The Faith Behind “Evidence-Based” Medicine

For the last two centuries, Western medicine asserted that its practices and modalities are based exclusively in scientific fact, objective observation, and rational deduction.

In reality, though, faith, intuition, and conjecture play as much of a role in day-to-day clinical decision-making as data and deduction. Science itself, grounded in the belief that nature is fully knowable and modifiable through controlled observation and measurement, is at its root, a faith system. The holistic paradigm holds that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. One need not question faith itself. It is intrinsic to our human makeup. But one should take a close look at where one puts one’s faith.

Over the last year, there have been many tests of faith. The events of September 11 shook our belief in our national security. The Enron scandal threatened the very foundations of our investment-based economy—itself a faith system of a high order. Sexual misconduct within the Catholic Church was a huge challenge for those whose deepest beliefs rest with that institution.

In medicine, cessation of the Prempro arm of the Women’s Health Initiative provoked alarm and outcry far out of proportion to the limited meaning of the data. Why? Because the WHI findings shattered a deeply held belief that HRT was cardioprotective. Though there were never any studies to prove it, conventional medicine took it as axiomatic and passed this faith on to vast numbers of menopausal women. WHI was not just a blow to a particular form of HRT; it was a blow to the self-image of “evidence-based” medicine.

Holistic medicine, beyond the specific modalities it encompasses, is rooted in the belief that health springs from living in accord with the observable principles and patterns of the natural world. This view includes acceptance that a person’s life, indeed the whole of life, is part of a vastly greater system that may be sensed but never fully grasped by one’s limited intelligence.

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, medical visionary Bill Mitchel, ND, put it quite succinctly: “The Mystery is crucial for us as human beings. We need to translate that Mystery into a paradigm for functional living.” I believe medicine needs to embrace the Great Mystery called life, and take greater stock in the notion that beneath chaos and conflict, discord and disease we see on the surface, there is a deeper, greater pattern of harmony and unity struggling to emerge. This, beyond any specific therapy, is the wellspring of health and healing.

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