Articles

The Power of Faith and Prayer?

Part of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) movement is an attempt to insert spirituality into the philosophy and practice of medicine. Most energy healing modalities, for example, have spiritual underpinnings. At the same time there are many attempts to use science to validate the healing power of faith.  This is also an issue that is very attractive to the media, who love articles and headlines about the power of prayer. In our culture – faith sells.

A recent article in the Detroit Free Press is an excellent example of bad reporting and the sensationalizing of this issue. It does a good job of maximally confusing the issue.

To be clear, SBM is not anti-faith or anti-religion. But the issue of faith in medicine raises two main areas of concern. The first is the misrepresentation of the scientific evidence, both for intercessory prayer and the health effects of faith. The second are the ethical and professional implications of mixing faith with medical practice.

Intercessory Prayer

The Detroit Free Press article makes no attempt to distinguish the various issues with faith and medicine, and confuses them together in a misleading way. Intercessory prayer is, essentially, praying for the health of another person. There have been about a dozen such trials with reasonable design. In most the subjects know they may be prayed for. But of course, none of the trials can control for those who are not part of the study praying for a study subject.

Every time such a study shows a hint of positive results the media have a frenzy of reporting that “science proves faith.” When such studies are negative, the footprint in the media is much smaller. What we find when we look at all the studies of intercessory prayer is the type of scatter of results we would expect from a null intervention – one with no effect at all. A 2009 Cochrane review of intercessory prayer studies concluded:

These findings are equivocal and, although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer,the majority do not and the evidence does not support a recommendation either in favour or against the use of intercessory prayer. We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care.

These wishy washy conclusions are essentially saying the evidence is negative. The review was also criticized for its methods and discussion of the results – specifically mixing theological and scientific arguments in the discussion and failing to mention significant flaws of the positive studies. But even with these complaints, the results of the review are what we would expect from a treatment effect of zero.

The results of existing research are not sufficient to rule out a small and inconsistent effect – but medical research is never designed to reach such a conclusion, and not being completely disproved is hardly a sufficient reason to endorse a medical intervention.

Again – to be clear – the point of reviewing the evidence is not to argue that individuals should not pray for their loved-ones who are ill. Rather it is important to accurately report the results of the research that has been done – there is no scientific evidence that intercessory prayer is efficacious. Therefore the scientific evidence cannot be used as a justification for inserting religious faith into the practice of medicine.

The Health Effect of Faith

A completely separate question from intercessory prayer is that of the health benefits of having or practicing faith. This is a much more difficult question to assess scientifically. With intercessory prayer there is a specific intervention that can be isolated as a variable. The variable of faith, however, is very difficult to isolate, and most studies barely attempt to do so at all. Most such studies are retrospective and use surveys or questionnaires to gather data, which are plagued by artifacts.

One such study, highlighted in the recent Detroit Free Press article, looked at 88 patients who had suffered Traumatic Brain Injury in the last 10 years. They found a positive correlation between feeling a personal connection with god and having better rehabilitation outcomes. The authors concluded that personal faith “predicts” a good outcome, and the press release (dutifully reprinted by most news outlets) reported that personal faith improves TBI outcomes.

There are two major problems with this study, however. The first is that the survey process itself is likely to bias reporting. If you ask people about their faith (or that of a family member) and then ask them how they are doing, the answer to the one question is likely to influence the answer to the other.

Second – the study found a correlation only, and was not designed to infer any cause and effect. One possible interpretation is that those who were doing better in terms of their recovery from TBI were more likely, as a result, to feel positive about their connection to god.

Much of the research into the question of faith and health is similarly plagued by such flaws, which makes interpreting the research problematic at best.

However, my reading of the literature on this question leads me to conclude that there is a consistent signal in the noise – having a social network consistently positively correlates with better health outcomes. This can be through reduced stress and better practical and emotional support. Humans are social animals, and we simply do better when we are part of a social network than when we are isolated. Religion can provide a useful social network. Faith and religion itself, however, are not the important variable – it’s the social network.

Further, faith both encourages and may result from a positive and hopeful outlook, which can certainly influence the reporting of health outcomes in addition to reducing stress and encouraging better self-care. These variables are rarely controlled for or isolated, however.

Conclusion

The existing research does not support the conclusion that there is any efficacy to intercessory prayer. The research also does not allow for the conclusion that there are health benefits to faith or religion as specific variables. This latter question is open to further research, however.

The scientific evidence can therefore not be used to support the intermingling of faith with the practice of medicine. In any case – doing so raises serious ethical and professional concerns. For example, such practices raise the potential of faith-based discrimination against both physicians and patients. Mixing of faith with medicine can also compromise the professional doctor-patient relationship.

Even if one accepts that there is a health benefit to faith – such a benefit can be entirely realized through private means, without involving the medical profession.

Posted in: Faith Healing & Spirituality

Leave a Comment (48) ↓

48 thoughts on “The Power of Faith and Prayer?

  1. qetzal says:

    The existing research does not support the conclusion that there is any efficacy to intercessory prayer.

    I think this is too cautious. It’s more accurate to say that the existing research supports the conclusion that prayer is not efficacious.

  2. Jessica S. says:

    This subject has been on my mind a lot the past year or so. My niece was diagnosed with sarcoma two years ago, just a month shy of her 18th birthday. I can’t recall what stage she was at but it was serious that she was advised to make a decision quickly after a treatment plan was presented.  Several rounds of both chemotherapy and radiation and one surgery later, the tumor was gone.  She finished her senior year of high school, the first half while undergoing her taxing treatment. She graduated with honors and was accepted to Reed in Oregon on a full-scholarship. (The first time talked after her diagnosis she said she hoped could use the cancer thing to her advantage for college, as if she needed a boost!) We were all relieved, to say the least. 

    A year later, last July, she thought she felt a bump in the same area and went in for a scan. There was nothing in the original spot but tragically, there were three tumors in her lung. With some attempt at treatment (of which the options were fewer and more challenging than before) the estimate was 8-10 months before she would likely need some sort of hospice assistance, less if she decided to forgo treatment. She did choose to participate in at least two trials and sure enough, about two months ago she started to having more and more troubles breathing. She passed away this last Friday.

    Being one of four children raised in the same faith as our Christian parents and consequently many friends of the family being Christians, there was a fair amount of ‘Praise God! What a miracle!’ when she kicked the first bout. The second time around, it was ‘God did it once, He can do it again! Pray without ceasing.’ I consider myself a Christian but I’m also a skeptic. I find it much more plausible that modern medicine ‘healed’ her, an understatement to say the least. My faith is very personal to me: I don’t push my views on others. In light of this, I didn’t feel right correcting everyone but in my heart, I found believing prayers heal people highly suspect. But I don’t base my faith upon what happens or doesn’t happen, so I didn’t feel conflicted.

    I’m really rambling now, huh? :) I don’t know that I have a completely relevant point here except that your post today is oddly reassuring. I guess I have a smidge of residual guilt from my Southern Baptist upbringing: could my prayers have saved her? I stress the term ‘smidge’ here… Reading this puts my mind at ease. It is what it is. It totally sucks and I wish it hadn’t have been her. Statistically, it’s going to happen to someone. So I’ll spend my time loving and appreciating those around me while I can. It may not heal them, but it’s time well spent. 

  3. DBonez5150 says:

    Are there any compiled statistics on patients who refuse medical intervention on religious grounds? I understand this article is about faith and prayer, but it seems if someone believes in their religion enough to deny medical help, they are probably going to utilize faith and prayer in its place. It would be interesting to see how many common injuries and conditions, normally with a high-probability of a positive outcome with conventional treatments, end up being fatal because of their religion. I’m sure the numbers would naturally be quite subjective. Still, I suspect there’s a number of cases where someone has relatively minor injuries but significant blood-loss, and they succumb after refusing a transfusion or blood products.

    What do the study writers propose as mechanism for the prayer to improve conditions? Probably “positive energies” or some such garbage, but do they think there is some measurable effect going on from the synapses in the minds or hands of the prayers? Do they think the praying people are channeling some magic rays from the big-guy-in-the-sky?

    Wouldn’t this also imply that harm could be done by people praying negative, “evil” thoughts? Would this call for another study? How can you have one effect without the other? I don’t know. I’m not too well versed on magic sky-dudes.

  4. qetzal says:

    I guess I have a smidge of residual guilt from my Southern Baptist upbringing: could my prayers have saved her?

    IMO, absolutely not. I’ll admit up front I’m an atheist, but if God exists, I can’t see how He could let your niece die because not enough people prayed for her. That doesn’t seem to jive with anything said about God in the Bible. (Not that I’m an expert, obviously.)

    So I’ll spend my time loving and appreciating those around me while I can. It may not heal them, but it’s time well spent.

    Amen. I’m very sorry about your niece, but I highly commend your attitude. If there’s no God, then you’re doing the only thing you possibly can to help. And if there is, He couldn’t possibly fault you for your approach.

  5. BillyJoe says:

    qetzal: ‘It’s more accurate to say that the existing research supports the conclusion that prayer is not efficacious.”

    I agree.
    You have to disprove the null hypothesis: that prayer is not efficacious. That has not been done.

    Steven: “Again – to be clear – the point of reviewing the evidence is not to argue that individuals should not pray for their loved-ones who are ill. ”

    Accommodationalism?
    Let’s substitute homoeopathy:
    Again – to be clear – the point of reviewing the evidence is not to argue that individuals should not use homoeopathy for their loved-ones who are ill.

  6. Jimmylegs says:

    I would like to start out saying I just registed and would like to thank everyone here at SBM for what you do here and every day in your practice. I hope I too can become a doctor and keep pseudoscience out of medicine (if not I can always fall back onto research).

    @Dbonez
    I’m not sure if this will answer what you are asking but there is a site on the right hand side of the page under Medical Websites called What’s the harm? (whatstheharm.net) This site shows instances of people becoming injured or even dying for various reasons, there is a religion section.

    For example there are instances of Jehovah’s Witnesses that died because they refused a transplant or blood transfusion.

  7. Lytrigian says:

    “God” used without an article is in the place of a proper name and thus should be capitalized, irrespective of whether or not a writer personally believes in him. I’m sure no one believes Frodo Baggins exists, but it’s still incorrect to not capitalize his name too. The only reason I can think of to not capitalize “God” is if you’re an atheists and you’re deliberately trying to needle theists. That’s unlikely to result in a productive discussion.

    With an article (“a god” or “the god”) it’s a generic noun and shouldn’t be capitalized.

    @BillyJoe — The difference is that prayer per se costs nothing, and that only fringe cultists would ever consider using it in place of conventional medicine. It’s not thought of as a treatment, and those who employ it do not do so because they think the science supports it. In other circumstances — if, for instance, someone settled on a Christian Science practitioner or if a faith healer of the Peter Popoff variety *instead of* real medical treatment — that’s another matter.

  8. To be technically correct – the research is not designed to prove a negative. All you can say is that the studied treatment likely has an effect size smaller than the power of the studies are able to detect (which can include an effect size of zero). It’s splitting hairs, but there’s no reason to split them the wrong way.

    Regarding accomodationism – please. This is a medical blog. It’s not the job of the medical profession to tell people how to practice or not practice their personal faith. That’s one of the points of this post.

    Homeopathy is a poor analogy, unless you think homeopathy is a religion.

  9. Lytrigian “The only reason I can think of to not capitalize “God” is if you’re an atheists and you’re deliberately trying to needle theists. That’s unlikely to result in a productive discussion.”

    Was e.e. cummings an atheists deliberately trying to needle theists?
    (I may be undermining my point. It’s possible he was.)

    I think capitalization harpers are just as bad as spelling nigglers.
    Sometimes an error is just an error.

  10. MS, MT(ASCP) says:

    The interplay of science and faith has been a long time interest to me as a cradle Episcopalian and not-so-cradle scientist. With Anglicanism as a backdrop, holistic medicine to me has been treating the body with proven medical intervention as well as treating the spirit with prayer and examination. A patient suffers emotionally and spiritually as they suffer physically, so it is no surprise that addressing emotional and spiritual needs at the same time as medical/physical needs are met creates a positive mental attitude. Receiving the Sacraments is just as important as receiving medication for some, with what I suspect (anecdotally) may be a synergistic effect on the well-being of the patient.

    That said, science and religion can and do coexist because they focus on two separate ways of looking at the self and the world. One can be used to inform the other (e.g. ethics, systematic or comparative theology), but one does not have inherent precedence over the other or dictate the basis or limits of the other. Likewise, I do not believe that God intervenes physically in the world or in our biochemistry. Instead, I prefer the theology that a merciful God is present in the midst of pain and calamity to provide a source of hope and comfort, rather than be an omnipotent parent that saves us from the realities of life.

    It is important to distinguish constructive faith from woo or pseudoscience. While both may be based on ultimately unprovable precepts, one provides a means of transcending a painful or destructive life, while the other will lie, cheat and steal to tell you exactly what you want to hear. Within the context of an ailment or condition, what you get from the application of faith, woo or pseudoscience to healing or health depends on why you seek them in the first place, and whether that application helps or hinders.

  11. Jessica S. says:

    qetzalon – Thank you. That was well said and right along the lines of what I was trying to say.

  12. Lytrigian says:

    @micheleinmichigan First, there’s no need to be so snide about a typo resulting from an incomplete edit, as was my “atheists”.

    Second, E. E. Cummings (to capitalize his name as he actually did, and not as people merely think he did) played with all kinds of text formatting in his poetry. If at some point he chose not to capitalize “God”, he also chose not to capitalize any number of other proper names depending on the effect he was trying to achieve in any particular piece. Or often he did. Not that it matters. It’s a ridiculous example anyway.

    Third, I’m not picking on an error. I don’t pick on casual typos. That would be stupid. It was clearly deliberate, as it frequently is in the skeptic community, and I’m positive it’s usually done for no reason other than what I said.

  13. windriven says:

    @MS, MT

    “[B]ut one (religion/science) does not have inherent precedence over the other or dictate the basis or limits of the other.”

    Ummm, I can certainly see that religion does not dictate the limits of science though there are some religious types who claim, among other inanities, that the earth is 6,000 or so years old. Science, on the other hand, has steadily chipped away at the once limitless realm of religion and dependence upon some deity.

    Believe what you will but don’t arrogate to religion the same intellectual rigor and structure as science.

  14. Lytrigian “@micheleinmichigan First, there’s no need to be so snide about a typo resulting from an incomplete edit, as was my “atheists”.”

    I was completely unaware of any typo in your comment. In fact, I’m not even sure how to spell atheist. I’m counting on Mrs. IPad for that. (Mrs IPad hates your name by the way, she thinks you should be named Outdo Ian…not really sure why).

    So my only snideness was in calling you a “Capitalization Harper”, the “spelling nigglers” refers to previous comments on previous articles. Perhaps you might consider that some people are not so grammatically sensitive as you are.

    L -”It’s a ridiculous example anyway.”

    Thank you. You are very kind to notice. By the way, I type e.e. cummings because I can not resist. Look at those beautiful round “e”s and that “c” sitting next to the “u”. Some people have all the luck with typographically beautiful names. E.E. Cummings, bleah reminds me of marching soldiers, not nearly as nice.

    By the way, there are at least two poems by said poet with “god”* in them. Both worth reading, google first lines “when god let’s my body be” and “next to of course god america i”

    Or perhaps those darn skeptic really are trying to get your Goat. Awfully subversive those skeptics, with their small “g”s at the beginning of names. I can see why it would get you riled.

    sincerely, micheleinmichigan

    *E.E. Cummings** typed it, not me.

    ** sigh, see, just not as nice.

  15. qetzal says:

    To be technically correct – the research is not designed to prove a negative. All you can say is that the studied treatment likely has an effect size smaller than the power of the studies are able to detect (which can include an effect size of zero). It’s splitting hairs, but there’s no reason to split them the wrong way.

    It may be splitting hairs, but the statement I quoted is the one splitting them wrongly, at least IMO. It’s rather like saying the research hasn’t shown a link between vaccines and autism. That’s true, but the research shows more than that. It shows that vaccines are very likely *not* linked to autism.

    Similarly, the research on intercessory prayer shows there is no consistent and substantial effect on recovery from injury or illness. As you said elsewhere in your post, we can’t rule out small and inconsistent effects. But we can rule our large consistent ones (to the extent that research ever allows us to rule anything out).

    It’s true that research doesn’t support the efficacy of prayer, but it’s ‘more true’ that research argues against the efficacy of prayer.

  16. BillyJoe says:

    Steven: “Regarding accomodationism – please. This is a medical blog. It’s not the job of the medical profession to tell people how to practice or not practice their personal faith. That’s one of the points of this post. Homeopathy is a poor analogy, unless you think homeopathy is a religion.”

    It’s not a matter of telling people how to practise their faith.
    It’s about telling people what works and what doesn’t work.

    So I still see it as accomodationism.

    You test homoeopathy and find no support for efficacy. Therefore, I assume you would argue that individuals should not use homoeopathy.
    You test prayer and find no support for efficacy. So, I assume you would likewise argue that individuals should not pray for loved ones.
    Remember we’re talking about what does and does not work.
    Homoeopathy does not work. Prayer does not work. Unless you think one is more plausible, why would your recommendations differ?

  17. Jimmylegs says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Billy for the most part on accomodationism. I would argue that you should not use pray in place of medicine that shows to work, as you should not use homoeopathy in place of medicine that does work.

    However I would take in consideration of the patient’s view, I would tell them to NOT use prayer only because it will not work, but if they wish to pray on the side that is their right.

    This is a very touchy subject, more so if you are dealing with a stranger. If you flat out told a very religous person that prayer does not work and should not do it they maybe less inclined to take your medical opinion for their illness. So in my opinion, I would not bring up prayer unless the patient asks directly about it.

  18. wlondon says:

    Dr. Novella wrote: “To be clear, SBM is not anti-faith or anti-religion.”

    I’m not sure that the idea of not being anti-faith or anti-religion is clear. Maybe it is and maybe I’m simply missing the obvious.

    SBM emphasizes aligning one’s beliefs about medical practice based on evidence in the context of scientific knowledge. Faith means aligning one’s beliefs primarily without concern about evidence in the context of scientific knowledge. Therefore, SBM is the antithesis of faith-based medicine. Faith-based medicine is a fair descriptor for much of what this Web site so impressively challenges. And we do encounter in the health marketplace medical methods based explicitly on religious teachings; clearly much of it is not compatible with scientific knowledge.

    Perhaps all Dr. Novella’s statement means is that SBM does not call for challenging patients’ autonomy regarding matters of faith in some kind of spirits (why else call it being spiritual?) or in religious observation–just like SBM doesn’t challenge patient autonomy regarding a wide range of lifestyle practices including those involving considerable risk-taking. That’s certainly admirable and expected in an open society. Is having respect for patients’ autonomy regarding faith or religious practices all that is meant by not being anti-faith or anti-religion?

    It seems to me one can respect and defend lots of (if not unlimited) religious freedom, but also be anti-faith and anti-religion in the sense of rejecting faith or religion as sources of answers to questions regarding efficacy, safety, and validity in delivering health care.

  19. BillyJoe “You test homoeopathy and find no support for efficacy. Therefore, I assume you would argue that individuals should not use homoeopathy.
    You test prayer and find no support for efficacy. So, I assume you would likewise argue that individuals should not pray for loved ones.”

    A couple thoughts. First, prayer is a thought processes. Buying and taking homeopathy is an action. In some regards, telling people not to pray is similar to telling them not to think of a pink elephant. Most of us don’t have the same control over our thoughts that we have over our actions.

    Also, because prayer is a thought process, many people find it a useful way to come to terms with a situation. Some people talk to their deceased parents, wives or imaginary friends (or enemies) in their heads to works things out. Some talk to their God.

    Thirdly, for many people, prayer ties them to their community, their family and their history. Not praying may cut them off from their emotional support system. While there may be some individuals who’s belief in homeopathy comes with the same support system, I have not seen it.

    And, of course, homeopathic remedies have sometimes been known to contain active ingredients (herbs) or contaminates. Prayer as a mental process, can not.

    Lastly, I know a lot of people who pray. Not one of them uses prayer as a replacement for medical care. Certainly, I have heard of people who do, but I also have heard of people who use their lighter to check the gas level in their car tank. Unless you know something about an individual to indicate they might be considering using a lighter thusly or prayer thusly, then telling them not to seems a waste of everyone’s time, insulting to the recipient of the advice and silly.

  20. BillyJoe says:

    Jimmylegs,

    “I would not bring up prayer unless the patient asks directly about it.”

    Neither would I. They are actually unlikely to ask, but if they did ask questions like:
    Should I use homoeopathy?
    Should I pray?
    (In the context of what could or could not help)
    I would answer no to both.

  21. BillyJoe says:

    wlondon,

    “It seems to me one can respect and defend lots of (if not unlimited) religious freedom, but also be anti-faith and anti-religion in the sense of rejecting faith or religion as sources of answers to questions regarding efficacy, safety, and validity in delivering health care.”

    I actually find it difficult to respect religious beliefs. That would mean respecting someone who believes something on blind faith – because someone has told them it is true – rather than as a result of considering the evidence. Why would you respect that?
    I would agree with what the rest of your paragraph though.

  22. BillyJoe says:

    michele,

    “Unless you know something about an individual to indicate they might be considering using…prayer thusly, then telling them not to seems a waste of everyone’s time, insulting to the recipient of the advice and silly.”

    I agree with what you said.
    I was talking in the context of what does and does not work.

  23. wlondon says:

    BillyJoe,

    Respecting individual freedom/autonomy to believe and to make choices that don’t violate anyone’s rights does not mean respecting what people believe or choose to do.

  24. BillyJoe says:

    wlondon,

    “individual freedom/autonomy to believe and to make choices…
    …that don’t violate anyone’s rights”

    The two are usually mutually exclusive.

    It is in the nature of religion to abrogate the rights of others.
    Therefore, in general, I am left in the position of not “respecting individual freedom/autonomy to believe and to make choices” when those beliefs and choices are based on religious blind faith because they usually end up “violating everyone else’s rights”.

  25. pmoran says:

    I actually find it difficult to respect religious beliefs. That would mean respecting someone who believes something on blind faith – because someone has told them it is true – rather than as a result of considering the evidence. Why would you respect that?

    Well, most people have religious beliefs instilled in them long before they have developed the ability to consider them critically, and the grip of those beliefs can thereafter be very strong.

    So I, too, think that it is unfair to treat believers with default disrespect.

    From the medical perspective, it is also extremely rare for the devotees of the major religions not to accept proper medical care, while using prayer in a pretty harmless complementary fashion that satisfies the desire to help in some way.

    I am also not so sure how the skeptical mind-bent itself arises.

    How many of us arrive at it through the conscious, critical, thorough review of all the evidence that we pretend to have undertaken, and that we expect of others, even those who have never had a truly scientific thought in their lives or the least medical education? We may want to lift their awareness on certain matters, but they too may not deserve our disrespect.

    No, I suspect there are other, prior, factors involved in our tendency to instantly doubt claims that don’t fit in with prior understanding, and THEN look at the evidence.

    Illustrating my point, some arrive at medical skepticism through finding that a specific claim is false through personal experience, others through contact with the more seedy, obviously fraudulent side of CAM.

    For many skepticism a patchy thing. Even CAM enthusiasts have limits to what they will swallow.

  26. BillyJoe “It is in the nature of religion to abrogate the rights of others.”

    If there is no God to teach religion, then religion has no independent nature. I would suggest that it is the nature of man to abrogate the rights of others. Religion, atheism, political structures and yes, science, are just some of the tools we have used in the past to abrogate rights.

    thunk, thunk (soapbox sound effect)

    With all tools, we must be vigilant about undermining the rights of others. To think that philosophy, a process, belief, etc which can possibly be influenced by the mind of man is “safe” is unsafe.

    scrap, scrap…

    IMO.

  27. MS, MT(ASCP) says:

    @Windriven,

    Episcopal Priests earn a Master of Arts in Divinity from one of about 9 seminaries in the US (most also offer a PhD as well). I’ve seen the curriculum and it is as rigorous as a university- based MA in theology. Presbyterian ministers earn at least an MA, sometimes a PhD. The same is true for the Lutheran ministers. The minority of Young Earth Creationist Christians do not in any speak for me or the vast majority of other Christians despite what the YECs claim or would like to believe. We are not under any obligation to adopt what they believe despite what they or you might think, and they certainly do not represent Christian theology as it has existed for the past 1850 years.

    The Mecca of YECs is about an hour from me in the form of the Creation Museum in Newport, KY. It is a travesty to Christian faith, as it attempts to prove faith (contrary to Scripture) through science and speaks to a weak faith and theology. Likewise it is a scientific anathema, as scientific knowledge is seen as legitimate only when it can be twisted to support the mental gymnastics required to ignore reality. I will never visit it as a Christian, since I do not force Scripture to conform to my personal beliefs, and I will never visit it as a scientist because it is pure fiction unrelated to reality in any way.

  28. darn, scrape, scrape…I meant.

  29. BillyJoe says:

    michele,

    “I would suggest that it is the nature of man to abrogate the rights of others. Religion, atheism, political structures and yes, science, are just some of the tools we have used in the past to abrogate rights”

    I was actually suggesting that the alternative is critical thinking.
    And, getting back to Steven Novella’s quote, there is no reason to treat religion any differently from anything else.

    “With all tools, we must be vigilant about undermining the rights of others. To think that philosophy, a process, belief, etc which can possibly be influenced by the mind of man is “safe” is unsafe.”

    I agree.
    We must use critical thinking on EVERY thing.
    Religion should get no special priviledge.

  30. It is in the nature of religion to abrogate the rights of others.
    Therefore, in general, I am left in the position of not “respecting individual freedom/autonomy to believe and to make choices” when those beliefs and choices are based on religious blind faith because they usually end up “violating everyone else’s rights”.

    So if you are not holding religion separate from other approaches then you actually meant something like.

    It is in the nature of man to abrogate the rights of others.
    Therefore, in general, I am left in the position of not “respecting individual freedom/autonomy to believe and to make choices” when those beliefs and choices are based on
    religion, political decision, science or subjective opinion because they usually end up “violating everyone else’s rights”.

    BillyJoe, you sound like a nice guy, so I think somehow your words or my reading doesn’t match with what you actually believe.

    It sounds like you are saying that you don’t respect the rights of others to make a decision unless it passes your critical thinking criteria, because if you do, others will inevitably violate your rights.

    But in not respecting their right to autonomy, you risk abrogating their rights, before they have done anything to infringe upon anyone else’s rights.

  31. sorry, my top quote was from BillyJoe and addressed to him.

  32. damn, italic code fail to.

  33. geack says:

    @Lytrigian,

    Should we then also capitalize “wood” and “metal” and “air”? It’s perfectly acceptable to use “god” – grammatically – as a simple, rather than a personal, noun, with no offense intended or implied.

  34. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    @MS, MT(ASCP)

    Yup, by my readings the main reason YEC (or creationism in general) is limited to non-Catholics is because the Catholic approach to priesthood involves sophisticated instruction on theology which in turn involves considerable critical thought (within the navel-gazing framework of religious faith in general). Protestantism, by contrast, emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and God that bypasses priests and is far more naive. The emphasis is on simplicity, abandonment of critical thought in favour of blind faith, and is generally a return to the earliest days of Christianity when priests (and Rome) didn’t rule the relationship between saved and saviour. It is, perhaps ironically, a far older form of faith than what it was protesting against. While Catholicism attempts to understand God and the world (requiring rationality) Protestantism seeks only to experience God and damn the world. Hence, Young Earth Creationism (and now intelligent design, which uses double-think and lip service to bring the Catholic, university-educated biochemist Michael Behe into its tent in order to prove God).

  35. BillyJoe says:

    michele,

    “So if you are not holding religion separate from other approaches then you actually meant something like.

    It is in the nature of man to abrogate the rights of others.
    Therefore, in general, I am left in the position of not “respecting individual freedom/autonomy to believe and to make choices” when those beliefs and choices are based on religion, political decision, science or subjective opinion because they usually end up “violating everyone else’s rights”.”

    Or something more like:

    It is in the nature of man to abrogate the rights of others.
    Therefore, in general, I am left in the position of not “respecting individual freedom/autonomy to believe and to make choices” that are not based on a critical appraisal of the evidence because they usually end up “violating everyone else’s rights”

    But that is still not right because I disagree that “it is in the nature of man to abrogate the rights of others”. I think it takes something special like blind religious faith or rigid political dogma to do that.

    Here is an example from a rather nice Christian theologian who manages to say some horrible things as a result of his religious beliefs:
    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

    “BillyJoe, you sound like a nice guy”

    Thanks. I hope so. And I hope never to descend to the depths that a nice guy like William Graig has gone in the article linked to above.

    “so I think somehow your words or my reading doesn’t match with what you actually believe.”

    I do believe it. The lack of critical thinking channelled through religious faith and politcal dogma is the cause of the abrogation of the rights of women, homosexuals, atheists and apostates.

    “It sounds like you are saying that you don’t respect the rights of others to make a decision unless it passes your critical thinking criteria, because if you do, others will inevitably violate your rights.”

    I don’t respect beliefs that are based on blind faith or received dogma. I respect beliefs based on a critical appraisal of the evidence. The first is a deference to authority, the second is an individual process of discovery. I do not respect the first. I do respect the second.

    “But in not respecting their right to autonomy, you risk abrogating their rights, before they have done anything to infringe upon anyone else’s rights.”

    A person’s who blindly accepts the “truth” contained within the so called “holy books” necessarily abrogates the rights of women, homosexuals, atheists and apostates.

  36. A person’s who blindly accepts the “truth” contained within the so called “holy books” necessarily abrogates the rights of women, homosexuals, atheists and apostates.

    That’s funny, the lesbian feminist that I used to work with loved her church and wanted to be married there when she found the right woman.

    But if you don’t respect her right to make a decision to partake in a religious ceremony that she believes in, because it is not a decision based on critical thinking, then who’s rights are being abrogated by whom?

  37. But that is still not right because I disagree that “it is in the nature of man to abrogate the rights of others”. I think it takes something special like blind religious faith or rigid political dogma to do that

    Was slavery blind faith or political dogmatism? Are sweat shops blind faith or political dogmatism? Were the schools that crumbled while government officials offices stood next door after the earthquake in China blind faith or political dogmatism. Greed, profit and just plain old lack of interest, all have easily infringed upon people’s rights. It’s not uncommon or special.

  38. BillyJoe says:

    michele,

    “That’s funny, the lesbian feminist that I used to work with loved her church and wanted to be married there when she found the right woman…But if you don’t respect her right to make a decision to partake in a religious ceremony that she believes in, because it is not a decision based on critical thinking, then who’s rights are being abrogated by whom?”

    It depends on why she has decided to marry in the church. Assuming it is because her religion demands marriage within the church, and she is blindly following the dictates of her church, then:
    I do not respect your lesbian feminist’s decision. But I don’t abrogate her “right” to do so. She can go right ahead and get married in the church, but I won’t respect her decision to do so.

    I put “right” in scare quotes because I’m blowed if I can figure out what they are. Where do “rights” come from? Seems to me that it’s what the majority thinks should be classified as a “right”. And that depends on what country or what community you live in. Muslim woman have a “right” to circumcision in Islamic countries. They don’t have that right in Australia.

    “Greed, profit and just plain old lack of interest, all have easily infringed upon people’s rights. It’s not uncommon or special.”

    Add the money god to the list then.
    (I have a family example of the destructive effects of that particular god)
    All I’m saying is that I don’t accept that it is in that nature of man to abrogate people’s rights. Altruism is a far more important and pervasive result of our evolutionary history. But a good man like William Craig is able to justify genocide and infanticide with deference to his holy book.

    But we are far away from my original point which was that religion should not be given special consideration. Prayer doesn’t work. Period. You don’t advise people to use homoeopathy (because it doesn’t work) and, likewise, you don’t advise people to pray (becasue it doesn’t work).

  39. BillyJoe “I do not respect your lesbian feminist’s decision. But I don’t abrogate her “right” to do so. She can go right ahead and get married in the church, but I won’t respect her decision to do so.”

    See, I thought you didn’t mean what I was hearing.

    According to Merriam Webster respect has two meanings, To show or feel esteem or to refrain from interfering with.

    I respect that man’s perseverance.

    He respected the boundary and did not trespass on his neighbors property.

    Usually when I hear someone say they do not respect a right, they are suggesting a willingness to infringe upon that right. It sounds to me that you are saying you do not esteem that right…

    BillyJoe”All I’m saying is that I don’t accept that it is in that nature of man to abrogate people’s rights. Altruism is a far more important and pervasive result of our evolutionary history.”

    Perhaps I should have said that it is within the nature of man, I do not believe that it is ALL the nature of man.

  40. also @ BillyJoe Also, I’m agreement that doctors shouldn’t advise someone to pray. No only because it doesn’t work, but also because it would completely freak me out if they did.

    Also, that Craig guy doesn’t meet my criteria for “nice guy”, the label is not given out as easily as you might think (from me).

  41. MS, MT(ASCP) says:

    @WilliamLawrenceUtridge

    I would not characterize the YECs or other Protestant churches as naive about Creation because they do not embrace Roman dogma. None of the mainline Protestant Churches support the YECs because of their (the mainline churches) equally rigorous study and interpretation of Scripture. In many cases their interpretation is close to what the Roman Church believes.

    The YECs come from an evangelical movement that is less than 150 years old, thus do not have quite the same theological depth as the mainline churches that comes with time. Do not make the mistake of ascribing simplicity, blind faith and naivete based on a more liberal doctrine or absence of dogma. The evangelical churches that support the YECs are nearly as dogmatic as the Roman Church because individual congregations are often led by an individual pastor who determines what the truth ought to be. It is a quasi-cult-of-personality that is not often seen in the mainline Protestant churches because of doctrine or a centuries-old, mature theology.

    There is a long history of spiritual introspection, growth and development in the Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist (before they became ultra-conservative ~35 years ago) and Methodist Churches that is shunned by the anti-intellectualism found in the most conservative evangelical YEC-supporting congregations. The intellectual type of theology combined with a dynamic spiritual life leads to a life of exploration and embrace of new knowledge. It allows for an understanding of the limits of religious and secular knowledge and that advance of one does not mean the detriment of the other.

  42. zed says:

    @Lytrigian

    “god” is an abstract concept, not a proper noun, just because you think there is a god doesn’t mean that everyone else has to follow your rules about him/her/it.

  43. BillyJoe says:

    Michele,

    I’m glad we cleared that up :)

    Also, regarding “nice guy” William Craig. Those who debate him say he is a nice guy. I used to work for a guy like that. He was the most agreeably nice guy you could meet – untill certain topics came up. Then he was a complete asshole.

  44. BillyJoe says:

    Michele – comment to you caught in moderation. :(

  45. sandman says:

    In reply to Jessica S. -

    Your post was heartfelt and affecting. I am saddened to hear of your family’s loss. We lost a nephew to Ewings Sarcoma several years ago and I think of him often, sometimes with guilt that I could have done more to support him and the rest of the family. You shouldn’t harbor any such feelings – that’s a burden you don’t need to bear.
    Keep reading SBM and other skeptical resources. It will be painful in some ways in the short term, given your religious background, but it will ultimately give a richer appreciation of the world. At least it has for me.

  46. Artour says:

    Dr. Buteyko suggested that some, but limited power of prayer is due to slower breathing during and after the practice. In addition, forgiveness slows down breathing since it prevents appearance of self-destructive emotions. Such ideas have sense since chronic diseases are nearly always accompanied by hyperventilation or breathing more than the medical norms at rest. Consider this Table with over 40 medical studies:
    http://www.normalbreathing.com/buteyko.php
    But hyperventilation causes reduced cell oxygenation. Therefore, prayer and faith leads to improved oxygen transport due to lighter or slower breathing and higher alveolar CO2.

  47. Harriet Hall says:

    To Artour: thanks for the best laugh I’ve had in a while.
    To the rest of you: don’t feed the troll.

Comments are closed.