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Paul Arendt interviews Stephen Russell, The Barefoot Doctor

Dawkins seems to be stuck in the last century. He's a very entertaining guy, but he suffers from existential insecurity: everything has to be proven before he'll believe it. This programme, in which Dawkins lampooned alternative medicine, felt contrived, as if he had just come up with the most sensationalistic view possible. At times, I doubted whether even he believed what he was saying.

His basic, rather alarmist, premise was that western medicine is in danger of being overshadowed by alternative medicine. Apart from being simply not true, it's a very old-fashioned way of looking at the field. Over the past 20 or 30 years, it has been shown that certain medical conditions benefit from a combination of two approaches: chemotherapy, for instance, can be complemented by acupuncture to relieve pain or boost stamina. Hence the term complementary medicine. But no serious homeopaths consider themselves a viable alternative to western medicine, unless they're really out there.

Dawkins also talks about alternative medicine relying on the placebo effect. If that were true - which I don't think it is - it still wouldn't make homeopathy invalid. Under the right circumstances, people get great results. I was in practice for 20 years, and I wasn't treating idiots.

It's ridiculously nihilistic to think that if you can't prove something right now, it isn't valid. It's so self-limiting: Dawkins must be very unhappy in himself. We've progressed beyond that. Look at the miraculous realms being explored by quantum physicists. We have to suspend disbelief for a while, and see where they'll take us.

Stephen Russell, aka The Barefoot Doctor, is an expert on holistic medicine. The Enemies of Reason was broadcast on Channel 4.



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