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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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
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