Darwinian medicine may be defined as the application of modern evolutionary theory to considerations of human health and illness. Also called “evolutionary” medicine it represents the intersection of medical knowledge and practice with disciplines such as human biology, medical anthropology, psychology and physiology. This course will begin with an examination of both the evolutionary and medical explanatory models for human health and illness. It will proceed through a series of topics designed to show the breadth of impact that evolutionary theory may have on our lives today. A persistent theme will be the difference between proximate or immediate causes of disease (the medical model) and the possibility that there may also be ultimate or very long-term causes best understood through an evolutionary interpretation.
One goal of the course is to demonstrate the utility of the scientific method in suggesting answers to complex questions such as mentioned above. How do scientists from diverse disciplines use data to support their arguments? What does it mean to test an hypothesis? A second goal of this course is to try to emphasize those situations and conditions of health (or illness) that appear to require both proximate and ultimate explanations rather than simply one or the other. In reality, it is the complex interplay of genes, environment, and human behavior that affects much of our health and illness experience today. A third goal of this course is to reduce the fear or uneasiness that many students feel towards data (numbers) that appear in tables or graphs in material that they are reading. We will devote time to the presentation and discussion of data and how the numbers can be interpreted and used to bolster or challenge an argument.