Realistic Limits and Truthfulness

(Phil) #61

Trying to tie it together with the original post, it all does impact how we view truth and how faith interacts with our day to day lives in ways similar to but yet different than religious belief. It even has impact with apologetics and how we attempt to justify our beliefs with ration arguments, when ultimately we much admit that rational arguments are insufficient. Jon I am sure would have some good insight from a somewhat different perspective.
If interest remains in pursuing this line of thought, perhaps we should divide it into a new post.

(George Brooks) #62

The material I had read focused on true placebo pills… with absolutely no pharmaceutical value of any kind. I didn’t want to muddy the waters with any other considerations…

… though I suppose there must be many who think “minor pharmaceutical value PLUS placebo effect” is a better value.


Linking a little bit to the original subject of the topic. The point I’m trying to make is that I agree with Alister that atheists post-rationalize and justify their beliefs just as much as theists do (which of course doesn’t mean the arguments are bad), but most of them don’t think they are doing that, because they take some of their beliefs (like “religion is superstition”) as self evident and obvious, while I honestly don’t think they are. One example I can give is the fact that many atheists say themselves that they originally lost confidence in religious belief because of the problem of evil (Bart Ehrmann, John Horgann, and even Michael Shermer and Dawkins heavily uses it as an argument even though they don’t claim that it was the starting point of their atheism), and just then they started to research more about atheism and atheist arguments (and no, I’m not trying to use the “atheists are just angry with God” argument, which I think is dishonest), that really sound to me like trying to rationalize previously held beliefs (I.E. the world is a cruel place so a benevolent God must not exist). I’m not criticizing atheists for that, I actuallly think it is a positive thing to check if your beliefs can be hold at a rational coherent basis, but not acknowledging/being blind to the fact that you are doing that can be intelectually dangerous.

(Randy) #64

Good point. I struggle with that, too. However, I think that we depend on God for many more than just one thing–healing being only one of them. The thought that He is aware of our suffering, and like the person of Jesus, having suffered with us at one time, is reassuring.

When I pray with my patients, I usually ask not only for wisdom for the doctors in taking care of (read: cancer, etc), but also thank Him that we know that He’s there with us, no matter what happens.

It’s a tough one.

(Randy) #65

There was a blinded study between magnet bracelets and non-magnetic bracelets. As I recall, both were equally powerful (placebo) with 60% improvement–no difference between the two–in helping pain. The only thing that has ever been proven, to my recollection from residency, is an alternating electromagnetic field may help stimulate bone growth–it’s used for fracture healing in the feet, sometimes.

Have you see the homeopathy TED by the Great Randi?

(A.M. Wolfe) #66

It’s even possible that the fact of paying lots of money for the placebo would reinforce the purchaser’s faith in the placebo (“it’s expensive; it must therefore be top-of-the-line”) and render it more effective! Definitely needs to be expensive.


That has actually been demonstrated and granted the researchers the IgNobel prize, hahahaha

MEDICINE PRIZE. Dan Ariely of Duke University (USA), Rebecca L. Waber of MIT (USA), Baba Shiv of Stanford University (USA), and Ziv Carmon of INSEAD (Singapore) for demonstrating that high-priced fake medicine is more effective than low-priced fake medicine…
REFERENCE: “Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy,” Rebecca L. Waber; Baba Shiv; Ziv Carmon; Dan Ariely, Journal of the American Medical Association, March 5, 2008; 299: 1016-1017.

(Jon Garvey) #68

Hi Jay - I’ll bite, briefly, not on the “Is modern medicine a con and are placebos the biz?” (though that’s an interesting question, especially with the perspective of 10 years out of the profession), but on combining the professional stuff with prayer for healing - or even just prayer.

In general, although in a Christian practice, I was a bit of a coward over praying with patients. That was partly personal funk, and partly because, over here more than there, I believe, a culture developed over my career that “the NHS pays you to be secular, and praying for the vulnerable is abuse.” That assumption, of course, is a firm belief that God cannot be involved with doctor or patient, but only cynical proselytizing.

In fact, I was a private contractor to the NHS, and patient and doctor are in a living, negotiated, relationship in which professional guidelines are just that - guidelines, and not a straitjacket. I believe the physician in America (unlike the school-teacher) is less constricted about prayer than in the UK, but you may know better.

In fact, I would now still find it hard to consider offering healing prayer in a clinical setting - except, perhaps, where I had just admitted that medicine had run out of ideas. I knew others - more Charismatic than me - who did it naturally all the time and, at times, successfully. However, as I’ve said before here, I’ve prayed for healing in a church setting with people who knew I was a doctor, and that was fine, because the roles were not confused.

What I can say about the last situation is that, considering how relatively uncommonly I’ve been involved with healing prayer, it’s been effective more than one might expect. The difference being a doctor makes is being more surprised at the genuine, and less impressed by the common. “My cold got better next day” is common. “My tenosynovitis got better as you prayed” is impressive.

I might add that with a professional scruple about milking the placebo effect, I’ve usually been at pains to say, when praying, that God chooses whether to heal or not, and we’re just bringing the problem to him. The “gift of healing”, in my book, is a gift to the person healed, not the super-spiritual person praying. In fact, for that very reason, at my church we always got several people praying.

My favourite couple of cases were where, on medical grounds, I didn’t expect prayer to be effective and where, on their own admission, the “patient” wasn’t expecting much either. I guess the faith involved was simply being willing to pray.

Supportive prayer (I say to my shame) ought to be a common part of the Christian doc’s consulting. I say that from the way that, when I plucked up courage to ask, people always saw it as a positive and kindly thing. It was even better when the request led someone to say they’d been looking for God in their illness, and how could they become a Christian? Paradoxically, there appears no close link between healing and coming to faith.

Is that useful?

(Phil) #69

My experience is similar to Jon’s, as I pray with patients if they ask me to do so, and will tell patient’s a quick, “You’ll be in our prayers” when faced with a life changing procedure or test.
I think medicine from a doctor’s standpoint is a little more mechanical than from a patient’s, and it is sort of like asking a plumber to pray for your commode before clearing the clog from the doc’s viewpoint (and with fecal impactions, very analogous)

(Randy) #70

Oh, that makes me laugh. It reminds me of my partner, a general surgeon in our multispecialty practice. Whenever I asked how he was doing, he would say, “Well, my bowels moved this morning–better than I can say for some of my patients!”

People do appreciate prayer. I think they recognize that we realize that there are limits to modern medicine, and that we wish them the best we can–beyond being just physicians and mechanics, that way.

There’s been a bit of a debate in the news lately as to whether politicians should say they are praying for someone suffering–implying that by praying, they don’t mean anything will be done physically. James does criticize Christians for saying “go, I wish you well” in that vein–but it’s only a partially valid criticism, and only if it means that the piety takes the place of action (in which case, it’s not piety anyway)

I know that we mostly think of involving God when we feel overwhelmed–but in “Chariots of Fire,” one of Eric Liddell’s pastors said, “You can peel a spud to the glory of God”–you don’t have ask specifically for guidance on the spud, but I think he was saying that it can transform our lives to do the best we can to his glory.

(Jay Johnson) #71

Totally agree. It always made me angry to see the Benny Hinn’s of the world up on stage performing healings on cue and dispensing the Holy Spirit to people like candy on Halloween.


I think it is worth adding that atheism is just a lack of belief in deities. That’s it. Atheism doesn’t describe how people arrived at their disbelief, nor is atheism a methodology or epistemology for determining truth. It is true that many atheists also subscribe to some form of skepticism, but there is no rule that all atheists must subscribe to skepticism.


Well, they usually subscribe to naturalism as well, which is a belief. I agree that simply stating “I don’t believe in your God” is not a belief, but a lack of. Claiming that the natural world is all there is and that there is no transcendence at all on the other hand is a metaphysical belief. And that belief is usually justified by evidence that cannot be ultimately proven as well.


Do you think there os a inevitable contradiction between believing in God and skepticism? I’ve always considered myself a skeptic as well, but I don’t think skepticism demands that you have no opinion on metaphysical issues. When you can’t find experimental proof of something I think it is valid to consider the (incomplete) arguments from each side and coming to a conclusion as to which one you think is more likely to be right, as long as you recognize that and don’t claim that this informed opinion os at same level as scientific proof. It is different from, lets say, believing in astrology or homeophaty despite all the studies falsifying both.


It would be interesting to see a poll of atheists on the question of methodological v. ontological naturalism. I fall on the methodological side, and I suspect a fair number of atheists do. However, I would say that many atheists haven’t really given the matter much thought.


This ties in with my previous post. Skepticism is focused on methodology and doesn’t make any real ontological or metaphysical claims. The only axioms that skepticism seems to have is that there is a real objective reality out there and that we can reliably observe it.

(GJDS) #77

It is interesting to consider both belief (on one side) and lack of belief (on the other side) within the Christian context. By this I mean that a Christian believes that faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and also the response of the person is free and untainted by material considerations. So (for the sake of adding humour), we may all commence as atheists until and unless God’s grace is manifest at a personal level.

(John Dalton) #78

I guess nearly all atheists who don’t adopt a “strong” atheist stance and simply state “I don’t believe in your God” will not adopt ontological naturalism as a belief, either.


One of the limiting factors of the human experience is that we can’t know what is going on in someone else’s head.


That would be my assessment as well, although I could be wrong. I tend to find that when atheists are really pressed to take an ontological position that they usually don’t. They usually end up at, “I guess God could exist, but it just seems so unlikely as to be ignored”.