The other day, I received a request from THE GUARDIAN: could I write a piece on homeopathy in relation to the Australian report which had just come out; they gave me ~700 words and all of 3 hours to do it. I had an extremely busy day, but accepted the challenge nevertheless.
My article was published the next day and the ‘headliner’ at THE GUARDIAN had elected to call it There is no scientific case for homeopathy: the debate is over.
What followed was a flurry of debate – well over 2200 comments – which was more than a little ironic, considering the headline.
Essentially, my article had repeated the well-rehearsed arguments which have so often been made on this blog and elsewhere:
• Our trials failed to show that homeopathy is more than a placebo.
• Our reviews demonstrated that the most reliable of the 230 or so trials of homeopathy ever published are also not positive.
• Studies with animals confirmed the results obtained on humans.
• Surveys and case reports suggested that homeopathy can be dangerous.
• The claims made by homeopaths to cure conditions like cancer, asthma or even Ebola were bogus.
• The promotion of homeopathy is not ethical.
The comments that followed were mixed, of course; those that disagreed with me used a range of counter-arguments; in no specific order, these were the following:
- For several reasons, I cannot be trusted.
- I even once stated that I have treated my wife homeopathically.
- The Australian report was neither thorough nor reliable.
- The Australian expert panel were bought by Big Pharma.
- Homeopathic treatment must be individualised and can therefore not be tested in RCTs.
- Just because we don’t understand how homeopathy works, we should not conclude that it is ineffective.
- 200 years of positive experience with homeopathy clearly prove that it works.
- The huge popularity of homeopathy worldwide demonstrated its effectiveness.
- The fact that some very clever people support homeopathy shows that it works.
- Homeopathy works in animals and little children, therefore it cannot be just a placebo.
- The Queen and my aunt Doris use homeopathy.
- Placebos work.
- Patients must be able to choose; patient choice is an important principle in all health care.
- There’s more to evidence than just RCTs.
- Homeopathy works like vaccines.
With such an abundance of counter-arguments, the debate is clearly NOT over! Or is it? Let’s see how solid the arguments really are.
1) I cannot be trusted
Ad hominem attacks are no arguments at all; they are merely a sign that the person using them has no real arguments left.
2) I treated my wife homeopathically
This is true. At one stage in my life, I treated anyone who couldn’t run fast enough to escape me with homeopathy. What does that show? It simply shows that I can make mistakes too.
3) The Australian report was flawed
Perhaps it was not entirely faultless (no report ever is), but it certainly was rigorous – more so than any previous document in the entire history of homeopathy. If it excluded certain types of evidence, like the observational studies (which are so much loved by homeopaths), it did so because such data are wide open to bias.
4) The panel was not independent
Yes, it was! It even included a homeopath. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council is internationally highly respected, and to defame it without evidence is, in a way, just another ad hominem attack.
5) Homeopathy must be individualised
This is a half-truth: classical homeopathy is mostly individualised, but lots of homeopathic prescribing is not individualised. And in any case, we have recently seen how totally unconvincing the results of strictly individualised trials of homeopathy are. This argument turns out to be a red herring.
6) We currently don’t understand how homeopathy works
What we do understand perfectly well, however, is the fact that no explanation exists which would not require throwing over board big chunks of the laws of nature. But even if we accepted that the mode of action is unknown, this would not change the lack of homeopathy’s clinical effectiveness. Lots of treatments work without us understanding how.
7) Experience shows it works
Experience is a very unreliable indicator of effectiveness; there are simply far too many confounders such as placebo effects, regression towards the mean or natural history of the disease. This is why we need evidence to be sure, and historically medicine finally started making progress when this lesson had been learnt.
8) The amazing popularity of homeopathy is proof of its effectiveness
This is the ‘argumentum ad populum’ fallacy. Think of the popularity of blood-letting to see how wrong this argument can be.
9) Homeopathy is backed by some very clever people
So what? Clever people are not always correct – look at me (just joking!)
10) Homeopathy works in animals and little children which proves that it is more than a placebo
First, animals and children do also show placebo-responses.
Second, the animal owner/parent might respond to placebo and thus mimic a placebo-response in the patient.
Third, the evidence for homeopathy is not positive neither in animals nor in children.
11) The Queen swears by homeopathy
Yes, so much so that, as soon as she is really ill, she makes use of what the very best of conventional medicine has to offer.
12) Placebos work
For sure! But that does not mean that we should prescribe placebos. If an effective treatment is given with compassion and empathy, the patient will also profit from a placebo effect – in addition to the effect of the treatment. Merely administering placebos means withholding the latter and is thus not in the best interest of the patient.
13) Patient choice
Yes, patient choice is important. However, it only applies to the choice between treatments that are demonstrably effective – if not choice becomes arbitrariness.
14) Evidence is more than just RCTs
True, there are many study designs other than RCTs. They all have their place in research – but when the research question is to test whether a treatment is effective beyond placebo, they are all open to different types of bias. The one that minimises bias best and thus produces more reliable findings than any other study design is the placebo-controlled, double-blind RCT.
15) Homeopathy works like vaccines
No! The ‘like cures like principle’ appears to be similar to the principles of vaccination, but this appearance is misleading. Vaccines contain small amounts of active material, while the typical homeopathic remedy doesn’t. Vaccines use the substance that causes the illness, e. g. (parts of) a virus, while homeopathy doesn’t.
So, is there still a debate? Obviously there is – the Guardian headliner was wrong – but it is a debate without reasonable arguments. And in the public domain, the debate is dominated by enthusiasts who endlessly repeat nonsensical notions which have been shown to be wrong over and over again.
In a nutshell:
Yes, there continues to be a debate.
No, there is no reasonable debate.
I think I have tweeted this, but not commented before here. The principles of homoeopathy are simply yet another variation of those of sympathetic magic.
Sympathetic magic is an ancient idea that seems to occur in some form in almost every culture.
When medieval Christians rejected the idea as a pagan superstition, herbalists reinvented as a sign from God (plants with shapes similar to parts of the body where showing a sign that they could heal that part).
When people ceased to believe that, it was reinvented as homoeopathy.
Personally I prefer Coca-Cola it keeps me slim, Oh and it pays well
The interesting part about these impressive arguments is that ‘homeopathy’ can be search-and-replaced by ‘acupuncture’ and they remain equally valid. I think I’ll stay with real medicine for the foreseeable future. I like my treatments to be useful, not only for the provider, but also for myself.
most people with a slight bit of sense do! even the royal family is rushed to a [conventional] hospital as soon as they are really ill.
It turns out that even homoeopaths think that. Cees Baas, a Dutch physician who is making money here in Toronto as a homoeopath, told the public, on television (in a programme that was disgraced not only by him but by the Queen’s homoeopath as well, among others), that homoeopathy really works and is ‘not nonsense’, but then, when people called into the programme, he told them that there was a ‘medical reality’ behind their condition and they should go to a doctor. Logical conclusion: homoeopathy is only valid when there is no medical reality. I think he had a point there. I guess homoeopathy can be fun, just as watching the Flintstones can be fun, or as the psychics say: ‘for entertainment only’.
It also raises another, not entirely irrelevant, question: does Prince Charles actually believe the nonsense he is preaching, or is he merely trying to make an easy pound?
no question, in my view: he believes every word! but it has been said that sincerity makes a quack only more dangerous.
If he actually believes his own claims, he is in urgent need of remedial teaching and psychiatric help. No wonder the Queen doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to quit. However useless the job, he’s bound to make a pig’s breakfast of the whole circus.
@Graeme and Bart…
Where religion is concerned, I often think we are fortunate in the West to have all the world’s major religions (and most of the minor ones) currently practised actively around us. They’re all very different, and they all claim to be true. Rational conclusion: they can’t all be true, so either just one of them is really true or, more probably, none of them is.
Your comments reflect a similar situation with Big Snakeoil. In this case health is claimed to benefit from homeopathy, chiropractic, reiki, acupuncture, reflexology, aromatherapy and scores of others. They are all claimed to work very differently, yet they all claim to ‘help’ (at least) the same conditions. Rational conclusion: same as with religion. Of course, it’s possible that the way the human body functions is so extraordinarily complicated that it can respond to all these very different therapies, but that’s a possibility similar to the one that allows I might extend my arms and fly out of the window.
Of all the Big Snakeoil industries, homeopathy has always struck me as the most ludicrous. Its pseudoscientific foundations are based on the flatulations of a man who turned them into a medical philosophy that may have seemed no worse than other medical theories 200 years ago, but which has merely grown more preposterous when viewed against the chemical, physical and biological science that developed over those two centuries.
I would like supporters of homeopathy to remember the lady who took the homeopathic remedy for gullibility. Apparently it worked, and she no longer believes homeopathy is anything more than nonsense.
I largely agree with you, FrankO, except for one not entirely unimportant detail: most religions have one thing in common: they know for a fact that all the others are wrong. The various quackeries of this world do not seem to have such common ground.
This was really meant primarily to be a reply to FrankO, but I clicked the wrong reply link, and, although I can edit the comment, I cannot move it.
I love the term “Big Snakeoil”! The big difference between it and religion is the complete lack of a rationale. Followers of a religions can give you reasons for their belief (this is not the place to debate it), so while you may not be convinced by it, there is some reason for believing. The major religions also develop a theology that means their ideas need to be self-consistent (I admit biblical literalists seem oblivious to this). Fake medicine can offer no rationale, and has no apparent need to be self-consistent.
I am not entirely convinced by that they cannot all be true means they are probably all false. Do multiple suspects mean that no one committed a crime, or multiple scientific theories mean that all are false? I think the argument is much simpler: they all make claims that are testable, but which fail to work when properly tested against a placebo. I think the cause of the widespread acceptance of homoeopathy comes down to two simple things:
1) People do not understand how medical treatments can be tested, and therefore fail to understand the validity of the tests. One argument omitted above is “you cannot scientifically test wholistic treatments”. Of course you can.
2) Conspiracy theories about a pharmaceutical plot to falsify the evidence. this obviously overlooks the weight of evidence from independent studies, but also fails to understand big pharma: they would LOVE homeopathy to become sufficiently accepted for them to move into the business – the “medicines” are cheap to make (so gross margins will be high), they are low risk (sugar pills are safe!) and R & D would be cheap.
Your characterisation of religions as entirely mutually contradictory is misleading. There are many things religions agree on. For example, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and some smaller religions all share the same central idea – that there is one loving creator God. Christianity and Hinduism share the idea that God has a more complex type of personhood than we do (although there are important differences between the ideas of Trinity and Trimturi, and monotheism and pantheism). Most religions are ultimately inspired by mystical experience and aim, through prayer or meditation, to experience the numinous (so they all share the belief that there IS a numinous).
On the other hand, there are many shared disagreements within religions so, for example, American style fundamentalists and Wahabhis/Salafists will share a lot of beliefs that are rejected by mainstream Christianity (creationism and literal interpretation of scripture, a complete ban on alcohol, that non-believers are damned. etc.) and share common attitudes (more right wing, a tendency to rule based morality, a disproportionate emphasis on sexual sin, that their culture and language is required by their religion etc.).
Surely proponents of Big Snakeoil most definitely do give you reasons for their faith in their remedies. The most common one for all forms of such witchcraft is “it worked for me” (the post hoc ergo propter hoc misunderstanding, from which we all suffer from time to time, if we’re honest about it). But each type of snakeoil also makes a lot of its purported logical rationale: “like cures like” and successed sequential dilutions provide potency for homeopathy, disorders result from aberrations in the position and linkage of vertebrae for chiropractic, needles stimulate meridians for acupuncture, parts of the feet link to major internal organs for reflexology, and so on. These beliefs all have their quasi holy books of founders’ flatulations, and a spin-off literature that at least equals that of religions. And just like religions, Big Snakeoil is a highly lucrative industry, with an annual turnover less than Big Pharma but of a similar order of magnitude.
I’m fully aware that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all nominally Abrahamic (a person for whose existence there’s no historical evidence) and monotheistic. But Christian ‘monotheism’ splits its one god into three (safety in numbers?). And the other two detest each other to the point you might as well dissociate them from acknowledging the same god and focus on the more important aspects if you want to make them appear similar. Things like not eating pork and snipping off foreskins.
The Snakeoil proponents never seem to badmouth other forms of witchcraft, in exactly the same way as (in the UK, at least) the disparate religious leaders all pat each other supportively on the back, instead of bashing the shit out of each other as their holy books ordain. To me all belief-based, as opposed to evidence-based, superstitions look similar. I might as well throw in psychic phenomena, ghosts and all the other ‘spiritual’ beliefs into the same box while I’m ranting. They all require from their adherents an element of credulity, uncertainty about things supernatural that lowers willingness to reject, and failure to recognize the well known fallacies (post hoc, argument from authority, vox populi, etc.) as such. Those who get into any of these ‘spiritual’ areas of behaviour for the other reason — a cynical profit motive — deserve the opprobium they get from the more outspoken commentators on this blog.
Snakeoil is a highly lucrative industry, with an annual turnover less than Big Pharma but of a similar order of magnitude.
Don’t forget to mention that snakeoil has far higher profit margins. In relative terms, they spend almost no money on research (much less than Big Pharma), and lots of money on advertisting (much more than Big Pharma).
Also don’t forget that religion is also mainly about money. God may be all-powerful, but he/she/it/they seem(s) rather powerless without it.
But Christian ‘monotheism’ splits its one god into three (safety in numbers?).
Judaism has no problems recognising other gods, it just doesn’t want the Jews to follow them. Christians add demons to this and Catholics have thousands of “lesser gods”, known as saints. Islam has also no problems with angels and spirits.
Monotheism is a claim that does not bear close scrutiny.
I did mention the massively bigger margins in an earlier comment, and they are now big business.
It does not help that the pharmaceutical industry is so deceptive itself, and does stoop to some of the same strategies as the homeopaths (e.g. using anecdotal evidence to lobby for treatments and manipulative sales techniques). It helps feed the conspiracy theory.
I am do not have a solution for that, although I think Ben Goldacre’s campaign to regulate them more tightly (particularly with regard to disclosing evidence) is a step in the right direction – snakeoil can hardly object to being subjected to the same standards, can they?
Nobody in her/his/its right mind is arguing that the pharmaceutical industry is entirely honest, but every time I hear that, I cringe. It should be obvious to anyone who can read and who has elementary school level education that the pharmaceutical industry is far more regulated than the snake oil industry. My point is, and has always been, that there should be a level playing field.
X makes a health claim? X backs it up with relevant, verifiable and solid evidence. X can do that? X is allowed to go ahead.
X makes a health claim? X backs it up with relevant, verifiable and solid evidence. X cannot do that? X is not allowed to go ahead. X goes ahead anyway? X is a criminal and must face the music.
It does not matter who is deceptive. Deception should be a criminal offense for anyone. We are not talking about little white lies that make society run smooth. We are talking about lies that kill people. In my book, regardless of what the legal term is, it is murder. There may not be the intention to kill, but there is the intention to deceive in flagrant disregard of peoples’ health and life. That to me, is premeditated murder.
Whether or not the pharma industry is made up of saints or crooks or both is irrelevant. Just because Bernie Madoff is a criminal does not mean your local wealth manager should be allowed to get away with his own deceptions.
I think one or two people, while agreeing with FrankO’ s argument, have slightly misunderstood it. I’m sure he realises and accepts that many religions share a number of beliefs, but surely the main point he makes is that there are also enough differences and contradictions between them in general to make it impossible that they could all be true, whatever their similarities may be.
And as to Big Snakeoil – love it. Right up there with Big Quacka.
The problem here is that you are seeing similarities between snakeoil and religion that are not really there, because you are familiar with the former, not the later – in particular you do not understand why people believe in religions.
The difference relevant to this argument is that snake oil makes claims that should be scientifically testable, whereas religions generally do not make claims that are scientifically testable (care to propose an experiment to test the existence of God?) and rely on argument and on evidence more akin to that given in court, or what they have seen for themselves). I have touched on this in various bog posts so feel free to continue the argument there or on Twitter.
Your mistaken belief that religions necessarily promote credulity ends up helping snake-oil and superstition. You will find that Christians are much less likely to be superstitious or believe in snake-oil than the non-religious. Religions also often oppose snake oil and the dishonesty it entails (the US Catholic bishops condemnation of Reiki, for example) and could, and should, be recruited as allies in the fight against snake-oil.
I don’t think that is correct.
Any alternological modality can be tested. In fact, even if one postulates that a method of healing does not work, that postulate can still be tested.
Religions are no different. They can most certainly be tested.
Yes, religions oppose snake oil, but that is not a reason to think they are rational, since they only do so when they think it is threatening to them. They do not reject snake oil on rational grounds, only on irrational grounds, and they then find seemingly-rational excuses to defend that position. Catholics may well reject reiki, but they don’t reject Jesus’ curing blindness by spitting in someone’s eyes. That is not rationality, it is selectiveness.
Religions promote belief, not inquiry. They promote obedience, not independence. That’s what snake oil does. Worse, a lot of snake oil is religion. Homoeopathy, for example, is obviously a religion. It may not have an official deity, but Buddhism doesn’t either. Deities are not required for something to be called a religion.
I challenge you to devise a possible scientific test of a core Christian belief. A lot of studies that have been done are flawed (e.g. trying to test whether patients known to be prayed for are more likely to recover lack a sensible testable hypothesis or a proper control group) and do not deal with core beliefs anyway. There is some interesting discussion in this book.
Homeopathy is not a religion. A religion promises some sort of connection with the with the transcendent or numinous. Homeopathy is a mere superstition. I also fail to see how Reiki is a threat to the Catholic church.
I do not see how religions promote obedience. They often make people less conformist – from John Balls leadership of the peasants revolt, to the rejection of 20th century western materialism.
Religions arise from inquiry in the first place. They are a rational response to the existence of mystical experience, supported by other evidence.
You don’t even need to get out of the new testament to find some. Worse, Christians themselves even recognise some of these failures, and continue to proclaim their belief *in spite* of them. Jesus’ second coming would be a lovely example.
Just because many studies are flawed, does not mean good studies cannot be designed.
You need to learn more about homoeopathy. It is all about “the vital force”.
Neither do I. They do. And not only reiki, but meditation, yoga, the heliocentric model of the solar system and other godless systems have all been vilified as ‘against God’ by the catholics.
If you mean that, you urgently need to stop commenting and start studying. Islam Is OBEDIENCE. It says so right there at the windows of one of Toronto’s many Islamic Centres. Read the new testament. See what happens when you disobey Jesus. He’s not that friendly either. And Yahweh commands parents to stone disobedient children.
Just what we need. Another preacher.
Any chiropractor, homeopath, reiki master etc. etc. would argue their herpetoilogies arose from inquiry. And they believe that bottles of water have therapeutic properties, that sticking needles into bodies alters a balance of yin and yang, and that “the Crown has to be reversed from receiving in to giving out” (wisdom from a recent reiki commentor). If that isn’t promising “connection with the transcendent” I don’t know what is! (‘Numinous’, of course, depends on whether you wish to define it as religiosity or sense of a divinity — something not all religions claim.)
Mystical experience exists; indeed, it can be induced by many types of psychoactive drugs and several mental illnesses. The origin of mystical experience is, pretty clearly, the brain. I’ve commented on this blog like a stuck gramophone record that the fundamental problem with humans is their insistence on believing that subjective experiences represent reality. We are unreliable witnesses who typically fail when it comes to acknowledging our inherent unreliability.
You challenge me to devise a scientific test of a core Christian belief. Please inform me of a core Christian belief. Even belief in the real existence of the individual named Jesus is disputed by some who nevertheless call themselves Christians. (The historical record is at best ambivalent on the point, and many ‘Christians’ try to go along with all the science of history, as well as the natural sciences, while continuing to maintain some undefined mystical, spiritual or numinous experience that amounts to a reality.)
The Christian bible has a man born of a virgin (that’s easy enough to disprove scientifically), a man who’d been dead long enough to stink but was raised to perfect health when his name was called, and a man who was crucified to death but rose from the dead. These events are pretty core to Christian belief. From my perception they amount to miracles that totally defy everything rational we’ve learned from scientific evidence. Curiously, these core beliefs sound as if they come from the bottom of the same barrel of unreason as complementary and alternative medicine, and many of the other strange beliefs with which people saddle themselves.
PS. Religion IS superstition (“excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural”).
Your “disproofs” rely on circular logic – you assume miracles cannot happen (an untestable hypothesis) and then say things cannot have happened because they would have amounted to miracles.
Mystical experience is very different from the effect of mental disorder: not only is there evidence that it is neurologically different, but it tends to have significant beneficial effects on those who experience it. That an experience could be false, does not mean every reported experience of it is false – otherwise you would have to conclude that if you dreamed of seeing a hamster, there are no such things as hamsters. A huge proportion of the population (even a majority) have had a mystical experiences, which means a huge number of sane people, not on drugs, not subject to hallucinations nor credulous have had them.
We rely on personal experience all the time: in our day to day lives, when the courts convict someone on eye-witness evidence, and so on. It appears that your problem is only with experiences that conflict with your beliefs, that themselves have no rational basis.
You are also using a very poor definition of superstition, here is a better one, and even your definition requires “excessively credulous belief”.
You claim that “any chiropractor, homeopath, reiki master etc. etc. would argue their herpetoilogies arose from inquiry”, they are promising testable benefits but ignore the results of actual testing, and they have no reason for their beliefs – they are entirely arbitrary.
That is indeed true. However, since no religionist has ever been able to prove a miracle, we can treat miracles the same way we treat unicorns: it’s up to the religionist to come up with a satisfactory miracle. So far, I can only think of two things to explain the current situation: God is unable to perform miracles or God is unwilling to perform miracles. In both cases, not believing in miracles is the only reasonable lifestyle to follow.
Wrong. When I dream of seeing a hamster, I know that hamster isn’t real. It does in no way exclude the possibility of the existence of a hamster. I know they exist, since I have one living above my head when I’m sleeping. That hamster is real, because there is independently verifiable evidence of it.
Which is exactly what religionists do.
Words, words, words!
I was not using circular logic. I explain my understanding of the word ‘miracle’ in the sentence (‘miracles that totally defy everything rational we’ve learned from scientific evidence’). Substitute ‘events’ for ‘miracles’ and any conceivable circularity is gone. As for superstition, I grabbed the Oxford English Dictionary definition as first to hand. If your better definition was a link, it doesn’t work. Try Collins: ‘Irrational belief usually founded on ignorance or fear and characterized by excessive reverence for omens, charms, etc.’ Yesp, sounds like religion to me: it also sounds totally apt to the Snake Oils that are the focus of this blog.
If I dreamed I had seen a hamster this would not disprove the existence of hamsters: I’d have to know what a hamster was to claim having dreamed of seeing it. The false reality, akin to a mystical experience, would be to claim I had really seen a hamster. And for the record I never said mystical experiences were the result of ‘mental disorder’: I wrote ‘several mental illnesses’. Mental disorders are many and more complex than you seem to understand.
Eye witness testimony is about the most unreliable form of evidence still accepted in courts of law. The extraordinary fallibility of human perception has been demonstrated so many times in so many ways, it’s small wonder courts feel much happier when they have some objective forensic evidence to work with. It’s reliance on personal experience that leads us into so many daft beliefs, including the beliefs in miracle (definition as before) cures. You seem to have enormous respect for peoples’ experiences and subjective thought processes: I don’t.
You argue that [the various forms of snake oil salesmen] ‘are promising testable benefits but ignore the results of actual testing, and they have no reason for their beliefs – they are entirely arbitrary.’ What reason do religious people have for their beliefs other than fear and credulity? The snake oilers do not promise testable beliefs, prima facie. Like those who spend their lives lying to others about the validity of religious tenets, the last thing they want is to see their systems put to the test of reality. That’s why this blog does such a good educational job.
While we may have no way of testing the belief that devotion to a deity guarantees passage to a post mortem heaven (always undefined), we can test (and sometimes have tested) others, like the power of prayer, the purported punishments of a deity for ‘sinners’, and the notion that a creator is required for the cosmos in which we find ourselves. Like I said before: define a core Christian belief and let’s see whether or not it can be tested.
Substituting “events” for miracles does not fix the logical flaw in your argument. You assume that there cannot be exceptions to the proved laws of science. Substituting “illness” for “disorder” does not help your argument, in fact it weakens it, so my misquote actually made your argument look better than it is.
You also assume that religion is an irrational belief and (irrationally) refuse to consider why people have religious beliefs. The reasons are many, but the strongest are mystical experiences.
The power of prayer cannot be tested. The tests that people have attempted are outstanding examples of badly designed research: testing an unreasonable hypothesis without a proper control group.
Core Christian beliefs for testing: the existence of God, the incarnation, the resurrection and eternal life (not eternal is non synonymous with everlasting, as it can, and should, mean outside time).
The power of prayer can most definitely be tested. Now, if you think that the healing power of prayer is an unreasonable hypothesis, you are welcome to it, but that does not mean it cannot be properly tested. It can. Just because trials do not demonstrate the results you want does not make them bad trials. We do trials to find out whether or not something works, not to confirm our prejudices.
“The problem here is that you are seeing similarities between snakeoil and religion that are not really there, because you are familiar with the former, not the later – in particular you do not understand why people believe in religions.”
We know you are religious because you say say on your website which, curiously, is not available now. What happened between Saturday (Australian time) and now?
Interestingly, you say “why people believe in religions”, not a religion, or even one particular god or group of gods. As FrankO (no relation :0 ), said, not all of them can be true and, more likely, none of them are. I go further and say, since no evidence has ever been provided for any of them, none are true.
There is no evidence for the existence of any of the roughly 2,500 gods humans have invented to explain a confusing world.
You believe the Judaic/Christian/Islamic god exists (I’ve lumped that fairy together because three separate groups claim it) but where is your evidence; a couple of old books written a long time ago by ignorant people?
Take your version, for example; your god sent his own son (not daughter, because that is telling of the nature of your religion) after impregnating a 12 year old in an absolute imbalance of power (puts web predators to shame, doesn’t it), then with complete omniscience, knowing the lad will be killed horribly, and he does it for us? Actually, it was a con job because you believe Jesus could do miracles so he knew his staged “death” was only a ruse to trick humans.
Why didn’t Jesus explain science, maths, health, materials, electricity, democracy, and all other modern notions to people then, since your god knew it all? No, he left human beings to die of readily preventable diseases for another two thousand years.
Do you see how easy it is to mock the absurdity of your beliefs because, essentially, they are ridiculous?
“Religions also often oppose snake oil and the dishonesty it entails (the US Catholic bishops condemnation of Reiki, for example) and could, and should, be recruited as allies in the fight against snake-oil.”
Religions oppose dishonesty? Jesus (used as a “blasphemous” sign of exasperation), Christianity has only very recently been tamed by democracy so it is now powerless to impose the harsh penalties it once did.
The Catholic Church only stopped banning books in 1966, while the Inquisition stills exists but was renamed. Religion, all religions, are dishonest to their core. They all want to indoctrinate kids, who are incapable of considered thought, into a belief system to try to trap them in it. Do you not think that is completely dishonest and a calculated manipulation of malleable minds?
Most xian sects have men dressed in long dresses and pointy hat chanting all sorts of weirdnesses, and you think that is not strange? I’ve also wondered why your god loves singing so much? Why do people go to buildings with towers to sing sycophantic songs to something that was capable of constructing an entire universe?
I suggest you desist from proselytising about religion because you will get plenty more of this; mockery, derision, and criticism for persisting with unsustainable nonsense, greater nonsense than homeopathy.
As I have already said, religions do not contradict each other to the extent that atheists like to claim they do. Even religions as different as Buddhism and Christianity have common ground – read Bede Griffiths book on eastern religions, particular the Zen priest’s description of the Trinity.
If you dismiss old documents as evidence, you are implicitly entirely dismissing the study of history. In any case they are only part of the evidence. Neither were the people who wrote them ignorant: this is part of the more of the modern prejudice that assumes that just because people knew less than us, they were stupid – despite the fact that our achievements would be impossible without theirs.
Those beliefs would indeed be absurd, if they were an accurate statement of what I believed. Youa re engaging with straw men. For example, you say “God sent his son”, whereas the term son indicates a relationship within the Trinity, so it would be more accurate to say “God came himself to share our suffering”.
Neither is is accurate to say that the religions indoctrinate – any more than any children tend to be taught their parents ideas. I am pretty sure most Christian parents would have a better attitude towards an atheist child, and would be far less likely to apply pressure on them to recant their beliefs than atheists would on a Christian child. Certainly I never had problems when I was an agnostic, and I was rather pleased when my daughter was an agnostic (from the ages of 8 to 11 I think) as it showed that she could think for herself.
All you have convinced me of is that atheists are simply unable to engage in rational argument, and are ONLY willing to debate against straw men. I think you need to consider CapTVK’s quote about “the idea that one may be mistaken”.
I am not proselyting, the proselytism in this thread comes from atheists determined to lump religion together with snakeoil. Why mention religion at all? It is entirely irrelevant to evidence about homoeopathy.
My website is back up, by the way. Minor problem fixed.
“If you dismiss old documents as evidence, you are implicitly entirely dismissing the study of history. In any case they are only part of the evidence.”
Are you seriously suggesting religious texts are historical in nature? Seriously?
OK then, let’s look at a few examples from your book, the xian bible (if you want to know why I don’t capitalise the latter and contract the former, it is because they aren’t worthy of any respect); creation, exodus, JH Christ’s birth, and his death.
Creation didn’t happen, fullstop (Australian’s don’t use the word “period”). We all know and accept that. The talking snake didn’t happen.
The exodus of the Jews from Egypt didn’t happen; even the Jews accept this. If it did, it would make the Jews the most genocidal ethnic group to have existed, so they are happy not to have that over their heads.
The birth of Jesus is not recorded anywhere else by any other document anywhere. The whole census story is a nonsense, there was no guiding star or three wise men, the impregnation of Mary who was about 12 years old is tantamount to rape, and despite all of the supposed commotion, Jesus went unnoticed for 30 years. Jesus wasn’t born in those circumstances, in fact, he wasn’t born at all because he did not exist. There are plenty of messiah stories around then.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume Jesus did live so what of his death? If he was the son of god, it was a cruel, almighty con job. Since there are no other records of JH existing, he didn’t. The Romans were meticulous record keepers but, somehow, their execution of the son of god escaped their attention?
Right, there are four biblical stories that are either completely untrue (all actually) and/or unrecorded by any contemporaneous document.
” Neither were the people who wrote them ignorant: this is part of the more of the modern prejudice that assumes that just because people knew less than us, they were stupid – despite the fact that our achievements would be impossible without theirs.”
Ignorant meant ignorant of modern day science and knowledge, not your curious and spurious slant on it.
“Those beliefs would indeed be absurd, if they were an accurate statement of what I believed. Youa re engaging with straw men.”
And you are the master of the Fallacy Fallacy; you see fallacies where none exist and try to make yourself appear logical when the evidence shows unsupported claims of fallacies, a Tu Quoque even.
“For example, you say “God sent his son”, whereas the term son indicates a relationship within the Trinity, so it would be more accurate to say “God came himself to share our suffering”.”
Oh, you’re a Catholic. Are you saying that Jesus always existed or was Jesus only god with a different face on? Either way, it makes no sense.
Why did god want to ‘share our suffering” when, according to Genesis, that cruel bastard created it? Why not reveal himself, stop the cruelty, and stop torturing human beings. All of this adds up to one malicious, cruel bastard of a deity, and you want to worship something like that?
“Neither is is accurate to say that the religions indoctrinate – any more than any children tend to be taught their parents ideas.”
I’ll say this outright because I believe it to be true; you are either a liar or deluded, or both.
“All you have convinced me of is that atheists are simply unable to engage in rational argument, and are ONLY willing to debate against straw men. I think you need to consider CapTVK’s quote about “the idea that one may be mistaken”.”
Well Captain Fallacy Fallacy, you use the Strawman fallacy fallaciously (again) only as a means to attempt to discredit an argument for which you have no rational rebuttal. God-did-it does not count as rational.
Religion was mentioned because belief in the absurd is incidental to alt-med too.
OK. Got it. You believe in god therefore you don’t like to see that belief mixed up with discussion of pseudomedicine. You’ve had a mystical experience (or more than one) and you totally ignore everything I’ve said about the serious unreliability of subjective experiences. You’re deluding yourself, but you’re not going to recognize that from people who make comments on a blog site. The fact that some subjective experiences may be correct doesn’t lead to a generalization about all of them being valid.
You ask elsewhere why commenters mix up religion, which you regard as real and marvellous, with Big Pseudomedicine, something whose adherents regard as real and marvellous. You are blind to the similarities between all forms of irrational beliefs. You deny they’re all superstitions and claim reality for the one irrational belief you happen to favour.
In the preface to the second edition of his marvellous book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1957 but the preface is missing from recent reprints), Martin Gardner mentions how he received many irate letters from people who felt, for example, that homeopathy was entirely valid and they “were insulted to find themselves in company with such frauds as osteopathy and chiropractic”. And vice versa. Gardner believed in god and, at intervals for the rest of his life, tried to find words to justify why he, one of the founding skeptics of the 20th century, exempted religion from the other falsehoods. You obviously have a similar problem.
Please believe whatever you want, but don’t come here asking for scientific explanations of things like the incarnation and the resurrection which, like the pseudomedicines, require total suspension of every reality we’ve learned from centuries of science. Eternal life and the existence of any god are incapable of scientific test. So too is my conjecture that the real path to enhanced life on earth is to expand your inner groffle and extend your fillaquills to the eighth dimension.
I’m mystified by Graeme Pietersz’s assertion that Christian parents would be far more accepting of an atheist child’s beliefs than atheists would be of a Christian child. He says he’s ‘pretty sure’ of this. Is this like people who, on similarly flabby evidence, are ‘pretty sure’ that homeopathy works?
Where’s your evidence that Christians are much less likely than non-religious to believe in snake-oil? As to religions bravely leading the fight against Reiki and such absurdities – perhaps on reflection you might have figured out why this might be? Do you honestly think that thousands of non-religious people flock to Lourdes, or to the latest bleeding or weeping statue, or reflection of the Virgin Mary’s reflection in a window?
@ Barry Lee Thorpe,
Welcome to Loony Central, where some people will believe anything, despite irrefutable evidence. You walk among them in the streets and shops, and it worries me they are around.
There seems to be plenty of evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy available to those who care to find it. Not sure why it is ignored by Prof. Ernst here.
Just listen to the program on 3.18.2015. Regardless of what you think of the host, he cites scientific references. Other topics are covered, but the intro starts at 00:00 and ends at 2:50, then the homeopathy segment starts at 25:00 minutes into the program:
are you for real?
first, we are not talking of MY evidence here but of the results from the most thorough evaluation in the history of medicine.
second, any (radio?) program cannot be counted as evidence.
Your references? I didn’t say anything about YOUR references. I wasn’t aware you had any references. Dr. Null cites dozens of widely accepted references from scientific journals and universities. Why do you deny the existence of these studies from respected institutions? Apparently you haven’t even bothered to listen to the references.
I wasn’t asking you to accept an internet broadcast as a reference. Why did you think that? I was suggesting that you learn of new references that perhaps you weren’t aware of. But, sadly I’m afraid, as most are aware from your history, this is of no interest to you.
I very much doubt that the studies referred to there were new to most of the people posting here. The Chest COPD paper? The Jacobs diarrhea studies? We’ve seen them before.
I tell you what: why don’t you listen to them yourself, make a note of them, and then post them here? That way nobody will be able to deny that they exist (not that anyone has).
Come on, Sciguy. You say that he cites “dozens of widely accepted references”. If that’s the case, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to post a few of them here. You say that you aren’t asking anyone “to accept an internet broadcast as a reference”. If you just post a link to an internet broadcast rather than posting the references, you are doing precisely that.
He may well cite thousands for all I care. They may even all be 100% true. That doesn’t mean that what this creep claims is true.
Null is also anti-vaccine, fruitloop who believes AIDS is not caused by HIV, and you think this loony is credible?
Sciguy, you are definitely not a “science guy”, rather a “science fiction guy” but you forgot (unsurprisingly), to add that bit into your oxymoronic (much more of the latter than the former) pseudonym. At least, you have revealed yourself and I now know not to take anything you say with any credence at all. Are you out today to see your homeopath, acupuncturist, tarot reader, reiki guru, or naturopath? What a joke!
He starts talking about his references at about 39 minutes in. He mentions (39:18) the “Journal of Medicine and Nuclear Biology”, but doesn’t cite an actual paper from it. I haven’t managed to track this down – does anyone know what paper is being referred to here?
He mentions a meta analysis of 89 trials published in the Lancet, which I think must be Linde et al 1997. While it concluded that its results “are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo”, it also said that there was “insufficient evidence from these studies that homeopathy is clearly efficacious for any single clinical condition”, the same team’s 1999 reanalysis said that it is likely that the earlier paper “at least overestimated the effects of homeopathic treatments”, and two of its authors later commented that their “1997 meta-analysis has unfortunately been misused by homoeopaths as evidence that their therapy is proven”. He cites Kleijnen et al 1991, which found that the evidence was “positive but not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions” about the efficacy of homoeopathy. Neither of these studies provides unequivocal support for homoeopathy.
He also says (at about 39:05) that “the Swiss government included homeopathy as services covered under the Swiss statutory health insurance programme because they found that it worked”, which I think might come as something of a surprise to the Swiss government.
That’s the problem really. There always ‘seems’ to be plenty of evidence. But there never actually ‘is’.
I think we should add that Gary Null is not necessarily the world’s most celebrated scientist, and that he seems to have the same type of conflict of interest Prince Charles has:
So what is this a quote from? What is the source? Is this your own quote?
There are 500,000 studies in peer-review journals showing that vitamins are beneficial. Do you think they are not?
Besides, who doesn’t sell things? Medical doctors sell drugs, oncologists sell chemo therapeutic agents at 5000% profits that offer no cure, psychiatrists sell meds that have never cured a single condition, dermatologists sell beauty creams that are known to be useless.
BTW, Frank and Bart, he is a registered dietician and has a Master’s degree in human nutrition and two PhD’s as well. He is a researcher and scientist with many published papers and documentaries that have won many awards. I am certain this trumps both of your non-credentials which explains why you hate him. Judge the message, not the man, Bart.
I strongly recommend anyone interested to look into this person Null’s ‘qualifications’ and ‘Degrees’ and ‘PhDS’. The extent to which you will be unsurprised is unsurprising.
But then the gullibility – at best- or willingness to back fraud and lies and charlatanism-at worst- of people like Sciguy is pretty well par for the course in this area.
Some of the ‘Colleges’ and ‘Degree Courses’ in Gary Null’s ‘educational history’ are no longer in existence, for reasons I’m sure people can work out.
And by the way, Sciguy – we ARE judging the message. The message just turns out to be stupid and fraudulent. Thing about people like you is- you think the rest of us are as credulous and silly as you are. I see it all the time in these discussions.
I had an argument recently with someone on Quackwatch, who recommended the rest of us to watch the ‘Truth About Cancer’ film. The thing is-a lot of us do follow up these recommendations, if we haven’t done so already. Why on Earth would you think we wouldn’t?
He didn’t help his own case by the way when he then admitted that he himself hadn’t even watched this film, even though he’d presented it as something of an argument-clincher.
I’ll leave anyone who hasn’t seen it to enjoy this parade of fraudsters for themselves.
Homeopaths are arguing on shaky ground already, without presenting fools, fraudsters and outright criminals in their desperation to prove their case.
But I can see the end of our brief relationship skipping gaily towards us already, bearing a piece of paper, on which I see is written just one question.
That question is – ‘How can a substance become more potent, even dangerous, the more it’s diluted?’
Wait a minute-there’s another one. ‘How, if water can retain a memory of everything that’s ever been in it, does it know the specific thing you want it to remember, and not all the other stuff, like all the cow crap and Hitler’s weewee?’
I’m not expecting much of an answer to be honest.
What has that got to do with homoeopathy?
Doctors do not sell drugs (not anywhere I have lived), they prescribe them, and they do not benefit from them and get no financial benefit unless they are crooks who take bribes.
“There are 500,000 studies in peer-review journals showing that vitamins are beneficial.”
Beneficial in what quantities? Suggesting that people with a healthy diet need extensive supplements?
Spend a few minutes on Null’s web pages, as did I, and you will see the quote accurately reflects Null. Using your logic, that charlatan Deepak Chopra is also credible because he is a medical doctor.
“There are 500,000 studies in peer-review journals showing that vitamins are beneficial. Do you think they are not?”
No one said vitamins are not “beneficial”, in fact, I believe all would say, based on evidence, that they are completely necessary for human survival. What the same science has shown is that vitamin supplements are largely unnecessary and useless. In some cases they are dangerous and, in most cases, an expensive waste of money.
“Besides, who doesn’t sell things? Medical doctors sell drugs, oncologists sell chemo therapeutic agents at 5000% profits that offer no cure, psychiatrists sell meds that have never cured a single condition, dermatologists sell beauty creams that are known to be useless.”
Apart from the logical fallacy of Tu Quoque, this paragraph shows the absurdity of your arguments and the desperation to find anything as a basis for your beliefs.
Sciguy, you have a personal stake in this discussion, so would you please disclose what that is?
It’s the first thing that pops up when you enter his name in Google: https://www.google.ca/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=%22gary%20null%22
I have no reason to doubt it.
Wrong. There is actually astonishingly little solid evidence that vitamins are beneficial. There is a lot of evidence that show that they are *necessary*, which is a very different thing. Gas is *necessary* to propel your car, but it is by no means beneficial to your car. Just pour some gas on the seats if you doubt that. This is why vitamin pushers like Gary Null are bad news.
I do not know in which country you live, but in all the Western countries I am aware of, doctors are expressly prohibited from selling stuff to their patients, unless very special and exceptional circumstances warrant it, such as a doctor who lives in a very thinly populated area where there are no pharmacies. A doctor who sells stuff to her/his patients has an unacceptable conflict of interest.
just came across a very sweat response to the Australian report by a homeopath who evidently knows her stuff [http://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/news/millions-cant-be-wrong-natural-therapies-homeopath/2577762/]:
“”I think they’re trying to get rid of homeopathy because pharmaceutical companies can’t make money off the therapy.”
Ms Sims said she had experienced a lot of patients who benefited from the therapy, which uses the principle of likeness to treat illness.
“They’ve had a lot of success with treating people with Ross River disease, it can cure it in a matter of days,” she said.
“A little bit of the thing that makes you sick, can make you better… it works just like vaccines.”
Despite claims from the NHMRC that indulging in the therapy may put people at risk of abandoning proven medical treatments for serious illnesses, Ms Sims said responsible homeopaths worked with doctors to create a holistic treatment plan.
“We would never tell you to stop taking any prescribed medications. If we think it is out of our hands, like a serious life-threatening illness, we will definitely refer them to a doctor instead,” she said.
“People need to be able to have a choice.”
so compact! it is rare to see so many fallacies in such a short statement!
Nah. You need to get out more. I see continuous strings of these same fallacies all the time in homeopathy articles and comments.
Even the URL is impressive. Wow.
“”I think they’re trying to get rid of homeopathy because pharmaceutical companies can’t make money off the therapy.”
Sure, that’s why companies like Boiron have higher profit margins than pharmaceutical companies.
Ms Sims said she had experienced a lot of patients who benefited from the therapy, which uses the principle of likeness to treat illness.
And lots of people have experience that melting water makes pipes burst.
“They’ve had a lot of success with treating people with Ross River disease, it can cure it in a matter of days,” she said.
Who are “they” and how do they know that if they are rejecting medicine in the first place?
“A little bit of the thing that makes you sick, can make you better… it works just like vaccines.”
I thought vaccines were use to prevent disease, not cure it. I learn every day.
So, when the disease is real, the doctor takes the blame, when it isn’t, the homoeopath takes the credit. Neat little arrangement. For the homoeopath, anyway.
That’s what Kim Tinkham said. She’s dead now. Maybe ‘choice’ is not enough.
I just read about Kim Tinkham on your website and it is a tragedy. She was stupid to believe the nonsense spouted by Young and his idiot wife, LMT.
Young is a complete charlatan and thief, and his idiot wife is qualified as a “Lymphatic Massage Therapist”, whatever that is. Both of them belong in jail for murder, theft, and charlatanism.
The tragedy here is that Kim Tinkham is almost certainly only a tiny tip of an enormous iceberg. What makes her relatively unique is that she went very public and as a result can not be claimed as fantasy by the quacks. If you go to Young’s YouTube channel, however, you will see that she has vanished. That’s what quacks do: everybody heals, everybody is happy, and the corpses are happily ignored and composted in the lotus garden. As long as you’re alive, you’re a quack success, if you’re dead, you’re a doctor’s victim.
It’s been a while since last I checked up on them, but as far as I know, the Youngs are being prosecuted.
“people need to have a choice”
Why not? Think of it as evolution in action.
How very “Christian” of you.
Underneath a thin facade of civility and “niceness”, this demonstrates the hypocrisy of the religious.
It would only be un-Christian if I endorsed it as a good thing. It was partly a joke, the point of the quote (from Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) is that people take the consequences of bad choices. To prevent people making what those in power think is a bad choice is an infringement of personal liberty and has a very unhappy history.
Of course I do not think the rest of us should pay for unproven treatments, but I think if people want to pay for sugar pills they should be free to do so. Then again I think there is a good case for restricting advertising of medical claims to those that are proven, and for intervening when children’s health is seriously endangered by quackery.
That’s OK then. You consider it perfectly alright to makes jokes about people making stupid health choices and dying from them.
Gee, and all this time I didn’t think you had a sense of humour.
Ms Sims offers an impressive array of witchcraft at her place of thievery (I was going to say “business” but the used word is more accurate);
“About Yeppoon Family Natural Health Bowen & Remedial Massage Service
Advanced Massage – Sport, Deep Tissue, Lymphatic Drainage, Remedial, Hawaiian Stress Buster Massage, Relaxation Sports Injuries Injuries and Accident Rehabilitation Homoeopathy-classical and modern advanced Biomesotherapy & Medical Acupuncture Bowen Therapy Weight Loss Programs Women and Mens Health Stress, Depression & Pain Management Childrens Health Homoeopathic Immunisation -Prophylaxis Travellers Immunisation -Prophylaxis Allergies All Health Related problems”
I also see that she has no compunction about putting the lives of children at risk by offering homeopathic vaccines. What a sad, deluded, mentally incapable fruitloop.
From birth the human brain is both non-religious and irrational therefore people who become religious and/or rational have learnt it from one or more others. The list of our innate cognitive biases is mind-boggling — there are far too many to remember.
By far the most vital response mechanism in the brain is the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. The brain has to select one of the three options as quickly as possible. Such processing is performed heuristically because any form of logical processing would be circa 1 to 3 orders of magnitude slower — far too slow to avoid predators and other fatal hazards. Only some of the higher animals have evolved advanced cognitive processing regions of the brain, however, the vast majority of processing is still performed heuristically rather than logically. Those who clearly remember their first few driving lessons will know just how slow and painful it is to rely on logical processing rather than heuristics!
Although logical reasoning is highly beneficial to the survival of a species of social animals, this does not imply that it is beneficial to the individual members. Compare: Taxes are beneficial to a nation, but each individual member would much prefer being exempt from paying.
Our innate level of logical reasoning is highly disadvantageous to individuals because it causes us to continually seek explanations for events that occur during our lives. This need for explanations is so overwhelming that we make up explanations rather than accept the truth that many events occur simply due to the stochastic and chaotic processes that govern everything in the entire universe. During its long history our species has created a diverse plethora of: religions to provide meaning to life and the promise that we will survive are inevitable death; faith-based systems of healthcare. Our innate logical reasoning keeps us stuck in the Dark Ages.
In the 21st Century we still haven’t put measures in place to help our species overcome the huge disadvantages of our innate logical reasoning. Two decades ago it was strongly suggested that science and critical thinking skills should be mandatory elements of our primary education systems. I can think of many reasons why this hasn’t been done, but I can’t think of a valid reason.
While we are waiting, we need to realize that the vast majority of the seven billion people on our planet do not understand science and do not have skills in critical thinking. Our societies are such that it is much easier, and widely acceptable, for an individual to join faith-based organisations than it is to tread the long hard path of learning critical thinking skills and suffering the awful discomfort of having to admit that they were wrong about many of their previous beliefs. This hard work and suffering would be totally unnecessary if the skills had been incorporated into primary and secondary education systems around the globe.
This current situation is especially deplorable due to the fact that Carl Sagan warned us twenty years ago in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), QUOTE:
I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.
The dark ages never happened – they were made up historians who thought the loss of Roman militarism (ruthless empire building, gladiators, and the rest of it) was a disaster.
You posit a false opposition between “faith” and “reason”, which probably reflects a poor understanding of faith. Many people with excellent critical thinking skills have faith!
I think the critical flaw in your argument is that reasoning does not benefit the individual. An individual does benefit from being able to reason logically. The fact that sometimes you need to do things without logically reasoning out every step (e.g when driving) is beside the point – you still need the skill at other times.
People certainly often lack critical thinking skills, and I find it disturbing that science education fails to explain the scientific method. I suspect the reason is that it is hard to teach people to think better and requires a lot of individual attention. It is expensive – you cannot teach it by rote or test for it easily.
That said, I think you underestimate people. Many people think that homoeopathy works simply because so much effort has been made to misinform them – far greater than the effort to inform them of the evidence that it does not work.
I think that you have purposely misinterpreted my comment.
“The dark ages never happened…” You know what I meant.
“You posit a false opposition between ‘faith’ and ‘reason’…”
One can have faith and be rational provided one remains fully aware that their faith is a belief that lacks robust evidence. E.g. faith in a deity is a belief that lacks evidence; faith in 2+2=4 is a justified true belief, which is an epistemological definition of knowledge. People who haven’t learnt critical thinking skills are very likely to be unaware of this fundamentally important difference, therefore, they will be unable to properly compartmentalise their thoughts and experiences. There are very good reasons for having a separation between church and state.
“I suspect the reason is that it is hard to teach people to think better and requires a lot of individual attention. It is expensive – you cannot teach it by rote or test for it easily.”
Rubbish! Critical thinking is easier to learn than most science subjects. There are excellent books on critical thinking, my favourite is Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide by Tracy Bowell and Gary Kemp (4th edition). Robert Todd Carroll has produced books and online guides for children, teachers, and anyone else who wants to learn:
“That said, I think you underestimate people. Many people think that homoeopathy works simply because so much effort has been made to misinform them – far greater than the effort to inform them of the evidence that it does not work.”
Substitute the word “homeopathy” with the word “religion” and your statement remains equally valid. Calling homeopathy a religion seems to be perfectly reasonable.
You stated in a previous comment that homeopathy is different from religion because of its complete lack of rationale. An atheist who believes in homeopathy would be equally justified in claiming the opposite. However, their common denominator is that homeopathy and religions are all faith-based belief systems; they are definitely not evidence-based systems for acquiring useful knowledge.
I am not sure I did know what you meant by back to the dark ages? It appears that you do literally believe the dark ages happened – many people do.
“faith in a deity is a belief that lacks evidence”, you may not have seen the evidence, that does not mean it does not exist. Talk more to people who believe in a deity about WHY they believe.
“Critical thinking is easier to learn than most science subjects.”
I am not so sure. It is a skill that needs practice. I did not think the sites you linked to would help much, but one of them linked to this which is better, but I think it would take great determination to develop critical thinking skills even from that.
Of course there is the question of the motivation.Critical thinking skills are socially and politically disruptive, and there are a lot of motives for not developing them in too many people.
“Talk more to people who believe in a deity about WHY they believe.”
Very funny! To see why, replace “a deity” with “homeopathy” then read it again and apply it to yourself 🙂 The same or a similar argument is frequently used by alt-med apologists.
I used to be religious until I became aware of the twisted arguments used by apologists. Confused by this, I spent a few years studying various religions during which time it became painfully obvious that I’d been indoctrinated. It then took a long time, and a great deal of hard work, to give up my beliefs and adjust to living without them. I’m fully aware of the arguments put forward by some of the great debaters and apologists, such as WLC. So, one thing that I do NOT need to do is to “Talk more to people who believe in a deity about WHY they believe.”!
“Of course there is the question of the motivation. Critical thinking skills are socially and politically disruptive, and there are a lot of motives for not developing them in too many people.”
I totally agree and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is the real reason why critical thinking has still not been incorporated into primary and secondary education. I think this is a better explanation than the extra cost that you mentioned previously. Teaching science without also teaching critical thinking skills is a recipe for creating students who cannot differentiate between science and pseudoscience.
Many thanks for the discussion, Graeme, I’ve found it interesting and useful.
PS: Regarding “Dark Ages” — it is irrelevant to my point whether they actually existed or not. Many writers use it to mean: the primitive period in the development of something (esp. humanity).
I actually find the arguments of atheists more twisted, often dishonest (attacking straw men, as you can see elsewhere in this discussion).
The analogy with why homoeopaths believe is breaks down because I am perfectly willing to to consider any reason they have, and I have heard none that holds up given the weight of evidence that it does not work.
I was an agnostic for many years, but I changed my mind because I decided the evidence was against me. It works both ways. I have to say I did not find changing my mind (either way) all that painful – but then it was a gradual process of re-evaluating the evidence, not a sudden “aha!) moment that changed my mind (both times).
On the dark ages, I think the phrase should be avoided, even if intended as you describe, because it reinforces the myth that they were a historical fact and it leaves the reader in doubt as to whether the writer believed them to have really exists. Similarly with the word “medieval” when used to describe various barbarities that are either more ancient or more modern in reality.
One question, is WLC William Lane Craig? I have not come across him before: he sounds interesting but a tad weird.
I think we have had very different experiences and a different religions background, and followed different lines of thought and would be interested in your reaction to this.
Finally thanks making the effort to keep what can be an emotive discussion civilized!
I would submit that WLC is a special case, because his “university” *requires* him to lie. It’s part of his contract. So, the way I see it, he is not a True Apologist, but rather a well-paid whore doing his master’s bidding.
Given the spurious nature of your arguments, the first person who needs to learn critical thinking is you.
@Graeme: Thanks for your reply. I’ve sent you an e-mail response in preference to further cluttering this thread with my long comments.
@Bart: I’m fully aware of WLC’s mandated agenda, as are the experts who engage in live debates with him, such as Lawrence Krauss and Sam Harris. Despite WLC’s agenda and remuneration, he’s exceedingly good at constructing arguments and spotting when his opponents have made factual or logical errors. For those who have the time to spare, the debates available on YouTube are highly educational and thoroughly entertaining!
I’m glad you are. Not everyone is (or not everyone wants to be). The closest I have known Krauss to stating as much is in the City Bible debates where he accuses WLC of lying and possibly stealing and saying that WLC will lie when he thinks he can get away with it.
For some reason, I have never seen anyone simply stating Biola’s requirements. It puzzles me a bit, because Biola’s requirements make the claim that WLC is a liar into a certainty. That does not make everything he says a lie, but it does make the acceptance of the truth a non-priority and something he will only accept when it does not violate his contract.
That is why I consider WLC a special case. To the best of my knowledge his situation is more or less unique among the well-known Jesus shills. People like Alistair McGrath and John Polkinghorne and many of their brethren can be seen lying as well, but they seem to do so because they want to, not because their boss requires them to.
And yes, I love watching the debates on YouTube as well. It is how I learned to like Christopher Hitchens, who is an acquired taste for me.
Bart, I’ve always liked Hitchens and have been curious as to why he was not particularly well liked. I guess that being a Brit myself, his accent and mannerisms never came across as being unfamiliar or eccentric.
WLC knows very well that it is impossible to create a solid argument in support of religion unless the apologist either lies or breaks the rules of epistemic logic. He stated in 2008: “The person who follows the pursuit of reason unflinchingly toward its end will be atheistic or, at best, agnostic.” This is why his work depends heavily on Reformed Epistemology, which boils down to an ontological argument, rather than being founded upon epistemology. (Modern science and knowledge are, of course, founded upon epistemology.)
Religious and sCAM apologists who are unaware of the above simply don’t know that their attempts at epistemic reasoning are doomed to failure. I’m sure they actually believe that it is their opponent who is the one being illogical or just plain stupid.
“Bart, I’ve always liked Hitchens and have been curious as to why he was not particularly well liked. I guess that being a Brit myself, his accent and mannerisms never came across as being unfamiliar or eccentric.”
I’ve always liked Hitchens too, a shining beacon of reason who was unafraid to examine human icons based on objective research and not their reputations. Under a thin veneer of Mother Theresa’s supposed good works lurked a really “nasty piece of works” who wasn’t passed milking her celebrity for her self-interest. It is also just as well Ghandi did not have political power in India; he would have destroyed any industry in left after the British East India decimated the country up to 1880.
I’m Australian so I appreciate our British heritage and their appreciation of intellectualism.
“(Modern science and knowledge are, of course, founded upon epistemology.)”
And don’t True Believers hate that?
“Religious and sCAM apologists who are unaware of the above simply don’t know that their attempts at epistemic reasoning are doomed to failure. I’m sure they actually believe that it is their opponent who is the one being illogical or just plain stupid.”
While the converse is actually true. 🙂
The main reason I didn’t like Christopher Hitchens was his appearance in Richard Dawkins’ “four horsemen”. He sounded terribly condescending to me, and his apparent inability not to smoke and drink (having alcoholic parents didn’t help) for that time didn’t sit well with me. He brought back unpleasant memories. I learned to overlook that when I started figuring out that he was not the clown I had initially taken him for and, eventually, I took a liking of him, even if Richard Dawkins’ sedate style will almost certainly always have my preference.
“Yes, it was! It even included a homeopath.” — Who? The NHMRC’s FAQ document answers the question why no homeopath was included, so I’m surprised to read this here.
While more focus on critical thinking skills at school would help it requires participation, dedication, time, attention and effort (oh, and money is also useful). All of which we have limited amounts and there’s an entire world out there.
Not everyone has to become a critical thinker. I think the goal should be more modest and simply focus on the belief that one might be mistaken.
Elie A. Shneour ( biochemist and fellow at CSICOP, as is Edzard Ernst ) made this point very succinctly nearly two decades ago and it still stands:
“Skeptics should forego any thought of convincing the unconvinced that we hold the torch of truth illuminating the darkness. A more modest, realistic, and achievable goal is to encourage the idea that one may be mistaken. Doubt is humbling and constructive; it leads to rational thought in weighing alternatives and fully reexamining options, and it opens unlimited vistas.”
Skeptical Enquirer Volume 22.4, July / August 1998
CapTVK, I have previously mentioned that the financial aspect of teaching critical thinking skills is an insignificant burden, but I had failed to consider the huge short-term financial burden of re-educating existing teachers who, FFS, should already be in full possession of these essential teaching skills. Excuse me while I bang my head on my keyboard…
“Not everyone has to become a critical thinker.” You are 100% correct: I shudder to think about the financially unsustainable consequences that would result from everyone on the planet undertaking a short course in critical thinking skills in the near future. So many markets would fail overnight if people were empowered to detect the difference between facts and bullshit.
Elie A. Shneour’s point made via CSI does still stand. But why did this point even have to be made, let alone still stand true? It is idiotic because in 1995 Carl Sagan wrote the book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” making it totally obvious to everyone that it is science that is our candle in the dark; which makes it equally obvious that skeptics do NOT “hold the torch of truth illuminating the darkness”.
NB: This isn’t a criticism of your comment per se, I’m expressing my dismay over the fact that so little has been, and is being, done to address these issues that were raised decades ago. Thank you for the sobering reminders.
As a homeopath, I am just afraid of the side effect of the modern science medicine
What’s that got to do with homeopathy?
If that is so, why not simply choose the ‘no treatment’ option? Why go through the charade of something that has the depletion of one’s financial resources as its only proven effect?