. Technically, one can be spiritual and not believe in any deity or supernatural being …

    One of my main points in the post is what Melissa highlighted in her comment. She makes excellent points, to which I would like to add the following for emphasis.

    Spiritualism has been around for too long among our Paleolithic ancestors, and has been too widespread among hunter-gatherers, to have been simply the product of plain stupidity.

    I suspect that spiritualism evolved through a complex covariance path (traits must covary with reproductive success to evolve) that has led to enhanced survival as an intermediate to enhanced reproductive success. I believe that it must have served a purpose.

    If this is correct, then lack of spiritualism may have a negative effect on health and survival among modern humans. This is not pure speculation. Religiosity, which can be seen as a form of spiritualism, is frequently found to be associated with better health, both mental and physical.

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  22. Ned,

    I think there is a lively debate on whether religion is an adaptation that was selected for or just the product of other mental faculties that were, such as agency detection, theory of mind, altruism, non-harming, disgust, submission to authority, conformity, ethnocentrism, etc. I'm not an expert but so far I find the non adaptation argument a little more persuasive, as the adaptation arguments rely excessively on group selection.

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  23. When you are doing paleo right, you are not reenacting, you are using evidence of our past to inform hypotheses of how our bodies can optimally thrive, usually verified by modern science. We don't blindly follow everything hunter-gatherers do, we use them as inspiration. Religion should be no different. We should be able to recognize an evolved need for some kind of spiritual practice without reenacting the problems of believing in supernatural myths. My problem with religion is very simple: they allow (usually require) the belief in things evidence has shown to be false so that their organizations can propagate, and to achieve this they take advantage of the fact that humans more readily respond to emotional cues rather than critical reflection, so as to mold their followers' epistemological foundations to favor faith in the irrational over reason and evidence.

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  24. Hey Chris, I've known about your religious views for almost as long as I've enjoyed and learned from your studies of health, which has been maybe 8 years or so, going back to the early days of the old email discussion groups (e.g. native-nutrition). Having been an online comrade for so long, I have great feelings of pride and joy to continually witness your development into such a powerhouse of cutting-edge, relevant, usable, altruistic health science. By contrast, my own health studies have followed a purely avocational path serving my own needs (and those of friends), and I'm deeply indebted to all the amazing knowledge you've presented for public benefit in recent years. My understanding of A, D, K2, goitrogens, lipoproteins, cholesterol, etc are largely thanks to your deeply inspired and generous efforts.

    I've read, with interest, plenty of your musings on religion from years past, and I've always had two basic observations:

    1) You're a typical example of a compartmentalized theistic scientist; the reason why many very smart and scientific people can be theists is simply that they put these aspects of their mental lives in two separate compartments and apply different systems of thinking to them. As a cognitive scientist, I see this as very natural human cognitive behavior because the human brain is basically a large collection of specialized gadgets that people freely alternate among depending on the type of information they are processing. We all switch between different modes of thinking in different situations. Of course, people like you are fond of whipping up all kinds of fancy rhetoric that attempts to reconcile theism and science, but when you strip away the poetic metaphors and feel-good observations of vague parallels, it always amounts to old-fashioned compartmentalization. Atheists like me don't put spirituality into a separate compartment than science; we simply recognize that we have a very limited scientific understanding of spirituality at this point in history, but it's quite obvious that spirituality is a basic, universal component of human experience coded into our genes, while supernatural entities like gods are arbitrary inventions of the rich human imagination that can be scientifically understood just like all the other abstract concepts and narratives that human cultures have produced with bewildering abundance and diversity. Atheism is just Occam's razor when science explains gods as something brains do just like science explains photosynthesis as something that leaves do. I've been an atheist since I was a teenager and enjoy a happier and more spiritually active life than just about anybody I've ever met. Just like we can understand all kinds of fancy science about food chemistry, olfaction, taste, appetite, digestion, etc without losing our freedom at any given moment to experience the deep aesthetic pleasures of eating instead of experiencing that scientific knowledge, or we can understand all kinds of fancy science about acoustics, pitch perception, rhythm perception, etc without losing our freedom at any given moment to experience the deep aesthetic pleasures of listening to music instead of experiencing that scientific knowlege, it is possible for people to amass scientific details about spiritual experiences, spiritual concepts, etc without losing our freedom at any given moment experience spirituality, which occurs in a wide variety of highly malleable cultural contexts to suit all sorts of personalities, lifestyles, etc.

    2) [looks like I have to post a separate comment because of character limits]

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  25. [continued from above]

    2) Your personal theological concepts are very different than the official theology of any of the flavors of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religion you identify with. They are very liberal and abstract, and in my view the connection with the specific supernatural concepts of that religion are so tenuous that with a few tiny changes in terminology your theology would essentially be a variety of atheism, albeit one preoccupied with abstract cosmology instead of concrete cognitive science. So I've basically always considered you to be an atheist who wears clothing with the brand name "Christianity". Take the clothes off and it's still the same person, a religion-free person who happens to be very interested in philosophy and spirituality, just like most people who identify as atheists.

    -Mike

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  26. Do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

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  27. "2) Your personal theological concepts are very different than the official theology of any of the flavors of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religion you identify with. They are very liberal and abstract, and in my view the connection with the specific supernatural concepts of that religion are so tenuous that with a few tiny changes in terminology your theology would essentially be a variety of atheism, "

    Hmm, it's clear you are only familiar with Western theology.

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  28. Hmm, it's clear you are only familiar with Western theology.

    Yeah the difference between Eastern and Western theology is huge.

    For example a Randian a few months back was circulating a mocking critique of the atonement in photographic form, which was true as stated, except no one in the East believes that view of the atonement. It is a western heresy.

    I didn't bother to point that out as I doubt it would have made any difference, but it did illustrate the relative ignorance of the west of a huge chunk of traditional Christianity

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  29. chris-been chewing on this stuff in my own personal life and have found this discussion nourishing to my soul. thanks for sacking up and posting it.

    mike-your comments describing chris are interesting, "a religion-free person who happens to be very interested in philosophy and spirituality". i would argue that in many ways this describes the essence of true Christianity. Jesus's harshest words were for the most religious of His day. The whole story of the bible, is that of a personal God pursuing his beloved. Religion is all about man trying to reach god on his own power. Reminds me of one of my favorite shirts…”its against my relationship to have a religion”.

    -todd

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  30. Responses to Emily, Richard, Todd, Michael, Melissa, Ned, and Haig.

    Emily, thank you very much for your thoughts. I agree that psychological requirements will exhibit strong inter-individual variation, much like nutritional requirements.

    Richard, I dated a girl about 12 years ago who was a Unitarian, and she told me a funny joke. What do you get when you cross a Unitarian with a klansman? A question mark burning in your lawn. :)

    Richard and Todd, you both make compelling arguments for the use of atheism to refer to agnosticism with respect to theism. I do not think this is a settled issue, but the ambiguity is sufficient to respect both definitions. In any case, I have added this sentence to the post: “Of course, it is important to note that Ned defined "atheism" loosely as non-spiritualism and Richard is not against all forms of spiritualism per se.”

    I suppose it is ironic that, in fact, many early Christians were executed for the crime of atheism.

    Regarding unicorns, Richard, is this an urban legend and doctored photo? http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/06/unicorns-are-re/

    Michael, I very much look forward to your blog post. I’m crossing my fingers hoping you don’t spend a lot of effort defending McDowell. ;-)

    Ned, thanks for your comments. I didn’t quote your post more extensively because my argument was leading in a different direction, but I do hope that by providing the link I may help facilitate some more discussion of the important topics you brought up, too.

    Haig, thank you for your comments. You make a good case for abstaining from religion, given your preferences.

    Melissa and Michael, superb points. However, I think a term like “modern western theology” might be more appropriate, so as not to erroneously suggest that western theology has always been this way.

    Todd, I’m very glad this was helpful to you!

    Chris

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  31. Response to Mike.

    Mike! I was reading your post in my email, so I had only seen the first half, which was not signed, and I knew it was you within the first few lines. It's good to hear from you!

    I think that Maximos explained the compartmentalization well. I pity the foo' who can't compartmentalize where appropriate. In fact, without the ability to reduce, compartmentalize, and synthesize, one cannot do science. And if one did not compartmentalize different theories and behaviors and interactions according to different criteria for believing or acting, one's life would certainly implode.

    It is news to me that my beliefs do not come from any official church! Quite fascinating, though I am very skeptical. ;-)

    I more often than not eat my eggs by cracking them into my hand over the trash and letting the white drip between my fingers into the trash and popping the yolk in my mouth. I have named this after you. It's a wonderful ice-breaker when done in front of strangers in public.

    Thanks for stopping in!

    Chris

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  32. For those who are interested, this is the discussion Mike is referring to from Native-Nutrition. Apart from the comments on evolution, he is mistaken that this is not "official" teaching.

    http://onibasu.com/archives/nn/44671.html

    >What is your god like Chris?

    Christianity has traditionally considered animate life to be animated by the
    Holy Spirit. It is the breath of the Holy Spirit that God breathed into man that gives man his reason, rationality, and imagination, and all qualities that make us human. Yet animals are also recognized to be bearers of the Holy Spirit, only they only partially partake in the activities of that Spirit.

    Now that we know that what we once thought was static is actually dynamic at the microscopic level, we further must recognize that the Holy Spirit animates even that which appears inanimate.

    In fact, this is consonant with the prayer that is used to open every service
    in the Orthodox Christian Church:

    "O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth,
    Who are present everywhere and fill all things...."

    That God is everywhere is also recognized in the Lord's prayer. The proper translation is NOT "Our Father who art in Heaven" but o en teis ouraneis, not ouranos, is plural, thus "Our Father who art in the heavens". Thus, God is not a localized entity that resides in a specific place, but is in "the heavens," which we now know to entirely surround the earth on every side. "The heavens" are not in the "up" direction, but are like a pool that the earth is submerged in.

    God created the laws by which the universe operates. As Sheryl pointed out, what seems to us as chaos or randomness is actually divine order. That supposed "randomness" can yield beatiful, complex, and intricate order, is a
    testament to the enormous and infinite power of God and infinite creativity and intelligence of God. A God that has to babysit his creation at every moment to intervene in every step is less, not more, powerful than the true God, who created natural laws that unfold themselves into manifestations of the beauty and intricacy of the mind of God.

    And, in fact, these natural laws are not intermediaries between God and
    creation, but are Gods actions within his creation, are the very activity of God
    Himself. As much as we know, we are yet baffled by what makes an electron spin
    or what makes light travel. We know how fast light travels and many other properties about it, but we are left with the fundamental question of WHY light travels.

    I believe the answer is that light is animated by the Holy Spirit, who is responsible for all motion. Electrostatic forces, spinning of subatomic particles, all are the movement of the Holy Spirit.

    It is the God who creates a creation so beautiful and complex and intricate who also creates it in such a beatiful and complex and intricate WAY. The creationist is faced with the incongruence between the intricacy of God's creation and the boring, simplistic, and unintricate way of simply speaking something
    into being. God does not have a larynx or vocal chords. When God "speaks" he
    speaks in the language of motion, attraction, combination; his days are, as St. Peter says, like 1000 years, and his 1000 years are like a day.

    Evolutional theory is the product of the scientific method, and it reveals
    that God's method of creation is as intricate and beautiful as his creation itself.

    Chris

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    Replies
    1. I came to this party extremely late. Just wanted to thank you for the post and the great comments. This one in particular was just beautiful.

      YOU SIR, are a gentleman, nutritionist, and a scholar. : D

      JonMarc

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  33. Okay I haven't even begun to read all of this, but I can't WAIT to do so. So many things...the referrence to Paul pointing out the anaolgy in the OT stories...called typology. The concept of fasting beginning to be shown to have health benefits....I am so excited! Sometimes I feel like we, our generation, is living on the CUSP of something amazing that will involve the West recognizing and looking to the Orthodox East just as a few of us are beginning to look to pre-modern human life for clues to proper nutrition. I feel lucky to have had the veil lifted off my eyes early.

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  34. >"Evolutional theory is the product of the scientific method, and it reveals
    that God's method of creation is as intricate and beautiful as his creation itself."

    So then god uses trial and error, killing uncountably many organisms and, in fact, most species that have ever inhabited this planet, to 'create'? This is neither intricate nor beautiful, and I shudder in terror at the prospect that this process is the handywork of a god--a lovecraftian cosmic horror if there ever was one.

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  35. Hi. Is it useful to consider the Bible as a dietary guide? Things have changed a lot since it was written. Wheat has changed. Wheat processing has changed. Bread making has changed. Animals have changed. Animal feeding has changed. Vegetables have changed. Fertilizers have changed. We now have refrigerators & freezers so we can eat "unclean" animals without getting food poisoning.

    Cheers, Nige.

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  36. Aleck H AlexopoulosDecember 19, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    Fascinating post - on a touchy subject.
    Well done!
    Interesting perspective of paleo diet in christian orthodox.
    Note that the monks of Agio Oros in Greece (who have been following the same diet and religious practices for centuries) also developed their own medications from local plants. They consume tons of vegetables, fish, olive oil and ... wine.

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  37. I'll stand corrected about the relationship of Chris' theology to one or another official Christian theology, but it really all sounds the same as all sorts of "nature as god" theologies that lack a personal god and are empirically indistinguishable from a general sense of wonder about the universe.

    Chris: "...psychological requirements will exhibit strong inter-individual variation, much like nutritional requirements."

    To me, this is an incredibly astute and important statement! Religious diversity and freedom is so important!

    -Mike

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  38. Good topic to post on, Chris! The search for meaning and an understanding of spirituality is important to me. I too have previously identified as an atheist, but found it lacking for me. I go to a church now, and actually had the chance to speak there about my faith journey, transcript here: http://tinyurl.com/2aex8ar

    I liked your thoughts on the Holy Spirit as an animating force. As a sort of animist, I appreciate the focus on the aliveness, that dynamism evident in all creation.

    It sounds like you identify with Orthodox Christianity- is there somewhere you can recommend I visit online that offers a good overview of Orthodoxy for someone unfamiliar? Maybe also with a rundown of some of the differences of belief and practice as compared to Catholicism and Protestantism, or any specific denominations?

    Thanks Chris!

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  39. Chris,

    I hope you don`t mind me saying that your time and energy could be better spent on other topics. Mixing science and religion is unproductive because the former is experiental and practical while the latter is dogmatic and idealistic.

    There is no better arbitrage of truth that practical results. "You recognize them by the fruit of their labor".

    Regards,
    Stan (Heretic)

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  40. Thanks Chris. I enjoyed this post and the ensuing comments. This has been needed for a while since there have been so much written by the Paleo Athiests...this provides some balance. Dr. T went a bit over the top on the former Nephropal/EVmed blog.

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  41. OK, Chris, you raise the need for a distinction: _magical_ unicorns. :)

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  42. Taboo on egg whites is a modern one.

    Any marriage minded egg sucking indigenous girl who saw a suitor letting the egg white fall in the dirt would probably look for a
    "saner" mate. Any mother who saw her child doing that would box their ears for wasting what they toiled to gather.

    Monastery cooks who repeatedly spilled out the white and did not use them in other confections likely got transfered to the weeding detail. Famine relief project directors who threw out the egg whites would be forcibly restrained by the starving.

    Option of discarding the egg white
    is made possible by the security of abundant commercial supplies of food items. The implication is that a contemporary diet taboo may be suitable for a certain
    select few.

    Most blog readers here have been told how 2,000 years ago a "miracle" of loaves and fishes fed a multitude at the Sea of Gallile. However, we never are explicitly told whether the host of the feast took a bite. (I think the host partook -
    just didn't gorge out.)

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  43. Chris, what a great post. I love it when a blog post really gets me thinking, and you have challenged my views in a couple of areas.

    To add another reference point, the late evolutionary biologist and self-described agnostic, Stephen Jay Gould, called science and religion "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA).

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  44. Responses to Shelley, Haig, Nigel, Aleck, Mgfgilbert, Mike, Rob, Stan, Trix, Richard, Al, Frank, and anyone interested in the religion gene.

    Shelley, Great! Hope you like the post. I look forward to your feedback.

    Haig, thanks for your input. I’m pretty sure that death is included in the creationist model as well and that we have incontrovertible daily experience with the existence of death, so I’m not sure your comments have any particularity to evolution, but they do raise an important issue for many to deal with, so I appreciate them.

    Nigel, I agree.

    Aleck, thank you for your comments. Parts of Greece seem very healthy despite eating diets based on wheat and dairy, so I think these populations offer good reasons to use “paleo” non-exclusively as an imperfect but useful heuristic.

    Mfgilbert, you’re welcome.

    Mike, while I do not think that religious diversity in and of itself is important, I definitely think that religious freedom is important, and that will inevitably result in diversity. I do not believe that nature is God. I think perhaps we are getting stuck on the term “personal.” I believe in a personal God, but perhaps many people anthropomorphize what this means to such a degree that they come up with completely absurd notions of “the big guy in the sky” that are radically and fundamentally antithetical to what I believe in God, leading many people to think that I do not believe in a “personal” God. I never, even back in the NN days, indicated that nature was God; rather, that God, not to be confused with nature, permeates nature, gives it its existence, and gives its life.

    Here are some relevant verses from Orthodox hymnography that demonstrate the ‘officialness’ of this view:

    “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, come and abide in us.”

    “By the Holy Spirit are all things maintained, both seen and unseen.”

    “By the Holy Spirit, every soul is made living, is exalted, and made shining the purification, by the threefold oneness in a hidden manner.”

    “In the Holy Spirit, as in the Father and the Logos, is the principle of life. In him is every living being endowed with life.”

    “By the Holy Spirit, the streams of grace are flowing, watering all the creation, granting life upon it.”

    Rob, that’s a great question, and I’m not sure if there’s any one best answer. Here’s a somewhat extensive online introduction: http://www.oca.org/OCorthfaith.asp You could read it in order or just browse through it. I confess I haven’t read it all, though Hopko is pretty widely respected.

    Stan, thanks, as always, for your comments. I agree that most of my time is best spent communicating nutrition, but based on the number of comments and some of the thankful and positive responses, it doesn’t seem to me like this post was a waste of time. I notice you either spelt “experimental” or “experiential” wrong. I would say science is experimental and religion is experiential.

    Trix, you’re welcome, and thanks for your kind words. I don’t know what happened at Nephropal/EvMed. Could you summarize or provide a link? Thanks!

    Richard, are you discounting the possibility of horizontal gene transfer between this unicorn and Harry Potter?

    …AL, I have no taboo on egg whites. But I feel best when I eat eggs this way. And they are, in fact, abundant enough to do so. I know unmarried women who eat their eggs the exact same way, but it’s not one of my ‘criteria’ and I’m sure there are other women who love omelets and would tolerate me eating them my way. Besides, I make a killer omelet.

    Frank, thanks! Although I don’t see eye-to-eye with Stephen Jay Gould on everything, I read him voraciously as a teenager and I do think he provided invaluable insights. I also like his criticism of “the selfish gene” and wish he articulated this more elaborately. I will be posting on genetics in a few weeks anyway, which should be interesting.

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  45. Here's the religion part, too long for last comment.

    For everyone else… for those of you didn’t know, they isolated the religion gene in 1997. It has a thyroid hormone response element in its promoter, which allows the abundance of food to signal ideological systems that make people marry young and have lots of babies. It encodes an enzyme that exists as a trimer of 30 kilodalton subunits and that catalyzes the building of a church. However, when it is phosphorylated, the trimer dissociates into three monomers, each of which catalyze the building of a mosque. Just this past summer, the also found that there is a science response element (SRE), reason response element (RRE), and atheism response element (ARE) in its promoter, and that binding of these elements by their respective transcription factors recruits corepressors that turn off transcription. It was also found that the ligand for the atheism receptor also covalently modifies the enzyme, causing it to remodel any pre-existing churches and mosques into libraries. Encoded in our genes? You bet!

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  46. AL, if wasting the egg whites is objectionable, then wasting the shells would be too, but hardly anyone eats them. Both whites and shells provide a good amount of only one nutrient (protein and calcium, respectively) in a suboptimal form, and both nutrients are abundantly available from other foods, whereas the yolk provides a good amount of dozens of nutrients in an optimal form, including some that are relatively difficult to find from other foods. People also routinely waste large bones and certain parts of vegetables without any stigma. Of course nothing is wasted when it's composted.
    -Mike P

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  47. I no longer have access to EvMed/the former Nephropal as they have made it by invitation only or for professionals/Doctors only.

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  48. Michael, I very much look forward to your blog post. I’m crossing my fingers hoping you don’t spend a lot of effort defending McDowell. ;-)

    Ha! I can't tell if you are serious or joking but you recommended this book to a mutual friend many years ago and I tried to dissuade her from reading it. :-)

    Later she used one of his arguments on Native Nutrition and I was cringing because I knew any atheist worth his salt would crush it, and sure enough the list owner knocked it out of the park. There was a legitimate answer to his remark but of course she didn't know it.

    Not that I am opposed to McDowell per se, just the way he uses evidence. Evidence in any discipline only comes into play after a number of more foundational issues are settled. Issues by the way which are not amenable to empirical analysis :P

    So no I won't be defending McDowell. In fact I'm sure I will manage to offend just about everyone in one way or another, LOL!

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  49. @Rob A

    It sounds like you identify with Orthodox Christianity- is there somewhere you can recommend I visit online that offers a good overview of Orthodoxy for someone unfamiliar? Maybe also with a rundown of some of the differences of belief and practice as compared to Catholicism and Protestantism, or any specific denominations?

    Orthodox Info

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  50. "is there somewhere you can recommend I visit online that offers a good overview of Orthodoxy for someone unfamiliar? Maybe also with a rundown of some of the differences of belief and practice as compared to Catholicism and Protestantism, or any specific denominations?"

    I wouldn't bother, but don't let me dissuade you.

    Many, many years after leaving divinity school for a more rational life, I was persuaded to embark on a study of Eastern contemplation (that's a _distinction_ for those paying attention).

    Bah, humbug. It's really nothing but the same sort of fantasy start line, just a little different.

    If there ever was a line of study that might interest me, it's that of how, given smart, rational people who were al taught some faith or the other, some were happy to abandon it while others spend a good part of their lives hedging it.

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  51. Michael,

    Really? I was thinking you had recommended it to her. Wow. *kicks himself*

    Richard, I have never considered myslef an atheist and always considered myself agnostic during that part of my life, but in contemplating the definition you use I was most certainly an atheist. I debated the local Catholic priest in the local paper -- you'd probably love what I wrote if I manage to dig it up. I'd probably make an interesting case study for your project. :)

    Chris

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  52. Help me please - I can't seem to scratch that itch I got from the religion gene! The Un-abundant Pharmacy chain here is all sold out of nutriceuticals.

    Maybe some other blog can tell me what to do. In case you don't hear from me tomorrow, know I wish you all well.

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  53. "I debated the local Catholic priest in the local paper"

    My big fun thing, back when I was a US Navy exchange officer with the French Navy back in 1990-92 was to get the resident Catholic priest tipsy (on scotch - the favorite of all of them), break out the pack of smokes, and get them to tell me how the doctrine of Original Sin could possibly work for them.

    I could elaborate on the direction, but here's something that I think pretty well outlines the logical absurdity of it.

    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/original_sin.html

    That's not to say, of course, that you behold to such moral contradictions, but it was my gig at the time.

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  54. I guess it turns out Rand did have some useful insights on religion beyond her useful insights on economics, although this one is so obvious its difficult to give much credit to her for pointing it out. But yes, the idea that someone bears moral culpability for something that someone ate 4-6,000 years prior is bizarre.

    I do have my essays tucked away somewhere, but if I recall I was primarily attacking God's right to judge or define anything, as I was an anarchist at the time. My boss really hated me too because I had similar views about his right to tell me when to take a break and thought it should be determined democratically by my coworkers. I became a little bit more humble when I left atheism behind. My boss had no idea what happened to me, but he went from hating me to loving me, and decided I was worth giving a pamphlet on raw milk to. Within days I was reading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. The rest, as y'all know, is history...

    Chris

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  55. We are all born atheists. Indoctrination starts a few days later.

    But what does that have to do with what we should/can eat? I mean, really.

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  56. @Chris

    Really? I was thinking you had recommended it to her. Wow. *kicks himself*

    IIRC it wasn't a direct recommendation but more you sharing your own experience with the book. She then asked me about it and I was very hesistant because evidence as far as I could tell wasn't the real issue.

    ...although this one is so obvious its difficult to give much credit to her for pointing it out. But yes, the idea that someone bears moral culpability for something that someone ate 4-6,000 years prior is bizarre.

    I think it fits right in with the notion of the atonement I alluded to earlier that ultimately has God saving us from God.

    Equally bizarre.

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  57. ===========
    I think it fits right in with the notion of the atonement I alluded to earlier that ultimately has God saving us from God.
    ===========

    That God so hated the world that he took the life of his only-begotten son out of vengeance? Agreed.

    Chris

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  58. If god created grains, he must also have created things such as poison ivy or hemlock. They're both edible, but also not good for us. Perhaps we shouldn't eat them!

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  59. The problem with atheists and believing in god is at times it is forgotten that choosing to be an atheist or choosing to believe in a god is a personal choice and an expression of free will. For some people it is such a passionate choice that they define themselves by it. Where both sides run into problems is when there is a disrespect for each others foundations or lack thereof and a profound desire for what I like to generalize as the “herd movement” or insecurity in one’s choices, etc.

    If you are the only atheist in the world what would a portion of your free time go towards? I have a tendency to think outside of surviving some amount of free time would be spent trying to convince others of their ideas or at least sharing them.

    If you are the only person in the world who believes in a god what would a portion of your free time go towards? I have a tendency to think outside of surviving some amount of free time would be spent trying to convince others of their ideas or at least sharing them.

    I feel confident that when the wheel was invented that there was some talk around the camp fire.

    A problem arises however not in the sharing and exchanging of ideas but in the convincing part. I think what both sides fail to see sometimes is that some people do indeed reason their way into atheism or believing in a god. You can witness this everyday when a person who one day believes in a god the next day becomes an atheist and when one day the person who is an atheist the next day believes in a god.

    If you sat down with either person and asked for an explanation you would most likely be given evidence, an experience, or a reason for the change and why that choice made sense to the person; or maybe they just changed their mind. I assure you however that no single piece of evidence provided from either side would be convincing enough for the passionate atheist nor the passionate believer to convince the other of the validity of their deductive reasoning (and deductive reason is very-very relative), short of a red-line phone straight to eternal “somethingness” or “eternal nothingness”.

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  60. ...

    [I would argue that science is very open to interpretation (or maybe there is no argument there), the scientific method is observational, we elevate a result to “fact” when different people can reproduce results, who’s to say there isn’t some mass delusion there when there are many religious people who have elevated a result to fact status in their circles; what’s the difference? Different deductive reasoning approaches. But let’s not get to wishy-washy or in a “if I’m not looking does it exist state?”]

    I think its this mutual disrespect for personal choices and the deductive reasoning that each side chooses to employ that is the source of the problem not necessarily the core belief. Racism against a persons intellect or deductive reasoning is only counterproductive for humanity as a whole. What people fail to realize is that the way we reason and make choices is a very real and personal experience something that is unique to each individual. The idea that you can believe in one thing and I can believe in another is a truly beautiful thing. It’s the conflicts and rigidity that lead to problems, not necessarily the idea.

    Anytime there is a new idea people try to convince each other either with concrete evidence or thought experiments or “experiences”, there are many ways to reason your way into a belief and out of it, as well as convince and take advantage of others.

    Any topic is open for debate, but what I can not understand is hostile debate, if you read something, and you find it offensive, you are neglecting a basic right to an individual, an opinion. I love objective thinkers who get hostile, it’s quite ironic. It is your right to be offended but it’s not your right to harass somebody because their opinion in contrasts with yours; that is ignorance at it’s finest.

    I actually found this post quite interesting, interesting in the sense that somebody had the sac to post a “black sheep” perspective. The comments were very enjoyable an there was a definite sense of “polite” intellectual hostility.

    I ate a sweet potato last night for the first time in my life, what a wonderful thing. I don’t see the problem with exploring the world and all it’s definitive realities as well as all it’s seeming paradox's. To deny that to somebody or criticize them for exploring it is quite sub-human.

    EJE

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  61. [I would argue that science is very open to interpretation (or maybe there is no argument there), the scientific method is observational, we elevate a result to “fact” when different people can reproduce results, who’s to say there isn’t some mass delusion there when there are many religious people who have elevated a result to fact status in their circles; what’s the difference? Different deductive reasoning approaches. But let’s not get to wishy-washy or in a “if I’m not looking does it exist state?”]

    I think its this mutual disrespect for personal choices and the deductive reasoning that each side chooses to employ that is the source of the problem not necessarily the core belief. Racism against a persons intellect or deductive reasoning is only counterproductive for humanity as a whole. What people fail to realize is that the way we reason and make choices is a very real and personal experience something that is unique to each individual. The idea that you can believe in one thing and I can believe in another is a truly beautiful thing. It’s the conflicts and rigidity that lead to problems, not necessarily the idea.

    Anytime there is a new idea people try to convince each other either with concrete evidence or thought experiments or “experiences”, there are many ways to reason your way into a belief and out of it, as well as convince and take advantage of others.

    Any topic is open for debate, but what I can not understand is hostile debate, if you read something, and you find it offensive, you are neglecting a basic right to an individual, an opinion. I love objective thinkers who get hostile, it’s quite ironic. It is your right to be offended but it’s not your right to harass somebody because their opinion in contrasts with yours; that is ignorance at it’s finest.

    I actually found this post quite interesting, interesting in the sense that somebody had the sac to post a “black sheep” perspective. The comments were very enjoyable an there was a definite sense of “polite” intellectual hostility.

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  62. ...
    I ate a sweet potato last night for the first time in my life, what a wonderful thing. I don’t see the problem with exploring the world and all it’s definitive realities as well as all it’s seeming paradox's. To deny that to somebody or criticize them for exploring it is quite sub-human.

    EJE

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  63. ... crap, sorry for the multiple posts. EJE

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  64. You ever hear girls say that, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual"? I like to reply with "I'm not honest, but you're interesting!" - Daniel Tosh (Comedian)

    *Apologies if I appear to be commenting on this, Ned's, and Richard's post simultaneously. It's hard to disentangle all the cross-referencing at this point.

    Maybe it's been said and I just missed it, but... There's exactly as much empirical support for being "spiritual" as there is for being religious. That is to say, zero. With that in mind, it seems strange that "spirituality" seems to get preferred status compared to religion. Both are equally "arbitrary" in that sense.

    It's probably true that middle-upper paleolithic (post spoken language) humans were "spiritual" with regard to reconciling external forces of nature in a complicated world with collective naivety. However, there doesn't seem to be much (any?) evidence of the descent into dualistic spirituality of humans until agrarian civilization and writing. Cloaking the discussion in spiritual vs. religious terms allows too many escape routes via wordplay. Non-dualistic shamanism can't be used as a justification for dualistic spiritualism as many seem too willing to indulge in.

    Perhaps atheism is neolithic, but that's a non-sequitur with respect to truth claims, apart from those persuaded by commonsensical pleas to conservatism.

    Mistaking getting whacked out of one's gourd on psychedelics or subjecting the mind to other manipulations (heat, oxygen deprivation, etc.) as a bridge to the spiritual world is excusable for our ancestors. But in the light of evolution and neuroscience, it seems little more than passionately rationalized wishful-thinking.

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  65. I think the question, "Can a Christian not eat bread" is a strange question from more than one point of view. On the one hand it depends on a very literal reading of scripture; and on the other it's not clear to me that it's a necessity for everyone to avoid all types of bread at all times in all places anyway. I mean sure bread can be problematic for at least some people, and of course no one should eat it in default of other, more important, foods ... but no need to get hysterical about it. As readers of this blog will know the Swiss peasants Price found found eating rye bread as part of their diet were enjoying a very good standard of health.

    I think one has to be some kind of Paleo fundmentalist as well having a very literal understanding of the Bible for this to be a live question. But one should perhaps take the Paleo Movement with a grain of salt - or one could if salt were not on the banned list.

    One the broader question of how Paleo or low-carb approaches, science, and a religious attitude might fit together it's interesting that no-one's mentioned _Lights Out_. I think that's one of the more interesting books to be bandied around by the low-carb/Paleo movement. I've no particular religious beliefs myself and yet I think it is one of the (many) charms of that book that it has an openness towards a religious view of life and argues that there are aspects of our world and our experience that don't sit easily with a "scientistic" viewpoint.

    Mike

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  66. Chris,

    I used to be Orthodox. I (and my family) belonged to both OCA, and Antiochian Orthodox churches. I have to say that fasting (abstaining from animal products) was not just on Wednesday and Friday. Every Wednesday and Friday were "fast days" with only a few exceptions. (That is, days on which the Orthodox were required to eat a vegan diet if they wanted to stay "in communion" with the church unless they had a special exemption from a priest.) On top of that is 40 days of Lent plus Holy Week, Nativity fast (another 40 days), the Apostles fast (varies - around 2 weeks), and Dormition fast (2 weeks). All told it adds up to about 50% of the year that a vegan diet is required to be eaten without an exemption. I even had a priest tell me to fast while pregnant and breastfeeding. This caused all kinds of health problems for my family and I, and ended up being the reason for us leaving the church. The Orthodox has an ancient tradition. This fasting tradition is old, but does not originate with the early days of the Christian Church. I think it is really too bad the Orthodox Church has adopted such extreme fasting rules, and I think it is an abomination for the church to apply them to lay people including children as some priests do.

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  67. MM,

    I'm sorry you apparently had an encounter with several rather 'fundamentalist' parishes who apparently did not have very much familiarity with the spirit of Orthodoxy, or, for that matter, even the canons that govern the fasts.

    I'm deeply and intimately aware of all fasting periods and fasting days in the church. It is not true that any of these are "vegan." The apostle's fast and the nativity fast include fish. In Bishop Kallistos's introduction to the Triodion, he discusses how even on the strictest days, shellfish have generally been allowed. Even among more strict traditions on Mt Athos where shellfish may not be eaten on weekdays during Great Lent they are considered allowed on weekends. Insects and shelled land animals such as snails are usually included with shellfish. Snails make up a major part of the Cretan diet during Lent.

    There is geographical variation in the fasts. What do you think the indigenous hunter-gatherers of Alaska ate during Lent? Bread? Fish was allowed during all of Lent in those areas and they abstained from terrestrial mammals and practiced intermittent fasting and moderate calorie restriction.

    Anyone who considers fasting a bunch of "rules" rather than a tool to achieve purity of heart is missing something very basic about the fasts. They should be individualized to each person, ideally with the spiritual father, but if the spiritual father can't understand that pregnant women have unique nutritional needs -- and geez this is even discussed in some of the canons -- then perhaps a different spiritual father is in order.

    While not all of the fasts date to the first century, the fasts on Wednesday and Friday almost certainly do.

    Please feel free to choose the spiritual path you see most fit. However, if you do have any enduring interest in Orthodoxy and these encounters with fasting were the main reason you left, I'd offer some encouragement that there are much better and much more flexible environments within the church.

    Chris

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  68. Chris,

    Yes, I am aware that shellfish is allowed during fast-days. However, I am allergic to shellfish, and even if I weren't the cost of eating shellfish as the only animal product for 50% of the year is prohibitive. Fish is not allowed during the whole Apostles fast, but only Saturday & Sunday.
    http://www.pravmir.com/article_118.html

    The above is a very good description of the fasting that is required by the Orthodox church without an exemption. Notice this quote from the above page, "During fasting seasons, avoiding prohibited foods poses no health risk as long as adequate amounts of other foods are taken. Calcium intake and adequate calories may be a concern for growing children and pregnant and nursing mothers. Calcium-fortified orange juice is an easy way to guarantee plentiful calcium intake while avoiding dairy products. Nuts and nut butters are a good source of calories for those who need to maintain weight on a Lenten diet."

    I was told this or something similar many times -- that eating this way poses no health risk. Maybe not if we could have eaten shellfish, but requiring people to eat shellfish as the only animal product for half the year is extremely irresponsible. One year the Bishop (Antiochian) required all people, including pregnant, nursing moms, and children to keep the Dormition fast, no exceptions. My children got tooth decay on this fasting regime. I came very close to having dental surgery performed on our, at the time, 1 year old. Thankfully I discovered Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. We stopped fasting, started on raw milk, and animal products, and my 1 year old's teeth healed.

    I do not know what the Alaskans ate during the fasts. I did as much research as I was able before leaving the church, but I was not able to find that out. Maybe they were eating bugs as well. I spent a year praying, contemplating and reading as much as I could about fasting in the Orthodox Church before leaving. The last straw came when a teenager in our church was diagnosed with gallstones immediately following Lent. I thought, "I can't stay in a church that is making people sick!"

    I was not just in some "fundamentalist" churches. I was Orthodox for 7 years, and spent a year before that as a catechumen. I went to many churches while Orthodox in several different states and all had the same rules.

    I'm not sure which cannons you're talking about.
    http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/fast_nons.aspx
    From the above link: "The Fathers of the Church were neither 'fanatics' nor 'mentally unbalanced.' They appointed fasts-none of which, except the Monday fast for monastics, is optional-for the spiritual and physical benefit of the Faithful" and "There is, of course, no such thing as 'modified' fasting in the Orthodox Church. The Holy Canons provide for the excommunication of Faithful and the deposition of clergymen who willingly violate the rules of fasting."

    I think that's pretty clear, and it was made clear to me by several priests. I postulate that you have encountered a liberal church that doesn't take fasting seriously. However, the official party line of the Orthodox Church is that it is required.

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  69. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  70. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  71. Chris,

    It seemed to be having trouble posting my comment, so I ended up posting it three times. Deleted the extras. Thanks.

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  72. Hi MM,

    Thank you for your response.

    Russian calendars tend to list fish allowed during the apostle's fast only on weekends, Greek calendars on the whole fast except Wednesday and Friday. The collection of canons put together by St. Nikodemos the Agiorite and St. Makarios of Corinth on Mount Athos endorses the latter Greek practice. I do not know why these discrepancies persist, but the Apostles fast has undergone a great deal of evolution over time and arose out of very inconsistent practices:

    http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/05/history-of-apostles-fast.html

    I'm not sure what Antiochian Bishop you were under, but just because someone is a bishop doesn't mean what they are doing is loving, Christian, or responsible. In this podcast, Fr. John McGuckin, a renowned theologian, summarizes what St. Simeon the New Theologian (one of three people in the church given the title "theologian") told a council of bishops in his day that, basically "If you haven't experience the vision of God you should shut up and not teach theology."

    http://www.myocn.net/index.php/201001292267/Turning-to-the-Fathers/Simeon-the-Theologian.html

    My point isn't to hold this particular bishop in disrepute. Indeed, I am not familiar with the situation and it is not my position to judge. However, I'm just trying to demonstrate that within Orthodoxy, there is no doctrine that defines Orthodoxy by what a particular bishop does or by what a bunch of priests do.

    When I volunteered a couple years ago at the Antiochian Village during the Apostle's Fast, they fed the children not only fish but dairy as well.

    If you'd like to learn about what the native Alaskans ate during Lent or other aspects of Orthodoxy in Alaska, I would recommend reading Michael Oleska's books. They did not live off bugs during lent. They lived off fish.

    My knowledge of Orthodoxy comes from >25 years of experience with it, enriched with contact with very traditionalist circles, monastics, extensive reading of writings of the saints, and growing up with my grandfather, who actually ghost wrote the encyclical of Archbishop Michael (1950s/60s) of the Greek Archdiocese that brought frequent communion back into the church and who translated the entire Rudder and published it on CD recently. Of course, my knowledge is very imperfect, and indeed I know almost nothing compared to what there is to be known, but my knowledge of Orthodoxy certainly isn't based of a chance encounter with a few liberals.

    I hope that helps. I do not mean to have an argument. I just don't think that Orthodoxy should be entirely defined by some of the more ignorant currents within the church.

    Chris

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  73. MM, no problem. Usually if it doesn't post, it got caught in my spam folder, so you can just contact me and have me put it through. more than likely, I'll notice it on my own anyway since I get even the spam-filtered posts by email.

    Chris

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  74. And just to be clear, the native Alaskan lived off of fish not because they were escaping the supervision of a bishop or because they were "liberals," but because Saint Innocent deisgned a fasting regimen for them that was based on their traditional diet.

    Folks who think there is "no such thing as a modified fast" should perhaps pray for some enlightenment through the intercessions of Saint Innocent. :)

    Chris

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  75. Yes, I am aware that shellfish is allowed during fast-days.

    I too am saddened by your experience, and am not interested in arguing the matter, but your initial post stated that all the fasts were vegan, so it was not clear that you were aware that shellfish was allowed or that you had an allergy.

    However, I am allergic to shellfish, and even if I weren't the cost of eating shellfish as the only animal product for 50% of the year is prohibitive.

    I can't speak to the impact of your own personal economic situation on your fasting habits, but I think what Chris said earlier directly impacts your situation:

    ...had an encounter with several rather 'fundamentalist' parishes who apparently did not have very much familiarity with the spirit of Orthodoxy, or, for that matter, even the canons that govern the fasts.

    and

    Anyone who considers fasting a bunch of "rules" rather than a tool to achieve purity of heart is missing something very basic about the fasts. They should be individualized to each person, ideally with the spiritual father, but if the spiritual father can't understand that pregnant women have unique nutritional needs -- and geez this is even discussed in some of the canons -- then perhaps a different spiritual father is in order.

    Seems to me that has a direct bearing on your situation. By the way I am allergic to shellfish as well. Isn't a big deal on Wednesdays and Fridays but it took me awhile to figure it out for the longer fasts, cuz I can't do the fasts for more than five days in the typical manner.

    My children got tooth decay on this fasting regime. I came very close to having dental surgery performed on our, at the time, 1 year old. Thankfully I discovered Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. We stopped fasting, started on raw milk, and animal products, and my 1 year old's teeth healed.

    Why were your children fasting, especially a one year old? That canons specifically exempt for this.

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  76. Wowzers. After these last comment exchanges, it really serves to remind me how glad I am that I dumped religion in 1991, never to look back. It'll be 20 years this coming year.

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  77. The last straw came when a teenager in our church was diagnosed with gallstones immediately following Lent. I thought, "I can't stay in a church that is making people sick!"

    MM, how did you discover the "vegan" fast caused this teenager's gallstones?

    I was not just in some "fundamentalist" churches. I was Orthodox for 7 years, and spent a year before that as a catechumen. I went to many churches while Orthodox in several different states and all had the same rules.

    Chris is being nice and probably wouldn't agree with my assessment but let me state what seems apparent to me. You were in two jurisdictions known for many "convert" clergy, who, while well intentioned, can be overzealous and "fundamental" in their application of the fasting praxis and devoid of the spirit of Orthodoxy when it comes to this and other matters.

    I am Russian Orthodox. Both in America and right now in Russia I have observed everything Chris mentions and more. In fact a very good friend of mine in Russia drinks/eats dairy throughout the fast on the recommendation of her doctor and the blessing of her priest, and her children do not currently follow the fasts at all.

    And by no means is the Russian Church, either in America or the Russian Federation, "liberal".

    "There is, of course, no such thing as 'modified' fasting in the Orthodox Church. The Holy Canons provide for the excommunication of Faithful and the deposition of clergymen who willingly violate the rules of fasting."

    I think that's pretty clear, and it was made clear to me by several priests.


    You don't modify things on your own, of course, but as Chris noted you appear to have had some particularly dense priests when it comes to nutrition and orthopraxis. Fasts are modified all the time.

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  78. Responses to Might-o'-condri-AL, Poisonguy, Olga, EJE, Andrew, Mike, Michael, and Richard.

    Might-o'chondri-AL, I would offer you nutritional advice, but I have created the "central dogma of genetic determinism," that states that all social structures, including museums, libraries, churches, and mosques, are encoded by specific genes that are expressed constitutively and whose expression is not amenable to nutritional modification. The one exception is the regulation of the religion gene by thyroid hormone, but this is only to accomodate Marxist economic determinism and historicism, which is proven by simple virtue of the metaphysical impossibility of anything else being true.

    Poisonguy, that's a reasonable theory, although I think the impossibility of communicating at an intellectual level with infants makes it difficult to test.

    Olga, absolutely.

    EJE, excellent points. I would only add that hostility is inherently contrary to objectivity.

    Andrew, you make good points, although the difficulty in defining "dualism" is similar to the difficulty in defining "spiritualism." For example, it often refers to distinguishing between soul and body, which can be associated with the "ghost in the machine" concept that can be falsified experimentally, but it seems you use it for distinguishing spirit from matter, which can't really be tested at all.

    Mike, I agree completely. That's why I suggested using paleo as a "heuristic" and not a dietary dogma. In fact, I think it would be quite unwise to use paleo as the *only* heuristic. Personally, I went GFCF for about 1.5 years and it definitely didn't helped me and seemed only to have harmed me. Others' experience is quite different. Thanks for the book recommendation. Scientism is untestable, and I think people will accept it or reject it according to what they want to believe.

    Richard, I don't blame you. Usually when people get turned off by religion, it's us religious people who are to blame.

    Michael, I actually agree with what you said, only I would not wholesale tarnish entire jurisdictions based on that, as I don't think those experiences are mainstream even within those jurisdictions, and as there is plenty of fundamentalism and nonsense in other jursidictions, including ones that claim to be more 'traditionalist.' And orthodoxinfo.com is a wonderful site, but MM was able to find some ignorant nonsense on it, which that site has its fair share of. Here is something much more beautiful and much more Orthodox from the same site:

    ========
    http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/fsr_87.aspx

    “A pagan philosopher in China named Lao Tzu,” Fr. Seraphim told the brothers and sisters, “taught that the weakest things conquer the strongest things. There is an example of this here at our monastery. The oak trees, which are very hard and unbending, are always falling down, and their limbs are always breaking off and falling; while the pine trees, which are more supple, fall down much less often before they are actually dead.
    “That is, if you bend, it is a sign of strength. We can see the same thing in human life. The person who believes in something to such an extent that he’s going to stand up and ‘cut your head off’ if you don’t agree with him—he shows his weakness, because he’s so unsure of himself that he has to convert you to make sure that he himself believes.”

    Fr. Seraphim said that in order for us to “bend” like the pine trees, our hearts must be transformed. “The way,” he said, “is to soften the heart, to make the heart more supple.”
    =========

    Chris

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  79. Chris & Michael,

    If I did happen to be in churches with convert priests and all of the churches I ever attended had convert priests, what am I to do? They were all very strict about the fasting.

    As for the gallstones, from the Weston A Price website: http://www.westonaprice.org/ask-the-doctor/215-gall-stones.html
    The doctor clearly states that not getting enough cholesterol in the diet is a cause, and a mostly vegan diet would be deficient in cholesterol. Actually my husband got gallstones during Lent as well. (Diagnosed by a doctor in case you don't believe me.) I was able to find a gallbladder cure (apples, olive oil, lemon juice) and they passed. However, I have never met so many people with gallbladder issues until I became Orthodox.

    Anyway, where I live they are all converts and all extremely zealous. I cannot live in a church like that. I am sorry it is the case. From what I've read the more ethnic churches are less strict, but that option is not available to me.

    I think the reason my 1 year old got tooth decay was because I was fasting while breastfeeding, as I was told to. My milk was deficient, and I was really quite sick myself by the time I discovered Weston Price. The raw cow milk was better nutrition for him. Plus I started him on CLO and pastured butter (which I mixed into oatmeal). Three months later the dentist was amazed at how his teeth had hardened.

    At the end we told the priest we were leaving because of the fasting. He told us to reconsider and sent us links about how a vegan/vegetarian diet is really healthy -- nothing about modifying the fasting. That was it for us.

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  80. MM,

    I'm sorry to hear about your experience. I'm happy you left the situation but sorry you had to. Clearly, at least as far as you have told us, that priest needs some lessons in Orthodoxy, nutrition, and plain old communication. It reminds me of this hypothetical scenario:

    Person A "I feel hurt by what you said."
    Person B "What I said is not hurtful, and I can prove it. Here is a list of seventeen reasons why what I said is not hurtful, and here is a book about why what I said should actually make anyone who hears it happy."

    I don't think one needs to study the fathers of the church to understand the problem. :(

    What area are you from?

    This definitely sounds like one of the "overzealous convert" problems, although there are many *wonderful* convert-dominated churches and zeal is not necessarily a bad thing. It is good if one is zealous for humility, patience, and love.

    Chris

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  81. I am so relieved to hear I don't have to fast on Master John's dogma. 2,000 years ago I'd have done the classic version just to be one of the good fellows.

    Several decades ago I did a water only fast for 28 (?) days. I tried to transition into solid food and within a week resumed fasting. It took me a while to get back to eating and forgo the starving mind.

    Then I never had a problem with enduring depravation hunger when out and about in the bush. Still is easy to cut back on food and not miss sucking down an egg.

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  82. If god exists, it is clear that man's comprehension in any of the process or in any measure is ill-defined, undetermined, and incapable of understanding. What we do see are remnants of our existence and nothing else. What conclusions we attempt cannot be settled determinately or universally agreed upon.
    Thus, the beauty of your post. It's balanced, thoughtful, and unassuming. Thanks for the read. I cannot even say that my choice to be Christian is arbitrary or whether it is even a choice, but I am inexplicably satisfied in my state as many posters here seem to also indicate.

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  83. 38? year ago memory of fast seems it was more like 3 weeks water, spell of chewing and a week on juice. My laptop from then is lost.

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  84. I don't believe that the written fasting practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church are paleo/native. In practice not every single parishioner follows the fasting practices, but the church does encourage a part-time vegan lifestyle 5.5 months of the year. Many people can't afford $5.99+ a pound for shellfish or fish, especially if you're giving alms.

    But, my main concern with fasting is that every parish I ever visited, the teens gorged themselves on soda, sugar cakes, white rice and candy. Technically, gluttony is a sin, but the teens were very proud that they were keeping the literal fast. I don't think an environment that encourages giving up eggs and poultry for 5.5 months is healthy for a teenager. I've seen too much belly fat on pious teenagers in various Orthodox churches. I've seen Bishops in OCA and Antiochian churches bless sugar laden foods. If it hadn't been a fasting period, the blessed meal would have been poultry and/or eggs. At some point, the church has to admit that in the United States they're encouraging the eating of sugar. Encouraging the eating of sugar is not paleo/native. If people want to follow a vegan diet for 5.5 months, it's their choice, but I don't want to pay their medical bills.

    And to state that the Eastern Orthodox Church is not encouraging veganism for 5.5 months of the year is pure legalism. The various priests I have spoken to admit that the Orthodox Church encourages temporary veganism and think it's good for ones health and spiritual growth. Giving up things, is good for ones spiritual growth because it gives us room for Christ to grow in our Hearts.

    I was Antiochian Orthodox for 7 years. I left the Church when we moved to another state. I am not an expert on Orthodoxy.
    Personally, I never encountered a problem with a priest not being willing to give me economia on the fasting guidelines. But, I got tired of hanging out with people that thought part-time veganism (really it was part-time sugarism) was healthy. And even when I visited other parishes in other parts of the country, sugarism still prevailed. It's not the way I wanted to raise my children.

    Once my child entered first grade, he read Nutrition Nuggets, nutrition news for children that the U.S. government provides. Nutrition Nuggets is very anti-fat and meat. Then my child heard parishioners at the church talking about the benefits of giving up lard, butter and chicken for one's health. The next thing I know my first grader is lecturing me on not eating butter and dark meat and is asking that I make him pancakes so that he can act like a monk.

    Needless to say, the fasting rules of the Orthodox Church aren't for my family.

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  85. Amy,

    You make a good point, that Orthodox folks in America are similarly shrouded in nutritional ignorance as everyone else in America. I have been asked by several priests to lecture on nutrition at churches and/or to develop nutritional fasting guidelines; I've been to parishes with abominable food and parishes with great food. Abominable food is more typical in American parishes like it is in every other public institution in America. I do hope to make some improvements to this.

    Chris

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  86. And Amy, if you ever run into this attitude in the future and want a clever response, you may want to tell them that St. John Climakos in The Ladder of Divine Ascent gives several definitions to insanity, including "the insane man... becomes ill and continues to eat what is harmful." :)

    Chris

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  87. Kellgy,

    You make some excellent points, and remind us of the wisdom of Socrates when he said "All I know is that I know nothing."

    In the older chant of the Church, still used in many Orthodox churches although usually not in the Slavic parishes, there is a two-part harmony consisting of the melody and an "ison," which is a wordless hum that fluctuates between several central notes of the chord being used. It serves a functional and aesthetic purpose, but some say its wordlessness also symbolizes that while we are singing about God with words, ultimately all these words fail to truly describe God because God is ineffable.

    Chris

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  88. Found my laptop from 50 A.D. but somebody erased the file telling pregnant women and developing children to fast. If only the library in Alexandria hadn't been torched we could access the original admonition.

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  89. @Chris

    re your comment about your god.

    Wow, wow, wow, you're indeed batshit crazy!
    What you and other religionists don't get about true atheists who know that there is no god is that it is not from evidence or lack thereof but because such banter as yours DOES NOT MAKE ANY SENSE!

    Sigh...

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  90. Hi Chris. You say that my theory that we are all born atheist is plausible but untestable, but shouldn't it be the default theory? That until we can demonstrate that newborns have beliefs, then we have to assume they don't? No biggie...I don't really care about this either way, really, just saying.

    Oh, keep up the great work.

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  91. Jld, certainly a good point, but very subjective.

    Poisonyguy, it really depends on your presuppositions. Do animals have any beliefs about God? If not, I doubt that infants do because it doesn't seem to me that infants have much intellectual capacity beyond mere instinct, though again that would have to be assumed as a default theory because it just seems to be the case. And in that case, indoctrination probably starts later than 2-3 days. But if you expanded the definition of "belief" to some sort of "instinctive recognition," then I think it would be even less testable but also harder to dismiss right off the bat.

    Thanks!
    Chris

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  92. certainly a good point, but very subjective.

    It is NOT subjective to say that religious discourse turns to meaninglessness as soon as you try to elaborate even the most minors points, because it has no internal consistency, it is not even wrong.

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  93. Jld, what is subjective is the choice to use certain presuppositions that are required to "know that there is no god." I support your right to exercise that choice.

    Chris

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  94. Chris you still don't get it.
    I mean, you DO NOT UNDERSTAND my point, it is not a matter of "choice".
    I think it's hopeless but I'll give it one more try.

    The idea of "god" is meant to explain the baffling complexity of the world but assuming an all knowing all powerful god does not explain anything it just wraps up the "mystery" in one big package it is a dormitive explanation.

    Where does god comes from?
    Eh?

    Furthermore, since this "idea" does not elucidate any of the apparent contradictions and conundrums we encounter ANYTHING and the CONVERSE OF ANYTHING can be derived from it, it is not consistent.

    This is why religious conflicts are such a never ending mess, there cannot be ANY criterion to solve any dispute.

    Haven't you noticed that?

    This is also the reason I said that this undermines the credibility of all your other postings, if you indulge in such sloppiness how can you be trusted on other matters?

    As for your "generous" allowance:

    I support your right to exercise that choice.

    I am not asking for any "favor" nor "right" I do not recognise you the authority to "evaluate" my position since your judgement appears seriously impaired.

    And this lousy ecumenism will not stand the encounter with more agressive religious nutcases, guess who?

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  95. Hi Jld,

    I do think I understand your point, and I agree that as a logical tool to explain the unexplainable, a concept of 'god' does not really explain anything. If God made the universe, who made God? Such illusionary usefulness has nothing to do with why I believe in God, so at least on that point, if none of the other sub-points of this matter, we agree.

    I don't consider myself a religious ecumenist at all.

    I knew that making this point would, in the eyes of some, undermine the credibility of everything I've ever written and everything I ever will write, but I'm glad that you're the only one who has said that this far, although as with all things I assume one comment in favor of a view represents a larger number of people. I'm glad, though, that the number of people who found the post useful, inspiring, or otherwise interesting seems to be significantly greater.

    I agree that any attempt on our parts to come to an agreement on this matter is useless, so I really have no interest in attempting to do that. However, I do appreciate your contribution to the comments and that you have shared your own views. So while not doing so out of a spirit of fake agreement or ecumenism, I do thank you for that.

    Chris

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  96. Jld,

    I would just add one further point, that I think the reason this point does not undermine my credibility is because I did not actually commit any of the logical fallacies you cite and in fact expressly warned against them, and because I correctly concluded that theism and divine intervention are not scientifically testable hypotheses and that it was pointless to try to support them or understand them with logic.

    Chris

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  97. I don't think this post undermines your credibility. It substantiates it and your desire to comprehend issues beyond your understanding. Discussion of this subject should be tempered with the thought that our ability to understand something potentially beyond the confines of our space-time continuum is severely limited.

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  98. Chris,

    From a Paleo eating Christian, I'd just say thanks for an eloquent and insightful article.

    Your counsel to avoid fundamentalism on either side of the argument is crucial.

    Thanks for your great blog!
    --
    Melissa, I have to say I agree that in trying to be traditional, one can't avoid the fact that most of us possess a deep longing for something more. We can rationalize this away all we want, yet there it is, and we can either wallow in self-inflicted unfulfillment, or we can get busy trying to become genuinely satisfied people. Thanks for your great blog as well!

    -bryce

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  99. You're welcome, Bryce. Kellgy and Bryce, thanks so much!

    Chris

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  100. I agree that any attempt on our parts to come to an agreement on this matter is useless,

    Right, so, not "trying to reach an agreement" but still speaking on behalf of "a larger number of people" (otherwise silent) I suggest that you look at Sam Alexander blog, a pretty amazing "spiritual atheist".
    He does not need any fairy tales about "Big Daddy" in order to match, I guess, 99% of your ethics and values.

    Starting with Unconditional Thanksgiving, or most surprisingly this !!!

    Prayer is one of the most ancient spiritual practices still popular today. It’s not restricted to any particular religion, and the most amazing thing is that it’s not restricted to religion at all.

    !!!

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  101. Hey Chris, (you don't have to publish this)

    do you know that there are some serious scientific objections to macroevolution (between species). As christian, I was told even from some priests that such evolution can be acceptable. I lived with that until before some time. Now it seems that they spoke from ignorance. Macroevolution has no scientific base.

    I guess you heard for epigenetics, too.

    Lately, dr. Bruce Lipton announced that biology shows that universe haven't evolved through competition but rather through cooperation.
    (see four myths of the apocalypse on ytube). It casts a shadow on all word about evolution.

    Since japanese scientists reconstructed some soft tissues of T-rex and found preserved collagen (impossible if sample is older than few tens of thousands years, in ideal conditions)it seems that human race lived side by side with dinosaurs and that theory of macroevolution has serious flaws.

    I guess you mentioned that but I haven't read all posts.

    I find your work very useful, thanks.

    Domagoj.

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  102. Hello!

    I would just like to tell you what a beautiful job you did addressing this topic, even though some might argue it did not need to be addressed. Your discussions were respectful and inquisitive and unbiased. Stellar.

    I am not religious myself, but I am a person of faith. I believe that Jesus is who he says he is ("before Abraham was, I AM"), and so I try to follow him, since that's what he was always telling people to do. Some people label me as a Christian, and that's fine, but Jesus wasn't very good at being religious-breaking the Sabbath and ticking off the religious authorities. I am also in the process of going paleo with diet and exercise. That's right, both!

    There was so much TRUTH in your post. The last dialogue example was beautiful, it sounds so much like what Jesus said:

    Christian: I love God.
    Skeptic: Prove it.
    Christian: Come and see.

    And I think that's why the world gets so annoyed with nominal Christianity, because when they do come and see, they don't see the life of Christ, they see bored people in church pews, not great men humbly seeking God. Anyway.

    When you address specific arguments, I appreciate how you didn't say "this one is right" or "this one is completely false," but rather left us with more questions and the statement that perhaps they aren't even necessary. Then you pointed to great men of faith and great men of science, and great men of both! You told their stories and left us to draw our own conclusions. You know who else told stories and instead asks questions that struck people's hearts? Yep, Jesus. So well done.

    My favorite is how you suggested that Creation and Evolution can go together, since God parted the sea and raised the dead, he puts together free will with predestination, of course he can integrate both! The story of Creation mirrors Evolution in many ways. I bet the beginning of Creation was a big bang: the creation of matter, forming of the earth and the rest of the heavens, water, land coming out of it, separation of the pieces of land, basic creatures of the sea, then the sky, all building up to the climax with more and more complex and beautiful animals until man! And man, with this consciousness of self, what some would say is what makes them "in the image of God", names Creation and gets to enjoy and live in it! Beautiful. Who knows? Maybe God sped those billions of years into a week! We would never be able to tell.

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you as someone whose entire life is wrapped around following Jesus and who wants to live in good health for writing a phenomenal article that approached the subject in a careful manner and left us with truth. Very Jesus-like, if that means anything to you. :)

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  103. And yes, that comment is super after the fact because I linked over here from Mark's site and found the title of this article fascinating.

    Also, on a final note: The comments make me sad. Theology and religion can get so out there and argumentative and...pointless! Read what Jesus said. It makes a lot of sense. :)

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  104. When I initially left a comment I clicked on the Notify me whenever new comments are added checkbox and now each and every time a remark is added I receive 4 email messages with the identical comment.
    paleo

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