Monday, March 12, 2007

XTC vs Adam Ant

Richard Feynman, ‘The Feynman Lectures on Physics’:

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and
only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement
would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the
atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all
things are made of atoms- little particles that move around in perpetual motion,
attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon
being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an
enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and
thinking are applied.

It is this fundamental principle of science that is assaulted by homeopathy. Homeopathy claims that you can dilute a substance to such an extent that there are no molecules of that substance left in the solution, and the dilution will be a pharmacologically-active product. (The homeopaths have attempted to avoid assaulting the atomic hypothesis head on by postulating ‘molecular memory’. It is true that when something is dissolved in water, for instance, it imposes structure on the water, but there is no reason for this imposed structure to remain. Remember, water molecules are in perpetual motion. Weak bonds between water molecules are continuously being formed and unformed, and only interactions that require much more energy than the thermal background energy to break will remain for any length of time. The order imposed by the presence of a solute involves energies of much lower energy than background thermal energy.) Essentially, however, homeopathy is incompatible with the atomic hypothesis.

Intelligent design postulates one or more momentary suspensions of the scientific laws we know at some indeterminate time in the past. It does not claim that those laws are false. Homeopathy requires the fundamental principle of chemistry to be false.

Intelligent design makes postulates about essentially unobservable events with little relevance to daily life. This makes it relatively harmless and excusable. We would still have a functioning technological civilisation if everyone believed in intelligent design. Homeopathy make postulates about events that are easily amenable to experiment and are observed countless times every day, events that are essential to countless processes impacting on everyone’s daily lives. This makes it dangerous and inexcusable. We would not have a functioning technological civilisation if everyone believed in homeopathy.

Intelligent design has never killed anyone. Homeopathic medicine kills people all the time.


RMWB said...

The link in the last line of this post does not work as you left off the http://
It should be:
Perhaps this was a deliberate action, as that article seems to indicate that the negligence of the parents and the medical practitioner regarding the childs peanut allergy were to blame for his death. The child was not killed by homeopathic medicine, as you suggest.

I also wonder how your understanding of the atomic hypothesis would explain such phenomena as quantum entanglement and quantum coherence.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Chris Fellows said...


I am not as tricksy as all that. Sorry to leave off the '//'. I stand by the article as an example of homeopathic medicine killing people by displacing allopathic medicine and leading patients to believe they are okay.

The atomic hypothesis cannot be used to explain quantum entanglement and quantum coherence. These are not phenomena that should be invoked on the macroscopic scale, except occasionally by crackpots. My own feeling is that the mysterious aspects of quantum mechanics lie more in our current poor understanding of the universe than the universe itself. To quote Charles Sanders Peirce, the greatest intellect of the 19th century: “One singular deception of this sort, which often occurs, is to mistake the sensation produced by our own unclearness of thought for a characteristic of the object we are thinking about. Instead of perceiving that the obscurity is purely subjective, we fancy that we contemplate a quality of the object which is essentially mysterious ... so long as this deception lasts, it obviously puts an impassable barrier in the way of perspicuous thinking; so that it equally interests the opponents of rational thought to perpetuate it, and its adherents to guard against it.”