In February, 2014, I decided to start cutting my carbohydrate intake. I’d been reading a lot of Peter Attia’s work on his blog at eatingacademy.com , and I’d assembled a couple of primitive hypotheses, based on my evolving understanding of metabolism:
1. If I cut carbohydrates, it would put downward pressure on existing muscle glycogen stores, which would stimulate more fat loss
2. Cutting carbohydrates would inhibit acute and sustained insulin spikes, which would have a cascading hormonal effect, which showed promise in stimulating more fat loss
In the following days, as the implications of my dietary changes clarified in my mind, I had to rethink some of the preconceptions I had about what people should and should not eat. Eating a lot of grains, skim milk, and low fat proteins was (and is) the advice du jour, yet the implications of my new diet suggested I should cut all those items, and replace them with butter, coconut oil, olive oil, high fat dairy, and a moderate intake of fatty meat.
Reevaluating my strongly held beliefs had a meaningful impact on my final shedding of religion, and I’m going to try to explain how two unrelated concepts are so interconnected in my mind.
It would be disingenuous for me to claim that I was a staunch Christian during this time; in fact, I’d called myself a Deist for several years prior to this, partially because of the silliness described in the bible, and partially because of the multiple other reasons I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I still occasionally attended church, just in case there might be some theological tidbit I missed in the preceding 30-odd years that might swing me back to Christianity again.
Bear with me as I risk a tangent, because there is another topic that played a role in my deconversion: evolution. Nothing in life happens in a vacuum. I have a lot of interests, and these interests inform my worldview. As it happens, one of the most fascinating phenomena, in my mind, is evolution – the idea that tiny genetic changes, coupled with natural selection, changing climate, natural disasters, and geographic isolation, cause small physical changes over a small amount of time, and those changes eventually lead to major changes over a long period of time. It might be a coincidence, or maybe not, that my interest in species evolution dramatically increased at around the same time as my interest in metabolism did.
Around the Spring of 2014, I started to realize what a large percentage of people did not believe that the diversity of life can be explained by evolution. I knew there were people who held this view…what I didn’t realize is that my views were held by a minority of Americans. Clearly it’s a stretch to try to connect low-carb eating to evolution, but just bear with me while I give it a shot. In my experience, the two disjointed concepts had much more in common than I’d realized.
I had long since accepted that evolution happened. Even when I was a Christian, I had no problem accepting this, although my evidentiary support for evolution was narrow in scope. It consisted of an awareness of hominid skulls, becoming more and more human over several million years. I was also aware of some specific examples that were well-understood, such as the fact that whales used to be land mammals; the fact that there are any ocean-dwelling mammals at all seemed pretty clear evidence for evolution, even if it is circumstantial.
Because I like to explore controversial topics, I decided to dig in deeper to these matters, to see if I could get clarification on evolution, or whether there was some middle-ground to be found. I have a tendency to prefer moderation, if it there is any to be had, so even though it is evident that there is not much of a middle ground in the evolution debate, I was still hopeful.
As I investigated the claims by anti-evolutionists, I found that I had difficulty countering some of the more sophisticated arguments, particularly ones related to genetics. It became a priority for me to try to either debunk or accept the arguments that creationists put forward to dispute evolution. But I was not going to make a decision until I had a deeper understanding, and really dove into the specifics, down to the genetic level, specific fossil examples, and a close investigation into the claims creationists put forward. As you might imagine, the cell is a useful clue in investigating genetic matters.
But how does this relate to low-carb eating?
My low carb diet change started in February. In July, 2014, several months after going low-carb, I decided to watch a BBC documentary video on the wonders of the human cell. My hope was that the documentary would give insight into the mitochondria of the cell, because I’d been very interested in the mitochondria’s role in macronutrient metabolism. I wasn’t necessarily looking to further my understanding of evolution by watching this documentary, and I wasn’t expecting this to be a watershed moment in my worldview development. In reality, it was my birthday, and I had carte blanche to watch anything I wanted that morning, and I picked the cell video – I’d been eyeing it up for about a week, but I had been unable to find a couple spare hours to watch it until the morning of my birthday (yes, I am the sort of nerd who would research for several days, then watch a documentary about cells on his birthday).
To my disappointment, the documentary did not discuss mitochondria very much; it was much more focused on the cell’s nucleus. It talked about the immune system, ribosomes, protein building, DNA, and a host of other topics that make cellular biology the microscopic mountain of awesomeness that it is.
One of the brief mentions of mitochondria the video did make was its mention of endosymbiotic theory, or the symbiosis that arose several billion years ago, when nucleus-like cells found a symbiosis with mitochondria-like cells to provide a variety of cellular functions; in the theory, this symbiosis, along with the evolution of the cell membrane, gave rise to much more complicated multi-cellular, eukariotic life.
My point here is that the topics of evolution and metabolism are deeply related, in that they are both irreducibly linked to the cell.
For the rest of the summer of 2014, I spent a lot of time trying to understand as much as I could about eukaryotic cells, and their inner workings, which led me back to the big question. How did life begin on Earth? Do we have any plausible explanations? In other words, topics in abiogenesis.
My deeper understanding of the cell made me realize how plausible it was that self-replicating life could have come via a series of chemical reactions, given the early ingredients on earth; a year earlier, I would not have been inclined to believe this with any sort of confidence. This evolving worldview contributed to my realization that, just because something seems implausible to me does not mean it did not happen. Investigation into what expert consensus is, along with a proactive collection of information in the topic, is an absolute prerequisite to assessing the validity of a claim with any authority, and this is essentially the equivalent of intellectual honesty.
Around September of 2014, a Youtube video of the Atheist experience came up in search results when I was searching for videos relating to the topic of abiogenesis. My gut reaction was to skip over it for consideration, because of the preconceptions I had about atheism, and an unexplained deep distrust of it; however, given my newfound boldness in challenging my preconceptions and willingness to consider alternative ideas, I pushed through, and found myself amazed at the show’s recurring theme that one should require some amount of evidence to justify their beliefs. I watched many more episodes in subsequent days.
I realized that the construction of one’s worldview comes down to a single, simple question: Do I care whether my beliefs are justified?
When I realized how much time I’d spent completely unconcerned about this question, it shook something loose in me, and I realized, rather quickly, that in order to have a coherent, consistent, honest understanding of anything requires that your foundational information is reasonably well-supported; frankly, there’s nothing in any monotheism that is.
So, I spent a the next 2 months investigating whether any of the vestiges of my faith (ie Deism) were evidence based. I honestly unpacked the logical fallacies I was committing (often on a subconscious level), and soon after realized that these fallacies were preventing me from honestly evaluating the evidence I had. By November, 2014 I was an atheist.