In homeopathy: neither safe nor medicine I ventured the opinion that [R:homeopathy] is a religion. I’m not the only one to conclude this, but a homeopath just asked me outright why I think that. It’s worth explaining.
[callout title=Science it ain’t]The only thing on which all homeopaths seem to agree is that science is right only when it finds a problem with a conventional medicine; when exactly the same analytical techniques show homeopathy to be no better than placebo, even when the test is conducted by homeopaths, then it is rejected, because the measure of validity is not objective but subjective: how well does it support what you already believe. This is the very antithesis of science.[/callout]Homeopathy is founded on the assertions of [W:Samuel Hahneann], specifically that “like cures like” and that the potency of these mixtures increases with serial dilution and shaking in a special way. The Gospel according to Hahnemann is laid down in the sacred text of homeopathy, the Organon, and is expanded through repertories and materia medica. These are like prayer books: once printed they remain forever in the hands of the faithful, however arcane and bizarre any one might seem you may be sure it will have its adherents, just as [W:Traditionalist Catholic]s reject the [W:Tridentine mass] and insist only on Latin, and some Anglicans will only allow the [W:Book of Common Prayer].
Some homeopaths accept modern innovations such as “imponderable” remedies or Korsakovian dilutions (everything tipped away and assume that the bit left clinging to the vessel walls is enough to pass on the Magic), just as some Christians accept women priests. Others reject them because they are not “traditional”. The appeal to tradition, fallacious though it may be as a form of logic, is a stable feature of both homeopathy and religion, as are the equally fallacious appeals to popularity and antiquity.
Homeopaths disagree on exactly how many times and in what directions you must shake and or thump your remedy, but are all equally convinced that theirs is the True Way. Some insist on a leather pad, others allow for machines. In the same way, Churches are sharply divided on the precise rituals of the Mass, but utterly convinced that theirs is the one true way.
Some homeopaths accept only some repertories and not others. The work of germ theory denialist [W:James Tyler Kent] is held in high regard by some. This is analogous to the [W:King James Only movement] which considers the King James Version as “advanced revelation” and rejects all subsequent translations of the bible, even where there are provable errors in the KJV.
Homeopaths all claim to be true followers of the tradition of Hahnemann even though they may follow mutually exclusive dogma. Homeopaths will assert the popularity of the art based largely on over the counter sales of single remedies, but will reject controlled trials of homeopathy because the remedies must be “individualised”; this insistence on individualised remedies is inconsistently applied: in theory, no single remedy should be shown with indications for a single disorder because the holy books say the homeopath must review the totality of symptoms and match them with remedies which address those symptoms, but homeopaths have reacted with apoplectic rage when the ASA have prevented advertisements linking remedies with diseases, rather than symptoms. In the same way the Christian churches count all members of all denominations as validating the faith, ignoring the irreconcilable differences between some dominations, and will circle the wagons to defend each other even while stabbing each other in the back. Only very rare exceptions such as [W:Westboro Baptist Church] are treated as pariahs by pretty much every other denomination.
Homeopaths like to claim that their field is a science. It is not. Science does not have sacred texts. Einstein refuted Newton on mechanics and the nature of light, Pauli refuted Einstein on determinism. Every scientific idea is open to challenge, for ever. Homeopathy holds similia and potentisation as self-evidently true and not up for challenge. When Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. repeated Hahnemann’s “proving” of chinchona, the effect was not reproducible. No matter. The conclusion must stand because it is the founding principle. Science has no such shibboleths – even the scientific method could be discarded if a more reliable way were found to separate truth from falsehood.
The critical factor that marks homeopathy out as a religion and not a science is that within the homeopathic tradition there is no accepted way of establishing truth, other than by reference to the sacred texts. There is no way of unambiguously settling questions of how many times to shake the remedy, whether individual remedies work without individualisation, whether the more ludicrously high potency remedies are valid – none of these things can be objectively settled because none of them are objectively verifiable. Everything in homeopathy is a matter of opinion, not objectively provable fact. You cannot prove that light of Venus is or is not a valid remedy because there is no objective test by which to measure it. There is not even a universal agreement among homeopaths on the subjective tests that might be used.
The only thing on which all homeopaths seem to agree is that science is right only when it finds a problem with a conventional medicine; when exactly the same analytical techniques show homeopathy to be no better than placebo, even when the test is conducted by homeopaths, then it is rejected, because the measure of validity is not objective but subjective: how well does it support what you already believe. This is the very antithesis of science.