Science-Based Medicine » CAM and Creationism: Separated at Birth?

Over the past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend CSICon in Nashville, Tennessee. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (“CSI”) combats all sorts of pseudoscience, including creationism/creation science/intelligent design and alternative/complementary/integrative medicine. Our own Team SBM was ably represented by Harriet Hall, David Gorski and Kimball Atwood, whose presentation highlighted the credulous acceptance of CAM in some medical schools, and by Steve Novella, who gave a talk on the placebo effect and its exploitation by CAM proponents. Among many other presentations were those on the Mayan calendar and the end of the world, unmasking of (supposedly) paranormal events, and the neurobiology of memory. Pseudoscience was given a well-deserved thrashing by rational minds.

On Saturday, I once again had the pleasure of hearing Eugenie Scott ,Ph.D., the virtually one-woman anti-creationism campaign who founded and heads the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). As I listened to her talk I couldn’t help but being struck by a number of similarities in the weaknesses apparent in arguments for creationism/ creation science/intelligent design (or “ID”)and those for alternative/complementary/integrative medicine (or “CAM”). I doubt the two groups like to think of themselves as ideological twins, but gosh, they sure do look alike.

CAM and creationism

Of course, CAM is not monolithic. I imagine some of those who promote CAM diagnostic methods and treatments would be perfectly happy being associated with Intelligent Design or any of its previous iterations, such as creationism. After all, if you think all interpretations of how the world works are equally valid you are not likely to quibble with the idea that God created the earth in 6 days any more than you would argue with acupuncture’s meridians and qi. And some CAM providers are so deficient in scientific training we can well imagine they might view the creation of man from clay as a plausible explanation of human evolution. On the other hand, if you are in, say, academic medicine, you would likely bristle at the idea that you have anything in common with an ID proponent. Even some of those in the Health Care Freedom movement, who endorse the concept that all treatments, no matter how implausible or ineffective, should be available to anyone who wants them, would probably draw the line at the notion that their arguments are no better than those which supposedly support ID.

ID, on the other hand, is exclusively a fundamentalist Christian concept, although with variations within that single ideology. (Mainstream Christianity does not reject evolution as an explanation for the origins of life.) As explained on the NCSE website, which I highly recommend, there are several types of anti-evolution creationists with differing points of view. (Below is but a rough summary and may somewhat conflate the various subtypes in the interest of brevity.)

Originally, anti-evolution creationists argued that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. Thus, if the Bible says that God created the sun, moon and stars on day four of creation, then that is exactly what happened. That was fine as long as those views were confined to religious settings. But the creationists wanted to go further by banning the teaching of evolution and teaching creationism in public schools. Here they ran into trouble in the form of the First Amendment and courts consistently held that creationism is religion, not science, and could not be taught in science classes. The creationists regrouped and invented “creation science,” which argued that the creation story is actually supported by good science. That didn’t fly as an end-run around the Constitution so they came up with Intelligent Design, which attempts to expurgate creationism of all religious language. ID argues, as the name suggests, that science supports the existence of an Intelligent Designer (code for God) and that Darwinian evolution (which is, after all, “just a theory”) is full of holes so, by default, ID correctly explains the origin of life.

It is my impression that CAM concepts such as vitalism will pass muster with IDers as long as the “life force” underlying it is understood as God. I know anecdotally of Christian chiropractors who claim that what was originally known in chiropractic as “Innate Intelligence” is actually God at work. However, to the extent that any CAM is inconsistent with Christian theology it cannot be accepted because of the exclusivity of Christian principles. Thus one cannot accept both that qi and meridians exist if one is loyal to Christianity. Although not an example from fundamentalist Christianity, this inconsistency with Christian doctrine is why reiki was condemned as a belief in the supernatural by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2009.

I find there are remarkable parallels between the logical fallacies and sub-par thinking committed in typical arguments made in favor of CAM and those in favor of ID. So if you are offended by the lack of good science behind one it is hard to be logically consistent in supporting the other. Let’s look at my list, which I set out with brief comments. Perhaps you can think of others.

ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Science-Based Medicine » CAM and Creationism: Separated at Birth?.

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