Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: Drawing the Lines Between Chiropractic, Medicine, and Theology.


The biggest problem we seem to have in chiropractic is drawing the lines between what is the practice of therapeutics and what is the practice of chiropractic. A lesser, but in the opinion of some a problem with more serious ramifications, is drawing the lines between chiropractic and religion. The answer to both problems is really very simple to me. It is having a clear understanding of the philosophy of chiropractic, especially its objective and the philosophy and the objectives of medicine and religious thought. There is no doubt that overlapping does occur in the three systems. Religion recognizes a Supreme Being, the Creator of all things. Chiropractic is based upon a universal intelligence which is often described as God, a misnomer, but a principle that is common to chiropractic and theology.

The brain and nervous system play a vital role in the practice of chiropractic as well as the objective of chiropractic. They are also a part of the science and the practice of medicine. The objective of chiropractic, however, while involving the nerve system(correcting vertebral subluxations), is not part of the practice of medicine nor is the medical attention placed on the nerve system (treating conditions of it) part of the practice of chiropractic. The key is to understand the philosophy and to understand, at the least, the objectives of religion and faith, and of medicine.

The objective of medicine is to treat diseases and their symptoms and to remove their causes, if possible. If chiropractic is to exist as separate and distinct from medicine, it must have a non-duplicative objective. On the other hand, the objective of religion and faith is to bring into right relationships, man and his God. If chiropractic’s objective is to “unite man the spiritual and man the physical,”  then chiropractic is religion, duplicating the objective of religion and faith.

As a profession we must begin to place equal importance on philosophy and objective. There is a trend in chiropractic that has been occurring almost since B.J. and D.D. presented their metaphysical model, introducing terms like innate intelligence and universal intelligence. That is to deny, denigrate, ignore and reject our metaphysical heritage. Some make no bones about their distaste for our vitalistic philosophy or anything that smacks of a vitalistic philosophy. In the beginning the charge was that it sounded like religion. The forefathers’ frequent use of God in describing universal intelligence and soul in describing innate intelligence only fueled the attacks. There are numerous aspects to the problem. First and foremost, there are many aspects of our philosophy that do touch upon the same concepts that exist in theology. There were even people in the early part of our chiropractic history who wanted to make chiropractic into a religion for a number of reasons. One was to bypass licensure and practice under the freedom of religion clause in the U.S. Constitution. Others truly saw a relationship between chiropractic and religion. Fortunately, the developers of our profession had the wisdom to refrain from making chiropractic into a religion. If they had done that we would not only have incurred the wrath of the medical profession as the Christian scientists did, but we would have had opposition by the organized religious communities. There would have been greater and more widespread charges of “cult” heaped upon the profession.

Figure 1

Chiropractic and Medicine

Looking at the chart (fig 1) we can see that medicine has a science, art, and philosophy component. The philosophy of medicine is mechanistic (or outside-in) embracing the idea that a lack of health and sickness/disease are opposites and that they are caused by outside factors. The objective of medicine comes about by its philosophy. It is the treatment, cure and prevention of disease.

The art of medicine, of course, includes diagnosis, and treatment procedures like the administration of drugs and the use of surgery. All of these are art forms as much as medicine would like us to think that they are scientific. The science of medicine includes anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. One can see there is an overlap between the science and the art. The chemistry of a drug is science. How to administer that drug in dosage and frequency is an art form as every person is different.

In the science of medicine and the science of chiropractic we find an overlapping. It is the only place where there is a common area in these two professions. It is shown by the shaded area. The small area includes the spine and the nerve system.  Unfortunately, some chiropractors have taken this lesser area, the anatomy of the spine and the nerve system along with the physiology of these two areas and by that have expanded chiropractic into the field of medicine and into the objective of medicine – the treatment of disease. The history of that aberration in chiropractic could fill a book,  but it most assuredly began with the observation of certain musculoskeletal conditions of the spine and adjacent spinal area and the successful treatment of structural problems.

It could be argued that there are certain medical procedures that resemble the art of chiropractic. Here is where the respective procedures that resemble the art of both chiropractic and medicine come into view. The objective of medicine is to treat disease. Manipulation may achieve that objective if the condition/disease is musculoskeletal. Surgery is part of the art form to accomplish the medical objective. The physician must be able to identify parts of the human body, so dissection is of value. Chiropractic science requires only an academic knowledge of anatomy, and does not need dissection. It does nothing to enhance the education of a chiropractor in preparing him to achieve his objective. It serves only to give him more impetus to appropriating the medical objective. As we move along our continuum, we come to the philosophy of chiropractic. It should be noted that the positions of the 3 aspects of medicine and chiropractic are for convenience sake only and do not relate to the importance of the science, art and philosophy of either profession.

The philosophy of chiropractic, one can see from Fig. 1, is as far from the philosophy of medicine as could be. While there is an overlapping or common ground in the science, there is none in the philosophy. Because the philosophies of both are so different, the objective that develops from each philosophy differs. The objective of chiropractic is to correct vertebral subluxations in order to enable the innate intelligence of the body to be better expressed. It is not difficult to see that is a far cry from the objective of medicine ,for the following reasons:

1. Medicine does not acknowledge an innate intelligence in their philosophy.
2. What they do acknowledge, by terms such as viz medicitrix naturae and similar terms, in no way resembles the innate intelligence of the body. The former is a mechanistic construct, the latter is a vitalistic one.
3. The vertebral subluxation, as chiropractic defines it is not recognized by medicine. It is not a disease, nor something that they address.
4. Nothing in the medical art form is aimed at locating, analyzing and correcting vertebral subluxations.
5. Medical treatment addresses disease. Chiropractic adjustment does not.

As you can see from Fig 1, the only thing that chiropractic and the practice of medicine have in common is a limited amount of scientific knowledge.

Chiropractic and Theology

There are certain doctrinal concepts that are common to most religions and are also common to the chiropractic philosophy. The first of course is the idea that there is a universal intelligence. In the beginning of our profession, theists were attracted to chiropractic, and for the most part they still are. They brought with them their ideas of what or who universal intelligence was. No doubt, the Midwest Bible belt influenced their thinking and their explanation of what has become known as the major premise in chiropractic. The theological underpinnings of chiropractic still exist today and in some ways they are even more influential. For some chiropractors, there is no question in their mind that universal intelligence and God are synonymous. In fact they go so far as to capitalize the terms and some developers and early chiropractic writers had no reservations about using the terms interchangeably. While universal intelligence was often described as God, the term innate intelligence was often construed to be “God in Man” and for some it was the soul, the spirit or both. What is perplexing is that so many of the early chiropractors had a theological background, men like John Craven. How did they allow such a mixture of theology and chiropractic? A man like Craven with a background in the ministry would surely see the difference between theological concepts and chiropractic philosophical ones. But he did not.

Perhaps, for our discussion we need to begin with universal intelligence. The fact that the term was used instead of God indicates that for one reason or another those developing our chiropractic lexicon did not want to use the term God. Why was that? Undoubtedly, a concern on the part of many was that chiropractic would be viewed as a religion and be rejected by many who held to orthodox theology and those who rejected theology altogether. When George Shearer approached BJ with the idea of the GPC practice, the Developer was quick to reject the idea of going that route and bypassing  the need for license and the restrictions that would place upon the new profession. Was BJs reasoning that chiropractic belonged in the health field? Or was it he that did not want his profession being associated with religious thought? Modern-day spinology, which has for all intents and purpose followed the model of GPC (at least in the practice), is a good argument for BJs desire to go the health care route. Although spinology has attempted to stay out of the health care model with some degree of success, most spinologists are probably seeing the same percentage of people for back problems as are chiropractors. Chiropractic, under the GPC model, could still have maintained its independence, the same as Christian Science has successfully done since its beginning, prior to the discovery of chiropractic.

So, while the terminology of theology never entered the formal chiropractic lexicon, the concepts are there shared by both, and modern day chiropractors have attempted to appropriate theological terminology.

Just as we have tried to maintain the separation of medicine and chiropractic in the area of science and objectives we will endeavor to make that separation with regard to philosophy and theology and the religious objective and the chiropractic objective.

The objective of religion, which we are describing as theology, has in practice many variations but it is generally understood to be to bring man into a relationship with God. It is to unite the non-physical part of man with the Spiritual Being which we are calling God. In theology we call that non-physical part the soul. In chiropractic we are bringing the physical part of man, the material body, into right relationship with another non-physical part of man, the innate intelligence. This idea that there are at least two aspects of the non-physical man, the spiritual part including the soul and spirit and the innate intelligence, is totally foreign to many chiropractors. This is an important distinction that the developers never explained. It is necessary in order to differentiate between plants, animals and human beings. All have an innate intelligence and the innate intelligence is the same in all.  But plants and animals do not have the other aspect of non-physical man, the soul and or spirit.

So where does the chiropractic universal and innate intelligence idea originate and how is it different from the theological concepts of God, soul and spirit. If chiropractic and theology are to exist side by side, then we must have a distinction between them. Our chiropractic philosophy does not preclude the pre-existence of anything before universal intelligence. From that position, I would suggest that universal intelligence is a principle or law created by the Law Giver or Creator of the universe. This idea does not in any way contradict our chiropractic philosophy for we do not go back further than establishing the existence of universal intelligence. We do not conjecture where it came from. Further, it is interesting that we call universal intelligence Principle Number One and Palmer often referred to innate intelligence as the Law of  Life. Principle and Law both have the connotation of something created. Universal intelligence has often been described as the Law of Organzation. The Law of Organization (universal intelligence) and the Law of Life (innate intelligence) do not occur by random chance as naturalistic science would like us to believe. They are created by a Creator.

While we have common areas of interest in the science of medicine and chiropractic but also a difference in objective so that there is no common purpose, we have areas of common interest in our chiropractic philosophy and theology. The common threads of chiropractic and theology include:

1. Both recognize something or someone greater than the educated mind of man.
2. Both recognize that man has more than a physical dimension to him.
3. Both deal with concepts that defy experimental study and naturalistic science.
4. Both rely on these concepts to explain that which science cannot explain.

That said, there are also differences between chiropractic philosophy and theology:

1. Theology addresses the spiritual part of non-material man (soul and spirit).Chiropractic addresses the innate intelligence part of non-material man.
2. Theology’s focus is on the educated brain and its expression. Chiropractic’s focus is on the innate intelligence and it expression.
3. Theology/religion relates to the supernatural. Chiropractic is strictly confined to “things natural.”
4. The most important issues of theology and religion are why we are here and what happens after this life is over. Chiropractic does not address either issue.

It is just as important that we understand the differences between the philosophy of chiropractic and theological constructs as it is we understand the difference between medical objectives and chiropractic objectives.

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This article has 7 comments

  1. Steve 10/28/2011, 9:00 pm:

    Well said Joe, I think it is important to remember it was DD (the first chiropractor ) that said “adjustments join man the physical with man the spiritual. He was , according to all sources, a very religious man. Why he chose to separate ui from god is an excellent question. Otherwise I think the association of chiropractic and religion is very natural for religious people. Just like the mechanist that can’t conceptualize the metaphysical, the religious can’t help from associating god with everything. Adding god to our philosophy is like having a priori statement on our priori statement, you can’t have two starting points. The beauty of the chiropractic philosophy is that it is not a religious or faith based system. We start with a logical premiss (observation) and build (deductively) a reasonable paradigm. This process makes chiropractic essential and available to all. Personally I grew up with BJ’s philosophy, began reading DD immediately after graduation and was the whole time being indoctrinated by KR, (dad) a Palmer grad. It was not until the early 90’s that I was exposed to this new age of objective straight chiropractic philosophy. So I can see why there is so much diversity in our philosophical exchanges. It is just growing pains

    • JStraussDC 11/01/2011, 3:25 pm:

      Steve, there are many apriori statements for different beliefs and since they cannot be proved empirically, they have to be considered beliefs. The Major Premise of chiropractic is an apriori statement. We can show inductively how it is rational but ultimately it takes a (small) leap of faith. However, if you believe God exists , the a priori of theology, then the existance of ui is no longer an apriori statement but a deduction. Of course the a priori of the mechanist/naturalist/evolutionist/atheist/materialist is that God does not exist but are stumped by the question of “who banged the Bang” and must fall back on a belief. But their faulty reasonng is that “believe” is a transative verb and needs an object. You cannot believe in a non-entity. You are correct that we do not make chiropractic into a religion so the MP is our apriori statement but if you are a religious person, who accepts chiropractic while it is still the MP it is no longer an apriori statement. Our (Major) premise is determined inductively. Induction’s weakness is that it must be proved empirically.

  2. Ronen 10/29/2011, 12:45 am:

    Thank U Joe,
    A great article. So deep and important. Both distinctions are vital. Chiropractic stand in between Religion and medicine. Religion addresses the non physical. Medicine addresses the sick/diseased physical. And Chiropractic unites both the non physical and physical. Yet Chiropractic addresses human functionality/potential, and sees the sickness as a continuum of the reduced/subluxated functionality of human potential expression.
    Thus Chiropractic unites physical with nonphysical aspects of life.
    Thank U again.
    Great article and very thourough understanding,

  3. Paulo Henrique Sugimoto 10/29/2011, 1:44 am:

    great post!

  4. Claudelessard@comcast.net 11/01/2011, 11:13 pm:

    Chiropractic deals with the whole person. At no times nor place can we disconnect any material part from any other material part, or any immaterial from any other immaterial part without disintegration taking place to the part separated. That being said, the soul of a person is ONE, no more no less. As the body cannot be separated from its other parts, neither can its innate intelligence can be separated from its function, which is to maintain the body in active organization. And further more, neither can the material of the body be separated from its immaterial — they are separate and yet one entity called the human being. They are one and must be dealt with as such.

    In society there is always overlapping as we all breathe the same air, nourish ourselves from the same planet and deal with people like ourselves. Therefore, we can deduce that chiropractic will overlap medicine and religion.

    Once again, your point is well taken Joseph, when you mentioned that it is important to understand the philosophy of chiropractic and theological constructs and the objective of chiropractic and the objective of medicine.

    The uniqueness and distinctiveness of chiropractic resides in being neither medicine nor religion…. yet addressing the whole person.
    the ADIO viewpoint is to rebuild and reconstruct the person FROM
    WITHIN. Then will the person be able to use to greater advantage the powers that she possesses. It will not be necessary for him to look outside for things he already has and knows it not.

    We can deduce that chiropractic will accomplish its objective which is to LACVS for a full expression of the innate intelligence of the body

  5. Jason Silliker 11/03/2011, 8:51 pm:

    Very insightful. Thanks.

    • JStraussDC 11/04/2011, 12:47 am:

      Thank you Jason and welcome to the Blog. Please feel free to contribute often in the future…and to disagree with me (occasionally) 🙂

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