Strength In Numbers?

Homeopathy is a popular but worthless “alternative medicine” that involves diluting disease compounds in water to a degree that there is little chance that any of the compound molecules remain in the resulting container of water that is then marketed as cures for everything from asthma to cancer. Proponents claim that the water’s “memory” inoculates the patient from the disease.
In a recent debate over the efficacy of homeopathy “drugs”, a spokesperson for homeopathy seriously made the statement…

If [the homeopathic drugs] didn’t work beyond the placebo effect, why do people keep buying them?

Let’s have some audience participation. Here are your possible responses to this rhetorical question.

  1. Because claims of the drug’s efficacy are true.
  2. Because of the placebo effect.

In the absence of any other evidence, the only warranted answer is #2, and is amazingly even part of the question. If you chose the 1st option, you may well be among those who employ the same basic argument in other domains of inquiry. One of the most common defenses of religion I have heard is in a rhetorical question of the same form.

If there were no truth in my religion beyond a placebo effect, why do so many people believe it?

I’ll give you the same 2 basic options.

  1. Because claims of the religion’s efficacy are true.
  2. Because of the placebo effect.

If there is efficacy in either homeopathy or religion, it will not be demonstrated by someone pointing out the number of believers. In fact, if a believer employs this argument to their own particular religion which promises to provide superior wisdom to its faithful, then it has failed since the argument that the reliability of a claim increases as the number of believers increases is a logical fallacy called argumentum ad populum. To persist in this argument will require holding that the god of your religion has his own rules of logic, not a direction I’d suggest you take.


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