“Modern medicine works very well,” says Rupert Sheldrake ( The Science Delusion , 260-1), 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.”

The political and economic effects are huge: “in most countries, government funding for medical research, totally many billions of dollars, is exclusively confined to mechanistic medicine. Most national health services and medical insurance companies are equally mechanistic in their approach.”

Mechanistic medicine has itself provided evidence in support of Sheldrake’s thesis. 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” (274).

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Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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