The miracle of water
December 21st 2007, 10:23As it's a celebration of God made incarnate, Christmas is a better time than most to think about the miraculous. The philosopher David Hume famously pointed out that a miracle is a violation of nature, and therefore impossible. And if it were to happen all the time, it would cease to be a miracle and would become a part of nature.
Today, rationalists use a different language. Nature has been replaced by science, and miracles by quackery. And quackery ceases to be quackery if it is finally proven by science in the same way that a miracle ceases to be one when it can be explained by science.
To explore the argument, let's take the controversial subject of homeopathy, the therapy that makes scientists and doctors apoplectic, simply because, for them, it can't possibly be anything other than placebo.
For the doctor, homeopathy is the last word in quackery because it violates every known law, and common sense, too, for good measure. At its heart is a completely implausible premise, says the scientist. The idea that you can dilute a substance one million times and still have something of the original is impossible, or, as Hume would put it, a violation of nature.
But scientists who have spent a lifetime studying the quality of water and other aqueous substances say that it does, indeed, have 'a memory' that persists despite even a million dilutions.
Prof Eugene Stanley from Boston University, who is considered one of the leading experts on the physics of water, has catalogued 64 anomalous property changes to pure water. As Rustum Roy, a materials scientist at Arizona State University, explains, the first law of materials science dictates that there must be the same number of different structures in liquid water - which suggests we really don't know the first thing about water, after all.
Meanwhile, Prof Martin Chaplin from London's South Bank University is currently exploring just how it could be that water has a memory. As he says: "Too often the final argument used against the memory of water concept is simply 'I just don't believe it'. . .Such unscientific rhetoric is heard from the otherwise sensible scientists, with a narrow view of the subject and without any examination or appreciation of the full body of evidence, and reflects badly on them."
So if science could explain homeopathy, does this mean that this ridiculed therapy is about to lose its quackery status? Miracles do happen, it seems.
Have a wonderful Christmas, everyone!