This book review is reprinted from the British Homoeopathic Journal Volume 67, Number 4, October 1978, with permission from Peter Fisher, Editor.
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The Science of Homoeopathy.
By G. Vithoulkas.
6 Nicosthenous Street, Athens 501.
Pp. 373. $20 by airmail, $16 by surface mail, for Europe.
[Editor's note: As of September 1996 Minimum Price Books' price is $14.50]
George Vithoulkas, as the blurb of his new book informs us, is a lay homoeopath who has studied the subject for some 20 years, first in South Africa and later in India. Since 1967 he has practised and taught in Athens, where in 1970 he started the Athenian School of Homeopathic Medicine, which is open only to orthodox physicians. Vithoulkas' book arrives with encomiums from several doctors, both Greek and American, and large claims are made for it. In a foreword Dr. Bill Gray describes how he practised homoeopathy for five years, but was unable to reproduce the clinical successes claimed by Hahnemann and Kent. Then he met Vithoulkas, and his eyes were opened. This book, Gray assures us, is "worthy of literally years of study, discussion, and meditation".
Well, is it? Regretfully, I cannot agree that it is. Undoubtedly it has merits: in particular, it provides a good description of the principles and practice of what might be called "classical" homoeopathy; but Vithoulkas' claims are much wider in scope than this, and it is here that the trouble really begins. Vithoulkas starts from theory, and devotes five chapters to the concept of vital force, which he appears to equate with electromagnetism. Now, this whole discussion seems to me an example of scientism at its worst. There are plenty of dogmatic statements, but little evidence is adduced in support of them and much of it is of very poor quality. For example, it is very odd to find quotations from a piece of popular journalism such as Ostrander and Schroeder's Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain in what purports to be a serious scientific textbook. And then, what is one to make of a statement like the following, set in heavy type since it is evidently regarded as particularly important?
"Modern concepts of cybernetics demonstrate a fundamental principle which applies to the human organism as well as to other systems: any highly organized system reacts to stress always by producing the best possible response of which it is capable at the moment."
The word cybernetics seems to be brought in here quite gratuitously to lend weight to the argument. And what does this "fundamental principle" actually amount to? None of the terms are defined, yet almost every word-"highly organized", "stress", and above all "best possible response"-cries out for definition.
Whatever one thinks of Vithoulkas' argument-and for me it is so loose as to be meaningless-it seems to me a basic mistake to start by putting forward a theory of disease and then attempt to erect homoeopathy on that foundation, since if the foundation proves inadequate the rest of one's case falls to the ground. It would have been much safer, if less exciting, to begin from the empirical standpoint. As it is, Vithoulkas begs dozens of questions, some of which are very important even if one accepts Hahnemann. Thus, he maintains the view that symptoms represent the body's attempt to heal itself; but this is not Hahnemann's opinion, although Vithoulkas implies that it is.
When we come to the more purely homoeopathic part of the book, we find the same tendency to substitute assertion for hard evidence, and sometimes this becomes positively misleading. A particularly glaring example of this is to be found in the discussion of provings. Vithoulkas provides a detailed account of how provings should be conducted, with double-blind precautions. At this point, the scientifically minded reader naturally looks for the report of at least one such proving, but what he gets is Hahnemann's original proving of Arsenicum album, which is held up as a model. Now, this is surely disingenuous, for nowhere does Vithoulkas make it clear that Hahnemann's proving was not, in fact, double blind.
There are a number of other examples of carelessness in using historical argument, and these are particularly serious in a book which claims to be based on Hahnemann's work. For example, on p. 148 Vithoulkas remarks that Hahnemann "did not consider the actual microbes, the spirochete or the gonococcus, to be the specific cause of the veneral miasms. These microbes, as with all disease-causing agents, were considered to have morbific influences on the dynamic plane as well." But this is sheer nonsense, for Hahnemann did not know of the existence of the organisms in question and hence could not have held any opinion about them one way or the other.
Again, on p. 216 Vithoulkas claims that "Hahnemann, being a chemist, was well aware of Avogadro's number". But was he? Avogadro published his hypothesis in 1811, so it is certainly possible that Hahnemann heard about it; but Vithoulkas offers no evidence for this, which is a pity, because if Hahnemann did know about Avogadro it would be interesting to hear what he thought of his hypothesis. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Vithoulkas has simply not ascertained the matter one way or the other.
Vithoulkas believes-rightly-that it is important for the practitioner of homoeopathy to have a sound grasp of pathology. This being so, it is a pity that his book should contain some rather startling medical statements. Some are relatively unimportant, such as the claim (p. 100) that staphylococcal pneumonia is particularly common. Much more serious, especially in a book that may be read by many laymen, is the author's belief that when primary syphilis is treated by high doses of penicillin over a period of two weeks (p. 135-my italics) the patient will go on to develop secondary and tertiary syphilis with involve- ment of the central nervous system. This thoroughly irresponsible statement is no mere proof-reading error; it appears in the course of an argument designed to show that "allopathic drugging" is harmful and must be avoided. The unfortunate layman might well be misled by Vithoulkas' rhetoric into refusing orthodox treatment for his syphilis; can this really be what Vithoulkas intends?
As I have already remarked, the best part of the book is the later chapters, which provide a detailed account of the principles of "classical" Hahnemannian homoeopathy. This section appears to be aimed principally at the beginner; a fact which perhaps explains the over-dogmatic tone. Many who consider themselves orthodox Hahnemannians would not follow Vithoulkas in dismissing the concept of the "constitutional" remedy (though it is perfectly true that the notion is not to be found in Hahnemann's writings). The "allopathic" physician coming fresh to homoeopathy is likely to wonder why, in his lengthy discussion of the various possible outcomes of treatment, Vithoulkas does not even mention the placebo response; after all, Hahnemann himself advised the use of placebo in doubtful cases. The newcomer will probably also expect at least a token discussion of the need to assess the efficacy of homoeopathy objectively, but nowhere does Vithoulkas even mention research.
One does not like to be unduly bard on a book of this kind, which to many people legitimately dissatisfied with the impersonalism of modern scientific medicine is likely to seem to be "on the side of the angels". My quarrel with Vithoulkas, however, is that he simply has failed to confront the problem squarely. Instead of detailed argument supported by facts, all we are offered is dogmatic assertion and rhetoric.
Incidentally, it is perhaps symptomatic of the author's high-handed approach to facts that his book, though claiming to be a modern textbook, should not be provided with an index.
ANTHONY CAMPBELL British Homoeopathic Journal
Volume 67, Number 4, October 1978