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March 1996, Volume 3 Nr 7, Issue 31

Faith and Fraud
JeanneE Hand-Boniakowski, RN
Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

It is time, in this letter, to honor that which has given us so much inspiration and awe, so much delight and wonder. That is Nature, and as marvelous as our direct experience of the world is, it has been made more wondrous in light of the layers of knowledge science has added.

This newsletter is a commentary about our love of science and how it has inevitably and invariably expanded our horizons - never limited them. Our most deeply spiritual experiences have sometimes been the humbling and amazed responses to discoveries and proofs of science.

Many people perceive science to be the solution to all our problems (as if that were possible or even desirable). The "failure" of science to be a savior, in combination with a misunderstanding of what science is, has led to pseudosciences which often espouse ridiculous claims.

For example: We randomly picked up a copy of New Age Journal. We found hundreds of ads for products ranging from dowsing rods to lockets that shield the wearer from the "bombardment of other people and electromagnetic pollution - jewelry with a purpose," to Bea Lydecker's "video tape teaching how to talk with your pets using esp." (We don't expect New Age Journal or any magazine to screen all the advertising for truth or ethics, two concepts traditionally considered optional in the ad trade).

Equality of intent suggests that all of the ads are there for the benefit of the reader. Having faith in them may require shelving common sense. One may ignore proven methods of disproof while accepting the outrageous, all under the banner of having "an open mind."

There has been a trend toward "supercredulity." It is part of a misguided notion that to be a world citizen, sensitive to others' beliefs and perceived realities, one must accept all of those beliefs at face value. Skepticism is somehow rude, maybe even undemocratic. Apparently, the polite thing to do is agree.

One of the ads in New Age Journal claims that "a bioenergy generator and balancer", which looks like a plastic automotive high voltage coil with a few wires and electrodes, can reduce strain and stress. One electrode is placed in a pocket or sock and the other somewhere else. "The device doesn't even need a power source as it uses the internal energy of the body to do its work." It sells for $169.00. Why not explain how the product works? What does it actually do? Is there access to documented efficacy?

If we wish to believe that the bioenergy generator works, and purchase one, and find out that we do feel better, we may establish a connection between the two. We may then, based upon our belief, broadcast the virtue of the product to others. We create faith with our perceived correlation. As such, we incorrectly view correlation as causation. Our newly established faith masks a fraud. We need not negate the experience that the purchase and use of the biogenerator was in some way beneficial. Placebo studies clearly show that belief in a process sometimes produces a result. They point out that there is a correlation between belief and result that may have nothing to with either. The same positive effects could have been obtained by placing peas in a bag over the area of stress.

Faith

Faith is a wonderful thing. Too often however, our willingness to embrace a faith in someone or something opens the flood gates for demagogues, quacks, healers, priests, profiteers, even warmongers to take advantage of us. While not all faith is fraud, fraud preys on faith. Fraud relies on the desire of people to want something so much that they suspend clear thinking, wishing it to be so. This is why we believe that it is so important for people to understand the tenets of science and modern scientific thought. To do so does not negate one's belief in anything as long as that belief system is chosen with an acceptance of mystery, a recognition of inherent metaphor. Often, however, faith carries an air of superiority.

With the inherent pitfalls of searching for answers, looking for the truth, wanting to feel better, live longer, be happier, one would think humans would invent a system of thought that is mostly immune from accepting fraud as faith. If one devised such a system, what might the criteria be? How would we satisfy our quest for the truth while at the same time protect ourselves from victimization or exploitation? How do we protect ourselves from well meaning, good people (including ourselves) whose faith in their belief constructs may unintentionally misinform and even harm us? People are, after all, too quick to accept and pay for fraud in the name of faith as long as it makes us feel good.

We believe that humans have developed a system of thought that is mostly immune from accepting fraud as faith, and that it has been in place for at least a few centuries. Like any other system, it has sometimes been abused, used for advantage or ill-will, and has not come up with all the answers. Still, it is the best system we have. That system is science. While some may call "belief" in science yet another faith, science is not about belief, it is about evidence. Given a solid understanding of scientific precepts and methods, we can prove causation with minimal error, while at the same time maintaining our spiritual practice and myths as useful metaphor, without contradiction.

Fraud

There is much intentional fraud in our world that is self-serving. Fraud may exist under the guise of good intent. Often, we support a fraud in the belief that doing so benefits someone. Quackery is fraud. Quackery pretends or professes to cure diseases. Quacks operate under the pretense or belief that they possess medical skills, that they can cure diseases. Some are deliberate charlatans and some are earnest, believing in their methods, however poorly tested. Quackery deludes when it invents explanations without rigorous testing.

Consider the prevalence of so-called alternative remedies, beliefs and practices. Included in these are: homeopathy, acupuncture, faith healing, crystals, psi, conjuring, dowsing, survivalism, biorhythms, astrology, geographical convergence, cult-archaeology, creationism, holistic medicine, etc.

Let us consider homeopathy. German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) is given credit for coming up with homeopathic ideas: "The cardinal principles of homeopathy include that (1) most diseases are caused by an infectious disorder called the psora; (2) life is a spiritual force (vitalism) which directs the body's healing; (3) remedies can be discerned by noting the symptoms that substances produce in overdose (proving), and applying them to conditions with similar symptoms in highly diluted doses (Law of Similia); (4) remedies become more effective with greater dilution (Law of Infinitesimals), and become more dilute when containers are tapped on the heel of the hand or a leather pad (potentizing)."

The more detailed and technical sounding an explanation is, especially when it involves "laws", the easier it is to pass off a pseudoscience as valid. "Highly potentized" solutions are unlikely to harm anyone, being so diluted that it is unlikely even a molecule of the substance would be found in most of the sugar pills (traditional method of dispensing).

The National Council Against Health Fraud has issued a comprehensive statement which recommends that consumers stay away from homeopathy and homeopathic practitioners. "Basic scientists are urged to be proactive in opposing the marketing of homeopathic remedies because of conflicts with known physical laws." We can agree that unknown physical laws exist. We cannot however, invent them nor can we accept the violation of well established physical laws.

It was early on in grade school that Jozef learned that observation leads to correlation but does not prove causation. He learned that a theory is then produced. The theory must be scrutinized from every angle possible, put through intensive testing. One incidence of not living up to theoretical expectation negates the theory, makes it invalid, disproven. Facts cannot be changed to fit a theory. No matter how much we like the theory, no matter how much it "makes sense", or "feels right."

"Scientists do not trust what is intuitively obvious. That the Earth is flat was once obvious...That bloodsucking leeches cure most diseases was once obvious...That there is an absolute standard of rest was once obvious. The truth may be puzzling or counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held beliefs. Experiment is how we get a handle on it."

While the scientific method has not and cannot solve all problems and come up with all answers, it is quite effective in establishing causation. It is in fact the method by which all physical laws have been established. For example, the laws of gravity are without variance. They work precisely each and every time the same way and are mathematically calculable and predictable.

Science as Fraud

A case against science, a suggestion that it too may be fraudulent, comes from Daniel Drasin. He states: "Seeing with humility, curiosity and fresh eyes was once the main point of science. But today it is often a different story. As the scientific enterprise has been bent toward exploitation, institutionalization, hyperspecialization and new orthodoxy, it has increasingly preoccupied itself with disconnected facts in a spiritual, psychological, social and ecological vacuum."

Mr. Drasin is correct in a number of assertions. However, he blames the scientific method rather than villainous practitioners thereof. Because the scientific method exists, that in itself does not shield it from misuse. There are those who knowingly perpetrate scientific fraud as well as those who misunderstand it and unknowingly do so.

Our modern world is filled with much greed. In the quest for scientific advancement, self-gratification and acquisition of stature, some scientists have both knowingly and unknowingly contributed to fraud. A case in point is the cold fusion debacle. Cold fusion was announced as fact. Within days, the celebrated cold fusion experiment and outcome "was duplicated" around the world.

The "affair began in March 1989 when Fleischmann and Pons, two electrochemists working in Utah, announced to the world that they had found a solution to the World's energy problems with no pollution. They said that they could cause fusion of the deuterium in heavy water in a jar, giving abundant power which was cheap and non-polluting." The announcement caught the world by surprise.

Scientific institutions raced to take credit for a monumental breakthrough. They preoccupied themselves with disconnected facts and accepted correlation as causation. They began repeating a fraudulent "truth". Today, the great majority of scientists believe that cold fusion is dead. There is, a small group of scientists and true believers including Pons and Fleischman who have managed to attract millions of dollars in investment. They were attracted by "financial considerations since if the claim were true, many billions of dollars would be earned."

The physicist Douglas Morrison in his article "Investors Doubt Cold Fusion, Perhaps Its Second Death", states, "The source of energy revealed in 1989 has already been denounced by many scientists. The enterprises which have invested in this sector now seem to be retiring on the tips of their toes." Mr. Morrison claims that cold fusion is dead again.

It is because the scientific method exists however, that such fraud as science could not stand up for long. Quickly, the cold fusion discovery was disproved and discredited. Yet, still today, many in the general public believe in its validity, perhaps because they wish it to be so. So do Pons and Fleischman. Pseudoscience and bad science keep the same company. Both accept fraud as faith. It is the monetary characterization of science, and faith in such enterprise, that makes science vulnerable to the same fraud that characterizes pseudoscience. Scientists, after all, are human and may have a mercenary interest or simply a great affection for a theory, and cling to their theory even when disproven.

Mr. Drasin's statement that "scientific enterprise has been bent toward exploitation, institutionalization, hyperspecialization and new orthodoxy" is also correct. However, the scientific method, and that is what we really mean when we say science remains unscathed. There are scientists, as Daniel Drasin suggests, who are "devoid of spiritual, psychological and ecological interconnection and underpinnings." Mr. Drasin confuses fraudulent scientists with true scientists. One would hardly accuse Albert Einstein or Carl Sagan as being unspiritual or not ecologically connected. On the contrary, most true scientists acknowledge the interconnection between the spiritual, psychological, social and environmental. What they don't do is allow that interconnection to cloud their search for the truth which is guided by the quest to establish causation independent of their personal beliefs and desires

Wonder

The overwhelming sense of oneness. Wonder. We have had that experience. It feels like being one with all of nature, perceiving the interdependent web in every atom.

Do we then say we have touched the ultimate reality? Or are in the lap of the goddess? Or one with the universal oversoul? Enlightened? Buddha? God? Of course. Metaphorically. Poetically.

The experiences each of us have had include seeing color (auras) around people, seeing Jesus, feeling "chi" flowing in my (JeanneE's) and others' bodies, to name just a few milder examples. The realness of the experiences does not make them factual. Aware of the fallibility of human perception, we have been grateful for such experiences, and found them useful and enlightening on many levels, but have not asked anyone (including ourselves) to consider them factual. Such thinking does nothing to negate our wonder at these experiences. In fact, it opens us up to more wonder.

It would be arrogance, even megalomania, to claim to name or even perceive reality in a way that is somehow pure.

Purity is not the stuff of humans. We are grateful that we can perceive Nature as human beings - with our senses, our feelings, with our minds. To believe, or even to want to believe, that we have any final, ultimate answers is not for us.

As delighted as we are with human imagination - and we are continuously so delighted - it has never been a match for the complexity, the elegance, the absolutely astonishing surprises of Nature.

We are thrilled to be able to understand as much as we do. We hope that people will never stop, respectfully and with the only reliable method, science, asking questions, coaxing Nature to reveal herself.

As humans we are both poets and scientists.

The Bathwater

Robert N. Wilson, in The Sociology of Health, writes: "Although the scope of phenomena that are amenable to empirical explanation and control in medicine has steadily been enlarged, especially during the first half of the twentieth century, the plethora of unanswered and presently unanswerable questions generates precisely the kind of basic uncertainty that underlies the religious impulse." Our uncertainty leads us to seek solutions and often any explanation is better than no explanation at all.

In the area of medicine, much credit goes to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center's Richard and Linda Rosenthal Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine. They are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead they have established a set of objectives that increase the probability that they will not be part of fraud as science nor science as fraud. The objectives are:

  • To foster and conduct research to determine the efficacy and safety of alternative and complementary remedies and practices, and to probe their underlying mechanisms.
  • To develop curriculum and training programs that will promote wider knowledge, greater understanding and credible scientific efforts in alternative and complementary medicine.
  • To become an international leader in providing information to practitioners, researchers, and the public about alternative and complementary therapies.

We need not throw out religion, meditation or prayer when we are ill. We need not end our search for the existence of Atlantis, but we should not substitute pseudoscientific arguments for its existence over verifiable scientific fact. What we cannot do is be complicit in a fakery and a coverup that would have us or our family and friends believe is truth under the guise of wishful thinking.

We are discouraged at the lack of imagination characterizing New Age thinking. Many of the "farthest out" notions are in fact mundane and unimaginative: channeled entities, alien abductions, Atlantis, etc.

A salient point which is seldom noted is that those are easy, simple-minded notions. Acceptance of these theories involves little intellectual stimulation, little challenge, little risk, virtually no "paradigm shift" in thinking. For all the say-so to the contrary, it's very same old same old, very derivative. These beliefs are a cheap substitute for love, work, practice, science.

We are discouraged at the trend toward supercredulity. Consider the following: Fascism takes far less brains and discrimination than democracy; mindless, ad-driven consuming takes far less brains and discrimination than creating in any form.

We wish to present the importance of scientific thinking, of critical thinking, to a democracy. In an era when we think the civil experiment of modern democracy is at severe risk, we need to examine credulity and groupthink.

Carl Sagan writes in his new book, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, "The values of science and democracy are concordant, in many cases indistinguishable...science thrives on, indeed requires, the free exchange of ideas; its values are antithetical to secrecy...both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and rigorous debate."

Now What?

Where does that leave us? We don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Yes, we can believe what we want to believe. Believing does not make it so. While we can change our perceptions of the world around us by changing our projections, thus placing ourselves into a higher psychological and spiritual level (the moment to moment state of our psychic house), doing so does not necessarily allow us to find the truth. The truth as we see it is not the truth as it exists, but rather a self-imposed alteration of what we experience. The mistake of accepting this experience for what is, is what distinguishes pseudoscience from science and wonderful fallible humanness from the world itself.

As the title of this newsletter implies, Metaphoria is about metaphor. To search for answers we use both the proven causation of science and the scientific method of discovery, and metaphors which lead us to believe that the universe is greater and bigger than us and that we are a part of it.

Collaboration

Over the past three years, we have taken turns writing Metaphoria. JeanneE may author an issue while Jozef offers input and proofreads, or vice versa. This month found both of us writing on the same topic. We decided that we would pool our thoughts and writings. This issue is then the first essay where our writing flows into and out of each other's. A nice metaphor for what our lives do.

Quotations

Knowing why a rainbow happens doesn't make it less mysterious, but more wonderful.

Richard Feynman

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in the immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.

Carl Sagan

One unerring mark of the love of truth is not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant.

John Locke

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.

John Dewey

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

"Sherlock Holmes", A. Conan Doyle

The tenets of skepticism do not require an advanced degree to master, as most successful used car buyers demonstrate.

Carl Sagan

Science is the search for truth - it is not a game in which one tries to beat his opponent, to do harm to others. We need to have the spirit of science in international affairs, to make the conduct of international affairs the effort to find the right solution, the just solution of international problems, not the effort by each nation to get the better of other nations, to do harm to them when it is possible.

Linus Carl Pauling

1996 JeanneE Hand-Boniakowski and
              Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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