The Conflict of Philosophies


Philosopher John Searle, politician Patrick Buchanan, and law professor Phillip Johnson have suggested that society is embroiled in a culture war. Chiropractic is one small battle in that war. We often use the word “paradigm” to mean a model. But the word means much more than just that. It is also “the conceptional framework that permits the explanation and investigation of phenomena or the objects of study in a field of study” (Heritage Dictionary). A paradigm assumes a way of looking at life. Theories of the origin of the universe and life exist in every culture. These theories influence objectivity, value system, government, sociology, religion, law, the arts and relative to this discussion, philosophy and science, and these theories themselves are influenced by world and life viewpoint.

The naturalist thinks and acts from an outside-in perspective. He is mechanistic. He sees man as a point on the evolutionary scale having come from and going in a direction that has no purpose or rational end. A mechanist must be atheistic if he is to carry his thinking to its logical conclusion. His model assumes that God does not exist, did not interject Himself into human history in any way, and that man has no purpose or rational end. He then goes about accumulating facts to support that assumption. Further, he must eradicate any vitalistic or supernatural concepts from every endeavor, whether it be value systems, sociology, psychology, science or modern chiropractic.

The vitalist/theist has made an assumption concerning the universe. It is based on intelligent design, order, organization and the existence of an intelligent designer. As part of that world and life viewpoint the objective straight chiropractor assumes intelligent design in the human body and an intelligent designer. Everything, including man, has a purpose and has a cause which creates effects. The objective straight chiropractor’s actions are based on the assumption that the human body is not the result of billions of years of random activity that has by chance resulted in the complex and beautifully organized human body but is the result of a principle or law that exists apart from the body and manifests itself through it. This principle is part of a larger principle or law. While it is not part of the objective straight chiropractic philosophy to name or describe this Lawgiver, it is traditionally accepted that it is a Supreme Being which the Palmers had no apparent reservation in calling God.

This step back beyond our vitalistic chiropractic philosophy is a natural progression. It can be logically and historically argued that our philosophy arises from a theistic world and life viewpoint. It is this, more than anything else, that grates upon the chiropractic mechanists causing them to reject our philosophy, innate intelligence and its foundation, universal intelligence. Much to the frustration of the chiropractic mechanists, the vitalist cannot divorce his vitalistic or theistic concepts from any area of life. The objective straight chiropractor cannot divorce innate intelligence from the art, science or the philosophy. That would be like asking a Christian to apply his ethical principles only to his friends and not love his enemies, or an orthodox Jew to apply his religion only to his Sabbath activities and not to his dietary habits. Or for that matter, expecting Madelyn Murray O’Hare to fight to get prayer and Bible reading out of public schools but not care about “In God We Trust” being printed on our money. The mechanist attacks us because of our tradition. We are denigrated as unscientific because of “Palmer fundamentalism…belief in God or God’s agent, Innate Intelligence, is blatantly untestable, yet generations of practitioners have adhered to this biotheology and have thereby justified (among themselves) the broad applicability and prophylactic value of their services.”(1) It may be true that innate intelligence is untestable and that may make it unscientific in the eyes of neoscience but that makes it no less valid than black holes, the big bang and relativity. One would be hard pressed to call Hawking, Roger Penrose or Einstein unscientific, all of whom have produced theories that are untestable yet accepted as fact by most of the scientific community.

Being a vitalistic profession causes objective straight chiropractic to occupy a unique place in the community. We may very well be the only school of thought outside of theology that holds to an ADIO world and life viewpoint. That viewpoint has virtually disappeared from science and the health fields. It is a difficult position to maintain. To the “scientific” opposition to that viewpoint (in and out of the profession) we represent the last vestiges of an archaic system of thought. In our minds we are the last bastion of an important world and life viewpoint that impinges upon every aspect of human existence. We are neither fish nor fowl. We are not a religion but outside of religion, conversely, nobody in the mainstream of scientific thinking has our paradigm.  I’m not sure but that this precarious position was not partially responsible for D.D.’s suggestion that chiropractic become a religion (2), Shears’ similar suggestion (3) and the development of Spinology (4).  It is definitely an impossible position in the field of biology. Dean Kenyon, a distinguished biology professor at San Francisco State University, experienced the real world politics of our position. Kenyon was the co-author of Biochemical Predestination, a book about the origin of life on earth. His text reflected the naturalistic philosophy of the scientific community. Over time, however, Kenyon became disenchanted with the naturalistic explanation of life as a series of purposeless, random, chemical events that by sheer chance over billions of years resulted in life as we know it. In his classroom lectures he voiced his skepticism and presented the argument of intelligent design as an alternative. He apparently stayed very vitalistic and was careful to avoid religion. However, after a few student complaints, the department chairman announced Kenyon would no longer teach his course because he was introducing “religious opinions” into the science curriculum. Fortunately, his appeal to the school’s Academic Freedom Committee caused a reversal of the decision but it demonstrates that even universal intelligence is viewed as a religious concept (5).

The battle will heat up, but why?  Why should it happen?  We know from history the damage done by “religious wars.” I would suggest it is the same reason that religious wars occur. The mechanistic and vitalistic viewpoints both precipitate action. Those that want to strip chiropractic of its philosophy do so because it is “a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs, a philosophy of life” (Heritage Dictionary). It sets standards and directs action. Naturalistic philosophies and mechanists do not want standards, principles or a system based on anything but their own arbitrary desires. They do not want to play by any rules but their own. Science is supposed to be amoral but it cannot exist as such in a moral void. There are moral decisions in science and the health field to be made every day. But that is not their desire. If they have no restriction, then anything they do is right. That is a pretty frightening thought for the health care community. If you recognize an innate intelligence, it is an altogether different ball game and a new set of rules are your guidelines in practical affairs. The issue of chiropractic clinical research and a philosophy hindering it was is a commom argument. I would suggest that clinical research without a philosophy is dangerous. Without a value system and a set of standards it will go in any direction. Of course, the easiest direction is the line of least resistance, which is disease treatment and within that is the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. Having a naturalistic philosophy that denies a principle greater than self is a model that hinders us. Further, a metaphysical foundation does not skew our objectivity. Nelson says that real science is not being sure about anything (6). I assume they are sure about the truth of that statement). Not being sure about anything does not give you objectivity. It poisons your objectivity toward absolutes, standards, principles or laws. That is what naturalism does and I propose that is more dangerous than the metaphysical a priori foundation of vitalistic philosophy. Perhaps the fact that we are sure about something (that the innate intelligence can run the body better than the educated intelligence) is why they really hate us. But for all the diatribe on their part, (and a little on ours) we are getting together. Dialogue and debate is taking place, accreditation has thrust us together. Frankly, it is a bit frightening. I am not sure that we are strong enough philosophically to not be drawn into the naturalistic mechanistic model. If it happens, it will happen one step at a time. We are already taking that first step and it is a philosophical one. In objective straight chiropractic philosophy, we begin with universal intelligence. We say that it is a law but inherent within the existence of a law is a Lawgiver. We have been careful not to talk about Who or what created that law and the law of active organization (innate intelligence), although it is clear from D.D.’s and B.J.’s writings that they considered these principles (universal intelligence and innate intelligence) to emanate from a theistic mindset. It seems rather ludicrous to talk about vitalistic principles (not chiropractic principles) and ignore the Creator of that principle. Similarly, to talk about the Law of Life and not the Lawgiver seems to be lacking something. We have been careful not to go any further back than universal intelligence to avoid “religious overtones” to chiropractic.

The legitimate question is: can we continue to do that? We apparently need to acknowledge that there is Someone that transcends our chiropractic terms or from which they emanate. We can say that anyone is free to call that Someone what they want: God, Jehovah, Allah, Jesus or just to recognize the transcendence of universal intelligence. But we need to emphasize that whatever it or He is, the existence is apart from the matter, separate and distinct from the material, although clearly manifested by it. In other words, we must have a preternatural or supernatural mindset to keep our chiropractic philosophy pure. If we do not, I suggest that we run the risk of going the way of mechanism philosophically and in practice. The medical doctor acknowledges vis medicatrix or nature’s healing ability. But there is no practical outworking of that knowledge. The reason is that vis medicatix is part of the matter, not separate and distinct from it, and since the matter is where the physician directs his attention, he is free to alter it, leave it alone or try to improve upon it. The mechanistic chiropractor takes a similar position. Donahue (7) says that organization and control are biological attributes, they are inherent in an organism rather than something apart from the organism that gives to it its “organismness” (my term) and can be taken away rendering the organism lifeless. But chiropractic philosophy does not agree. Innate intelligence is separate from the matter, the force is separate and distinct from the matter also. True, they are in union but there is a difference between separate entities being in union and being the same thing. A group of people may be part of an organization (an organism if you will) but they still maintain their individual characteristics and qualities. They do not lose their identity. I believe there is a trend in our chiropractic philosophy to cause the innate intelligence of the body to lose its identity and become “one with the matter.” Innate intelligence is not the matter in active organization, it is manifested by the matter in active organization. The former idea is acceptable to the mechanistic chiropractor, the naturalistic scientist and the atheist. The latter is not. It presupposes a something that is separate from the matter and while chiropractic does not identify what it is, this position causes people to consider that Something and are challenged to relate it to their health, their life, their action, and their value system. That is the key. The amoral scientist does not want to consider that there are laws or a Lawgiver that is superior to his educated brain, to whom he owes obeisance. He can do what he wants; ethics, values, morals, right or wrong, are only as he perceives them. That’s the difference between us and them. To the objective straight chiropractor there is always the innate intelligence of the body which must be accepted, respected and deferred to.

Why is all of this of importance? I believe there are people within the straight chiropractic community who are willing to compromise in order to placate the scientific community. We can join the scientific community but only on their terms. These terms include compromising the vitalistic philosophy that we adhere to. We do not have to compromise the correction of vertebral subluxation, just the reason for doing it.  Should that happen, we will lose the uniqueness of our philosophy and head down the mechanistic road.  We are at a crucial point in the history of our philosophy.  We can integrate our philosophy into the mainstream scientific paradigm but only if we are willing to abandon the basis for our vitalistic philosophy. Or we can maintain our present position, as a fringe profession tenaciously holding to our 19th century philosophy, and wait and hope that science will one day come to us. 


1.  Keating, Joseph, Traditional Barriers to Standards of Knowledge Production in Chiropractic, Chiropractic Technique, Williams and Wilkes, 1990.

2.  Palmer, D.D., The Chiropractor published posthumously, 1914.

3.  Strauss, Joseph B., “A Unique Approach to a Fee System”, Journal of Straight Chiropractic.

4.  Gregory, Thomas, conversation with author, November 9, 1995.

5.  Johnson.

6.  Nelson, Craig, quote from video of Great Debate.

7.  Donahue, Joseph, Letters to the editor, p76, Journal of Chiropractic Humanities, Vol. 5 No. 1, National College, 1995.

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This article has 10 comments

  1. eric seiler 04/28/2012, 10:06 am:


  2. Steve 04/30/2012, 4:01 pm:

    Getting people to recognize Universal Intelligence as a starting point has never been a problem for me. No one has ever argued about the fact that there is a system in place with laws and consistency. I have never been asked, “where does this UI come from”. Have you? I think patients have their own “paradigm”. In other words, whether THEY are religious or not, they can grasp the significance of systems and laws. I always thought my job was to explain the relevance of the innate connection to those self evident concepts. Chiropractic is not a religion because it does not require faith to be effective. Have you ever adjusted a newborn or an animal? They are incapable of having a belief system, yet it works the same for them as it does for the christian, or the atheist.

    • Richie Barone D.C. 04/30/2012, 8:37 pm:

      Joe: you are absolutely right….never really thot of it that way…..Not a religion but to adhere to the philosophical premises one must come from a theistic standpoint that science and mechanistic thinking can not tolerate or consider….

      • Steve 04/30/2012, 9:33 pm:

        WHY,WHY,WHY does there have to be a step above principle # 1. Obviously the mechanist and scientist see order in the universe, in fact more order than we can classify. Whether we ASSUME it was created or IMPLY it was chance, the patterns and consistency are the same.

        • eric seiler 04/30/2012, 11:23 pm:


          You can certainly IMPLY everything is chance (if that is your leaning). You just can’t do it with the Major Premise. Stephenson brought God/UI to the party. There IS NO step above principle #1.

  3. Steve 05/01/2012, 3:00 pm:

    Hey Eric,
    This is my point exactly. We do not need to assume or imply. The major premise (as stated) recognizes the intelligence, but for “logical” reasons does not attribute it to anything. This is the beauty of our philosophy and the reason we are NOT a religion. Had our forefathers denoted a cause or source in the major premise (as stated) chiropractic would be a belief system. The way it is now, any individual from any viewpoint can identify with and accept our logical progression of thought.
    It is obvious to me as I’m sure it is to you Eric, that our predecessors were men of faith. BJ described his dad as spiritual but not religious. BJ himself, in early writings espoused a disdain for religion. (I have however, learned from my friend Dr Simon Senzon who has written extensively on the subject, that BJ did write more of god in his latter works. We may disagree on the motivation behind these writings but none the less they exist.) Stephenson no doubt was a believer as you have shown, several times.
    BUT, and it’s a big BUT, there had to be a reason these men of faith chose not to include any reference to a supreme being in the major premise. Remember the major premise is the statement all to follow must relate to. Personally I think they wanted to remove the shackle of all religion. To allow, as stated previously, chiropractic to be available to all comers. If you can see the congruency of the universe you can logically understand chiropractic. Assumptions and implications are not necessary!

    • eric seiler 05/01/2012, 6:31 pm:

      Hey Steve,

      This is actually not the point at all. With all due respect, I don’t think you really bother to read what I write! ui is attributed to something – the Creator of the universe. You can fill in whatever name you like. They (DD, BJ, RWS) meant God. But the fact remains that ui means Creator/God. The root of the major premise is overtly theological. This however Does Not make chiropractic philosophy into a religion.

      • eric seiler 05/01/2012, 6:33 pm:


        Stated even more simple – form the perspective of the author of the major premise – ui is God.

        • Steve 05/02/2012, 12:51 pm:

          Hey Eric,
          Then why do you think it does not say…1.God is in all matter…..2.The expression of this God through matter…..3.Life is necessarily the union of God and matter….ect.

          • eric seiler 05/02/2012, 6:13 pm:


            I think perhaps the best answer to your question is so that the reader can insert their own expression for the Creator of the universe in its place. There are I believe at least 20 names for the Judeo-Christian God in the Bible. And there are any other number of names for an “equivalent” concept of Creator in other belief systems. By simply identifying the subject of the major premise as “the Creator”…no specific religion is identified and the concept becomes more “universal” and not tied to any particular religion.

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