I’ve often written about the problem of confusing religion with medicine. In religion, one is allowed to make any claims one likes, and the only evidence required is faith. In medicine, one is required to provide evidence to support claims about health and disease, and that evidence must come from science, not simply belief or opinion. This distinction is part of the reason for the unprecedented and dramatic success of medicine at improving health and lengthening life in the last couple of centuries, something thousands of years of faith-based healing was unable to accomplish.
The problem with faith-based claims is that one has complete freedom to claim absolutely anything, and there is no way any claim can be disproven. Everything must be allowed to be true if one believes it, in which case the distinction between truth and falsehood become meaningless. Clients and patients are totally at the mercy of individual practitioner’s personal beliefs and practices, since there is no objective basis on which to judge their claims or actions. This total reliance on the whims and beliefs of one individual, presented as universal truth, has been a tremendous impediment to real knowledge and progress in the history of medicine.
I have no objection to people practicing whatever religion they like, or none at all. However, when they present their religious beliefs as medicine, they are deceiving the public and endangering patients. Sometimes, this takes subtle forms, such as claiming that Chinese Medicine is a rational system of diagnostic and therapeutic practices, when it is really a hodgepodge of philosophical, religious, and traditional practices almost entirely incompatible with science. However, in some cases the conflation of religion and medicine, belief and evidence, takes such a blatant form that it seems transparently fraudulent to call one’s practices anything other than faith healing.
It requires tremendous arrogance, always hidden behind a mask of humility of course, to market oneself as having special insight denied to other doctors which lets you lead people and their pets to “real” health despite the deep and dangerous misunderstanding of the universe that cripples the rest of the medical profession and most of society. I recently found a stunning example of this phenomenon, which I think illustrates the danger hidden behind the benign tone and marketing of religion pretending to be medicine.
Dr. Dennis Thomas, like many self-identified “holistic vets” puts his mainstream medical credentials front and center when promoting himself and his services while simultaneously denigrating scientific medicine (mislabeled as “Western Medicine,” of course, as if no one outside of Europe or North America relied on science-based medicine as their primary form of healthcare, when in fact this is the predominant form of healthcare everywhere in the world to the whatever extent local resources allow). He clearly wants to share the legitimacy that is attached to science while simultaneously rejecting its fundamental principles and its conclusions.
…the physical body exists simultaneously as both a material body and an energetic body. It also includes the awareness that the material body’s function, both in health and disease, follows specific science and logic, and that the energetic body’s function, in both health and disease, follows a different science and logic.***
This implies that the system he believes in for optimizing the patient’s spiritual energy is somehow equivalent to the system of developing knowledge about the physical world we call science, despite the fact that this system rejecting entirely the methods sciences uses.
Traditional medicine… specifically focuses on the material body and uses evidence based on the science and laws of the material world. This has proven to be very effective in handling health care from that perspective. However, traditional, allopathic medicine, completely ignores the existence of an energetic body and the energetic influences that have great affects on the manifestation of health in the material body. Using the science of quantum physics, we absolutely know that the energetic body not only influences the material body, but is also the major influence providing direction for the body’s functioning. Research indicates that the energetic influences are 100 times greater than the material or physical influences on cellular function. It seems logical that if we were to ignore the most important factors (energetic) that influence the body’s health, we would be severely limiting our ability to direct health and healing.”
Here Dr. Thomas claims that science-based medicine misses entirely the most important factor that influences health and disease, despite the abundant evidence to the contrary, and yet claims it is science itself which proves this to be true. Of course, the invocation of “quantum physics” to justify a fundamentally spiritual claim is a classic sign of quackery. Because quantum physics is a complex, fundamentally mathematical field, those of us not specializing in it understand it only shallowly through imprecise metaphors. It is easy to generalize these inappropriately to phenomena to which they don’t properly apply, and it is difficult to explain why this is inappropriate without utilizing mathematics most of us don’t understand. Ultimately, this is just another way of appealing to faith but calling it science.
Dr. Thomas, blithely dismisses the success of science-based medicine as “merely” addressing the physical body and then claims better results, without evidence, based on vague spiritual notions that he mislabels as science. This in itself is disingenuous and misleading. But it become much worse when he expands on his beliefs to make claims about the causes and effective treatments for disease that are completely made up and reflect only his beliefs and desires, not the nature of reality.
Bad, or distorted energy, might come from things in the environment, such as EMFs coming from nearby power lines.
Unhealthy energy can also come from computers or cell phones, microwaves, or many other sources.
The environment we and our pets live in is full of pollutants, toxins, and harmful microorganisms. Our food supplies are laden with preservatives, GMOs, hormones, and additive fillers. No material body, including our pets’ bodies, can maintain health, and repair damage when it is compromised with over-vaccination, low quality nutrition, and less than optimal environmental conditions.
This is the usual sort of fear-mongering that alternative practitioners must engage in to build business. Telling people that even when they and their pets appear to be well, they are actually besieged by unseen dangerous eating away at their well-being is necessary if you want to sell unproven and unnecessary interventions. And claiming that scientific medicine ignores disease prevention, which is obviously untrue, seems more reasonable if you also claim a whole host of deadly threats science doesn’t recognize (because you made them up), or that science-based medicine actually promotes as beneficial. The absence of real evidence for these claims is not a problem, of course, because this style of “medicine” is really all about faith.
Dr. Thomas, however, goes beyond even most “holistic” vets who practice the same kinds of treatments he uses (Chinese medicine, alternative nutrition, “energy medicine,” and so on). He identifies the main cause of illness as not in the physical universe at all, but in the negative attitudes of the pet owner. That’s right, if you’re not serene and happy all the time, you are probably making your pets sick!
By far the most influential energy that your pet is exposed to is your overall energetic state. Yes, the major influence that directs your pets health and well being is your perceived state of being…. what my years of observation have taught me is that when our pet develops a chronic or fatal disease, the form of that disease often reflects our perspective on life…. the emotions we are experiencing, when we think about our pet’s health condition, are likely the emotions that participated in the development of the problem in the first place. It is as though the sick pet is a microcosm of the larger macrocosm of the caretaker’s perceived reality about life itself. If I am frustrated with life and this perception persists long enough, the energy that is created will influence my reality.
When I see a person who is chronically frustrated with their job, or relationships, it does not surprise me when their pet develops a chronic illness. And when someone views life as painful and fearful, the way their pet passes on may be influenced by that attitude.
Of course, these claims are not only unproven but highly unlikely to be true. Such “create your own reality” notions are a form of magical thinking which has been around for millennia without any measurable effect on health and well-being, compared the clearly beneficial effect of science in these areas. Or as Tim Minchin has put it, “ Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be—NOT magic!”
But beyond being nonsense, these claims are a particularly cruel and self-serving form of the usual alternative medicine fear-mongering. Ultimately, anything bad that happens to your pets happened because you weren’t in the “right” state of mind. The state you should be in is simply Dr. Thomas vague personal syncretism, incorporating elements of various spiritual and philosophical traditions. In other words, the cure is as made-up as the cause.
While Dr. Thomas may very believe this stuff, the function of these claims is pretty convenient for his business. Create fear of dangers that science can’t detect or address, add a touch of guilt to the fear, and then offer the pet owner a way out that is, coincidentally, just the set of services you are selling. There is even a built-in excuse for any undeniable treatment failure:
The Healing Room is a one-room facility that is designed to promote and direct healing for you and your pet. Please be aware that any energy you bring into the room will affect the energetic balance of the entire room. Your pet’s natural state is one of calm attention. However, animals are sponge-like in their ability to absorb and take on the emotional states of their human companions. This can contribute to, or block the healing of an energetic imbalance.
That’s right. If your pet doesn’t get better, it’s probably because you messed up the “healing vibrations” with bad thoughts. It has nothing to do with the completely bogus nature of the causes of disease and treatments Dr. Thomas is selling.
Understand, I have nothing against taking spiritual comfort wherever you find it. I meditate and find some elements of Buddhist practice appealing and useful in my own life. But history makes an ironclad case for separating our spiritual beliefs from the causes and treatments for disease. Religion has never made effective medicine, and the emphasis in science on material, physical reality that folks like Dr. Thomas disdain has led to tremendous improvements in our health and well-being.
Belief and faith may fairly remain unchallenged when they address purely human constructs, such as art and morality and the meaning of life. But they are actively harmful and misleading when they encroach on domain of the natural world. Successful medicine throughout the world is based on science and scientific knowledge for the simple reason that is works better than any other approach, including the timeless musings of philosophers and spiritual leaders.
Dr. Thomas is entitled to evangelize for his spiritual beliefs as much as he wants. But it is misleading and wrong to confuse these with veterinary medicine, which is properly a science-based pursuit.
***All quotes come from these two sites: 1, 2
Is the second paragraph of the second indented italicised quote actually you Skeptivet rather than pat of the quote?
This kind of mystical rubbish is cruel in the extreme, truly toxic!
Good catch, thank you.
“The Healing Room is a one-room facility that is designed to promote and direct healing for you and your pet. Please be aware that any energy you bring into the room will affect the energetic balance of the entire room. Your pet’s natural state is one of calm attention. However, animals are sponge-like in their ability to absorb and take on the emotional states of their human companions. This can contribute to, or block the healing of an energetic imbalance.”
That’s hilarious! It’s even more hilarious if you replace the bullshit terminology with everyday words:
“The Downstairs Toilet is a one-room facility that is designed to promote and direct elimination for you and your pet. Please be aware that any books or newspapers you bring into the room will affect the tidiness of the entire room. Your pet’s natural state is to enter the room with you and watch you go about your natural business. However, animals are sponge-like in their ability to absorb and take on the emotional states of their human companions. This can contribute to, or block the relief gained from a successful bowel movement while being observed by an animal.”
Some people have blamed me for our dog’s illness (obsessive-compulsive disorder), and I cannot begin to explain how painful those experiences have been. I can’t imagine what it would be like for your vet to blame you as well! (Our primary care vet actually spent time talking to me about how our dog’s OCD was **not** my fault and explained how people often blame themselves when they see their pets become ill.) Our vet, vet behaviorists, and behaviorist have been so compassionate and gracious to us and have provided us with the tools and support to help us help our dog lead a high-quality life with minimal OCD symptoms. This is the type of compassionate and expert veterinary care families and pets deserve. Thanks for sharing this blog and for alerting people to some of the unfortunate vet approaches out there.