"And There Are No Christians In Med School"

I have an idea.

In the future whenever you hear someone falsely say that there are no atheists in foxholes, don’t disagree with them.

Don’t point out to them that this insults the bravery of countless non-theist soldiers by implying that without belief in God and an afterlife no one would ever courageously put his or her life on the line fighting in a just war.  Don’t point out to them that there are countless atheists who do remain intellectually convinced of the non-existence of God even when it means facing the prospect of their impending mortality (or other fearful adversities).   Don’t point out to them that even when otherwise rationalistic people desperately resort to superstition under great emotional stress this neither proves the existence of God nor proves that people’s reflective anti-superstitious judgments in calmer moments are either insincere or ill-considered.

At least don’t bring these things up first.

Rather first just nod your head vigorously in agreement and say right back, “Exactly! And there are no Christians in med school.”

Because of course true believers don’t believe in medicine when Jesus has told them that whatever they ask for in his name, they shall receive (John 14:14).  Unlike lying atheists, Christians don’t convince themselves to take practical measures to take care of things for themselves before winding up in a foxhole.  From the start Christians acknowledge God and just pray for everything they want and stop trying to do things for themselves.  From the start Christians know that by faith alone they can tell mountains to move and they will move (John 14:13), so who needs to study medical techniques when their faith in Jesus is so much more powerful and effective!  Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7).  He didn’t say “study and you shall learn, research and you shall discover, or practice and you shall heal”.  So, of course, there are no Christians in med school!

Of course if we say this to Christians they will see the obvious stupidity of it.  Christians know full well that the overwhelming majority of modern day believers fully understand the need to trust in modern medicine, even as they also pray.  While they insist on believing (or at least hoping) that prayer somehow can help too, they do not see it as a substitute for competent, scientifically informed medical attention.  And they also are probably totally unpersuaded when atheists falsely accuse them of doing nothing but praying.  They are about as unconvinced by this mischaracterization of themselves as atheists are by the insulting claim that we would be exposed as either actual believers or cowards if only we were put under enough duress.

So, when they say, “There are no atheists in foxholes”, you say, “And there are no Christians in med school!” and then you can both agree to relegate such strawmen to the fire and talk about the real issues:

Should prayer be believed in at all when the only evidence believers have for its effectiveness are obvious cases of confirmation bias?  After receiving medical assistance, is it morally appropriate to redirect gratitude away from the actual people who actually healed you and all the people who did extensive research over centuries to create the techniques to prolong and re-empower your life to an unlikely, invisible being who, even if it does exist, was perfectly content to let people languish in misery and die early, painful deaths for many millennia until they slowly and arduously figured out how to combat that misery for themselves?

Is it decent or selfish to believe that an omnipotent being opted to specially aid you while so many others died with your same basic condition because of inadequate access to medical attention or a different physiological turn of events beyond the doctors’ control? And is not Jesus’s reputation for moral perfection, omniscience, and omnipotence ruined since he either lied (at least in the form of exaggeration) when claiming that anything believers requested would be granted them or he did not know what he was talking about or was not able to deliver, or some combination of all these?  Do not Christians tacitly accept that Jesus’s audacious claims are not entirely true when they take up medicine?

And is it really rational to think that how people think and act when frightened gives a greater insight into either metaphysical truths or the most responsible method of forming beliefs?  Is it a higher view of humanity to idealize a person who is willing to hold fast to the truth even in the face of death or disappointment or to idealize a person who cowardly and desperately reverts to falsehoods because he cannot bear reality?  Is it better to idealize the heroism of the one who puts her life on the line not believing she will ever get it back or the one who puts it on the line believing she is really not losing anything since there is an afterlife?  Which is actually more heroic, nobler, and more worthy of our admiration?

In short, there are theists in med school, there are atheists in foxholes, and there are lessons to be learned from both these facts if we ask the right questions.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://larianlequella.com larianlequella

    Or perhaps that medicine is highly dependent on our understanding of evolution, and we all know christinas don’t believe in that!

  • Tisha Irwin

    That’s a great comparison. But of course all Christians pick and choose which verses of the bible they’re going to hold near and dear to their hearts and which are going to be totally ignored. How can they not? There are enough verses that contradict one another that it’s impossible to do otherwise.

    What always interests me is which specific verses they choose to elevate to the status of defining their group. Why did snake handlers choose that specific verse to define them? Why did Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret the verse about taking blood in a way that’s totally at odds with how every other group did?

    In any case, there were certainly plenty of christians in my med school class. Enough that they had a weekly bible study. And more than enough on the faculty.

    Like the ophthalmologist who wouldn’t release us from class on the day before Thanksgiving until he’d lectured us on the true meaning of “Thanksgiving” and exactly whom we should be giving thanks to.

    Oh and the guy who argued with me during our ethics class about a person’s right to choose how their life ends if they so wish. His retort to my assertion that there’s no ethical difference between allowing someone to refuse life-saving therapy and giving them a lethal dose of pain killers if they wish to use it was “Do you think we should just let patients bring guns into the hospital?” /eyeroll

  • newenglandbob

    The real answer to:

    “There are no atheists in foxholes”

    is:

    “There are ONLY atheists in foxholes”

    Those who are true believers in a deity would stay out of the foxhole because their god would take care of them. No bullet would be allowed to harm them. They would also not use medicine at all since their god would take care of them, etc. etc.

    All those theists who wind up in foxholes trust their life more to reality than to their fictitious god.

  • abb3w

    I think the “there are no Chaplains in foxholes” rebuttal might be more effective.

  • cag

    There certainly are no gods in foxholes, or anywhere else either.

  • Tyler D

    While I agree with the ridiculous nature of the foxhole quote, I will say your prooftext of John 14 and Matthew 7 are very much out of context. Yes, some Christians wrongly (which is quite offensive in my mind) pull random texts out of context to prove their own point, but that doesn’t mean you should fight fire with fire. John 14 is not an Aladdin’s lamp of prayer, but one asked “in his name” or within the character of Jesus. And Matthew 7 has nothing to do with this topic. God does ask us to pray for wisdom, which, as we all know, is gained through experience. Jesus did not just say “anything” but anything “in my name”.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X