Sunday, April 22, 2007

Religion and Medicine

Here is a new book I found recently, and it is well worth reading.

The author takes on the claim that religion is proven to be good for your health. The book show why these claims misrepresent the scientific literature. The claimed studies often fail to take other factors into consideration, or they commit the "sharpshooters fallacy" in which they search the data for any combination that suggests that religion promotes health, while ignoring the majority of the data. This book is a good introduction to the methods of scieintific inquiry into medical claims. It shows why we should not be led by false claims of cures.

Chapter 9 debunking the claimed effects of long-distance prayer is particularly important.

I recommend this book.

(Click here to see more about it.)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

First I should say I haven't read the book, and thus cannot make comment on it, though I would like to comment on the matter of studies whose outcomes have implied that religion has a beneficial effect on health and wellbeing, and the subsequent claims of their opponents. I have found that often the claims made to debunk such studies are themselves more than dubious.

For example one widely circulated objection is that of a study conducted on hip surgery patients. The claim is made that the study is not legitimate because no age control is used. Really! Anyone who knows anything about hip surgery would know that by far the majority of patients requiring this surgery are older women. This I assume was the very reason hip surgery patients were chosen as the subject of the study. All the hips involved in the study were at a similar level of degeneration (ie. fracture stage). We all know that there are some 40 year olds in worse health than some 70 year olds. To insist the study was invalid because no age control was used appears absurd when considering the nature of the study. Let me ask you out of curiosity Merle, is this hip surgery study used in the book as an example?

Honey

Merle said...

You seem to miss the need for proper controls in an experiment. If those that are prayed for are 40, but those that are not prayed for are 70, then the experiment will probably find that those that were prayed for had faster healing. But the reason for that healing is not necesarily because of the prayer, but proabably has more to do with the age of the subjects.

The book I recommended goes into details as to why such studies are not valid.

Anonymous said...

Quite to the contrary Merle. Controls in a study are essential, but as I pointed out, the choice of subject was in itself a control. Not only was there a level of age control due to the nature of the study (40 year olds are not those in need of hip surgery)but it also ensured an even level of deterioration. My point is that age is not necessarily the most reliable control, so to make assertion that the study was invalid under these circumstances is in itself not a legitimate objection.

And you didn't tell me whether this example had been used in the book?

Ok let me give you another interesting example.

Advanced in support of the
'prayer doesn't work' side, a study by Jeffery Dusek of the Harvard Medicals is often cited. The study group involved 1802 heart by-pass patients divided into three groups. One of these groups was TOLD they would be prayed for, but weren't prayed for as part of the study. Now if there is a God, then this is certainly not the way to go about a study on prayer! Does anyone really expect a study of the effects of prayer to go well when a third of the participants have been lied to?

So my curiosity gets the better of me again - was this study included in the book?

There have been over 1200 studies on the effects of prayer on health and the answer is predominantly that prayer is of benefit. Of course objectors will object, and for certain there are studies which are flawed, but for all those who have experienced the real power of prayer, no study is needed and no study can dissuade.

Honey

Noogatiger said...

Holy Cow Honey,

If prayer really works why arn't hospitals cleared out? Geese, I live in an area of the country where I can say without any qualms that 99% of the people in our hospitals get prayer. They get whole congregations of churches praying for them. Yet our recovery rate is no better than anywhere else in the US.

If prayer really worked then in my city the hospitals should be nearly empty.

Honey, I double dare you to do the following. You have a church which you attend right? Then each and every week write down the prayer requests which are spoken, or written down at your church,all of them, especially on the Wednesday night special prayer meetting, if you your church was like mine.

After one year, tally up the number of direct answers to direct prayers which are answered. If you have any honesty about you whatsoever, you will discover what I did in 39 years as a Christian. Only about 0.1% could qualify as a possible answer to prayer, and of those a great majority could have happened by natural means, or probably might have natural explanations.

Honey, when you pray for world peace, and it actually happens, call me. When you pray for a severed limb to be completley restored and it happens, call me. When you pray for world hunger to end and it happens, call me.

When you pray for your yeast infection to go away, and it happens DON'T call me. That is not a miracle. It is called medicine.

Merle said...

"Honey", your responses are quoted in bold below:

"Quite to the contrary Merle. Controls in a study are essential, but as I pointed out, the choice of subject was in itself a control. Not only was there a level of age control due to the nature of the study (40 year olds are not those in need of hip surgery)but it also ensured an even level of deterioration. My point is that age is not necessarily the most reliable control, so to make assertion that the study was invalid under these circumstances is in itself not a legitimate objection."

Huh? You totally missed the point. The point is that if the people that are in the prayer group are younger than those in the non-prayer group, and if there is a known significant improvement in healing among younger people than older people, and the improvement claimed for the prayer group in the study is no greater than the improvement that would be expected due to the fact that the people in the prayer group were not as old, then it cannot be claimed that prayer made the difference. You simply ignored that point.

"And you didn't tell me whether this example had been used in the book?"

I don't know. I returned the book to the library.

"Advanced in support of the
'prayer doesn't work' side, a study by Jeffery Dusek of the Harvard Medicals is often cited. The study group involved 1802 heart by-pass patients divided into three groups. One of these groups was TOLD they would be prayed for, but weren't prayed for as part of the study. Now if there is a God, then this is certainly not the way to go about a study on prayer! Does anyone really expect a study of the effects of prayer to go well when a third of the participants have been lied to?"


This is completely false. The participants were not lied to and told they would be prayed for when they were not. That would be most unethical. They were told they may or may not receive prayer. That is the same type of information that is given for all such studies. The subjects are told that they may receive the cure in question, or they may receive a placebo. They are not told which they will receive, so as to keep the test unbiased. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&list_uids=16569567.

"So my curiosity gets the better of me again - was this study included in the book?"

I think so. I no longer have the book.

"There have been over 1200 studies on the effects of prayer on health and the answer is predominantly that prayer is of benefit. "

Where are the valid studies that indicate what you say? The book shows why your claim is not true.

"Of course objectors will object, and for certain there are studies which are flawed, but for all those who have experienced the real power of prayer, no study is needed and no study can dissuade."

The same thing is said by proponents of snake-oil cures, psi, mind-control, homeopathy, etc. That is why controlled studies are done. All these claims are out there. But do the cures perform better than placebo? In many cases, they do not. And the overwhelming evidence is that your preferred cure, prayer, performs no better than these other cures in controlled studies.

Anonymous said...

Noogatiger,

I doubt you have any documented evidence to back up your claims.

I have had personal prayers answered in front of my eyes in situations that required virtually instant responses. I am not about to discount my experiences because you claim people in your church didn't have their prayers answered.

Just like a parent who doesn't give a child everything he asks for, neither does God give us everything we ask for. His primary concern is not for our physical wellbeing - the body is designed to pass away - His concern is for our spiritual wellbeing and growth. It has been my personal experience that spiritual growth can come through physically illness.

The insistence that God fix everything that goes wrong in the physical (much of which is our own doing) only serves to demonstrate the lack of understanding of God's purpose and Word.

Honey

LorMar said...

This is an interesting debate. I have questions to ask two of the participants.

Honey, you mentioned:

"Just like a parent who doesn't give a child everything he asks for, neither does God give us everything we ask for"

How would you explain this:

John 14
13And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
------------------------------
Noogatiger, you mentioned:

"If you have any honesty about you whatsoever, you will discover what I did in 39 years as a Christian. Only about 0.1% could qualify as a possible answer to prayer, and of those a great majority could have happened by natural means, or probably might have natural explanations."

You say that the majority of the supposed answered prayers were false. Are you leaving room that a minority (even a small minority) were answered prayers? Is that 0.1% based on a study or sarcasm? Have you had a personal experience with unanswered prayers?

Personally, I've come to a conclusion regarding natural means, miracles, etc. But, you all are doing a much more interesting job with this debate than I could.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your question Lormar.

The very first thing we must take note of is who Jesus is addressing in this verse. This is after the last supper, Judas has already left to attend to his betrayal and Jesus is speaking privately with his disciples - the men who have given up their lives to follow Christ.

Now let's take a closer look at the context. The verse prior to the verse given reads "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing."

Now truthfully, how many Christians do you know who would sell all they own and give it to the poor to follow Jesus? We see in Acts 2:44 the very people that Jesus was addressing in John, "...had everything in common".

I really don't see a great deal of those kinds of Christians around...do you? I don't even have that kind of faith myself! Any prayers I have offered, have been answered purely out of God's grace, not through my faith or obedience.

We also notice that Jesus says 'in my name'. Now to do something in someone else's name you must have been given authority right? We see in Matthew 10 where Jesus gives authority to the apostles who have given up their lives to follow him.

Can we expect this same authority? At the very least if we expected to be given the same authority to ask for things in His name then we should also expect to have seriously met the criteria his apostles were required to meet. We can read that criteria list in Matthew 10, but even in John we see the need for 1. faith and 2. obedience.

I think that for the most part the average western Christian's faith and obedience is severely lacking in the substance needed to be given such authority even if it were available to us today. Also consideration needs to be given to the uniqueness of the roll of the apostles in the founding of Christianity, and certainly acknowledgment needs to be made that prayer requests from those with the commitment level of the apostles would be significantly more Christ centered, than those of today's average Christians. Even Paul's request to have the 'thorn' from his side removed was not met, despite the miraculous experiences he had and the faith he demonstrated - do we think our faith and obedience matches that of Paul's?

My position is not that prayer will automatically be answered, but that
God can and does answer prayer, in accordance with His will(not in accordance with a commitment specifically made to the apostles), which is more often than not at odds with our own will.

Honey

LorMar said...

Thanks Honey. Your post was VERY enlightening. I had always wondered: A. If we should pay attention to WHO was being addressed B. Must Speak honestly, VERY few people (myself included) have that kind of faith or authority for this verse to be applied to them. I once created a blog post about this issue. With your permission, I'd like to include your response in my blog (and Nooga if he responds).

Anonymous said...

Sure Lormar, please feel free. I will ask in return if I might have the address for your blog, so that I can see the prior discussion, and any further responses.

Honey

LorMar said...

Click on my SN or copy and paste:

http://lormar2.blogspot.com/

It probably won't be posted until Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lormar :). It's a great idea to keep an online log of your thoughts from your Bible readings.

Honey