Seen on Facebook

Here’s a ridiculous status I recently saw on Facebook:

Incredible outbreak of healings tonight at the [Connecticut] outpouring!! Life debilitating diseases and ailments instantly healed! Yay God!

I left a couple of comments asking who would be receiving the Nobel Prize for this discovery, but they were quickly deleted. It’s almost as if there is absolutely no proof that prayer works in the least. Let me break it down in this flowchart:

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Gov. Rick Perry calls for magic

In an effort to contain wildfires that have already claimed 1.5 million acres across the state of Texas, Gov. Rick Perry called on his fellow Texans to seek out a magical remedy:

“Throughout our history, both as a state and as individuals, Texans have been strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer,” Perry said in a statement.

“It is fitting that Texans should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this ongoing drought and these devastating wildfires.”

Doesn’t Perry’s particular, cultural god already have a plan in place, though? If prayer can change that plan, is it really a plan? And if prayer isn’t suppose to change the plan but only put Perry and others in line with his god’s magic, then isn’t this all a completely fruitless effort?

Prayer does not work

I think the most annoying habit I witness when discussing what science has to say on a topic is that people will find the most obscure individual studies to bolster their case. That might work depending on the particular study, but it’s rare. A basic of science is that we defer to the body of evidence. That’s why we can say cigarettes cause cancer but marijuana does not (at least until the body of evidence changes). It’s also why we can say that prayer does not have healing properties. Unfortunately, it is possible to abuse the body of evidence. PZ has managed to find some kook who has done just that:

Equal healing benefit has been demonstrated whether the prayer is Hindu or Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant, Jewish or Muslim.

(Quote from the kook, not PZ.)

I suppose a big, fat “NO” across the board is equal, but that’s cheating. And if someone is willing to cheat logic once, why not do it again?

Can medical science prove the benefit of prayer to im- prove the result of an operation? I refer you to the latest Cochrane review on this topic.5 This 69-page manuscript is a meta-analysis of 10 prospective randomized studies on intercessory prayer to help the efforts of modern medicine involving over 7,000 patients. Some studies in this meta- analysis showed benefit, while others did not. The conclusion of the authors was that there is no indisputable proof that intercessory prayer lowers surgical complications or improves mortality rates.

There you go. Nope, prayer does not work. That is what the body of evidence has been telling us for years. But the guy goes on:

So, have I answered the question, “Can prayer help surgery?” While there is not conclusive scientific proof that prayer improves surgical outcomes, it certainly can help relax an anxious preoperative patient and may help enhance the relationship between patient and surgeon. A surgeon must be comfortable with prayer to offer it. Professionalism can be maintained provided the prayer is offered in a non- confrontational manner and reflects the spirituality of the patient. Surgeons who want the best for their patients need to utilize every tool available, and to quote one of my patients, “Prayer is a powerful tool.”

The kook’s patient isn’t paying attention to the science. And neither is the kook. It’s mind-boggling that someone can throw out paragraphs that argue against his position and yet make the exact opposite conclusion. That, we know, is not a testament to the power of prayer. And neither is the body of evidence. It is, however, a testament to the power of blind faith and wishful thinking.

Want Jesus out of government?

A Jewish lawmaker form Minnesota wants to take Jesus out of legislative sessions. Great, right? Not quite.

A Jewish Minnesota lawmaker is asking Senate leaders to allow only nondenominational prayers to open sessions, after feeling “highly uncomfortable” when a Baptist pastor repeatedly mentioned Jesus Christ and Christianity in one of the invocations.

Democratic Sen. Terri Bonoff says she wants Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch to change the letter submitted to all visiting chaplains to say they are “required,” rather than “requested,” to make prayers nondenominational.

“I’m a very religious woman and believe deeply in God,” said Bonoff, of the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka. “We honor God in public and our political discourse, and that’s proper. But in doing a nondenominational prayer we are honoring him without violating the separation of church and state.”

Uh-huh. It’s not okay to prayer to Jesus because it makes people uncomfortable. But praying to God? Why, that’s just dandy. Who could that possibly offend? What part of the constitution could that possibly violate?

Bonoff is obviously a mental midget, but she still may be able to win this battle. She just needs to look at the system itself.

Koch said Wednesday she wouldn’t support such a requirement. She said the Senate invites leaders from numerous Christian and non-Christian faith traditions to pray, and notifies them that senators come from a diverse background. “I’m not going to get into the process of sort of editing prayer,” Koch said.

If senators can invite leaders from all sorts of organizations, Bonoff ought to invite an atheist leader. It’s Minnesota, get PZ Myers. Or any other atheist. It doesn’t matter. As long as the person proudly wears the label of “atheist”, all these Republican mooks will immediately start backtracking. Get the person to appear over and over; don’t let anyone think it’s just a one-time thing. Show the anti-constitutional Republicans that if they want to violate the separation of church and state by using government resources to promote religion, then they’re going to have to deal with the consequences of promoting views they don’t like. (Actually, the “consequences” would probably be very good, but I’m biased with my positive views of reason and rationality.)

Hawaii ends state prayer

The Hawaii state Senate has decided to do away with the prayer it used to open each session.

A citizen’s complaint had prompted the American Civil Liberties Union last summer to send the Senate a letter noting that its invocations often referenced Jesus Christ, contravening the separation of church and state.

That prompted the state attorney general’s office to advise the Senate that their handling of prayers – by inviting speakers from various religions to preach before every session – wouldn’t survive a likely court challenge, said Democratic Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.

“Above all, our responsibility is to adhere to the Constitution,” Galuteria said after Thursday’s vote to halt the daily blessings.

This is a pretty straight forward decision, one that reflects the fact that Christians don’t get to do whatever they want. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to understand it.

“They (the ACLU) continue to threaten governments with lawsuits to try to force them into capitulating to their view of society,” said Brett Harvey, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, made up of Christian lawyers to defend free faith speech. “Governments should take a stand for this cherished historical practice.”

Thank you for confirming that the prayers were all about Christians, but really? It’s an organization dedicated to defending free faith speech? Do they realize that there is no such thing? That if such a thing were to exist, that it would be a privilege, not a right? There is simply the right to free speech.

Besides, it isn’t free speech if it’s being endorsed by the government.

On the conflict between science and religion

It’s often said, ‘Sure, other people’s religion conflicts with science, but they aren’t representative of the majority. Besides, my religion isn’t in conflict with science!”

Here’s a simple test to find out if your religion conflicts with science:

1) Do you believe in miracles?
2) Do you believe in a creator who directed evolution?
3) Do you believe prayers work? (And why doesn’t your god heal amputees?)
4) Do you think faith is a virtue?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these, and you derive your answer(s) from your religion, then your religion does conflict with science. Let me explain.

1) A miracle is a suspension or interruption of a physical law or constant. The whole idea in science is that physical laws and constants are true at all times and in all places. If you believe they can be arbitrarily interrupted, your belief is in conflict with science; science does not allow for the interruption of, say, the speed of light in a vacuum. You can believe that the speed of light in a vacuum can be changed by your god, but (aside from having no evidence for such a claim) your belief is one that is anti-scientific.

2) Evolution is a natural process that is based upon the changing of allelic frequencies within a population over time. It happens as a result of genetic change and interaction with the environment. It is a natural process that is contingent upon a long series of chance happening and natural selection; under the same environmental conditions, a re-running of the history of life would give different results. You can believe your god made it so humans (or any other animal) would be inevitable, but your belief is anti-scientific.

3) The science is in and prayer does not work. You can still believe it does, but your belief is anti-scientific.

4) Science is a valuing of reason, experiment, and, ultimately, evidence. Faith is the anti-thesis of this. You can still believe faith is a good thing, but your belief is anti-scientific; it is not a belief that is found within science.

Bonus conflict: Philosophy

Do you believe in the philosophical reasoning of the First Cause? This is the argument that says everything has a cause and thus the Universe has a cause. (And then it is randomly declared that God is eternal.) This goes against science because Newton told us that everything which has a force has an opposite and equal force. This is dependent upon observations made within the Universe. Your philosophy goes beyond this evidence and makes a conclusion which is independent of the sort of reasoning Newton used. In other words, if you say the Universe has a cause because everything else has a cause, you aren’t making sense. Everything within the Universe has a cause. That’s all science tells us. We can presume a reason for the Universe since it, well, exists, but we cannot use the scientific reasoning used by Newton; he was talking about forces within the Universe.

Another couple prays child to death

A couple from Pennsylvania has prayed their child to death.

A fundamentalist couple who prayed over their sick toddler rather than get medical help before his pneumonia death have been ordered to stand trial on manslaughter charges.

Prosecutors believe 2-year-old Kent Schaible succumbed because his parents chose prayer over modern medicine.

There may be some legitimate defense in this particular case, but there is a more important issue here.

Some states carve out exceptions to criminal neglect statutes for parents who rely on faith or spiritual healing.

These states (including my own) disgust me. Believing in magic is not a license to practice magic, especially when the life of another person is at stake.