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Allopathic vs. Alternative Medicine?

In 2004 (the latest year that data are available), Americans spent $1.9 trillion or $6280 per person on medical care which comprised 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Surely, such spending must be addressed by Christians who strive to develop, promote, and implement a thoroughly Biblical worldview. This percentage far exceeds the tithe and is spent on a physical body that is decaying until it dies. But, as in any other sphere of study, how is truth determined? In America, there are two competing systems: allopathic and alternative medicine.

“Allopathic” refers to medicine, as it is practiced by most American, licensed physicians, according to standards in medical journals and textbooks. “Alternative” refers to practices that fall outside of these “standards.” Even so, there is a great deal of overlap by allopathic physicians who use varying degrees of alternative methods. Also, most allopathic physicians depart from these standards in ways that they personally believe to be better. And, some alternative practitioners use some standard allopathic treatments for the same reason. In emergency situations, virtually everyone goes to allopathic emergency rooms.

So, there is great deal of overlap. Further, there is such a huge variety of practice within the particular areas of both allopathic and alternative medicine that many practitioners would not agree with other! Nevertheless, each is sufficiently well defined to stand in opposition to the other in theory and practice.

Many Caveats

Surely, Biblical Christians in worldview have their work cut out for them: Arminian vs. Reformed theology, three basic forms of millennialism with several subdivisions, several modes of baptism, home school vs. Christian school, theonomy vs. pluralism, and on and on. Here, we address allopathic and alternative medicine, issues that are as highly emotional for some Christians, as any named here.

But, brothers and sisters in Christ, what hope is there for us to influence the world, if we cannot take God’s Word, the only truth available to man, along with Jesus Christ’s mandate to love one another on the level that the world may judge us (John 17:21) and agree to the extent that we glorify God, enjoy each other, and bring good to ourselves and the world, as we advance the Cultural Mandate? Indeed, with the right attitude it can be fun. We argue from the unity of the Word and the Spirit!

My criticisms of allopathic medicine started almost 30 years ago and have been extensive. Apart from the obvious ethical problems of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, I have stood against the anti-Biblical systems of psychology and psychiatry, the poorly understood and applied limitations of its “science,” the error of having medicine under the control of the state (including paying for the medical costs of others through Medicare and Medicaid), the harm and deaths that can be attributed directly and indirectly to its errors, and dozens of other wrongs. I do not belong to the American Medical Association or the American Academy of Family Physicians (my own area of specialty) because of the above reasons. And, I have seen little, if any such criticism, from the Christian Medical and Dental Society, The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, the Christian Medical Foundation, The Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Association, and other major Christian organizations involved in medical ethics.

So, any challenge that I am protecting the establishment will not stand in face of all that I have said against allopathic medicine. I am willing to be challenged on any of its diagnostic methods, medications or treatment. Are proponents of alternative medicine willing to take that position?

Alternative Medicine Has Its Problems

Actually, I have not written that much against alternative medicine. But, the few times that I have, I have received letters of vigorous protest and cancellation of subscriptions. I have even received letters accusing me of not being a Christian because I did not agree with some particular treatment. In one instance, years of cooperative work was dramatically cut off because debate with alternative positions was not allowed.

Meanwhile, great claims appear in Christian publications and elsewhere about the wonders of a variety of alternative medicines and treatments, including colloidal silver, colonic irrigation, vitamins and minerals, magnets, quartz crystals, garlic cloves, homeopathy, orthomolecular psychiatry, and chelation therapy, to name a few.

Interestingly, this defense and promotion of alternative approaches extends across the entire Christian theological perspective from the thoroughly Reformed deconstructionists to the more moderately Reformed to the broad category of evangelicals to Pentecostals and primitive fundamentalists!

Agreement on Some Starting Points?

1) The Bible is our only source of truth. Now, the argument for that position is long and arduous. But, likely, it is acceptable to readers here. However, they may not have wrestled with what is and is not “truth” in science (apart from evolution). For example, basic to any medical approach is whether a patient is a Christian or not. There is literally a world of difference in resources, attitude, and behavior of Christians and pagans. Yet, this simple, but profound, difference is rarely discussed by those in either allopathic or alternative medicine.

2) The state has no role in either the licensing of medicine, the regulation of medical insurance (including mandating that employers provide medical insurance to its employees), and the direct payment of medical care through Medicare and Medicaid. (Medicaid is now the largest item in many state budgets.) Alternative medicine should welcome this principle, since it could compete without the subsidization of government to allopathic medicine.

3) Acceptance or rejection of the whole or individual practices of either allopathic or alternative medicine can never be a basis of Christian fellowship. Cancellation of subscriptions, refusal to discuss or debate, incessant arguing, and narrow-minded limitation of subject matter are all demonstrations of fellowship being based upon something other than the Word of God. I have no problem with everyone directing their lives within the great freedoms of God’s Word, but our unity greatly transcends the trivialities of what is and is not acceptable medical practice.

4) A “science,” or reliable certainty, of the human body exists. Apart from any therapies or constructs of diagnoses, allopathic medicine has greatly advanced in the understanding of the human body. From extensive biochemical analysis to positive emission topography (PET scans) to the Human Genome Project, incredible knowledge of our physical selves has been formulated. To ignore this understanding in any theory of disease or treatment is tenuous at best, and obstinately blind, at worst.

5) Alternative medicine will have to develop a scientific approach to its efficacy. There have been a few studies by alternative medicine, but generally its practitioners refuse to believe that their particular products need any sort of study. Their efficacy is assumed or exists purely on the basis of testimonials, a notoriously slippery basis that arrogantly ignores the fickleness of human nature. Christians in the vanguard of Biblical worldview rightly champion that modern science is based in the orderly design of the universe by a Creator. Alternative medicine will have to embrace this historical and philosophical basis to justify its diagnoses and treatments.

Certainly, the justification of any diagnostic or treatment modality is difficult. While studies of plant and animal life are mostly fixed subjects, man is much more complex with both body and living soul, capable of many individual decisions and powerful emotions. On this basis, even allopathic medicine has little to show that is truly efficacious, yet the practice of medicine is little more than a random shot in the dark without some basis and attempt at science.

Conclusions

This subject is so broad that I have only been able to hit a few high spots in this ongoing discussion and debate. I invite readers to do a site search at our medical ethics website on the subject of alternative medicine. As for allopathic practitioners, I think that we have given alternative medicine a reasonable hearing.

Brothers and sisters, as we seek to further the Creation Mandate, let us do so in the love and unity of Christ, but with the full application of the tools of exegesis and sound reasoning that should be characteristic of Christ’s people. Then, the answer to the question posed as the title of this paper, is that neither involve truth, but both are fertile ground for a practical application of God’s work on earth.

Endnotes

1. Actually, in most formal literature, “health care” is the term used. But, “medical care” is far more accurate. There is little spent that under this label that would be truly promote “health.”

2. Supposedly, “allopathic” was coined by a central figure in homeopathy (see below), Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843). “Allo-” means against, that is, treatments are used that are “against” or opposite to the disease process being treated. By contrast, “homeo-” means same. While allopathic too narrowly defines modern medicine, the term has become commonly accepted to refer to medicine, as I have defined it above.

3. Francis Schaeffer called us to this visible demonstration in “The Mark of the Christian,” Appendix II in his book, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century.

4. Homeopathy is a large segment of alternative medical practice. It is a theory to counteract disease processes with the same (“homeo”) cause of the disease, but in greatly diluted amounts. For example, since onions cause symptoms similar to colds, the a homeopathic remedy is made from onions to treat certain symptoms of colds.

5. In my work on the relationship of faith and truth, I have coined terms such as facts, pragmatic truth, validity of knowledge, and reliability to distinguish that which is truth (Biblical knowledge) and that which “works” practically. For example, the physics of the law of gravity is not “true” in the sense that its pure form exists anywhere in the universe, but it is sufficiently consistent and reliable to plan the paths of objects for space travel. The issue of truth vs. other forms of knowledge is a needed work for Christians of all fields.


 

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