I am now officially sick of homeopathy.

We visited the pharmacy recently to purchase some colic medicine for the new little bundle of joy. Renette went to the lady positioned behind the prescriptions counter — the one wearing the white coat that usually indicates someone who’s endured an obscenely long period of rigorous study — and asked her advice about a certain brand. The woman looked distrustfully at the bottle in question, and advocated instead the homeopathic option. Renette then asked what the active ingredient in the mixture is, or why in general it is preferable. The woman responded:

“This one [the homeopathic mixture] is natural. That one is medicine.”

Now I can only assume that this person was a serial killer and, having just brutally dispatched the real doctor, now took on her victim’s identity. But this represents a common perspective, and a huge victory for what a friend of mine calls ‘the march of unreason’.

Before there existed what she sneeringly referred to as ‘medicine’, homeopaths ruled doctoring. Seeing as people had no idea whether or why certain ‘cures’ worked, there was no way of testing or improving upon ‘received wisdom’. And so in the early days, to release the evil spirits that were causing your migraines, you had a hole delicately drilled into your skull (presumably causing a different kind of headache). In more enlightened times, you might have been subjected to leeches or blood-letting, or, more mercifully, a good dose of fish oil.

Now, science has been able to study, test and isolate what works as a cure for certain problems (and what doesn’t), as well as to concentrate it and synthesise it. As a direct result, human life expectancy in countries where medicine is practiced is at an unprecedented high. We have surgery that works and that is painless. And, importantly, we have colic medicine that is backed up by research (even if your baby still screams nearly as often, and the research tells us that it causes paralysis in rare cases).

But now, scaremongers have somehow convinced us that science is evil (a recent Dove soap ad says, ‘”Who would rather believe, a scientist in a white coat, or real women?”), and that the wonders of nature can be harnessed for your eternal wellness. How do we know that weaselroot is good for toothache? Are you sure that there are no side-effects to Red-knob Devil-thorn, simply because they’re not catalogued on a paper insert? Let’s look at some of the things that are also ‘natural’:

  • Marijuana
  • Opium
  • Black Mambas
  • Poison Ivy
  • Oleander, Hemlock, Snakeroot and countless other deadly plants.

And so it goes on. Nature is not always so friendly. Eating almost anything will get you vomiting. While you’re busy vomiting, almost everything else will eat you. If homeopathy can’t demonstrate its value rationally and experimentally, then we might as well go back to drilling holes in our heads. Please can I have the medicine?

Think McCain? Think Again.

A friend of mine quipped that if the American president rules the world, why is it left up to the Americans to decide who that will be? The laughable basis for the recent success of the McCain–Palin campaign suggests that the average US citizen might not be taking that responsibility seriously enough.

McCain’s advertising campaigns have attacked Obama on the grounds that he is popular with celebrities, and that he might be the antichrist. Strangely, Paris Hilton seems to be one of the few who recognised the absurdity of the former, and stranger still, my fellow conservative Christians have allegedly believed the latter. “The TV said it, so I’m voting for God’s man, not Obama the devil”. Perhaps the series can be wrapped up with an ad suggesting that the similarity between the names Obama and Osama is not a coincidence, and that the Al Qaida leader has now shaved and become the Democratic candidate. Voters have taken the first ads seriously, so why not?

Now that ‘surprise’ running mate Palin has come on board, all sorts of further irrelevancies are drumming up more support from swing voters. Firstly, Palin was clearly chosen to offset the criticisms of McCain that he is too old and too white-and-male for the American public so eager for a change. Now it seems that Palin’s embattled motherhood is finding an audience with soccer moms all over the states. What motherly pride swells in the collective national bosom at the thought of her son and yours departing for Iraq! What self-sacrifice, what patriotism! Oh wait. Who started that war again?

What should concern American women even more is that the best token female that the Republican Party could find is a small-town mayor from Alaska. Is it really worth giving the feminist vote to a party that is interested in [token] women in the first place (as opposed to the real thing like Hilary), and which seems so short on qualified female leadership?

Secondly, Palin and McCain have been playing up the Vietnam vet issue ad nauseam. So let me see if I understand this. An unfortunate victim of the US of A’s most unnecessary, unpopular war is using this fact to encourage voters to persist with the party responsible for their current unnecessary, unpopular war?

Palin’s recent crowd-pleasing speech played on ‘unsettled times’, and the need for a government who can fight for the American people. But only one candidate has actually fought for the country, she says, and so vote for the military man. Well, let’s think about that for a minute. Firstly, it’s not the foot soldiers who make the tactical decisions, it’s the politicians. So, in a tight spot, do you want a tactful, intelligent and charismatic statesman like Obama, or do you want the decisions made by a soldier who was captured by the enemy in a war that the USA lost?

But all of that is far less important that the biggest problem with Palin & McCain’s line of strategy. Where is all this instability that they’re talking about? Well, one serious conflict that comes to mind is an unprovoked invasion of foreign soil by Republican America, motivated by blatant lies about nuclear weapons, and seemingly to secure oil that doesn’t belong to them. In fact how many sparks of conflict over the years have been fanned into flame and fuelled by American money, weapons and national interest? Maybe the best approach to avoiding ‘uncertain times’ and international grudges is not to vote for the guy who promises that he likes fighting, but rather to vote for the guy who is best at avoiding fights and focussing on improving things.

Further Dawkinsian Arguments 1

Dawkins’ argument against Pascal’s Wager includes a couple more interesting objections that are worth dealing with on their own.

What’s so hard about belief?
People often criticise Pascal’s Wager with the complaint that he only allows for belief in God or disbelief, whereas I am perfectly capable of believing, for example, that Arsenal will win the premiership, or believing that they won’t, or choosing not to hold any belief on the matter at all. Why must we hold an opinion when it comes to belief in God?

Dawkins adds a different complaint, but one that has much the same answer:

“But why in any case do we so readily accept the idea that the one thing that you must do if you want to please God is believe in him? What’s so special about believing? Isn’t it just as likely that God would reward kindness, or generosity, or humility?” (The God Delusion, pg 131)

This is a good question. What is so special about belief? Continue reading

Further Dawkinsian Arguments 2

Dawkins’ argument against Pascal’s Wager includes a couple more interesting objections that are worth dealing with on their own.

What if we wager on the wrong God?
Dawkins also criticises Pascal’s Wager because it assumes one knows which God will be waiting for believers when we get there. What if we wager on the Holy Trinity, but God ends up being Baal or any nasty member of someone else’s pantheon?

The best way for me to answer this question is to present reasons why I consider Biblical Christianity to be unique among all other religions and by far the most likely to be genuine. Continue reading