Friday, 15 May 2009

Where Magic and Miracles and Method Meet

It has been long known in science that acupuncture is just bunk, to use the technical term. We know this, because we have found no evidence that it is true, that it works. And in science, something is true only when it has been experimentally proven to be true. We might feel that it works, but until it is proven through the scientific method, we do not accept it as true. Thus scientists tend to look at belief in acupuncture as the same level as denial of Global Warming or evolution, or acceptance of alchemy.

A recent study found that acupuncture works better than normal medical practices for curing back pain. There have been a few studies that have indicated this in the past, but they have been largely discounted, due to errors like exceedingly small sample size. What was intriguing about this study is that it found that acupuncture works better than standard medical practice- and so did simulated acupuncture. People reportedly felt better about their backs to a statistically significant degree, whether or not the needle was put in at "acupuncture points" or randomly on the body, and whether or not a needle was used in the prescribed manner, or merely a toothpick. The conclusion is that acupuncture works through a placebo effect, or else simply pricking areas of the body is all that is needed for the alleviating of pain.

This is not to deny that there is a spiritual world out there, outside the realm of science. It may well be that acupuncture works because people put their faith in it. It may work in the same way that magic does. But that's where it gets dangerous.

The problem with acupuncture is the theory that is proposed behind it- energy fields. They might work just fine in Star Wars, but they have no place in science, because there has never been any established evidence for them. They can't be studied, or even identified. And so for science, they don't exist.

But as the Great One, Stephen Jay Gould, pointed out, there is NOMA- Non-Overlapping MAgisterium. Science and Religion both have their place, but they are different places. Now, Gould limited NOMA too much to merely the ethical realm, denying any possibility of the miraculous. If we accept the miraculous, then acupuncture can very well be effective, on the magical or miraculous level. And this is where it gets dangerous.

Science is real. It measures real physical effects. But - and I know some will be horrified to see me write this - so is magic, and so is the miraculous. And the latter two are different from each other.

Magic is believed in, and some would argue it effective merely because of that. If you believe in something enough, then through psychosomatic effect, it works. And that is probably true some of the time. But I have had too many experiences, read of too many, heard of too many by those I trust, to deny it's power. The same is true of the miraculous. But magic is something where we attempt to control reality through supernatural means. For the miraculous, there is never an attempt to control. It is an asking, from a "higher power", for assistance. It is the higher power that is in control, not us.

Of course, this rightfully indicates that the line between magic and the miraculous can often get blurry. There are many times when we approach God, asking for a miracle, with a demand, expecting him to come through. Or we try to manipulate him, by doing certain actions, saying certain words, speaking for long enough, going through the right motions, in order for him to come through. It is good to expect things from God, for this is faith. But our faith needs to be that which trusts that God will be there for us- not that God must work in a particular way. For when we believe that, or try to do certain actions or say certain words, we've stepped into magic.

Thus we can see that science and magic are similar. Both are attempts to control our reality. But science, I would argue, is a legitimate attempt. It is the understanding that we can change reality because of our experience in the physical; it is using physical means to change physical reality. I drop the ball and expect it to hit the ground because of my experiences with gravity, or because of experiments, but I know it will do so not because of any kind of supernatural intervention, by me or a god.

And this is the problem with acupuncture. Currently, as it stands, there is no scientific support for it. It is not changing reality through physical means. Is it then miraculous, or magical? The practitioner or patient rarely go in asking for God's help in the matter. But even if they do, as some do when they go in for radiation therapy or surgery, asking for God to miraculously be involved at the same time as modern science and medicine are operating, they are relying in part on this other thing. The woman who asks God to heal her of Swine Flu while taking antibiotics is trusting both God and the drugs; the man who asks God to heal him through acupuncture is trusting both God, and the needle. Since there is no physical proof for the efficacy of acupuncture, we are forced to conclude that it is a supernatural method to achieve material results. It is precise actions to bring a change. It is not science, nor miraculous- it is magic. It is an attempt to control our reality through supernatural means.

And while magic may be appropriate for some, it is never appropriate for the Christian, precisely because it is an attempt to control reality, rather than letting God control. It is warned against repeatedly, in the Old and New Testaments. It is the original sin of Babel. It is the belief that we can be God, that we can reach God on our own merits, through our own actions- that we can be the gods ourselves, and in control of all the Heavenly Realms.

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