Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book Review: Examining Alternative Medicine

I have commented in a previous blog of my bafflement at Christians who seem to lose their concern for truth once they enter into the world of alternative medicine. I was visiting a church last year where, after the service, a man got out his box of bottles containing all sorts of substances which he uses to test "allergies". Apparently, he can get a person to hold a bottle, extend their arm, and test the arm for changes in strength. If he pushes down on the person's arm before and after holding the bottle of substance, he can allegedly tell by the variation in strength whether the person is allergic to the substance or not. Once diagnosed, it is possible to use magnets to counter the influence of these substances. Speaking of magnets, I know of Christians who use magnets to treat pain and other ailments. I have come across those who put faith in iridology to diagnose and treat illness. Some put their faith in homeopathy. There is no evidence for the effectiveness of any of these practices and some of them rely on principles that are actually inconsistent with Christian beliefs. And yet many Christians dive headlong into using these practices, often simplistically criticising conventional medicine for its imperfections along the way. Of course, there are some problems with the approach of conventional medicine and there are some positive aspects of the alternative health movement. But how do we make our way through all the competing ideas offered by these often opposing approaches to health? Paul Reisser, Dale Mabe, and Robert Velarde have written a brilliant book looking at this whole issue. Examining Alternative Medicine: An Inside Look at the Benefits & Risks is an engaging, balanced, informed, and rigorous examination of the alternative health movement. They begin by observing the enormous impact of the alternative health movement, particularly in the United States. Carefully defining what is meant by alternative therapies, they provide a "reality check" tour of alternative medicine, discussing why people are drawn to these therapies. The authors identify the flow of energy (and related ideas) as the key theme of many of the alternative therapies. They are very fair in their descriptions of the world views of the alternative therapists and demonstrate how irrational and unscientific many of the alternatives are. They examine, in depth, a number of specific health practices including Deepak Chopra's Ayrvedic approach, homeopathy, and Therapeutic Touch. In doing so, they show how certain postmodern approaches to epistemology are drawn on by these practitioners, along with a distorted understanding of quantum theory and physics, to provide a veneer of scientific respectability to their ideas (whilst, ironically, criticising science for its materialistic approach to reality). At the end of the book, there is an excellent chapter entitled Is God a Dependent Variable? that evaluates the research into prayer. The authors are not against all so-called alternative health practices. And they honestly point out some of the less-than-adequate features of conventional medicine. The book is a model of clear thinking that is realistic and fair minded. Every Christian interested in any form of alternative medicine should read this book. In fact, anyone, Christian or not, would benefit from it. Despite the authors clearly coming from a Christian perspective, the majority of the book deals with alternative medicine from an evidence-based point of view and critiques the theories behind it using straightforward critical thinking strategies. Specific Christian discussion is kept to a minimum in the book overall. It's an excellent, well-written, well-argued perspective that provides a greatly needed and timely corrective to the highly subjectivist approach to health promoted by so many ill-qualified people. Related Links

1 comment:

  1. G'day Steve,

    Thanks for the comment on the Spectrum Blog. I have added you to the weekly featured blog roll on the left lower side of the Spectrum Blog.

    I've just posted an old Adventist ad from Australian TV circa 1989, just wondering if you've ever seen it.