Centuries of advancement in our understanding of biology has made the notion of life energy unnecessary. Further, no one has been able to detect life energy or formulate a scientifically coherent theory as to what life energy is, where it comes from, and how it interacts with matter or other forms of energy. Within science, the vitalists lost the debate over a century ago. Without chi, there is no underlying basis for acupuncture as a medical intervention.
Recent attention given to acupuncture has attempted to bring it into the scientific fold by hypothesizing physical mechanisms for its alleged effects. For example, some proponents argue that the needles may stimulate the release of pain-killing natural chemicals, relax tense muscles, or inhibit the conduction of pain through counter-irritation.
These potential mechanisms, while more plausible than the non-existent chi, remain speculative. Further, they would only explain the very non-specific effect of acupuncture causing a temporary mild reduction in pain (no better than rubbing your elbow after accidentally banging it against something hard). Such mechanisms could not account for any of the medical claims made for acupuncture, or the alleged existence of acupuncture points.
Further, it is misleading to say that such mechanisms could explain “acupuncture.” Acupuncture is the needling of acupuncture points to affect the flow and balance of chi. Using needles to mechanically produce a temporary local counter-irritation effect is not acupuncture – even though it may be an incidental consequence of this practice and may have contributed to its perceived effectiveness.