I continue to get comments and emails from readers defending homeopathy (many come from India), but they all sing the tired old song: “It helped me, so I know it works.” They know little, I guess, about the self-healing of the body or about placebo effects. But I must say I’m surprised at how common faith in homeopathy is. I really should have dealt with it in Faith Versus Fact as a form of faith-based medicine that may be as pervasive as intercessory prayer—and perhaps more harmful. Here are two attempted comments, the first from reader Ramkrishna Mishra (names were given), on my post about CVS defending its sale of homeopathic remedies. These are only about a quarter of what I’ve received by both email and comment in the last day.
U think homoeopathic medicines are ineffective, have you ever taken any homoeopathic treatment for you or your family, I have seen unaccountable results from homoeopathy not only for CVS, but also in diabetes, thyroid disorders which you orthodox consider incurable or only manageable, in fact u can’t even cure a single chronic disease. Who the hell you are to judge the second most effective system of Medicine. More than 65% people who are under treatment of allopathy are shifting to homoeopathy. Actually you are insecure of existence of allopathy. Homoeopathy is the future of Medicine. Stop doing this crap and accept the fact.
And from reader “Dr Rana”, commenting on the same post:
Check the tests of so called scientific medicines.
All have side effects. A declared bad for health effect. To sell these they want to stop alternative medicines that work without side effects.
They test these with methods that do not apply.
Proof is results.
Homeopathic medicines give results and thus work .
But these are garden-variety defenses of woo. What interested me more was an email I got from an unnamed person who read my piece in John Brockman’s annual “Edge Question” volume in 2015. The question was “which idea must die?” and my response was “the idea of free will” (Coyne, J. A. 2015. Free will. Pp. pp. 153-156 in Brockman, J., ed. This Idea Must Die. Harper, New York). In that piece, which I can send to anybody who wants it, I made the usual case for determinism, and the usual arrangements that our justice system should make to accommodate the fact that a criminal could not have “chosen otherwise.”
DEar Sir. I read what you said in “This Idea Must Die.” Why should we be soft on crime? Give me one logical reason. Not an emotional reason. Not a religious reason. A logical reason. We must deter crime, therefore we must have harsh punishments. What about the guy who murdered my friend’s sister? I’d like to shove a butcher knife up his ass. I’d like to hear him screaming while he dies. Because that would be justice, and justice is good. Why can’t you see that? Why do liberals always hate justice?Sincerely, [Name redacted]
Note that I did not say “we should be soft on crime.” I said, as I always do, that punishment needs to be be meted out for three reasons: sequestering dangerous criminals away from society, to rehabilitate malefactors, and to serve as a deterrent for others. Once one has an idea of the degree of punishment necessary to achieve these ends (a hit or miss affair, but one subject to some scientific study), any further punishment is superfluous—and that includes the death penalty. Nothing is to be gained by extra punishment, and what is to lose is human suffering: the suffering of someone punished beyond what is necessary to achieve social ends.
I am sorry for the death of this person’s friend, which must have been horrible. But we need to move beyond the concept of vigilante justice, or beyond “an eye for an eye.” We already know that the death penalty is not a deterrent, so the only thing gained by this person’s sticking a knife in the fundament of the criminal is satisfying his base emotion of vengeance. There are better ways to deal with criminals; that’s why we have a justice system (flawed as it is) and don’t allow people to take the law into their own hands. Would this person approve of the Saudi practice of cutting off hands for theft, or of Singapore’s policy of execution for drug smuggling—even marijuana?
A deterministic view of justice doesn’t say we should be “soft on crime”. It says that we should be effective on crime, and that may mean a big reform of the justice system. Throwing criminals in jail with other hardened criminals, making them live under situations that no zoo animal would be expected to tolerate, and making no attempt to reform them—that is the way retributive justice works; but retributive justice is based on the false notion that a criminal had a choice in what he did.
And that is my answer to this gentleman.