Trying to Impose Religion on Medicine

Jun 27, 2015

by Steven Novella

One of the major themes of science-based medicine (unsurprisingly) is that medicine should be based on science. We consider ourselves specialists in a larger movement defending science in general from mysticism, superstition, and spiritualism. We are not against anyone’s personal belief, and are officially agnostic toward any faith (as is science itself), but will vigorously defend science from any intrusion into its proper realm.

The so-called alternative medicine movement (CAM) is largely an attempt to insert religious beliefs into the practice and profession of medicine. CAM is also an attempt to create a double standard or even eliminate the standard of care so that any nonsense can flourish and con-artists and charlatans can practice their craft freely without being hounded by pesky regulations designed to protect the public. These are both insidious aspects of CAM that need to be exposed and vigorously opposed.

A recent article by Dr. Michel Accad demonstrates how brazenly some are trying to insert faith healing and spiritualism back into medicine. He does so by couching his arguments in philosophy and marketing terms, but in the end he is essentially saying that doctors should practice his faith. He doesn’t really make any arguments for this position, but rather simply gives a history of progress in Western thought as if that is sufficient.

Why medicine needs to be science-based

Before I deconstruct Accad’s article let me explore the arguments for SBM. As a profession, medicine enjoys a special privilege in our society. Practitioners are licensed, which is a contract giving them exclusive rights to practice their trade in exchange for requirements to ensure quality control and ethical behavior. The health professions also benefit from public funding to pay for research, education, institutions, and patient care.


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32 comments on “Trying to Impose Religion on Medicine

  • While I am totally against religion intruding into medicine (or anywhere else for that matter) I would beg to differ with the assertion that:

    “medicine should be based on science”

    Medicine can be defined as the genre of healing or simply one of the healing tools. Others include: placebos, hope, optimism, diet, exercise etc.
    Ridiculous practices like homeopathy appear to “work” in some cases, which probably indicates that much of our suffering is generated in the mind. If you can change your mind by whatever method then that method; however ludicrous, is to some extent valid. WB Yeates put it better than I can:

    And God appointed Berkeley, that proved it all a dream;

    That this pragmatic, preposterous pig of a world,

    Its furrow that so solid seems

    Must vanish on an instant, did the mind but change its theme



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  • The Controversial Poster Philoctetes
    Jun 27, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    “medicine should be based on science”

    Medicine can be defined as the genre of healing or simply one of the healing tools.

    Those are the tools of medical science.

    Others include: placebos, hope, optimism,

    Surely these are studied in the science of psychology, and applied in psychological counselling where needed.

    diet, exercise etc.

    These are usually covered in the the sciences of biology, nutrition, and health education. . . .
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/aqa/keepinghealthy/dietandexerciserev1.shtml

    .. But should be dealt with in schools, rather than being left to be belatedly handled by medical services (or quacks!!) after problems have arisen.



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  • All that may be true but I’m still not taking Statins. I don’t trust the data, the pharmaceutical companies, and I am suspicious of the big Statin push.



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  • So many otherwise scientific people tacitly accept the “soul” idea of the Catholics.
    They use it to ban contraception, abortion and euthanasia. God OWNS this invisible part of you.
    Catholics refuse to accept it is part of their faith, not scientific reality.

    It leads to corpse worship — risking the lives of people to “rescue” corpses for ceremonial burial in a more auspicious place.

    The Catholics think consciousness is like a little man inside you shaped like a cloud that experiences things. God puts it in you when you are conceived, and it leaves when you die to head off for judgement.

    There is no evidence for it whatsoever.



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  • The Christian notion of the soul is pernicious. It was a primitive attempt to explain consciousness. Christians imagined it was like an invisible cloud that lived inside your body. It experienced reality much like a homunculus. They postulated Jehovah inserted the soul into your body at birth, later amended to at contraception. They postulated the soul escaped the body at death and floated off to be judged and punished. Most Christians do not even realise the soul is an element of faith. They think it is real, even though there is not a scrap of evidence for it. Christians impose this crazy notion on others, and to a significant extent, non-Christians put up with it. The belief in the soul leads Christians to the following:

    interfering with other people’s birth control.

    interfering with other people’s abortion.

    treating the life of others as expendable. Death is just early judgement.

    treating harming children as unimportant. Such harm is diluted by the eternity of the afterlife.

    risking the lives of young men, and going to great taxpayer expense, to rescue corpses for burial in more auspicious places.

    refusing to let people in intractable pain die. Christians believe their god owns the souls of everyone, including non-Christians which gives them the right to block any else’s euthanasia.



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  • It leads to corpse worship

    That is what Christianity bases itself on. It’s a death cult.
    Fear of death brings about the most remarkable ideas. Never are humans so creative as when we are side stepping and denying death. I’m in a bad mood today, Roedy so forgive my negativity.



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  • I’m nervous about the data also, not being a doctor however I’m not really in a good position to judge except on individual anecdote (which we know is unreliable). My mother for example was taking statins for cholesterol and began experiencing tremendous pains in shoulders and arms, she couldn’t pick up a bag of groceries, she eventually (after numerous expensive tests and scans for possible bone cancer and other horrors – all negative) asked the doctor to reduce the statins, he was reluctant but she insisted and did so and problem went away.

    Another friend of mine (an excellent science teacher) showed why he was such an excellent science teacher when he went through something similar. The doctor and he decided it might well be the statins and the doctor told him to stop taking them. He did so and after a few weeks felt completely better, the pain had gone. He then surprised me when he told me he was taking them again. I was surprised and asked him why, he said well it may have been a co-incidence that I stopped feeling the pain and I’d hate to stop taking an effective medicine if it wasn’t to blame. So he took them for a few weeks the pain came back and he stopped again permanently this time satisfied they’d definitely been the issue with him. He did this with the full knowledge of his doctor and I think that ultimately the statin issue will be resolved one way or another on this basis of this type of approach. Those failings in medicine are failures to follow the scientific method. I suspect issues in medicine (and there are many) will be resolved by adhering to it better. Statins may be completely effective for some but not others, they may be effective but produce intolerable side effects or they may have limited effectiveness and produce harmful side effects, I don’t know but I do know I’m better of visiting a doctor and engaging in the processes and methodology of science maintaining a skeptical attitude throughout. Best chance I’ve got.



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  • There was a young man who said God

    Must think it exceedingly odd,

    If he finds that this tree

    Continues to be,

    When there’s no-one about in the quad

    Dear Sir, your astonishment’s odd

    I am always about in the quad,

    That’s why this tree

    Will continue to be

    Since observed by, Yours Faithfully, God



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  • I am suspicious of the big Statin push

    I am suspicious too. The problem is a lot of people hear the adverts and believe these are miracle drugs. Here in Canada where advertising for medicines is banned I’m always horrified when I watch a US TV channel and I’m bombarded with propaganda for everything from Lipitor to Cialis.

    An interesting takedown of a Lipitor ad here (a little dated but the essential points are still valid):

    https://proteinpower.com/drmike/2009/01/09/anatomy-of-a-statin-ad/

    There is just no substitute for excercise, a healthy diet and reducing stress. Do these three and you can pretty much ignore all the rest.



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  • 12
    mombird says:

    I was prescribed statins but had side effects as well. A lot of the literature is panning Statins but the doctors keep pushing them anyway. Frankly, I don’t like to be used a lab rat for testing drugs and doctors need to do more a more comprehensive examination before prescribing them. Doctors don’t listen to their patients and tend to shove them out the door with a bunch of pills instead of trying to figure out what’s what.
    Each patient is different and one pill does not work for all. I resent being shoved into a category, given a prescription (one that is harmful by-the-way) and sent home to wonder why I feel worse rather than better.
    Of course this is not the fault of science or medicine but a lack of interest on the part of doctors. You get maybe 15 minutes of attention for $125.00 or more and off you go. That is one reason folks go to “holistic” doctors. At least most of them pay attention!



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  • 13
    mombird says:

    Right, There are no miracle cures. Old age comes with some bodily breakdowns. That is a fact that doctors don’t seem to take into consideration when handing out pills. We would all be better served if doctors would direct us in more positive and healthy choices instead of trying to make us all think we are 20 years old.



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  • 14
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    The Christian notion of the soul is pernicious. It was a primitive attempt to explain consciousness.

    Agreed but it’s worth mentioning that the notion of a soul or a sprit being a separate entity from one’s body was not invented by Christianity. This belief predates Christianity and was adopted by many, much older religions: Greek and Roman Mythology, Norse, Judaism with the notion of eternal paradise and also Hinduism, Jainism and even Buddhism with the idea of re-incarnation.

    It saw its direct extension (pollution?) into Philosophy (capital P) with the idea of Cartesian dualism. Personally, I think it’s mainly the result of two things: our natural inclination as a species to believe in dualism (as proven by experiments conducted on toddlers) and fear of death. An eternal soul is a way to cheat death and people love that idea.



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  • I had to sign a form clearing my Health Centre nurse of responsibility when I refused her advice to take statins some years ago. Since then my blood pressure has remained pretty much the same. On the subject of Blood pressure, what a blunt indicator this is. It differs from arm to arm and from minute to minute and location to location and from time to time. I give it little credibility, certainly not enough to take statins when it varies from an arbitrary administrative set norm by a mere standard deviation or two.
    I am a type 2 diabetic and I refuse their drug suggestions on that and keep my blood sugar levels normal through a sensible diet which tries to exclude sugars and carbohydrates.

    If I took NHS drug advice I’d be on more than a Rolling Stone’s guitarist and probably a lot less healthy.

    The NHS needs to revert from a budget driven agenda to a medical one.



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  • “Others include: placebos, hope, optimism,
    Surely these are studied in the science of psychology, and applied in psychological counselling where needed.”

    If these are “sciences” then every discipline is a science. Science (for me) if it can be defined in a short phrase, is something that can be accurately measured and is demonstrable/repeatable under controlled conditions.

    I’m not opposed to “social sciences” I just don’t think they are science, more a collective hunch. Useful certainly, so long as their paradigms are not regarded “religiously”. It seems to me that the more complex the system the less it satisfies scientific practice. In time the social sciences might have accumulated enough testable data to become truly scientific, but for the moment they more resemble alchemy more than chemistry.



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  • 17
    mombird says:

    Yeah, and isn’t it amazing that half the country has high cholesterol now! It was never much of a problem before Statins were developed. Now everyone needs them! My doctor says my high cholesterol is hereditary but most of my relatives lived a long life and died from other causes. They say people must exercise as that is the most important thing to do, but how are you supposed to exercise when Statins give you muscle weakness?
    All the holistic doctors are against taking all these medications. That’s why I respect them. Doctors need to help people get creative with their health issues not drug us into early graves.



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  • mombird
    Jun 28, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Yeah, and isn’t it amazing that half the country has high cholesterol now! It was never much of a problem before Statins were developed.

    Actually it was not a problem before junk-fat diets were invented.

    Statins reduce cholesterol levels and reduce clogging of blood-vessels, – but are a poor substitute for a balanced diet, so benefits should be weighed against possible side effects.

    As death in old age is often caused by failing fatty arteries, statins can give a measure of protection.
    Constricted weakened arteries combined with high blood pressure increases the risk of failure from blockage or stroke.



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  • 21
    mombird says:

    But I don’t eat junk food, Alan. Well sometimes I do. Anyway, all the literature I’ve read says high cholesterol is not the problem but inflammation is. That is what builds up scar tissue. Apparently cholesterol is necessary for cell health. So, whatever it is doctors need to look at the entire picture before ramming Statins down everyone’s throat. I think they do more harm than good at least for me.



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  • mombird
    Jun 28, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    But I don’t eat junk food, Alan. Well sometimes I do. Anyway, all the literature I’ve read says high cholesterol is not the problem but inflammation is. That is what builds up scar tissue. Apparently cholesterol is necessary for cell health. So, whatever it is doctors need to look at the entire picture before ramming Statins down everyone’s throat. I think they do more harm than good at least for me.

    You don’t say what information sources you are using, but I would recommend this one:-

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000403.htm



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  • mombird
    Jun 28, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    and I recommend this one, which also has further links to reputable sources:-

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cholesterol.html
    Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But if you have too much in your blood, it can combine with other substances in the blood and stick to the walls of your arteries. This is called plaque. Plaque can narrow your arteries or even block them.
    High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk of heart disease. Your cholesterol levels tend to rise as you get older. There are usually no signs or symptoms that you have high blood cholesterol, but it can be detected with a blood test. You are likely to have high cholesterol if members of your family have it, if you are overweight or if you eat a lot of fatty foods.
    You can lower your cholesterol by exercising more and eating more fruits and vegetables. You also may need to take medicine to lower your cholesterol.

    .NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.



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  • 24
    mombird says:

    Thanks Alan, Yes I’ve read all the pros and cons, does and don’ts. Last time I tried Statins I had heart palpitations so bad I thought I was having a heart attack! It was awful. I just won’t do that again. So the way if figure it, if I have a stroke I hope it’s a massive one. None of us live forever. If the stroke leaves me horribly disabled then my friends and family swear they will throw me off a cliff! When I told my doctor this she nearly threw me out of the office!



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  • Science (for me) if it can be defined in a short phrase, is something
    that can be accurately measured and is demonstrable/repeatable under
    controlled conditions.

    Psychology and neuroscience fall squarely under the umbrella of science.

    All science starts out as a “hunch” — otherwise known as a hypothesis.



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  • mombird
    Jun 28, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    Thanks Alan, Yes I’ve read all the pros and cons, does and don’ts. Last time I tried Statins I had heart palpitations so bad I thought I was having a heart attack!

    If you have an adverse reaction, then they are not for you.

    If I needed them I would certainly take statins, but at present, my routine blood tests show my various levels to be within the normal range, so I take no pills of any kind, except in short periods if I am ill.



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  • 27
    mombird says:

    Alan- You are lucky. Stay healthy. BTW, my doctor says Statins are harder for women to take then men as far as side effects. I don’t know why tho.



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  • I read a bit about it and seen a couple of reviews of it on science shows here in Australia. However they were presenting qualified scientists on both sides of the debate and so I’m left with not knowing what the truth is. The argument seems to go like this statins reduce cholesterol but cholesterol also exists in the brain, around nerves etc and the suspicion was at high doses it was not discriminating and causing pain. Additionally the rate and amount of statins that were considered a normal dose has gone up progressively. However, there was no resolution in any of the stuff I read. So if my doctor prescribed them for me I would take them but ask for initially as small a dose as I could then monitor and look for symptoms.



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  • mombird
    Jun 28, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Alan- You are lucky. Stay healthy. BTW, my doctor says Statins are harder for women to take then men as far as side effects. I don’t know why tho.

    and Philoctetes

    If you don’t like tablet concentrates, or have adverse reactions, there are alternatives.

    https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/PlantStanolsAndSterols.pdf

    Plant stanols and plant sterols are found in a range of plant foods such as cereals, vegetable oils, seeds and nuts.

    This Food Fact Sheet will look at their role in reducing the bad type of cholesterol in our
    blood which can lead to heart disease and stroke.
    What do plant stanols and sterols do?

    Because they have a similar structure to cholesterol,
    plant stanols and sterols work to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the gut so more is lost in the faeces (poo). This in turn helps to lower total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol (the bad type of cholesterol) in the blood. There are a number of good quality studies to support this. High cholesterol levels have been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Stanols and sterols do reduce cholesterol.

    However, we do not have enough evidence to show
    that they reduce or prevent heart problems or strokes,
    as little research has been done in this field.

    Most doctors agree that a total cholesterol level below 5mmol/L and an LDL-cholesterol below 3mmol/L are considered healthy. People at high risk/with existing coronary heart disease, may be asked to lower their cholesterol levels further

    How much plant stanols and sterols do I need?
    Most diets provide a small amount of plant stanols
    and sterols (around 300mg per day); vegetarian diets
    contain about twice this amount. It is not essential
    to take plant stanols or sterols to help manage your
    cholesterol. There may be other simpler and less
    expensive changes that you can make, such as regular
    exercise and eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, pulses
    and wholegrains and choosing lean meat, lower fat
    dairy products, fish, nuts and soya foods more often
    and replacing butter and lard with vegetable, nut and
    seed oils.

    However, people at high risk of heart disease,
    especially those with high blood cholesterol levels, may benefit from eating foods that have added (fortified) plant stanols and sterols. If you do choose to use a plant stanol or sterol product in addition to the changes outlined above, they need to be eaten every day, with meals, and in the right amount. An intake of 1.5-2.4g per day can lower cholesterol by 7-10% and an intake of 2.5-3.0g per day by 10-12.5% in two to three weeks. *
    *If you stop using the products then the potential benefit of lowered cholesterol will also stop.

    Most studies show that eating more than the
    recommended 3g per day of plant stanols/sterols is
    unlikely to lower cholesterol levels further and may
    have a negative effect on the absorption of fat soluble vitamins.

    I probably benefit from a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, plus the exercise involved in growing some of them.



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  • 30
    mombird says:

    Plant stanols and plant sterols are found in a range of plant foods
    such as cereals, vegetable oils, seeds and nuts.

    Been there and done all that! I remain stubbornly elevated.



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  • The mind-body dualism postulated by the ancient Greeks, refined through Descartes and revitalized by modern, analytic philosophers derives from intuitions so strongly embedded in consciousness that the belief in metaphysics is virtually impossible to uproot. The so-called “Life of the Mind” seems so compelling to us as subjective experience transcending “objective” material reality that it is difficult to argue otherwise. How could the vision of a sunset represented in the mind be equated with physical processes, the optic nerve, the lens of the eye, the firing of neurons in the goop of the brain. Some philosophers argue that vision, thought, ideas, feeling, the content of mental experiences must be distinct from the physical processes which “cause them.” John Searle, for example can accept the principles of materialism and still argue that our subjective (mental) experience is qualitatively other than the brain, sense organs, nervous system. The problem stumps him and he doesn’t take kindly to challenges.

    From the compelling intuitive feeling that mental content (I prefer the term conscious experience) hovers over or transcends material objects (I prefer the term physical processes), it is but a baby step away from out-of-body-experiences, the conviction that mind can control -move, manipulate, transform matter; that the mind can heal the body or contact other minds, even the minds of those whose “bodies” have died or participate in a variety of paranormal practices.

    Religion logically claims theological dominion over these intuitions but secular pseudo-scientists also work arduously to investigate the Paranormal. It is not just religion which imposes on medicine but the delusion that mind-over-matter may be able to heal disease after all.



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  • 32
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    John Searle, for example can accept the principles of materialism and still argue that our subjective (mental) experience is qualitatively other than the brain, sense organs, nervous system. The problem stumps him and he doesn’t take kindly to challenges.

    BTW, in case you don’t already know, Daniel Dennett is one of Searle’s biggest critics on this topic and dicusses these very difficult problems of consciousness, dualism and strong AI in his book “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking”. Dennett makes a pretty strong case against Searle’s “Chinese Room” thought experiment. A challenging read (for non-philosophers like me) but really interesting and well worth it.

    Religion logically claims theological dominion over these intuitions but secular pseudo-scientists also work arduously to investigate the Paranormal. It is not just religion which imposes on medicine but the delusion that mind-over-matter may be able to heal disease after all.

    Absolutely right. Our natural inclination towards belief in dualism is part of our genetic makeup. Our intuitions can sometimes help to point us in the right direction when looking for answers but they can sometimes grossly mislead us or even fool us completely. Intuitions ARE useful however and we have to embrace them but we also have to carry along a healthy dose of skepticism in our “thinking toolkit”.

    I think that we should at the very least distrust our natural inclination to believe in dualism. Poorly educated people have a perfectly legitimate excuse to fall for it. Highly educated philosphers don’t. But this touches on another topic Dennett discusses in his book: he argues that some philophers, by being so exclusively engaged in their specialty, don’t bother to learn some essential science and that this in turn causes some of their thinking to be irremediably flawed.



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