Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Science as Savior: Just Because We Can Does Not Mean We Should

Phillip Johnson has written a fascinating article for Touchstone concerning prescription medications and their side effects. I highly recommend the article for the information it contains and the observations Johnson makes. The issue of psychological and physical problems and the drugs that treat them leads to a whole slew of implications and issues.

What do Antidepressants Accomplish?

I firmly believe that many people are in a kind of life situation or have a kind of chemical imbalance in their brain which requires the use of antidepressants. I am not anti-antidepressant. But in the story related by Johnson’s article (which is doubtless repeated thousands of times a year), a young girl’s relationship problem was treated with a brain altering drug. What strikes me is that the drug (there was no mention of accompanying therapy) didn’t address the real issue. All the drug could do was change the way the girl felt about the problem she was having, and in her particular case, it failed miserably.

If a drug alters your brain chemistry, you may feel differently about your circumstances, but those circumstances have not gone away. The reason the girl was still struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies is because the drug didn’t address the issue.

If you take a drug to treat depression resulting from a life situation, are you actually doing harm by tricking yourself out of being able to address the actual issues involved? If your view of reality has become prosaic, how can you accurately address it? In order to accurately and effectively address a bad situation, doesn’t a person need an accurate and honest assessment?

(As a side note, there is a
fascinating field of research out there concerning memory altering drugs and people’s ability to handle life.)

Again, I believe antidepressants have their place in our world, but I think this thought from Johnson needs to be heeded and understood in this context:

The financial corruption is real, and its consequences are incalculable, but there is a spiritual corruption that goes deeper than that, and this may have been the true culprit in Kaitlyn’s suicide. I refer to the philosophical materialism that is a sacred dogma in Darwinian biology. This philosophy decrees that the mind is merely an artifact of the physical brain, there being nothing else that it conceivably could be.

It follows that all ailments of the mind and spirit are reflections of some flaw or imbalance in brain chemistry, and that the logical remedy is to prescribe a drug and then, if that does not seem to help, to increase the dose until it does. Undoubtedly there are psychiatric problems that can be helped greatly by drugs, but once a dominant philosophy has decreed that all phenomena are the direct or indirect result of chemical conditions, over-reliance on chemical remedies is virtually certain to follow.

In other words, a physicalist/materialist worldview will naturally lead to an over-dependence upon pharmaceutical solutions to life’s problems.

What Is With All The Drug Commercials?

I continue to be amazed at how many commercials there are aimed at the general populace for prescription drugs. I can understand a TV or radio commercial that begins by addressing health care professionals, but they don’t. I am amazed that pharmaceutical companies can appeal to the common man; the common man gets sick, demands a certain drug from their doctor, and they get it! Shouldn’t we be relying on the heavily trained expertise of our medical profession instead of a paid-for sixty second commercial?

Again, Johnson addressed this issue by quoting a New York Time article:

On the same day that the Globe reported Kaitlyn’s suicide, the New York Times published an article headlined “As Doctors Write Prescriptions, Drug Company Writes a Check.” It began with this disclosure:

“The check for $10,000 arrived in the mail unsolicited. The doctor who received it from the drug maker Schering-Plough said it was made out to him personally in exchange for an attached “consulting” agreement that required nothing other than his commitment to prescribe the company’s medicines. Two other physicians said in separate interviews that they, too, received checks unbidden from Schering-Plough, one of the world’s biggest drug companies.”


This leads us to our next implication.

What Are The Motivations Behind Prescribing Drugs?

As much as I would like to believe that doctors are objectively diagnosing and prescribing, I worry about the kinds of pressures indicated by drug companies advertising to the general populace and private pharmaceutical firms pressuring doctors to prescribe their drugs. These and other pressures invariably lead to potentially ugly incentives and drugs that are prescribed unnecessarily.

A
friend of mine sent me some notes of his regarding a talk he went to on the Notre Dame campus. The talk was based on the lecturer’s book entitled, “Science in the Private Interest : Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research?” The basic point of the lecture is obvious from the title of the book. The incentives for private companies to produce drugs boils down to profit whereas it is more likely that a governmental organization will be driven by more noble and humanitarian goals. There may be other competing incentives in a private company such as the public good, but over time they are overwhelmed with the need for the company to increase their market share and net profit.

More and more we are becoming a culture which believes science, and specifically pharmaceuticals, will lead us to a better life. A good corrective might be to meditate on these words from James 1:2-4:

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

7 comments:

Diane said...

I also researched this topic as it is concerning me more and more that Christian psychologists are becoming nothing more than "pill pushers."

I found that most psychiatrists and scientists really do not believe the "chemical imbalance in the brain" theory. And that is precisely what it is--a theory.
But the psychological-psychiatric community, including the Christian psychological community, is selling this as fact. Read "Talking Back to Prozac" by Breggin. Really insightful.

By the way, over the past three months, now and then, I blogged about this topic myself.

Jeremy Pierce said...

Johnson, as usual, shows his philosophical unsophistication. Why couldn't someone be a materialist and yet realize that the causes and remedies for this sort of problem are much more complicated than what drugs can do? He has a tendency to blame everything on a philosophical view that simply does not entail what he says it does, and it's one of the reasons the Intelligent Design community is looked at with derision by most scientists and philosophers.

Julie Anne Fidler said...

I agree that many people on antidepressants have issues, deep down, that need to be dealt with. Their depression isn't so much a chemical thing, as it is a need to let God heal them of those issues.

However, too many Christians automatically dismiss antidepressants as a great evil. I take Lithium, which is actually a mood stabilizer, and yet I have been through lots of counseling to deal with my own baggage. Bipolar Disorder runs in my family, and without my meds, I'm a mess.

Everyone is different. It's hard for us to judge who needs the pills, and who doesn't.

Phil Steiger said...

Julie-

I certainly agree with the fact that in many cases drugs are a tremendous resource. I have seen enough bipolar disorder as a pastor that I always counsel people who are encountering it for the first time to always take the medication.

I just worry from time to time that people may become dependant on drugs to fix things they can't fix. Thanks for your thoughts!

386sx said...

He has a tendency to blame everything on a philosophical view that simply does not entail what he says it does,

That's right. Johnson is pure strawman incarnate.

and it's one of the reasons the Intelligent Design community is looked at with derision by most scientists and philosophers.

They are nothing but a bunch of deniers and naysayers (for example, Johnson's view that the theory that AIDS is caused by HIV is a big "naturalist" conspiracy) who argue purely from ignorance, even going so far as creating gaps in knowledge where there are none
by arguing against some strawman pretend version of the real facts (and ignorant people who won't bother to check into it swallow it all - hook, line, and sinker, because the rhetoric sounds good.) Their motivation? They want to stick their religion in everybody's faces. (Please note: their motivation has nothing to do with science other than the fact that they don't like it because it can't detect their pretend creatures.)

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