A canna’ change the laws of physics

Scotty, The Naked Time, stardate 1704.3, Episode 7

Homeopathy: science or religion?

Posted by apgaylard on January 11, 2008

It was pointed out to me recently that the homeopathy looks more like a religious community than a scientific one.  Yet many homeopaths and their apologists say that they represent a new scientific or medical paradigm; implicit in this claim is that their community is scientific.

Examining this question gives me the chance to talk about my philosophical muse of the moment, T S Kuhn, and show that he sets the bar too high for homeopathy to claim to be a scientific community.

With regards to Kuhn and his philosophy we have seen that far from being an anarchic Feyerabendiananything goes” relativist; he is much more moderate.  His view is that particular theories prevail for “good reasons“; not arbitrary ones.

Also, the sense in which most people continue to use the term ‘paradigm‘ is not Kuhnian.  For Kuhn these are the universally agreed concrete exemplars of good science; the stuff of textbooks: not a prevailing intellectual structure.

They are the possession of mature communities; characterised by having very few (usually only one) ‘school‘ within them. So, what does a scientific community look like for Kuhn?  Does he really set the bar too high for homeopathy?

Scientific Communities

For Kuhn scientific communities are the fundamental unit in his analysis.  He said of his original text for The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (all numbers in square brackets [ ] refer to the 3rd Ed., 1996): “…If this book were being rewritten, it would…open with a discussion of the community structure of science…” [p.176]

Talking about scientists and their perception of their community ties he opines:  “Most practising scientists respond at once to questions about their community affiliations, taking for granted that responsibility for the various current specialities is distributed among groups of at least roughly determinate membership…” [p.176]

How is the membership of these communities to be defined?  Outlining his own “intuitive notion” of a scientific community he starts with the obvious definition: “practitioners of a specific speciality” [p.177].  He then elaborates on what the special aspects of a scientific community are; those that are “unparalleled in most other fields“.  These are:

  • Members possess similar educations.
  • They have experienced similar professional initiations.
  • The membership has absorbed the same technical literature.
  • Many of the same lessons have been drawn from the literature by the community.
  • The boundaries of the technical literature mark the limits of scientific subject matter.
  • The membership has shared goals.
  • It trains its successors
  • Professional communication is relatively full within the community.
  • The members’ professional judgements are relatively unanimous.

Kuhn’s scientific communities are nested, breaking down broad scientific disciplines into their constituent specialities.  At the top of his tree there is “The most global…the community of all natural scientists” [p.177].  Next come the main professional groupings: “…physicists, chemists, astronomers, zoologists and the like…”

Membership of these groups is, according to Kuhn, relatively easy to ascertain; key markers are: the subject of highest degree; membership of professional societies and journals read.  He argues that sub-groupings can be identified using the same approach.

Kuhn notes that in the next layer of science it is more difficult to identify the communities.  He suggests looking at other discriminating parameters: attendance at special conferences; who referees the papers produced; communication networks and linkages among citations.

What can we learn about the status of the ‘homeopathic community’ from these markers: does it look like a scientific community or not?

Homeopathy: a scientific community?

Education and Professional Initiation

Let’s start with education.  Kuhn identifies the “subject of highest degree” as a key marker for membership of a scientific community; yet homeopathy is not a wholly graduate community. Some homeopathy colleges even doubt the value of studying the subject to ‘degree’ level

“…A major concern with degree courses is how much the course has had to compromise in order to meet the academic criteria of the accrediting university.

The Homeopathy College – Birmingham (website accessed 7th January 2007)

Given the academic betrayal that BSc. Degrees in homeopathy currently represent, this is a worrying opinion; one can only hope that it is not widely held.

Kuhn also lays great emphasis on the similarity of educational experiences within a scientific community, however, for homeopaths this varies greatly.  It ranges from the post-graduate acquisition of homeopathy after a conventional medical training, through specific university degree courses to short “home learning” courses. 

This situation may be remedied by the Council for Organisations Representing Homeopaths (CORH) or, given the organisations current disarray, it may not.  The Natural Healthcare Council may do better, or may not.  Central to be problems both these initiatives face is the sheer number and variety of ‘representative’ institutions.

The number and diversity of these institutions is without parallel among true scientific communities.  For example, the UK physics community has the Institute of Physics.  This is affiliated with other, national and supra-national, representative physics institutions outside the UK.  In contrast, for UK based homeopaths, there are the following institutions to choose from:

  • Alliance of Registered Homeopaths (ARH)
  • Association of Natural Medicine (ANM)
  • British Register of Complementary Practitioners (BRCP Hom. Div)
  • Council for Homeopathic Colleges (CHC)
  • Fellowship of Homoeopaths (FelHom)
  • Homeopathic Medical Association (HMA)
  • International Register of Consultant Herbalists and Homoeopaths (IRCH)
  • International Society for Homoeopathy (ISH[UK])
  • National Association of Homeopathic Groups (NAHG)
  • Scottish Association of Professional Homeopaths (SAPH)
  • Society of Homeopaths (SoH)

(I am indebted to Gimpy’s Blog for this listing)

Now there may be some overlap, but even so, this range of ‘professional’ institutions undermines any claim to be a scientific community.  It is a marker, not just for diverse educational experiences and professional initiations: it calls into question the possibility of shared goals, unified training, full communication and unanimity of professional judgement; more on these later.

Technical Literature

The position on the body of technical literature seems clearer.  The NHS’ National Library for Health “Complementary and Alternative Medicine Specialist Library” provides a good way to assess where the best quality homeopathic trials and research are published.  This database is prepared by the leading members of the UK’s medical and academic homeopathy community.  Therefore it can be taken to include the best research published in the field.

 Aside from publications in mainstream journals there are entries published in: Homeopathy, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, and Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Do the boundaries of the technical literature mark the limits of homeopathy?  No, they do not.  It is absolutely standard practise in homeopathy to transgress the boundaries provided by the literature: the treatments offered by homeopaths go far beyond the evidence contained in the ‘respectable’ literature. 

For example the only positive trial contained in the UK’s NHS database is for the treatment of vertigo with a homeopathic ‘medicine’ called ‘Vertigoheel (an example of Clinical homeopathy).   However, homeopaths (even the medically qualified) do not limit themselves to the treatment of vertigo.

The most egregious examples are offering prophylaxis and cures for malaria as well as treatment of HIV/AIDS.  These fantasies are indulged in by doctrinaire homeopaths in the complete absence of evidence; pushing beyond the bounds of their technical literature.

Another pressing problem is that the technical literature provides no answer to the vexed question of how homeopathy ‘works’.  This also limits its ability to provide bounds for the field.

Learning Lessons and Professional Judgement

The next fundamental problem arises when looking at the question as to whether homeopaths have drawn the same lessons from their literature: it is clear that they have not.

There is no clear agreement on what homeopathy really is or which therapeutic schools are valid.  For example, a substantial body of opinion denies outright the validity of Clinical or Complex homeopathy.  Some accept Isopathy, others do not. 

On considering the literature some apologists deny that fair trials are a fair test of homeopathy; others spend their careers undertaking methodologically conventional trials.

There is no agreement on how homeopathy ‘works’.  For some it is a sort of quantum mechanical effect (or something for which quantum mechanics provides a kind of metaphor, model or analogy; take your pick – the vagueness is theirs not mine). 

Others argue that the solvent remembers the solute in an as yet unknown way.  A vocal minority claim that this memory can be ‘digitised‘ and sent down telephone lines.  This leads to the even wilder proposition that homeopathic remedies can even be embodied in music.

The so-called laws of homeopathy are not uniformly accepted.  The “law of similars” is flouted by Isopaths and their fellow-travellers.  The “law of infinitesimals” is not followed by many Clinical homeopaths.

Some homeopaths claim that conventional medicine stops their potions from working and dissuade their clients from using it; they take homeopathy to be alternative medicine.  Conversely, ‘responsible’ homeopaths offer ‘treatments’ alongside conventional treatment, or for ailments for which it cannot provide relief: for them it’s complementary medicine.

Many homeopaths are virulently against vaccination, as it contradicts the “law of similars“.  Medically qualified homeopaths, at least in the UK, disagree with this position; to some extent.

The conclusion is inescapable: professional judgements vary wildly.

As already noted, homeopath’s education varies wildly.  Thus the training of their successors falls to individual therapeutic schools.  Consequently, homeopaths are disciples of different traditions.

The homeopathy ‘community’ looks nothing like any scientific community that I have seen.  Of conventional scientific communities Kuhn notes:  “Communities of this sort are the units that this book has presented as producers and evaluators of scientific knowledge.  Paradigms are something shared by members of such groups…” [p.178]

Therefore, homeopaths and their apologists are not in a position to be “…producers and evaluators of scientific knowledge…”, neither are they in a position to share paradigms.

Is this important?  Well, if you claim you community to be part of a Kuhnian revolution in science your community must look like a Kuhnian scientific community.  As we have seen, homeopathy does not

Homeopathy: A Religious Community?

As has been noted by others, homeopathy looks more like a religious tradition rent asunder by schism.  This may well be due to the religious and mystical influences on its origin and later development.  It isn’t possible, in this post, to do more than sketch an outline of this pervasive influence.  However, briefly drawing on a fascinating book called “Homeopathy In Perspective: Myth And Reality” (© 1998-2004 by Anthony Campbell.) will provide some telling insights.

Anthony Campbell was a homeopath; a Fellow of the Faculty of Homeopathy and a former consultant physician at The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital.  He is also a past Editor of the British Homeopathic Journal (now renamed Homeopathy). 

He has clearly researched this subject in depth and is well placed to point out the religious influences on the origins of Hahnemann’s conception of homeopathy as well as its subsequent development. (All page numbers in parenthesis () are from “Homeopathy In Perspective: Myth And Reality“)

“…We shall not understand the man unless we realize that for him, homeopathy was much more than a mere medical theory; it was a divine revelation. I am not exaggerating here. We know from his own writings that the idea of homeopathy came to him as the solution to a religious dilemma. This dilemma was the paradox that confronts anyone who believes in a God who is simultaneously all-powerful and all-good; how to account for suffering? Hahnemann was not a Christian but he was a deist. He believed that the universe had been designed by an infinitely wise and loving Father, and such a Father, he reasoned, must have provided his children with a means of relieving their suffering.”

(pp. 27-28)

For Hahnemann, homeopathy was a solution to a pressing theological problem.  Later, more directly mystical influences are evident.  Campbell continues:

“…Swedenborgianism and homeopathy took to each other at once. Swedenborgians found in homeopathy a medical system that perfectly complemented their religious attitude, while homeopaths found in Swedenborgianism a religious framework into which Hahnemann’s ideas could expand freely. Homeopathy thus quickly became the accepted medical system for Swedenborgians, while most of the leading nineteenth century homeopaths, including Hans Gram and Constantine Hering, were Swedenborgians…”

(p.58)

Other mystic influences continued to influence the development of homeopathy, according to Campbell:

“…By linking homeopathy with Swedenborgianism the American high-potency school established a connection with occultism, but this is not the only one of its kind. There is indeed a counterpoint of occultism running through homeopathy right from the beginning…”

(p.79)

The occultist “counterpoint” has also included the alchemical tradition; particularly that espoused by the sixteenth-century physician Theophrastus von Hohenheim (Paracelsus).  It also includes the Golden Dawn movement.

The more recent link with Rudolph Steiner‘s ‘Anthroposophical Medicine‘ is interesting.  Campbell describes the link to homeopathy and gives an insight into this practise.

“…Steiner’s medical ideas are rather similar to those of Hahnemann though they also derive from earlier sources, especially Paracelsus and the alchemists; Steiner placed much more emphasis on symbolism and occultism. Many Anthroposophical medicines are the same as those used in homeopathy but they are often given as mixtures instead of singly. The Hahnemannian method of potentization is sometimes used but Steiner also invented some more complicated procedures. For example, metals are often ‘vegetabilized’ by passage through a plant. A metal is added to the soil in which a plant is growing; next year the plant is composted and used to fertilize a second generation of plants, and the process is repeated for a third year. This is said to dynamize the metal very effectively, while the influence of the metal causes the plants to direct their action to a particular organ or system…”

(p.81)

Anthroposophical Medicine is now accepted as one of the many therapeutic schools within homeopathy.  This shows that far from mystical influences belonging to homeopathy’s past, they are a central part of its present.  This is a difficult problem for any within the homeopathy community who may wish it to develop into a scientific community; or at least be seen by those on the outside as one.

Campbell provides an insiders view of this problem.

“…There has long been an uneasy tension between those homeopaths who wish to make their subject wholly scientific and respectable, and those who have leanings towards the mystical or the occult. Today, naturally, the scientifically minded are in the ascendant; the talk is all of evidence-based medicine, double-blind trials, and the physics of water molecules. Yet there has always been, and still is, a movement within homeopathy (even medical homeopathy) in the opposite direction…

…Some homeopaths are drawn towards unconventional and unscientific means of selecting remedies, such as pendulum-swinging and other forms of dowsing. In this as in other respects, homeopathy harks back to its origins. We tend to think of Hahnemann as a nineteenth-century figure, but we forget that his formative years were spent in the eighteenth century. We don’t need to go much further back than that to reach a time when doctors routinely used astrology to help them make their diagnoses…”

(pp. 81-82)

I think that there is a strong argument that whilst homeopathy may not be a conventionally religious community: it is a community with a strong mystical core.

Is Scientific Homeopathy Possible?

To move towards looking like a Kuhnian scientific community homeopathy would need to turn its collective back on its past (like physics has done with astrology and chemistry with alchemy); instead of harking back to it.  What would this entail?

  1. Its occultist and mystic tendencies need to be expunged.  The more ‘scientific’ homeopaths desperately need to cull the competing therapeutic schools. 
  2. The practise of homeopathy needs to be bounded by both basic science and a high-quality evidence base. Proper respect for evidence and its methods of collection needs to pervade the discipline.
  3. Educational routes into homeopathy need to be fewer and degree based (or the equivalent).  These need to teach solid science.
  4. Single national representative institutions need to emerge from the current morass.  These should robustly and transparently police the practise and teaching of homeopathy.  

Perhaps after this is done homeopathy vanishes entirely.  Just maybe a worthwhile scientific discipline rises from the ashes of mysticism (perhaps it will look something like this).  Until something very like it happens: homeopathy is mysticism, not science.

So maybe Kuhn can provide a respectable structural model for homeopathy.  However, at this time, it is a pipe-dream not a description.  Until homeopaths learn the lessons of philosophy, rather than using it as an excuse for failure, this will not change.

Next: Kuhn’s take on the role of anomalies in science.

11 Responses to “Homeopathy: science or religion?”

  1. gimpy said

    This is absolutely fascinating and I applaud your intellectual endeavour, keep it up. However, at the risk of being slightly contrarian may I present a slightly underdeveloped argument. I can’t help but wonder if the future of homeopathy lies in abandoning any attempt to use the tools and language of science. The argument in your final paragraph inexorably leads to the conclusion that science and homeopathy are incompatible. The current travails of homeopathy lie in the irrational belief that it can substitute for evidence based medicine and science. As soon as rational argument is applied to homeopathy it vanishes in a puff of logic. However, all need not be lost for homeopaths.
    In a modern democratic secular society religious belief can co-exist with rationalist thinking, uneasily perhaps, but society can tolerate the occasional grating of edges as long as its secular foundations aren’t undermined. If ideas aren’t allowed to go unchallenged and the application of law is beholden to evidence extremism is largely neutered. Perhaps homeopathy needs to rethink its position on science and acknowledge that it is a religious belief system to survive.

  2. apgaylard said

    Gimpy:

    Thanks, I appreciate your comment; your blog is a very helpful resource.

    Your idea is certainly provocative. Perhaps homeopathy needs to choose to be either scientific or mystic, and not try to keep a foot in both camps.

    Both routes have pros and cons: I rather think that if tried to follow my “scientific manifesto” it would wither and die.

    It’s just a shame that the homeopaths don’t seem to be having this debate themselves.

  3. It’s just a shame that the homeopaths don’t seem to be having this debate themselves.

    I entirely agree with you.

  4. You went to a lot of effort to demonstrate the homeopaths don’t represent a scientific community as defined by Kuhn. But that’s not so hard to see. In fact, it is not hard to see that we are not even a unified community. We are very much divided: between those who want to be scientistic and those who embrace the more mystical side; indeed, between conservatives and progressives, just like in the rest of the world. And of course, many of us dwell somewhere in between. But those things have more to do with political and philosophical beliefs about homeopathy, not the thing itself. And homeopaths are in fact very busy with this debate among themselves. In any case, homeopathy is still very much discovering itself and has far to go, but with much promise.

    Homeopathy is both an art and a science. One way to look at homeopathic provings as a scientific version of something previously done by shamans. But call it mystical or call it intuition or just call it the mind’s ability to “mysteriously” identify patterns, that element is still part of homeopathy and it is crippled without it in my opinion.

    As for your so-called “scientific homeopathy,” yes, it would vanish. Your “proper respect for evidence and its methods of collection” is just allopathy. Your argument becomes circular: if homeopathy were truly scientific, it would be allopathy, in which case it wouldn’t be homeopathy.

    But all that comes from definitions of science and evidence that are based on a particular point of view: a scientistic point of view. It’s the change of that point of view that Kuhn discusses. I disagree with the assumption you start with: “implicit in this claim is that their community is scientific.” I think you are misapplying Kuhn to homeopathy. Homeopathy is not leading a scientific paradigm change, but rather in order to make sense of things like homeopathy, a scientific paradigm change will occur.

    And as for what you say is the need for homeopathy “to turn its collective back on its past (like physics has done with astrology and chemistry with alchemy),” what would be needed to follow Kuhn’s theory is for homeopathy to turn it’s back your materialistic scientism. In any case, you are misrepresenting modern science’s relationship with the past, according to Kuhn.

    … one strong impression is overwhelmingly likely to follow: science has reached its present state by a series of individual discoveries and inventions that, when gathered together, constitute the modern body of technical knowledge. … One by one, in a process often compared to the additions of bricks to a building, scientists have added another fact, concept, law, or theory to the body of information supplied in the contemporary science text.
    But that is not the way science develops. Many of the puzzles of contemporary normal science did not exist until after the most recent scientific revolution. (1)

    In other words, a paradigm shift is not the logical next step, it is just written up that way after the dust settles. Moreover, following Kuhn’s thinking, in the future where homeopathy has become an obvious truth, people will see whatever scientific framework in which homeopathy makes sense as being the logical improvement over what you now worship as ”respectful science.“

    1. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Ed, Chapter 11, p. 140.

  5. apgaylard said

    woowooscience:
    Thanks for your post. One of your main themes is that it is not correct to apply Kuhn to homeopathy. I have some sympathy with that position: as you point out homeopathy isn’t a scientific community (“not even a unified community”). Why apply Kuhn’s philosophy of the structure of science to homeopathy: because a vocal group of homeopaths and their apologists do. I am merely taking this position at face value; in fact I’m responding to an open invitation.

    You said that “…I disagree with the assumption you start with: “implicit in this claim is that their community is scientific.”…”. Well it should be pretty straightforward to see that if someone claims that Kuhn’s philosophy, which is explicitly a philosophy of science, applies to their discipline then they are claiming to be part of science. If you are doing science, in Kuhn’s scheme, this necessarily defines you as part of a scientific community.

    However, I am quite happy to accept that this critique does not apply if homeopathy is not science.

    Unfortunately you try to have it all ways. After conceding that homeopathy is not a scientific community you say “…Homeopathy is both an art and a science…” Yet of the basic values of science: “…Your “proper respect for evidence and its methods of collection” is just allopathy…” It’s not consistent to denigrate the core values of science and yet claim homeopathy to be, even in part, science. You can’t claim that homeopathy is in part science if it’s not practised by a scientific community (at least holding to Kuhnian definitions). A bit of consistency is called for here.

    Claiming that the divisions within homeopathy are not about the thing itself is perverse. Just consider the proliferation of therapeutic schools and the lack of uniform respect for the ‘laws’ of homeopathy. These are disagreements, or inconsistencies, at the core of the field.

    You accuse me of “…you are misrepresenting modern science’s relationship with the past, according to Kuhn…” and support this with an entirely irrelevant quotation that you have failed to understand.

    The passage you quote comes from the chapter entitled “The Invisibility of Scientific Revolutions. This should provide a clue: he is discussing why revolutions don’t (or didn’t) appear in the textbooks or histories of science. The point Kuhn makes is that the prevalent incremental, brick-by-brick, model of scientific progress is supported by the history is written up, hiding the revolutions; rather than what actually happened.

    So this quote says the reverse of what you want it to say: “In other words, a paradigm shift is not the logical next step, it is just written up that way after the dust settles”; whereas Kuhn is saying that ‘paradigm’ shifts have been written out of history.

    Anyway, your point is irrelevant to start with: my examples of change in science do not assume any method of change. All I am saying is that the change occurred: not that it was inevitable or how it happened.

    I also notice that you like the word “scientism”. I do wonder what you mean by it. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary offers two choices:

    1 : methods and attitudes typical of or attributed to the natural scientist
    2 : an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences , and the humanities)

    Other sources offer similar definitions.

    I’ll happily admit to the first; I think that it would be perverse to attribute the second to anything on this site: applying science to medicine hardly represents an exaggerated trust. If anything it is trust based on outcomes: germ theory, antibiotics, vaccination, the eradication of some diseases, heart surgery, hip replacement etc. There is no other approach to human health that has been anywhere near as successful.

    This leads me on to one of the more amazing pieces of rhetoric in your post (and there are plenty to choose from): “…But all that comes from definitions of science and evidence that are based on a particular point of view: a scientistic point of view…”

    You have confused science and scientism here; they are two very different things. A simple definition of science, attributed to E. O. Wlison, is “…the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories…” This embodies the basic scientific values of “proper respect for evidence and its methods of collection” that I talk about.

    This is science; not scientism. There is no exaggerated trust or encroachment on other areas of knowledge. If this is, in your book, scientism then you really need to define what you would consider to be science (the definition of woowooscience); otherwise all you are offering is empty rhetoric.

    Finally, you show a lot of faith in homeopathy. It has had 200 years to become an “obvious truth”, yet still the talk is of “promise”. Now, this sounds more like worship to me.

  6. metherton said

    Speaking as both a non-scientist and a non-homeopath, it seems to me that one question homeopaths need to answer is whether they believe in the scientific method. If they do, then they have to answer the obvious questions about how succussion works, the Avrogadro number and so on. If they don’t, they are clearly mumbo-jumbo. Arguments over what is or is not whichever definition of scientism obscure the issue.

  7. apgaylard said

    metherton:
    You are right; the problem is that homeopathy as a discipline is trying to have it all ways.

    I have no problem with the mystics: as long as the NHS doesn’t waste money on it and they don’t teach it on ‘science’ degrees.

    The problem is that a strong faction within homeopathy is trying to attach the “science” label to enable them to do both these things; at the same time as showing no respect for the ‘scientific method’.

    It’s the latter faction I have a problem with. You are right: they need to show that their ‘doctrines’ are both scientifically plausible and clinically effective.

    As Woowooscience’ post shows some homeopaths view this attempt as scientism, and actually I have some sympathy with this. If it is just mysticism then a scientific analysis is not appropriate. However, I do think its right to resist the application of science to medicine being characterised in this way.

    Anyway, I think you’ve identified the main issue here. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  8. it seems to me that one question homeopaths need to answer is whether they believe in the scientific method. If they do, then they have to answer the obvious questions about how succussion works, the Avrogadro number and so on. If they don’t, they are clearly mumbo-jumbo.

    I don’t follow the logic. I believe in the scientific method. I don’t make any chemical claims about homeopathy. Whatever it is, it’s not explainable using a current understanding of chemistry and physics. But it does not follow that it doesn’t work or even that it is mumbo-jumbo.

    Having said that, many of us homeopaths do not understand science and do say a lot of mumbo jumbo. My observation has been that some confuse metaphor and fact. Like when we talk about “energy medicine.” (Here is where I made an attempt to explain it.

    the problem is that homeopathy as a discipline is trying to have it all ways.

    The problem is that homeopathy is partly both ways, and we are trying but have been unsuccessful so far in making good sense of it or explaining it well. I repeated something that we homeopaths like to say in my first comment: homeopathy is both an art and a science. I understand how that can sound contradictory, but this is my experience. I called my blog Woo-Woo Science because that is what healing is to me: part science and part intuition/mysticism/woo-woo. Some homeopaths favor one or the other, but I believe it works best in combination. By the way, I mean “healing,” not “management or suppression of symptoms.” That is also important, but not what I mean.

    Homeopathy is a clinical discipline, not a pure science. But it does require cataloguing observations, and homeopaths are trying to make further theories about how homeopathy works and how healing works. When I say, “how it works,” I’m not talking about chemistry or physics, but rather what methods of matching remedy to patient work best.

    Maybe a good comparison is to say that homeopathy is like detective work. Part of it is about the methodical collection of evidence, and part of it is playing hunches.

  9. Back to Kuhn: I’ve been thinking about homeopaths as a scientific community, and perhaps we do qualify as a loose one. In any case, I feel it is more accurate to say that what we are doing is part of a different scientific paradigm than to say that we are scientists looking to advance that paradigm, at least at this point in time. I think the most important point is that the current materialistic scientific paradigm makes homeopathy look like “mumbo-jumbo,” and our experience is that it is not, so we are looking to a new paradigm.

    My definition of scientism is what you have as #2 above, the exaggerated trust. My definition on my website has to do with merging of science and materialism into the current paradigm or dogmatism of science. In my opinion, we have taken the materialistic half of experience and claimed that is the only part open to true science. I find that assumption to be unscientific. It’s ignoring an important part of human experience. But I understand how that seems unscientific to many current scientists.

    And yes, I understood my quotation about was about the invisibility of scientific revolutions. My point, maybe not so well made, was that it seemed to me that you were ignoring this, by talking about the linear progression of chemistry and physics and saying that homeopathy needed to do the same. Following Kuhn, it needs to go “sideways,” not “forward.” But I do hear your point about just saying that “change happened.” Well, I think another change will happen, and I believe it will involve taking science into some realms that are currently considered woo-woo, not just making sense out of or disproving woo-woo stuff using current science. That is just my opinion.

    you show a lot of faith in homeopathy. It has had 200 years to become an “obvious truth”, yet still the talk is of “promise”. Now, this sounds more like worship to me.

    I have a lot of faith in science too. I have experience about what homeopathy can do and I also see some of it’s shortcomings which I feel can be improved upon, so I am optimistic for the future. I think that homeopathy is now at about 10-15% of what it has the potential to do. But as for your comment about worship, there are definitely those who feel that homeopathy is very spiritual. And some who are against that. My own belief is that there is an intuitive, mystical component, but also a scientific component, and the best homeopaths are able to use both where appropriate. By that I mean using intuitions as pieces of evidence. I know that’s vague, but that’s a much longer discussion.

    As for the 200 years, I have to admit that I’m tired of hearing that used as a kind of evidence, as if after all that time it should somehow have all been worked out. For one, homeopathy took at least 70 years off, when it was suppressed politically and economically, from which it has yet to fully recover. And two, what does a time limit have to do with anything? It will take as long as it takes, with advances and setbacks to come.

  10. apgaylard said

    Thanks for your comment; as for your opinions: you are, of course, entitled to them. However, I do think that effective dialogue is hindered by idiosyncratic definitions: your definition of science doesn’t have any real currency; using it just causes confusion. However, I accept that you can introduce ‘woowooscience’ into this debate and define it as you wish.

    As for your charge of scientism, you have yet to show why my trust is exaggerated. On the other hand, I have already shown why it is well founded.

    Anyway, as you say “Back to Kuhn”:

    “…I’ve been thinking about homeopaths as a scientific community, and perhaps we do qualify as a loose one. In any case, I feel it is more accurate to say that what we are doing is part of a different scientific paradigm than to say that we are scientists looking to advance that paradigm, at least at this point in time…”

    I think you need to be careful, as I have already shown, about these scientific aspirations. From a Kuhnian perspective homeopathy is just too diverse and, as you have already shown, lacks respect for the basic values [pp.184-185] of science.

    On a technical point, from Kuhn’s perspective, what you are talking about is a disciplinary matrix, rather than a paradigm.

    I still think that we are somehow at crossed purposes on the topic of change in science:

    “… it seemed to me that you were ignoring this, by talking about the linear progression of chemistry and physics and saying that homeopathy needed to do the same. Following Kuhn, it needs to go “sideways,” not “forward.” But I do hear your point about just saying that “change happened.” …”

    “Linear progression” is your interpretation of what I said; not what I said. As I have already pointed out I made no comment on the manner of change. Neither did I imply any particular mode of change: I have no strong views on whether it is linear, quadratic, exponential or, as Kuhn would have it, discontinuous.

    “…Following Kuhn, it needs to go “sideways,” not “forward.”…”

    I’d appreciate some clarification on this one. Kuhn’s actual view is that progress is central to science and that this is, in an evolutionary sense, “from” it’s past rather than “to” the truth.

    “…As for the 200 years, I have to admit that I’m tired of hearing that used as a kind of evidence, as if after all that time it should somehow have all been worked out. For one, homeopathy took at least 70 years off, when it was suppressed politically and economically, from which it has yet to fully recover. And two, what does a time limit have to do with anything? It will take as long as it takes, with advances and setbacks to come.”

    I only raised it as it is commonly cited as positive evidence for homeopathy. Here are some examples:

    “…Homeopathy has 4 principles that are its foundation. They remain unchanged over the last 200 years as their truth is demonstrated through successful treatment of the sick…”
    wholehealthnow.com

    “…Homeopathy is a form of medicine that has been in existence for over two hundred years. Over that time it has survived remarkably unchanged, a testament to its sound principles, as well as to the positive experience of countless thousands of patients…”
    Halifax Clinic of Natural Medicine

    “… Homeopathy is actually over 200 years old. […] Homeopathy has stood the test of time…”
    Discoverhomeopathy FAQ

    If we can both agree that it counts neither for nor against, I’m content to leave it there.

    However, some philosophers of science would consider this important (c.f. Lakatos; I hope to be blogging about his views in the future).

  11. your definition of science doesn’t have any real currency;

    Regarding my definition of scientism, I have tried to find a word so that I can distinguish between what I see as true science the current materialistic flavor of science. My definition is reasonably consistent with the way others have used it. (Definition #2.) But in the end it’s just semantics. The goal is to distinguish between materialistic, reductionistic science, and science that tries to discover the organization of the universe without the materialistic limitations.

    I guess I’m not in a position to argue the finer points of Kuhn’s definitions. t’s time to re-read the book. In any case, the bottom line is that I agree that homeopaths don’t really qualify as a scientific community, but most homeopaths feel that homeopathy and natural healing in general belong to a different paradigm – however and by whomever it comes about. By the way, the new paradigm that is spoken of has to do with holistic health, not just homeopathy.

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