John Walker's Electronic House

Homeopathy Links, And A Christianity Sidetrack

by on Nov.25, 2007, under The Rest

A fantastic take-down of MacEieio’s idiotic Guardian rant comes from doctor blogger “Orac”, on Science Blogs.

(And I don’t just say that because he links to my childish, insult-filled and frankly libellous rant, even though I’m not even 1/16 of a doctor. (I am in fact 1/54 of a doctor, because my dad’s a dentist.))

Orac also links to this fantastic exploration of some of the defenders who have appeared in the Guardian thread, by physicist blogger ‘apgaylard’, which rubbishes some of the claims about homeopathy’s success in clinical trials. (Once again, we’re conducting all these trials to see if a bottle of water with a “memory” can heal – wubble wubble.)

And this fun critique from Dougal Stanton’s rather broken blog.

Of course, at a certain point it becomes impossible to argue with homeopathy believers, because it comes down to exactly that: belief. Just as shouting at me wouldn’t stop me believing in God, shouting at these people won’t shake their position. There is no evidence for what they think works, but they still believe it does. And I completely recognise the giant elephant in the room of my having a faith in an unscientific, irrational God. But I do want to take a stab at stating why I believe my Christianity, and something like homeopathy, do differ greatly. Of course, I could just be deluding myself in a naive attempt to maintain my greatest irrational thinking while slating that of others. I’m interested to hear arguments of this nature.

1) God cheats rather nicely.

Christianity has one advantage over homeopathy. Homeopathy states that it has, scientific, demonstrable, visible effects. Only silly Christians state they have demonstrable, scientific evidence of the existence of God. Cough-intelligentdesign-cough. So homeopathy, by its own claims, must be possible to prove. Belief in God is a matter of belief without demonstrable evidence: faith. Which is why I wouldn’t apply for a massive NHS grant to spend on healing with God-magic. I realise this is a gross argument, and I do not for one moment suggest it’s satisfactory. The important distinction is, however, that Christianity does not purport itself to be equivalent to, or within, Science. When it does, it’s being stupid, and yes indeed, it does it an awful lot. There are an awful lot of stupid Christians. But this is no longer Biblical Christianity. This is not to say there isn’t historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, or the Gospels, and so on. (And not to ignore that which argues against this.) But when it comes to God, rather than the more Earthy incarnations, this doesn’t so easily apply. And when you see Creationists attempting to disguise their mythology as Science, well, we all know how embarrassing that is to watch.

2) Call me when I start trying to sell you my Christianity.

I think this is a really key point. When I see Christianity for sale, the very same alarms ring that go off when I see homeopathy, reiki, yoga, magical stands for your amp that improve the sound quality of your stereo, mediums, voodoo, ghost hunters… At this point, it’s entirely equivalent, and utterly condemnable. Those who claim to heal by faith, so long as you pay the giant fee, and refuse to undergo any notion of testing or long-term monitoring: no different from the rest. Those that publish books or courses that they state exist for evangelical purposes, and then fill them with copyright, and lawyer up the moment someone walks too near a photocopier: no different from the rest. (A common misconception about the average church is that they’re after your money. The reality is, those who work for the church – the clergy – are paid out of the money donated by the congregation. The Church of England itself has no money at all, after the fuckwits invested their piles of gold in arms dealers and missile manufacturers, and gloriously lost the lot. So those who attend a church are encouraged to give a small amount of their money to the church to pay for it to exist, and help fund many and various local projects and charities. This is never demanded, nor required. You may have a problem with this as it is, I realise. I have never felt pressured to give money, nor scorned when I haven’t.)

3) Christianity is not Spiritualism.

Although you’d be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference at the moment. Christians have always attempted to marry their faith to the zeitgeist, with invariably teeth-gnashingly embarrassing results. In the 70s Christianity became all free love, a bit late to the hippy movement, writing all its worst guitar-led songs. In the 80s it was for businessmen in their suits and ties. And since the 90s, and painfully increasingly to the present day, it’s embraced the anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, anti-reason position of spiritualists. Since the so-called Toronto Blessing of 1994, Christianity has been converting itself into a self-help/mystical healing woo-woo nonsense, trying to sit alongside the “alternative therapy”/”alternative medicine” popularity. That the actions in Toronto were demonstrated to be a farce, and at worst an outright con, has tempered nothing, with churches desperately trying to focus on “the movement of the spirit” in many and various forms, and in doing so (and this is not inevitably a bad thing – the holy spirit is a central part of Christianity) has adopted the most vile memes of the spiritualist movement. There is little to separate those who purport to be “prophets” from those who purport to be “mediums”. I’ve attended meetings where cold reading was used to achieve the effect of the man at the front channeling information from God. It’s hateful – it makes me more angry than I know what to do with. And it’s not Christianity.

Were my faith visibly and internally based on these anti-scientific ideas, then I would be the worst hypocrite to write my anti-homeopathy rants. I fully accept that to many the distinction is invisible, and I must appear to be (or actually be) that hypocrite. I, to the infuration of many, find God in Science. I do not explain away Science by replacing it with God, but instead marvel at the true wonder, the infinite extraordinary joy, of intricate scientific explanation, theory and rationale. What more beautiful thing than the atom? Or more extraordinary majesty than evolution? It is in this that I see a creator God (and not a Creationist God). It is in relationship that I connect to God, and through admiration beyond measure that I relate to Christ. I can no more scientifically prove my loving relationship with God than I can prove my love for Dexter. Unfortunately, I can prove the existence of Dexter with relative ease (when no pesky philosophers are about), and not that of God.

So that became sidetracked from linking to some anti-homeopathy rants, but it was good to type out.

For some intelligent Christians, offering a debate on a level with which it’s at least worth engaging, check out the astonishging works of NT Wright. For people desperate to see sense applied to the faith when applying it to the world, read the stunning works of Stanley Hauerwas, especially Resident Aliens, and A Better Hope.

Also, have a look at Be Thinking, as linked by Kath in the comments.

20 Comments for this entry

  • Hoveactually

    And then there is that business of the rather difficult to get around ressurection from the dead thing. Some pretty good rational reasons for faith..

  • NM

    The important point is to distingush axiomatic belief from inductive evidence. One may believe whatever primal axioms one wishes. In positivist terms, it’s metaphysical nonsense and may be criticised only as poetry. Physics says that asking what prefigured the big bang is either meaningless or confused. Religion provides the same response when one questions the meta-context of God. One is not a hyppcrit in one’s beliefs. One is a hypocrit if one claims that ones beliefs may have some inductive validation. Then, and only then, must you put up or shut up.

  • NM

    Forgive the spelling etc above. My N800 belmed a bit.

  • Frosty840

    Christians, in my admittedly limited reading on the subject since becoming an atheist at the age of five, can’t even credibly link up their notion of a benevolent, loving god to the actions of the childish, whimsical nutter found in the central text of their religion.

    It’s been a good long whle since I’ve cared to get into a serious argument on Christianity (and I still very much don’t), so my data’s probably rusty as anything, but pretty much all I remember reading on that angle was creepy “He’s a good man! He didn’t mean to hit me! It was my fault!” battered-wife-syndrome’d horror.

  • John

    Frosty: Sorry, that’s complete nonsense. There are vast tomes of writing on this subject. Impossibly large amounts. This thread, and this blog, are not the place for such a discussion from me. However, you simply cannot have read anything of any serious nature on the subject to have your current conclusion. While one may disagree with the apologetics on the matter, or indeed those better versed in Hebrew and Greek to explain that which is poorly translated and misunderstood, there is absolutely no truth in your claims that Christians cannot link the Biblical God to, um, er, the Biblical God. (There isn’t another one for Christians). I feel safe in guessing you’ve made this position up for yourself.

    If you want to start somewhere, I recommend NT Wright’s ‘The New Testament And The People of God’.

  • Leo

    Though I’m with you on the whole, I’m slightly dismayed that you have included yoga as one of your mythical beasts. Honestly, if you exercise you will become healthier. I can prove that.

  • John

    Yoga as a magical healing, not yoga as a stretchy exercise.

  • Leo

    It still needs to be for sale, though. I think it’s getting a bum rap here, when you could be highlighting the dangers of, say, crystal healing.

  • Yann Best

    Always nice to see an intelligent, vocal Christian, and indeed links to further intelligent, vocal Christians. Not that it’s that uncommon for Christians to be, well, intelligent, but unfortunately the most vocal members of any religion tend to be the ones who should be talking least, which damages the image of them all to outsiders. Hence Catholics are backwards money-grabbers; Protestants are… depends on the branch; Muslims are woman-hating zealots; paganism is somehow seen as a single, amorphous religion (for hippies, natch); Jews are power-mad; atheists are religion-hating nerds. I have an awful lot of friends who hide their religion for fear of people thinking less of them, which is a terrible thing, so it’s great to see posts like this.

    Personally, I’m agnostic. I like it, because if people ask me my religion it at best gets an “oh” response, and at worst a “what?”, which is fine by me. I do sometimes wish I could believe in something (or, indeed, nothing), but I can’t really make myself do so, and until I get struck I’ll just have to stick with being non-committal. That being said, I do like to occasionally snigger to myself when people know less about their own religions than me, but that’s because I suffer from a terrible superiority complex. Unfortunately this most often happens to be Christians, but that’s not really Christianity’s fault; it just happens to be the religion I come across most often, and the one I know most about, thanks to the good old days of R.E., and the fact that my degree is in Classical Civilisation, so its genesis is something I’ve studied. Not that I actually know a great deal about it – I’m no theologian – but I do have a passing interest in it. The most interesting arguments, though, are never the factual ones (was the virgin Mary really a virgin? Short answer: no. Long answer: no, and it’s the ancient Greek language’s fault that anyone thinks she was), but the deeper ones (does God’s omnipotence mean that free-will is just an illusion?). Unfortunately, most people who actually want to talk about religion just want to convert me, and so my conversations on such subjects tend to crumble rapidly.

    Um, sorry, a bit ranty. Not sure there’s much that you’d want to respond to or read, but I’ve written it out and I’m not about to delete it all. But yes, good post on your part.

  • John

    Cheers Yann.

    Indeed, the Greek does not say that Mary was a virgin. Of course, if she was unmarried, there’s a reasonable chance that she was anyway, in that culture. Although I think the real point is the illegitimacy of Christ’s birth. Jesus was a bastard, whether by Joseph or God.

    As for the free will argument. I have a take on it – here’s the briefestish version:

    A couple of my friends and I at college had a joke that we’d answer any theological question we didn’t know the answer to by saying, “Ah, well you see, God’s outside of time,” and then stop as if that were a satisfactory response. But for once, it’s relevant.

    If you step outside of linear time, then by observing from this position you will know the beginning and the end, at the same time. However, that doesn’t change the means by which that end is reached. So God’s omnipotence – in this case knowing the outcome of any situation – does not impede on the free will of those involved. Cheesy analogy: If you watch a film for a second time, you know how it’s going to end, but that doesn’t affect the free will of the script writers when they created the story.

    By this logic, God can be omnipotent, interventionalist, and yet not remove free will from those within linear time.

  • Yann Best

    Thanks for the response, and your free will argument is interesting, and not one I’d heard before. I may throw it out at one of my more cynical acquaintances (who’s firmly in the ‘God = No Free Will’ camp), just to see what he makes of it. Personally, I’m undecided on the whole issue. I’m agnostic when it comes to most things, truth be told.

    On the more factual discussion: in the Greek she /is/ a virgin, in the Hebrew not necessarily – I imagine that was just a typo though :)

    More interesting, and relevant to your ‘Jesus was a bastard’ line, my understanding of the issue (based on discussions with a lecturer specialising in Hebrew and Jewish history) was that according to Jewish law Jesus would not necessarily have been illegitimate – if her and Joseph were (and I use non-Jewish, ergo not entirely suitable, terms here because of ignorance on my part) betrothed, they would have been at a point in Jewish custom where the two lived together and were allowed to engage in sexual intercourse, even though they weren’t yet legally married; apparently it was common for partners to conceive during this period, while they waited for the legal waiting period to end, and this was accepted as done. Therefore, while he might have been a bastard in our system, to a Jewish one he could be classed as being a legitimate child, so long as he was Joseph’s (and not, for example, God’s). I may, of course, be getting things mixed up here, but I think that’s about the gist of what said lecturer told me.

  • John

    That’s interesting.

  • Yann Best

    Sorry, I just like to waffle (the perfect academic!).

  • always_black

    “By this logic, God can be omnipotent, interventionalist, and yet not remove free will from those within linear time.”

    I don’t understand the interventionalist bit. You can’t intervene in a movie, whether you know the ending or not. Or does the analogy not stretch that far?

    Or hang on, do you mean that Jesus was God deciding to play a part in the movie and that was a special-case intervention?

  • Yann Best

    “Or hang on, do you mean that Jesus was God deciding to play a part in the movie and that was a special-case intervention?”

    Obviously I can’t answer for John here, but I’d imagine that the various messengers He has communicated with (not to mention the fairly proactive role He took in the Old Testament in general) would automatically qualify Him as interventionist. However, the implication is that he does not /always/ shape things, just lets them run their course (even if it was He who implemented said course). That’s how I’d view the argument, but obviously John may have a different perspective than me.

  • John

    No, I don’t stretch the analogy that far. The movie thing is simply to illustrate that knowing the ending doesn’t remove free will.

  • bob_arctor

    So did Jesus do bullet time then in the film then?

  • Del Boy

    So what you’re saying, John, is that God is irrelevant?

    In my current flippant mood I’d like to say: AT LONG LAST YOU CHRISTIANS ADMIT IT!

  • Clare


    Bishop Shelby Spong, although dodgy on quite a few theological issues, has some interesting things to say about virgin birth. He claims that at the time the Gospels were written it was thought that a child was conceived by the sperm of the man alone and the woman was just the oven to put it in. By claiming that Jesus was born of a virgin he was therefore claiming that it was a purely divine conception, not half human – half divine as our modern scientific understanding makes it appear. Of course the fact that our science no longer supports this claim strongly suggests it was not an historical virgin birth (well, science in general strongly suggests it was not an historical virgin birth) but it gives us a better insight into the message the writers were trying to convey, which has got a bit lost since we learnt about fertilisation.


    An alternative view to John’s – I think, the idea that God is omnibenevolent developed slowly over time. The Bible itself was written over such a long period of time, that what people needed from a God had changed between the beginning and the end, so to speak. Indeed, the God of Exodus does not appear to be all loving, by the Gospels he has aquired a much more loving streak and by the time you reach systematic Christian theology he is omnibenevolent. You can tell a lot about the needs and priorities of a society by the way they picture God.

    However, much more interesting, are the moments in the Bible where the picture of God clashes with the values of society at the time. The most noticable, being the idea that the Messiah could be crucified. It is in those moments that you see the paradigm shifts that, be they man-made or God-made, changed the world.

  • Singly

    Interesting read. I was puzzled how a rational and scientifically minded person could accept Christianity. I understand now. Thank you John.

1 Trackback or Pingback for this entry