Religion

Rebecca infiltrates enemy territory.

While preparing for tonight’s religious rant, I sorted through a lot of recent news like this article sent to me by reader David about a woman getting struck by lightning while praying — always sad/amusing. A few other people sent me things that I want to use a whole blog entry to tackle. Unfortunately, they’re getting bumped because there is now a measles outbreak right here in Boston, and we have the Christian Scientists to blame.

I was preparing to just link to the article and mock the Christian Scientists mercilessly for their belief that modern medicine (including vaccines, of course) is useless and that the only way to heal oneself is through God. That’s when it occurred to me that on Sunday evenings, the parishioners hold services right here at their world headquarters in Boston. I checked online to find that the show began at 7pm, leaving me not a lot of time to get there. First, though, a phone call to my mother.

ME: Mom, I was vaccinated for measles, right?
MOM: Yep.
ME: Great, thanks!
MOM: Wait, why do you want to know?
ME: Oh, I’m going down to hang out with a cult, and I don’t want to catch anything.
MOM: O . . . kay . . . and . . . why?
ME: Don’t know, I might write about it.
MOM: What cult?
ME: Christian Scientists. They’re having their weekly services tonight.
MOM: Oh! Will Tom Cruise be there?
ME: No, that’s the Scientologists.
MOM: Oh. What’s the difference?
ME: Christian Scientists don’t believe in medicine.
MOM: And the Scientologists?
ME: They think we all came from aliens.
MOM: [pause] Are you serious?
ME: Sadly, yes. [rummaging under bed] What sort of shoes do you wear to a cult meeting?
MOM: Sneakers?
ME: Good one.

Upon arrival at the Mother Church (yes, that’s what they call it), I was thrilled to find a big sign announcing their annual meeting, taking place RIGHT NOW! I parked my bike and walked inside. I had no idea if attendance would be restricted to Church members, so I decided to act as if I knew exactly where I was going. I greeted the woman at the door, only glancing at the table full of name badges. I walked past the group standing at the inside doors, giving a little wave to a nonexistant person on the other side of them as I breezed through. The place is immense and I had no idea what I was doing, but I was afraid that slowing down and looking around would make it obvious that I was a spy. I saw some stairs in the back, so I jogged up them.

At the top of the stairs, I started to get a little concerned. There was a sound room and a big ladder — it didn’t look like it was set up for greeting meeting attendees. I saw a curtain, and through a crack I thought I could see some pews. I walked through and found myself in a gigantic auditorium filled with pews. I was next to a big stage with an immense pipe organ and glass lecterns. There were some people sitting in the pews. Staring at me. I quietly slipped into a pew, only four back from the stage.

Within the next ten minutes, the place filled up a bit (though not to capacity — pretty light, considering it was their annual meeting). I started to panic from the weirdness of being such an utter imposter. I pulled out some lip gloss and after applying it, I realized it was medicated. Dear lord! Did anyone notice? I looked around; if anyone could tell, they weren’t showing it. Possibly to lure me into a false sense of security before they could grab me and brainwash me in the basement.

I grabbed my bag and was about to split, when I noticed the Mary Baker Eddy quote etched in stone over the altar: “When error confronts you, withold not the rebuke or explanation which destroys it. Never breathe an immoral atmosphere, unless in an attempt to purify it.” I took a deep breath.

The reverend was small and creepy and spoke like a demented robot. Kind of like HAL, only more effeminate. He kept making eye contact with me and giving me a big smile. I kept looking away.

All in all, I found the whole thing to be a bit of a letdown. I was hoping to see some on-stage healing, or at least some preaching about why they believe what they believe. Instead, it was mostly a lot of singing, along with readings straight from the Bible and their secondary Bible, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures written by homeopathic kook Mary Baker Eddy. The passages they chose from the Bible provided the foundation for their belief that the only way to cure disease is through God — things like Ecclesiastes 3:14, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.”

Sure, that doesn’t say exactly, “Ignore the knowledge you discover through careful investigation, study, and trial and error in favor of crap that doesn’t work, like homeopathy,” but that’s why the Christian Scientists have Mary Baker Eddy’s text. It fills all that stuff in for them.

“According to Holy Writ, the sick are never really healed by drugs, hygiene, or any material method. These merely evade the question. They are soothing syrups to put children to sleep, satisfy mortal belief, and quiet fear.” (230:19-16)

At no time did anyone offer any sort of interpretation or explanation — these passages were simply read out loud and swallowed whole.

After one last hymn, everyone sat down and I heard people rustling around. I thought it rather rude that they should be gathering their things to leave while the reverend was still standing at the lectern — that’s when I realized that to my horror, they were about to take around the hats to get money. Crap. I thought that maybe I could just flash a bill and then palm it while pretending to drop it in the hat, but as the man got to me and held out his little cloth bucket, I realized I didn’t even have any cash on me. I gave him an apologetic look, hoping that this “spiritual” currency of emotion would be worth more than my dirty, materialist money. Judging from the look on his face, I was very wrong.

Shortly thereafter, the reverend and his two female assistants finally left the stage and walked up the aisles. A lot of the people around me just sat there staring at the person playing the organ, but I figured this was an okay time to split. I walked back, in the opposite direction from which I had come in. Walking through the doors at the back of the auditorium, I was surprised to find no stairwell back down — there were only two large elevators. What are they going to do if the place goes up in flames? I hope they have a good fire extinguisher handy, and for their sakes it had better be filled with more than hopeful ignorance and prayers.

One of the elevator opens, and I step inside. Behind me follow three people — the reverend and his second and third in command ladies. They have large, unearthly smiles as they shake my hand and introduce themselves. I say, “hi” and face forward, but it’s not enough to save me.

“What’s your name?” I give them a fake name because I’m paranoid and on edge. They ask if I live in town and I give a generic “yes.” They ask where I work, and I say, “Oh, just in a restaurant.”

“Just!” smiles one of the women. “Don’t say ‘just!’ Working in a restaurant is great! Why, I grew up around people working in restaurants!”

The hell?

“Which restaurant,” they want to know. They stare at me. Big smiles. This is all happening during a 15-second elevator ride. I’m surprised they don’t have a single light bulb hanging from the top of the elevator.

I name a restaurant in my very Jewish neighborhood. In my panicked state, I wanted to name a place they probably wouldn’t go. I took a split-second guess and hoped they didn’t like Jews. Hey, a lot of crazy religious people hate the Jews. I think it worked — their smiles froze over and they nodded, with nothing more to say about the subject.

Finally, the elevator doors opened and I scrambled out. The reverend stopped me and handed me a business card. “I’d love it if you could come to our Wednesday night service. There will be people there who stand up and tell how they found Jesus!” I tell him that sounds great. “What’s your name again,” asks one of the women. Thank Jesus the reverend remembered, because I didn’t.

All of that small talk, and I didn’t even get around to asking them what they thought about the possibility of a measles outbreak thinning their herd. The good news is that I think I fooled them into believing I’m a mild-mannered waitress who might just be interested in drinking their special brand of homeopathic Kool-Ade. Maybe I will go to that Wednesday night show. I really should go back and make up for tonight’s lack of donation, especially seeing as how apparently Jesus magically transported Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures into my backpack at some point during the sermon. Maybe they’re right about this whole anti-materialism thing. I’ll read up on it.

Coming up at some point soon — a break down of the difference between Scientologists and Christian Scientists, for my mom and the dozens of others who have expressed their confusion to me recently.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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56 Comments

  1. That was great– Skepchick, undercover!

    You've got some courage. I don't even let my parents drag me to their Christmas Eve church service anymore. And they give out free chocolates.

  2. Rebecca, you are braver than I! I am in Memphis for one year and had high hopes of visiting a local House of Ludicrous Rants (aka southern church), but I haven't yet mustered the courage to do so. Your experience parallels my nightmares of what could come of such an attempt, but maybe I will grow some cojones one of these days. Until then, keep up the skeptical investigations (complete with witty reporting) for the benefit of us all!

  3. Hey Rebecca, they don't usually kidnap and brainwash first-time attendees! ;-) Back in college, I ate dinner with the Hare Krishnas and CARP (student Moonies) a couple of times apiece. The worst that came of it was that one of the CARP recruiters kept greeting me in the hallways… of the college Science Center. (oy!) On the other hand, when I ran across the HKs at a Rainbow Gathering, drinking their *water* brought an early and unpleasant end to my Gathering….

  4. Awesome! I've done a little undercover work in the name of skepticism — it's fun! I think the people just assume you are curious about their product or classes or whatever. I tell myself I am genuinely trying to find out what's going on — I try not to have to lie, because I think a neon sign lights up on my forhead "LIAR – LIAR – LIAR," so I just say I want some printed information if there's any available. You feel like you are a giant purple insect or something, but really they don't know what you are thinking, or whether you are a member of a skeptics' group. Remember, there is no evidence yet that anyone can read minds — just take a deep breath, smile and try to remember what they are saying.

    I also once tried to pass for a voter of another political party when I wanted to see what they had in their little local campaign office; but in that case, I didn't even have the clothes or any idea how to act when I visited the office. The woman who opened the door to the office looked at me and could tell instantly that I was not one of Them. I just blurted out, "I'm trying to keep an open mind since 9/11." I was more convincing trying to pass for a person who was interested in learning how to be clairvoyant.

  5. I can tell you one thing: the fundies were right!!

    Now excuse me as I quickly pack up some supplies and a gun because on this side of the globe, demons are already rampaging through the streets skewering unbelievers with pitchforks.

    Gotta go, I can hear claws scratching on my door …

  6. I was in the Christian Science Church as a child. My mother was a C.S. (which explains why she died of spinal meningitis at age 44).

    They believe that the material world is an illusion–only "Spirit" is real. They won't kidnap you and make you eat gruel while they read "Science and Health" to you in the basement, or anything. They just hurt themselves and their children.

  7. Exarch — yes, it's the joint with the Mapparium . . . and yes, that is my dear mom.

    Mom — I ran out of clean underwear so I went commando. Send more money!

    (that's a joke)

    Stacy — that's heartbreaking to hear about your own mom. That's the reason why I think more people need to hear about the CS church and what they're doing. Thanks . . .

  8. "… the material world is an illusion–only 'Spirit' is real."

    I consider this idea and its variations to be possibly the single most evil concept on the planet. Any assertion of the type (e.g., "getting to Heaven makes up for whatever you suffered on Earth") purports to justify anything whatsoever, based on the speaker's completely unverifiable claims about "the other side".

    "Oh, well, he died within days after we tore out all his impure parts, but that's OK, because now he'll be accepted into God's Country Club! I know that's true, because God told me so himself when he smote my Wild Mushroom Club, but let me live to spread the word!"

  9. I applaud your courage, Rebecca. And sympathize with your panic in the elevator; I doubt I would have done any better.

    My own Christian belief finds no contradiction in using modern medicine, accepting evolutionary theory, rejecting the doctrine that non-Christians are condemned to eternal pain… To me the fundamentalists and sects like the Christian Scientists are sad at best… damn dangerous at their worst.

  10. Very cool story, Rebecca, and I love the write-up. I'm glad your medicated lip gloss didn't give you away! (Though it seems like they uncovered you in the end anyway. Better luck next sneaky infiltration.)

    It's just a shame that, in our state, these people are actually given the same authority as *real* medical professionals. And, wow, I just went on Wikipedia to check on that fact, and what do I find? "There are now statutes in 44 states which contain a provision stating that a child is not to be deemed abused or neglected merely because he or she is receiving treatment by spiritual means, through prayer according to the tenets of a recognized religion." That is just so, so sad.

  11. Then talk about being hoist on our own petard, the rest of the paragraph in Wikipedia about Christian Science says:

    Two important sets of interests are in apparent opposition – those of children in the benefits of "proven" medical and health care and those of parents in making a decision about their children's well-being. Some parents believe that a constitutionally protected freedom of religion allows them to deny their children some or all of the benefits of standard medical intervention. However, this interpretation of the US constitution is in contradiction to important court rulings to the effect that parents may not martyr their children based on parental beliefs and that children cannot be denied essential health care. See Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 US 158 (1944) and Jehovah's Witnesses v. Washington King County Hospital, 278 F Supp 488 (Washington DC 1967), affirmed per curiam 390 US 598 (1968).

    So — altho there have been court arguments, it seems that there is a down side to the first amendment. Sigh.

  12. I believe there are court arguments as well arguing that willful injury is not protected by the first amendment. The case law on that mostly pertains to freedom of speech, but there's no particular reason why religion should be special in that regard.

    Anyway, I read that, but I chose the part that seemed most relevant. It's good that parents can be charged with actually murdering their children by not seeking appropriate care, but there are more subtle ways that children can be harmed by rejecting medical care. But the issue is really even greater than that, namely that laws exist for the express purpose of protecting these people from the dangerous consequences of their belief in quackery and psuedoscience.

  13. We urgenly need a religion that requires us to drive well above the speed limit, encourages us to kick unbelievers in the nuts until they see things our way, and makes it a sin to pay taxes.

    I'd join it right away …

  14. Re: protecting these people from the dangerous consequences of their belief in quackery and psuedoscience.

    The constitution protects their right to practice their religion; their religion includes concepts that stand in the way of getting appropriate medical intervention. They don't think their religion is quackery and pseudoscience. They think they have a clear understanding of god's will, and that the will of that supernatural being who answers prayers and runs things controls whether they get sick and die, or are healthy.

    WE think they are talking to themselves and need to access our medical establishment. I haven't gotten into a discussion with one of them; there is a Christian Science Reading Room not far from a place where I volunteer a lot, so maybe next week I'll stroll down there and see if I can get into a rational conversation. Well, it might not be rational, but just ask a few questions. Maybe.

  15. Third generation C.S. here and while I appalud your right to be skeptical (as I am about many things myself), I think you might do well to check your facts. There are no "reverends" in the C.S. church — no ordained clergy, only lay readers. Also, if you'd looked into it a bit you'd realize that C.S.'ists do not and have never put on public displays of healing of any sort. Would have saved you the disappointment of not seeing "on-stage healing." And there would be no reason for anyone at that meeting to speak about "why" C.S.'ists believe what they do — this was a meeting for members of the church. They ALREADY know the doctrine or at least they're supposed to. That's the problem with sneaking in to things w/out adequate preparation. You come away with half the story and base your whole opinion of an entire religious movement and its followers on an isolated incident and not much else. C.S. doesn't appeal to or work for everyone but neither does any denomination. Let those for whom it works have it. While you're at it, check out the national statistic on hospital deaths due to human error — last I read it was a whopping 100,000 people a year. So much for putting your faith in the hands of your fellow man. If you're going to be skeptical, for pete's sake be skeptical of ALL of it, not just the Christian Scientists.

  16. One more thing in the interest of accuracy — because while it's great to be skeptical it's even better to do so from a position of intelligence, IMO — the C.S. church does not and has never considered Mary Baker Eddy's book Science and Health to be a "second Bible." It's our church's denominational textbook and nothing more. It merely explains the doctrine of C.S. It does not take the place of the Bible and, in fact, was written as a companion to Scripture, not unlike many of the Bible commentaries and other denominational explanatory books on the market today. Visit any Christian bookstore for entire walls full of books that interpret Scriptures or analyze or dissect them. Science and Health is just one of many but it is, of course, uniquely geared to those interested in Christian Science specifically.

  17. Maewest –

    While it was a "whopping 100,000" deaths due to human error in hospitals last year (in the US)…that is in the backgorund of something on the order of 830 million hosiptal visits. Yes, MILLION. So that works out to.. lets see now… 0.00012% of people visiting hospitals dying due to human error. Not bad at all.

    Now, lets compare that to leaving certain common illnesses untreated and un-vaccinated for. Note that vaccines reduce the likelyhood of contracting any of the following diseases anywhere from 80 to 95% depending on the specific disease.

    Measles: Untreated death rate 1 in 1000 or %.001

    Chicken Pox: 1 in 500 or %.002

    Pertussis (Whooping Cough): 400,000 in 1,150,000 or %34.7

    Meningococcal Meningitis: 7 in 10 or %70

    I won't even get into cancer. It's ridiculous.

    Now this list could go on and on but these are fairly common illnesses for the un-vaccinated (OK, meningitis is less common but it illustrates the point nicely). With realtively simple medical treatment and vaccination the death tolls of all these diseases drops dramatically. By dramitcally I mean to one in 10 million for measles, pertussis and chicken pox.

    So, I'll take my chances in the Hospital… especially seeing as how I'm likely there for something that is far more dangerous to me than the .00012% possibilty that a doctor will screw up and snuff me.

    Oh, and one more thing – there are any number of studies that show that prayer is exactly as effective at combatting infection as waving your arms in circles is… which is to say not at all.

    Of course I realize that I have likely just wasted 20 minutes of my life doing the research and posting it here for you to read… but I had to try. That's one of the things we skeptics do – try to educate people so they don't needlessly kill themselves and/or their loved ones.

    Good luck.

  18. Oh yes, one more thing: In vaccine rich countries like the US it is relatively safe to be a Christian Scientist – the vaccine your neighbors takes helps to keep you safe by greatly reducing the likelyhood that you will be exposed to anything really nasty. I strongly suggest you avoid any vacations to South America and much of Africa with your kids.

  19. Maewest, thanks for posting. You're correct about the use of readers as opposed to reverends — I cleared that up shortly after writing this essay and was going to elaborate on my next visit to the Church, but sadly that has been put off for a bit. You're also correct that they don't do public healings — I suppose it's easier to hide the fact that it doesn't work behind closed doors.

    I'm guessing you've never been to other churches based on your statement that there's no reason for a service to address why they believe what they believe — churches do that all the time. Often, there will be a sermon delivered by a preacher of some sort accompanied by relevant passages from a holy book. This sermon is the interpretation of the book, illustrating how that congregation uses their text and applies it to everyday life. They usually don't just read from the book.

    Your statement that I'm only skeptical about Christian Science is so ignorant it hurts. I've written more than 100 essays on this site. Two were about Christian Science.

    About Eddy's book, I certainly never even implied that it was a replacement for the Bible — I called it a "second Bible," meaning that it is a text that Christian Scientists study and hold as infallible as the Bible. It is NOT like other texts offering interpretations of the Bible. You will be hard pressed to find a mainstream Christian church that holds a book other than the Bible in such high regard, unless the author of said book is the leader of their cult.

    Thanks, Stark, for an excellent rebuttal to the silly "people die in hospitals" argument. Maewest probably won't bother to absorb it, but plenty of others read this site.

  20. Your honor, more than 100'000 people died in the tsunami in December 2004, so how can you punish me for killing this one single person? It's just not fair …

  21. Hey there, I did read and do appreciate Stark's remarks. Stark makes a valid point re: the relative miniscule number of folks who die due to dr./hospital error vs. those who do/don't die from vaccine-related conditions. Problem, of course, is that if you happen to be one of those 100,000 people who got the wrong limb amputated, wrong drug injected, too much radiation, or the wrong organ removed, the fact that you're in the minority probably doesn't mean much.

    My point in quoting that stat was not to debate the value of one group over that of another anyway, i.e. it's not as big a deal to have 100000 die from accidents as it is to have X number of unvaccinated get sick from measles or whatever. I merely wanted to point out that while C.S. is not going to work for some people, it is not alone in this regard. Allopathic medicine doesn't always work, either, but if you try THAT and it fails you no one calls you nuts. I simply see it as a troublesome double standard, that's all.

    And as for Rebecca's comment that C.S. would prefer to attempt its healing work behind closed doors so the public won't see that it doesn't work, I have to ask, "How do you know it doesn't work?" Because some people (yes, even children) die while being treated through prayer? If you're going to use that argument, then we're back to square one and I can argue that conventional medicine doesn't work because thousands of people incl. kids die while under the care of MDs every year. Of course many more recover. And this is also true of those who use C.S. More of them recover than don't.

    I've been on both sides of this issue — had family members under the careful and conscientious care of MDs who died and had those who died in C.S. I've also had family members recover while under MD care and others recover using C.S. So what am I supposed to believe! I would never slam conventional medicine to the point of saying that all those who visit doctors are kooks. By the same token, you ought to know that all people who follow the C.S. religion aren't kooks, either, and many of us have experienced verified recovery from various ailments. In my case, I was told by two different dentists and a periodontist that I would be losing two back teeth because of advanced gum disease (was always bad about not flossing). The x-rays showed big problem areas and some bone loss where the tooth attached to the jawbone had even begun. I made an appt. to have the teeth pulled. Before that happened, though, I was encouraged to try to solve the problem through prayer in C.S. and figuring I had nothing to lose but a couple of teeth that I was told I was going to lose anyway, I gave it a try. That was 15 years ago and all my teeth are still in my head and the last x-ray I had during a routine cleaning in early 2005 showed no trouble after all this time. The periodontist never could explain it and I didn't bother trying. Isolated incident, you say. Maybe so, but C.S. worked for me so why wouldn't I continue to test it and try it in the event of another problem, KWIM?

    As for Rebecca's comments about other church services and their means of delivering interpretive comments, it's worth noting first that the function she attended in Boston was NOT a regular church service. It was an annual membership meeting and as such was conducted differently than a run-of-the-mill Sunday service. It was right to assume that everyone in the audience would know what C.S. is all about. They're members of the church! And she's right that in other churches (and, yes, I've attended many other types of Christian services) the pastor reads from the holy book and delivers a sermon which serves as interpretation of that book and that denomination's explanation of what it believes. But in the C.S. church the only pastors ARE the Bible and Science and Health. There are no ordained clergy. Ergo, once the Bible is read, S&H is then read and serves as the interpretive sermon. When S&H is being read, it IS the thing that is telling folks what the C.S.church believes. A fine point, to be sure, but again we're all striving for accuracy here with our percentage statistics and whatnot, right? And, hey, I just found your site and didn't know you'd nailed other religions, too, so I do certainly plead ignorance on that count. But what I meant to say in my earlier post was that if you're going to be skeptical of C.S. then it's worth being skeptical of allopathic medicine, too. (Wasn't referring to other religions, although those are obviously also fair game.) Kindest regards.

  22. Regarding Maewest's comments about comparing medicine with faith healing (is the the correct term for the CS practice?):

    It is (very likely) true that there are some people who die in a medical society who might not have died in a non-medical society- perhaps dies due to human error on the operating table during elective surgery. There are also people who die in a non-medical society that wouldn't die in a medical society- any death due to polio is an example of this, as are all deaths due to smallpox.

    Of course, we can't know that someone who dies because of, say, an allergic reaction to a vaccine wouldn't have gotten the disease. But if you remove that vaccine from the society, you condemn (depending on the disease) millions to die. Of course, you don't know which one will be harmed by the vaccine and and which millions will be harmed by the disease.

    On top of that, I am unaware of any studies that show that faith healing (and if this is the wrong term, I apologize) is as effective as medicine. Maewest, if you have any to point to, I'd be very interested in reading them. It's very easy to be skeptical of real medicine. Happily, there has been a great deal of investigation into what works and what doesn't. There's been a lot of study. In short, there's lots of evidence that medicine works; that it works in lots and lots of ways; that it is steadily improving.

    There are always stories of miraculous recoveries- any form of alternative health care will claim one or two, as will medicine. These are hard to document, but it's very possible that some of these are due to human error in the diagnosis. Specifically, it could be that the thing the dentist diagnosed Maewest to have was not what was actually happening.

    All that said, I'm not sure I want the government tell me much of what I must do healthwise. My suspicion is that CS healing is mostly bullshit and without any basis in fact (and again, if you have studies showing the efficacy of CS practice, I'm very eager to read them). That doesn't mean I want the government saying you can't do it.

  23. Actually, the point isn't that CS medicine works for some people but not for others. The point is that prayer healing doesn't work at all.

    "The Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), published online March 30 by the American Heart Journal, showed no positive effect from the use of third-party intercessory prayer on behalf of patients undergoing a specific type of heart surgery at six medical centers around the United States when compared with a control group who were not prayed for as part of the study."

    There haven't been many studies done on healing by prayer, but they usually come up with similar results. Prayer healing offers no better success rate than nothing at all. Most of the complaints by believers amount to little more than special pleading. I can predict that, in this case, you might say that the study found no effects because they did not use Christian Science healers specifically.

    As so many of these debates do, it comes down to a matter of faith versus facts, and I get the impression that no number of studies or even bad personal experiences will ever change your faith, because of the few times when you saw CS healing "work". Darn that pesky confirmation bias!

  24. Joshua, you are so right about confirmation bias. Hard to escape it. But I don't think C.S. healers specifically would give any better or worse results. Even I'm not that biased! :o) There is somewhat of a revived interest in prayer-based healing across several Protestant and some charismatic Catholic denominations and I've read similar reports of healing coming from those corners, too. We're all working from the same Bible (more or less) so there's bound to be some similarity in outcome.

    Regarding the STEP intercessory prayer study you mention, I do know about it and found online the following excerpt from a news article about it that may shed some additional light. Regarding Loon's query about "studies" showing that C.S. works, there are not any that have specifically looked at C.S. per se that I'm aware of. I think the intercessory prayer study done by STEP is about as close as it gets for now. And "faith healing" is akin more to snake handlers and charlatans of the travelling circus era. The more proper term is, in fact, "prayer-based healing" since it involves a little more than just blind faith. Semantics, I know, but since you asked. . .

    Anyway, here's the quote:

    "The authors were careful to point out the limited conclusions that could be drawn from their study. "Private or family prayer is widely believed to influence recovery from illness, and the results of this study do not challenge this belief," the authors wrote. "Our study focused only on intercessory prayer as provided in this trial and was never intended to and cannot address a large number of religious questions, such as whether God exists, whether God answers intercessory prayers, or whether prayers from one religious group work in the same way as prayers from other groups."

    For some involved in exploring the issues of spirituality and health, the new study only confirms their reservations. "Scientific studies are just not capable of showing that prayer works," says Dr. Harold Koenig, an associate professor of medicine and co-director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health at Duke University's Medical Center.

    "I think that prayer absolutely does work and that God answers prayer and that we can continue to pray for our loved ones," Dr. Koenig says. "We should not think that science can answer every question there is."

    From the mouth of a bonafide MD, no less. Guess he's full of bullshit, too? But is it because he believes in God, or because he's a doctor, or because he's a doctor who believes in God. . .

    Is the bottom line that if you have a faith in God you are automatically discounted? If that's the case than Joshua is right that no amount of dialogue will budge the debate off the center mark. It's a pity.

    I leave you in peace.

    P.S. Full article can be found at usatoday.com in archives for April 2/06 headlined "Study highlights difficulty of isolating effect of prayer on patients" by Gregory Lamb of (gasp!) The Christian Science Monitor. Hey, he's one of us but the folks he interviewed aren't, so maybe that buys him some credibility. Or maybe not, depending upon how tough the crowd is. Check it out as it actually gives a thorough overview of the STEP study design and results.

  25. "The authors were careful to point out the limited conclusions that could be drawn from their study. “Private or family prayer is widely believed to influence recovery from illness, and the results of this study do not challenge this belief,” the authors wrote. “Our study focused only on intercessory prayer as provided in this trial and was never intended to and cannot address a large number of religious questions, such as whether God exists, whether God answers intercessory prayers, or whether prayers from one religious group work in the same way as prayers from other groups."

    I don't even think any skeptic is challenging the fact that having your entire family asking an invisible sky-daddy to help you get well is very comforting indeed. But this is what's called the placebo effect. It's the same thing that makes homeopathy appear to work, and any number of other quack-claptrap. That still doesn't mean prayer is actually working, what it means is that family gathering around and showing the sick person they care and want them to get better has a positive influence on the persons mood, which in turn helps with recovery.

    The problem is that lazily attributing such effects to prayers and non-existant supernatural beings is muddying the issue, and preventing researchers from discovering and thoroughly investigating the actual mechanism that's causing the improvement.

    The fact that Dr. Koenig is attributing the health improvement of his patients to god is his problem, and a very clear example of religious bias in action. After all, the study just showed that prayer had absolutely no effect whatsoever, yet here he is already, finding ways to contradict these findings by digging up a back door that could prove otherwise. I wonder what he's going to say when researchers are finally able to quantify the influence of various factors commonly grouped under "placebo effect".

    And this is the problem with religious scientists: they employ the "god of the gaps" (god is in charge of everything that hasn't been explained yet, because everything else has already been proven to be the work of something other than god). So inevitably, they will end up with a god who's nothing more than placebo. Provided they have the guts to accept that answer when they find it, which based on his initial response to the STEP study, Dr. Koenig probably won't.

  26. Indeed, it’s not Dr. Koenig’s belief in God that affects his ability to judge the results of the study, it’s his a priori belief in prayer healing. What he was saying in his quote is that he believes prayer healing works, and no scientific results will convince him otherwise. Actually, what he says is even less sensible. He says that scientific results will never prove that prayer healing works. I guess because God turns off the magic when the scientists are watching?

    The fact is that the scientific method studies effects. Anything that can cause a noticeable effect, such as increased healing, can be studied by science. To say that something cannot be studied by science is essentially to say that it has no effect. Something that exists but has no effect may as well not exist at all. If prayer healing worked, studies like STEP would show some improvement over control methods of healing. Barring flawed methodology, the only explanation for the results of STEP is that either prayer healing does not work or God only heals people through prayer when scientists aren’t watching.

  27. Maewest,

    Firstly, I'm glad and somewhat suprised that you continued in this discussion. I'm even happier that it has remained a civil and intelligent discourse on the subject – this is a rare outcome for this type of discourse in my considerable experience.

    Well said Joshua. Huge alarm bells went off in my head when I read Dr. Koenigs statement. The science, in this case, does not set out to either prove or disprove prayer: it simply looked for a correlation of improved healing to intercessory prayer and found none. To say that science will never prove that faith healing works implies that science is aiming to prove it doesn't – it's the age old idea that science is out to get religion. It isn't. Science doesn't care if there is a god or not. Science is completely indifferent to the idea – as it indeed is to all ideas save the idea that one can observe, deduce, and come up with reproduceable, verifiable "rules" for the operation of natural phenomena.

    If there indeed is a god then evidence to that fact WILL eventually be found by science – an intelligent creator behind the universe will have almost certainly left a finger print somewhere. If that proves to be the case you will not find a scientist out there who will dispute truly solid evidence in support of it… the problem is that so far, every single attmept at finding that evidence has come up empty… and I do mean EVERY attempt. Despite the fact some of the best minds in science (many of whom believe in god of one sort or another) have tried to tackle the issue.

    As for the argument that some folks die while under science based medical care and some die under C.S. and some get better too… well… it's seriously flawed.

    It is well documented that roughly 80% of all illnesses in humans will clear up on their own (purley through the bodies own defense mechansims) with no external intervention of any kind. Most of the time, if you do nothing at all, you will get better. Medical science comes into play for that other 20% of the time. So, C.S. will appear to work quite often – probably approaching 80% if you pray for healing for every cold, flu, etc. Same goes for Homeopathy and it explains why so many folks believe in that one – especially since homeopathy squarly aims itself at issues that almost always fall in the 80%.

    The thing is, left untreated the other 20% will either kill you or leave you chronically ill. Treatment with modern medicine though drops that 20% number down to around 3-5%. This is what medicine really tries to address – for the most part it ignores the 80% illnesses – it's why you haven't seen really major work go into curing the common cold – what's the point? It won't kill you (well, not unless you are compromised by something nastier – like HIV) so treating the symptoms to make it more bearable is really all that is called for.

    Where C.S., homeopathy and every other alternative to modern medicne comes up short is in the really nasty disease department. Polio is a fine example. Way back when polio was killing hundreds of thousands of people a year the Pope would regularly pray for an outbreak to end or this person or that person to be "cured"… and sometimes they were! But of course this can be attributed to the fact that some folks will naturally survive Polio – they will not do so without major after effects (there is not a single documented case of a person with Polio surviving with no after effects of the disease, not one.) but they will survive. So… did they survive because the right form of prayer was done for them? Can't say. What I can say is that many families where 2 kids came down with Polio – where one would assume any prayers from the family would be aimed at both kids – one died and the other didn't. In this case, assuming that prayer was the reason one lived (HUGE assumption) the failure rate of prayer is 50%. In reality the norm back then was that if one child in a family came down with polio they all did – and less than 30% of the infected survived. Not exactly my kind of odds. Compare that to Jonas Salk's vaccine… which is over 99.98% effective and has resulted in Polio vanishing from the entire industrialized world. Prayer was used agiant Polio for hudreds of years and yet Polio raged on – science came along and virtually destroyed it.

    The largest pile of damning evidence against prayer healing, faith healing, "alternative healing", etc is this: It has been practiced for at least the last 2000 years. It actually goes back much, much further than that. Since 1860 human life expantancy has more than doubled – 1860 is roughly when medicine moved to a germ theory model (or rather that's the point germ theory became widely accepted – it had actually been around in one form or another since the late 1600's but the Pope wasn't fond of the idea… and we know what happened in the 1600's when the church didn't like an idea).

    IF prayer healing was effective on a level anywhere NEAR that of modern medicine then we should have seen life expectancy double (based on a Christian set of assumptions) to our current levels about 2000 years earlier. We didn't. Explain that? Since mankind first thought up prayer one of the things we prayed for is health – it is prayed for everytime many people sit down to a meal and that practice has been in place for at least 1500 years.

    This is why skeptics have a probelm with the claims of C.S. and other faith healing. Are we to believe that the practioners of C.S. have come up with a new way to pray that hasn't been thought of and tried or even just randomly stumbled across in the last 2000 years? If the C.S method of prayer is so efective why didn't Christ teach it? He did spend alot of time healing and teaching did he not? It is safe to assume that the son of god would have known the best way to get divine intercession on your behalf right? I kind of thought that was part of the deal – Christ dies on the cross to absolve us of our sins and then we do our best not to screw it up again and in return God watches out for us. Right? So why then are we supposed to think that C.S suddenly has an answer that was not provided to the world through Christ?

    Look, based purely on the evidence that any one can look up for themselves, it is clear that C.S. alone cannot hope to equal the restorative powers of modern medicine. All I ask, and sincerely hope for, is that you not shun medicine in favor of C.S. – as many followers of C.S. do. I know this happens for fact – I have cousins who are in C.S. and follow this doctrine. It is silly to do. If there is a god he gave us the ability to think and reason – to learn about our universe and to make our lives better on our own. It's the greatest gift anybody could ever recieve and to ignore modern medicine is simply throwing much of that gift away. Continue to practice C.S if you want – but for your own sake (and especially that of your children if you have any) do it in conjuction with medicine.

    Apologies for the length of this and any typos – I'm sure there's more than few but I'm out of time to go back and proofread for them.

  28. Stark, I, too value a civilized and spirited dialogue and I'm only sorry your experience with other C.S'ists hasn't been more satisfactory in this respect.

    I don't speak for the C.S. church as a whole, but from my own understanding it has never been the aim of the church or the doctrine peculiar to C.S. to "equal" the restorative powers of modern medicine. And that's not really what most C.S'ists are doing when they employ it, either. To equal would be to match apple for apple, would it not? Rather, C.S. acknowledges that it is vastly different from medicine, approaching the thorny issues of life (and not just health issues but many other things, too) from a completely different perspective. There's no interest in an adversarial relationship with MDs, either. I have known (and obviously consulted with) fine men and women in the medical community and have tremendous respect for the way they respected me. So it's sort of like a detente — we exist on one side of the river, and conventional medicine on the other. Sometimes they will dovetail. Sometimes one will cancel the other out — there are stories in all Christian denominations of people who were given up by dr's for dead but then turned to prayer and were healed. Likewise, there are certainly cases where prayer was tried first only to have to end up in hospital anyway. So which method failed in which case? I do understand your comment re: 80% of all illness will clear up on its own — a fact I wish most other folks knew, too. What a pity then, that our massive medical outlays don't stick to addressing the other 20% where some real good might be done! Instead — and I live near one of the country's largest medical centers — they build and raise funds and build and raise funds to address the most benign and ridiculous things. There's a speciality for everything and lots of drugs for new and fashionable conditions that end up being proven — by the very science that got them on the market in the first place — to be dangerous. Was it Vioxx or somesuch that was recently pulled? And another supposed to treat ADHD that increases risk of suicide? And HRT supposed to help menopausal women avoid heart disease only to NOT do that while upping their risk of cancer. And so on.

    And to clarify a point you made re: are we to believe that C.S. has invented a "new" way of praying that works better than that used in the past 2000 yrs.

    Nope. Not at all.

    What C.S. aimed (aims) to do is to point out a form of prayer that Jesus actually employed as recorded by the only book we Christians really have to work with — the Bible. In pointing this out, the idea is to remind folks that this same type of thing Jesus did could likely be done in modern times if anyone bothered to figure it out and try it. I don't know if you're a Bible reader but there's a quote from Jesus that says, "These things that I do shall ye do also." The interpretation of this, of course, is that he was telling those who followed him that if they'd just watch and learn they, too, could solve problems in a most interesting way. It didn't take with some and they dropped out. It took with others and the Apostle Paul is perhaps the best known follower who, in the years after Jesus, did things considered to be "miraculous." And interestingly, the man Lazarus that the Bible says Jesus raised from the dead went on to become a bishop on some Greek island and reportedly did miraculous things, too. If someone raised me from the dead I guess I'd be keen to figure out their system, too. :o)

    So C.S. is not hawking its way of prayer as something INVENTED by M.B. Eddy. Rather, it's attempting to point out the existence of something that's always been available if anyone would bother to try it.

    Does this make sense?

    The C.S. method of prayer is, ostensibly, what Jesus did — namely, no use of medicine or doctors but a keen sense of the power of God, drawing upon that power through an understanding of the nature and ability of God. (Naturally this all presupposes one has a belief in a God and the one in the Bible is the default.) C.S. argues that Jesus DID give us the method and means for successful prayer. We just need to use it.

    And I agree wholeheartedly with your comment that science, given enough time and sincere inquiry, will eventually find an empirical proof of God if there's one to be found. Some scientists are moving in that direction, trying to work along these lines as evidenced by the STEP study. Like many studies, though, STEP is just one step (pardon the pun) in the process of discovery. Just as we wouldn't bet our lives on the efficacy of a drug or procedure after only one trial was done (risky, no?), I would discourage anyone from citing STEP as the definitive and final answer to the question of whether prayer heals. No effects were seen this time, but what about the next? If scientists really want to get their answer, they'll need to keep probing. I, for one, hope they will.

    Joshua's comment about God turning "the magic" on and off misses the point. I can't speak for other faiths, but C.S.'ists believe that God is always "on." Sort of like radio waves — they're always in the air but you've got to turn on the radio to hear what they're transmitting. C.S. believes that God is a constant and accessible under the right conditions. I don't think we're alone in this, either. Don't most other Christian denominations also regard God as a constant presence to be called upon at any time or under any circumstance?

    Since Joshua is correct that scientific method studies effects, I'd like to see someone design a study in which they actually study the EFFECTS of a situation in which a person was diagnosed in conventional medicine but not cured, and then the problem was resolved through prayer. Could such a study be designed? I don't know, but seems to me that studying the effects of prayer already applied rather than setting up situations in which prayer is needed might yield some insight. Just my two cents. It might clear up the "placebo" issue mentioned by Exarch. But would any such study be influenced by the belief systems of the testmakers, i.e. if all the scientists involved presupposed the existence of God would the results show evidence of the power of prayer and if all the scientists were athiests, no effect, and if a mix of believers/non-believers, prayer would be revealed to work sometimes and not others?

    Or could it be that some things can't ever be known by empirical study but only by intuition, i.e. I can't replicate the power of prayer in a lab but I intuitively sense that it's there and works?

    Just thinking out loud, here.

    Hey, you guys rock. And I think it's great there's a forum for discussing this. I hope that if I haven't done anything else, I've helped you understand that not all C.S'ists are irrational, uncivilized, dogmatic, pedantic freaks. There are those of us who are still working on our own understandings and in doing so are always interested in the other side(s) of the story. Isn't open and intelligent dialogue one of the hallmarks of an advanced society? Along with free libraries, indoor plumbing and drive-through banking? :o)

  29. Mae,

    Everybody has given you a lot of great info that I hope you think about (and judging from your responses thus far, I believe you will). I just want to stress this one thing:

    Never has it once been proven that a single Christian Scientist has healed or been healed of any malady that could not have simply remedied with no intercession.

    That's all — no new limbs regrown. No AIDS cured. No burst appendix restored. Mary Baker Eddy championed homeopathy, a bunk pseudoscience that has been repeatedly shown to be absolutely useless. No matter what problems you have with the prayer studies (and I have a lot of problems with them), these simple facts remain.

  30. Rebecca, I understand exactly what you're saying, but I have to note:

    It has never been proven that a single CS'ist has NOT healed or been healed of any malady that could not have simply remedied with no intercession.

    Double negative there, forgive me, but what I mean to say is, how do you know for fact certain that CS has been ineffective or irrelevant in every single case of a serious condition such as cancer or diabetes or heart failure? It has been employed in such extreme instances and people have reported complete recovery. So what's that about? Mountains of anecdotal evidence over more than 100 years (with regard to CS) should count for nothing? If it can't be replicated in a laboratory it's just crap?

    All those experiences didn't just happen in a vacuum and they didn't all involve stuff in the 80% category that would've eventually cleared on its own. Can there really be that many spontaneous remissions of serious disease among such a select group with no other factor at work? Now THAT would be worth investigating for sure!

    The problem as I see it lies partly in what one demands as their "proof."

    You are obviously the kind of person for whom only empirical in-the-lab evidence is going to cause you to look again. I'm willing to go out on a limb based on what I've personally experienced or witnessed. Skeptics were in abundance in Jesus' time, so too the incessant demand for proof. That's why some folks, even after witnessing some of the remarkable things he did refused to believe he was the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. They needed more proof. That's sort of why the crucifixion took place.

    I think there's a book you might find interesting in the true spirit of educated skepticism, because why be skeptical any other way, right? I don't know why I didn't think to mention it sooner but the conversation has narrowed its focus to the subject of "proof" and I guess that's what brought it to mind. It's by Robert Peel and titled "Spiritual Healing in a Scientific Age" pub. by Harper and Row in 1987. It's a collection of affidavits of serious illness including spinal meningitis, breast cancer, double club feet, polio, appendicitis, diptheria and glaucoma that were healed in CS. Each report is either medically corroborated by diagnosis, followup exam or both. More than half of the reports involve children.

    I also recall reading a testimony many years ago of a guy's permanent tooth that was knocked out in sports and was regenerated. The testimony was verified by the dentist he sought for advice. There's a software program called JournalSearch that lets you hunt up specific CS articles/subjects and you should be able to find it that way.

    I leave you with another quote (because I am treading on old, old ground and many before me have said it better), this one from Stephen Gottschalk, a longtime CSist, that appeared in Christian Century June 1988 p. 602. He was writing specifically about cases involving CS and children but his comment is relevant to our discussion in a broader sense, I think:

    "In medicine, as in spiritual healing, particular failures prove nothing unless related to an overall record. There may never be a 'scientific' way to measure the record of Christian Scientists against that of medical treatment . . . It is the successes of a healing system, not just its failures, that its opponents must reckon with."

    My personal policy has always been that if you're going to prosecute something you ought to have as much information as you can get. Take the time to read things published by the CSists, like the Peel book. Go to a church service and strike up a friendship with a CSist who will willingly engage you in sincere debate and dialogue. None of this will likely change your opinion (and that's not my intention, either, BTW) but at least you'll know more about the other side and maybe if nothing else it'll give you new material for your 'blog! Can't hurt and it might help.

    Best to you!

  31. Double negative there, forgive me, but what I mean to say is, how do you know for fact certain that CS has been ineffective or irrelevant in every single case of a serious condition such as cancer or diabetes or heart failure?

    We don't. But we also don't know if it has worked. So until you can prove it actually works, the more sensible thing to do is to assume it doesn't.

    It has been employed in such extreme instances and people have reported complete recovery. So what’s that about? Mountains of anecdotal evidence over more than 100 years (with regard to CS) should count for nothing? If it can’t be replicated in a laboratory it’s just crap?

    Exactly!

    Modern medicine, through the use of the double blind, placebo controlled trial, has been able to detect curative effects so small you wouldn't even be able to notice them with just anecdotes. You see, the problem with all those anecdotes and those hundreds of years of "evidence" is that it's all been cherry-picked. Nobody is counting the failures, just the successes, so as a result, you end up with an impressive list of "miracle cures" that is – simply put – absolutely worthless.

    The reason the double blind trial is so effective is because not just the test subjects but also the people conducting the trial don't know who's getting the drug and who isn't. Because they don't know what's supposed to happen they aren't being influenced by their expectations. They simply register the results as they see them, and can't (involuntarily or not) fudge the test results in favor of either outcome.

    Any medical procedure that consistently fails a DBPC trial is very likely to be ineffective. It doesn't mean it is, but it's just more likely that the drug or treatment simply is a placebo, and thus not doing any better than the placebo control group.

    As such, any treatment or procedure in this situation which is still being marketed as an effective cure, is rightly labeled as quackery, because, quite frankly, it is.

    So regarding CS, if it walks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it probably is quackery …

    I think there’s a book you might find interesting in the true spirit of educated skepticism, because why be skeptical any other way, right? I don’t know why I didn’t think to mention it sooner but the conversation has narrowed its focus to the subject of “proof” and I guess that’s what brought it to mind. It’s by Robert Peel and titled “Spiritual Healing in a Scientific Age” pub. by Harper and Row in 1987. It’s a collection of affidavits of serious illness including spinal meningitis, breast cancer, double club feet, polio, appendicitis, diptheria and glaucoma that were healed in CS. Each report is either medically corroborated by diagnosis, followup exam or both. More than half of the reports involve children.

    How strange that none of those miracle healings have made big news? Could it be that "affidavits" and "testimony" of people who "swear to be telling the truth" might be … *gasp* … lies?! Or at least exagerrations? Or perhaps that earlier mentioned cherry-picking that's completely ignoring the millions who didn't get better in favor of those few rare cases where someone did?

    I also recall reading a testimony many years ago of a guy’s permanent tooth that was knocked out in sports and was regenerated. The testimony was verified by the dentist he sought for advice. There’s a software program called JournalSearch that lets you hunt up specific CS articles/subjects and you should be able to find it that way.

    Did the dentist verify the tooth regenerated? Or did he testify that the tooth was there after the guy asserted it had been gone?

    Do you see the pattern of questions? Do you understand the difference between what you consider evidence (hearsay) and what skeptics consider evidence (scientific testing, and medical experts following the case from start to finish, not jumping on board half way through the story with no knowledge of what went on before).

    As with any wild claim, you will see all the skeptics flocking to your side as soon as you show up with verifiable proof. Until then, you will find yourself being bombarded with questions and demands for evidence.

  32. Exarch writes: "How strange that none of those miracle healings have made big news? Could it be that “affidavits” and “testimony” of people who “swear to be telling the truth” might be … *gasp* … lies?! Or at least exagerrations? Or perhaps that earlier mentioned cherry-picking that’s completely ignoring the millions who didn’t get better in favor of those few rare cases where someone did?"

    Yep, they could all be lies. But what would be the motive? I don't think it's reasonable to assume that every single person who has claimed a healing through prayer is a liar, any more than it's reasonable to assume that everyone who goes under the care of an MD is going to be "cured." Most people I know who are CSists, including myself, aren't willing to put themselves out on a limb for something that didn't happen, especially to the length of being interviewed and written up in a book for the whole world to read.

    As for the "millions" who didn't get better, — and this is nitpicky of me here but what the heck — the thing is that I doubt in the entire history of CS there have ever been close to a million people who've followed it to any degree. What a relief to know there's no way that anywhere close to a million folks bought the farm through quackery, eh?

    But what to make of "the few rare cases?" Do you think a double-blind study could be designed to measure the effects of prayer on a case already claimed cured? I'm not asking to be cheeky, but am sincere. You seem very knowledgeable about the design of scientific studies, so maybe you know?

    As for making big headlines, really Exarch do you think any respectible media worth its salt (are there any, btw?) would tackle such a story? The public at large is very skeptical of lots of things and I doubt you could find a journalist willing to touch it. Besides, if I'd had such an experience I'd probably clue in my family and close friends but would not be inclined to "go public" for fear of incessant ridicule. And you KNOW that would happen.

    Remember, (and this presupposes you have any belief in what the Bible says about the life of Jesus and I'm thinking maybe many skeptics are also agnostic or athiest?) people reportedly witnessed firsthand some of the more unusual things he did and they STILL dismissed him as a fake. If that happened to JC, don't you know it would be the same for John/Jane Doe if they called up, say, Wolf Blitzer or Katic Couric or Bill O'Reilly and said, "Hey, my cancer/diabetes/rotting brain was cured entirely through prayer after MDs gave up on me."

    Who's going to willingly put themselves through that, unless they're a politician? :o)

    I don't have a solid answer for the "why don't they tell the world" question, as you can tell, but then again I'm not setting myself out as an expert on every facet of CS or other faith-based healing systems. And I'm sure not going to be so presumptuous as to speculate with an air of authority on why someone does or does not do something.

    As for the story about the regenerated tooth, it is my recollection that the same dentist was consulted about the tooth after it was knocked out as well as after it had begun to grow back in. Again, I refer you to Journalsearch for the full testimony. If I can locate it, I will post it here should anyone really care to read it. Gotta borrow the software first.

    And yes, I do definitely understand the differenc btwn what self-described skeptics and other folks see as evidence. My problem, reiterated here for the umpteenth time but rephrased in the hopes of making myself clearer, is that I'm not sure and I don't think anyone one can PROVE to me that things that can't be proved in a lab are, in fact, not provable/non-existent. (more double negatives, again my regrets)

    When did the laboratory become the litmus test for truth? And should it always be? And what about all the things that are initially proven in laboratories only to be disproven months or sometimes years later? What do you, as a skeptic, do when that happens? Must the disproving also take place in a lab or does anecdotal evidence of a mistaken notion suffice? Does anecdotal evidence EVER suffice in any situation for skeptics? And what about good old human error? Do you essentially see scientists as infallible until proven fallible or vice versa? Studies can be flawed, results can be misinterpreted. At what point do you know when you've got a rock-solid fact versus something that looks rock solid, feels rock solid, but is, in reality, a bunch of shifting sand?

    I am genuinely interested to know your thoughts on these questions, Exarch. You seem very smart and articulate so help me out here.

    Best to you, and thanks for a lively discussion!

  33. "Yep, they could all be lies. But what would be the motive?"

    Frankly, I haven't got a clue. But just because you and I can't think of any reason why someone would claim to have been cured when they weren't. Likewise, I can't imagine what would possess someone to strap big wooden planks to their feet and go into the woods to make Bigfoot tracks, but obviously, they do.

    The argument "they would have nothing to gain from it so they wouldn't have a reason to lie about it" is a faulty assumption to value someone's testimony.

    And just because someone comes out with a miracle recovery doesn't mean there really was a miracle involved. Perhaps they merely think they are cured because they don't feel bad any more, or they thought they were suffering from something incurable when they actually weren't.

    "But what to make of “the few rare cases?” Do you think a double-blind study could be designed to measure the effects of prayer on a case already claimed cured? I’m not asking to be cheeky, but am sincere. You seem very knowledgeable about the design of scientific studies, so maybe you know?"

    No, double blind studies are blinded before the study takes place. Once you've done the tests and collected your results, there's no possible way to make them more accurate. Just like a grainy black and white picture from 1870 cannot be enhanced to a crisp, full colour image without adding extra information to it yourself. And once you're adding information yourself, you're using value judgements and bias is unavoidable.

    Following this line of thinking, it's also immediately obvious that faulty test protocols will lead to faulty test results, which leads to faulty conclusions, which clearly answers your question regarding the validity of lab testing. That's what science and "peer review" is all about. Someone designs a test protocol, collects results and draws up a conclusion. Then other scientists try to recreate that test, and if they come up with clearly contradicting results and conclusions, it's obvious that someone made an error. Then more testing is done until it becomes clear who made the error.

    "Do you think a double-blind study could be designed to measure the effects of prayer on a case already claimed cured?"

    No, it couldn't. You can't test something that's already happened. As such, no matter how compalling your historical anecdotes are, they are completely and utterly useless for further research, except maybe to serve as a guide to design a test protocol for future cases.

    And you can't design a double blind study on just one case either. A double blind trial is done using many cases, because those being tested cannot know if they are in the test group or in the control group. So you need a number of cases. The more the better, since in a larger group one single abnormality will have less of an influence on the overall results than in a small group.

    For example, if you test 4 people, 2 are prayed for, two aren't, and one person dies, then either you must conclude that 50% of the time, people being prayed for die (or alternately, 50% of the people not prayed for die).

    It's clear that the person dying during the study is just a freak occurence, so the larger the group is, the smaller the influence of such freak occurences (or the higher the likelyhood that such a freak occurence will take place in both groups).

    "As for making big headlines, really Exarch do you think any respectible media worth its salt (are there any, btw?) would tackle such a story?"

    Would they ever!!

    As skeptics, we cringe every time we see the media run off with stories like that. And they're almost invariably shown to be exagerrations or simply untrue. But sadly, the retractions of such stories usually consist of a small paragraph or a soundbite. But meanwhile, the damage has been done, and millions of people have heard on Larry King how such and such medium has helped the police locate a missing child, but they never hear the skeptic a week later who debunks the whole thing.

    "My problem, reiterated here for the umpteenth time but rephrased in the hopes of making myself clearer, is that I’m not sure and I don’t think anyone one can PROVE to me that things that can’t be proved in a lab are, in fact, not provable/non-existent."

    Well, you have to make a distinction between "provable in a lab" and a more broad "provable in a controlled study".

    Not everything fits in a lab, or can even be tested in a lab, but that doesn't imply it cannot be tested. Even so, I think it's pretty much true that if something cannot be tested, or tested for, it shouldn't be making any testable claims either.

    To relate this to CS:

    If you say prayer cures people, then you have a testable claim. If you then say that prayer healing cannot be tested, than you shouldn't be claiming that prayer can heal. Do you see the the either/or situation here? You can't have your cake and eat it too. You've got to make a choice: either CS prayer healing works, or it can't be tested, but if it can't be tested, you have no right to claim it works.

    "Does anecdotal evidence EVER suffice in any situation for skeptics? And what about good old human error? Do you essentially see scientists as infallible until proven fallible or vice versa?"

    Anecdotal evidence might suffice for those cases where we don't have any better. We've only witnessed a handful of supernova explosions first hand, but this handful of anecdotes is showing a pretty consistent pattern, so even though we have a very small sample size, we can make provisional conclusions based on that sample. Although one odd example of a dying star doing something completely different could change every conclusion made thus far.

    And it's exactly the fallibility of scientists that makes peer review so important. The odds off one scientist making a mistake are likely. The odds of every scientist repeating the experiment making the exact same mistake are very small indeed. Although it can't compensate for a bad protocol design, it can compensate for a lot of human error.

  34. Mae,

    Let me ask you a few questions…. why do you accept anecdotal evidence as proof? Do you accept ALL anecdtoal evidence? If not, why not? How do you differentiate between good anecdtoal evidence and bad anecdotal evidence?

  35. Stark, I absolutely do not accept ALL anecdotal evidence as proof. My favorite example is the ads chock full of personal testimony touting the loss of 80 lbs in just two weeks or somesuch. Now anyone with half a brain knows that no person is going to go from looking like the side of a barn to looking like, say, Elle McPherson in a matter of two weeks. So those anecdotal accounts of "how I lost all this weight in just a few weeks" sure don't hold any water for me.

    The same is true for anecdotal evidence of things like the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot (and Exarch, btw, I laughed out loud at your reference to the planks on the feet remark. I always wanted to try this just to see what kind of tracks I'd leave and whether I could freak out my neigbors, but never got around to it).

    To differentiate between good and bad anecdotal evidence in general, I consider the following factors: the person's integrity/character and how well I know them; whether they have a history of overblown claims about anything, not just healing in CS; possible motives for their lying; if it's a health situation whether the condition in question was medicially diagnosed and then medically followed up (the world gives this sequence of events great credence and of course it adds legitimacy in the minds of some CSists, myself included); whether the events the person claims happened are plausible given what I know from my own experience/education; and whether I myself saw firsthand the person going through the process that generated the anecdote

    The answers to these questions create a profile of the person's character that leads me either to trust them implicitly (so their anecdote is judged to be "good" and thus sufficient evidence for me) or to suspect them (I would require more than just anecdote before I'd believe.)

    [As an aside it might be interesting to you to know that CSists have included astronauts (yeah, this is TRUE!), scientists (my father was a nuclear physicist for 40+ years), engineers (my grandfather helped build the hydroelectric dam at Niagara in the early 1900s), and business leaders (a CSist in our community was co-founder of the tele-check company whose system scans your personal check at the store to make sure it's good before you leave with the store's goods). I've known school teachers, housewives, salesmen, firefighters, policemen, rich, middle class and welfare who turned to CS not necessarily because they had a physical problem to be cured but for a variety of reasons. Not a one of them would raise your curiosity in a crowd or even in a one-on-one conversation if you didn't know they were CSists. They are THAT normal.]

    I also take into account the fact that If CS didn't work at least some of the time, none of these people would be willing to subject themselves to the prejudice, ridicule and derision that predictably comes from publicly sharing the fact that you use prayer in the first instance and medicine as a last resort rather than the other way around.

    As to WHY I would ever accept an anecdote as evidence, there are several reasons. First, it would be frustrating to have to wait for a scientific study to be designed, conducted, reviewed, and published before I made a move on something I was wanting to try out. Waiting for this process that sometimes takes years could prove deadly if a person is in a circumstance where fast action is require to alleviate pain or postpone death to a much later date. If I'm given 6 mos. to live and the MDs can't help me but maybe prayer-based healing can, I'm not inclined to wait for the JAMA editor to publish later what I need to know about NOW. So I might accept an anecdote as evidence if I was feeling hasty or desperate and was absent another equally attractive option.

    Another reason I might accept anecdotes as evidence is simply because of the "where smoke then fire" adage. Does it seem likely to you that so many people across more than a century could employ similar methods or perspectives and come up with similar results and the whole thing still be bogus? Something happened. And of course if the anecdote comes from someone I know intimately the more inclined I am to believe it is true.

    Third, I might accept anecdotes as evidence if they addressed a problem similar to one I was facing and I was needing more input as to how someone else of seemingly solid character solved it. Worked for them, might work for me.

    Fourth, I might accept anecdotes because there is simply nothing to red-flag them as crap, and intuitively what they convey just makes sense.

    My question is, are we erring on the side of caution when we limit our thoughts and actions to only what science can readily prove? Or do we err on the side of caution when we entertain the possibility that there is more to this experience then we are able to quantify using current scientific methods? Isn't it better to keep all our options open?

    My apologies for the long answer but Stark, your questions were good ones and I wanted to give them the most comprehensive answers I could muster at the midnight hour.

  36. "Does it seem likely to you that so many people across more than a century could employ similar methods or perspectives and come up with similar results and the whole thing still be bogus?"

    Absolutely.

    For examples please open any history book. Look for the following : Flat Earth. Earth Centric Universe. Poisonous tomatoes. Cat's cause the bubonic plague.

    I could continue that list for at least 50 items before I had to stop and look some up. All of those things were widely held beliefs for between tens and hundreds of years. They were believed by the educated and the uneducated alike. They made intuitive sense at the time… heck, the flat earth and earth centric ideas still do until you stop to really examine them using scientific means.

    Science has overturned every one of these and thousand of other pieces of time-honored "common knowledge" widely held beliefs. The human senses, on their own, are imminently fallible. Need proof? Watch any half decent magicians show. Good magicians know the limits of human sensory perception and work right around the edges of it in order to fool you.

    As for picking and choosing anecdotes to believe… well, I can see doing that for folks you know well…. kind of. Clearly if you know a person is a habitual liar the odds are that their anecdotal evidence is less reliable. But there is a problem here… nobody lies 100% of the time. So how do you know if they are lying in any particular case? I'd postulate that it is not easy to determine…so automatically throwing out any anecdote they provide as false seems harsh. Then again we have the issue of people you don't know – also known as 99.99+% of the human population. They also have anecdotal evidence to share… but how do you judge the evidence of folks you don't know? To be fair you either have to assume that people are generally honest and their testimony is to be trusted or you assume that they are all liars and should not be trusted. I also have a third option – they are generally honest but also are limited by their expectations, biases and their internally accepted world view. So, I ask again, how do you pick and choose what anecdotes to believe? I can't do it myself so I err on the side of caution and throw them all away. I will use an anecdote as a starting point for an investigation into whether or not what the claimant says is possible but I will not use that anecdote as supporting evidence. It isn't evidence – it's just a neat story. It may be correct even, but it's still not evidence.

    As for a motive for people to lie about things… well, that presupposes that they are lying. Realize that lying isn't stating a falsehood – it’s stating something you know to be false as fact. There's a subtle but huge difference there. I would say most folks, when giving their anecdotes, are being honest as far as they know. They truly believe what they are saying. They also happen to be searching for justification to a particular life view (their own). That is a very powerful influence. We need our world to be as we perceive it to be – it make us feel safe and comfortable. Keep that in mind next time you hear a testimony as to the healing power of CS.

    Also, I would never assume a CSist or any other group is full of crack-pots and such. People are capable of amazing disconnects between their logical mind and their need to believe in something. This doesn't make them nuts…it makes them normal. Scientists are not immune to beliefs that cannot be proven – they are people too. Science works and is immune to unverifiable things because it does not rely on any individual (with their biases and personal beliefs) but rather on the perceptions of many people who have wildly varying views on the subject at hand. It flattens the pre-conceived notion curve if you will.

    As for the keeping of an open mind – I'm all for it! However, that does not mean blindly accepting ideas. I'm not yet willing to say 100% that CS does not work. I will say that the supporting evidence is very weak and the dissenting evidence seems to growing. This is keeping and open mind.

    I listen to the claims made by as many sides of an issue as I can find and then I try to test those claims. Often I am unable to do so (only so many hours in the day after all!) and in that case I will look for peer reviewed research done by other folks. I will try to find as much evidence regarding the claims as I can. If the preponderance of research shows that the claims are valid then great. If it shows they are false that is great too. I will then move forward with the assumption that the research id most probably correct. I will not however close the book on the issue – if more solid evidence surfaces I'll revisit the issue and update my position. That is keeping an open mind.

    Simply choosing to believe something because we cannot prove it one way or another is not keeping an open mind. It is in fact closing ones mind because once we choose to believe something it is very hard to change that belief when the evidence changes.

    To err on the side of caution – as you put it – requires us to stay divested of either end of the spectrum of belief until the verdict ( a solid, reproducible, verifiable verdict) is in. To do otherwise is to err on the side of belief or disbelief. This, contrary to what many folks think, is what a Skeptic does. We don't automatically dismiss people beliefs but rather we weigh the facts we can find and go from there . A true Skeptic is willing to change their position when new, solid evidence is offered.

  37. Stark,

    A very fine response and answer to my question about what makes a true skeptic. As with Exarch's previous lengthy remarks, I am reading your full post well past midnight and need to re-read in daylight with clear head and sleep behind me. I will say I do appreciate your comments re: what makes an open mind/staying divested of either side, and I can accept that much easier than a flat-out denial of something just because a person hasn't yet received the proof they require. I wish others on this thread were able to articulate this divestment from either side, rather than bash one while implying the other is absolutely correct. I think if more skeptics would eloquently state that they are divested of either side until further proof surfaces, those on one side or the other would not feel quite as driven to defend or bite back. Speaking personally, all I ever want from people who differ from me in regards to religion/politics/whatever is that they be respectful of my position and allow it to work for me and to refrain from criticizing what they have not taken the time to fully explore. I am interested in sincere inquiry and not interested in converting someone to my way of thinking. I also like to learn the fine points of a subject from people on the "other" side. Too many critics use personal opinion and nothing else as a knee-jerk response to something they don't like, don't understand and don't wish to. I am much more tolerant of a critic's stance if they have taken time to study up, as you have. Your approach has been even-handed and I can't argue with that. And Stark, in pointing out the fallibility of the human senses you do know, don't you, that this observation puts you in company with Mary Baker Eddy? A tiny piece of common ground, to be sure, but common ground nonetheless. :o)

    Am pleased to continue our discussion.

  38. Hello,

    I have been poked, prodded, cut and stiched by several doctors; taken one pill and then another to treat the side effects; lived with the expectency that certain situations will cause certain illnesses; and took asprins before I'd go places just in case I might get a headache. I have known many, many people who have passed-on under medical care, going through painful and humiliating treatments and procedures.

    I have experience and respect for medical professionals: however, I have come to prefer effective, uplifting and peaceful CS treatments because they have been more reliable than any other treatment I have tried. Plus, I have never been happier or more excited about life.

    As a CS I don't disbelieve in medicine nor am I opposed to it if that is what is needed; however, I have found CS to be extremely reliable.

    If you really want to seriously investigate CS the church is a good place to start, but you don't have to sneak in. You can be upfront and honest. I didn't go to the annual meeting because it is broadcast on the internet.

    You and others have made many false assumptions about the people attending the church. There is not a rule saying not to seek medical treatment and at times even the most devot CS may seek medical or other treatment; however, the great thing is that physical healings are happening.

    Did you ever question that everything you have faith in might sound silly to others?

    I had measles as a child but got it soon after a measles vacination.

    The institutions of medical science have many opionions and theories that are constantly changing. There are more medicines,but is there less disease,suffering and death?

    CS a cult? Does a cult encourage people to think?

    Other things that I love about CS:

    -there is no middle man between people and the Creator

    -the creator is considered Father/Mother

    -CS doen't discount other's religions-many students of CS are members of

    other churches or choose no bricks and mortor.

    -People are supported if they want to study and learn about CS

    -There is no pagentry, rituals, hierarchy,no required % of income

    – A mission is to reinstate the early Christian healings mostly lost after 300AD when Christianity became institutionalized and law

    -Christian Scientists often will be smiling, happy and readly to help others, but will never try to convert because there is a deep love and respect for all people-and a complete trust that ALL individuals express intellegence are directly connected to God.

    Love and Peace,

    Juliette

  39. >The institutions of medical science have many opionions and theories that are constantly changing.

    Exactly! You see, science deals with facts, and when new facts emerge, the ideas are modified to fit the new facts, thus improving the overall understanding of the situation. Any theory that *doesn't* change should be suspect because it doesn't care about facts—it only states that it's right.

    >There are more medicines,but is there less disease,suffering and death?

    There is less disease and suffering. As far as less death… no. Everyone *will* die, can't stop that (well, maybe some day we will, but right now we can't). But, more people are living the full ~70 years because of modern medicine.

  40. well ive seen what it can do first hand. my mother had appendicitis. she should not be here today. a doctor took an x-ray and found the scare from where it ruptured. she did not go to the hospital when it happened she followed the cs way. she has a copy of the x-ray today as proof. when i was preg. with my first daughter i was told she would have "water on the brain", she had tumors that took up 2/3 of her brain. it showed up in the ultra-sound. i prayed and changed my diet, etc. within a month of her birth they did another ultra-sound and it was gone. she was born healthy. and is today. as a matter of fact…most people, teachers, family, friends talk about how intel. she is. dont deny the power of belief. if you believe in doctors,etc…then trust that. but please dont just believe what you hear in the media….i know i did not go public with my info….i was just happy to have the blessings i was given. keep you mind open…that is how the world keeps changing and growing.

  41. that is so true. i do not try to convert anyone. i only want to share my beliefs..like catholics do, or many other people. its not a cult…..that just makes me laugh when i hear people ask me. my father is not cs and when i was growing up he took me too quite a few different churches. all different. it was wonderful learning about other peoples beliefs. i love all churches…it about kindness and love. dont follow what anyones tells you to follow…dont be a sheep, and let yourself be herded. step back and read, read, read. the info is not all true. but edu. yourself. sorry im in a rush.

  42. i read that someone wrote that polio is almost extinct. wellllll i think medical emerg. is amazing…does save lives…but since medicine has progressed we now have more illness, disease, infections. if its really working then why do we as a population now have more health problems to worry about then when they first came out with medication? we did not have this many then like we do now. so as it may help…and i mean help (there has never been a cure to anything, only help with the effects) with the old issues, it has created new ones and so they come out with something to lessen the effects of that and then it creates another problem and on and on and on.

    DONT think im not for medical help….if i break a bone please set it back and cast it. if i have a gash and it wont stop bleeding please sow it up.if i get shot please take out the bullet. emerg. medical care it so great. it gives people a chance…its what you do with that chance is what matters.

  43. You know, the thing with those ultrasounds is … I can barely make out a baby on most of 'em. How you can distinguish a whole bunch of tumors on those is – to put it mildly – quite astonishing.

    As for there being more disease nowadays compared to, say, a couple hundred years ago. Well, no, I think that's a rather simplistic point of view. I think nowadays more distinctions are made between various different diseases that got lumped together under the same name before. And then there's a bunch of diseases we didn't even know existed back then. People just keeled over and died, and we didn't even know what killed them.

    And then there's a whole host of age-related diseases that didn't exist because people didn't get old enough to catch them or suffer from them. In a mere couple hundred years, life expectancy has risen from somewhere around 55-60 to 85-90 today. If you can't see the part modern medicine has played in that, then there's simply no point in even discussing this with you …

  44. Twenty five years ago I, a young Christian Scientist, healed a gay friend of mine of mono and meningitis. On hearing of his problems, I shared with him something which Mary Baker Eddy said, " Disease is an image of thought expernalized. The mental state is called a material state. Whatever is cherished in mortal mind as the physical condition is imaged forth on the body." A few weeks later he reported that his mental state became completely clear and that his physical suffering had vanished. But I must ask a question: why would anyone find humor by someone being hit by lightening? For the record, I am not against medicine and the record shows a few rare occasions when Mrs. Eddy resorted to morphine administered by her doctor-cousin. She also gave at least one generous donation to a hospital and urged her followers to love everyone. WE need to improve our methods in every direction. The practice of spiritual healing demands a sufficient knowledge of one's oneness with God, the Divine Mind, of love and understanding to relieve human suffering. One must also expose the malignant errors that resides in the human mind in order to overcome their effects. We have work to do. If you think that salvation should be handed to you on a silver platter, you better think again. Life is Mind in operation. Unfortunately, we seem reluctant to develop and use the spiritual abilities we inherit from our wonderful Creator, Divine Mind. We think that we are just mortals when in fact, we are the image and likeness of God,Mind, hence,we are immortal. Can you understand this? Can you accept this? Then you can think and exist less and less as an animal-mortal and more and more like spiritual man, which Jesus demonstrated. It is time to realize that Christianity and churchianty are two completely different things. The first is Love expressed, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the leper and delivering human lives from evil on the basis of spiritual law. Churchianity almost disregards these blessings, tends to mystify the meaning of life, and fails, for the most part, to emulate the one in whom they claim to believe. Love is the message and Love is the practice and if we knew this we would do less of the mistakes and more of the marvels that our dull mortal existence needs. In our ignorance, we afflict ourselves more than we know. But this doesn't have to be. It doesn't pay to be shallow. We can turn our lives completely around by growing up spiritually, by acknowledging God, lifting up his standard, and forsaking human will. This is real maturity which frees us to be our real selves.

  45. So, Christscientist,

    Are you saying that you had a friend with both Mono and Menengitis, and by telling him that disease was an image of thought expernalized (which doesn't mean anything, so I assume you meant to say 'externalized') you cured him? How does that work? Why won't the same tactic work for people with AIDS, Hepatitis, or Herpes? How do people that don't believe in disease illusions, and instead believe in bacteria, virii and parasites, recover? If diseases are dilusions of the mind, how is there a relatively small finite number of diseases one can have across the entire population? Furthermore, how can an informed panel cure diseases like onchocerciasis, caused by a parasite carried by the black fly and killed with Mectizan, in a population completely ignorant to Mectizan, onchocerciasis, and even modern medicine all together?

  46. I'm sorry, but ChristScience's gibberish up there isn't just the rantings of a mad person.

    That crap convinces people to stop accepting life saving medical treatment.

    It kills people, and that needs to be called out right now.

    Back all that crap up with proof or stop spreading it.

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