Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I don't know!

Is it really such a difficult thing to say? I say it all the time. I have an issue with believing that something is true if I have no verifiable evidence on which to base that belief. Somehow it just doesn’t sit well with me. I guess I have a fear of being called gullible or something, but it seems to me that believing or saying that something is true just because someone else said so, is how innocent people get themselves into trouble.

But this need for evidence I have burns especially bright for any theory or hypotheses that seeks to explain my existence or to provide a reason for it, and there are two things that try to do this. One is an hypotheses, one is a theory. As you can see, they are very different things.

The hypotheses is God. In this hypotheses, it is postulated that a thinking, caring God of some kind is the ultimate creator, who created the universe and everything in it, as it is, in all it’s complexity. This hypotheses has enjoyed a very long and sordid history and at times has included such claims and ideas as the sun revolving around the earth, the planets being ordered in crystal spheres, that a vacuum cannot exist because God fills every space, and many others besides. Many of these ideas are ridiculed today by even the most ardent followers of the God hypotheses, and that is as it should be. Discoveries have been made after all, that leave no doubt that some of those claims have absolutely no grounding in any evidentiary fact, so continuing to believe them to be true, now that we can freely observe that they are not, is no longer an option.

The God hypotheses however, still enjoys it’s extremes; from those who believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, to those who believe that the geological time scale of billions of years only helps to show God’s majesty and wonder. It also enjoys a vociferous movement formed from both extremes that believe that the complexity we find in the cosmos, on earth and in particular in biology, proves the existence of a creator or designer beyond doubt. And of course, there are some followers of the God hypotheses, few though they be, that disagree with this idea. In this respect it is just like any other form of academia.

But no matter which position is taken on God, this hypotheses tries to explain the reason for my existence in terms of me having a spirit or soul that has an eternal existence after the death of my physical body, spent in one of two places, rejoicing or suffering, depending on the choices I make during this life. It even goes so far as to call me unworthy, which is a question I find interesting. How do I attain something I’m unworthy of? Oh I see, through Jesus...

Anyway, I call this one an hypotheses because there is very little, if any evidence to support it. The bigger part of the body of evidence that exists for this hypotheses consists of a collection of very old books called “The Bible”. The individual books themselves were written at various times throughout history, with the earliest dating to around 650 - 635bce, the latest to about 96 - 120ce and they contain very little evidence that’s actually testable or verifiable. As a consequence of that lack (and my being unworthy), I find it very difficult to believe that this hypotheses has any merit at all.

The theory I spoke of is this thing called The Theory of Evolution. It doesn’t seek to explain exactly what might happen (or not) after our physical bodies cease to function as living, breathing, cognisant entities. It doesn’t even seek to explain about how life actually got kick started in the very first instance, but it does seek to explain, using a process called “Natural Selection”, how life came to be how it is today and why we are the way we are.

Basically, the theory of evolution says that anything can happen; that is that genetic mutation occurs in a random manner. Some mutations are good and aid an organism in survival, others are bad and do not. Natural selection ensures that only the good or workable mutations survive by ensuring that the bad ones die. It’s a very simple and elegant process, if seeming to be a little cruel.

That doesn’t mean to say that things don’t go wrong. In fact if things didn’t go wrong, evolution probably wouldn’t occur very often. It’s things like the introduction of a new competitor for a preferred food source, the introduction of a new predator, population pressure, etc, that cause evolution. When an organism senses pressure to adapt or die, it generally adapts. Syphilis is a good example. What, to a native American was a childhood disease consisting of a mild and fairly short lived skin irritation, became a deadly STD in Europe within a decade or two of Columbus bringing it back. That happened simply because syphilis could not survive on the surface of the skin in the European climate. So what did it do? It adapted and evolved so that it could survive in warmer, darker and damper areas of the body. Natural selection then ensured that in Europe at least, the skin infection version of the disease died out. It’s still the same organism though. So close to the original in fact, that if you’ve had the skin infection, you will be immune to the STD.

We know all this because scientists have applied some imagination and a lot of thought to the matter and verifiable evidence has been provided that proves the claim. The entire process of evolution, from the very beginning until now can also be easily explained in these terms.

So here we have a theory. It is a theory because it seeks to explain itself by providing tangible evidence. I don’t need to make any gargantuan leaps of faith and simply believe it because Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins said so. No, I can take their claims and test them. I can go out in the field and dig up the remains of a primitive life form then look at it’s modern counterpart and see with my own eyes what changes have occurred over time. I can see, if I’m inclined to look, that the complexity of life I see around me came about quite naturally and by necessity. In short, I can satisfy myself that what we have here is a workable solution and a theory that has merit. Some may ask; “Don’t you think it’s a little unrealistic that all this has come about by chance?” to which I will answer “Yes, indeed I do.” There is no chance at all involved with evolution. You either make the right decision or you die, there is no middle ground and it is no accident that you live or die by your decision.

Another thing about this theory is that it makes no allusions to anything other than the physical world in which we live. What happens after our bodies cease to function is that we cease to be as individuals, and our bodies become fertiliser that helps nourish the next generation. So it seems that our sole purpose for being here and being as we are, is to procreate. Personally, I happen to think that the continuance of the species is a rather noble cause. Good enough to die for even… Eventually.

The very best thing about this theory however, is that it's a theory. It’s a theory that belongs to the scientific world, which of course is why it tries to explain the world in scientific terms. But being a theory means that it might also be completely wrong. That is as it should be, simply because it’s a theory. But in order to prove a theory as untenable, you need to have another, more tenable theory to replace it. As yet, no such theory exists.

Those that say that the God hypotheses is the real alternative, I think, are mistaken. God to me is a philosophical position, and to try and use a philosophical position to explain the world in scientific terms is pure folly.

Theology, which some might call the science of the God hypotheses, pretty much boils down to a human analysis of various stories, which in turn were written by humans, using no particular formula for that analysis. In these stories things often happen that seem highly improbable (and largely impossible) when the laws of physics are applied, yet we are extolled to “believe” that they are true. The words themselves are all that’s offered as proof, so how can I believe them when the very words themselves beggar belief?

There’s one other thing that really bugs me about the God hypotheses. There’s a book to tell you all about it, yet it seems that almost every single sentence in it needs interpretation. Theologians, preachers and laymen alike will quite often read you a passage of perfectly good English, only to tell you “Now what that really means is this...” and go on to say something completely different. It’s baffling. It seems to me sometimes that what christian theology really seeks to ask is this: “What if all the words that are written in the bible actually mean something else entirely?”

25 Comments:

PsychoAtheist said...

An excellent and well thought out post mate!

tina said...

Yes, long time no hear, Plonka. How ya' been?
I started blogging on Yahoo 360 and got quite interested in religion. I decided that maybe I should buy a bible so I could be well informed about it. I started discussing the bible and religion and asking my "friends" why some of them believed in god. Well, I mentioned getting a bible and christian friends right away directed me to go to a clergyman or pastor. "Don't try to read it by yourself" they said. "It's hard to understand and they can explain it to you so you will understand." WTF! "I know how to read I told them."
"That's why we have bible study on Wednesdays, so the pastor can interpret it for us, in case some don't understand it."

I never did go buy a bible. My mom did "win" one in church one time, for having the most children of hers present on Mother's Day. She handed it to me, which I promptly handed it to my daughter. She still has it even though she's not religious either.(should I warn her not to open that book till she takes it to a pastor??) :)

Plonka said...

Psychoatheist: Thanks...:)

Tina: Yeah, pretty good. And I hope it all goes well for you too.

I know, it's bizarre isn't it? No, don't be a spoilsport. Let her read it by herself, the pastor will only spoil the funny bits for her by looking derisively down his or her nose at her until she stops giggling...:)

Dikkii said...

I've long held some frustration with the term "the God Hypothesis". The term hypothesis usually means that there is the potential for it to be tested at a later stage.

A great example is the Efficient Markets Hypothesis which will probably remain a hypothesis for some time, given that the underlying assumptions need some major work first. Testing will be a nightmare, given the sheer volume of information that needs to be collected.

However, God is a bad hypothesis because it requires some serious semanctic work on the underlying definitions before we can even call it a viable hypothesis.

I prefer to call it "The God Speculation"

Plonka said...

Dikkii: I prefer to call it "The God Speculation"

Nice one. I can go with that. Technically I think you can call god a hypotheses because a hypotheses has insufficient evidence to be tested and I think god definitely fits that requirement. But as you say, it does imply the "at a later stage" bit and given the semantics involved, "speculation" does seem a better word.

tom sheepandgoats said...

Is this the post you said I could be on the lookout for? Yes, it is well thought out and well presented.

God to me is a philosophical position, and to try and use a philosophical position to explain the world in scientific terms is pure folly.

I'll go along with that. I don't use the position to explain the world in scientific terms. But I do use it to explain the world.

I've nothing against science. I value it a lot. It's a powerful tool for probing understanding things. But to present it as the only tool seems very narrow to me.

Many things are not amenable to the scientific method. Persons dogmatic that only science can give answers usually respond by ignoring those things, or even denying them. Science does well with things that are easily grouped and repeated. It does not do well with things that are more art nor with things too individualistic.

For an example, many areas of alternative medicine are more art than science. They draw on the absolute but subtle uniqueness of each individual, not on the broad similarities which all of us share. So they are not easily grouped and not readily repeatable, at least not with the guaranteed same results. Additionally, practitioners are as much artists as they are scientists. (didn't we once refer to medicine as the "medical arts?"

When Nixon went to China in the early 70's he saw people being operated on without anesthesia, numbed only by acupuncture. He saw it, and presumably his entire entourage, yet it was decades before Western scientists would concede acupuncture was anything more than quackery, and many still hold that view. Science sometimes ignores what it cannot explain.

Ditto for paranormal or, for lack of a better term, weird activities. People in trances resting on a bed of nails, for example, or walking on glowing coals. Voodoo, for another. To be sure, there are some in the scientific community who try to debunk all of it as hoax, but invariably they live far removed from those cultures. People within those cultures rarely deny these things. Frankly, in today's PC (for better or worse) world, such a dismissive attitude almost smacks of racism.

When speaking of the origin of life, there are any number of areas in which the odds of this or that happening are so fantastically improbable that, in any other context but evolution, the process would be called impossible. In many cases two or more such fantastically improbable things must occur concurrently. It's no wonder some thinking persons reject it all as hokum and do not regard it as a deathblow to the philosophical position of God. Such objections regarding probabilities are not easily explored with the scientific method. Where are the repeatable experiments to perform? So some scientists simply declare the whole matter irrelevant, not because it does not make sense, but because it does not fit within the parameters of the only means they accept for measuring truth.

Separately, a few things you attributed to the God view do not apply to my faith. If they did, I might not be what I am, for I too find them absurd. Hell, for example. With a single exception, all instances of "hell" in English Bibles stem from one of three original language words (sheol, hades, gehenna) Find the meaning of those three words and you've found the meaning of hell. None of them refer to a place of eternal torment. A well known early Jehovah's Witness, Charles Russell was known in his lifetime as the man who "turned the hose on hell and put out the fire."

Plonka said...

Tom: Thanks...:)

But I do use it to explain the world.

In what way? Using God as an explanation for the "paranormal" (to steal your word in want of a better term) is one thing. If however, you use God as an explanation as to how life came to be the way it is, then you are using God to explain the world in scientific terms simply because you are providing an explanation for something to which the scientific method can be applied.

But to present it as the only tool seems very narrow to me.

I have to take issue here and it's the issue I documented in paragraph 1 of the post. What other tools do we have? What we think or feel might be true and correct? I'm sorry Tom, I just cannot have that much faith in myself. My feelings and thoughts have proven to be completely wrong, not to mention totally unjustified, many times in the past. Consequently, if you tell me something is true and I'm not sure of the facts, I will apply the scientific method, regardless of the subject, and try to prove, through the garnering and analysis of evidence, that what you say is wrong. If I cannot do that, then whatever you said, whether it be reasonable or ridiculous, stands as correct, but only until we can solidify our opinion, one way or the other, when irrefutable proof comes along. If I cannot find any evidence at all that either supports or refutes your statement, then I am quite happy to say "I don't know" and leave it at that. It's preferable to me to admit ignorance rather than provide an answer that may be wrong.

Acupuncture is an interesting thing. Here's an article from 2005 that proves most interesting.

Science sometimes ignores what it cannot explain.

On the contrary in this instance or so it would seem. Acupuncture has been and is being tested constantly and science, as you can see from the article above and many more, should you look around, is seriously trying to explain it. Unfortunately, the placebo effect is the best it can do at the moment.

But I must agree however that a good herbalist may make a difference but then, a lot of drugs are derived from herbs, so that's hardly surprising.

Back to the "paranormal". I've laid on a bed of nails, it's easy. The getting on and off are the tricky bits, but it's a technique, not a trance. Walking on hot coals? Always done with wet feet. Check the maths and examine the science, it works. Voodoo? Man, the drugs those guys use are insane, which sadly enough, is the usual result.

such a dismissive attitude almost smacks of racism.

Racism is a strong term Tom and it's completely unwarranted. Rationalism would be more correct in this instance I think.

In many cases two or more such fantastically improbable things must occur concurrently.

Please name one that doesn't involve natural selection.

Such objections regarding probabilities are not easily explored with the scientific method.

Those who study the science of probability may take issue with you there. I think the issue when calculating probabilities is more likely to be that God is more improbable than anything else yet mentioned. More improbable even than the single most improbable event which was the actual beginning of life itself. Just once that had to happen, just once. The rest is no accident and is as repeatable as you want it to be.

So some scientists simply declare the whole matter irrelevant, not because it does not make sense, but because it does not fit within the parameters of the only means they accept for measuring truth.

If they do, they are in a very sparse minority. The vast majority of scientists revel in what they don't know because it provides them with an opportunity to find out what's happening and explain it. Prove one wrong and he or she will be ecstatic.

Hell and the devil I find to be very interesting concepts. It only comes into it's own in the new testament, but that's because Judaism didn't really include the concept of eternal torment, it dwells more on separation from God.

Yes. Charles Taze Russell is a pet subject of mine, as you may have gathered from my previous post...

Dikkii said...

Tom Sheepandgoats wrote:

such a dismissive attitude almost smacks of racism.

To which Plonka replied:

Racism is a strong term Tom and it's completely unwarranted. Rationalism would be more correct in this instance I think.

I'm currently researching a concept known as biopiracy which I don't know much about for a future blog post.

This accusation is thrown about with such gay abandon by the anti-biopiracy movement you have to wonder about whether it's some kind of pre-emptive "Mugabe defence" designed to stifle free speech and justify special pleading.

Bronze Dog blogs about this attitude best at Doggerel #67 - "Western".

In any event, I'm going to call you out on this Tom. I think that you owe Plonka an apology.

Dikkii said...

Meant to chuck in a link to aforementioned Doggerel:

http://rockstarramblings.blogspot.com/2007/03/doggerel-67-western.html

Party on.

tom sheepandgoats said...

My comment:

When Nixon went to China in the early 70's he saw people being operated on without anesthesia, numbed only by acupuncture. He saw it, and presumably his entire entourage...

Yours: science....is seriously trying to explain it. Unfortunately, the placebo effect is the best it can do at the moment.

Operations without anesthesia? That's one helluva placebo.

Yours: Walking on hot coals? Always done with wet feet.

No, I don't think so, but you're welcome to test it. Put your hand in a pool of water, say the kitchen sink. Let it stay there 10 minutes so that it is good and wet. Then immerse it in some glowing coals in the fireplace. Let me know how it turns out.

I think your responses to these two items illustrates my remark on how science dismisses what it cannot explain.

Ditto on the voodoo. Your comment is typical of this culture. Persons from cultures where voodoo is widespread do not say such things.

Our exchange:

Mine: In many cases two or more such fantastically improbable things must occur concurrently.

Yours: Please name one that doesn't involve natural selection.

Evolutionists agree that life reproduced asexually at first. Now, it reproduces sexually in its most developed forms. I would think that must have required a mutation from an asexual organism to make a male and at the same time a complementary mutation in another organism to make a female. (not to mention implanting the desire to mate....just because something is possible doesn't mean it will happen)

So...three mutations (at least). The odds of any one of them happening are astronomical. All three occurring at the same time and place?

Have scientists addressed this? Convincingly.

I did not lurk prior to my first comment. I am not aware of whatever you may have written on Russell. I don't see any mention of him on your index page.








Acupuncture has been and is being tested constantly and science, as you can see from the article above and many more, should you look around, is seriously trying to explain it. Unfortunately, the placebo effect is the best it can do at the moment.

But I must agree however that a good herbalist may make a difference but then, a lot of drugs are derived from herbs, so that's hardly surprising.

Back to the "paranormal". I've laid on a bed of nails, it's easy. The getting on and off are the tricky bits, but it's a technique, not a trance. Walking on hot coals? Always done with wet feet. Check the maths and examine the science, it works. Voodoo? Man, the drugs those guys use are insane, which sadly enough, is the usual result.

such a dismissive attitude almost smacks of racism.





As to the great odds required at various stages of evolution, it's agreed by evolutionists that life reproduced asexually at first. Now, it reproduces sexually in the most developed forms of life. I would think that must have required a mutation from an asexual organism to make a male and at the same time a complementary mutation in another organism to make a female. (not to mention implanting the desire to mate....just because something is possible doesn't mean it will happen)

So...three mutations (at least). The odds of any one of them happening are astromomical. All three occuring at the same time and place?

Does Dawkins address this? Convincingly?

On such a dismissive attitude almost smacks of racism

No, Dikkii, I stand by that comment, since it is qualified in itself. And I trust Plonka didn't misunderstand it. I didn't say or think that he is/was racist. I said the airily dismissing of third world mainstays in the name of Western science bears some resemblence to racism. I didn't say it was the mirror image.

And I just made up the comparison. If it has been used in other contexts, I'm unaware of it.

tom sheepandgoats said...

Sorry, Plonka, I should have edited better. My remarks about Russell should be directly followed by my comments about racism to Dikkii. Cut out the middle stuff, mostly duplication, if you like.

Dikkii said...

Tom Sheepandgoats wrote:

No, Dikkii, I stand by that comment, since it is qualified in itself.

Apologies, Tom. I read that a little too quickly.

That post by Bronze Dog is still about 75% relevant - your quote "dismissing of third world mainstays in the name of Western science bears some resemblence to racism" bears a striking resemblance to all sorts of logical atrocities perpetrated in order to defend woo of all descriptions.

Some might go as far as to say that the key driver of such statements is projection.

I'm not prepared to go that far - Freud and I were never the best of mates.

Plonka said...

Hey Blogger?!? What's happened to my email notifications? Good thing I looked, I almost missed all of this...

Tom: Before I get to the rest of it, this threw me. I know it's a long way into your comment, but I'm having trouble getting passed it just the same.

I did not lurk prior to my first comment. I am not aware of whatever you may have written on Russell. I don't see any mention of him on your index page.

My previous post concerns itself purely with the JW's (founded by Russell) and Russell is mentioned twice at least. In that article I also linked to a previous (and much older) article where Russell and the history of the JW's gets a generous airing. My pet subject doesn't need to be written about constantly. I'm sure you'd get bored with it.

The reason I pick on this little statement you made? Well, because you commented on that previous post. That evidence leads me to conclude that you made no attempt whatsoever to comprehend that article, so now I'm curious why you bothered to comment on it at all...

Anyway, that event may lead a more cynical person to wonder what else you haven't bothered with, but not I. I shall forge ahead and await your reply...

So, back to the top.....

Nixon. Well actually, it was a reporter named James Reston who's article was published in 1971, that was the witness, apparently. I will happily concede that at that point, Nixon was announcing plans to visit China, but it's hardly the same thing. Nixon himself witnessed no such thing..... If you read that article, you will note that it concerns the creation of a national standard (in America) for the practice of acupuncture. Why? Medical malpractice claims seem to be the focus. Why would people be suing if it works so well? I'd have thought they'd be healed and happy.

And yes, belief is one hell of a placebo. It is the belief you have in acupuncture and that it does as it claims. This article does not concern acupuncture, it concerns the placebo effect. As you can see, acupuncture is called a "powerful placebo" but really, you have hold of the wrong end of the stick here. It is actually a "powerful placebo effect", but only for those that believe it works. It is the mind that does the work here, not the placebo itself.

Humans have an amazing ability to believe. That belief does not have to be grounded in any factual evidence and can be completely wrong. That won't stop you believing it's right if you don't want to and it's a very powerful thing. Please note what that article says about a strong placebo effect having the ability to cause physiological changes. It's an interesting field of study that one, and we're learning more every day.

Firewalking: No, I don't think so, but you're welcome to test it.

No thanks, I've seen what happens when it goes wrong. OUCH!!! But it's a yes I'm afraid. I may be prepared to concede the wet because it's actually the temperature difference that makes it possible, but I've seen this done many times and in every instance I've witnessed, there's either been wet grass or a puddle of water to walk through immediately preceding the hot coals and/or stones. Go here and read the section marked "Explanation". It sums it up quite nicely.

Voodoo: There are many forms of voodoo and I am also quite happy to concede that some variations do not involve copious quantities of alcohol or drugs. Haitian voodoo on the other hand, is not only the most popular "westernised" version of voodoo it is a completely different kettle of fish (Puffer or toad fish in fact - see what I did? damn I'm funny...:)) and it can be a very dangerous thing, especially if you've been "cursed" with their preferred method, the extremely toxic liver of a puffer fish.

Evolutionists agree that life reproduced asexually at first. Now, it reproduces sexually in its most developed forms.......

Have scientists addressed this? Convincingly


Yes. For instance, it happens in the womb of every pregnant human mother. Cells split and divide and reproduce asexually for quite some time before the more complex organism they finally come to form grows any sexual appendage. In fact, this asexual process of reproduction is happening even before that complex group of asexual cells has decided which appendage they need.

I've used humans as the example here, but bacteria split grow and multiply in a very specific way Tom and the process has been very well explained and is very well understood and it is also a part of the natural selection process. Please re-read the question.

No, Dikkii, I stand by that comment, since it is qualified in itself.

Stand by the comment if you wish, but it's a very bad word to use. There is no hate involved in rationality or scepticism, just an intense curiosity.

Dikkii said...

Hey Blogger?!? What's happened to my email notifications? Good thing I looked, I almost missed all of this...

Blogger was doing that to me a little while back. I thought they'd fixed it.

tom sheepandgoats said...

My previous post concerns itself purely with the JW's (founded by Russell) and Russell is mentioned twice at least.

Yeah, sure enough, it is. Sorry. I guess I got carried away with the thread and forgot what led to it in the first place. I was treating it as an ID thread. I lost sight that a JW visit initially triggered your thoughts. My mistake.


In reading the Reston article, it seemed to me that the frustrations about acupuncture do not involve whether it works or not, for it does work. The issue Western society has with it is how to explain it, regulate it, insure it, license it, defend it against lawsuits. In other words, the problem is that it does not conform to Western notions of medicine. The legalistic concerns become so intense that the incredible results Reston witnessed are relegated to almost ho-hum status. I'm not going to be able to take time to analyze every line, but this one (several pages in) seems typical of Western bias:

"Acupuncturists may be liable for malpractice claims due to a failure to refer patients to seek medical care."

That quote demonstrates the narrow mindset of the West against a procedure that has run circles around it for effectiveness. (and without side effects) Why shouldn't it be the other way around? Medical doctors may be liable for malpractice claims due to a failure to refer patients to seek acupuncture care? The way the article puts it, one would think medical treatment never fails to cure.

I believe this article validates my contention far more than it does yours. Acupuncture is only declared placebo because Western science hasn't a clue how to analyze it, and that is because they refuse to recognize the concepts upon which it is based, and that is because they're not able to account for it via the scientific method. Too many unique variables exist. The article implies that acupuncture for serious surgery instead of Western anesthesia is absolutely routine. You mean every single Chinese believes in it so intensely that it can be the standard treatment? If that's the case, then the efforts of Western medicine ought to be to get us to believe it as well, since it sure seems more effective and safe.


(Please don't think acupuncture is my pet 'cause.' It's not. It's simply the subject chosen to illustrate a point.)


I may be prepared to concede the wet because it's actually the temperature difference that makes it possible, but I've seen this done many times and in every instance I've witnessed, there's either been wet grass or a puddle of water to walk through immediately preceding the hot coals and/or stones.

Is this statement really valid? Scientifically? Are you not relying on your own experience, which surely cannot be all-inclusive? You've seen it "many" times. How many? Twenty? And I suspect (am I being unfair here?) that you did not see it in it's most common cultural setting, but more likely in either some lab-like atmosphere populated by science devotees eager to show what a crock it is, or in some carnival-like atmosphere, as entertainment.

Regarding the male female division, I didn't find that explanation of yours convincing in the slightest. To compare what happens in the womb to the question I raised seems a case of apples and oranges. Yes, they are both fruit, but beyond that the situations are very different.

Plonka, you've given this your best shot, and I hope you'll concede I have as well. But as these replies are quite time-consuming, I most likely will not be able to reply to however you respond. Don't go calling me a chicken. If we haven't agreed yet, I think it will not happen regardless of how many comments fly back and forth. Alas, my time is somewhat limited. I wish it were not so, but it is.

We may just have to agree to disagree. I can live with that.

tom sheepandgoats said...

Incidentally, Plonka, (or Dikkii) since the placebo subject has come up, I wonder what you would think about a study that was done a few years back that very much goes against conventional wisdom:

http://carriertom.typepad.com/sheep_and_goats/2007/09/the-death-and-r.html

I'm not saying I completely buy into it, but I guess my post makes clear that I look upon it favorably.

(perhaps I will respond to comments, after all. I always want to. It's just that I get frustrated with time constraints)

Plonka said...

Dikkii: Yeah, I seem to remember that's why you put in the recent comments widget, not long after I moved to blogger.

They seem to be coming through again now, so it's all good...:)

BTW, I read BD's post and I have to say, I reckon we got up to about 85 - 90%. I almost asked him to come and play judge...:)

Plonka said...

Tom:

The legalistic concerns become so intense that the incredible results Reston witnessed are relegated to almost ho-hum status.

I'm more of the opinion that it's probably because the story was never ratified or confirmed.

"Acupuncturists may be liable for malpractice claims due to a failure to refer patients to seek medical care."

Where does it say "western medicine"?

I believe this article validates my contention far more than it does yours.

Hell of a belief you've got there Tom. Can you back it up with a link to something?

Acupuncture is only declared placebo because Western science hasn't a clue how to analyze it

Quite the contrary. It's been tested and it's still being tested. When it's effects are measured, it doesn't score very well. Just because you want it to doesn't make it so.

s this statement really valid? Scientifically? Are you not relying on your own experience, which surely cannot be all-inclusive?

Of course it is, I wouldn't have said it otherwise. Yes, I've witnessed it first hand. It was one those stupid corporate "team building" things that I hate so much. One fool didn't walk through the water or over the grass (we had a choice) and guess what? No, I didn't try it and I never will.

On top of that there are about a dozen really good documentaries, a couple of which document the cultural practice and there's a huge amount of research. Read that explanation at wiki again, it really does sum it up well.

Regarding the male female division

Ah, you must have missed the bit about bacteria then (hint: split, grow and multiply) That's how it works Tom and that's how early life did it. If you're not satisfied, then I suggest you Richard Dawkins web site and do some research.

No worries Tom. I won't call you chicken and I doubt we'll ever agree too, but the difference of opinion has been been a lot of fun so far.

It does take time, and I also know what you mean in your next comment (I commented on yours as well) when you say you always want to. It is hard to resist the temptation, isn't it? Especially when there's something else you know you should be doing.

Dikkii said...

Bloody hell. I go away for 48 hours, and you guys go berzerk. It's a long time in the blogosphere.

Plonka, re firewalking: I'm not sure whether wet feet are involved or not the whole time, but I can say this for certain. The Australian Skeptics have been trying for years to get firewalking woo merchants to do a test using a hotplate rather than coals heated up to the same temperature.

It speaks volumes that to date, not one has accepted the challenge.

Tom, re acupuncture: you wrote:

"Acupuncturists may be liable for malpractice claims due to a failure to refer patients to seek medical care."

That quote demonstrates the narrow mindset of the West against a procedure that has run circles around it for effectiveness. (and without side effects) Why shouldn't it be the other way around? Medical doctors may be liable for malpractice claims due to a failure to refer patients to seek acupuncture care? The way the article puts it, one would think medical treatment never fails to cure.


Have you ever thought that the reason why might be that we have no evidence showing the effectiveness of acupuncture?

The best we have is some showing that a mild release of endorphins is available. This, however, is a smaller release than that from exercise, sex and some medications.

Another shows that it doesn't matter where you stick the needles - the effects are the same.

I'm pretty sure we can say that, unless acupuncture can come up with some actual documented results pretty darn quickly, its goose is cooked.

That quote demonstrates the narrow mindset of the West against a procedure that has run circles around it for effectiveness.

Plonka's too polite to say it and I won't out of respect for Plonka, but Bronze Dog says it, and I agree with him. Offence is not really intended, but if the shoe fits, you know what to do with it.

Acupuncture is only declared placebo because Western science hasn't a clue how to analyze it, and that is because they refuse to recognize the concepts upon which it is based, and that is because they're not able to account for it via the scientific method.

Rubbish. Where did you read that acupuncture is declared a placebo?

Stop calling science "Western" for a start. Quite a lot of advances in the scientific method came from, wait for it, China. You appear to have a complete misunderstanding of how the scientific method works.

Too many unique variables exist.

A properly constructed study controls for each and every single one of these variables. A properly constructed series of studies tests for each of these variables in turn.

The article implies that acupuncture for serious surgery instead of Western anesthesia is absolutely routine. You mean every single Chinese believes in it so intensely that it can be the standard treatment?

Funny how the Chinese government endorses Western Medicine, then, isn't it?

Look. I know acupuncture isn't your pet thing. But if acupuncture could be shown to do all that its pushers claim, then it would be pretty cool.

I for one can think of advantages for my kidneys in having a couple of needles inserted in various places rather than reaching for paracetamol or aspirin every time I get a headache.

The point is that most of what acupuncture promotes is backed up by extraordinarily flimsy evidence.

Testimonial evidence isn't, except in a court of law. Anecdotal evidence isn't even that.

I have further to read in this comments thread, but first, I have to go to bed.

tom sheepandgoats said...

I have further to read in this comments thread, but first, I have to go to bed.

Oh, for crying out loud! What kind of a blogger wimps out on such a flimsy pretence? A real blogger, Dikkii, lets the house fall down around him while online. He allows his wife to divorce him on abandonment grounds while he pecks away at the keyboard. (though strictly speaking, "allow" may not be the correct term, since he doesn't really notice it.) Get with the program, Dikkii, or else turn in your blogging credentials! I've half a mind to report you to Blogger.com.

I'm pretty sure we can say that, unless acupuncture can come up with some actual documented results pretty darn quickly, its goose is cooked.

No, I don't think so. More likely is that it will follow the course of chiropractic.

I don't know how it is where you live, but in the U.S. I have seen over 40 years chiropractic go from cult status to absolutely mainstream. It did so despite intense opposition, if not slander, from the American Medical Association, (AMA) who acted under the guise of science. At every opportunity the AMA used their "persons of science" stature to label a competing health system pure quackery. It took a lawsuit which ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court to end the iron fisted policy.

http://www.chiroweb.com/archives/16/15/14.html

Perhaps more significant than the "quackery" campaign was the financial hit one had to take to seek chiropractic care. Insurance seldom would cover chiropractic, so patients had to pay out of pocket. Imagine: medical care could be had for free; (or with small co-pay) chiropractic care you paid for yourself. People chose chiropractic care. All the time with the AMA railing against it, chiropractic flourished, sought after not by uneducated dolts (which I suspect the "science" camp would love to maintain) but by the more educated and well-heeled, the only persons who could ignore the financial implications of seeking chiropractic care.

To this day, devotees of medical science grouse that chiropractic is lacking in "actual documented results." Some grudgingly allow that it can serve a limited purpose in the case of back pain, but nothing more. Meanwhile, one constantly runs across persons crippled for life by disc removal surgery, (I know some of them) the mainstream medical practice that dominated for years. (still does, I think)

How did chiropractic become so well accepted? Largely through the avenues that you (Dikkii) despise: testimonial and even anecdotal evidence.

Look, I share your feelings, to some extent, over the inherent weakness of such types of evidence. They put great emphasis on personal experience and are difficult, even impossible, to verify. But I'm not so willing to dismiss it out-of-hand when the numbers of such evidence-bearers become sizable. Especially when such persons are among the educated and well-heeled, as they are here.

I suspect acupuncture will also go that way, aided by the same type of evidence, and in the face of the same scientific opposition.

The link you included on TCM vs Western-trained scientists (yes, several times it makes clear that the "science" lobby gets its impetus from the west - I'm a little tired of being taken to task for use of the phrase "Western medicine") is essentially the same debate I've described above being played out it another culture. The article is packed with the same Western prejudices that I have commented on elsewhere. For example:

we were also told that we would not be able to observe any masters or `special ability' children because they would no longer cooperate. This was disappointing but it is a tribute to our hosts' debunking efforts that local performers are now too wary of being caught

The explanation that first occurs to me is that they know a witch hunt when they see it. I only wish Western practitioners would hold themselves to the same standard they wish to impose on everyone else. If they fail to cure this or that ailment, there are no consequences, since they are disciples of the scientific method. If alternative practitioners fail, all hell breaks loose. It's a double standard that more and more educated persons are seeing through.

Within the past week or so, I read a front page Wall Street Journal article about a Chinese surgeon performing invasive surgery for depression. Whereas in the entire world such surgery is performed only a few dozen times a year, this one medical doctor performed it hundreds of times, with disastrous results in the case of the person profiled in the newspaper. Are there any consequences? He paid some modest compensation, but his practice goes on undeterred. How come your Skeptical Inquirer panel doesn't take him to task?

This quote irked me as well: "He complained that scientifically trained Chinese physicians do not spend enough time with patients and do not offer enough emotional support, and that this feeds the popularity of quacks." Strictly speaking, this "rushed patient" phenomenon is not caused by science, but it is a fairly consistent byproduct of a discipline that views people as no more than somewhat complicated machines, so why not fix them up quickly and get on to the next person? If only you could unplug their damned brains, so they wouldn't whine about "emotional support."

The link also included some rebuttals from TCM practitioners. For example, "Western [medical] science used to be [exclusively?] biological. Now it is biological and societal. Combining the biological, psychological, and societal occurred 1,500 years ago in China. Western medicine is developing in the same way. TCM was ahead of Western medicine."

I agree with this.
I also agree with this quote from the link: "Because of difficulties with cults, we have different definitions [for Qi, etc.]."

The Western instinct is to regulate this treatment, and it gets very frustrated when it cannot. It responds with an over-eagerness to paint all alternatives as hoax. Now, I will concede, Dikkii, that Western medicine is far better regulated, so seeking consistent medical care is much less of a crap shoot then it is with alternative medicine. The West loves to regulate; the alternative field is still largely "buyer beware." I'm not so sure as you that the former is clearly superior. It has some advantages, to be sure, yet it imposes significant cost, it slows innovation except along pre-approved channels, and it encourages intellectual complacency on the consumer's part. And, when push comes to shove, don't the Chinese live about as long as we do, if not longer? What is the purpose of health care, anyway?

Dikkii said...

What kind of a blogger wimps out on such a flimsy pretence? A real blogger, Dikkii, lets the house fall down around him while online. He allows his wife to divorce him on abandonment grounds while he pecks away at the keyboard. (though strictly speaking, "allow" may not be the correct term, since he doesn't really notice it.) Get with the program, Dikkii, or else turn in your blogging credentials! I've half a mind to report you to Blogger.com.

Mea culpa. Won't happen again.

Plonka said...

I'm a bit disappointed. You guys have been concentrating so hard making excellent comments that you haven't noticed my new layout. Shame on you...;)

Tom:

I wouldn't say that chiropractics is accepted as "absolutely mainstream". The best I can say for it here is that it has it's place. Yes, it is very good for things like back compression. An "adjustment" can be a wonderful thing (and if you've ever been a tram conductor that has to carry a bag full of copper coins over your shoulder all day every day, you'll know what I mean) and as you say, where injury has resulted in the need for manipulation of spine or joints, it can be beneficial. But that's about it.

Chiropractors to this day still have trouble agreeing among themselves as to what a "sublaxation" is, let alone whether it's measurable in any other way than subjectively. On top of that, there has never been any evidence at all that disrupting nerve impulses causes diseases.

I found a lot of chiropractic organisations and association and every one of them reports that about 10% of Americans use Chiropractic, so mainstream is just exactly what it isn't. Here's another article from which I'll quote:

Chiropractic propagandists have made much of a 1987 court decision that found the American Medical Association and others guilty of illegally boycotting chiropractors. But the Wilk case did not uncover any secret conspiracy by doctors to destroy chiropractic.

Hmmm...

The explanation that first occurs to me is that they know a witch hunt when they see it.

Quite the contrary. They know that if they can really do as they claim that the world would be their oyster, so to speak. I find it strange that out of 100's or maybe even 1000's of practitioners, we can't seem to find a single one that a)has reproduced the results in a double blind or b)will even agree to be tested that way.

And that's true for both acupuncture and chiropractic.

I only wish Western practitioners would hold themselves to the same standard they wish to impose on everyone else.

We wouldn't have the method (or double blind testing for that matter) if they didn't Tom. That's just exactly what they are asking for, and that is, for these alternative practices to be held to the same standards they they themselves have to comply with, nothing more and nothing less. To say that the methods the rest of what you term "western" science uses to test itself doesn't apply to your alternatives smacks of racism; "You can't judge it because we're not smart enough to know how!", seems to be what you're saying here...:)

He paid some modest compensation, but his practice goes on undeterred. How come your Skeptical Inquirer panel doesn't take him to task?

It will, have no fear of that. Both sides of this coin has its share of unethical practitioners. No-one ever said it didn't.

but it is a fairly consistent byproduct of a discipline that views people as no more than somewhat complicated machines....

Have to call you to task here, the discipline has nothing at all to do with it, and I'd be surprised if you didn't know it as well as I do. Why do clinics triple book? Well, patients sometimes miss appointments and that means missed income. Simple but, there's nothing to stop you making an appointment and just talking to your doc for 15 minutes or so. Sometimes all that's required is for your doctor to set your mind at ease, it's the best placebo there is.

The Western instinct is to regulate this treatment, and it gets very frustrated when it cannot.

It's not an instinct and it isn't "western" Tom, it's a method and it's global. The whole thing revolves around proven and observable results and you get neither with the alternatives mentioned so far. "Buyer beware" is simply not good enough if your health or indeed, your life is at stake. That works doubly so if you happen to be the statutory body that will be sued for allowing it to happen.

BTW, please note that if you mention homoeopathy, Dikkii will probably have to go and have another lie down...:)

Dikkii said...

Top new layout Plonka.

I've actually been considering filling up the left hand side of my blog, but I haven't got around to it.

I'd prefer that you don't give Tom any ideas regarding homeopathy. I'm still frothing over it.

Plonka said...

Dikkii:

I'd prefer that you don't give Tom any ideas regarding homeopathy. I'm still frothing over it.

LOL...:) Thought you might be...

Tom:

Do you mind if I add a link to your blog?

tom sheepandgoats said...

Stand by for a homeopathy post.

Well....maybe I'll have to think about it.

No problem with the link, Plonka. I take it as a complement. Thanks.

P.S. If you want your readership to go off the charts, write something about Bob Dylan. That's my latest post and I'm gotten 200 hits in the past two hours. Generally my readership is considerably more modest.

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