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Alternative medicine as religion

Over the years, I’ve often likened non-science-based medical belief systems to religion. It’s not a hard argument to make. Religion involves believing in things that can’t be proven scientifically; indeed, religion makes a virtue out of ignoring the evidence and accepting various beliefs on faith alone. Similarly, alternative medicine frequently tells you that you have to believe in the therapy, dedicate yourself completely to it, in order for it to work. Of course, as I’ve also mentioned before, it is that insistence on belief and total commitment shared by religion and alternative medicine that provides quacks with an “out” when their treatments don’t yield the promised results, their frequent excuse being to blame the patient. He didn’t believe hard enough. In a reverse of The Secret, which states that you can bring good things to yourself by simply wanting it, in alt-med world, it’s all too often implied (or even more than implied) that you bring calamities on yourself through bad diet, bad lifestyle, and bad thoughts. After all, what is the German New Medicine, other than the claim that cancerous tumors are not the disease, but rather a manifestation of buried emotional traumas that cause the “protective” mechanism of a tumor to result?

I was reminded of these things as I perused the copious comments of yesterday’s post, which, as you might recall, was about the utter quackery that is naturopathic cancer treatment. More specifically, I was reminded that the similarity between religious thinking and quackery can lead to situations where religion facilitates belief in quackery. It began rather rapidly and early in the comments when someone named Steffanie England leapt into the fray with statements like:

ALLOPATHIC THINKING: Why sell GOD MADE medicine when you can’t make money off of it? Why not extract one or two components of an herb, a fruit etc. and PATENT IT!!! Discover what effects it has on the body. Then make more money prescribing drugs to counter the side effects!!! Brilliant!!! (NOT) Why not use the medicine GOD prescribed. “Let FOOD be THY MEDICINE”.


England then goes on to remonstrate with me:

Do some REAL research! Be brave enough to tell the TRUTH – like Dr. Judy Seeger!

Whenever I see the word “truth” in all capital letters, I’m reminded in what seems to be a nigh unbridgeable gap between our methods of thinking, because in science we do not speak of the “truth” (or the “Truth” or even the “TRUTH”). We speak of evidence, experimentation, and what the evidence shows. All conclusions are provisional, subject to revision as new evidence comes in. In contrast, Stephanie speaks of The Truth, and her “truth” includes antivaccine views, cancer quackery, and many, many more irrational views, proclaiming that the “truth is simple.”

It wasn’t long before another commenter arrived expounding similar ideas about God and how doctors are supposedly so “arrogant.” I’m referring to someone named Tamara St. John, who apparently runs a website called Optimum Health Through God’s Pharmacy. Tamara was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and claims to have “healed herself” of cancer without the use of drugs or surgery. Given that I’m an aficionado of cancer cure testimonials (indeed, perhaps the earliest substantive post I wrote for this blog was about cancer cure testimonials), and it’s a topic I’ve revisited on this blog many times, Tamara’s story caught my attention. Breast cancer, as I’ve pointed out before, is a disease that has a highly variable clinical course, which can range from indolent, slowly progressing disease to rapidly progressing disease that kills within months. Indeed, it is possible that more breast cancers either fail to progress or even spontaneously regress than we thought.

All of this is why I’d need to know a lot more about Tamara’s case to make an educated judgment regarding whether there’s any chance that her anecdote represents a true treatment effect. Most likely, it does not. Indeed, I wouldn’t be too surprised if her case resembles that of Kim Tinkham, who tried to heal herself using Robert O. Young’s quackery and, alas, ultimately saw her cancer progress and kill her. Of course, Kim Tinkham appeared to do well for nearly four years. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, Tamara provides information completely insufficient to make even an educated judgment, probably because she is currently writing a book and looking for an agent and publisher.

All I could find out about her story came from this interview, in which she says she had a lump in her breast and that the cancer spread to her lymph nodes. No mention is made of how the cancer was diagnosed, or even if there was a tissue diagnosis from a biopsy. In a more detailed discussion of her story, no mention is made of a biopsy. At the time, apparently Tamara was uninsured and couldn’t afford medical care; so she decided to “just pray.” The story Tamara relates is that she had a lump in her breast that was “painful to the touch” and that she developed enlarged lymph nodes under the arm and that the nodes were painful, all of which sounds a lot more like an inflammatory process than cancer. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a myth that if a breast lump is painful it can’t be cancer. It is, however, true that most breast cancers don’t hurt. In any case, Tamara claims to have healed herself using what can be best described as pure quackery, namely the Budwig Protocol, laetrile (yes, laetrile—how 1970s!), “enzyme” therapy, and juicing, not to mention “detoxification,” up to and including coffee enemas. She also spouts what can best be characterized as pure nonsense about how the illness she experienced while “detoxing” must have indicated that she had the epidermal growth factor receptor in her cancer and that she was shedding it.

Nowadays, Tamara is running a consulting business that appears to me to be, in essence, practicing medicine without a license, her Quack Miranda Warning notwithstanding. No doubt God is helping her fleece unsuspecting cancer patients.

It’s not just cancer quackery, however. I’ve often discussed how much the antivaccine movement resembles religion as well, a religion in which vaccines are Satan. I was reminded of this, perhaps serendipitously, when, as I was contemplating writing about the religion of cancer quackery, I came across a gem of a post on yet another wretched hive of scum and quackery, that temple worshiping the arrogance of ignorance, the completely misnamed Thinking Moms’ Revolution by a contributor named B.K. The post is entitled Christianity and the (False) god of Modern Medicine. B.K. begins with some hand-wringing about how worried she is that her post would be controversial and she doesn’t really want to write it but feels compelled to (no doubt because Jesus is telling her to).

Every bit of B.K.’s language is steeped in the language of belief. For instance, the next part of her preface is all about how much she used to “believe” in conventional medicine and science:

But before my son’s autism, I was a hard-core believer in the system… the medical system, that is. I believed in vaccines. I believed in doctors. I believed in the CDC. I believed in Tylenol. I believed in prescription meds. I believed in it ALL. I trusted in doctors and vaccines to protect me before — so I didn’t get sick — and I believed in doctors and prescription medicines to make me well when I actually did get sick. I believed that pretty much everyone in medicine, from the top researchers, to pharmaceutical companies, on down to the receptionists at your pediatrician’s office, wanted to make us all well and keep us all well. It was all about health and wellness. And so, I trusted them. I believed them. And I handed my child over to them without even thinking about it. And, appallingly, I handed him over without even praying about it.

What on earth does praying about it have to do with deciding whether science supports a treatment? Absolutely nothing. It’s not about faith; it’s not about “belief.” It’s about evidence, and the evidence does not support the antivaccine views promulgated by the (Un)Thinking Moms, nor does it support the biomedical quackery that many of them subject their autistic children to. After her child was diagnosed with autism, B.K. suddenly had an “awakening” or an “eye-opening” experience, which was intensified by her hearing a sermon from her pastor about how man has “dethroned God” and “exalted Man,” or, as she puts it, “Instead of praying and asking God to help us, we are handing things over to men to handle it. We think if the right man gets the job, our problems will be over. Man can fix things! Man can do it!”

You probably know where this is going, and it doesn’t take B.K. very long at all to get there. She talks about how each baby is “perfect,” created in God’s image, but arrogant humans try to “improve upon God”:

Let me ask you a question. If we are truly created in God’s own image, do you not believe that we are given the immune system that God wants us to have? Do you not believe that He perfectly planned the human immune system? Or do you think that God was “holding back” on us?

When we vaccinate our children, we are attempting to improve upon the immune system that God has given us. Plain and simple. We are trusting that man knows better than God how to keep us healthy. Therefore, we get only MAN’S best instead of God’s best. So where is that getting us? We are trading diseases that we once had that were TEMPORARY, such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, rubella, etc, for diseases that are usually PERMANENT, such as autism, ADHD, allergies, asthma, and the countless number of other chronic illnesses that we see today, including increased rates of childhood cancers. And as the number of vaccinations that each child receives grows, so does the number of chronically ill children (and adults).

What in the world are we DOING?

What we are doing (or trying to do) is to rely on science rather than faith. B.K. doesn’t like that and proceeds to rant about how we live in a “fallen” world, with a corrupt medical system, all corrupted, of course, by Satan (with a little help from pharmaceutical companies, natch) and complain about how doctors have been elevated to “god-like” status and how often people comply with doctors’ orders without even praying about it. (The horror!), concluding:

What I submit to you now is that we have lifted up modern medicine to the status of a god. That is something we need to repent of, and ask forgiveness, and ask God to show us how to trust him more fully with our health. When we get sick, pray first, seek wisdom, do some research into some alternatives, pray again, and then go where HE leads you. And stop blindly trusting fallen man to save us.

B.K.’s entire post is not a post describing how one rationally looks at the evidence, decides that one was wrong about something, and then changes course based on science, evidence, and experimentation. It is, in essence, a conversion story. Although she did not change her Christian religion, she did use it to facilitate a conversion from one religion that shouldn’t be a religion but was to her (science-based medicine) to another religion (antivaccinationism and alternative medicine), that she now follows based on faith rather than reason. Her description of medicine is very much like the fall of man as described in The Bible. Now, to her, modern medicine is no longer God but Satan, and she made that religious conversion without so much as a single shred of scientific evidence.

The longer I study alternative medicine and alternative medical systems, the more it becomes clear to me that they show far more similarity to religion than they do to science. It’s true that alt-med apologists dress up their beliefs in language that sounds scientific, but when you scratch the patina of scientific language off, it doesn’t take long to find the religious imagery, often facilitated by the more conventional religious beliefs (i.e, Christianity) of the believer. We see the same thing with respect to evolution denial. So why not with denial of scientific medicine? A nonscientific world view that is based on faith in things that can’t be seen is often not confined to church.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

118 replies on “Alternative medicine as religion”

Regarding: “Let me ask you a question. If we are truly created in God’s own image, do you not believe that we are given the immune system that God wants us to have? Do you not believe that He perfectly planned the human immune system? Or do you think that God was “holding back” on us?”

Everytime I hear people pontificate like that I can’t help but wonder: why did he create physicians? Clearly, he must have had a plan when he gave us vaccines, A&E departments, the fire department, et cetera. He gave us all those nice things that can save our lives and we are supposed to ignore it: how blasphemous. Are you contradicting your invisible friend?

Orac quoting Ms. England:

Why sell GOD MADE medicine when you can’t make money off of it?

By the hammer of Thor I must ask: which “GOD”?

I am sorry, but I have seen too many things attributed to some kind of “God” that I need to ask. One “God” punishes those who do not so what someone says they should, and another does some kind of miraculous saving.

I have just read a Unbroken. While the main subject survives and dedicates his life to a certain “God” (after a bit of alcoholic self medicating), most of his B-24 crew actually died.

So, I really want to know which “God.” Is there just one, and you only get saved if you are favored… Or are their several and you get saved if you pick the “real” God?

Can someone help me and tell me which “God” actually exists?

@Rebecca Fisher – great minds think alike, that’s exactly the first thing that came to my mind after reading this post.

Obviously, the (Un)thinking Mom never saw an “imperfect” baby – babies aren’t born with Trisomy 13, or 21 or 17, there’s no such thing as anencephaly, gastroscheisis, or any other illness. Try telling that to any woman who had a baby with a problem. Or does the Unthinking Mom dare tell these mothers that it’s all their fault?

Oh and should have said – I don’t believe there is such thing as an imperfect baby – which is why there are the scare quotes around the word. All babies are perfect – no matter what health issues they may have – because they are loved by someone.

@Nescio: Also, if there is such a thing as a Creator God, He/She/It gave us along with medicine, hospitals, doctors, researchers, a brain to use – to think, to explore different viewpoints, to gain knowledge of ourselves and our world. Not using it is therefore also blasphemous.

Let me ask you a question. If we are truly created in God’s own image, do you not believe that we are given the immune system that God wants us to have? Do you not believe that He perfectly planned the human immune system? Or do you think that God was “holding back” on us?

If she is believing in the god of the bible, be it Yahweh, Jehovah or Allah, she seems to forget about the Fall. We were designed for the peaceful Garden of Eden, not for a world of teeth and claws.
Sorry, but got did hold back on us. We are not tiger-proof. Why should we be virus-proof?
We are fighting tigers with man-made tools. Why shouldn’t we fight viruses with other man-made tools?

She also seems to imply that god has an immune system. I wonder what supernatural illness he could be suffering from.

Or does the Unthinking Mom dare tell these mothers that it’s all their fault?

Actually, yes, that is a standard response, and has been probably since prehistoric times.

I’ve been touched by his “Noodlely Appendage” with a touch of Cthuhlu on the side…..

Lord Draconis will be so miffed that his true identity is revealed. But then, I always thought inter-dimensional travel from hell is just as likely as interstellar hyperspeed.

The longer I study alternative medicine and alternative medical systems, the more it becomes clear to me that they show far more similarity to religion than they do to science.

QFT. The content of the beliefs, the epistemology, and the defense against criticism are essentially the same. All the arguments I hear from apologists for God, I hear from alties. A supernatural universe is a moral universe, one which is structured around human concerns and values. One learns about the deep connection between matter and Mind through intuition, revelation, and personal experience. People who disagree with the conclusion lack the capacity for empathy, sensitivity, and inner wisdom. Knowledge is subjective, and is arrived at by those who are the right sort of people. It takes faith. Faith separates those who “get it” from those who never will.

My alt med friends are absolutely clear about the central significance of “spirituality” in their favorite treatments and nostrums. Hey, that’s alternative medicine’s main selling point: it’s “holistic” enough to include the spiritual. My science-based dissent is automatically dismissed because I’m an atheist — and therefore lack the necessary open mindset. I’m too critical. There’s “science” on both sides. Therefore, it takes an intuitive faith to recognize and accept the one that’s right for spiritual people who connect with their power of spiritual healing.

Personally, I consider the vitalism and Nature-as-Nurture at the heart of alt med to be a non-traditional form of God. The cosmos cares about us, and wants to ensure that nothing bad ever happens to those who follow its loving rules. Alt med treatments are a form of worship.

There are believers and then there are people who use their god as a billy club. I am a Christian and none of that nonsense make sense to me. The world is not perfect,. If she had read the Bible she would understand why (according to a Christian belief system).. The first people screwed up and we live with the effects of that. Then we screw up more and we live with the effects of that. That does not mean hat a genetic disorder is the fault of parents, simply that the world is not perfect, we are not perfect and we have to deal with it.
I believe all children are beautiful reflections of God and their parents, but I have never met a perfect one. How
arrogant to think that if only they had done thing right their kid would be perfect. And how is a kid with autism less perfect than a kid with any one of the other disabilities out there? I have met some darn great autistic people.

A long time ago, Freud speculated that the function of religion was threefold: to provide an explanatory system about how the universe and humanity came into being, to serve as a protective parent and to expound upon justice and ethics ( I’m probably thinking of “The Future of an Illusion” and “Civilisation and its Discontents”).: educator, protector and judge.

Obviously today, we have science to explain nature, we become adults who watch out for ourselves, realistically accepting our own limits and support societal codes of ethics and systems of justice which may not be perfect. So we have no need! Right?

Woo fulfills all of these functions: whereas SBM may admit the limits of its knowledge, woo boldy asserts omniscience; it gives the answers in a manner that comforts and assures like a caring parent, promising what the client wants and usually there is a tinge of blame and congratulation: the bad patient didn’t follow through correctly or had doubting thoughts and thus, died, while another was faithful to the protocol and lived: all stated judgmentally.

Woo steps into a world where there are sometimes no clear answers, protection is sorely lacking and things are very frequently unfair.

Woo’s followers demonstrate faith in “things unseen”-lacking in data- because they seem right and just as well as comforting. Because they can’t stipulate mechanisms for how herbs, meditation or magic powders work, we often see a retreat into fantastical explanations such as subtle energies, xi or thought power**:
which leads me to postulate my own law ( Walter’s Law):

*****if you dig deeply enough into woo, you’ll find soul, spirit and supernaturalism.*****

because they don’t have anything solid- like data: spirit, mind, energy, soul or karma fills in the gaps. And people are already familiar with the concepts.

On a lighter note: sometimes woo-meisters and their audiences resemble a revival meeting: Give me that old time religion! ( I think it’s called *magic*)

** today’s TMR features Princess and thoughts and Descartes and why thinking makes it so.

The German New Medicine sounds like a rerun of the Austrian old psychoanalysis. I once picked up a book by an oldtime Viennese psychoanalyst (Sadly, or maybe not, I no longer recall the title or author’s name.) on the meanings of dreams (No, it wasn’t Freud). I got in about three pages when the author explained that pregnant women lose teeth due to the subconscious symbolically ending the pregnancy with the “birth” of a tooth. Despite being a physician by training, he obviously knew nothing about metabolism in pregnancy. If I don’t like a book, I usually give it away. I threw that one in the trash.

There is an additional aspect to the treatment of medicine as religion, which of course Orac has touched on, but I think is worth additional emphasis.

That is the misrepresentation of science-based medicine as a competing religious system.

In her book Bright-Sided: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich drew an interesting connection between Calvinism and 19th century New Thought. Although the latter was partly formed as a rejection of the former, it really only moved the major assumptions into a different area.

In Calvinism, all pain and sickness was considered a result of a person’s ‘sin’ — their failure to humble themselves before God. Nature was evil and corrupt. Disease was punishment for humanity in general and the individual in particular. Search your conscience to discover what you did wrong. It’s all your fault.

The New Thought proponents didn’t like that version of God. Nature was not evil and corrupt; it was a reflection of the divine. God was not angry and vindictive. God was loving — and the power of positive, happy thoughts would link us to a positive, happy God, align us with Nature — and prevent us from getting sick.

If you were ill, then, it was because you weren’t positive and happy enough. You weren’t following the sacred character of Nature, or loving God. Search your conscience to discover what you’re doing wrong. It’s your fault.

The change, Ehrenreich points out, is pretty superficial.

I’ve enjoy Denice W.’s comments. I think of religion as a means of group cohesion and social control. This might not necessarily contradict the summary of Freud’s speculations but those seem to me to be incomplete. This is a side comment, of course. There does seem to me to be a confluence of religion with “alt-med”, woo, quackery, etc.
Recently I was listening with some surprise and dismay to a friend extolling Gerson diet and related nonsense. I must have said “whatever” once too often as I was suddenly being lectured about how horribly rude I was re my “whatever”. Of course that was the most polite term I could utter for the arrant bullshit I was hearing. Then it was “don’t you believe in miracles?”

I always like to throw in some James:

” The TENDER-MINDED;
Rationalistic ( going by ‘principles’), Intellectualistic, Idealistic, Optimistic, Religious, Free-willist, Monistic, Dogmatical

The TOUGH-MINDED:
Empiricist ( going by ‘facts’), Sensationalistic, Materialistic, Pessimistic, Irreligious, Fatalistic, Pluralistic, Sceptical”…

“Their mutual reaction is very much like that that takes places when Bostonian tourists mingle with a population like that of Cripple Creek. Each type believes the other to be inferior to itself; but disdain in the one case is mingled with amusement , in the other it has a dash of fear.”
( from *Pragmatism*, 1907),

ALLOPATHIC THINKING: Why sell GOD MADE medicine when you can’t make money off of it? Why not extract one or two components of an herb, a fruit etc. and PATENT IT!!! Discover what effects it has on the body. Then make more money prescribing drugs to counter the side effects!!! Brilliant!!! (NOT) Why not use the medicine GOD prescribed. “Let FOOD be THY MEDICINE”.

This is a very frequent topic on breastcancer.org, and the irony of it is that those who call themselves the “Natural Girls” are the same ones who swallow supplements by the bucketsful, LOL. Maybe God only speaks through Mercola and the MLM-based supplement sellers?

“We are trading diseases that we once had that were TEMPORARY, such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, rubella, etc, for diseases that are usually PERMANENT..”

yeah, and other temporary diseases like polio and small pox. they only last until you die. TEMPORARY!11!!!!

My 11:32 am comment is awaiting moderation. Perhaps it was my use of a descriptive term “arrant b—-t” or my lack of a location identifier. Whatever. I will repeat that I enjoy DW’s comments, and add, in the context of my stalled comment which I hope passes muster, and as a cultural note, that Marty Balin was/is one of my very favorites. But the “miracles” I was asked to believe in the context of that conversation (Gerson diet, other woo) were distinct from the miracle of love.
And i hope my other bit gets through. What determines whether a comment goes into moderation? I thought my 11:32 remarks were innocuous within the over-all discourse of this blog.

I am so pleased to see this post (not that my pleasure is important to you; I hope you know what I mean).

I’ve been thinking for some time that alt-med/woo and the forms of religion we’re talking about here are the same. Of note to me is that what underlies much of both is really only a purity fetish. Cleansing of sins, cleansing of livers and colons. Satan (evil forces) or “environmental toxins.” Virtuous diet = virtuous person.

Orac – You’ve done a great job here with the religious angle on alt med. Next you should expound on the other significant perversion of reality in alt med… Post-modernist relativism and anti-scientism!

It always saddens me to see posts like Orac received here. Don’t they know that He reaches down with His Noodly Appendages and lovingly touches all the equipment in research labs and the scientists who do His will by studying Science, and Medicine, so we can do His will by actually learning what His will is?

For He hath given us the Great Meatball of Science.
Ra’men

I get super annoyed with Christians saying God gave us all the ‘perfect’ bodies and immune systems— then why are you wearing makeup and bleaching your grey hairs?

I’m saying this as a Christian, by the way. Just one who can read for context. Jesus said to let the little children come to him because in Palestine at that time, children had very low status and very high mortality rate before age 5. In my reading of Scripture, I’ve come to the conclusion that God is kind of happy when we vaccinate our children, instead of sitting idly by and watching them die from preventable diseases.

@ THS:

I appreciate your kind words: they mean a great deal to me. I try very hard: the writing is easy, the thinking is not.

@ all:

Christopher Shaw’s colleague, L. Tomljenovic, will be Null’s guest today ( it will be archived @ Progressive Radio Network.com/ second half of show) I can’t listen live.

I think you’re comparing it more to faith than to religion. I tend to separate the two; faith is the part that’s about believing in stuff that’s not proven (or, in many cases, even testable) while religion is the rituals and guiding practices and things like that. There are more people that believe in God than go to church/temple/etc — and of course one can be steeped in religion without actually believing.

Alt med has aspects of both faith and religion. Most of the time, it’s just wishful thinking or belief in a set of propositions that aren’t provable (like chi or chiropractic subluxations) but there can be ritualistic aspects as well, and those may appeal from a different direction; a person might try aromatherapy out of a belief that certain scents cause medical changes, or because the act of setting up the candles or infusers is calming to them. Either way it usually starts with belief, but frequently there is a huge amount of ritual involved. And the bigger the treatment, the bigger the ritual. And of course the ritualistic aspects have no upper limit; in extreme cases, we have the cult-like attributes seen at some alternative clinics and among the followers of specific, charismatic practitioners.

Christopher Shaw’s colleague, L. Tomljenovic, will be Null’s guest today ( it will be archived @ Progressive Radio Network.com/ second half of show) I can’t listen live

But Shaw and Tomljenovic aren’t anti-vax, they’re Just Asking Questions.

JAQing off with Gary Null? Eeeewww.

There are so many inconsistencies in the quasi-religious world view that mankind was created perfect and if provided with a perfect environment, would never get sick. God (who I tend to regard as a metaphor for evolution in this context) didn’t just make healing herbs, she also made Aristolochia that for generations people mistook for a healing herb and damaged their kidneys as a result. We have a liver and kidneys that are exquisitely designed to remove toxins from our bodies, yet we are told they require assistance from herbs, coffee enemas and other alleged detoxification treatments. We have several mechanisms that maintain blood pH homeostasis, yet we are told that if you eat too much animal protein those homeostatic mechanisms are unable to cope, despite being able to excrete far more acid when generated through exercise. It seems it is only permissible to interfere with nature in ways allowed by dogma. It seems that the human body is able to maintain perfect health, except when it isn’t, and doesn’t require any assistance except when it does.

@ TBruce:

That is the truly disgusting!

@ THS:

Freud does go into authority figures / head of the family/ rulers as well and the Oedipal stuff. WAY too much to bring in here. Basically, the deity functions as surrogate parent in many roles.

Rogue Medic:

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the wonders of a universe that is trying to kill us.

My favorite quote on the subject of the universe being fair:

“I used to think it was a terrible thing that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘what if life *were* fair, and all of the terrible things that happen to us came because we really deserved them?’ Now I take great comfort in the general unfairness and hostility of the universe.”
— Marcus Cole, Babylon 5

It seems that the human body is able to maintain perfect health, except when it isn’t, and doesn’t require any assistance except when it does.

Which is convenient, as we’ll be glad to tell you when it isn’t able and provide you that assistance when it’s required, at a price we’re just sure</i< you'll find is reasonable. After all, you can't realy put a price on health and happiness.

Just make sure you read the Quack Miranda before purchasing, and note that all sales are final.

today’s TMR features Princess and thoughts and Descartes and why thinking makes it so.

Wow, that’s an impressive Descartes fail right off the blocks.

@ Narad:

You have to read it ! It is mind-scramblingly awful. But then again, she is a THINKING mom.
Oh lord! I hope that the next essay is not on Hume.

“how the illness she experienced while “detoxing” must have indicated that she had the epidermal growth factor receptor in her cancer and that she was shedding it.”

WTeverlovingF is this?!
Head meet desk!

“ALLOPATHIC THINKING: Why sell GOD MADE medicine when you can’t make money off of it?”

This would be a humdinger of an argument, if it wasn’t for the multibillion dollar supplement industry profiting off “GOD MADE” medicine, or the never-ending parade of alties making money from pseudo-medical professions like naturopathy and homeopathy, “consulting” services, books and devices based on “GOD MADE” medicine.

I prefer straight-up pharma profiteers to people who are trying to weasel money out of me claiming to supply “GOD’s” medicine.

I’ve more than once asked this type of Christian how they reconcile their attitudes toward Jesus’ exhortations of humility and honesty. I have yet to get a coherent answer.

Most excellent post, and I was pleased to read it.

I did want to comment more specifically on this bit:
she did use it to facilitate a conversion from one religion that shouldn’t be a religion but was to her (science-based medicine)

This is why I hate hearing people say things like, “I believe in evolution” or “I believe in human-made climate change.” Issues of fact shouldn’t be matters of belief. The statement should be “I have examined the available evidence, and the most parsimonious explanation that best fits the facts is…” etc.

Another parallel between alt med and religion is what Orac calls the Trojan Horse strategy — their mutual tendency to try to co-opt reasonable elements and claim them for their own. First the bait — then the switch.

Alternative medicine tries to claim credit for all herbal remedies, all diet advice, all exercise therapies, no matter how firmly based in science they are. Religion and Spirituality want to include morality, aesthetics, hope, and values under their mantle, despite their grounding in the human world. You ‘believe’ in those things, don’t you? Well then, what is the problem? That’s what we’re talking about. That’s all we’re saying. We’re really quite rational.

And then …wham. Homeopathy, reiki, God, and the paranormal are dragged in as if they’re part of the deal. Critics are then caricatured as being against the true but trivial in order to lend weight to the extraordinary but false.

Apologetic tactics.

@Mary Sue – I really like your reasoning. And I do something similar. A close friend of mine is very religious and also suffering from a mental disorder. And whenever he starts having doubts about his therapy, I tell him “Do not expect God to heal you directly. Jesus no longer walks on earth but he gave you psychiatrists, therapists and SSRIs so that you can go and heal yourself”. And this approach works.

I find it ironic that so many alt med pushers use the profit motive to seek to discredit science based medicine when so many of them have made a living, some a fortune, selling their “free” methodologies. Alt med is a multimillion dollar business bases on good wishes, dreams, misplaced hope, and pixie dust.

@ DW: mind-scrambling awful. I like that phrase.
It’s so easy for me to take the bait & get riled that I don’t very often make it through these woo-videos that are linked from, for example, the previous RI post. Those were really bad – she could barely read her own text, it seemed. But this also brings to mind Jany Ian Smith speech – I don’t recall if he was quoting somebody – about the importance of understanding nonsense. Enter, at least for part of the arena, psychologists.

Following alternative medicine and anti-vaccination is not only putting faith in false prophets, it’s purposely putting oneself in harms way and expecting God will save you.

As I recall, Satan told Jesus to cast himself off the pinnacle of the temple because God would save him. Jesus responded that you do NOT put the Lord your God to the test. Why would He save you from something you had the power to prevent yourself? (And never mind their complete dismissal of the theology of suffering so prominent in Christianity!) He also had some pretty strong warnings about false prophets, too. And if taking people’s money with no evidence of cure or aid isn’t “bad fruit” I don’t know what is!

So I’m guessing most of these people don’t ACTUALLY know what the hell they’re religion believes…

The author seems to have serious problems distinguishing between things going on in her own nervous system and things going on ‘out there’.

This isn’t necessary. (Indeed, it would be inappropriate if she had the slightest idea what she was talking about[*] rather than immediately announcing “a much deeper extension of this concept,” which, apparently, compensates for her finding “The Secret” to be “too abstract … to grab hold of.”) Consider the copular construction “it is raining.” The first two words are unnecessary. All the cogito buys one is a grammatically analogous statement, the import of which is that it is to occupy a privileged place of epistemological certainty–the next sentence in the Meditations version makes clear that the “I” isn’t yet defined.

One can stick with Descartes right here, i.e., consider everthing in the perceived world as a product of one’s mind, and one still doesn’t get magical powers, because the buildup to the exercise is that one can’t think oneself away. Why, then, would one be able to think away the creations of one’s mind? You can’t have it both ways–you don’t get to have part of the perceived world being a product of your (unconscious) mind that is somehow subject to backdoor manipulations, and if it’s all your doing, then you’re stuck having to figure out how the mess actually works to effect modifications.

The closing aphorism, though, is a spot-on summary of the philosophical slop in play, and it circles right back to the various health faddisms that sprang again from New Thought types. (Hi, Fenwicke!)

[*] What’s with “the original Latin”? The Discourse came first, in French.

I just want to know one thing: Is B.K. a nudist?

If not, she’s a flaming hypocrite.

I feel that Ambrose Bierce covered both religion and all of the
pseudo sciences with this ” Religion-n-A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable”.

@ THS:

Don’t worry, I have a thousand more phrases: I personally like – ‘a pyroclastic flow of rapidly encroaching ignorance’ and ‘perpendicular to the plumb line of reason’ ( both original).
Fortunately, the computer I use for my sceptical activities DOESN’T play videos- I read and listen to internet audio only, which is bad enough.

@ Narad:

Seriously, I studied Descartes et al nearly 40 years ago as a mere child ( first semesters @ U.) and reviewed philosophers relevant for grad psych history courses around 30 years ago. Still, she does a masterful job of destroying what is present there and supplanting her own *idees fixees*.
I once heard a woo-meister discuss Descartes: he cautiously pronounced every single consonant in the name.

I am curious about the relationship between chiropractic and evangelical Christianity. One of the big practice-building outfits, Maximized Living, talks about “God’s doing healing” or some such.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a larger number of chiropractors are evangelical Christians, but… wouldn’t be surprised if there are still a large number of Christian doctors. Not sure if the numbers reflect anything special or not, Liz.

If I were to allow my husband to lay hands on me tonight and pray, I might become his “miracle” tomorrow (and one of many “miracle” within his type of church). While we were on vacation my hand was injured badly. Right now it is black, blue and purple and when I make a fist with it (or mostly a fist), a part pops up in the middle.

Most of the family is sure it is broken. It could be, or the tendons and other tissues could just be really badly swollen from the impact of the injury.

I’m sure, though, if he laid hands on it before x-rays and it came back as not broken he would have healed it with his prayer….

There’s a woman who assures us she had bone cancer and cured herself with prayer. Talked about a weekend of terrible bone pain, being sure it was cancer, calling the elders to pray and anoint her without telling them why (and no mention of a doctor, biopsies, etc., anywhere) and feeling remarkably better 24 hours later.

For some reason, I think she had a really bad onset of flu or some other infection that ran its course…

Daniel Chapter One kept coming to mind as I read this. They are all about “God’s natural healing only.” I really don’t think that God created supplements and concentrations – what’s so different about their approach versus scientically proven prescriptions?

Oh. Wait. One of them has evidence that it might work, documented side effects so you can know if the drug (even if it is not a pharmaceutical, I would argue any supplement taken to treat disease, etc., is still a drug in that understanding of the term) has caused them, etc…

THS: “I must have said “whatever” once too often as I was suddenly being lectured about how horribly rude I was re my “whatever”.”

I leaned a wonderful response for people on a rant from Douglas Adams, in the Dirk Gently series. “Oh ah.” Completely noncommittal, means nothing whatsoever, and to me, it sounds entirely inoffensive. Of course, some people can take offense at anything.

On quack cancer cures, and “alternative medicine” as religion…

By Xeni Jardin at 8:48 am Wednesday, Aug 15 I loved Science Blogs contributor Orac before I was diagnosed with cancer. I love him a whole lot more now. I’ll get to why in a moment, but I want to share something personal first (cracks knuckles). Well-m…

So, I’ve had this vague notion rumbling around in the back of my brain, but I’m not knowledgeable enough on a number of topics to do it justice. Maybe someone here knows enough to correct me, or might know more about the surrounding ideas.

I’ve observed this concept of “suffering is spiritual” in many different settings throughout my life. I’ve wondered if it’s one of those things that’s buried deep in the American psyche, or if it’s international too. I’ve seen it lived out in families of different religious beliefs and across class and wealth. I was taught this idea as a child even though my family’s religion overtly wrote that moderation, not suffering, was important. It seems like it permeates. I don’t know if that’s really true, or if it’s just been something I encounter a lot. But if it really is an unconscious idea that our culture? many cultures? tend to imbue, it explains a lot.

Suffering is spiritual. Depriving someone of suffering they *should* be going through is heretical; it robs them of an opportunity to be more spiritual. Get a shot to prevent chicken pox? Irreligious! No matter the religion. A little suffering won’t hurt a child, it’ll be good for their soul.

Take pain medications, depression medications? No, no, that’s wrong; if you have pain or depression, obviously you’re meant to be suffering, and taking that away would be bad for your soul.

Or your aura, or your chakra, or your feng shui, however your flavor of woo interprets spirituality. However it is, using known effective medications to reduce suffering is human and faulty and offensive to the spirit.

But maybe something that is also spiritual, natural, isn’t quite so wrong… Man-made solutions to suffering are ultimate blasphemy, but something that God/Gaiea/Nature/The World Tree/The Vibrations/The Aliens put on the planet–in something close to its original form–might, maybe, help alleviate the suffering. But without depriving the soul of its cleansing ritual of suffering that, if you’re experiencing it, you obviously deserve.

And if you *believe* and have *faith* then you’re countering that reduced suffering by making the effort to be more spiritual, so it’s okay. Reduced suffering is allowable if you don’t need the whole experience of the suffering to improve your spirituality. Just some of it.

So you can project that, without the alleviations and the faith, your suffering would have been enormously worse; you were just increasing your own spirituality so much, you reduced the amount of suffering that would be imposed on you. (It would have been SO much worse! How do you know? Well, now you’re SO much more spiritual! And look, you’ve reinforced your own belief in the concept, too, by increasing your spirituality in order to relieve you of suffering that your spirituality insisted you experience.)

I don’t know. I don’t know enough about too many of the involved topics. Am I totally off base, here?

Oh-so-pious hasn’t-even-read-her-damn-Bible religionist plus born-again alt-med “sensibilities” = perfect storm of ignorance, active opposition to knowledge and potential child endangerment. What’s she gonna do next time junior skins their knee, or has a car accident or contracts an STD? Holy water, homilies, holistics, homeopathy?

There’s just so damn much wrong with this woman’s ravings that I’d barely know where to start – or when to stop.

@ G

I leaned a wonderful response for people on a rant from Douglas Adams, in the Dirk Gently series. “Oh ah.” Completely noncommittal, means nothing whatsoever, and to me, it sounds entirely inoffensive. Of course, some people can take offense at anything.

I seem to recall that Issac Asimov preferred “There may be something in what you say.”

I’ve observed this concept of “suffering is spiritual” in many different settings throughout my life. I’ve wondered if it’s one of those things that’s buried deep in the American psyche, or if it’s international too.

Theravada would have a whole lot of pointless robes and bowls and so forth on its hands without an implacable nemesis.

@G – well, I remember a sermon several weeks ago (Catholic church, to be more precise), where the priest said openly that there is nothing good in suffering as such. No heavenly glory and so on. So if you suffer, you should first of all look for help.

@Dangerous Bacon – the “can’t make money from god-made/natural medicine” thing gets me too. These people are perfectly aware there’s lots of people making a living selling natural stuff – from rocks to blueberries to, yes, herbal medicines – yet are somehow able to simultaneously think there’s no money to be made in herbal medicine. If the mark of a first-rate mind is to hold two mutually contradictory ideas in one’s mind and continuing to function, these people are geniuses.

On another front, I don’t know if we should necessarily believe B.K. about her previous attitude to conventional medicine being quite so religious. I mean, I very much doubt she used to be a paragon of rationality, but converts have powerful incentives to misrepresent their previous position in ways flattering to or supportive of their new convictions.

Just recently I read an article about “grit”, or the ability to persevere despite failure, which is apparently an important quality in successful people. It’s not quite the same as the “suffering is character building” G refers to, but it’s not far off. I found it interesting and thought-provoking, though I wonder how much of it is the perennial idea that young people today have it easy..

@ Krebiozen:

A few cognitively oriented psychologits speak about ‘resilience’ including how to train people in developing it. ( esp Seligman)
(-btw- just ran across something about genetic differences in those who suffer PTSD vs those who emerge after catastrophe relatively unscathed).

@ G:

As an atheist, I have problems understanding some of these concepts ( you may be on the right track with the ‘spirituality’ issue/ putting aside things of this world)
but here’s another facet: if we look at it in terms of some sort of universal balance sheet: those who suffer are racking up a whole lot of points. People have sympathy for them so why shouldn’t the deity? Thus, their reward will be greater – either here or in heaven.

Woo-folk seem to glorify persecution for their ideas- which may be similar, “Some day you’ll see!” I keep hearing that.
There are common themes in literature of reward after suffering.

@ Andreas:

Probably, but I would be thinking more along the lines of energy therapists, past- life regression specialists, John Mack, those who hold to AJW’s hypothesis, write @ TMR et al.

A flood was coming and a guy hopped in his car to escape. He stopped at his neighbor’s house and yelled for him to hop in. The neighbor declined and said, “I’m putting my faith in the Lord.” So they guy drove away.

The waters started to rise until the guy was on the second floor of his house. Another neighbor came by and yelled yelled at him to get in. “No thanks. I’m putting my faith in the Lord.” So they drove off.

Now the waters have really risen and he’s on the roof of his house. A police helicopter flies by and lowers a rope ladder. “No thanks. I’m putting my faith in the Lord, ” the guy yells.

The waters rise even higher and he drowns. He standing in front of God and asks, “Oh Lord. I believed in you. Why didn’t you save me?”

To which God replies, “I sent a car, motor boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

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