Dear @MaryBeth1 , thank you for starting this thread and it has taken me some time to get back to you. Dr. Anthony Fergusson of the UK Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) has a great article, “ Acupuncture – a Christian assessment ” in which he responds to a Christian checklist that he created to assess alternative medicine. This checklist is below with some of his responses along with my thoughts on them.
1. Do the claims made for it fit the facts?
There is no supportive evidence for claims of longevity and health of the ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ approach of acupuncture. However, there seems to be limited objective evidence in the ‘Western medical’ context for nausea and vomiting, back pain, and chemotherapy pain. In the article entitled “ The Status and Future of Acupuncture Clinical Research ” (J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Sep; 14(7): 871–881) that summarized the findings of an international conference of over 300 acupuncture researchers found little evidence for effectiveness of acupuncture for osteoarthritis, low back pain, for neurologic disorders, bowel disorders or labor issues. When effectiveness in lowering back pain was observed, the location of acupuncture points played limited role and placebo effect couldn’t be ruled out. There were some beneficial effects observed for pregnancy related conditions and nausea/vomiting.
2. Is there a rational scientific basis to the therapy?
I have come across some scientific studies that show the role of the neuroendocrine system such as endorphins in eliciting the therapeutic benefits of acupuncture. These studies are promising and suggest a rational therapeutic basis for acupuncture instead of the occult explanations if acupuncture is found effective.
3. Is it the methodology or is it the principle which is the effective element?
Dr Mann, the best-known British acupuncturist from the mid 1980’s, who puts no faith in Yin-Yang/chi believes the ancients stumbled upon something that worked empirically, needed an explanation for it, and therefore expressed their understanding in the terms of their own cultural beliefs. He sees the methodology as having limited but definite benefit and is skeptical about the necessity of the precise acupuncture points. While the American college of Physicians guidelines recommend non-pharmacologic methods for back pain, Josephine P. Briggs, MD, director emeritus of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health, and David Shurtleff, PhD, its acting director, stated, “ Nonspecific factors, including the effects of application of localized irritants and the effects of the patient-clinician interaction such as conditioning, positive patient expectations, and reduced patient vigilance, appear to account for much of the therapeutic benefits associated with acupuncture treatment ”. Cherkin DC et al (in Arch Intern Med. 2009 May 11;169(9):858-66) studied 638 patients and say “ Although acupuncture was found effective for chronic low back pain, tailoring needling sites to each patient and penetration of the skin appear to be unimportant in eliciting therapeutic benefits. These findings raise questions about acupuncture’s purported mechanisms of action. It remains unclear whether acupuncture or our simulated method of acupuncture provide physiologically important stimulation or represent placebo or nonspecific effects”. These studies indicate methodology of acupuncture that depends on acupuncture points can’t be supported scientifically.
4. What are the assumptions of the world view behind the therapy?
The principles of the chosen therapy must be explainable without invoking non-Christian worldview, and that seems to be possible with acupuncture. Here’s another example of alternative medical therapy where I apply this idea. Ex . I see no problem using natural herbs that have a direct action for specific indications as described in Ayurvedic medicine, because nature is created by God. However, if I was using natural herbs trying to follow the Ayurvedic philosophy of balancing the five elements in the body - earth, fire, water, air and ether (space), to increase life force, then it would go against my Christian worldview. In the second case, I would be possibly be subjecting myself to spiritual harm.
5. Does the therapy involve the occult?
Here one thing to note as @RoySujanto pointed out is that while the therapy might not involve the occult, the therapist might!
As General Secretary of CMF Dr. Ferguson shares an experience – “ I spoke once on the phone to a lay Christian, an ordinary person without any training or expertise in health matters. He told me how he had visited an acupuncturist in his village, and after half a dozen treatments he had indeed achieved relief of the chronic painful condition he’d first gone with. He put this down to the therapy (though I must say I wondered if the condition had got better anyway over the two month period in question!). But what he went on to say was concerning. He told me that while the acupuncturist was twiddling the needles he was always muttering something inaudible under his breath, in what sounded like an incantation. He noticed too that progressively over that two month period his own spiritual life had begun to dry up. He found it hard to pray, he lost interest in going to church, he lost some of his love for the Lord. Eventually he came to realise that perhaps he’d come under some harmful spiritual influence from the acupuncturist. Simple repentance and prayer was immediately completely effective in restoring his spiritual life . ”
6. Has the therapy stood the test of time?
In the case of acupuncture, probably!
Scriptural support for practices considered as abominations:
Deu 18:9-14 – sorcery, medium, spiritism, witchcraft
Is 47:12-15 - astrology
Lev 19:31- mediums, necromancers
Spiritual connection of Chinese acupuncture with astrology – In the article “The untold story of acupuncture ” Ben Kavoussi writes “In China, for instance, the numinous qi was believed to mirror the sun’s annual journey around the celestial sphere and to circulate in a network of 12 primary ‘jing luo’ ( 經 络) known in English as the ‘chinglo channels’, or simply ‘channels’ or ‘meridians’ (a term coined in 1939 by George Soulié de Morant, a French diplomat), which run from head to toes and interconnect approximately 360 primary points on the skin”.
Dr. Fergusson final recommendations -
There is evidence that acupuncture works for a few painful conditions and there are suggestions for a rational scientific basis such that no belief need be placed in Eastern religion. I do not believe acupuncture necessarily involves the occult at all, though as in all alternative treatments I advise great caution about the therapist. I believe that performed for a proper indication by a reliable practitioner (preferably medically qualified) acupuncture can be acceptable. I suggest traditionalists using it in other situations and for other indications should be avoided as of course should anything that might be occult.
Alternative to traditional acupuncture:
Western medical acupuncture like dry-needling , a therapeutic modality involving the insertion of fine needles using current knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, and the principles of evidence-based medicine may be something to consider…
Overall, my impression is that most studies do not give a strong evidence for the methodology of acupuncture. I don’t see a compelling reason to consider it as a form of treatment and that too if there is spiritual element involved. Thanks for your question!