Is belief in Homeopathy a moral test? 1


homeopathy-gettyIan Dunt writes in Politics UK about how homeopathy provides a moral test because it functions as a litmus test for belief in objective truth. His argument rolls out as follows …

There’s no point going into the research – there’s nothing left to say. Homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo. So when people say that it works, they are not just expressing a whacky view about alternative medicine, they are saying something more profound: that their intuition, or the experiences of someone they met once, overrule empirical evidence. It is a rebellion against reality.

In once sense, yes I agree, but in quite another, no this is too simplistic an argument.

He is of course wholly correct about Homeopathy, but he then expands the argument into other areas, the observation that .. (to quote him again) …

the problem is far more deeply entrenched than that. It exists across the political classes, from secretaries of state to student activists

… is also spot on, namely that often subjective opinion is permitted to trump objective facts, and to illustrate it all he gives a couple of great examples …

Last April an NSPCC report found a tenth of 12-to-13-year-olds were “addicted” to pornography. We’re completely unsure whether one can actually be addicted to pornography in a meaningful sense, but even if we were, the finding was based on an extremely dodgy survey by “creative market research” group OnePoll. Nevertheless it was widely reported and by the afternoon a government minister had promised that they would be taking action to address this imaginary problem.

Even the BBC is at it. Its political editor, Nick Robinson, argued that the corporation had been “too slow to detect and reflect public concern and anger” on immigration. Again we see the priority is not reality (academic research found the UK gained £20 billion from immigration between 2000 and 2011) but the perception of reality.

So this is the key point he is making …

But here’s the thing: objective truth does exist. Some things are right or wrong and that can be assessed objectively by how far they limit or maximise human freedom. Homeopathy does not cure cancer. Health tourism is not a major problem for the NHS. Immigration brings economic rewards to Britain.

Giving up on objective truth isn’t just factually wrong. It is politically and morally wrong. It means we cannot hold the powerful to account, because there is no account upon which to hold them. It lets them off the hook.

It may be Objectively True, but is it really a moral test?

In a word … no.

Once you completely surrender your reason and an empirical assessment of the world around you, you belong to them. They’ve got you right where they want you.

That’s why homeopathy, although it seems a small and eccentric idiocy, provides a useful function. It’s not just a test of reason. It is a test of morality.

I can indeed accept that it truly is a test of reason and the ability we have as individuals to apply critical thinking, but I simply can’t make that leap he proposes to this also being a moral test.

The key to thinking about this is that objective truth is just what is says on the tin. Ah, but when it comes to morality, then we enter stormy waters, because we are talking about personal and/or cultural values, codes of conduct, and social norms. Here we move way beyond reason, and find that other factors play a roles such as human empathy and compassion, but don’t misunderstand me, reason also does play a role. I don’t intend to get bogged down in some long babble all about moral philosophy, but rather to simply point out that the dismissal Homeopathy is simply not an appropriate moral test.

Supposed we did embrace that idea, where then would that leave us? We would potentially be in the position of labelling rather a lot of good decent human beings as immoral. We still have several Homeopathy hospitals in the UK, so would we deem them to be dens iniquity, and what about the GP who deploys Homeopathy, should that be considered a breach of medical ethics?

Those that do deploy Homeopathy are deploying something that does not actually work, but there is generally no malice, they are often simply mistaken and have embraced the concept because it is culturally acceptable, and so the desire to deploy is not driven by ill intent or greed, but rather by compassion and also a desire to help.

Examine the topic honestly, and you will find that objectively the amount of good solid independently verifiable evidence for Homeopathy is exactly zero, but there is also a considerable degree of noise and chatter from supposed “experts”, along with rebuttals that will cause considerable confusion and so many people are successfully fooled into thinking that it is all actually credible. We are at heart emotional creatures, and so we can and will be successfully fooled. To label those that have been fooled as moral failures is to put aside not only reason but also empathy.

For the record – It really does not work, he is right about that.

No homeopathy does not work and has never been demonstrated to work. I’ve covered all this before, it is basically a cure that contains exactly no active ingredients …

Perhaps I should dilute this posting down again and again until none of the original words are left and thus produce a very powerful homeopathic article.


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One thought on “Is belief in Homeopathy a moral test?

  • Chrispy

    Oh man Dave nobody would like a purely critical thinking world. Imagine a world where we could never convert probabilistic thinking into definite conclusions!

    We would add 2 and 2 and see 4, repeat that experiment 9 Billion times, see 4, but never be able to take it further than 2+2 has astronomically strong odds of being 4.

    Just saying, any conversion of probabilistic thinking into certainty (the base of most knowledge) is at a bare minimum a sliver of belief. Imagine a world where we could not be allowed to do this!