28 January, 2021

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The Incurability Of Religious Cure

By Shyamon Jayasinghe –

Shyamon Jayasinghe

Shyamon Jayasinghe

It was recently reported that Dr Kent Brantly who contracted the killer disease, Ebola, in Liberia, West Africa has been surprisingly cured and says that God cured him by “answering to the thousands who prayed for him.” He is a medical doctor all right. But the hitch is that he is also a Christian evangelist. In a conflict of interest his religion has got in the way of his science. Let me explain.

Ebola is the latest lethal disease hovering the globe. From time to time, we get such new evil visitors coming in to plague man. At one time, it was AIDS. Much earlier in human history it was Small Pox. Many such diseases that swooped on humanity have now been found a cure by scientists. AIDS is still a work-in process. Most cancers are in the same category. The latest malevolent visitor appears so fatal that thousands have already died. Medical people are in a rush to find a vaccine. The vaccine ZMAPP is being tested. And so the process of occurrence, suffering and cure continues.

At each turn, until scientists came out with successful counter moves popular belief looked to supernatural origins and gods and deities were placated. I remember when I was small and attacked by Chicken Pox my elders would say it was an ‘Ammawarunge Lede.’ I cannot exactly translate that but I suppose it was a case of sourcing the disease to an entity outside the natural world. Today, it is common to hear even men and women of modern education attributing what seems a cure for a cancer here and a cancer there as the work of God. God has answered prayers! Australia’s only saint, Mackillop, was supposed to have been a specialist in bringing about miracles to cure disease. Other saints have specialized in other diseases. Just google the index of patron saints and you will find an amazingly long list there. Just a few examples: Saint Agatha looks after breast disease; Saint Dymphia, insanity; Saint George, Syphilis and Saint Benedict, kidney disease. This is a historical list and many of those saints have retired by now as the afflictions have found cures and preventions.

SJPEven Buddhists, who are enjoined by the Buddha to test their beliefs and keep an open mind, resort to Bodhi Pooja to cure a cancer or other terminal condition. We rush to the Bodhi tree and keep pouring water and the temple monk chants and chants. Pirith nool or chanted thread is tied round the wrist of the afflicted patient. The chants are about the qualities of the Buddha. How on earth can such chants be absorbed by thread and how on earth can the ‘soaked’ thread cure the unfortunate disease? Buddhists don’t bother to question-just like the Christians.  When it comes to religious faith we hesitate to ask ourselves.

From immemorial time men and women, struck by what seems inexplicable find meaning in a supernatural being or force as being at work. At the beginning of humanity’s settled existence, almost everything seemed supernaturally originated. Neolithic records have shown up the dominance of the supernatural in the fossils, bone and other remains that have been unearthed. Vedic beliefs in India are full of the supernatural. Since the birth of science and the use of the scientific method the huge veil of supernatural cloud has gradually receded. Man has become wiser; taken life into his hands and now defiantly acts God himself. Yet, thousands of faithful men and women flock to the deity.

We now know that all our diseases are founded not in God or a god or other divine force but in the natural chain of cause and effect operative in nature. Many previously serious diseases are known to be caused by bacterial infections –by staphylococci and streptococci, for instance, and not by a deity up to his round of mischief. The latter is curable by a brand of penicillin and not by prayer or Bodhi tree worship. Once we know more about cancer or AIDS or EBOLA we will find a cure. From past experience, we need not lean on the supernatural during the ignorant phase. Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) mentions the story of a “bouffant-haired American evangelist” crying out before his gullible congregation to “give until it hurts.” Please don’t give your money to any divine middleman, church or temple to intercede with disease; give it to the relevant medical research foundations. The Bodi Pooja has no cost as the temple monk, mercifully, does not charge for the intercession service.

To return to our friend, Dr Kent Brantly- as a scientist he should have realized that Ebola was rooted in natural causes like the bacterial diseases referred to in the last paragraph and that therefore some natural remedy has cured him for his good luck. Most likely the experimental drug, ZMAPP, has worked.  Dr Kent should have respected his profession more by giving the credit to this drug and not to God. When the administration of the drug and the cure had closely followed up on each other there was no need for him to find a distant, complex explanation. Have you heard of Ockham’s razor? William of Ockham was a philosopher who lived in the 14th century. He pointed out that one must avoid complex explanations for an event when a simple one is ready at hand. “Among competing hypotheses the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

By praising The Lord for his surprising cure Dr Kent was also doing a disservice to the progress of medical science by propagating the idea that medical research can stop so long as we mortals keep praying and praying and giving money (to the church tills) “until it hurts.” Does he realize he has been very unethical here? Does he also not reflect on the senselessness of praying to an all merciful and omnipotent God to save his own creatures? Is God playing dice with his creatures? Secondly, why would God listen only to those who pray to him? Isn’t he vain and arrogant if he accedes only to those who bend on their knees and beg him? What about the thousands who die in poverty and pain and who don’t pray? Aren’t they also not God’s creatures? Is it a fair God who discriminates like this? The criteria of making sense don’t apply here.

The fact is that however modern and educated a person may be he/she can be stupid or naïve when it comes to religious behaviour. Such power does a religion hold. Whenever a thing like a cancer remission is observed for which empirical explanations are not immediately obvious faithful persons are ready to give God the credit for the apparent cure. This is merely the application of the historical experience that wherever ignorance prevails religion must explain.

Evangelical Christians, evangelical Islamists and misguided Buddhists are doing incalculable damage to patients by encouraging the latter to resort to prayer or worship in place of seeking the help of evidenced-base medicine to find a cure or a relief.

We have been hearing a lot about faith healing these days. On this subject The American Cancer society  issued a  publication dated 17 January2013 that states: “available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments… death, disability, and other unwanted outcomes have occurred when faith healing was elected instead of medical care for serious injuries or illnesses….. When parents use faith healing in the place of medical care, many children have died that otherwise would have been expected to live. Similar results are found in adults.”

“One review published in 1998 looked at 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. These researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent, with the remainder of the children also having a good chance of survival. A more recent study found that more than 200 children had died of treatable illnesses in the United States over the past thirty years because their parents relied on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment.

In addition, at least one study has suggested that adult Christian Scientists, who generally use prayer rather than medical care, have a higher death rate than other people of the same age.”

So there you are, have your prayers by all means but when it comes to serious diseases have faith in your doctor.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    1

    Thank you Shyamon Jayasinghe. Didn’t the Buddha say that superstition was one of the last fetters to overcome as it is so deep seated?

    • 3
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      Shyamon Jayasinghe:-
      “In a conflict of interest his religion has got in the way of his science.”

      Do Sinhala/Buddhists understand the Buddha’s Dhamma, contained in the Suttas, and incorporate His Teaching into their Way of Life?

      They find it easier to let someone else (e.g. The Temple Monk) chant the Suttas in Pali, (which they do not understand) and hope that the ‘Magic’ Chanting will cure all their Ills.

      They also believe that the Suttas have to be chanted in the Sinhala/Buddhist Way, otherwise they are not effective.

      Foreign ways of chanting the very same Pali words,(i.e. Burmese, Thai, English, etc.) are not considered effective in performing this ‘Magic’!

    • 2
      2

      I can’t thank Shyamon for these ideas which were popularly accepted ones in 10~20 years back by most of intellectuals. Here are some of different ideas of power of brain/conciseness..
      1) It is found that sugar levels of controlled diabetic patient might go very high when they are under high stress. Who does this? It is the non-mater consciousness with the help of brain make pancreas feedback mechanism and/or body insulin resistance mechanisms go bananas.
      2) Stresses make your blood pressure goes high, very common fact. Who does it, it is you, your conscious brain does it.
      If the above facts are true, then how can we disagree that highly controlled mind/brain by scientific meditation or by pure faith could NOT control some of our body functions.
      We all have experience short term physical benefit by making our mind calm. Similarly some people with very STRONG faith might be able to control SOME of their body functions in a sustainable way for a long time….
      Our brains maintain our body temperature at 36.8C even when outside temperature is 35C or 20C. How strong physical process is this? Isn’t this a miracle? If the body temperature goes by 2C, we become really sick…. One super miracle by our super brain.. Don’t forget our super brain could be controlled by our non-mater consciousness…

  • 5
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    This rationalist is always very good at brining up dumb arguments.

    Buddhism says that if your mental environment is good, if you think, talk and act only the good, there is a positive effect of those. Other than that, buddhism is not into magics or miracle healing.

    It is christians who do this.

    USA has a cure for Ebola, even though it is not proven whether it would work in mass scale. It needs more fine tuning.

    Similar to many other viral – diseases which have vaccines developed, Ebola also has a drug, most probably it is a vaccine. So, this AMERICAN DOCTOR must have got that vaccine. Now, he is selling it to say that it is the GOD who did it.

    Why God selectively do good to only some people and not to many others. In this case, the god was partial only to this American Doctor. WHAT BS.

    • 2
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      Jimmy my boy,

      ‘Buddhism says that if your mental environment is good, if you think, talk and act only the good, there is a positive effect of those. Other than that, Buddhism is not into magics or miracle healing.’

      In which country do you live my boy? Do BBS, Ravana Balaya and JHU who represent Buddhists and Buddhism in Sri Lanka think, talk and act good? If Buddhism does not believe in magic and miracle healing why is your esteemed president wearing a ‘pirith noola’ most of the time? Next time when you visit famous Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka or in most of Asia look at the murals in some of them. There are demon pictures, ‘boothaya’ pictures, Rama and Ravana pictures and angels floating on cloud pictures besides others. Can you ever live in any part of Sri Lanka without being greeted with the cacophony of ‘pirith bajaw’ being belted out in the air on a daily basis?

    • 8
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      Jim softy

      “This rationalist is always very good at brining up dumb arguments.”

      How come you have loads of dumb comments yet never been a good rationalist?

    • 3
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      Jimmy Boy, tell all this to your retarded superstitious booru President who carries a golden cunt in his palm.

  • 2
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    Shyamon,

    “The fact is that however modern and educated a person may be he/she can be stupid or naïve when it comes to religious behaviour.”

    While I was in Grade 9 in SL, I pondered this question–as to why otherwise “brilliant” people behave “stupidly” or “irrationally”, defying basic logic and commonsense, when it comes to religions, and came up with an explanation. It is that different areas of the brain are responsible for different functions; the area that controls rationality and “reality checking” may be weak in people who have strong functions in other areas that make people “brilliant.”

    I hadn’t even heard of neuroscience at that time, but a couple of decades later, neuroscience showed evidence for this hypothesis. You may be familiar with the research findings of the world-renowned Indian origin neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran in San Diego, California, and others.

  • 1
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    Even in pirith chanting, in buddhism, it talks about some truth and ask in the power that truth be some to good.

    Just take Angulimala piritha. It talks qabout the truth about the Arhant Angulimala. then because of that power it some good to the patient.

    there are many like that.

    Buddhism uses only the power of the truth, goodness, power of words and positive mental effects.

  • 4
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    God created all life on Earth according to Bible Believers. So God created the Ebola virus as well as the viruses and bacteria for Hepatitis, Dengue, Typhoid, TB, Malaria, and all the other deadly diseases which are indiscriminately killing hundred of millions of human beings every year, usually the poor, meek and humble, not the rich, crooked, and powerful. Why on earth did God do that? Heaven knows. Ask God, or one of his mouthpieces on earth, like the Pope or an Archbishop or one of these evangelists. Plenty of them proselytizing in Sri Lanka too. And good luck in getting an honest, intelligent answer. Pah!

  • 3
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    Well, the mind creates isn’t it?

    If one is able to hit the right chords with the mind, then one can create any reality one wishes isn’t it? Placebo effect is what I think its called.

    • 2
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      Vibhushana

      “Placebo effect is what I think its called.”

      Will it help you to stop hearing voices in your head?

      Please contact Ted Kaptchuk Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School who might be able to help you, with a lot of difficulties.

  • 1
    1

    Fear is the cause of all superstitions. Through out history man feared death, disease, earth quacks, thunder, lightening, floods and volcanoes. This is because he could not fathom the reason behind these natural phenomenon. He thought there must be an unseen force behind all these natural disasters. So he invented gods, many of them personifications of natural forces by their dozens and prayed, offerred sacrifices and performed rituals for relief. It took ages for Greek and Roman gods to vanish into history, but Hindu gods have managed to survive till now. The early humans did not know that deadly diseases like smallpox, tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough, rabies, typhoid, plague, influenza, measles etc. are caused by viruses, bacteria, germs etc. He thought they were caused by an unseen god. It was left to medical science to found reasonable cures for these deadly diseases. Modern medicine and hygiene have given us some control over devastating infectious diseases, even eradicating smallpox, although most remain with us, often preying upon the poorest and the most vulnerable. This particular Dr. Kent either must have faked his illness in the first place. As someone mentioned why god chose to cure only him and not others. As for chanting of pirith, tying of thread etc. by Buddhist monks reveals the heavy influence of Hinduism over Buddhism. Buddhism as taught by Buddha has no place for superstitious beliefs. Buddhism teaches that the solutions to our problems are within ourselves not outside. The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word as true, but rather to test the teachings for themselves. In this way, his followers decide for themselves and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding. This makes Buddhism less of a religion but more of a teaching which each person learns and uses in his own way.

  • 2
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    Dear Shyamon Jayasinghe –

    “Evangelical Christians, evangelical Islamists and misguided Buddhists are doing incalculable damage to patients by encouraging the latter to resort to prayer or worship in place of seeking the help of evidenced-base medicine to find a cure or a relief.”

    A good write up, but there is a little bit more to the faith based cures.

    Is God a micro-manager, or a macro-manager? Those who believe in Faith Healing believe God is a micro-manager, and by prayer can get things done. For others, God is neither a macro or micro manager.

    If it a bacterial infection or a viral infection, antibiotics and antivirals for the particular ailment are quite effective. Giving antibiotics for a viral infection will not cure the viral problem. However, we say prayer and Bodhi pooja fall into the same category.

    How did people get cured before the antibiotics and antivirals? Some used pant based medicines like Ayurveda and other treatments.

    One thing that is missing is the Human Immune System. It is very versatile, and some cases can initiate an attack and cause a cure. Some claim that the prayer and other Spiritual activities strengthen the immune system and causes the cures. Unless a double bind experiment is done with measuring minute changes in the immune system activity with prayer , that cannot be proved.

    The faithful, want’s to believe, it was the prayer.

    The scientists and rationalist wants to say it was the medicine or drug.

    However, the overwhelming evidence is in favor of the scientific explanation.

    After all, the Earth Rotates on its own axis and goes around the Sun, despite the claims of Joshua in the Bible.

    Revelation Vs. Reason and observation.

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson – The Islamic Golden Age: Naming Rights

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDAT98eEN5Q

    Published on Mar 18, 2012

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, discusses how Islamic scholars contributed to the Islamic Golden Age and how over time independent reasoning (ijthad) lost out to modern institutionalised imitation (taqleed) present in the wider islamic society today.

    • 1
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      Amarasiri, You are probably closer to the truth. Our human body is able to defend itself against illness, and obviously it is the strength of the immune system that is at play. Research has shown that those who were born prior to the age of immunization for disease, are more resistant to disease than those born in the age of immunization. Obviously our immunity is now on the decline.

      In other words, we have the latent ability to cure ourselves.

      Perhaps we have the latent ability to cure others as well. Who knows, may be prayer and chanting brings out that latent power that lies within us. I have seen that during the Christian evangelical sessions, the pastor brings the congregation to a crescendo of sound and chant, making the people free themselves of inhibitions and opening their minds (or hearts) to belief/faith. They experience a release from self consciousness and their physical actions and gestures commit them to the unknown in absolute trust. This is probably one way to obtain a cure.

      I have personally experienced one supernatural event, and even though I have no belief in a creator God or Gods, let us keep our minds open. There are many non religious people too who cure by touch.

      Have you also experienced that when you have a problem with your car, it starts working well the moment the mechanic opens the bonnet? Sometimes a mere visit to the doctor cures one even without treatment!

  • 1
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    Chanting, pouring of water are all aimed at purification of mind and pirith noola is a constant reminder of such thoughts. Buddhism does not advocate irrational words, thoughts or deeds. One can not blame the teacher for some who misunderstood the teaching.

  • 1
    0

    God is a stupid and faulty being indeed. Think about it.

    The best he could create was the human being.

  • 1
    0

    We hear daily of what is known as ‘Medical Misadventure’, ‘Wrong Diagnosis’ etc. All which reflect upon the fallibility of Human Knowledge and Effort. Many who have experienced the loss of their loved ones in Hospitals under Specialist care will realise this.

    So while resorting to Medical means it is also advisable to place faith in the divine help and guidance as prescribed in ones religon.

    Religon does not deny the use of the worldly material means of sustenance and healing. At the same time placing ones complete trust in medication is to deny oneself the benefits of divine help and guidance. Of course be warned of medical quacks and witch doctors of the trade.

  • 4
    0

    No god or prayer can cure disease
    Only science and medicine can cure disease
    So when you fall sick
    Please consult a qualified medical doctor
    There is no other way

  • 2
    1

    Belief systems in whatever form or name, mobilize something in us that helps in healing or bearing an ordeal. It may have something to do with the endorphines released from our brains following particular stimuli. They work like morphine. Serotonins released in the brain after eating particular foods, chocolates or even hot curries, make persons feel good.

    There is an interplay between our passionate beliefs and what we eat and do, with how our bodies react and respond.

    We yet know very little of ourselves and what makes us what we are. Beliefs are based on our collective historical experience and cannot be dismissed as foolishness or primitiveness. Time and new scientific breakthroughs will explain many with time.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0
    0

    Shyamon,

    Interesting rational presentation.

    Though I am not a believer of God or his actions, there could be certain events that cannot be explained without resorting to some unknown holy (i.e. God, Deity) or unholy (i.e. Pretha, Yaksha or Kumbhanda – all Devil’s representatives) quantum that affect the outcome.

    Here only prayers or ‘pirth nool’ fill that void of ‘no knowledge’. Perhaps the words preachers or priests use in praying or chanting may have some effect to cause such outcome. I do not know for sure. These one in a thousand is too much highlighted by the media and using it some try to generalize it as ‘the solution’ for the illness or difficulty. Dr. Brantly may be one. You may find eulogizing him by some of his believers in day to come!

    Hope some one will study further and give us a better understanding of reasons for such outcomes, making us to believe what is only right.

  • 2
    1

    Austin, a simple explanation for unexplained cures.

    1. The force of mind over matter

    2. The patient would have overcome the illness even if he did not resort to prayers

    3. The patient’s prayers are answered by gods/God all of whom are beings temporarily in a higher plane of existence. Just think of them as aliens.

  • 2
    1

    Austin Fernando says that there are certain events that cannot be explained without resort to the supernatural realm. A few other readers have expressed similar statements. Amarasiri states he has had one supernatural experience. Jim Softy suggests that chanting like Pirith can release the power of words. Grateful for such participation in the circulation of ideas. Dr Rajasinghe Narendran and Thanga relies, like me, on the inevitable and eventual success of science to explain what looks like unexplainable.
    As I have stated in my piece most of serious diseases were at one time inexplicable. Hence people resorted to the nether world of demons and gods and spiritual powers. Later, science finds the answer in natural terms. My view is that what we think as inexplicable now (Austin) will soon find light. If this has been the record of the past why not trust science for the future, too. Given that the supernatural explanation has failed in the past why not abandon that hypothesis? For one thing, that begs the question of the existence of a supernatural force.
    Vibhusana refers to an important point that I couldn’t mention-namely the placebo effect. Placebos are fake drugs used in medical research. The patient is deceived to believe that it is the genuine one and this belief creates a perception in him that he will be cured. This is the power of suggestion that works in or minds. Contemporary brain imaging techniques have gone a long way to show that the power of suggestion can set in neurobiological processes in the brain that can lead to relief. This can be effective in diseases with a high mental component like manic depression. Our Thovil had this hypnotizing impact. Now, in such cases it is not any supernatural agency that did the job but a natural process.
    Re the power of words to cure there is no evidence other than that religious chanting may sooth the mind of a patient and this is also not a supernatural impact. This, again, depends on perception of the patient. I do not believe in Pirith and so it will have no effect on me. But it may be different with others.
    Amarasiri says he had one supernatural experience. Has he subjected that experience into rigorous scientific analysis. If he did, he may find a human agent behind that.

    • 1
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      Shayamon Jayasinghe, Your remark on a supernatural experience attributed to Amarasiri may be a reference to what I said in response to Amarasiri’s own comment. Here it is.

      When I was working in the agricultural field I visited a property in the deep south. It was late in the evening and dusk had settled in when I along with the Manager of the land hurried back taking a short-cut. The path stopped at a stream and we had to cross over a single log placed across the stream. It was quite dark and not being quite adept at walking on a log, pondered what injury would be suffered if I fell off balance. I was 57 years. Though the fall would have been perhaps ten feet, the river bed was full of rock and I feared breaking a leg. My colleague, a younger man familiar with the route, walked across without a second thought. I was fearful but decided to chance it any way. As I stepped on to the log I felt two hands hold me under my arm pits, lift me and walk me across the length. This type of experience is impossible to test. Some will say it was imagined, or an attempt by the mind to rationalize. For me, I did feel the hands hold me up and I am grateful whatever that power was, God, spirit, guardian angel or fairy godmother.

    • 1
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      Shyamon Jayasinghe

      “Amarasiri says he had one supernatural experience. Has he subjected that experience into rigorous scientific analysis. If he did, he may find a human agent behind that. “

      CORRECTION: It was Wickramasiri, NOT Amarasiri who experienced a supernatural event.

      This is what Amarasiri said: “The faithful, want’s to believe, it was the prayer. The scientists and rationalist wants to say it was the medicine or drug. However, the overwhelming evidence is in favor of the scientific explanation.”

    • 1
      0

      Shaymon Jayasinghe,

      You Mixed up Wickramasiri’s experience and comments with Amarasiri’s comments on the possible affect on the immune system.

      Anyway, this is what a Judge had to say:

      The Placebo Effect

      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-placebo-effect/

      From : Posted by Steven Novella on January 16, 2008

      Recently the Federal Trade Commission went after the makers of the Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet for their claims that their device was a cure for chronic pain. Last week Seventh Circuit judge Frank Easterbrook handed down his opinion on the company’s appeal, writing that the company was guilty of fraud and ordering them to pay 16 million dollars in fines. One of the key points for the company’s defense was that the Q-Ray Ionized Bracelet is legit because it exhibits the placebo effect. Judge Easterbrook was not impressed with this argument, writing:

      “Like a sugar pill it alleviates symptoms even though there is no apparent medical reason. Since the placebo effect can be obtained from sugar pills, charging $200 for a device that is represented as a miracle cure but works no better than a dummy pill is a form of fraud.”

      This decision creates an interesting precedent, since there are a large number of fanciful treatments that do not have any “apparent medical” mechanism and that are claimed by its proponents to work through a placebo effect. In my experience the placebo effect, briefly defined as a measurable response to an inert treatment, is almost completely misunderstood by the public – a fact that is exploited by purveyors of dubious treatments such as the Q-ray. Already in the comments of this blog there has been discussion over the nature of the placebo effect.

      In order to demystify the placebo effect, I will try to first describe exactly what it is. The operational definition of a placebo effect is any health effect measured after an intervention that is something other than a physiological response to a biologically active treatment. In clinical trials the placebo effect is any measured response in the group of study subjects that received an inert treatment, such as a sugar pill. However, “the placebo effect” is a misnomer and contributes to confusion, because it is not a single effect but the net result of many possible factors.

      The various factors that contribute to a measured or perceived placebo effect vary depending upon the situation – what symptoms or outcomes are being observed. Subjective outcomes like pain, fatigue, and an overall sense of wellbeing, are subject to a host of psychological factors. For example, subjects in clinical studies want to get better, they want to believe they are on the active experimental treatment and that it works, they want to feel that the time and effort they have invested is worthwhile, and they want to make the researchers happy. In turn, the researchers want their treatment to work and want to see their patients get better. So there is often a large reporting bias. In other words, subjects are likely to convince themselves they feel better, and to report that they feel better, even if they don’t. Also, those conducting a trial will tend to make biased observations in favor of a positive effect.

      It has also been clearly demonstrated that subjects who are being studied in a clinical trial objectively do better. This is because they are in a clinical trial – they are paying closer attention to their overall health, they are likely taking better care of themselves due to the constant reminder of their health and habits provided by the study visits and attention they are getting, they are being examined on a regular basis by a physician, and their overall compliance with treatment is likely to be higher. So basically, subjects in a trial take better care of themselves and get more medical attention than people not in trials. If for those not in a clinical trial, if they decide to do something about their health by starting a new treatment, they are likely to engage in more healthful behavior in other ways.

      A common belief is that the placebo effect is largely a “mind-over-matter effect,” but this is a misconception. There is no compelling evidence that the mind can create healing simply through will or belief. However, mood and belief can have a significant effect on the subjective perception of pain. There is no method to directly measure pain as a phenomenon, and studies of pain are dependent upon the subjective report of subjects. There is therefore a large potential for perception and reporting bias in pain trials. But there are biological mechanisms by which mental processes can affect pain. There are many non-specific factors that can biochemically suppress pain. For example, increased physical activity can release endorphins that naturally inhibit pain. For these reasons the placebo effect for pain is typically high, around 30%.

      But the more concrete and physiological the outcome, the smaller the placebo effect. Survival from serious forms of cancer, for example, has no demonstrable placebo effect. There is a “clinical trial effect,” as described above – being a subject in a trial tends to improve care and compliance, but no placebo effect beyond that. There is no compelling evidence that mood or thought alone can help fight off cancer or any similar disease.

      Other conditions are more objective than pain, but are special because they have a strong influence from the neuro-endocrine system. This system translates psychological stress into physical stress, by releasing stress hormones and increasing activity in the sympathetic nervous system. So, for example, for heart disease mood matters quite a bit. Someone who has an A-type personality and is always angry and upset is at higher risk of a heart attack than someone who is mellow and unstressed. But here there is a known physiological connection between mood and a specific organ – the heart. This cannot be extrapolated to other diseases; it doesn’t mean you can smile your cancer away.

      Many people talk about the neuroendocrine system’s effect on the immune system. Again, here there is a physiological connection. Stress hormones do suppress the immune system, and it is probably true that extreme stress leaves us physically susceptible to disease for this reason. But the effects of moderate levels of stress are not established. Also, we cannot extrapolate from the risk of getting a cold to the ability to fight off cancer. You have to look at the evidence for each disease unto itself. So while this is a potential contributor, it is overall probably a small effect except in extreme situations.

      The lack of any real biological placebo effect has led some to question the necessity of having a placebo control in clinical trials. However, I feel there is still a need for a double-blind placebo-controlled design for most clinical trials because that is the only way to minimize the effects of bias on trial outcomes. The factors I listed above will still create the illusion of an effect and the only way to control for this is with a placebo group.

      Therefore the placebo effect is fairly complex and is largely an artifact of observation and confounding factors. Any real benefits that contribute to the placebo effect can be gained by more straightforward methods – like healthy habits, compliance with treatment, and good health care. The placebo effect is not evidence for any mysterious mind-over-matter effect, but since the mind is matter (the brain) and is connected to the rest of the body, there are some known physiological effects that do play a role (although often greatly exaggerated).

      In light of all this, I do not feel that knowingly prescribing a placebo treatment is effective or ethical medicine. Modern scientific medicine should strive for interventions that physiologically are scientifically plausible and have sufficient evidence for safety and effectiveness. But I do think there are lessons to be learned from the placebo effect – there are aspects of therapy that do go beyond the physiological intervention. Medicine is not only an applied science; it is the art of humans treating other humans. As part of effective treatment it is helpful to try to maximize all those human intangibles that contribute to a good outcome. But we can do this in the context of scientifically valid treatment, and without crossing the ethically dubious line of deception.

      I therefore heartily agree with Judge Easterbrook that invoking the placebo effect is not a defense for making fraudulent health claims, for the Q-ray or any other implausible treatment.

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    Miracles do happen, and a little divine help can also do wonders. In the Islamic perspective, a small worship prayer to Allah seeking His help, guidance and cure before a attending to a regular visit to a doctor has its many benefits. The fact is if time is up, death is certain, we must all go sooner or later. We all need to be prepared and be ready for the call at any time, and we all know that death cannot be substituted nor avoided.

    As Muslims we believe that it is He who sends down sickness as a test of our patience and courage to see it through. Our faith and trust in Allah is being put on the line during those hard times. During period of sickness Allah forgives our sins through sincere repentence and even our worldly needs and prayers are answered. If we are destined to live and make full recovery, we can have hope for His forgiveness and a spiritual purification from all sins committed. Through this process, we believe to be better off than before falling sick. Falling sick is generally considered a blessing in disguise.

    Of course, medical science will do its part, but is fallible since it is still under human control. The learning process itself, the countless mistakes made through wrong diagnosis, drug poisoning, test failures and many more such issues leaves this technology as still an evolving process. But yes, we can avail of what is known to have been ‘perfected’ through human effort, but yet the many unknown factors are still a quantum leap away, unlike Allah’s infinite knowledge. So I believe that Medical Science alone isn’t sufficiently enough, but a little divine help will also do much good, specially when looking for a healing touch, and also depends on where one looks for it.

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      “As Muslims we believe that it is He who sends down sickness as a test of our patience and courage to see it through. Our faith and trust in Allah is being put on the line during those hard times.”
      With over 2,000 lives and counting, don’t you think Allah has over stepped this time with his ‘Ebola test’?

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        paul and Marwan

        “With over 2,000 lives and counting, don’t you think Allah has over stepped this time with his ‘Ebola test’?”

        First sort out the dispute as to Allah, God, oe any other is a micro-manager, macro-manager, or no-manager or is indifferent, based on supportable and verifiable evidence.

        Then you can get the answers.

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    Austin,

    “..Hope someone will study further and give us a better understanding of the reasons for such outcomes, making us to believe what is only right…”

    Please don’t waste your precious time. The truth is already given in many forms like Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. Take whatever you like, one or more or all teachings… you can get it. Just one thing to do. Do not follow your mind. It is the toughest foe of the wisdom. Be witness to the mind. Just like, trying to watch the drama while you are playing in it. Someone cannot explain it. Not just the article, but most of these remarks came out from nonbelievers. Not non believers of the religion or the God, but non believers of their own self, ability and potency.
    The truth cannot be understood by the mind with sense organs. We have to go beyond it and need to become someone who aware of it. In other words, we have to take off our hats of ego, when we enter into the temple of truth.
    I am not saying, everything can be cured. There are many natural rules like “unavoidable, avoidable up to a certain point, and completely avoidable”. If the disease is unavoidable, one shall not trust even the best Doctor in the world, yet trying to cure it with prayers. If it is avoidable, even non believer will go to the Doctor immediately, without believing prayers. See, the mind is working in both ways regardless what their religion they follow. The creation of this world is very tricky and beyond our understanding.

    But,one thing for sure. Lesser the ego, lesser the problems and suffering. Prayers helps us, destruct our own ego. Simply, have a look, any religion you can see one common practice. They Pray, They sing. Singing is the best cure gore ego.

    Hope you get my idea.

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      I tend to agree as all things you mention are in you, within you, by you, for you and no third party agents as are involved ( by you I mean self and this apply to all of us)

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    Congrats Shyamon for rousing a splendid debate. Wilfred Jayasuriya

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    In America they say “A sucker is born every minute” – in sri lanka, a sucker is born every second – most probably.

    In sri lanka, many categories of persons who cheat citizens, thrive on their gullibility.
    There are ‘anjanam kaarayas’, ‘dehi cutters’, hooniyam kaarayas’, ‘bali and thovil’ specialists, astrologers, malayaalam magicians, ‘rishi vaakiyam readers’,’palmists’,and many others.

    Even Buddhists visit Vishnu Shrines in the premises of many Buddhist temples to pray, make vows, donate cash & even gold and even curse their enemies by dashing coconuts – these shrines are a good source of income for the viharadhipathies.

    Many tamil hindus were and are being duped by ‘holymen called “swamis”,
    from india.

    There ‘faith healers’ too – mentioned in this article.
    Even the highest in the land consult astrologers for auspicious dates for family events, elections etc.

    Gullibility is a human trait, and widely prevalent.

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    i have seen people die from a cold but survive for years when they have aids or cancer. Allah has a time for every thing. Aithist can say science is the cure, but science cannot even create the wing of a fly, without Allahs resources. Allah created everything what u see and what u dont see.

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    This is off-topic, but something that needs attention.

    In South Asia, there has been a custom for people to marry blood relatives, especially cross-cousins. In India I think a man would marry even his niece. But it is well-known such inbreeding increases the chance for children to be born with genetic defects and serious illnesses.

    I have seen that among some of my friends and distant relatives, this practice has gone even into the next generation, where children who grew up in the West sometimes adopt (sometimes budged to do so by their parents) the practice. And in almost every such case I know of, the newborns have run into serious issues at birth–autism, dawn syndrome and other developmental issues, breathing problems that require surgery of the child and hospital stay for months after birth, etc.

    This practice should be stopped among all communities in Sri Lanka as well those in the diaspora. When I lived in Kandy in the late 1980’s, I used to see a message from the SL Red Cross inside SLTB buses that asked people to avoid marrying blood relatives. That was pretty good; and I hope similar messages are spread all around the country in different ways.

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      Correction: It should read as “down” syndrome; and “nudge” not “budge”

      By the way, the reason I posted it here is that some of those parents who nudged their children into such marriages and later saw their grandchildren suffer, told me: “God is testing us.” No one is saying it is THE cause, but the probability of birth defects is certainly higher.

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    Even Rajapakse seeks religious help for his [Edited out]. A seventh Day Adventist visits him once a week to say prayers with him.

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    Science has its limitations. Science cannot explain every happening and phenomenon on earth.

    The Human Mind has conquered many an obstacles. We have resolved many a mysteries. We are continuing our forward march against all odds. But, … .

    Remember that there is a limit to our ability. The human mind does not have the capacity to understand everything that happens to us or around us.

    The moment we fail to comprehend this fundamental reality all the doubts and questions keep arising.

    We should not be asking questions that do not contribute to the progress of mankind. We may never get to know the answers to all the questions.

    Religion is far beyond Science. Religion is one subject that should be left out of scientific thought or discussion or questioning.

    We are embodiments of God. Do not attempt to find God. Attempt to find peace and happiness, instead.

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    Shyamon,

    Medical science is not as benign as you seem to think. It has been corrupted by the dollar, by drug companies and by the military-industrial complex. The result is that disease is being created as well as being cured. There is a lot of money in diagnostic tests and a lot of money in treatments for chronic disease. This creates a background in which there is a lot of profit to be made from making acute illnesses into chronic diseases and by frank biological warfare against the public.

    Medical research has also been controlled by vested interests, and dominated by the drug companies. This is reflected in what is studied and taught at the universities. In fact it is from the universities that emanates a sanitized view of medical science. A case in point is HIV and AIDS.

    When the AIDS epidemic started in the early 1980s the Russian and Indian press reported that the virus (HIV) had been manufactured in Fort Detrick in Bethesda Maryland. Fort Detrick used to be the US military’s biological warfare HQ till Nixon officially abandoned offensive biological warfare in 1973. But in 1970 Nixon’s right hand man Henry Kissinger had released his Memorandum 200 report that argued that Third World overpopulation was a national security concern (Kissinger cited Nigeria and Brazil as being of particular concern as rivals to American populations), enabling military funds and know-how to be used to reduce the “overpopulation threat”. In 1969 a CIA official by the name of MacArthur had successfully obtained funds to develop a “refractory agent” (germ) that would cause collapse of the immune system, arguing that such research was well underway elsewhere and that if the CIA didn’t get the funds the Russians would beat them to this objective.

    In 1959 the eminent physicist Sir Charles Darwin (grandson of the biologist) argued at Caltec that “a tremendous solution than warfare” (and even nuclear warfare) was necessary to counter the threat of overpopulation, which he regarded, as a physicist involved with the Manhattan Project, to be a greater danger to humanity than nuclear warfare. That’s how paranoid the scientific establishment in the West was during the Cold War.

    When I looked deeper at research into the immune system and germs that cause collapse of the immune system, the name of an esteemed Australian scientist – Frank MacFarlane Burnet – came up. MacFarlane Burnet won the Nobel Prize for his work on T and B cells in the immune system, having previously been an avid collector (for the university) of exotic viruses. Later in life he was obsessed by “Third World Overpopulation”. I found that the leading AIDS research and advocacy organization in Melbourne is named after Frank MacFarlane Burnet – the Burnet Institute, associated with the Alfred Hospital, University of Melbourne and Monash University. This is largely funded by the taxpayer but it also gets private donations including significant contributions from the mining industry. When I read their annual reports from 1997 to 2001 I was very concerned about the activities of their International Health Unit, that advises on AIDS management in several Third World countries.

    This is part 1 of my YouTube expose of the Burnet Institute:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ5UOtz2NNg

    I later read that in 2001 a Canberra Historian by the name of Philip Dorling had obtained documents showing that in the early years of the Cold War, Burnet had advised the Australian military and government to develop its biological and chemical warfare capabilities for use against “overpopulated” South-East Asia. He argued that the temperate climate in the Australian populated areas afforded protection against tropical germs that could be used against the crops and people of Indonesia. Though the information was released 50 years later, the Australian Foreign Affairs Department opposed the release of these documents fearing that they could damage Australia’s international reputation. Indeed; it also raises questions about the clandestine world of biological warfare and the role of Australia and the Allies in using medical knowledge to cause disease.

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      A correction:

      Sir Charles Darwin said at Caltec (in 1959) that they needed a “tremendous solution, more brutal than warfare” (which he said would only set back the overpopulation a few years – he was urging that thought be put to devising a more drastic solution.

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