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Author Topic:   Faith healing:proof of god, or placebo effect?
Kairyu
Member (Idle past 92 days)
Posts: 162
From: netherlands
Joined: 06-23-2010


Message 1 of 77 (598053)
12-27-2010 2:56 PM


I recently deconverted from Christianity in Atheism. Being able to think more critically, I now think much of Christianity doesn't make much sense.

However, I think most people have heard stories about people getting healed by prayer. But on the contrary, the placebo effect has been show to have astounding effect. But not only for praying, but also for non-religious matters. If you believe something, like a pill being good for you, it can have powerful positive effects, even when a pill doesn't really work. So you can explain faith healing for the most part with placebo.

But sometimes you hear stories of healings that normally seem to be impossible. These seem to be strong evidence, and yet, these stories are often heard from somebody else. I'm supecting that these stories are often blown up, also because the placebo effect could have something to do with it. I also heard sometimes people think something is healed, but it already was almost healed, or it didn't turn out to be healed at all.

Yet, although it's shaky, I can't fully rebuke it yet, and that's why I brought it up. Due to my own reasons, I am highly skeptical of actual supernatural healing taking place. So I am hoping some of the skeptics of this forum can provide attentional information and discussion.

Edited by AdminModulous, : removed inadvertant smiley from thread title.


Replies to this message:
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AdminModulous
Administrator (Idle past 180 days)
Posts: 897
Joined: 03-02-2006


Message 2 of 77 (598058)
12-27-2010 3:13 PM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Faith healing:proof of god, or placebo effect? thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
    
Omnivorous
Member (Idle past 1043 days)
Posts: 3808
From: Adirondackia
Joined: 07-21-2005


Message 3 of 77 (598059)
12-27-2010 3:45 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Kairyu
12-27-2010 2:56 PM


HI, WSW24.

The placebo effect demonstrates the powerful connection between the mind and the body.

A recent study, reported in the NY Times, showed that patients experience a powerful placebo effect, even when they are told the pill is an inert placebo, when they are told that placebos can have a positive effect.

Trying to nail down a claimed case of faith healing is extremely difficult. If prayer healing were authentic, the media would be flooded with stories of the lame walking and the near-dead rising. Instead, as you noted, the reports are always tenuous, anecdotal and passed on by a friend of a friend.

Since it is a test of faith, all failures can be explained away. Since amazing recoveries, including spontaneous remissions of cancers, are well documented, the faith healers will occasionally be able to claim success. In addition, the placebo effect of a faith healing ritual no doubt prompts improvement in some folks. I'm sure atheists also sometimes experience spontaneous recoveries.

Attempting to refute prayer healing is, in essence, trying to prove a negative. While you can't do that, you can rationally discuss the lack of positive evidence and the confounding evidence.

You can lead an evangelical to reason, but you can't make them think.

Edited by Omnivorous, : No reason given.


I know there's a balance, I see it when I swing past.
-J. Mellencamp

Real things always push back.
-William James


This message is a reply to:
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Taz
Member (Idle past 1367 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


(1)
Message 4 of 77 (598061)
12-27-2010 4:05 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Omnivorous
12-27-2010 3:45 PM


Haha, here is a vid that demonstrates a faith healer's bias.


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jar
Member
Posts: 30934
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004


Message 5 of 77 (598062)
12-27-2010 4:52 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Kairyu
12-27-2010 2:56 PM


unexplained
Unexplained sudden remissions or cures are evidence of ... unexplained sudden remissions or cures.

While many my well believe such things are miracles, they prove nothing and in honesty must simply be placed in the "Not Yet Explained" folder.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!
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Rahvin
Member (Idle past 1263 days)
Posts: 3964
Joined: 07-01-2005


Message 6 of 77 (598063)
12-27-2010 4:55 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Kairyu
12-27-2010 2:56 PM


Why can't faith healers regrow my hand?
But sometimes you hear stories of healings that normally seem to be impossible. These seem to be strong evidence, and yet, these stories are often heard from somebody else. I'm supecting that these stories are often blown up, also because the placebo effect could have something to do with it. I also heard sometimes people think something is healed, but it already was almost healed, or it didn't turn out to be healed at all.

There are many reasons for this. The average person doesn't have much medical knowledge. Bursts of adrenaline and the placebo effect can cause temporary relief from pain or discomfort, and not all health problems even cause constant discomfort from which one can feel relief in the moment. I've heard many instances of "faith healer" victims who believed they were healed to their very cores, to the point that they stopped taking medicines or listening to doctors, and died from their still-present cancers or diseases or what have you.

The fact is that anecdotes are worse than useless: they prey upon a cognitive flaw in human reasoning called confirmation bias. The human mind by default looks for evidence in support of a hypothesis and discards counter-evidence. It takes training and effort to counteract this bias, and that means that a few simple anecdotes can "prove" a hypothesis to someone even if those anecdotes are themselves false, misleading, or simply not representative of the statistical whole.

On top of this, many faith healers have been solidly proven to be con artists. Just look at Peter Popoff - back in the 80s it was revealed that he used a radio earpiece to let his wife feed him information taken from "prayer cards" that appeared to give him "miraculous" knowledge of a guest's name, address, ailment, and other information.

I personally know a "reiki healer" who honestly believes herself that her spiritual "healing" actually has a real effect...even though she would readily admit that she would be unable to support such a claim with actual evidence. She simply has a rationalization for every possible counter-argument, thought up ahead of time: she doesn't "heal" the broken leg any faster or stronger really, she simply "improves the gracefulness of the person's aura such that the patient will be less likely to fall again." In other words, she admits that she isn't actually doing any healing, describes her actions in such general terms that no evidence or counter-evidence could ever be established, and claims to have had a positive effect with great confidence despite no reason to do so.

Fortunately, my friend also always counsels her "patients" to seek medical attention in addition to her services.

For me, I'll believe in faith healing when I see a double-blind study that shows it is effective, not a series of anecdotes. That, or documented evidence of faith healing performing the impossible, like an amputee regrowing a limb.

Has that ever bothered you? It bothers me - if "god" or whatever mystical force is so amazingly omnipotent, why has it never chosen to heal an amputee and cause a lost limb to regrow? Ever?

Absence of evidence is not proof of absence, but an absence of expected evidence is evidence that a hypothesis is false.

I have seen multiple double-blind studies on the effectiveness of prayer on the recovery of various types of patients. Thinking one is being prayed for seems to have an effect (whether the prayer actually happens or not), but in the absence of the patient's knowledge, prayer seems to have no correlating effect on recovery chances or speed compared to the absence of prayer, across multiple denominations and religions.

In any case, positive faith healing anecdotes arise from a variety of sources, from misinformed hopeful victims being conned to "true believer" healers who honestly think they're having an effect despite never ever even once trying to test their effectiveness against doing nothing.

The prevalence of these stories and the prevailing myth that faith healing is effective, however, is simply the result of confirmation bias.


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lyx2no
Member (Idle past 2792 days)
Posts: 1277
From: A vast, undifferentiated plane.
Joined: 02-28-2008


(1)
Message 7 of 77 (598064)
12-27-2010 6:01 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Kairyu
12-27-2010 2:56 PM


Astounding Science-Fiction
But on the contrary, the placebo effect has been show to have astounding effect.

The only cases of the placebo effect that I've ever read about were cases of self-reporting; i,e., "Yes, Doc, my knee feels better", while an MRI shows the cartilage is still torn and the patient is still limping. What is astounding is that that is astounding to someone (I don't mean you, here).

Do you have any reports of truly astounding placebo effects? How does one do a double blind study on the effectiveness of a placebo?


When cometh the day
We lowly ones
Through quiet reflection
And great dedication
Master the art of karate
Lo, we shall rise up
And then we'll make
The bugger's eyes water
óRoger Waters
This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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 Message 17 by Kairyu, posted 12-28-2010 7:37 AM lyx2no has responded

  
ProtoTypical
Member
Posts: 1774
From: Ontario Canada
Joined: 08-04-2010


Message 8 of 77 (598067)
12-27-2010 6:14 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by lyx2no
12-27-2010 6:01 PM


Re: Astounding Science-Fiction
Study evaluates placebo effectiveness
February 1, 2006

Harvard Medical School scientists who usually use placebos to test a new treatment's effectiveness have conducted a trial testing placebos.

The study focused on the effectiveness of placebos -- defined as an innocuous or inert medication given to a control group in experiments on drug efficacy.

The Harvard researchers were exploring the existence of a so-called placebo effect -- an immediate physiological response to placebos that's being reported in an increasing number of lab experiments.

The results of the study, said Ted Kaptchuk, an assistant professor of medicine, showed the placebo effect varies by type of placebo used.

"These findings suggest the medical ritual of a device can deliver an enhanced placebo effect beyond that of a placebo pill," said Kaptchuk. "There are many conditions in which ritual is irrelevant when compared with drugs, such as in treatment of a bacterial infection, but the other extreme may also be true: In some cases, the ritual may be the critical component."

The experiment is detailed in the current issue of the British Medical Journal.

Source


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Panda
Member (Idle past 1789 days)
Posts: 2688
From: UK
Joined: 10-04-2010


Message 9 of 77 (598068)
12-27-2010 6:27 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Kairyu
12-27-2010 2:56 PM


There is (as well as the options described above) the possibility that the condition which has been 'cured' was psychosomatic in nature (e.g. caused by post-traumatic stress).
In such a case: placebos are the best treatment.

Also, a question often asked: "why aren't amputees ever healed?"
All these healers all over the world, but no amputees have had limbs regrown.

Going back to your point about prayer: the 'healing by prayer' logic has many holes.
There is no way to tell if prayer works.
Ultimately you will be told that "god moves in mysterious ways"
Or you may be told that "the person praying was not devout enough" (but there is no measurement of 'devout', except whether prayer works).

One thing I have never seen explained is why it requires more than one person to pray (e.g. for a specific person to be healed).
The more friends you have: the more healing you get?

Hmm...my post rambles around a bit.
Maybe someone will find some part of it interesting.

Edited by Panda, : typso


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lyx2no
Member (Idle past 2792 days)
Posts: 1277
From: A vast, undifferentiated plane.
Joined: 02-28-2008


Message 10 of 77 (598070)
12-27-2010 6:56 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by ProtoTypical
12-27-2010 6:14 PM


Re: Astounding Science-Fiction
I don't doubt for a minute that a doctor saying what you have is tachyoryctes macrocephalus, and two of these taken three times a day for eight days will fix you right up will be more effective than his saying take a chill pill, Phil. But will it do something that will show up on a lab report or a survey of ones turnips?


When cometh the day
We lowly ones
Through quiet reflection
And great dedication
Master the art of karate
Lo, we shall rise up
And then we'll make
The bugger's eyes water
óRoger Waters
This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by ProtoTypical, posted 12-27-2010 6:14 PM ProtoTypical has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 13 by ProtoTypical, posted 12-27-2010 10:19 PM lyx2no has responded

  
Omnivorous
Member (Idle past 1043 days)
Posts: 3808
From: Adirondackia
Joined: 07-21-2005


Message 11 of 77 (598081)
12-27-2010 9:02 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Panda
12-27-2010 6:27 PM


Faith Healers and the Will to Live
Panda writes:

There is (as well as the options described above) the possibility that the condition which has been 'cured' was psychosomatic in nature (e.g. caused by post-traumatic stress).

I hadn't thought of that. Another possibility occurs to me.

Physicians describe a "Lazarus syndrome"--patients on the verge of dying suddenly rally and improve. I have experienced this. Sometimes there are multiple Lazarus events before the patient succumbs to illness or injury.

The technical definition describes autoresuscitation after failed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but in practice the term is used more widely, as described above.

Most of us really, really don't want to die. Most of us don't know just how badly we don't want to die until we are confronted with death's proximity.

It seems reasonable to me that faith healers, often called in when the patient is nearly gone, would take credit for a Lazarus event. They might even trigger the Lazarus response by making it apparent to the patient that death is near.



Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
-Shakespeare

Real things always push back.
-William James


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Panda
Member (Idle past 1789 days)
Posts: 2688
From: UK
Joined: 10-04-2010


Message 12 of 77 (598083)
12-27-2010 9:58 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by Omnivorous
12-27-2010 9:02 PM


Re: Faith Healers and the Will to Live
Omnivorous writes:

It seems reasonable to me that faith healers, often called in when the patient is nearly gone, would take credit for a Lazarus event.


It is a kind of "healing of the gaps".
As soon as Lazurus Syndrome (LS) is explained then they will have to stop claiming it as their own.
Unfortunately, since there has only been ~40 recorded instances of LS, I expect an explanation will not be soon coming.

I was saw on QI that people used to think that blowing tobacco smoke up someone's bum would "resuscitate victims of near drowning".
People will literally try anything when desperate.


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ProtoTypical
Member
Posts: 1774
From: Ontario Canada
Joined: 08-04-2010


Message 13 of 77 (598086)
12-27-2010 10:19 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by lyx2no
12-27-2010 6:56 PM


Re: Astounding Science-Fiction
I am reminded of a documentary about recovering heroin addicts who were able to slake their desire to fix simply by going through the motions of fixing without injecting anything.

I think the placebo effect is strong evidence of the power of the mind and the effects of attitude, as has been mentioned. I don't think anecdotal evidence should be dismissed out of hand. Draw no conclusions but investigate the lead. Anecdotally, I have personally watched people wish themselves to death. Wouldn't that be supporting evidence for the efficacy of desire?

I bet we couldn't find a doctor who would not agree that a patients will to be healthy is a critical factor impacting on the patients health. So, in a sense, the patient's faith that they will be healthy is a very real element to consider.


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Omnivorous
Member (Idle past 1043 days)
Posts: 3808
From: Adirondackia
Joined: 07-21-2005


Message 14 of 77 (598088)
12-27-2010 11:12 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by Panda
12-27-2010 9:58 PM


Re: Faith Healers and the Will to Live
Panda writes:

I was saw on QI that people used to think that blowing tobacco smoke up someone's bum would "resuscitate victims of near drowning".

People will literally try anything when desperate.

At least someone would be kissing your ass goodbye.



Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?
-Shakespeare

Real things always push back.
-William James


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 Message 12 by Panda, posted 12-27-2010 9:58 PM Panda has responded

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Panda
Member (Idle past 1789 days)
Posts: 2688
From: UK
Joined: 10-04-2010


Message 15 of 77 (598090)
12-27-2010 11:32 PM
Reply to: Message 14 by Omnivorous
12-27-2010 11:12 PM


Re: Faith Healers and the Will to Live
Omnivorous writes:

At least someone would be kissing your ass goodbye.


No such luck: they used a pipe or bellows.

It would seem that romance died out years ago.

Edited by Panda, : No reason given.


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