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Alternative Healthcare. Part 4

by Daniel on January 20th, 2012

Do such timeworn postulates better our understanding of the world, or do they facilitate misunderstandings that allay our fears and empower religionists, con men, megalomaniacs, and single-minded cranks? Supernaturalistic pantheism and the “strong holistic” worldview, which says that the universe is uninterrupted in substance, implicitly posit the aether (ether), a hypothetical medium for light disproved in the 19th century. Nevertheless, modern paranormalists cling to the notion of an ethereal connection between human minds and “cosmic consciousness.” In Physics and Psychics (1990), Dr.Victor J. Stenger, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii, explains that the constituents of matter do not interact through “invisible fields” but by exchanging particles such as photons. He writes:

[N]o evidence exists that human consciousness is connected in any way to an all-pervading cosmic fluid, through electromagnetic aural waves or quantum mechanical particle waves. To the best of our knowledge, the universe is composed of discrete chunks of matter that interact locally…

[T]he classical gravitational and electromagnetic fields of nineteenth-century physics have become the mathematical tools for describing particle interactions in the twentieth. They have no reality other than mathematical, though in physics classes they are normally presented as real entities–contributing greatly to the confusion that is exploited by paranormalists…

Alternative healthcare represents an attempt to de-secularize medicine and sanitize religion.

A Religious Undertow
Most opponents of quackery critique alternative methods in terms of science, the law, and politics. This is well and good. Typically, however, they are publicly reticent about picking apart the religious undercurrent that fuels the alternative medicine movement. Critics who are religious generally either play down this undercurrent or review it from a standpoint involving denominational beliefs. For example, in Can You Trust Your Doctor? The Complete Guide to New Age Medicine and Its Threat to Your Family (1991), fundamentalist Christians John F. Ankerberg and John F. Weldon, M.Div., Ph.D., D.Min., describe acupuncture as an invitation to “spiritistic operations,” applied kinesiology as adaptable to “occultic purposes,” crystal healing as an “energy therapy” whose power source is the “spirit world,” and homeopathy as the modem harbinger of “new age healing” whose occasional effectiveness may be due to “spiritistic power.” On the other hand, critics who are atheists or agnostics are disinclined to risk alienating current and potential antiquackery allies. Moreover, ethnic identification can narrow anyone’s criticisms.

Apparently, many health professionals treat rationalism and religious unbelief as mere personal options rather than as integral to the scientific perspective. On May 19, 1994, 1 gave a presentation tided “Alternative Healthcare and Supernaturalism” at a Purdue University conference on “nutrition fraud.” To say the least I was not a hit. For example, one evaluation form respondent expressed a lack of appreciation for the setting forth of a “personal belief system.” Another respondent said I should have my “[down arrow]” my “theological beliefs.” Another, a self-proclaimed Christian, evidently found my “philosophy somewhat offensive.” If a speaker at such a conference verbalized accord with, say, secular humanism or communism, it would be justifiable to charge him with promoting a personal belief system. But rationalism and religious unbelief are not mere matters of opinion. Moreover, they are contrary to theology, which is always and only a matter of opinion. It is no wonder that even health professionals who are staunchly rational skeptics beat around the burning bush of medical supernaturalism. Attacking it head-on threatens neighboring religious beliefs and upsets those who have internalized them. But, having studied alternative healthcare up close since 1989, I suspect that to overlook or downgrade its religious undercurrent is a disservice to the public. Furthermore, I consider the term “religious skeptic” an oxymoron. Science follows sound evidence. Religion accommodates experiential evidence and accepts, rejects, or warps all manner of evidence according to preconceived notions. This is the essence of pseudoscience.

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