Relying upon faith-based idealism by Bob Nemanich
Not long ago, I read a story in the Wall Street Journal about a faith-based physician. Initially I was curious as to its placement in the Wall Street Journal, so I was hooked. I found the article astounding on many levels, most importantly because this religious article was in the Journal, an embodiment of fiscal science in the world of business.
The article described the U.S. Government's investigation of a licensed California physician who has been marketing an herbal concoction and over-the-phone prayers as medical treatment for patients with advanced cancer. She sold this "medical treatment" on the Christian Television Network for $10,000! Unfortunately the patients' outcomes were devastating. One of her gullible patients was even a practicing nurse, educated and trained in life sciences, further testifying to the power of faith-based belief systems, even in dire and desperate situations.
This reading prompted me to conjure up two conflicting sayings: "There are no atheists in a fox hole" versus a doctor's saying, "Even the most religiously devout eventually come faithfully to science when faced with a life threatening illness." As for the first, I am acquainted with an atheist who "prayed" when he was forced to eject from his burning jet over Iraq. He now maintains that it was NOT a divine act that saved him but the technology developed by science and applied by engineers.
I also know an evangelical couple in which one partner faced a deadly form of cancer. Standard treatments promised little chance for cure, while cutting-edge stem-cell treatment offered a hope. Unfortunately, stem-cell treatment conflicted with their life-long faith. They chose science over religion and secretly received the stem-cell treatment that was both out-of-state and out-of-pocket. The sick spouse is in full remission, but the couple has kept the treatment a secret from their church.
Recently The American Heart Journal published the results of a study that found having people pray for heart bypass surgery patients had no effect on their recovery. Further, they found that patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications, as compared to patients who only knew it was possible that prayers were being said for them. One might conclude from this study that seeking divine intervention following a heart bypass surgery could complicate recovery.
In all cases mentioned, the sick or threatened persons desired to avoid death, a fundamental emotion in humans. As an agnostic, I don't know or suppose what comes after death. As a student of science, I do know that death is an integral part of life in the natural world. So how do superstition, mythology and divine intervention change this natural world? They don't.
While knowledge of the natural world doesn't preclude the existence of God, neither can it confirm it. Agnostics, atheists or humanists don't reject traditional American values; in fact, their values are traditional and have been around since the secularist foundation of this nation. What agnostics, atheists and humanists do in this post-modern world in which mythology and superstition have risen again is to remind the world that relying only on faith-based idealism can be quite deadly.