Faith versus Medical Science

The husband of a colleague of mine has been very ill, and was admitted to a hospital yesterday for tests. I understand he has seen various doctors already, including a neurologist, but there has been no definite diagnosis as yet.

It sounds as though he might have had a stroke, or be suffering from epilepsy, or possibly a tumour – I’m not a doctor, so I can’t speculate. He was admitted to quite a good hospital, they ran some tests, and have decided to transfer him to a better hospital in Pretoria, for further tests. His doctors are obviously taking his plight seriously, and are investigating every angle. I truly hope they can find out what is wrong, and treat him successfully – for the sake of his wife and children.

I asked my colleague today how she was handling the stress, and during our conversation she got quite emotional… who wouldn’t be emotional in her situation? I tried to reassure her, telling her she should be grateful for the doctors, nurses and hospitals, for the sophisticated medical equipment and treatments available – they will do everything in their power to diagnose and treat him.

(If he’d been born in the Middle Ages, he might have been subject to all sorts of horrendous “treatments,” any one of which might have killed him! Blood-letting was particularly popular….. Fortunately, medical science has evolved since then!)

Sometimes an illness is too far advanced to be treated successfully, and sometimes there is no known cure…. Holding back her tears, my colleague said “All I can do is have faith in God to help us.”

That got me thinking: why would anyone think that God can make a difference in this situation? If God cared, wouldn’t he have prevented her husband getting sick in the first place? If he was powerless to prevent the illness, couldn’t he have used his omnipotent superpowers to guide the doctors to make a quick diagnosis, instead of putting this family through this torture?

Of course, the True Believer will respond that this man’s illness, and the pain and anguish of his wife and children are all part of some “Divine Plan.”

I can’t imagine what Plan would consist of such cruelty – clearly this god is a bit of a sadist – but assuming that is correct and there is a Plan of some sort – what point would there be in praying to him for help? He clearly has his mind made up already!

Here’s an interesting thought experiment: take 100 religious people and 100 non-believers. Inject them all with a bacterium which is normally fatal. Isolate each group on a separate island, with food and shelter, and give the atheists the antibiotic known to be effective against the bacterial infection.

Don’t give the religious group any antibiotics – instead send out a worldwide news release, asking people of the same religious persuasion to pray for the religious group to be healed by their god. Naturally, there will be a massive response and the heavens will positively ring with the desperate prayers of the faithful.

Come back to each island in 3 months time, and count the survivors.

Any guess as to which group will have the greatest number still living?

Most people would admit that the group of non-believers would have the most survivors, because the gods don’t really answer prayers. (Ask any religious person you know if they would volunteer to be in the religious group, and I can guarantee they will come up with a really good excuse to not participate!)

My colleague would be better off putting her confidence in the doctors and hospitals who are actually DOING something to help her husband. These people and institutions are REAL  i.e. they can be shown to actually exist

You don’t have to have “FAITH” in them. You can hate and distrust them if you want to. They will still do their very best, apply their knowledge and experience, use their diagnostic tools, and try to help regardless of how you feel about them. They don’t need you to worship them. They WANT to cure your illness, and all they ask is to be reimbursed for their time and skill.

If you need to be convinced of the terrible HARM that can come from relying on faith that a god, any god, will heal you – read this! You can pick up any newspaper on almost any day and find similar stories. Faith is not an effective medical treatment!

I’m not referring exclusively to the christian version of faith healing here – most religions claim that their god has the power to heal, and works through humans, animals or even inanimate objects. (Even bits of rock are supposed to be able to heal – see my article on the Atlantean Power Crystals.)

I feel deep compassion for people who are deceived by faith healing. It’s not their fault – they have been brought up to believe it. They have probably never heard an alternate view – and even when they do, they tend to reject such views outright because they have invested too much in their religion already. It’s a hard habit to break, apparently.

Here is a video by Derren Brown, which explains how faith healers deceive people into believing they have special powers.  Here is James Randi’s expose of Peter Popoff who received radio transmissions through a wireless earpiece during his healing crusades, feeding him information about the audience who had filled out prayer cards before the performances….. Fortunately, this charlatan is no longer in the faith healing business!

Trickery and fraud by faith healers has been exposed many, many times – read James Randi’s excellent book “Faith Healers” for more infamous examples. If so many faith healers are using these tricks, how do you know if any one faith healer really does have Special Powers?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence!

So far the evidence is stacked high and wide against faith healing.

Supernatural claims are outside of the realm of scientific study, but some scientists have tried to measure the effects of prayer and found them to be largely absent or negative. I found some interesting articles, mostly reaching similar conclusions:

“Meta-studies of the broader literature have been performed showing evidence only for no effect or a potentially small effect. For instance, a 2006 meta analysis on 14 studies concluded that there is “no discernable effect” while a 2007 systemic review of intercessory prayer reported inconclusive results, noting that 7 of 17 studies had “small, but significant, effect sizes” but the review noted that the three most methodologically rigorous studies failed to produce significant findings.” from Wikipedia

Prayer is often credited with rather unmiraculous benefits, such as recovery from heart surgery which would most likely have happened anyway, especially if the patient is in intensive care, receiving medication and expert nursing 24/7.

I think the real “miracle” is the dedication of the nurses, the intelligence of the doctors and the persistence of the researchers. We are living in an age of amazing advances in medical science – why does anybody bother with the Sky Fairy and his Associates?


6 comments on “Faith versus Medical Science

  1. Over the Easter Weekend the Atheist Republic posted a screenshot of what comes up when you type “scientists are” into a Google search. This included ridiculous things like: wrong, arrogant, boring, evil, liars, crazy, imorral need to be regulated, atheists and idiots. It had me so upset I posted this in response:
    This is outrageous and disgusting; I just tried it on SA Google to similarly startling results! It makes me feel like I’ve gone back in time to the Dark Ages of witch trials, where if one was too dim-witted to understand it, one burnt it. Happy Easter to everyone alive today because of scientific breakthroughs made by medical scientists!
    Thank you Hippocrates for your inventions in pain relief that lead to aspirin and the Hippocratic Oath 400 BC (That’s Before Christ). Salvino D’Armate for the invention of wearable eye glasses (1284). Ambroise Pare for Modern Prosthetics, Ancient Egyptians are sought to have made prosthetics as early as 2700BC (1529). Stephen Farfler for the first self-propelling wheelchair (1655). Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit for the first modern thermometer (1714). Thank you Baron Dominiquie Larrey for inventing the ambulance service (1792). Docteur Laennec for the Stethoscope (1816). Charles Jackson & William Morton for Anesthesia (1846). Ignaz Semmelweis for Antiseptics (1847). Charles Gabriel Pravaz and Alexander Wood for the Hypodermic Needle (1853). Florence Nightingale for professional nursing (1860). Louis Pasteur for Pasteurisation, the cure to rabies, the cure for anthrax and the cure for cholera (1862 -1885). Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen for the X-Ray (1895). Phillip Drinker for the Iron Lung Respirator (1927). Sir Alexander Fleming for Penicillin (1928). John Heysham Gibbon for the heart lung machine (1935). Charles Drew for the means of storing blood in blood banks (1941). William J Kolff the dialysis machine (1945). Dr. Peter Safar for CPR (1950s). Professor Ian Donald for the ultrasound (1950s). Jonas Salk for the Polio Vaccine (1952). Baruch Blumberg for the vaccine against Viral Hepatitis (1964). Steven Trokel for Laser Eye Surgery (1987). Researchers of Hoffman – La Roche Inc for HIV Protease Inhibitors (1994).
    How many countless lives have these and other scientist like them saved? How many more will Genome Studies, Nanotechnology, Robotic Surgery, Stem Cell Research and Cloning save in the future? Here’s to the real life Saviours that make me proud to be human and in whose name no one has ever been killed. The Scientists!

  2. I’m sorry you feel this way. For me, my faith comes from experience. It’s all about leaving something I have no control over to the One who has control over everything. The world has been turned upside down by the Devil and God is showing the universe the true nature of sin. If God had intervened in the beginning, He would have done away with our free choice and it wouldn’t be such a joy to worship an all powerful God. For me, prayer is a privilege where I can present my requests to my King. I am rather unwise and often foolish so I don’t know what’s best. I leave that to Him. He sees the full picture and makes ‘all things work together for the good of those who love him’. No matter how much pain that puts me through now, I’ll bear it for the same One who bore it all for me.

    • Karl, you are perfectly entitled to your religion, but you must realise everything you said in your comment makes no sense to anyone but a believer in your particular faith.
      What about all the billions of people of other faiths? They feel just as strongly about their religion as you do, because they were brought up that way, as you were. The religious impulse is very strongly evolved in humans.
      You should not forget the billions of individuals who lived and died before your religion got off the ground. They have never heard of your God, your Devil, or indeed your Saviour. They worshipped thousands of different gods just as ardently as you worship yours, often for exactly the same reasons.

      I am a Humanist. Truth, compassion and rational thinking are my moral compasses. As such, I have no need for any supernatural beings to control my destiny.

      I dont define myself by my lack of belief in something, but rather by what I do stand for; Rational thought, reality, compassion and truth.

      That said, I hope we can keep in touch because I really love your photography, and I would like to share mine
      with you 🙂

      • I understand there are many other religions who each had a beginning long ago. And I realise that many are also just as passionate about theirs. I choose to allow them to believe as they do, without criticising their faith structure.

        I question your blog post, because it comes across to me as an attack on the faith structure of a Christian. It is completely up to you whether you embrace a particular belief system or not. But please don’t pick on the attributes of Christianity that others choose to uphold and place all their faith.

      • My blog posts criticise all religions, as well as other irrational beliefs like “alternative medicines,” and charlatans like psychics and astrologers. I tend to pick up on something someone says to me, and talk about why I think they are being irrational. Names are always changed to protect the identity of the moronic (just kidding, they can’t help how they think, mostly.)

        I think it is entirely possible to be a good, moral person without subscribing to any one of the (equally improbable) religions out there. So much harm is done in the name of religion – I honestly feel the world would be a better place without these irrational, intolerant, racist, misogynistic belief systems.

        If you really want to do some good in the world, why not do it because you care about other human beings – not because you are trying to buy a ticket to heaven, or you’re afraid your “loving” god will roast you in hell for eternity?

        Yes, I attack the faith structure of christianity, because that’s the one I know the most about. The Judeo-christian god is a violent, hateful, jealous god and his followers seem to be blind to these facts. It seems most of them have never read their own bible all the way through, and are completely oblivious to what it really says. The bible condones rape, slavery, mass murder, human sacrifice and all sorts of practises decent people abhor.

        Christians choose to gloss over more than half of their own holy book, as though it was not “divinely inspired” like the bits they do approve of, namely the new testament. Is it not the very same god involved, or did he change somewhere in between? (Can an “eternal” perfect being change so radically?)

        Anyway, I’m not trying to change your mind. These are my thoughts, expressed my way. Nobody is being forced to read them, or to agree with me. This is my creative and intellectual outlet. I’m 100% sure you understand that, Karl.

        Go well, stay safe, I hope you have a great time making beautiful art, and I am looking forward to seeing your Dubai photos.

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