Noakes, nutrition and the nature of evidence

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk to a small group of people, participating in a training programme, about the concept of apologetics and what an apologetic is. As I looked for a practical, current example, the (in)famous ‘Tim Noakes diet’ came to mind. I’m not sure how well my example served my audience on that day but an article which could serve as a useful example for future conversations is now conveniently trending on facebook.

“Tim Noakes – making a ‘Real Meal’ of critics who say his diet is dangerous”, reads the article headline. Noakes, director of UCT’s  Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, and Discovery Health professor of exercise and sports science is defending his high-fat, low-carbohydrate (HFLC) diet against those who regularly label it as “dangerous and bad science”. this article, Noakes responds to accusations of him using ‘bad science’ with what one would presume is ‘good science’. Noakes defends his position regarding the effects of a HFLC diet on a person’s health, refuting the supposed faulty claims made against his position. Noakes is delivering an apologia (defence) in response to his accusers’ kategoria (accusation).

A first thought that came to mind was whether Science, a practice committed by fallible people, is as almighty as the populace would often believe? An accomplished scientist recently told me that his area of work does not leave much room for argument or debating from different perspectives but simply ‘commenting’. I think he argued that, while literary works are (more) open to interpretation, scientific exploration hardly is, and that preconceived ideas do not influence interpretation of evidence – which made me wonder why scientists bother to read the work of their predecessors? I’m not too sure what was meant by ‘commenting’ and such but am open to the possibility that we misunderstood one another around the concept of critiquing theories, preconceived ideas and his field of work.

From the ‘Noakes debate’ it is clear that scientists do disagree, that further exploration provide more clarity and better understanding, and that various human-character factors may play a role in this disagreement and inability to acknowledge the same truth. The abovementioned article suggests, as I often hear scientists complain, that it is a matter of the media misrepresenting the views of scientists and therefore an opportunity has been provided for one of Noakes’ main detractors to post a response of his own after Noakes’ clarification of his position.

Noakes further draws attention to what the scientific method in his sphere of involvement entails, stating that all in the field of medicine begins with anecdote. “Scientists determine the truth on the basis of clinical trials, personal experience, and what patients tell us. None of these things is more important than the other”, he continues to explain.

It seems fair to say that while all scientific exploration involves a realistic search for truth, not all scientific findings are necessarily true, and ‘the science’ is not as clear cut as many would suggest. I am not suggesting scientific exploration can’t lead us to true understanding of aspects of our surroundings but that ‘Science’, often portrayed as an enlightened being with a will of its own, is ultimately still just that: humans trying to reach a true understanding of aspects of their surroundings. The inquiring mind of many a great philosopher, mathematician and scientist has been agitated by the enigma of the human mind’s ability to interpret and use the inherent design of things by means of mathematical formulae, to paraphrase Albert Einstein. His surprise at this mystery is otherwise revealed in the statement that “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible”. aside (sort of) brings me to another statement by Noakes which drew my attention as I read through the article a second time. Although he has broken out of old paradigms as far as nutritional science is concerned, he is still caught up in another old paradigm, namely the fact that science is based in reason while religious beliefs flow from a form of ignorance. He accuses his main critic of practicing ‘religion’ because he continues to believe in ideas which science has disproven on the basis of evidence. Now, of course Noakes may be referring to certain specific religious movements but the blanket statement itself is one of ignorance I believe. And what is more, he seems to invoke a god-of-the-gaps, which will be discussed below.

Australian ancient historian and theologian, Dr John Dickson, recently responded apologetically from the Christian perspective to some of these notions categorising Religion and Science (the ‘Beings’ with wills of their own it seems) as two alternative, exclusive sources of truth as follow:

“Aristotle was the first to point out that persuasion occurs through three factors: intellectual (logos), psychological (pathos), and social or ethical (ethos). People rarely change their minds merely on account of objective evidence. They usually need to feel the personal relevance and impact of a claim, and they also must feel that the source of the claim – whether a scientist or a priest – is trustworthy. Christians frequently admit that their convictions developed under the influence of all three elements. When sceptics, however, insist that their unbelief is based solely on ‘evidence’, they appear one-dimensional and lacking in self-awareness. They would do better to figure out how to incorporate their evidence within the broader context of its personal relevance and credibility. I think this is why Alain de Botton is a far more persuasive atheist (for thoughtful folk) than Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Kraus. It is also why churches attract more enquirers than the local sceptics club.”

“One slightly annoying feature [popular among New Atheists] is the constant claim that believers invoke God as an explanation of the ‘gaps’ in our knowledge of the universe: as we fill in the gaps with more science, God disappears. Even as thoughtful a man as Lawrence Kraus, a noted physicist, [recently] did this on national radio following new evidence of the earliest moments of the Big Bang. But the god-of-the-gaps is an invention of atheists. Serious theists have always welcomed explanations of the mechanics of the universe as further indications of the rational order of reality and therefore of the presence of a Mind behind reality. Kraus sounds like a clever mechanic who imagines that just because he can explain how a car works he has done away with the Manufacturer.”

“One of the things that becomes apparent in serious Christian literature is that no one uses ‘faith’ in the sense of believing things without reasons. That might be Richard Dawkins’ preferred definition – except when he was publicly asked by Oxford’s Professor John Lennox whether he had ‘faith’ in his wife loving him – but it is important to know that in theology ‘faith’ always means personal trust in the God whose existence one accepts on other grounds. I think God is real for philosophical, historical, and experiential reasons. Only on the basis of my reasoned conviction can I then trust God – have faith in him – in the sense meant in theology.”





A year ago I attended a lunch hour talk on Stellenbosch University campus in which Prof. John Lennox discusses this very God vs Science debate which is so active in popular discussions.

Further thoughts on Proving the existence of G-d by Prof. Brian Leftow.




About Servaas Hofmeyr

For life through Truth.
This entry was posted in General, Human Behaviour, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

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