YEC and Homeopathy

An excerpt from my new book, due out by the end of the year.

Young Earth Creationism is just another discipline found on a long inventory of pseudosciences. There is even a brand of pseudoscience quickly gaining popularity in my primary field of study called homeopathy, which offers a terrific illustration on how someone can manipulate information before presentation. Homeopathy is the principle that a disease can be cured by giving very small amounts of a substance that produce symptoms similar to the ones produced by the disease. According to homeopathy, as you further dilute the concentration of the medicinal substance that you administer to someone, the active ingredient will accomplish an increasingly desirable result. Mainstream pharmacologists (who all realize that homeopathy is bunk) understand that most drugs work on production inhibition or under enzyme-receptor theory. We know that as you increase enzymes levels introduced to the body, more receptors will become stimulated and produce greater effects. We also know that as more inhibitors are introduced to working processes, fewer enzymatic goals will be accomplished. These are currently undeniable facts of science; and the field of nonsensical homeopathy is in direct contrast to these foundational theories of medicine.

Substances that follow the principles of homeopathy cannot actually work to any appreciable degree if they are not present in sufficient concentrations.* Manufacturers of homeopathic products can even legally sell their products in the US as long as they carry a warning that the Food and Drug Administration does not evaluate their claims. As an alternative, you will find many supporting studies referenced on the product labels that support their claims. So if the products do what the manufacturers say they do, and there are studies to support their claims, why do these products not go through the FDA approval process? The answer is very similar for both homeopathy and creationism.

The FDA serves as the governing body that orders drug manufacturers to present all relevant evidence for review–not just evidence favorable to the manufacturer. If you run enough studies, according to the statistical laws associated with chance, you will eventually get a result that you want.** One of the shortcomings with our administration of scientific research is that there are no governing bodies controlling what studies are published and advertised to consumers. The best that the scientific community can do is separate journals that publish only peer-reviewed findings from ones that will publish anything offered. Creationists do not publish in peer-reviewed journals because those involved in the appraisal process know that their methods are too flawed for other scientists to consider seriously. This observation came to light in the 1987 United States Supreme Court Case Edwards v. Aguillard, which decided that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional because it a religious belief that cannot be factually supported.***

* This is not to say that all homeopathic medications fail to work since some really aren’t following the principles when they aren’t diluted very much, and the side effects of such substances just happen to mimic the disease itself. Dawkins (167) also points out a possibility that I had not considered too heavily before. “Homeopaths may be achieving relative success because they, unlike orthodox practitioners, are still allowed to administer placebos – under another name. They also have more time to devote to talking and simply being kind to the patient.”

** The standard level of confidence for running a statistical analysis is 95%. This means that the researchers want to be 95% sure that their result did not occur by chance, which leaves a false positive in 5% of cases. If you run twenty tests, you’re likely to get a false positive that you can use to support your product.

*** Also relevant is Stephen Jay Gould’s observation of the Arkansas State Supreme Court case McLean v. Arkansas. He realized early on that his side would win because court hearings require proof – not speeches.


stevec said...

Another thing relevant to homeopathic treatments which might not be obvious, and which I didn't see you mention is Avogadro's number.

Some of the diluted solutions advocated in the homeopathic field are so extremely dilute that there is a very high probability that *exactly zero* molecules of the supposed active ingredient are present in the prescribed homeopathic solution. That is, the solutions are *so* dilute that Avogodro's number -- the number of molecules in a mole -- comes into play in a big way, in that it shows that the probability that zero molecules of the supposed active ingredient are even present in the administered treatment is very high.

zilch said...

Ah, but steve- you obviously haven't heard about water memory: it doesn't matter if there's not even a single molecule of the active ingredient left in the diluted solution, because the water remembers the solute that it had once dissolved. And as we all know, memories can be even more powerful than original experiences; and the less information that remains, the more powerful the memory. This proves that homeopathic dilutions work.

Back to the real world: this goes to show that Creationists don't have a monopoly on making up wild stories to squoosh the reluctant facts, kicking and screaming, into their worldview.