Science Vs. Faith?

By Robert Braile, D.C.

There has been a running argument in our profession concerning science and faith. Some say that we are a science and that we do not need a philosophy and that to place “faith” in innate intelligence turns us into a pseudo religion and removes all credibility our profession has in the world of science. This issue deserves closer scrutiny as there are more accusations here then reality. In fact, I will maintain here that medicine is more of a faith based practice than is chiropractic. But when I say this, I do not mean religion.

Let us begin by asking a question. What is the strongest thing you have faith in? Most people’s first answer is something related to God, family or country. In fact, I would suggest that people might say they would be willing to give up their life for one of these if they felt it necessary. The concepts of God, family and country elicit such a strong response that over the centuries armies have evoked these as a mantra in order to get armies to do battle when the chances for survival by the participants were not very good.

Now ask yourself, what other areas of faith would you be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for? How about your laundry? I cannot remember any time in history when an army marched into battle for the concept of clean laundry. In fact, very few concepts other than God, family and country can evoke the strong feelings that motivate us into a resolve that is stronger than our survival.

However, I am going to suggest that there is one thing that we, as a society, believes in so strongly, that many of us will eventually sacrifice our lives for. That one thing is science. Now I know we have never heard of a war being fought for science. We have also never heard anyone say, “Give me science, or give me death!” But the fact is that this seemingly, unexciting concept of science is one of the strongest areas of faith many people possess.

Consider the following. When most people get seriously sick, they seek out some form of “medical science” and feel comforted in the idea of receiving some form of treatment. Most people will take their medication and feel that they are doing the right thing for their health. My question is, Why? Why do you feel comforted? Most people with heart problems feel comforted that they are regularly taking their heart medication. In fact, they would consider it dangerous to do otherwise. So again I ask, why?

I would venture to say that almost all people taking medications have never read the scientific research that was done on that medication. And it would be easy to assume that none of them ever performed the research that was done on the medication they are taking.

This means that that almost everyone who takes medication does so, on faith. They have faith that there is science behind their medication. Faith that the researchers did not let anything interfere with the research results, faith that there was any research linking the medications they are taking to the condition they have, and faith that their doctor read the research and understands how that drug affects their health situation. In fact, there is a whole lot of faith involved in the process of taking any medication.

I bring this up to make the point that the practice of medicine has always touted itself as a science and not a faith. Yet most of the consuming public utilizes this so-called science, purely on faith. This would be all well and good if there was nothing to question and our “faith” was well placed. But, honestly, there is much to question.

The facts are daunting. According to the October 8, 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), nationwide, injuries due to medical error in hospitals result in about 2.4 million extra days in the hospital and $9.3 billion in extra charges for longer stays and more care. That same study also noted that more than 32,000 Americans die each year from these errors. Additionally, the November 11, 1999 issue of USA Today reported on a study by the Institute of Medicine that showed that medical mistakes kill anywhere between 44,000 and 98,000 hospitalized Americans each year.

With this and many other indicators showing that medical care is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the US, one might start to question this Faith concept. I, for one, think this would be a good thing.

Medicine is either a faith or it is a science. If it is a faith, then we can go along just as we have and have the mass numbers of unfortunate effects. If we decide that medicine is to be a science, we need to hold it up to a true scientific standard.

I am suggesting, that in reality, consumers are making their health care decisions based on faith. I’m not suggesting that these decisions are religious, but they are based on some form of faith. Although we as a profession must continue to hold ourselves up to a increasing standard of scientific scrutiny, we can not ignore that consumers do not work on this level, especially when it comes to implementing the practice of medicine.

All health care should be based on its real effect on the quality of people’s lives. Remember, science is never definitive. Science itself always raises more questions. If that were not so, we would never have to do another scientific study again. So is chiropractic a faith based profession? No more, and probably less, then medicine.