Nowadays, the use of homeopathic cures is getting prominence (Derksen 330). People are turning to alternative cures arguing that they are more effective than mainstream science drugs. Proponents of homeopathic drugs believe that these medicines can provide natural remedies to all kinds of diseases and discomforts (Bunge 170). A recent case involved a daughter who took a smelly concoction to her bedridden diabetic father in hospital. The concoction was black in color and smelled like human waste! The daughter said that a local preacher had asked her to give the concoction to his father for a miracle healing, as the hospital drugs had failed. The daughter believed that the concoction had the power to cure the father. No amount of pleading from the hospital staff could change her mind. Worse still, the father had lost consciousness and was, thus, unable to express his opinion. Apparently, the daughter was the next of kin to the patient and she vehemently argued that she was within the law to choose what was best for her father. It took the involvement of the hospital security to restrict the daughter from administering the concoction to the father.
From the hospital commotion above, it is clear that the daughter held a pseudo-scientific claim that homeopathic drugs are more effective than mainstream science drugs. The daughter’s main argument was that the local preacher could not lie to her. In addition, she claimed that a friend of hers had been cured of a mysterious disease by the concoction. The daughter widely quoted religious texts, including the Bible, Talmud and Qur’an, on the importance of faith. She kept on admonishing the nurses that “a little faith can move mountains” and that “what has been hidden from the wise and prudent has been revealed to the weak and suckling”. The daughter did not allow any questions and was adamant with her decision.
I refute the claim of proponents of homeopathy by claiming that homeopathic drugs are inferior to mainstream science drugs. This is because, while main stream science drugs are based on well-known scientific processes, homeopathy is based on irrational arguments and beliefs (Hansson, “Falsificationism Falsified” 284). The practice of homeopathy is based on many fallacies of which scrutiny would unmask. Let us look at the fallacies guiding proponents of homeopathy and, in addition, prove that mainstream science drugs are indeed superior.
The first fallacy that we will look at is argumentum ad-hominem. Sometimes it is referred to as argument against the person or it shoots the messenger fallacy. Here, arguments are directed against the individual passing the message instead of being based on the facts being discussed. The person invoking this fallacy will, for example, cite the unbecoming behavior of the messenger instead of focusing on what the message is all about. In the practice of homeopathy, it is common to hear that individuals questioning the practice are “unbelievers”. Like in the case of the daughter and the sick father above, the daughter invoked argumentum ad-hominem by insinuating that the hospital staff, being unbelievers, could not understand the powers behind homeopathy. The daughter did this by frequently quoting religious verses to disapprove the authority of the hospital staff. Instead of focusing on questions tabled concerning the miraculous concoction, the daughter went on a spree of admonishing the hospital staff on the importance of faith. This practice is against scientific principles. Science is based on objective analysis and criticism. Science does not bring subjectivity in its analysis (Hansson, “Values in Science” 260). Better still; the same scientific principles guide the manufacture and administration of mainstream science drugs.
Another fallacy used by proponents of homeopathy is the appeal to probability. This is the assumption that because something could happen, it will surely happen (Kuipers 520). This argument is based on presuppositions that are without proof. Science demands that something is verifiable, observable and measurable (Bowler 128). Suppositions have no room in science. In case of homeopathy, proponents most of the time use this fallacy. For instance, in the example of the daughter and the sick dad above, the daughter quotes a religious verse that “a little faith can move mountains”. The question is whether faith has ever moved mountains. Yet the daughter intends that the hospital staff believes this figurative language and, as a result, allows her to administer the homeopathic drug. This is fallacious for, it does not mean that if homeopathic drugs can heal, it is inevitable that they will heal the sick father. Science demands evidence, something that its drugs guarantee.
In addition, proponents of homeopathy commit the base rate fallacy. This involves making probability judgments based on conditional probabilities, while not taking into account effect of prior probabilities (Bowler 128). For instance, proponents may cite the success of the drug in other people without taking into account what the people were suffering from, or what other drugs had been taken. In the case above, the daughter affirms the genuineness of the homeopathic drug by referring to her friend who had used the drug. This is problematic, for the disease of the friend is not known, the dosage taken is not known, and also the history of other drugs taken is not documented. As a result, the claim that the concoction can heal the diabetic drug is faulty, and it cannot be approved in science. Science demands that all possible variables are taken into account before a conclusion is reached. In case of mainstream science drugs, there is a documented explanation of how a drug works not mere probabilities.
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Let us now move to argumentum ad ignoratiam. This refers to an argument from ignorance. What this means is that a claim is true as it has never been proven false (the opposite of this statement is also true). Homeopaths may argue that science has failed to disprove the paranormal. As a result, this failure is itself proof for the presence of paranormal phenomena (Shermer 20). On the same note, proponents of homeopathy may argue that homeopathic drugs work, for nobody has proved that they do not. For instance, the daughter who is being restrained from giving a homeopathic drug to her father may argue that the preacher who issued the drug has never lied. She may also argue that there is no documented harm of the purported drug. This argument is fallacious for, it is blind to the possibility of future developments. The argument also evades the actual question on the table by directing focus elsewhere. Science is dynamic and open (Derksen 335). This means that objectivity is always in mind and that arguments should be based on the facts and not the unknown. Mainstream science drugs are products of the same scientific endeavor.
The other fallacy that proponents of homeopathy commit is argumentum ad populum. This simply means an appeal to belief, to the majority, or to the people (Bunge 179). Here, the proponent has no facts based on the topic and scrutiny but relies on the idea that everybody supports it. This is where an argument is seen to be true because many people out there take it to be so. The fact that many people are turning to homeopathy is not proved enough that homeopathic drugs work. Science is not democratic (Kuipers 560). It depends on empiricism to prove its claim. The decision that a scientific drug works is not dependent on the number of people taking the drug, but on the actual laboratory analysis of the drug. If the daughter, in the case above, insists that the homeopathic drug will work in her father’s situation as it has worked in many of her friends, she will be committing argumentum ad populum.
Proponents of homeopathy also depend on appeal to emotion. This involves painting an emotive picture to the audience in order to win their support (Hansson, “Values in Science” 260). Appealing to emotion redirects the focus of an argument from objectivity to subjectivity. In this case, the opponents are made to empathize with the proposer, rather than to view issues as they are. Proponents of homeopathy may remind the audience that they care for the patient, they are working in the best interest of the patient, they may cry, they may pray, all in an effort to win the audience. The daughter with the sick dad may remind the nurses that she is the de facto next of kin and that she wants the best for the dad. She may also appeal to fear by reminding the hospital staff of the imminent death of the father. She may present the hospital staff with the argument that, though she appreciates what they have done, it is now her time to contribute. The daughter may invoke argumentum ad misericordiam, which refers to appealing to pity. Here, she may remind all that she is the only daughter of the sick father and that God will not forgive her if she lets the father die. These tendencies are unheard of in science. As it has already been noted, science demands objectivity. The scientists in the laboratory coming up with drugs do not depend on any emotional attachment to a drug or a patient. They spend long periods of time thinking, comprehending, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the processes involved in coming up with drugs.
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Pseudo scientists, for instance, the proponents of homeopathy, are common users of the red-herring fallacy. This fallacy is the habit of evading an issue via diversion. When the unfounded and illogical ideas of proponents of homeopathy are called into question, they tend to get offended. The offenders then may have to apologize to the proponent. However, this diversion of the issue does not, in any way, mean that the position of the person being offended is true. The same habit can be taken to show the fallacy of irrelevant objection. In this case, the totally irrelevant position of being offended is taken as a position against the argument. Saying “I am offended” is a form of cognitive defense mechanism which favors the belief position of the proponent (Shermer 25). If scientists prove that a homeopathic drug only induces a placebo effect on a patient, the proponent of practice may become offended by such a discovery. Take, for instance, Tanzania in Africa. There came a preacher, Mbilikile Mwasapile, who claimed that God had revealed a herb to him which could heal all kinds of diseases, including HIV/AIDS, Diabetes and Tuberculosis. There were conditions though the patient was supposed to have faith, and the herb was only to be administered by the said preacher (Bowler 128). Scientists took samples of the herb, and it was discovered that it was merely a placebo. This was not taken lightly by the thousands who had queued for the miraculous herb. They warned the government to respect their freedom of conscience. The government decided to let the believers alone. Such tendencies are hardly seen in science as it is detached from emotions and beliefs. Science welcomes criticism without taking offense whatsoever.
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The final fallacy that we will look at is the association fallacy. In this fallacy, a person may argue that because two things share the same property, they are the same (Bunge 170). For instance, proponents of homeopathy may argue that homeopathic drugs are not different from mainstream science drugs as they are both aimed at healing the sick. This argument does not consider the many differences in the said substances. For instance, whereas mainstream science drugs have been tested and proved, homeopathic drugs have not undergone such scrutiny. In addition, whereas the chemical composition of mainstream science drugs is known, the composition of homeopathic drugs remains a mystery. Whereas mainstream drugs can be replicated in other laboratories, no such thing can be guaranteed with homeopathic drugs. As a result, claiming that homeopathic drugs serve the same purpose as mainstream science drugs is irrational and unfounded. The claim cannot be used to justify the practice of homeopathy.
The practice of homeopathy is without any scientific backing. It is based on presumptions and half-truths that the proponents hold. This is dangerous, given the large number of people that are turning to alternative medicine. Homeopathic drugs may not only be inefficient, but also poisonous. As a result, science should be divorced from beliefs and faiths. Any claim should come with objectivity and evidence. On the same note, governments should enact laws inhibiting the practice of homeopathy. The community should also be informed of the dangers posed by homeopathic drugs. Practitioners of homeopathy should be licensed and their drugs screened in mainstream science laboratories. These efforts will go a long way in curbing the practice of homeopathy, and redirecting people to mainstream science drug. In the case of drugs, the world should move from the unknown to known.