Vitalism Signs

By Rebecca Koch
Did you hear the one about the chiropractor who set out to philosophize, but was so overcome with enthusiasm that he was forced to proselytize instead?
In the immortal words of Foghorn Leghorn, “That’s a joke, son, I say, that’s a joke.” And, like most jokes (however lame they may be), there’s a little truth there. Many times, as I try to live my life within a framework of modern vitalistic philosophy, I encounter those who are “heaven bent” on viewing chiropractic’s vitalistic philosophy as a religion.

What’s the difference between a philosophy and a religion? I recognize that it’s way outside the scope of this column to try to present a scholarly debate on the difference between philosophy and religion. As always, dear readers, you only get the nutshell (and, please, try not to emphasize the “nut” part) of my own individual perspective. The most concise description of the contrast I can manage is this: a philosophy is based on reason, while a religion is based on faith.

The contrast between the two may be most clearly illustrated by the ways we use the word, “miracle,” which has two meanings. The first definition tends to describe the literal, or religious, miracle. For example, the Judeo-Christian story of Moses miraculously parting the Red Sea to escape the pursuing Pharaoh’s army requires Moses’ miracle to be taken on faith. If I’m to accept that Moses opened the Red Sea to allow fleeing Hebrew slaves to cross safely on dry seabed and then closed it again at precisely the right moment to swallow the pursing Egyptians, I must believe that, through God, Moses superseded the observable laws of nature. The miraculous parting of the Red Sea requires believers set aside what reason, with its insistence on dispassionate observation, would tell us is possible within the natural world.

The second definition of the word “miracle” is more figurative or metaphorical. We often say childbirth is miraculous, but how literally miraculous can childbirth be when it happens naturally, thousands of times every day, to the point that there soon will be seven billion of us on the planet? Childbirth, while truly awe inspiring in every sense of the word “awe,” doesn’t fit the bill as literally miraculous and only possible through divine intervention outside the natural laws of the universe.

When we talk about human function and natural processes, how literally can we apply the word “miracle?” After all, the seminal chiropractic philosophy treatise (Stevenson’s) says chiropractic philosophy is “a philosophy of things natural.” Mustn’t chiropractic’s concept of a “universal intelligence,” then, also follow the natural order of the observable universe? In my “civilian” interpretation of that philosophy, the view that God and universal intelligence are one and the same does a disservice to my own faith and belief in God. In my view, God’s power isn’t limited to that which we can observe as universal intelligence acting through matter and energy; the creative force that is God caused the natural universe to come into being out of the void. If I’m to believe literal miracles originate with God, then I must believe God’s ultimate miracle created an intelligent universe, but that he isn’t bound by that creation; he’s boundless. God is indeed great; greater even than universal intelligence.