Evidence, bio-energetic fields and alternative medicine

I recently came across a very interesting article on so-called bio-energetic fields by Victor J Stenger.

The article looks at many of the claims made for energy fields, and in particular the idea that these claims are now justified by references to scientific theories such as “Einstein’s theory of quantum mechanics” (sic!). The writer mentions a number of phenomena that are cited as evidence for bio-energy, and comments:

“Once again, like the infrared aura, we have a well-known electromagnetic phenomenon [Kirlian photography] being paraded in front of innocent lay people, unfamiliar with basic physics, as “evidence” for a living force. It is nothing of the sort. Proponents of alternative medicine would have far fewer critics among conventional scientists if they did not resort to this kind of dishonesty and foolishness.”

I must admit that the idea of biological energy is an attractive one. Who would not be drawn to the idea of being able to influence and gain insight into your surroundings, and so becoming able to heal people and understand them better? But the more I look into it the more I recoil.

It’s one thing to have an open mind, and look at the evidence available, but so much of this new age and alternative medicine stuff is incredibly uncritical and undiscriminating, and looks only at the evidence on one side of the story. It is almost certainly true that there are weird phenomena which science hasn’t yet explained – but it absolutely does not follow that all weird phenomena which don’t have a scientific explanation are true!

It alarms and astonishes me just how many of the arguments put forward show lack of critical scrutiny of evidence – often amounting to a real disregard for the truth. I’m particuarly concerned to see no serious consideration of the possibility that energy reading/healing may be wrong (e.g. biased by your expectations or prejudices) or have limitations or ill-effects.

There are some positive dimensions to alternative medicine, particularly the real medical benefits of having the time to discuss all sorts of aspects of your life in a consultation, and feeling that you have been taken seriously as an individual with unique and interesting problems. And some forms of therapy, like acupuncture and herbal medicine seem to have effects beyond placebo.

So it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But the more I look into this stuff, I seem to find more bathwater and fewer & more elusive babies!

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3 responses to “Evidence, bio-energetic fields and alternative medicine

  1. Pingback: A naturalistic spirituality « Words that sing

  2. Pingback: Evidence and expectations « Words that sing

  3. Pingback: Reliable signposts for personal growth « Words that sing

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