Is Hahnemann's System A Mystica?

During March 2012 the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ) published via the pen of its managing editor Prof van Niekerk an editorial on Traditional Healers. However, Prof van Niekerk's comments on Dr. Samuel Hahnemann's therapeutic system, homeopathic therapeutics (HTS), was with respect to the philosophy of science, superficial, and scientifically and technologically out of touch with today's reality.

Prof van Niekerk states that “In the domain of mystica, truths are derived from beliefs and are not shaped by research findings, nor need they be altered to conform to such findings. This is where the religions of the world reside. An example of a health system based on belief is homeopathy, expounded by Hahnemann in 1810 but the truths of which contradict known laws of physics and chemistry. The truths of the other groups in the Allied Health Professions Council, and of traditional healers, also largely reside in the domain of mystica.”

Prof van Niekerk's opinions on HTS are unsurprisingly biased. He did not undertake an unbiased in-depth study of HTS and its inventor. Historically, some of Dr. Hahnemann's unbiased non-homeopathic peers made the following conclusions on Dr. Hahnemann's new therapeutic system. Prof Eschenmayer said that Hahnemann's experimental method termed provings, is the "only [way to] obtain specific medicines" for the individual. Dr. Kopp said that provings ‘ascertain [therapies’] specific powers.’ (Dr Wilhelm Ameke. History of Homoeopathy. Translated by A. E. Drysdale. Edited by R. E. Dudgeon. E Gould & Son, London, 1885.) Lastly, Sir John Forbes MD, FRCP, DCL (Oxon.), FRS (1787-1861), Physician to Queen Victoria, 1841-1861, wrote that " Hahnemann was undoubtedly a man of genius and a scholar, a man of indefatigable industry, of undaunted energy. In the history of medicine his name will appear in the same list with those of the greatest systematists and theorists, surpassed by few in the originality and ingenuity of his views, superior to most in having substantiated and carried out his doctrines into actual and most extensive practice." (Forbes J (1846). Homoeopathy, allopathy and “young physic”. British and Foreign Medical Review, 225-265.) But Sir John Forbes still rejected HTS, despite his unbiased verdict on Dr. Hahnemann.

It's similarly unfortunate that Prof van Niekerk did not consult the work of the most eminent philosophers of science, whose work I touched on and referenced in my papers, some of whom are referred to below. He unfortunately consulted the book by retired Prof William Gardner. On his biography states that he "is an experimental psychologist and a retired college professor. He writes about truth because he sees it drowning under a flood of information, and he wants to recruit you to help save it." With all respects to the efforts of Prof Gardner, he unfortunately can't be considered as a prime source for a discussion on Empiricism, or the Philosophy of Science. For that reason Prof van Niekerk selected unwisely his source. Any in-depth study of the Philosophy of Science must include from the outset the book edited by Lakatos and Musgrave, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. For an overview of the Philosophy of Science, please consult the last of my references below edited by M Curd and JA Cover.

I responded to Prof van Niekerk's editorial of March 2012. My paper was only published in August 2012 due to other commitments. In fact, it was not easy to have my response published, but nevertheless, it was published.

Prof van Niekerk's response to my published paper, which provided counter arguments to his allegation that HTS is just a religious creed, or a mystica, was equally devoid of scientific argument and analysis. He did not analyse my arguments and facts, but resorted to an outline of his views of "science", which he terms "the known laws of physics and chemistry". Those "known laws", are laws which are based on the 19th century mechanico-technical worldview which is still prevalent today, but mostly among medical doctors - valid ideas, but not the only and not the most current. The world of science has in fact moved way beyond those 19th century ideas onto, for example, the "creepy" world of the very small, as well as ideas from "quantum non-locality" which a gloomy Einstein termed "spooky action at a distance." But then, and of utmost importance, is the fact that medicine is not a "science", but a Technoscience, which changes the manner in which the profession should, and must, be evaluated. I wrote in my paper that medicine is an applied science, as Paul Feyerabend said, medicine is a ‘science-based art’, while Thomas Kuhn said that medicine is a ‘craft’, a ‘practical art’…‘akin to engineering.’ Unfortunately, Prof van Niekerk used his editor powers to refuse publishing my counterarguments to his unsatisfactory response to my paper, which can be read below.

Prof van Niekerk stated that HTS "do indeed also have beneficial effects – but no different from the placebo effect." He may not be aware of a recent article in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, a reputed journal, on the Adverse Effects AEs), or commonly known as Side Effects (SE), of HTS. (P. Posadzki, A. Alotaibi, E. Ernst. Adverse Effects of Homeopathy. A Systematic Review of Published Case Reports and Case Series. Int J Clin Pract. 2012; 66(12):1178-1188.)  What a bombshell! The authors stated the following: "Homeopathy has the potential to harm patients and consumers in both direct and indirect ways. Clinicians should be aware of its risks and advise their patients accordingly." "According to our findings, homeopathy can lead to AEs, some of which are serious." "A systematic review of the AEs of homeopathy concluded that the incidence of AEs of homeopathic remedies was greater than that of placebo in controlled clinical trials." The shocker is the following: an AE means that there is a effect on the organism, something medical doctors have disputed all along. Dr. Vithoulkas tried unsuccessfully to respond to this article, nevertheless, he said that this article confirms that HTS has "actually a strong biological effect upon the human organism", and that this "well researched article by Posadzki et al giving evidence of the adverse effects of homeopathic remedies upon the human organisms, proves clearly that this fact cannot be denied any more. This was previously denied by many sceptics and allied scientists between them Prof. Ernst who signs this study and who, for many years, has denied the efficacy of homeopathy."

Of interest is the fact that Odyssey Magazine requested me to write an article on HTS. The article published in odysseymag titled Science vs. Homeopathy, pages 104-108, was moulded by the expert editorial stewardship of Mr. Chris Erasmus, which made the information much more accessible for the layperson, in contrast to the one below. Thus the Odyssey article is an easier version for whom is interested in it.

Is Hahnemann’s therapeutic system a mystica? The author replies to Prof van Niekerk

To the Editor: I refer to the response to my paper by Prof van Niekerk (ProfvN).[i] He deemed it “difficult to follow”, but never analysed its novel reality–a failed task professionally. His unreferenced response reflects another medical reality, where novel ideas are quickly dismissed as implausible. Implausibility is a caricature especially invoked in medicine, whiles the bugaboo “science” is a product of human endeavour, with ample failures and successes.

Medicine is a Technoscience like engineering. Importantly, history confirms that in the true sciences, and engineering, nothing is deemed implausible, or crazy. Thus, Niels Bohr et al agreed that Wolfgang Pauli’s new theory on elementary particles “is crazy”, but couldn’t agree whether its “crazy enough” “to have a chance of being correct”,[ii] while that crazy absurd Pythagorean idea of the moving earth was rejected after Aristotle and Ptolemy, but revived successfully by Copernicus. And Einstein’s bending of light would have been “implausible” soon after Newton–thus Newton’s reality was not final. Furthermore, the use of technologies runs ahead of its sciences. Sulfonamide, Neomercozole, Furosemide, etc., were discovered fortuitously from the 1930s-1960s, and employed uncritically by doctors,[iii] while Lady Mary Montagu reported in 1718 that the Turks employed variolation, while Jenner introduced vaccinations in 1796;[iv] all mentioned were employed without knowing their sciences. And after WW2’s aerial battles, the world’s first passenger jet airliner, the De Havilland, crashed a few times with fatal consequences due to the then unknown concept, metal fatigue. Historical truth–men used technologies despite their imperfect knowledge of their sciences, while homoeopathic therapeutics (HTS) similarly confirmed its clinical excellence, due to the placebo effect? Another bugaboo![v] Thus, rejecting the employment of HTS due to its “implausibility” or unknown science is historically misleading, and hypocritical–recall Furosemide, etc.

I invoke the sciences of, e.g., Von Guericke, Newton, and Einstein, the work of its most eminent philosophers; Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, Thomas Kuhn, even Sir Karl Popper,[vi] and the producers of the products of science; e.g., NASA and Airbus, which deem the scientific evidence of technologies as represented by their worthy outcomes outside the laboratory, e.g., NASA’s Curiosity’s stunning landing on Mars, an “anecdote”, and not their experimental outcomes. Therefore, which “science” is ProfvN referring to, which I have misquoted? The same which I employed–impossible–they contradict his “science”. ProfvN’s response is immensely unhelpful, which historically resulted in, e.g., “progress postponed”; see Wootton’s Bad Medicine. I rest my case. 

Herman Jeggels, MD (VU Ams), MRCP (UK), FBIH (Hon), DHM (Hon), General Practitioner, Kuils River, 7579.


[i] Van Niekerk JP. Is Hahnemann’s therapeutic system a mystica? The managing editor replies. S Afr Med J 2012; 102(8):640-641. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.6078. Accessed 24 July 2012.

[ii] Feyerabend P.  Farewell to Reason. Verso, London and New York, 3rd Ed, 1993. Page 180.

[iii] Le Fanu J. The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. New York, 2000.

[iv] Behbehani AM (1983).  The smallpox story: life and death of an old disease. Microbiol. Rev. 47 (4): 455–509.

[v] Banerji P, Campbell DR, Banerji P. Cancer patients treated with the Banerji protocols utilizing homeopathic medicine: A Best Case Series program of the National Cancer Institute USA. Oncol Rep 2008; 20: 69–74. Accessed 5 August 2012.

[vi] Curd M, Cover JA. Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. WW Norton and Company. New York, London, 1998.

© Dr. HJD Jeggels, September 2013.