I will start by saying, I have been paleo for 1.5 years and firmly believe it is the healthiest way to eat. However, often when I talk about it with friends/family, they say it sounds like a cult. Mostly jokingly, but there's always some truth to humor. I am happy to discuss/debate the merits of the paleo approach with them, but as I think back, my side of the discussion often ends with (even if I'm not willing to admit it to them) "because I read it on KGH's blog or Stephan's blog or wherever."
Realistically, I don't fully understand the biochemistry behind why polyunsaturated fat is more likely to oxidize in the human body. I don't fully understand how omega 6 and omega 3 compete with each other for use in the body. And if I'm not willing to invest the time/resources and/or don't have the capability/understanding to really figure out those things for myself, the best I can do is find others who are willing to do the research/thinking for me. Then, read as many different views as I can, pick the ones that seem most reasonable/believable and synthesize across them as best I can. If I'm really pushed, isn't that faith?
Yes, there is always the argument that I feel better since I've switched to this way of eating, but I've heard the same from people on almost any diet (e.g., vegans). There are so many things that affect "feeling better" (exercise, stress, etc) and I'm sure just being thoughtful about what you are eating through almost any diet can be helpful, that I don't think it's good enough proof. Also, feeling better now is not definitive evidence that this way of eating is best in the long run.
And, there is the argument that the simple logic behind paleo just makes sense. I.e., our decision of what to eat is informed by the types of foods that we likely encountered as we were evolving. But, many years ago, I would have said that eating low fat just makes sense. You don't want to be fat, then don't eat fat. And, not too long ago, the carbohydrate hypothesis made sense. So I think the simple logic is not enough either.
I personally do think there is more to it than just faith, but I would imagine anyone who has real faith in something, wouldn't call it faith either. They would just call it the truth. So... what do you think? Does making the decision to adopt a more paleo lifestyle really come down to faith in the end?
And I guess the follow-up question that someone will post in the comments anyway, who cares?
Who was it, Arthur c. Clarke?, who said "any sufficiently advanced technology will be seen as magic" or something close.
Science must be seen the same way when viewed by those unacquainted with the details. Biochemistry, genetics, immunology, etc. must be taken on faith (see what I did there!) when you aren't the one doing the science.
Here is the thing, NOT eating Paleo is equally taken on faith as Paleo is, don't be fooled and don't let others tell you otherwise. Turn it around on them and ask them the same question about them taking their nutrition on faith and see how they respond.
Your paleo seems to come down to faith. I would venture that most people are the same. Just because you don't understand the science doesn't mean it's not there. You are either unwilling or unable to spend the time to understand it so you choose instead to have faith in others who seem to be making sense or seem to know what they are talking about or who seem to have been given a leadership role in the community which you assume means they must know something of the science. So yes it does some down to an act of faith for most. It's unfortunate but it's the reality. Most of us abdicate our responsibility to educate our selves to a level where we are competent to truly make our own educated decisions. We're busy having lives and it's hard to find time to study biochemistry in between cooking dinner and getting the kids to bed or studying for our next exam or whatever it is that is the main focus of our life. Mostly this works out o.k. for us. But sometimes we trust the wrong people and end up sitting in bathtubs full of ice or eating 30 bananas a day.
It seems to me that the answer to your dilemma is to stop talking to people about paleo unless they specifically ask. Then you point them towards the resources so that they can set out on their own journey to learn and understand and perhaps have a little faith in something and someone. Trying to make someone understand something you yourself don't understand has little chance of ending well. But you certainly can show them where to go and what to read and set them on the path.
I think science and faith are intertwined. I don't believe that we ever can say that we know what "the truth" is. Years pass, new technology comes along, and bam, something that we once thought was proven is found to be wrong. This happens not only in nutritional science, but in the physics world, botany, astronomy, etc. For example, new species are always being discovered in environments where scientists thought life was simply impossible (e.g. extreme heat and cold temperatures, lack of light).
With science, there is always a little bit of faith, especially in trusting base theories to build upon. There is a lot of theory in the unknown in science. An example of this are the hypotheses on how and when the earth was created and how the dinosaurs died. There are various sources of evidence, but in the end, it comes to faith in knowledge that we do have, and using that to make an educated guess.
I personally believe that paleo is a healthy way to eat, but I am not certain that we have found all the answers and that there is no room for growth, change, or a possibility that there is something that we are missing. I don't think theories=facts. That's not possible because fossils, drawings, and observations of some groups do not give us all the answers. So we rely on what we have. If I ever talk about paleo with others, I'll probably focus on talking about non-processed foods and eating close to nature.
Science is continuously evolving. New gasses that we didn't know existed are being discovered. New science is suggesting that some dinosaurs had feathers like birds today, something that people in the past never would have thought of. So whenever we claim something, I think it's always important to be open to new ideas.
I use "facts" to guide me through paleo, but also realize that there is a bit of faith.
I applaud the original poster for bringing up this question. I think that discussions like this are wholly positive and important so that Paleo does not become a religion. I've seen traces of fanaticism and fervor reminiscent of such a development and hope that we can curtail this trend.
To the question, in my opinion, there is faith and there is FAITH!
I would suggest that scientific theories, ones that are falsifiable (meaning that they can be proved wrong) are not a matter of faith in the same way that religious beliefs are.
One example of a scientific, falsifiable theory would be that of evolution (at least as far as fossils are concerned). If someone found a human fossil in a Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous sediment layer, it would falsify the theory that humans and dinosaurs did not live together. Of course, this has never happened, not even once, so we can be reasonably sure that dinosaurs existed long before humans. This is not a matter of faith, but a matter of understanding the scientific basis of the theory.
In matters of religious faith, however, the beliefs are not falsifiable. Personally, I have had experiences that lead me to believe that there is a "higher power", "God", etc., but it could also be that my brain is wired for such beliefs due to an evolutionary benefit conferred upon enough of my ancestors to make "belief in god" advantageous to survival and thus widespread among humans. However, I really can't "disprove", or falsify, that God exists, so it remains a matter of personal religious (or "spiritual") faith that I believe in some guiding force in our lives.
The paleo diet (in so far as it is simply the idea that human beings had an ancestral dietary like every other animal, living or dead) is falsifiable in that we can look for examples of human populations where a ecologically relative diet based on hunted and gathered plants and animals led to ill health and disease. One might pick out isolated cases where this seems to be true, such as the high level of cavities found in the remains of prehistoric Easter Islanders. However, we also know that they had a relatively limited water supply which led them to drink sugar cane juice. This does not falsify the notion of a "paleo" diet per se, but it does show that consuming large amounts of sweet beverages leads to tooth decay. For the most part, when we look at hunter gatherer groups that have achieved a relative balance with their environment, they are remarkably free of chronic disease, so much so that they lack words for things like cancer, obesity, diabetes, etc.
To me, this suggests that the healthfulness of the Standard American Diet (and one might also say Standard American Lifestyle) has been falsified. It predictably leads to a host of diseases in any population where it has been introduced.
Whether you eat SAD or Paleo, it isn't a matter of faith, it is a matter of understanding.
I'm not much of a faith person. I'm not religious, in the traditional or non-traditional sense, and I'm highly skeptical of everything I come across. I've ruined every acupuncture session I've ever gone to by constantly questioning (mostly internally) and coming out of the process more worked up than I went in it. I called my mom's naturopath a quack to her face (she's a legitimate, documented quack, that wasn't just a judgement of the profession). I call my hippy brother's bullshit every chance I get, and grit my teeth when I sit in weirdo traditionalist by-the-book doctors offices. I don't think I would have started eating paleo if it was a judgement based on faith, but at the end of the day it was a leap from the safety of conventional nutrition, with an understanding that some of it was trusting my incomplete knowledge of the human body.
However, I did work towards this based on probability, which, as my stats minor would suggest, is my comfort zone. Maybe for some people, working towards this conclusion based on faith is more their speed. I figured eating a natural diet was probably a healthy conclusion to come to, and I was unsatisfied with the blanket statements and rigidity of what I viewed as an "unnatural" system of standard nutrition. Maybe for others, they would define that question process and the change as an act of faith. I think it is a matter of wording and experience, and that neither is "superior" to the other. Just a different way of looking at it.
I don't see how we could ever "prove" that paleo is a better diet than some other because diet is far from the only factor that affects our health. Let's say we did a study of a group of paleo folks. We measured their health markers and compared those numbers to those of a group of vegans. Whatever differences we find would leave me wondering if other lifestyle factors are being considered (sleep, exercise, pollution, stress, relationships, genetics, and a slew of other factors.)
If I were one of those people being studied and I had all the good markers then all I could conclude is that paleo was good for me given the particular state of my body at this point in time and given the version of paleo I'm doing.
While it may be that, all non-dietary factors being equal, paleo folks are overall healthier than vegans one still needs to consider that there are healthy vegans and that we shouldn't decide that paleo would be better for them just because it's better for us.
Ultimately, all that matters to me is that my current diet is supporting my health at this time.
Faith is belief in spite of evidence.
This is a theory, and it has had many flaws and they are being fixed as we learn more. If this were faith we'd all still be doing IF everyday, eating low-carb, avoiding starches and hoping beyond hope that we magically got better.
For the record - I hate this question. Belief in the absence of 100% of evidence, like educated guess work, doesn't require faith, it requires the ability to extrapolate from probability. Now if you excuse me I need a shower.
isn't everything in life just based on "faith" i think you can apply this question to practically anything that you believe in or practice... i don't think there's much that's set in stone... everything is constantly changing
I'm personally not eating on the Paleo diet. But I believe that because our bodies formed, developed and relied on these natural, organic and fresh foods for over 100 thousand years, that eating foods that we weren't reliant on will have some effect on us. It's already proven that all of the chemicals that we are assuming is messing with our natural human progression - such as girls starting puberty years before they did even 40 years ago. This is just the way I view it because there are some opposing views in the comments. :)
jake3_14 hit on the head for me. I scoff at faith-based diets that rely on toxin cleanses, fasting, drinking lemonade, using supplements instead of food, putting butter in your coffee, etc etc. I use the parts of paleo that work to improve my health in measurable ways, and ditch the magic sketchy parts. That's empiricism not faith.