Daily Twitter: worshiping doctors

My office-mate, Sarah Moglia, tweets.  She tweets a lot.  I follow her during the day because it’s hilarious and because, occasionally, she gets something like this from @BarefootPeace.

@Mowgli3 nothing worse than atheists who worship doctors instead of priests #irony

He was, of course, chastising Sarah for placing too much trust in the opinions of doctors on the subject of medicine. 

The accusation of worship is strange.  I don’t have to think doctors are infallible to reach the fairly elementary conclusion that they’re less fallible than me on the subject of medicine, what with a dozen years of training/research and all that.  And personally, I’d rather not worship myself to such a degree that I, with zero medical training, think I know better than the experts.

No, I “worship” doctors the same way I worship airplane pilots and physicists when I’m on a plane.  Yes, the pilots and the physicists and the engineers might be wrong, but who will be the one to catch their errors, other experts or me armed with wikipedia?

To imply or to claim that I have a better grasp on medicine or aeronautics than the experts without first taking my evidence to the experts would be the apogee of arrogance.  Frankly, I have a pretty powerful imagination, but even I can’t imagine I’ve stumbled onto some argument all the world’s experts somehow never encountered while spending the equivalent of half my lifetime studying their particular subject.

If @BarefootPeace knows better, one can only wonder why he’s not the one wearing the labcoat and saving lives rather than sniping at others from the sidelines.  Other non-doctors, that is.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • DaveL

    Barefootpeace knows that religious people generally don’t worship priests, right?

    • http://umlud.blogspot.com umlud

      Well, to be fair, it depends on the religion… And the “worship” of priests would have been done as conduits to the god(s) of the religion.

      I think that your perception is a little too Protestant-centric (in which the need for a priest in order to confess your sins was abolished; where the Pope was no longer seen as the primary intermediary with God; in which saints were – for the most part – discarded; etc.)

      Do people worship priests? Maybe not as much as gods, but they definitely idolize them, supplicate to them, defer to their knowledge and morals, and do many of the actions that one might associate with “worship”.

      • DaveL

        “Protestant-centric”? Hardly. I was raised Catholic, and I can assure you Catholics do not worship their priests. Neither do Jews worship their kohanim. Islam doesn’t have priests.

        To attempt to expand the definition of “worship” to include any general deference, or any position of leadership or respect would be to broaden it beyond all meaningful use.

        • http://umlud.blogspot.com umlud

          I don’t want to nit-pick, but I think that you are failing to recognize that the term “worship” is not exclusive to deities (even historically among Abrahamic religions).

          From dictionary.com (italics mine):

          Verb (used with object)
          1) to render religious reverence and homage to.
          2) to feel an adoring reverence or regard for (any person or thing).

          If you choose to ignore the second definition as equally valid, then that’s your problem.

          As for Catholicism, you would be hard-pressed to deny that many Catholics have historically (and continue) given veneration – a specific type of worship – to saints and martyrs. It was the Protestants who did away with the ideas of venerating (i.e., worshiping) saints and martyrs (as a form of idolatry in some cases). Again, though, if you choose to ignore the social history of Christianity, that’s your problem.

          As for Judaism and Islam, I made no claim. However, I find your claim of “Islam doesn’t have priests” to be highly problematic. Imams are Islamic religious leaders of mosques. If one defines “priest” as “a person whose office it is to perform religious rites, and especially to make sacrificial offerings,” (from Dictionary.com), then you are flatly wrong in your claim. If you limit your definition to only Christian clergy, then it is a word that loses its usefulness due to its highly restricted use. Still, if the word “priest” only means “Christian clergy” in your book, then that’s also your problem.

          In sum: worship includes acts of reverence or regard toward gods and non-gods, worship has been given to saints and martyrs by Catholics (it is called veneration), and Islam does have priests. So, your contentions are specious and wrong… UNLESS you choose to have highly restrictive definitions that actually exclude actual, currently used, perfectly valid definitions for the terms in question.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    A side issue is that, in theory at least, theists do not “worship” priests either. At least not in the Abrahamic religions, that is. It’s somewhat of a confused statement all around…

    • TychaBrahe

      I met a woman on a plane once who was about to spend a year studying abroad. She was flying cross-country to have her journey blessed by Menachem Mendel Schneerson, sometimes called “The Rebbe.”

      There’s worship everywhere.

  • sisu

    Maybe it was that science-is-atheists’-religion trope, with doctors as priests? either way, FAIL. The best doctors I’ve known have always been willing to admit when they have gaps in their knowledge, and would gather more evidence, consult with others, and work to figure out an answer. I wonder how many priests do that, instead of just shrugging and saying “god’s ways are mysterious…”

  • neatospiderplant

    I’m also confused by the usage of the idea of the word worship in this case. If @BarefootPeace’s definition of worship is more along the lines of respect, then I’ll agree that I have more respect for doctors than priests. I think it’s justified though, given that a doctor saved my life by removing my ruptured appendix. I can’t say that I can think of any priest who has done anything nearly as beneficial for me.

  • anteprepro

    Hey, if you are desperately required to worship something and have no option to not worship, as theists like this tend to believe, then doctors seems like a damn fine choice. They both try to help people and actually succeed in doing so. They save lives. They actually get fucking results. Priests? Not so much. The most they can help is by organizing community service activities. But they also tend to have a fetish for getting people to follow the anachronistic rules of their ancient tome of choice, and insist that pleas to invisible entities is even more effective than actually doing the community service and charity that they encourage people to also do. It’d be like if doctors could perform life-saving surgeries, but reassured people that humming the national anthem was just as effective or even moreso. There is nothing about priests that is more worthy of “worship” than doctors.

  • http://www.electladendorf.us Nicholas Ivan Ladendorf

    I do think there is a level of reverence that we don’t hold for other professions. There are a number of reasons for this including education but doctors are vulnerable to the same selfish tendancies as a mechanic.
    But we don’t hear about the shady doctor as often as the shady mechanic even though there were never mechanics on tv telling people how safe cigarettes are or tell people that radiation is good for you (or margarine for that matter).

  • Parse

    I think I must worship my shoes and socks, because every morning I bow down before putting them on.

  • http://idioprag.com WilloNyx

    I am sorry but sometimes doctors are wrong. Sometimes I know they are wrong. Now I am not saying that I don’t trust the medical consensus over all. I do. But this post seems to imply that one person lacking a medical degree doesn’t have the “smarts” to know when a person with a medical degree is doing medicine wrong. If that is not your intention to imply this I misunderstand. I tried to follow the twitter stuff today but I mostly got one side of the conversation.

    I will give two examples of when I questioned a doctors ability to “know best.”

    The first example was when my son’s pediatrician at the time told me to my face that my son had a virus and then proceeded to prescribe him antibiotics. I knew, you should know, that antibiotics will do nothing to address the symptoms or causes for viral infections. This doctor was of an old school of medical thought that the medical consensus was long past. I not only didn’t give him the antibiotic, I changed doctors to one I felt I could trust more to be aware of the most current trends in the medical field.

    The second was after having to deal with persistent hives erupting at random after having both my children. I had seen several doctors who all agreed that the presentation of the symptoms didn’t suggest allergies. (I could be halfway through a day and suddenly my lip would swell up out of the blue or I would get a hive on the bottom of my foot while wearing flip flops.) Both the first time it happened it disappeared about 10 months after each child. Eventually unable to find the cause a doctor sent me to a dermatologist. Without bothering to address my concerns in anyway or the fact that five doctors prior to her had said it doesn’t present like allergies, she wanted to do an allergy test because “hives are allergic reactions.” She was wrong. I knew she was wrong but I have no recourse for showing her she was wrong because my hives disappeared again about ten months after the second child.

    Now, I have non-expert opinions as to the cause of my hives. I may be wrong and I know that. I still know that the two doctors above were both very wrong in very different ways. I didn’t need to be an expert in medicine to know they were wrong. With the first, I just need to know what the experts agreed on, and with the second I happened to be an expert in myself. I was privy to the whole of the experience that she never bothered to learn about because “hives must be allergies.”

    I don’t want it to seem like I think people should have the view that trust in medical consensus is not a good idea. I just want to be clear that you don’t think that people should have a non skeptical trust in the abilities and knowledge of individual physicians. I sure hope you don’t think that but that is how I read your words here (and some I have seen on twitter).

    • http://twitter.com/mowgli3 Sarah

      I don’t think anyone is saying doctors are never wrong. And while I believe your story, it’s also confirmation bias and selective memory. While those two doctors were wrong, we’re forgetting the hundreds of times when they are right.

      I do know doctors can be wrong, but this guy was advocating to me that I ignore a doctor’s advice/recommendations in order to follow a “common sense” approach (i.e. his approach, which was to go barefoot). I asked for evidence that his approach worked, and all he his response was basically that I worship doctors. Just very silly.

      • http://idioprag.com WilloNyx

        Ok. That makes more sense. I knew that there was a piece I must be missing in this whole thing.

        I wasn’t suggesting that doctors are more wrong than right by by examples. There was no conformation bias, just anecdotal evidence to explain my point. I actually have a fairly high level of trust in the doctors I use currently. Those were just two examples of when a doctor could be wrong and I (a non expert) could know they were wrong.

        I am glad this is mostly a misunderstanding on my part due to missing most of the conversation.