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Religion is to Science as Homeopathy is to Medicine

How reliable are the medicine or cures in the Bible Jesus New TestamentReligion in the West is mostly unregulated, like alternative medicine. Both make bold claims without evidence of efficacy. For both, it’s buyer beware. I cringe at the thought of gullible people throwing their money at stuff with bogus claims—homeopathy, magnetic bracelets, detox foot pads, aromatherapy, chelation therapy, colloidal minerals, iridology, … and religion.

Christians are on the same page when they shake their heads at Scientology, whose story amounts to little more than a $100,000 sci-fi novel metered out in installments, or Heaven’s Gate, the cult whose members killed themselves to get to an alien spacecraft.

Traditional Christians are skeptical of the historical claims of the LDS church. Joseph Smith translated “golden plates” by using a magic rock, you say? Show us the plates.

Ditto for Sathya Sai Baba, who had millions of followers and died in 2011. He was an avatar (deity on earth) and performed many miracles, including curing himself of paralysis from a stroke and raising people from the dead. Christians wonder, have scientists corroborated these claims?

They’ll shake their heads at Steve Jobs, who attempted to cure his (very treatable) cancer with alternative medicine. He realized his mistake only when it was too late.

They’ll laugh with skeptics at the end-of-the-world claims of Harold Camping or fans of the Mayan calendar that ended in December

But they stop laughing when the topic turns to Jesus.

The healing miracles of Jesus

The gospels record several outdated ideas about disease.

1. Evil spirits cause disease. In the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus expelled many demons from a man into 2000 pigs, which ran into a lake and drowned. Demons cause crippling as well (Luke 13:10–13). We learn that knowing precisely how to expel the various kinds of demons is an art (Mark 9:25). And getting rid of an “impure spirit” doesn’t help because it’ll just find a bunch of its friends and turn the newly cleansed person into a drunken fraternity party (Luke 11:24–6).

2. Sickness can come from sin. Jesus healed a disabled man but warned him,

You are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you. (John 5:14)

3. Magical healings. Jesus healed a deaf mute by putting his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his own saliva to the man’s tongue (Mark 7:32–5). He healed a blind man by making mud with his spit and putting that on the man’s eyes. After he washed them, the man could see. (John 9:6–7).

4. Healings by Jesus touching. Jesus used touch to cure a leper, a person with a fever, and two blind men. He also raised the dead.

5. Healings by touching Jesus. A woman touched Jesus and was healed without Jesus doing anything, as if he was a medicine battery.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him (Mark 5:30).

6. Healing at a distance. Jesus doesn’t even have to be there. He healed the centurion’s servant remotely.

So what have we learned? According to the gospel story, some illnesses are caused by sin, and others are caused by demons. Expelling demons is a waste of time, because they’ll just return with more demons. Jesus can cure with special techniques, he can cure just by a touch, he can cure by being touched, and he can cure at a distance without touching at all.

I don’t know what to make of this hodge-podge of techniques except to wonder why Jesus didn’t just put up his feet and heal thousands of worthy people remotely or eliminate diseases like cancer and smallpox.

Apologists may argue that Jesus didn’t cure much because he had no interest in doing so, and yet the gospels disagree. A crowd followed Jesus, and

he had compassion on them and healed their sick (Matt. 14:14).

Seeing a widow at the funeral of her only son, Luke says:

his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry” (Luke 7:13)

and then he raised her son. He heals people, at least in part, for the same reason a modern doctor does, because of compassion.

Alternative medicine vs. religion

Alternative therapies give hope where science offers none, and Americans spent $27 billion on them in 1997. The same is true for religion, and Americans give $96 billion to religious organizations annually.

Some of the nutty claims can be put to the test. In a TED video (scroll to 2:20), magician James Randi swallows an entire bottle of sleeping pills. Not to worry—it’s homeopathic medicine, guaranteed to have no active ingredients.

Does Christianity have any more? The gospel stories of the healings of Jesus sound like a nutty infomercial rather than historical fact.

He’s the best physician
who knows the worthlessness of the most medicines.
— Benjamin Franklin

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Selah

    Hey Bob ,
    You know what the greatest miracle of all is ? When He can change an unbelieving, sinful individual who is deserving of Hell and change that unbelieving heart by His mercy, love and grace and instead of a life destined for the pits of Hell , because of belief that Jesus shed His blood on the cross and without the shedding of blood there is no redemption of sin. Very shortly , millions of born -again believers are going to celebrate Ressurection Sunday ( Easter ) and glory in His death , burial and ressurection. Bob , He’s alive , the tomb is empty and He is with His Father to come back again for His Church. Now Bob , that ain’t no BS , that’s a fact Jack !

    • kagekiri

      You know what’d be even more impressive a miracle? Forgiving us of our sins WITHOUT blood sacrifice, i.e., following the standards he required for humans. He tells a parable of the debtors, with the king forgiving all of his servant’s debts, but he doesn’t actually do that himself. He supposedly paid said debts through Jesus, then expects us to forgive each other without memory. And he still wants all of us to die for our own sinfulness and keeps punishing our children for their ancestor’s mistakes (something he forbids humans doing in Leviticus, yet commands them to do in the various Biblical genocides).

      Believing in all that inconsistency is pretty miraculous (read: depressing) in and of itself, but Christians actually producing the miracles God promised would be a lot more useful for saving people. Jesus didn’t mind “tainting” the free will of all those people who witnessed his miracles, yet now he’s scared of documentation?

      Matthew 9
      5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

      So please, start healing people like Jesus (and Acts and the rest of the New Testament) said his disciples would have the power to do and prove Jesus power to heal sins by providing some flipping evidence of it. That’d be a lot more special than just being yet another large group of people absolutely convinced that their religious experiences are more authentic than any other religion’s followers.

      Also, millions of believers isn’t at all impressive when your own scriptures say that most of them will not be saved, that out of the billions alive today, only 144,000 names are written in the Book of Life, and many of those who think they’re saved aren’t (parable of the sheep and the goats, the way is narrow, easier to pass through eye of the needle, etc.).

      • Bob Seidensticker

        kagekiri:

        millions of believers isn’t at all impressive when your own scriptures say that most of them will not be saved, that out of the billions alive today, only 144,000 names are written in the Book of Life

        Decent teachers get 100% of their students to pass their classes. It’s weird that God’s success rate with his students is so low.

        • JohnH

          I don’t know what college class you are referring to but 100% passing rate is insane and means that the teacher is passing students that have put absolutely no effort into the class and do not know the material which produces a great headache for the next teacher and for the students as they move on in their educational career. For certain math course getting a 70% passing rate is already pushing the limit on what can be done given the students and traditionally those courses had a passing rate of 20-30%.

        • smrnda

          It depends on how you are grading. If my goal is that all students should know some quantity of knowledge, and they all can demonstrate that knowledge, then they all should pass. If none of the students demonstrate adequate knowledge, then none should pass. Some programs work like that where there’s just a score that’s the cutoff for passing, and that’s that. A curve is a bit different since it scales based on the performance of students, so a class can be full of slackers and someone still has to get an A.

          Just a note, I’ve found that even when I think nobody can fail a class, someone always ends up doing so because of doing absolutely nothing.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John: I was thinking about public school (that’s why I said “teacher”). But I wasn’t super clear–sorry.

      • JohnH

        If 144,000 is everyone that God will ever save what are the odds that any individual will be saved?

        So I would assume that all the prophets mentioned in the Bible are saved and the apostles, and more people that Jesus and the Apostles preached salvation to (or what was the point of the preaching if they were going to be damned?). And then it appears that there are on average something over 144000 martyrs every year currently then it would appear that one would not only need to be martyr but some sort of extra special martyr in order to be saved. As in under that assumption the vast majority of people that died for Christ are damned so what are the chances that anyone can be saved?

        It would appear that under your world view the rational thing would be to eat, drink, and be merry, committing all manner of sin as even following Christ as much as possible and getting killed for it will still give you less then a 1% chance of being saved so why even try? Perhaps you may want to rethink your interpretation of that scripture?

        Or perhaps you need to consider Revelation 7:9-10 where

        “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”,

        because 144,000 is countable in about 30 hours of counting time by the average person, yet a multitude which no man can number is saying that God has saved them.

        • JohnH

          world view presented.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Selah:

      sinful individual who is deserving of Hell

      Wow–the dude sure is vindictive. What could I possibly have done to deserve an eternity of torture?

      He’s alive

      Whaaa … ? You told me that he died for my sins! How can he be alive?!

      • trj

        he died for my sins! How can he be alive?!

        Yeah, not much of a sacrifice after all.

      • Reginald Selkirk

        Beat me to it. No deed or thought in this finite world could justify torture for eternity.

      • Selah

        Hey Bob ,
        I’m reminded of the time I approached 20 people in the Mall and aked them this question: ” Do
        you think you are a good person ? “. 19 out of 20 responded ” Yes ”. The other ” dude ” said flat out
        No !! . ” I’m baaaaad !! ( honest chap ).
        I then asked the other ” good ” people if they have : ever lied ? , stolen anything ? , used God’s name carelessly or as a curse word ? , ever looked at a man / woman with lust ?. All the ” good ” people said “” Yes “” without any hesitation. These ” good “” people broke 4 of the 10 Commandments.
        Bob , you ask ” what have I done to deserve eternal punishment in Hell ? ” How can He be alive ?
        Simply is that your unbelieving attitude ( right now ) is that you have not repented ( change of mind in regret for past sins ) and have not believed , trusted in nor relied on the Good News of the Gospel ( the Bible has good and bad news ) John 3: 16, 17 & 18 (* special emphasis on verse 18 ).
        Finally , remember the order : death , burial , resurrection. Bob , He’s alive !! I’m reminded of the account in Luke 24 : 5-8 when the ( 2 ) angels told the women — ” Why are you looking for the living among the dead ? He is not here , He is risen and remember how He told you while He was still in Galilee “.
        Bob , the DUDE was gone ! the tomb was empty. Jesus was bopping around town and seen by many of his followers especially 2 of His disciples on the way to Emmaus . ( Luke 24 : 13-22 )

        • John Evans

          Selah, did it occur to you that people you talk to may not have the same standards of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as your book? That a person might think that ‘yes, I’ve done some wrong things here and there, but on the whole I’ve made the world a better place’?

          And using a source to confirm the validity of that same source is spurious and makes you look silly.

        • Kodie

          Did you get thrown out of the mall after that? Do you think you’re a good person? Because bothering people with your evangelistic agenda while they come to shop is bad. It’s bad to judge people and it’s bad to assume you have the authority to go around pretending to speak for god. I hope you got thrown out of the mall for disturbance.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Selah:

          Ah, Ray “the banana man” Comfort’s patented line of reasoning. I’m afraid I don’t find it any more convincing when you use it than when Ray does.

          These ” good “” people broke 4 of the 10 Commandments.

          So the appropriate thing for an omni-benevolent being is to roast them forever?

          He’s alive !!

          Right–so he didn’t die for my sins.

          Bob , the DUDE was gone ! the tomb was empty. Jesus was bopping around town

          Yeah. All I need is to see it written on paper and I believe it is actual history.

          Not.

  • MNb

    “Jesus expelled many demons from a man into 2000 pigs, which ran into a lake and drowned.”
    Yeah, Jesus’ perfect love did not include pigs, a very respectable species. Before any christian complains that that’s not the point of the story, I know. Exactly the fact that he killed those pigs as an afterthought, as easily to be avoided collateral damage, that he did not tell his followers how respectable these animals actually are, the story being literal or metaphorical, shows that Jesus’ love was imperfect – just like yours and mine. Very, very human, exactly what I would expect from a non-divine human being living in Galilea back then.
    I can accept the “deeper” metaphorical meaning of the other stories. But this one sucks from every angle.

    “You know what’d be even more impressive a miracle?”
    I am less demanding. Those victims of the Japanese tsunami two years ago warned by a collective nightmare is good enough for me. No miracles ie violating natural laws, no robbing of free will, just some powerful entity using the natural laws to prevent evil on a statistical relevant base. That would impress me. Should be a piece of cake for a powerful god, don’t you think? Of course that god might be some alien, but I would happy to worship such a benevolent alien as well.

    • Bender

      Yeah, Jesus’ perfect love did not include pigs, a very respectable species.

      Or the pig’s owner.

  • Pattrsn

    Where did Jesus find the pigs in the first place? I thought they were verboten in Israel.

    Selah, you gotta love the irony of the loving Jesus casting his creations into the pits of hell essentially for the crime of just getting it wrong.

    • Greg G

      Where did Jesus find the pigs in the first place? I thought they were verboten in Israel.

      Well, Mark 5 does say that Jesus sailed to the place, just as Odysseus had sailed to the island of the Cyclops. Odysseus’ men escaped the Cyclops to the sea by clinging to the underside of his sheep. Earlier in The Odyssey, Circe had changed some of Odysseus’ men into pigs.

      I have only read about Dennis MacDonald’s book where he shows Mark’s reliance on Homer’s Odyssey, but when I decided to read Homer, I noticed that the Cyclops name was “Polyphemus”. The prefix “poly” reminded me of “for we are many” quote so I looked up the name and found that it means “famous” or, literally, “many talk about”. Mark uses the Greek “polys” for “many” in that quote. The name “Legion” comes from the Latin “Legio” and loosely means “many soldiers”. Why did Mark choose a Latin word? It looks like it is based on the Greek word “legos”, which is used immediately preceding the name in the Textus Receptus in Mark 5:9. So it appears that Mark was trying to be as obvious as John Goodman’s eyepatch in O Brother! Where Art Thou? that the character is the Cyclops. Matthew and Luke were uncomfortable with that and omitted it.

  • JohnH

    Really? Religion has associated with it so many health benefits both in the short term and long term that some doctors advise patients to be active in their faith as it is more correlated with successful outcomes then many of the drugs that they would proscribe with less (medically) harmful side effects.

    Then if you want to look at outcomes otherwise it quickly becomes apparent that even with some preachers pocketing the monies for their next yacht or build a multimillion dollar Noah’s ark replica the benefits received by the state (and society) is much more then the expense, and by most measures more effective and cheaper then if the government were to take over the duties.

    I should also point out that the placebo effect is very powerful, meaning that belief really can heal you, often within a standard deviation of the most effective medical cure currently avialable. There are also some drugs that have been developed from homeopathy, meaning not everything is necessarily always bunk (but most of it certianly seems to be or rely solely on the placebo effect). Willow, St. John’s Wort, Marijuana, Daffodils, nightshade, foxglove, yew, and others are all used in modern medicine and other traditional cures have and continue to be investigated for use in medicine (some of those are poisonous (or illegal) so having a medicine company package the correct refined dosage seems more intelliegent then attempting it oneself). There is quite a lot of fraud that goes on in homeopathy and lots of pills which don’t contain anything like what they claim to contain and some traditional cures work on the principle that by having a side effect it convinces the user that the cure is working (meaning they are actually harmful), but go back two hundred years and I would have much rather been treated with homeopathic remidies then by the then modern medicine.

    • smrnda

      I’d like some statistics on religious agencies being better at social welfare than the government. How are they measuring this? How do you compare a means-tested program like food stamps or WIC with a church food pantry, where anybody can show up and grab food whether they are actually poor or not? I spent several years on disability, and I’m very grateful that the great and wonderful bureaucratic secular welfare state was there for me, since I was able to survive without having to grovel before some religion who would offer help only in exchange for some level of control over my life. I mean, thanks to SSDI and section 8, I had a place to stay. I can only speculate about what a nightmare it would have been to have to live in some faith-based residential facility, where I doubt I’d simply be free to come and go as I please and do what I felt like. I’m sure some people in faith communities would want the help, but the existence of other options is essential.

      Not that I’m totally down on private volunteer organizations. I do help with several, but my experience there has made me think that what we need is a government solution.

      I’m also not sure churches help people very efficiently. They often replicate extremely similar services, which is incredibly wasteful. Near me, there are probably 20 churches that do food pantries, and I’ve talked to people who have had to go from one to another hoping to find one that has some food left. I mean, why not just have one huge central food pantry? Why not just have a food pantry on the North, South, East and West end? The reason is that no church wants to *not* have a food pantry, since then they’d lose a recruitment and publicity tool.

      On the placebo effect – it tends to only work for relatively subjective symptoms, and there’s also a catch that when people become aware that they have been given a placebo, the benefits disappear. I’ve studied the placebo effect and it’s rare for it to improve anything that doesn’t rely on subjective reporting, like pain.

      I will agree that one shouldn’t dismiss all traditional or ‘natural remedies’ but that they should be tested the same as any other drug, and should be considered reliable in proportion to how well they do in tests.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      JohnH:

      Religion has associated with it so many health benefits both in the short term and long term that some doctors advise patients to be active in their faith as it is more correlated with successful outcomes then many of the drugs that they would proscribe with less (medically) harmful side effects.

      My vote is to go where the evidence points. Isn’t it kinda hard to go wrong that way?

      I should also point out that the placebo effect is very powerful, meaning that belief really can heal you

      Why are you going here? You’re a believer. Is your argument, “Doesn’t much matter whether it’s true or not; it’s useful”?

      There is quite a lot of fraud that goes on in homeopathy and lots of pills which don’t contain anything like what they claim to contain

      Homeopathic cures contain, by definition, absolutely zero active ingredient. There is not a single molecule of the chemical it started with. (The word “homeopathy” has some cachet, and some “homeopathic” remedies have actual chemicals that may have medical activity, but these aren’t actually homeopathic.)

      • JohnH

        “My vote is to go where the evidence points. Isn’t it kinda hard to go wrong that way?”

        The evidence points to religion having a strongly positive effect, yet I don’t see you being religious.

        ” Is your argument, “Doesn’t much matter whether it’s true or not; it’s useful”?”

        Wow are you eager to spin what I say to your ends. When have I ever given the slightest impression that I don’t think my belief are true?

        “Homeopathic cures contain, by definition, absolutely zero active ingredient. ”
        I see what you are saying, and in this you are actually correct; the term and practice of homeopathy needs to die; stupid sugar pills being sold labeled as something else that is much more expensive. I stand corrected in my terminology.

        • Bender

          The evidence points to religion having a strongly positive effect, yet I don’t see you being religious.

          That’s because there is no evidence of religion having any postive effect. You keep claiming that, but for some reason sick people continue going to hospitals instead of churches.

        • JohnH

          You have just as much access to Google as I do; perhaps you might have a harder time actually reading articles, but check your library or college campus and you can probably find a way of reading them.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          The evidence points to religion having a strongly positive effect

          That’s debatable, but ignore that for now.

          … yet I don’t see you being religious.

          ?? The evidence points to religion being false. So I conclude that religion is false. You see the hypocrisy in knowing that religion is false but groping for it for its beneficial effects?

          When have I ever given the slightest impression that I don’t think my belief are true?

          In that piece of your last comment just above that comment of mine. Do you not know why I quote bits of your previous comment?

          I stand corrected in my terminology.

          OK, great.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          The evidence points that religion has real tangible measurable benefits so I don’t see how you conclude religion is false from that. As in you keep clamoring for evidence, but keep ignoring the evidence because it isn’t the relatively pointless specific evidence which would be utterly useless in improving peoples lives or providing hope or as evidence for the majority of time.

          When Christ healed people He would usually say your faith has made you whole. When someone gets healed by a saint or a whatever else that they believe in, regardless of the effectiveness of the actual thing, they are usually healed according to their faith. The placebo effect is documenting the ability of peoples faith in medicine to heal them.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          The evidence points that religion has real tangible measurable benefits so I don’t see how you conclude religion is false from that.

          Uh … I don’t. Your focus is on the benefits of belief. And I’m saying, isn’t whether it’s true or not still really important? Can you be arguing for belief whether or not it’s a true belief?

        • JohnH

          If it isn’t true belief I wouldn’t imagine it would be very effective or useful, so of course whether or not it is true matters. Also, I am focusing on to separate topics in my responses, perhaps that is confusing you.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          You were the one who brought up placebos, weren’t you? You can see why I went down that path.

          If it isn’t true belief I wouldn’t imagine it would be very effective or useful, so of course whether or not it is true matters.

          Agreed.

        • Greg G

          JohnH:

          The evidence points that religion has real tangible measurable benefits so I don’t see how you conclude religion is false from that.

          What we see is that it doesn’t matter what the religion is, believers can point to the same benefits. That means the believers are pointing in the wrong direction and the religion is irrelevant. What makes the difference is that a person gets needed support for pro-social activities. That works even without religion. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples can often do right by providing support to people when it is needed but they are wrong to give the credit to their religions.

        • JohnH

          The Bible and the Qur’an both have points where the focus is on right action, regardless of right belief. Since religious people, regardless of religion, are acting in a certain way then God will bless them for acting correctly, regardless of if their belief is correct.

          As in, I don’t drink alcohol, smoke, do drugs, drink coffee or tea; I attempt to eat meat sparingly and not waste it; I attempt to keep a garden; I go to church regularly; I spend time with my family on set activities. All of that and more I do because of my religion and receive benefits because of it, why shouldn’t I give credit to my religion for those things just because many of the same benefits are had by others that follow the same guidelines but aren’t of my religion? Why should God refrain from blessing people that are doing the right things just because they may not be doing it for (perhaps) the right reasons?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          As in, I don’t drink alcohol, smoke, do drugs, drink coffee or tea

          Yep, those hot drinks will do you in if you’re not careful.

          why shouldn’t I give credit to my religion for those things just because many of the same benefits are had by others that follow the same guidelines but aren’t of my religion?

          Because the supernatural part of the religion is irrelevant. That sounds like a pretty good way to live, but lots of secular/natural approaches will lead you there, as you observed. Why credit something supernatural? If you’re simply approaching this as if religion were a club (like Rotary or something), OK, I get that. But crediting Yahweh is unnecessary. The simpler explanation is for the benefit of community (and that I get!).

        • JohnH

          “those hot drinks will do you in if you’re not careful.”
          Whether they are net harmful or net beneficial is irrelevant to whether I will drink them.

          “Why credit something supernatural?”
          Because I am doing for religious reasons, not for secular reasons.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          Whether they are net harmful or net beneficial is irrelevant to whether I will drink them.

          Huh? Your point previously was the benefit of a healthy lifestyle. “Impact of Religious Attendance on Life Expectancy,” remember?

          Because I am doing for religious reasons, not for secular reasons.

          And you’ve made a big deal about the benefit of the religious community (or lifestyle). If that benefit can be explained by natural/secular reasons, then you may be praising the wrong thing.

          Reminds me of a recent Greg Koukl example: to boil water, you put water in pot, put it on a hot stove, add a leprechaun, and wait for it to boil. (But maybe that leprechaun isn’t necessary to explain the boiling.)

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          But I have been doing what I have been dong long before any science studied whether it is effective or not, and some of my ancestors before me likewise have been doing these things. Science is catching up to what I have always believed and I see no reason to change my belief (which has been confirmed as being beneficial in somethings) just because not everything has been shown conclusively to be beneficial by science.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          But I have been doing what I have been dong long before any science studied whether it is effective or not

          Right, which makes your appeals to the benefits at least confusing.

          Science is catching up to what I have always believed

          Which is that community is helpful? I believe that, too.

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com Michael

      Those benefits seem to be not religion per se, but the effect of a supporting community that many provide. Obviously this is not exclusive to religions, and people get the same from their family, friends or secular community they are involved with.

      I am not sure what benefits the state receives from religion that you refer to. On the other side of things, religious groups in the US receive much from the state, both negative (tax exemptions, related benefits) and positive (direct payments such as with the Faith-Based Initiatives).

      Homeopathy uses substances that have real effects, but as you know they dilute them to the point that any effect is nil or a placebo. Many plants have been used in conventional medicine to be sure, and it is beneficial to get the dose right (I’ve seen many sites that sells “do it yourself” herbs warn of the effects overdosing on their products will have, particularly frightening when you consider they ship them online-so much for “natural” meaning it’s non-toxic, as many assume). Two hundred years ago regular doctors were likely to use treatments which killed or weakened their patients (bloodletting, ingestion of toxic substances). In those days homeopathy indeed was a better option, since it would either do nothing or have a placebo effect. Obviously times have changed, though conventional medicine is far from perfect of course.

    • Nox

      If any doctors are giving people that advice they are giving bad advice which would not be made true by coming from a doctor.

      We’re all aware that religions claim to have positive effects. Religions claim a lot of unfounded things. What actual positive effects are there?

      • JohnH

        So in the Journal of The American Board of Family Medicine you can find two interesting 2006 articles available free online the first is “Religious Attendance: More Cost-Effective Than Lipitor?” and the second “Impact of Religious Attendance on Life Expectancy”. The first lays out all the benefits of religion but then recommends that family doctors not recommend religious attendance, the second objects to that recommendation saying family doctors should recommend religious attendance and then the effect studied.

        • smrnda

          The problem with recommending religious attendance is, if this is like the placebo effect, unbelievers will likely obtain no positive benefits from attending a religious service. That doesn’t seem to be within the scope of studies you’ve pointed out or that I’ve seen elsewhere, since they compare people who attend religious services with those who do not. Many studies also fail to distinguish between people who profess some religious affiliation but don’t attend any worship services versus actual atheists, and, at least in the US, we still have a pretty small % of the population that is atheist. Moreover, a problem we also have is that atheists tend to be better educated and probably therefore more affluent than average.

        • JohnH

          More studies certainly appear to be needed.

        • smrnda

          Agreed. If it wasn’t for a career change, I’d probably be doing them :-)

          Something I wanted to ask though – you believe your religion to be true, and you also believe that taking part in it is useful and beneficial. I’ll give you credit that you at least believe that it’s necessary that a true religion be beneficial and useful to humans, as Christians I run into often think that following god is necessary, even if it makes us all miserable. However, there exist other religions which not only have different but incompatible beliefs, but also direct people to different actions. If you end up finding that certain pagans were getting a positive benefit from a religion that can’t be reconciled with yours, how would you suggest to resolve which one is true if they both seem equally beneficial? Or would you consider it a problem that can’t really be solved? What if there’s more or better evidence for one religion but it got inferior outcomes? This could happen if there existed a god or gods which weren’t particularly concerned with human welfare.

        • JohnH

          “how would you suggest to resolve which one is true if they both seem equally beneficial?”

          I would suggest asking God, that being what I usually suggest when questions of which religion is true.

          I see two cases with this; either the beliefs are completely contrary but the actions are fairly similar or both the beliefs and actions are completely contrary.

          The first is the case I expect and is easily reconciled with my beliefs; actions are in the short run more important then belief, belief drives actions and correct belief is eventually needed but correct action should get similar results irregardless of the driving belief.

          The second where the actions are actually contrary to one another is much harder to address. One thing to consider is what type of action is occurring in each. If one group is (hypothetically) sacrificing babies in order to obtain a better outcome and the other group is not then based on my ethics and morality I would choose the group not sacrificing babies but also ask God about it. There are obvious problems with that though; potentially something that seems morally objectionable to me may in fact not be. Otherwise, I suppose I would have to trust that God really isn’t a liar. If the action is different but not morally objectionable then I wouldn’t have a problem with that, God is capable of commanding different people to do somewhat different things and there is no reason He needs to tell us about what He may have told others to do (or not do).

          Likewise in the case where there is more and better evidence for one religion, I think asking God and trusting in the answer received is probably the only thing I could do. There have been times when certain religions or philosophies appeared utterly unassailable in their proofs for their beliefs and evidences of their truthfulness, however today many of those same religions and philosophies no longer exist or appear completely foolish to most people. The Truth doesn’t change though and God is capable of answering questions as to the truthfulness of all things so history appears to teach it is best to consult God and cling to the truth that one has received from God, despite being mocked for it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          I would suggest asking God, that being what I usually suggest when questions of which religion is true.

          And when “God” is silent … ?

          I would choose the group not sacrificing babies but also ask God about it.

          I would also reject sacrificing babies, but I wouldn’t much care what God thought about it (he doesn’t have much of an issue with it, given that he drown both adults and babies with the flood and ordered many tribes killed, including the babies). I don’t need to ask God’s opinion. Should someone change his opinion on baby sacrifice if he thought that God wanted it?

          Likewise in the case where there is more and better evidence for one religion, I think asking God and trusting in the answer received is probably the only thing I could do.

          So the evidence is better for religion X, so you’re going to ask the Christian god what he thinks about this? Why not ask the god of religion X what he thinks? Why not just consult your own common sense?

          There have been times when certain religions or philosophies appeared utterly unassailable in their proofs for their beliefs and evidences of their truthfulness, however today many of those same religions and philosophies no longer exist or appear completely foolish to most people.

          And what do you conclude from this? My conclusion: if religions are fly by night, maybe they should in general be not trusted.

        • smrnda

          Kind of an odd position. The notion that actions, not beliefs matter is something that I’ve encountered among Jews, occasionally pagans and Buddhists, but almost never Muslims or Christians. In fact, most Christians seem to think that beliefs take greater priority, and kind of view ‘belief’ as an action itself. In fact, your opinions appear different than the Mormons I’ve talked to, but I will grant that you’re entitled to differ in your opinions from the guys who knock on doors in my neighborhood.

          My take is that not only are all gods silent to me, I wouldn’t trust anything that I might take as a voice from god since I feel there’s a strong possibility that a person can just take strong, subjective feelings and ascribe them to gods, so my only recourse is to evaluate actions based on harm and benefit as best as I an tell. Of course, this is imperfect since I don’t always have the best information. All said, I’m going with what I can do reliably (look into harm and benefit) instead of things that I can do less reliably.

          I think the problem with ‘asking god’ is that, in the end, people start out with preconceived notions of god when they ask. As an unbeliever, I admit that I find polytheism a little more ridiculous than monotheism, even though I think polytheism can explain the world better (lots of gods with competing agendas resolves a lot of god problems.)

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          If the skies are as brass for you then you might want to figure out why.

          If by sacrificing a newborn you were able to gain a thousand years of life and a trillion dollars would you kill the baby? What if the mother of the baby didn’t want the baby?

          Presumably there is only one True and Living God.

          I conclude that what is popular is not always right and what is right may be extremely unpopular.

          smrnda,

          I have spent time as a missionary, I wouldn’t expect most missionaries to have studied or thought about the subject much. Missionaries have a message from God and as long as questions are directly related to that message the missionaries are likely correct. Their calling is to call everyone to faith, repentance, and baptism which is correct, everyone that believes, repents, and is baptized will be saved and those things are needful.

          However, faith is a gift from God for obedience to the commands of God, regardless of the beliefs leading to obedience. A major portion of repentance is to change ones actions to doing what is correct. I am actually not saying anything that I didn’t at some time or another teach as a missionary, depending on the person I was talking to I emphasized whatever portion of the gospel I felt they needed to hear and that was in accordance to where they were.

          In terms of scriptures to back up what I am saying: D&C 130: 20-21, Alma 29 especially vs 8, Matthew 7:21, John 7:17, Romans 2 especially vs 6 and vs 11-15, James 2, D&C 1:10 and 21.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          If the skies are as brass for you then you might want to figure out why.

          ? I don’t understand this.

          If by sacrificing a newborn you were able to gain a thousand years of life and a trillion dollars would you kill the baby? What if the mother of the baby didn’t want the baby?

          No and Doesn’t matter. If the mother didn’t want a fetus, that’s a different story.

          I conclude that what is popular is not always right and what is right may be extremely unpopular.

          Agreed, though “right” always comes from one perspective. I see no evidence of any absolute or objective moral rightness.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Pattersn:

    The exorcism supposedly took place at Gerasa, modern Jerash in Jordan, at the time a city in the Decapolis. Gentile territory.

  • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

    Homeopathy is a good choice for comparison. There’s no active ingredient there either.

  • Castilliano

    JohnH: You implied you didn’t really hold your beliefs when you compared God’s effects to a placebo’s. (Though, yes, I know you it’s not what you meant.)

    To fellow skeptics: There are plenty of studies attributing better health & wellness to people of faith. It’s hard to extricate the benefits of community from that, but the correlation (if not causation) is well grounded.

    But, being as most religions exclude each other, and all religions give the same health benefits, what does that say about Yahweh/Allah/Vishnu/etc.?
    It implies that either they all exist, and give health benefits, or that just believing gives those health benefits even if the god(s) doesn’t exist.
    I’m leaning toward the latter.
    (I guess there’s a third option unpalatable to most, that there’s an unknown, non-exclusionary god who is doling out the bennies to those trying ANYTHING.)

    Interesting to note, in Discover magazine there was an article about how placebos often work even if the patient knows it’s a placebo. Something about the ritual and act of taking medicine, even fake medicine, helps cure the ailment (or helps the body cure it to be more accurate.)
    Extrapolating from there, we skeptics should ‘take god(s)’ as medicine, even knowing they’re false. (I won’t, but it’s kinda funny.)
    Makes me wonder how the rituals and actions of religion aid their followers, even if built on falsehoods.

    Cheers, JMK

    • MNb

      “a third option”
      That one is known very well: the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Ramen!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Castilliano:

      A nice addition to the discussion. Thanks.

    • Greg G

      Extrapolating from there, we skeptics should ‘take god(s)’ as medicine, even knowing they’re false. (I won’t, but it’s kinda funny.)

      Take two deities and call me in the morning.

      But then you listen to the fast-talking announcer warning about the side-effects and you decide your malady isn’t so bad after all.

      • JohnH

        “Take two deities and call me in the morning.”

        Sounds like something that should be in a modern fantasy short story, if it isn’t already.

  • smrnda

    “If it isn’t true belief I wouldn’t imagine it would be very effective or useful,”

    False beliefs can be very useful and beneficial at times. If you told a very ill patient that a test come out negative, they might suddenly feel better (placebo effect) while they actually remained quite sick. It would be a pretty sadistic experiment. JohnH, you’ve said over and over that the placebo effect is well-documented. Placebos work, but they aren’t real medicine. They work because people can be fooled.

    The other problem is I don’t think ‘non-religious’ people are being studied as I understand them when their welfare is compared to religious people. I live in a very secular place where non-religious people seem to have much better and more vibrant social lives than religious people do, probably since the regular community is stronger and better connected than church communities, along with being perhaps a bit more inclusive.

    Also, as far as benefits, I’m in very good health as an atheist with a very rich and fulfilling life. Life as a religious person has about as much appeal to me as life in a Siberian prison camp. Since my family is mostly Jewish, I’ve done some Jewish holidays, but that was that. I attended a church for a short time just to see what it was like – a large evangelical church, and I found the whole scene unpleasant and not to my liking. People tried to be friendly, but I’m used to people respecting personal boundaries and the ‘friendly’ was so extreme it was kind of creepy.

    • Greg G

      …a large evangelical church, and I found the whole scene unpleasant and not to my liking. People tried to be friendly, but I’m used to people respecting personal boundaries and the ‘friendly’ was so extreme it was kind of creepy.

      So you found the “love bombing” to be a “weapon of mass distraction”?

      • smrnda

        Yeah, I refer to the methodology as ‘space invaders.’ I’m guessing since I’m secure, confident and well-connected socially the ‘love bombing’ didn’t work. I wasn’t thinking ‘wow, these people really want to know me’ so much as that I showed up with the intention of observing and keeping a low profile. That didn’t work. Plus, you get hit up for “groups” as soon as you show up, with everybody telling the group everything.

        Love bomb? They were using a Love H Bomb.

    • JohnH

      Different churches have vastly different social aspects and worship services.

  • John Kesler

    Bob Seidensticker wrote:
    I don’t know what to make of this hodge-podge of techniques except to wonder why Jesus didn’t just put up his feet and heal thousands of worthy people remotely or eliminate diseases like cancer and smallpox. Apologists may argue that Jesus didn’t cure much because he had no interest in doing so, and yet the gospels disagree…

    KESLER
    Luke 4 offers an apologetic for why Jesus didn’t heal all sick people: like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus wasn’t sent to help everyone.

    16 When [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
    18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to let the oppressed go free,
    19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
    20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’

    • ZenDruid

      I like Radagast better. He rode a sled pulled by bunnies, and he resurrected a dead hedgehog.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        ZD:

        I had to look up Radagast the Brown, but now I remember from the last Hobbit movie.

      • Greg G

        He rode a sled pulled by bunnies

        These are Rhosgobel rabbits.

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