Re: Alternative Medicine

From: Iain Strachan <>
Date: Wed Dec 21 2005 - 04:02:41 EST

Randy, you wrote:

    At the 2004 ASA annual meeting, I recall one talk where a physician
> reported on the healing effectiveness of prayer. During the Q&A he
> reaffirmed a comment that had raised a lot of eyebrows during the
> talk: it
> didn't matter to whom one prayed or whether the god to whom the prayer was
> made actually existed, the prayer was just as effective. Is prayer in the
> alternative medicine camp?

I think it depends on how you analyse what is going on. There seems to be a
strong correlation between belief and healing/being ill. An example I gave
earlier was where students in a college were fooled into believing they had
eaten contaminated fish & they all got taken violently ill, fainting,
vomiting etc, so the sanatorium couldn't cope with the demand. It was clear
that a false belief could lead to illness, because that false belief
triggered the brain to stimulate the immune system into fighting something
that wasn't there & when the immune system is activated in this way, then
you feel ill, get sick (because it protects you to expel potentially harmful
stuff) etc.

Likewise, it seems to me a false belief can lead to healing. I related how
I controlled my asthma this year by becoming sceptical about its causes.
But a few years ago, I was also tempted by an "alternative" treatment,
called the Buteyko method. This was a method for controlling asthma for
which there were many testimonials of people who had attended Buteyko
clinics and had come off asthma medication altogether, often from being very
severe asthmatics. One of my mother's friends had tried it with success,
and lent my mother the book, which I then read. The technique was quite
simple (you could find descriptions of it on the web), though they strongly
recommended you attended a clinic and paid a lot of money for it. I thought
it was worth giving it a go, as the "conventional" treatment was to stay on
inhalers for the rest of my life. It was quite difficult to do, involving
breathing very shallowly, and then expelling all the air from your lungs and
holding your breath there in a "controlled pause", for as long as you could
stand it, then start breathing gently again. The theory said that this led
to a greater concentration of CO2 in your blood, which acted as a "natural
bronchodilator", that opened up your air-tubes. (The inhaler I was on was a
bronchodilator). Well, it worked like magic - within a week, I was
completely off the Ventolin (bronchodilator) drug, and after a month, after
discussion with my doctor, I cut down to half dose the steroid inhaler I was
required to take morning and evening. All was fine till a few months later
when I got a bad cold and couldn't breathe, and the asthma returned. I
believed I'd been "cured" by doing the Buteyko method, but couldn't be
bothered to struggle doing this very unpleasant exercise over again, so went
back on inhalers till this year. During that time, I signed up to a Asthma
support usenet group, and got thoroughly flamed for advocating the Buteyko
method - it appears the "science" behind it is absolute junk and of no merit
whatsoever. No matter how much I protested, "how can you ignore the fact
that thousands of people have been helped by this, myself included?", I
still got bawled out and accused of being dishonest etc etc.

It is now my opinion that I was "cured" by the placebo effect of doing
something I believed in, which turned out to be a false belief. Whether my
current spell of non-asthma suffering (11 months now) will last, I don't
know, but I arrived here by being skeptical about the causes of my asthma
(and questioning whether or not it was psychosomatic), rather than putting
my trust in junk science.

Now, turning to prayer and is it "alternative" or not, I would say that as
Christians we believe that our faith is true, and so we should pray for
healing. In the healing of the woman with an issue of blood, Christ says
"your faith has healed you", and perhaps this indicates there is a strong
link between belief and healing - indeed that God has made us in a way that
we have natural healing mechanisms that can be triggered by the right
beliefs. I think this idea (in a secular sense) also applies in Cognitive
Behavioural Therapy, where wrong beliefs (leading to illness, depression
etc) are challenged and replaced with positive ones. This can reduce
stress, and thereby reduce bad physical symptoms. I think maybe prayer is a
powerful way of doing CBT on oneself. You can even see it in the Psalms,
e.g. in Ps 143, David pours out his misery ( "Therefore my spirit grows
faint within me/My heart within me is dismayed"), but then contemplates the
positive acts of God in the past ("I remember the days of long ago ... I
meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done ... Let
the morning bring me word of your unfailing love").

I think it would be easy for a skeptic to write this all off as the placebo
effect of a false belief ... but we hold these beliefs to be true, and so I
wouldn't place it in the cranky alternative camp.

But as far as prayer to other Gods is concerned ... that's a bit of a tricky
one and I don't know the answer.


    A couple of weeks ago I attended a lecture at Harvard Medical School
> which I thought was going to be on the mind-body problem but turned out to
> be on psychosomatic illnesses, a different version of the mind-body issue.
> It was very interesting. Dr. Alice Flaherty decried the common public
> view
> of psychosomatic illnesses as being imaginary. She points out that these
> effects are very real and powerful. She did discuss placebo and nocebo
> effects as well. Her point was that symptoms can be a useful tool when
> recognized and dealt with in the proper context of the mind-body
> relationship. Not easy though in any specific individual.

You are right that it's not easy for an individual to accept that it's in
the context of mind-body. My friend with electrosensitivity just said "are
you saying that I'm imagining it", despite the fact I've repeatedly told her
that I've ALWAYS acknowledged that her symptoms are real. There is often a
strong resistance to CBT because people will more readily accept physical
illness than mental illness.


> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Clarke Morledge" <>
> To: "asa" <>
> Sent: Sunday, December 18, 2005 11:51 PM
> Subject: Alternative Medicine (was Re: Skepticism - its uses and abuses)
> >I would like to narrow Iain's topic a bit to focus on the issues raised
> by
> >Alternative Medicine.
> >
> > Christian resources that effectively relate faith and science together
> > regarding alternative medicine can be difficult to find. Larimore and
> > O'Mathuna's _Alternative Medicine_ stands out as one of the few helpful
> > books geared towards an evangelical audience. As far as Internet
> > resources go, I have had a lot trouble figuring out what is science and
> > what is pseudo-science. Even on the ASA website, there is no "medicine"
> > category under the PSCF collections, much less material geared towards
> > alternative medicine in particular.
> >
> > Am I missing something here that would be helpful? Since part of ASA's
> > mission is to effectively relate science to the life of the church, this
> > appears to be a crucial need. Maybe there are other organizations like
> > ASA that are geared towards medical issues specifically that I am not
> > aware of? Are there many doctors who are also ASA members?
> >
> > Would you all agree that this is a vital concern in many local churches?
> I
> > can relate to Iain's story in a very personal way. My wife has dealt
> with
> > a type of chronic fatigue for several years. Thankfully, the Lord has
> > graciously directed us towards the right resources in traditional
> medicine
> > that have greatly helped. However, along the way we have talked with
> many
> > Christians in our church and elsewhere who have suggested numerous
> > alternative medical approaches; e.g. special diets, herbalist,
> naturapath,
> > muscle testing --- and also Iain's example: staying away from all
> > electromagnetic fields. Turn off all of your motors and get away from
> > those power lines!
> >
> > I can not help but to think that most of this is pure quackery But it
> > sure can *sound* scientific to many non-analytical, but often desperate,
> > suffering believers. I am confident that the placebo effect plays a
> > significant role in the alternative medicine success stories. But I am
> > greatly concerned that many well-meaning Christians have given up too
> soon
> > on traditional medicine in favor of well-meant, but flawed
> > pseudo-scientific solutions.
> >
> > In the history of science, the quest for medical cures has sparked
> > significant advances in science by Christians. For example, where would
> > modern chemistry be if Robert Boyle had not been plagued with such ill
> > health, searching for healing? Where would modern neuroscience be if
> the
> > physician Thomas Willis had not dissected the human brain to discover
> its
> > inner workings? Maybe the ASA isn't the right forum for this
> discussion,
> > but given the critical need within the church and the value that the ASA
> > has in properly promoting good science within the church, I would hope
> > that the ASA has something significant to contribute.
> >
> > Blessings this Christmas,
> >
> > Clarke Morledge
> > College of William and Mary
> > Network Engineering
> >
> > On Sun, 11 Dec 2005, Iain Strachan wrote:
> >
> >> I'm writing this against the background of the trouble a couple of my
> >> Christian friends are in. I'm kind of closely involved having been the
> >> "best man" at their wedding. The wife has very bad depression, for
> which
> >> nothing seemed to work, and so as a couple, they sought the help of
> >> "alternative medicine" to try and treat her symptoms (some of which are
> >> physical). Since then, she has not got better, but has got steadily
> >> worse,
> >> being convinced, because one of these "alternative" doctors told her so
> >> that
> >> she is sensitive to electric fields, resulting in the fact that she's
> put
> >> herself beyond the help of her friends because she won't come into your
> >> house unless you unplug all the electrical appliances at the mains, and
> >> she
> >> won't walk with you unless you switch your mobile phone
> off. Everything
> >> in
> >> my understanding of science tells me that this is all bunk. However,
> the
> >> most helpful websites that support my view come from self-styled
> >> "Skeptics",
> >> notably the best one being which does a lot
> of
> >> debunking of alternative medicine (in fact most of the treatments that
> >> she
> >> has had). However, I find that quackwatch is linked to the so-called
> >> "skeptic ring" of internet sites, many of which like to bash
> Christianity
> >> (and not just the creationist kind).
> >>
> >> This kind of makes me uneasy - one has to be skeptical to a degree
> about
> >> these things, especially when it comes to health matters as there are a
> >> lot
> >> of people out there who want to make money out of you and will feed you
> >> any
> >> old pseudo-scientific gobbledegook.
> >
> >

After the game, the King and the pawn go back in the same box.
- Italian Proverb
Received on Wed Dec 21 04:07:50 2005

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