Edenomics 101

I mentioned yesterday that Mike had a post on the war on epidemiology. That might sound a bit strange–doesn’t have quite the ring to it as Chris’s book. But, never fear, epidemiology is indeed under attack–or, at least, it’s being redefined by young earth creationists.

In a pair of articles published in the esteemed journal, Creation Research Society Quarterly, Jeffrey Schragin has put forth his argument that “the Bible’s epidemiology is scientifically sound” and that the “Creation Health Model (CHM) offers a more comprehensive understanding of health and disease than standard molecules-to-man evolutionary theory.”

These articles are, as might be expected, an exercise in selective use of evidence, and shoe-horning facts into a model where there is, to put it mildly, a dubious fit.

At the heart of Schragin’s claims is that

the probability of health can be maximized and probability of disease, disability and suffering minimized by adhering to a lifestyle that is consistent with the purposeful design of Creation.

(Complete with a mathematical model, no less). According to Schragin, then, there are six recommendations for maximizing health and minimizing poor effects:

1. Diet should consist of natural organic foods including a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, and whole grains. Optimally, the diet should consist only of plant-based foods as in the initial Creation. The occasional consumption of fish is allowable; meat eating should be minimized and fats avoided.

2. Avoidance of tobacco

3. Alcohol only in moderation, if at all

4. Sexual relations within marriage only

5. Avoidance of unnecessary risk-seeking behaviors

6. Regular, moderate exercise

Sounds fairly reasonable, though I don’t know many nutrition experts who’d strongly advocate #1 as a universal. Strict vegetarian diets can work, but one must be careful (as anyone should with any kind of dietary choices)–and as far as I know, there hasn’t been a definitive study to show that overall, people who follow these kind of strict vegetarian (or vegan) diets have lower rates of chronic disease than their meat-eating counterparts who follow a similar healthy diet and exercise plan. Several of the others are somewhat unreasonable and may lead to an early death due to boredom, but, hey–you gotta go somehow. Anyway, all that notwithstanding, the goal of Schragin’s recommendations is to re-create conditions he claims were present in the garden of Eden–hence the term he coins, “Edenomics.” Since there was no death (well, no animal death) before the Fall, obviously all animals present were vegetarians. Schragin contends that if one follows an Edenomic diet, the maximal lifespan in mentioned in Genesis 6:3 of 120 years may be reached.

Schragin then displays an amazing bit of circular logic. After laying out his recommendations, he goes on to emphasize throughout the paper how important diet and behavior are to disease prevention. Toward the end, he then proposes that, if diet is important in disease development (which, of course, he’s already assumed and tried to support), this shows that Biblical epidemiology–and hence, Creation–are correct. So having established that diet is important in disease development, he goes on to say that because of this, Creation is true. QED.

In Schragin’s second paper, he continues this line of thought. Here, instead of emphasizing simply the importance of maintaining a Creation diet, he attacks the “failure of Darwinian evolution” to account for this observation. (Because, as everyone knows, disproving “Darwinism” subsequently proves a literal Genesis). The key, he claims, is that “the value of plant biochemicals in human nutrition–the connection to the Garden–fits with creation and is at odds with evolution.” He also suggests that, because humans are “very susceptible to a wide variety of maladies after having undergone billions of years of evolution,” evolution is obviously flawed. (And yes, he says humans have been evolving for billions of years–that’s not a typo on my part). He suggests that evolution “would have been expected to ‘create’ humans less vulnerable to disease and more prolific reproductively.”

Next, along a similar vein, Schragin suggests that the fact that plants produce vitamins and other chemicals that benefit humans is something that evolutionary theory simply can’t explain. How can this possibly arise unless it was directed to be so by the Creator? Evolution must be false! Of course, anyone familiar with the biochemistry of these anti-oxidants and other chemicals (or who’s read my post here) will know that many of these chemicals–specifically, carotenoid pigments which give so many fruits and vegetables their color–protect not only humans who eat such food, but also protect the plant (or other organism) itself. That they are beneficial to humans as well is just fortunate for us, but certainly can be explained without invoking a creator or a garden of Eden, and is perfectly compatible with evolutionary theory: as the carotenoids protect the plant, they provide a selective advantage over other competitors who do not produce such chemicals.

At this point, you may have already realized that something’s missing. What about infectious diseases? Even the best nutrition will not prevent the acquisition of all infection–which are still the main cause of disease worldwide. And the fact that humans evolve on a much slower scale than their microbial pathogens suggests that a human invulnerable to disease will never exist. So Schragin takes a US-centric approach to epidemiology, focusing solely on chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, and, of course, leaving out cancers and other “chronic” diseases which have infectious components. (As well as focusing on mortality over morbidity–cancer and cardiovascular disease may be the most common causes of death in the US, but each and every one of us are much more commonly sickened by infectious agents, even if they don’t eventually lead to our demise). He also, of course, ignores the Bible’s use of “infectious disease as God’s wrath:” a supernatural plague caused by a grumpy deity isn’t exactly consistent with modern-day epidemiology.

Finally, why doesn’t Edenomics apply to all animals? According to the Creation model, all living species are descended from their original “kind” that was present in the Garden of Eden–and all would have been vegetarians. So why wouldn’t lions, and crocodiles, and eagles etc. similarly benefit from a strictly vegetarian diet today? This, of course, goes unaddressed–because, well, all those other animals weren’t God’s special creation, so who cares about them? Plus, I think even YECs know they look silly when they discuss sharks and tigers chowin’ down on a nice, ripe tomato.

The final word: I don’t expect Edenomics to be taught in my department anytime soon.

Thanks to Glenn Branch of the NCSE for the references.

References

Schragin, JG. 2004. Epidemiology and the Creation Health Model. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 41:185-94.

Schragin, JG. 2005. The Bible, Epidemiology, and Edenomics. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 42:115-25.

Comments

  1. #1 Adam Ierymenko
    March 14, 2006

    It is the dawning of the age of aquarius! the age of aquarius!

  2. #2 GullyFoyle
    March 14, 2006

    Just a stupid nitpick, but surely humans have been subject to billions of years of evolution? Our ancestors do date back that far.

  3. #3 Tara
    March 14, 2006

    Our ancestors, sure–but “humans” have only been around for a few million years, and in the context of Schragin’s argument about how we should have evolved to some kind of superhuman state by now, the vast majority of our natural history spent as single-celled organisms doesn’t really apply. IMO, of course.

  4. #4 Rob Knop
    March 14, 2006

    There’s no reason to suppose that evolution ever will get us to any kind of superhuman state, no matter how long humans evolve… unless, of course, we take over evolution, go all transhumanist, and hit the singularity, but that’s a whole different matter altogether.

    Evolution isn’t optimized for making superhumans. It’s optimized for making more humans. A finite lifespan, animals who expire, are important for evolution, to make room for new models that might be even better at making kids that can outcompete all the other species.

    It’s a common misconception that evolution is supposed to make things that are “well designed.” It doesn’t; it makes things that can shoulder out everybody else so that those things can propogate, it doesn’t make things the way that we might want them to be.

    -Rob

  5. #5 Dave S.
    March 14, 2006

    Tara says:

    Our ancestors, sure–but “humans” have only been around for a few million years, and in the context of Schragin’s argument about how we should have evolved to some kind of superhuman state by now, the vast majority of our natural history spent as single-celled organisms doesn’t really apply. IMO, of course.

    It’s not that humans evolved where the problem lies. It’s that diseases also evolved, and do so with greater flexibility than we can, wherein lies our difficulties.

    His advice is common sense and for the most part is not bad in and of itself. It’s hardly original, but it is hard to follow. This is because evolution has shaped us to eat and to store fat! Starvation is the norm…a glut of (poor quality but ohhh so tasty) food is a modern cultural problem of the west.

    Also, I wonder if the microvariations within the plant Kinds haven’t damaged those plants from their original pure edenistic state to something which is no better for us than animal flesh. After all, plants have diseases too. Does he address that?

  6. #6 Tara C. Smith
    March 14, 2006

    After all, plants have diseases too. Does he address that?

    I’ll give you one guess. :)

    He does mention, though, that as you say, the plants may be different today than they were in Eden–and that’s why many following a vegetarian diet need to supplement it with vitamins. In Eden, this would have been unnecessary, of course.

  7. #7 mark
    March 14, 2006

    Since there was no death (well, no animal death) before the Fall, obviously all animals present were vegetarians.

    Hence my theory of Carnivore Relationship to Animal Protein: animals, as well as Mr. Adam and Mrs. Eve, could take a bite out of some tasty animal without causing that animal any pain or harm! The missing flesh would grow back and the critter would be as good as new. And Adam and Eve refused to eat fruit, because that was just like performing an abortion.

  8. #8 Tara C. Smith
    March 14, 2006

    Wasn’t that in a Simpsons episode?

  9. #9 Guitar Eddie
    March 14, 2006

    Sounds more like South Park, to me.

    GE

  10. #10 John Fruhwirth
    March 14, 2006

    [1. vegetarian diet]
    So, I guess that the Inuit (er, Eskimos) should not exist as they eat only seal blubber, etc. Also, how come we have canine teeth while true vegetarians do not but make do with grinding teeth only?

    [4. Sexual relations within marriage only]
    Hmmm, how did our ancestors ever procreate before the invention of marriage?

    Just a few of the things that make me say, hmmmm.

  11. #11 Greg Peterson
    March 14, 2006

    A hilarious assertion: “the fact that plants produce vitamins and other chemicals that benefit humans is something that evolutionary theory simply can’t explain….”

    Is there in here a serious suggestion that evolution, that master of jerry-rigging, scavenging, and MacGyvering, is somehow disproved when it puts to use things that are ACTUALLY AVAILABLE in the environment? How about this for a Creationist counter-proposal: that some physical human need is actually met from something NOT in our physical environment–that spiritual energy, for example, routinely helps synthesize vitamin K within us, something along those lines.

    And might I point out briefly, as someone who studies to be a Baptist pastor and worked for Billy Graham, that the Bible is a terrible source of health information. Look at the superstitious nonsense used to treat mildew in Leviticus, for example. Or the practice of circumcision, a totally unnecessary sexual mutilation which no doubt resulted in significant infant mortality or disfiguration before sanitary policies were adopted (for evidence of that possibility, just read about the ultra-orthodox rabbis who suck the foreskin off the infant as part of the ritual–and have thus passed on hepatitis).

    For each of the listed health principles, I can think of biblical passages that might indicate a different course of action (OK, no passage actually promotes, for example, tobacco use, but Paul’s admonition that following rules about what to touch and taste having no value for spiritual discipline could be adapted to mean that there’s nothing especially Christian about avoiding tobacco, for example). The truth is, the Bible is such a vague hotchpotch of sound and idiotic ideas that, if one had a list of healthy habits in hand, one could find support for them, and if one had a list of unhealthy habits in hand, one could find support for them as well. The scriptures are, as much as anything, a Rorschach test. You’ll see in them whatever you’re looking for.

  12. #12 eTourist
    March 14, 2006

    Er…How come there’s any prohibition aginst tobacco at all? The Bible’s Cannon was closed well before the discovery of the new world. There were no smokers before 1492 (discounting canibis, of course).

    Maybe Noah replanted tobacco in America on his world wide voyage to re-introduce marsupials to Australia.

  13. #13 Dave S.
    March 14, 2006

    Y’know eTourist, that’s a heck of a good point. Tobacco is a plant, so indeed, he should be advocating smoking more if his model is Bible driven and plants = good. I’m sure he has a very good non ad hoc Biblically based reason for advocating the opposite even though the Bible writers never heard of tobacco.

    Wouldn’t the same hold true for snorting coke or shooting up with heroin? Plants …. ya just can’t trust ‘em.

  14. #14 eTourist
    March 14, 2006

    Dave,
    Nope cocaine doesn’t count either, another new world plant. Kind of like Italian food without tomatoes.

    But, to get back on point. It’s just simply baffling that folks like Schragin are still out there, actively engaged in a 500 year old battle aginst the Enlightenment. While the geocentrists and flat-earthers have been consigned to the lunatic fringes, there are still lots of folks craving to have someone else do their thinking for them.

    In the history of the world, it dosen’t really matter, I guess. They’ll be countries and cultures (India, China)ready to accept the world as it is and go from there. Western European civilization will look like the Arab nations do now. Once the home of science and learning, now a backwater consumed with how thing ought to be.

  15. #15 Dave S.
    March 14, 2006

    eTourist says:

    While the geocentrists and flat-earthers have been consigned to the lunatic fringes, there are still lots of folks craving to have someone else do their thinking for them.

    I thought these guys went extinct decades ago. But recently I have encountered an actual geocentrist. At first I couldn’t understand what he was going on about (apparently they have a big issue with the GPS satellite grid for some reason), then it dawned on me that he is a geocentrist and apparently serious about it. Go figure.

  16. #16 Jim Ramsey
    March 14, 2006

    Hmmmm.

    What about those kosher dietary laws ?

  17. #17 Torbjorn Larsson
    March 14, 2006

    “the practice of circumcision, a totally unnecessary sexual mutilation”

    And IIRC they have found out that the foreskin samples, transports and presents antigens and infectious material to the lymphatic immune system. So it’s really a functional mutilation, much like cutting of a hand, instead of merely making a gross sort of sexual tattoo mutilation.

  18. #18 wheatdogg
    March 14, 2006

    Schragin’s suggestions are not all that dissimilar from those of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a host of food-faddist/New-Age/next-diet-of-the -century experts. None of these folks seem to be living to be 120.

    The founder of Prevention magazine, Rodale, ate all those healthy foods and took all the vitamins he pushed in his mag, then spectacularly died of a heart attack during a live TV interview with Dick Cavett.

    Some of these nutballs have some pretty odd ideas about “germs,” including adjusting your body’s pH will kill them off. Some of the HIV/AIDS denialists fall into that category, too.

  19. #19 frank schmidt
    March 14, 2006

    It is well known that vegans are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. The NLM site cites the following as symptomatic of vitamin B12 deficiency: “Confusion or change in mental status in severe or advanced cases” Seems like this guy proves the point.

  20. #20 Air Bear
    March 14, 2006

    Mr. Shagrin’s Creation Health Model is missing one of the key aspects of the Edenic lifestyle – nudism. Wearing clothes was an integral part of the Fall and didn’t happen until Adam and Eve became sinful. On the other hand, Christians (used to) believe that Adam and Eve didn’t have sex until they left the Garden. Nudist abstention within marriage – a pretty tough combination for many of us.

    But all seriousness aside, Mr. Shagrin seems to be setting himself up against God, who specifically told Noah that humans could eat any animal they wanted to. (Gen. 9:3)

  21. #21 KeithB
    March 15, 2006

    I wonder whether he thinks that the broken Vitamin-C gene is pre or post fall?

    After all the reason the plant’s have some of these chemicals we need is that they are necessary for *all* life forms, and we decided to parasite the rest of creation by letting *them* manufacture *our* Vitamin C.

  22. #22 David Harmon
    March 16, 2006

    Isn’t tobacco an “herb bearing seed”? I’d think the Rastafarian argument would apply as well to tobacco as to hemp. (Bias alert: I’m smoking a coffin-nail as I type. ;-) ) Also, I’d say much of the point to being an omnivore is being able to “swipe” not merely nutrients, but miscellanous useful compounds (such as phytochemicals), from a variety of species. Of course, there are drawbacks….

  23. #23 David Harmon
    March 16, 2006

    Heh, KeithB beat me to the post.

  24. #24 natural cynic
    March 17, 2006

    We really didn’t need Vitamin C before the fall since we were vegetarian, and neither did the apes, monkeys and guinea pigs. Somehow the creator was just distracted or something and forgot to complete the pseudogene. It’s just a coincidence that he got distracted at the same place for all those species.

    Same thing for the sweet taste receptor in cats. The creator figured that they were going to eat meat eventually so why bother completing the gene. It’s only coincidence that the same mistake happened in all those separate creations;-)

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