Leithart quoted today from a book titled The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake.
“Modern medicine works very well,” especially “with mechanical aspects of the body, like defective joints, decayed teeth, faulty heart valves and blocked arteries, or infections curable with antibiotics.”
But it has “tunnel vision” since it focuses all its attention to physical and chemical processes and ignores what doesn’t fit. As a result of its “failure to recognize the power of minds” it is weakest “when dealing with the healing effects of beliefs, expectations, social relationships and religious faith.”
Alternative therapies, it is often charged, work by the placebo effect. But that means that the placebo effect is effective, and it’s not effective for any mechanistic reasons. Sheldrake observes, “Placebo responses show that health and sickness are not just a matter of physics and chemistry. They also depend on hopes, meanings and beliefs. Placebo responses are an integral part of healing”.
In college, I went to hear a series of lectures by charismatic/pentecostal leader C. Peter Wagner. He spoke mostly on the topic of divine healing and he had something to say that was fairly jarring to many in attendance. He said that he believed that in his opinion, probably at least half of all “healings” that occur in charismatic religious gathers are in fact, placebo. That is, they are not something mechanical, but rather “all in your head”. But, he was quick to add – does that make them any less real?
To someone living by the dehumanizing creed of modernism, the answer to that question is, “Of course not! They’re still diseased!” But are they? If their pain is gone, then what’s the problem? Perhaps it was never so mechanical to begin with. That’s why the MRI found nothing substantial but the patient went away in agony.
General physicians who have had to deal with the legion of people pejoratively called hypochondriacs out there know that a lot of the suffering going on around us really is in our heads, or at least not perceivable by outsiders. Chiropractors have to constantly defend the legitimacy of their practice since their results are difficult to quantify. A lot of scientists think chronic fatigue syndrome is essentially “fake”. Well, fake by whose definition? To the person trapped in bed every other day, the fact their blood test comes back clean from the lab every time does nothing to light a fire under them.
I don’t necessary recommend you look to Harry Potter as a source for much philosophy, but sometimes Dumbledore is a pretty wise fellow.
“Tell me one last thing”, said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Many of the folks in the room where Wagner was speaking that day were incredulous. They were not ready to admit that God didn’t “really” heal people half the time. Didn’t that give their atheistic and cessationist critics too much credit? I think they were still stuck thinking like modernists. They were giving science too much credit and trying to get everything to fit into a materialistic post-enlightenment mold. I remember being pretty confused myself at the time. These quotes from Sheldrake just now brought this all back to mind.
I’m really a big fan of modern medicine. My father was a doctor after all and I considered the career myself on several occasions. Only tomorrow afternoon I’m traveling to the big city and entrusting my youngest daughter to the hands of a surgeon. But I think we need to start our research and understanding right up front by acknowledging our limitations. Everything is not always going to fit into our model. We are but children playing with fancy toys.