Do Christians Suffer from Stockholm Syndrome?

When discussing religion, I find it interesting how even the most thoughtful and carefully-argued apologetic eventually comes down to simple, blind faith. However many clever arguments and justifications the believer puts forward, sooner or later there comes a point where those arguments have to be reasoned from first principles, and the first step, the basis of all subsequent beliefs, is reached from reasoning which more or less amounts to “just because”.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that – ultimately, we all have to begin with unprovable axioms, even if they’re almost universally agreed, or appear self-evident. For example, I believe that the laws of physics are consistent throughout space and time, that other people really exist and aren’t figments of my imagination, and that the universe didn’t spring into existence last night, with the whole of history and everyone’s memories created at the same time. They all seem like pretty reasonable conclusions to me, but even so, there’s no way of proving them.

So I don’t have any problem with unprovable axioms (except that they’re a frustrating roadblock if you’re interested in watertight logic), but I think – even though I can’t prove it – that they make more sense in some situations than others.

What prompted me to write this post is a discussion about the problem of suffering. It all followed the usual pattern, with back and forth between some people pointing to examples of suffering and other people trying to find reasons why an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity might allow them to happen, and lots of debate about the logical consistency of the various arguments. Eventually, the apologetic argument generally came down to a belief that there must be a reason, even if it wasn’t obvious what that was, because God wouldn’t allow it otherwise.

It struck me that this is very similar to when Christians try to justify genocide in the Bible. Most people, if faced with evidence that God allowed or – worse – ordered vile acts like this, would conclude that either the evidence was wrong or God is a monster. But there are some who attempt to redefine their terms – if God does it, it’s clearly not so bad, or it is bad if we do it but the rules don’t apply to Him, or even that His victims were asking for it – not an argument with a particularly distinguished history, regardless of its merits in this case.

Similarly, Christians generally end up acknowledging that there is suffering, but rather than amending their speculative, unprovable view of God (i.e. that He’s omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent) they suggest that He must have a reason for allowing suffering, even if we can’t know it. To me, this looks uncannily like Stockholm Syndrome. However unpleasant or abusive God must be if their beliefs are correct, and however responsible He is for their current suffering, they still want to justify His actions and excuse His crimes. They believe He could stop all their suffering, they know He doesn’t, but nevertheless, He must be a nice guy and have His reasons.

Alternatively, why not try Battered person syndrome on for size, to explain why Christians continue to worship a God who, if He exists and has anything like the power they believe, looks very much like a serial abuser. Have a look at these common beliefs and attitudes:

Additionally, repeated cycles of violence and reconciliation can result in the following beliefs and attitudes:

  • The abused believes that the violence was his or her fault.
  • The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
  • The abused fears for his/her life and/or the lives of his/her children (if present).
  • The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.

With very minor changes, that looks to me like a perfect description of Christian belief: We’re all sinners, which is why there’s suffering in the world. God can’t force unregenerate sinners to change, or to love Him. If we don’t do the right things and plead with the abuser, He’ll condemn us to hell not just in this life, but for all eternity. And point 4 speaks for itself.

Maybe atheists should be setting up shelters for battered believers.

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

72 responses to “Do Christians Suffer from Stockholm Syndrome?”

  1. Uncle Tree says :

    You are right here.
    It’s a fine line between
    Christianity and masochistic
    tendencies to play both
    victim, and abuser.

  2. unklee says :

    G’day RA, you’ve certainly provoked me to comment here! (Not a bad thing I hope!)

    ” I find it interesting how even the most thoughtful and carefully-argued apologetic eventually comes down to simple, blind faith.”

    I disagree. Take this formal and valid argument:

    1. The character of our universe is determined by physical laws and constants.
    2. If these laws and constants had been different, life would probably not have arisen.
    3. The laws and constants which led to this suitability for life must have been determined by either physical necessity, chance or design.
    4. The laws and constants have not been determined by physical necessity.
    5. The laws and constants have not been determined by chance.
    6. Therefore our universe was designed.

    I won’t go into the justification for the premises (but you can find them here) but a good scientific case can be mounted for each one of them. The conclusion is a strong one – not proven, but (IMO) much more probable than its negation.

    Other arguments can also be presented that have a similarly well-based conclusion. Together, they lead to a strong conclusion for God’s existence (IMO). Thus (IMO), it is unbelief that is based on something other than reason, though unbelievers would not be happy to call it “faith”.

    “Eventually, the apologetic argument generally came down to a belief that there must be a reason, even if it wasn’t obvious what that was, because God wouldn’t allow it otherwise.”

    That wouldn’t be the way I approach it. I think there are many facts in the universe pertinent to the existence of God – some point to his existence, some point to his non-existence. The evil and suffering in the world are one of the facts that suggest God isn’t there. If this was all we had, we’d legitimately conclude against God. But it isn’t all we have! We must assess them all.

    There are many facts (e.g. the universe and arguments like the above, people’s experience of God, the life of Jesus) which point to God existing. I think they are far more convincing than the ones pointing the other way. So I conclude God exists, but I am deeply troubled by the suffering. That seems reasonable to me, and based on the best facts I know.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Hi, Unkle! Good of you to comment, even if you disagree.

      It looks like you’re arguing from the anthropic principle here. I disagree with your conclusions, but it’s not all that vital to my main point. Rather than pursuing that here, I’ll see if I can put a full post together on the subject before too long.

      The wider point is that whatever your assessment of the strength of the arguments, even the most dogmatic believers would have to accept that we can’t know that God exists. That being the case, it’s about weighing evidence and probabilities, and there’s still an uncomfortable issue to deal with – do you question and reassess the evidence as you see it, or do you find ways to explain away God’s apparent culpability for our suffering?

      • unklee says :

        Hello again.

        “It looks like you’re arguing from the anthropic principle here.”
        I wasn’t so much arguing as pointing out that there arearguments that offer good ground for belief, which I thought was contrary to what you were saying. I look forward to your post on this – you may be interested in mine, The teleological argument.

        “even the most dogmatic believers would have to accept that we can’t know that God exists”
        It depends on the meaning we give “know”. Strictly speaking, we cannot be absolutely sure of anything, but if we use “know” in the philosophical sense – to believe something with sufficient reason to believe it – then we can know. So it depends on whether we judge we have sufficient reason. Sceptics who argue we should only believe what can be proved are inconsistent – on that standard, we could believe very little, if any, history, and even little of science (much science is based on probability – 95% confidence limits etc – and evolutionary biology and cosmology are based on far less than proof).

        “it’s about weighing evidence and probabilities”
        I agree. I happen to think that the evidence points much more towards God than away from him.

        “there’s still an uncomfortable issue to deal with – do you question and reassess the evidence as you see it, or do you find ways to explain away God’s apparent culpability for our suffering?”
        As I’ve already said, why try to justify God’s every action when we can’t possibly know? I don’t do that with my friends or family. I trust people because I know them, but that doesn’t mean I can understand every action. God is big enough to look after himself.

      • Recovering Agnostic says :

        I’m not sure I’d equate my friends and family with an invisible deity who refuses to do anything to make his existence plain. But your last point is pretty much what prompted my post – if you trust and believe in someone, whatever the basis of that trust and however rational it is, you make excuses for their behaviour. Putting your trust in a mysterious, secretive type whose own propaganda makes Him look guilty of genocide seems to me to be towards the irrational end of the spectrum.

    • xanparker says :

      4. Physicists agree that if certain laws and constants were not the way they are, then the universe would NOT EXIST as we know it. How is this not physical necessity? If our very existence and that everything around us rely on proper math, then improper math would create a very different existence. Now, obviously the other side of this is, “If these laws are in place, then something must have necessitated their promulgation.” I don’t agree with this outlook, because the universe did not have to happen out of necessity, therefore neither did the laws or constants.

      5. You say the laws and constants have not been determined by chance. They haven’t, you’re right; but nothing sufficiently debunks chance as a reason for existence. Quantum physics relies almost purely on chance to determine particle creation and behavior. Subatomic particles are still bound to physical laws and constants (they move by necessity), but since we never know exactly where they are at a given time, our view of this necessity is extremely obfuscated. They could move any which way, simply because we don’t know where they are starting from. The universe also has questionable characteristics: how large is it? How long has it existed? From what did it originate? Seeing as these questions are incredibly difficult, if not impossible to prove an answer for, the most we can do is determine the probability of possible truths. I would thus argue that chance was an important factor in the creation of the universe. Perhaps everything did end up the way it is purely because it is Universe Number Googolplex that was created by some more profound law of nature. Nothing can prove this is impossible, so it must be considered as a possible truth.

  3. Uncle Tree says :

    Well said, Unklee!

    I only have a couple of points to add.
    The shape and character of our Universe is still a mystery.
    Science cannot assume, but mathematicians agree on one thing:
    Infinity cuts both ways – large and small. The numbers,
    to them, prove the possibility of an Infinite Universe,
    which gives every possibility its due. No chance needed.
    No design needed. Nothing is necessary.
    Everything happens.

    The way I see it,, there is either a God,
    or we are awe-fully darn lucky.
    Reality seems perfectly fitting to me.

    That’s a mind-blower. :)

  4. Winds of Change says :

    Hi – I’m “windsofchange” over at Ship of Fools. This is a great post and very applicable to the situation I’m currently posting about over there. Just wanted to say “thanks” – you’re helping me a lot!

  5. unklee says :

    “I’m not sure I’d equate my friends and family with an invisible deity who refuses to do anything to make his existence plain….. Putting your trust in a mysterious, secretive type whose own propaganda makes Him look guilty of genocide seems to me to be towards the irrational end of the spectrum.”
    God has hardly remained secretive! You are only considering some types of evidence. God makes himself known through:

    * his creation
    * Jesus
    * miracles and answers to prayer
    * visions and new understandings

    If you think that is being secretive, then perhaps you ether haven’t looked at the evidence or you are unwilling to accept evidence that doesn’t hit you over the head. There are literally millions of examples you could check out.

    People have made clear explanations as to why the evidence is like it is, and not more externally obvious, and some of their explanations may be right. One explanation I think is fundamental is that God is active in the process of giving evidence, not passive and distant, and reveals himself to those who really want to know. The scientific model of detachment is good for some things, but there is also a time and place for getting our hands dirty. So, for example, atheists in the west argue against God’s existence from a [position (generally) of not wanting to know, whereas an increasing number of people in Muslim countries and elsewhere (such as China) ask God for a vision or a miracle and receive it!

    “But your last point is pretty much what prompted my post – if you trust and believe in someone, whatever the basis of that trust and however rational it is, you make excuses for their behaviour.”
    Only one problem – I don’t make excuses for God’s behaviour. I said right from the start that suffering makes it harder to believe in a good God, and I was troubled by it and couldn’t fully explain it – I will leave it to God to justify himself.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      No surprise that we disagree about the evidence for God. Sorry, but I was a very serious evangelical Christian for a number of years – I’m not just looking from the outside and saying I don’t get it, I formed my opinions as a result of my seeking and experience.

      I don’t think there’s much more I can usefully say about that just now, but I would like to explain further about my comment on making excuses – this is a God who’s portrayed in His own holy book committing genocide, and who’s apparently (according to standard doctrine) able to end suffering but doesn’t. To me, that’s enough to suggest that He should be feared and opposed, rather than worshipped, or at the very least doctrine needs to be altered to drop one of the “omnis”, which could be done easily enough. If you continue to believe that God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient, then you are making excuses for Him by definition. Even if something troubles you so much that it occupies your every waking moment, and your only reaction if you were to meet God would be to bellow “Why?” at Him, you have to believe that He has an explanation, because your understanding of God doesn’t allow for the possibility that He could be bad, or wrong, or in error.

    • rlwemm says :

      The problem with your “evidence” is that it is based on material and ways of knowing that are very unreliable: multi-level hearsay, urban mythology, personal experience, human testimony, un-evidenced attribution of meaning, speculation and wish-fulfillment.

      This “evidence” is not sufficiently reliable to be admissible in modern legal inquiries or, when it is, must be supported and confirmed by objective means. In scientific investigation the effects of this type of “knowing” is controlled for and excluded. These types of “knowing” have a long and sordid history of misrepresenting, distorting or completely contradicting testable and objectively confirmable reality.

      In other words, your arguments are based on such poor sources that they are not worth much.

    • rlwemm says :

      That is, unklee, the “evidence” that your present for the non-secretive nature of your particular version of the god of your particular faction of the Christian religion is based on very flimsy material.

      CREATION

      You assume that the world was, in fact, created. You further assume that it was created by a sentient being with a mind that is not brain-based, that has a personality that is very human-like and a spiritual “body” that is in the “image” of a human male. You assume that this “creator” was singular, not plural, and nothing like the gods and supernatural entities that exist in other religious mythologies. There is no reason, other than your personal preference, to exclude any other religious version of how the world came to be created, especially when you apply the same apologetic reasoning to them that is commonly used to excuse the literal interpretation of the Genesis story by all but a few Young Earth Creationists.

      JESUS

      The only evidence we have for the existence of the Jesus character is contained in canonical and non-canonical writings of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd century. The Jesus-god did not leave any written record of his preaching and teaching, not did he dictate these to any contemporaneous literate person. There is no external confirmation of this person’s existence by historians of the time. The only references appear to have been fraudulently added to the text of historical manuscripts or merely assert that people existed at the time who believed various things about about someone called Jesus or The Christ.

      There is no reliable method of determining whether anything written in any of the canonical versions of the Christian New Testament is a correct rendition of anything said by a character called Jesus of Nazareth, given that such a character really existed. The preserved text could be a composite of several of the common Messianic preachers operating at that time, filtered through the biased and culturally influenced interpretation of various scribes and story tellers.

      MIRACLES AND ANSWERS TO PRAYER

      Methodologically sound investigations of the efficacy of prayer (and there are plenty of unsound studies) have failed to find significant results that are (a) entirely in the positive direction and (b) have any but an almost insignificant effect. In other words, human beliefs that prayer has been answered suffers from cognitive flaws and fallacies, such as attribution mistakes.

      There have been no rigorously confirmed miracles since the inception of science. Today’s assertion of miracles are either identical with the statistical probability of coincidence or occur in places and countries where it is impossible to conduct an objective investigation.

      All ancient “evidence” of miracles is impossible to test and is therefore inadmissible as “fact” and entirely consistent with attribution and percpetual errors or of cultural and wish-fulfillment distortions.

      VISIONS AND NEW UNDERSTANDINGS

      During the last 30 years a great deal has been discovered about the brain mechanisms at work when humans have “visions” and transcendental experiences. There is no difference between the brain readings of those experiencing some version of the Christian god and those experiencing non-theistic Buddhist “oneness”. The unifying feature is that part of the brain used to differentiate “self” from “outside self” is turned off and not functioning. This provides an illusion of someone else being there in the room. This shadowy figure is provided with an identity that is consistent with the religious and cultural background of the perceiver.

      There is also a strong connection between sub-clinical and clinical manifestations of partial seizure activity in the temporal lobes of the brain these and transcendental and visionary experiences in subjects who have not been trained in the techniques of meditation and contemplative prayer.

      In other words, there is good neurological evidence that such experiences of the “divine” are an artifact of an abnormally functioning brain.

  6. unklee says :

    “I was a very serious evangelical Christian for a number of years – I’m not just looking from the outside and saying I don’t get it, I formed my opinions as a result of my seeking and experience.”
    I don’t doubt any of this, but I don’t see how it is relevant. Your initial comment which I disagreed with was: “I find it interesting how even the most thoughtful and carefully-argued apologetic eventually comes down to simple, blind faith.”, and the truth of the first (recent) statement doesn’t have any bearing on the truth, or otherwise, of the second (earlier) statement. I don’t doubt you are as rational as you can be, but why does that prevent me also being rational but coming to a different conclusion?

    “this is a God who’s portrayed in His own holy book”
    You are making a number of enormous assumptions here. You are assuming God wrote the Old Testament (he almost certainly didn’t – people wrote it, and some people think they were inspired, others think they weren’t). And you are ignoring the fact that the view of God expressed in the OT is not monolithic, but variable and changing, and that the NT changes the picture yet again. As I am a christian and not a Jew, it is the NT picture I believe.

    “If you continue to believe that God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient, then you are making excuses for Him by definition.”
    ” you have to believe that He has an explanation, because your understanding of God doesn’t allow for the possibility that He could be bad, or wrong, or in error.”
    Notice again how these two statements, which you seem to take as part of the same argument, are not the same at all. I can believe God has an explanation without having to make excuses for God, and that in fact is my position. I believe there is conflicting evidence about God, but the weight of evidence (for me) points to him being there and being good. But there are some facts which seem to conflict with that, and I don’t deny that or explain them away – I simply say the weight of evidence overwhelms these facts.

    Note too that your phrase “doesn’t allow for the possibility” is both right and wrong. Wrong because, in my assessment, I do allow for the possibility that God could be evil or non-existent, but right in the fact that once I decide the weight of evidence favours God-belief, then I have to conclude (logically) that there are some facts (of which evil is one) that I cannot explain.

    Take an example from science. In particle physics, there can be quantum effects that have sometimes been described as action at a distance – the behaviour of particles here seems to effect the behaviour of particles a long distance away, and sometimes earlier in time. Common sense tells me it can’t be true and it makes me think that quantum physics cannot be correct. But the physicists assure us the quantum physics is correct, so I have to conclude that this is so, even though I cannot explain the action at a distance. The weight of evidence overwhelms something I cannot understand or explain.

    I find that many atheists and agnostics, especially those who were once believers, apply very black and white criteria to religion, and use less subtlety than they would in other parts of life. I think that may be what is happening here. Note that I’m not here trying to convince you your agnosticism is wrong, only that your understanding of christianity is at best lacking subtlety, and at worst quite mistaken. Hope this helps.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      You don’t see how my previous faith’s relevant? You just told me that I’m being “unwilling” to consider apparently huge mountains of evidence for God’s existence. I think pointing out that I used to believe all this stuff is a pretty relevant and effective reply. I know all the arguments, I just don’t accept them. You may disagree, but that doesn’t give you the right to accuse me of ignoring evidence. It has no bearing on the “blind faith” thing, which I’d have thought was self-evident. As I said in the original post, we all have to start from trivial but unprovable axioms, me included.

      You also now think you have the right to tell me that my understanding of a religion I followed (have followed? once followed? Not sure) enthusiastically for many years is flawed, unsubtle and “at worst quite mistaken”. All this because I don’t share your opinion of it. And this in a post which you started by saying you can be rational and come to a different conclusion. I don’t feel that I want to dignify that with a response.

  7. unklee says :

    G’day RA,

    I seem to have irked you, and I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I thought we were having a pleasant discussion. Let’s look at your complaints against me …

    “You just told me that I’m being “unwilling” to consider apparently huge mountains of evidence for God’s existence.”
    You said God was being “secretive” and I mentioned a whole lot of different types of evidence and then said “If you think that is being secretive, then perhaps you ether haven’t looked at the evidence or you are unwilling to accept evidence that doesn’t hit you over the head.”

    You’ll notice that I used the word “perhaps” and I didn’t make a general statement, I was referring to one particular statement of yours. And look at it in context. You have made the very general and universal statement that “even the most thoughtful and carefully-argued apologetic eventually comes down to simple, blind faith.” (which therefore includes me) and I disagreed but wasn’t offended. But when I make a more guarded statement, you are offended. I’m truly sorry, but I don’t feel that is justified.

    “It has no bearing on the “blind faith” thing, which I’d have thought was self-evident.”
    But it has every bearing on your comment about blind faith. If you have not properly considered some evidence that I have considered, then whose conclusion is “blind”? (Of course we need to establish if that is the case, but that is what it seems like to me, and I am willing to discuss it to test that view.)

    “You also now think you have the right to tell me that my understanding of a religion I followed (have followed? once followed? Not sure) enthusiastically for many years is flawed, unsubtle and “at worst quite mistaken”. All this because I don’t share your opinion of it.”
    No, not because you don’t share my opinion of it (I have said several times I accept that we conclude differently), but because you seem to be taking one form of christianity (very different to my beliefs, I would say) and making generalisations to all christians. I did not intend to belittle you personally (I enjoy reading your posts) and I apologise if that is how it came out – I was just making an observation based on long experience that I find ex-believers tend to base their comments on either the worst forms of christianity, or the forms they are familiar with, and so often seem to ignore that there are many other christians with different approaches.

    So, can we make peace on this basis? Or would you prefer I stopped commenting? I have no wish to irk you further, but I do think there are some worthwhile things to discuss, and I have enjoyed discussing so far. Over to you.

    Best wishes, and thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      First, an apology. I have every intention of remaining detached, and being fair to all sides of the argument as I see it, but I hear a lot of “you just don’t understand” and similar – This post by an ex-Christian really spoke to me, and is a pretty good summary of how people react when you start doubting/disbelieving. I posted while angry, and should have taken a step back before hitting Reply. Sorry.

      I think we’re talking past each other a little, especially given the multiple quotes and restatements going on, but I still feel you haven’t understood what I’m saying about blind faith – we all, every single one of us, have to start with unprovable axioms, and I listed several of mine. I even said that isn’t a bad thing, it just is. Ironically, my first draft said many arguments come down to faith, but I ended up rewriting it so that I could acknowledge that everyone has the same problem. I thought that was fairer and more honest. Ah well.

      The point about versions of Christianity is an interesting one, and I think it needs a proper blog post to do justice to it. If it’s okay with you, I’ll work on that and we can pick up where we left off when that’s published.

      Fair enough?

    • rlwemm says :

      Unklee,
      Has it occurred to you that the presence of umpteen versions of the Christian religion (about 38,000 at last count) actually mitigate against the existence of a god with any sense of responsibility and concern for the worldly and other-worldly existence of his followers, or of a god that has much power and wisdom?

      If you are omniscience, why market your product so poorly? Why rely almost exclusively on ancient texts, the orginals of which have been lost and the copies full or errors, omissions and interpolations? Why rely on text at all? It is impossible to translate something from one language into another without introducing cultural and other biases. Why ensure that only the highly educated can read the material in the language in which is was (probably) first written? Why not just put ideas directly into people’s heads, from birth, so that everyone is equal and can therefore make a rational decision (from birth?) about matters that deeply affect their well-being? Why allow humans to be born who do not have the intellectual ability to choose to follow any religion but the one they are taught in their infancy, or of people who do not have the intellectual ability to follow any kind of religion at all?

      You end up with a god who is either stupid, unreasonable, irresponsible or non-existent. The special pleading that god is too mysterious to be understood by simple minded humans does not dilute these problems.

  8. unklee says :

    Thanks for your response. I have hit the “Reply” button too soon a few times myself. Yes, I’m happy to pick up new comments elsewhere, but a couple of brief points here.

    “I still feel you haven’t understood what I’m saying about blind faith – we all, every single one of us, have to start with unprovable axioms”
    Of course we have to have unproved axioms (a good point, and one which strongly science-based people particularly need to remember), but I don’t see how that is the same as “blind faith”. One axiom we all start with in practice is that our senses tell us about a real world. It is unproven and unprovable (we could be brains in a vat or in the Matrix) but it isn’t blind faith either. After all, we can test the world we experience and it seems to be real and consistent, etc.

    And when you go on to talk about matters beyond our unproved axioms (e.g. the problem of evil), then I think it is even less correct to say that I only have blind faith.

    “I hear a lot of “you just don’t understand” and similar”
    Yes, I can understand that christians don’t deal at all well with people who leave the faith, and often say silly things about them. I try to avoid that. But I wasn’t commenting on your beliefs or lack of them, just your understanding of christianity. If you said “some christians” or “most christians I know” then I cannot object, but when you make more general statements, I think you are doing to me what you feel some christians do to you.

    But I’m sorry if I didn’t get that right, and I’m glad we can keep going for a little while longer at least. Best wishes.

  9. unklee says :

    Thanks rlwemm for taking an interest in what I have written. You have made a lot of statements and I can only reply briefly, but I invite you, if you are interested, to pick one or two matters out to discuss a little more.

    “The problem with your “evidence” is that it is based on ….. multi-level hearsay, urban mythology, personal experience, human testimony, un-evidenced attribution of meaning, speculation and wish-fulfillment.”
    I’m not sure how you claim to “know” this about my views (surely not on multi-level hearsay, urban mythology, personal experience, human testimony, un-evidenced attribution of meaning, speculation and wish-fulfillment?), but in fact my views are based on the best and latest scientific discoveries, the findings of the most eminent historians, medical studies by qualified medical researchers with before and after documentation, and the logic of the best philosophers.

    “In other words, your arguments are based on such poor sources that they are not worth much.”
    Perhaps you would enlighten us all by refuting them one by one? I am happy to discuss.

    ” your particular version of the god of your particular faction of the Christian religion is based on very flimsy material”
    So which particular faction of the Christian religion do you “know” I am part of? What is your evidence for that conclusion about me? And what difference does the faction make? I would like to see your answers. And again, I invite you to take apart the “flimsy material” I offer.

    “You assume that the world was, in fact, created.”
    “There is no reason, other than your personal preference, to exclude any other religious version of how the world came to be created”
    “There is no external confirmation of this person’s existence by historians of the time.”
    “There is no reliable method of determining whether anything written in any of the canonical versions of the Christian New Testament is a correct rendition of anything said by a character called Jesus of Nazareth, given that such a character really existed. ”
    “There have been no rigorously confirmed miracles since the inception of science.”
    “there is good neurological evidence that such experiences of the “divine” are an artifact of an abnormally functioning brain”

    From my reading, each of these very broad statements is, as a matter of fact, either wrong or misleading. Would you like to pick one and justify your statement and I will justify mine?

    “Has it occurred to you that the presence of umpteen versions of the Christian religion (about 38,000 at last count) actually mitigate against the existence of a god with any sense of responsibility and concern for the worldly and other-worldly existence of his followers, or of a god that has much power and wisdom?”
    It has indeed occurred to me, but I cannot see any logical way to support the statement, so I haven’t considered it further. Perhaps you would like to present a logical argument that leads to that conclusion?

    “If you are omniscience, why market your product so poorly? ….. Why allow humans to be born who do not have the intellectual ability to choose to follow any religion but the one they are taught in their infancy, or of people who do not have the intellectual ability to follow any kind of religion at all?”
    These are all very good questions, and I would be happy to explore them with you. What they are not, as they stand, is a logical argument against the existence of God. There are many things I don’t understand, and which seem inexplicable, but which nevertheless are apparently true – quantum physics is an example – so my or your inability to understand doesn’t constitute a reason until put into a logical argument. Perhaps you’d like to do that?

    “You end up with a god who is either stupid, unreasonable, irresponsible or non-existent.”
    On the contrary, you might end up there, but I do not – I end up with strong reasons to believe that a good God exists and takes an interest in me. If you’d like to discuss that, step by step, let’s do it. Best wishes, and thanks for your comments.

    • rlwemm says :

      “So which particular faction of the Christian religion do you “know” I am part of?”

      It does not matter which particular time, culture and group-dependent flavour of Christianity you subscribe to. Nor do I care. The point is that it would be safe to say that your theological opinion is not universally accepted by all of Christendom and you do not accept all other factional opinions as equally “true”. It is certainly not universally accepted by equally pious members of other religions.

      “From my reading, each of these very broad statements is, as a matter of fact, either wrong or misleading.”
      The problem is not the specifics. It is, in fact, the broad underlying mechanism for determining truth that is at fault. This is reflected in the obvious fact that Christians cannot agree of what this “truth” is without some form of coercian, social control or irrational persuasion.

      The scientific method ensures that nothing becomes accepted fact until it passes rigorous independent peer review and becomes the general unforced consensus of the academic comunity that studies this particular area. Any hypothesis or theory that is only accepted by a faction of the community, especially if that faction has vested emotional interests in its outcome, is either rejected on the basis of almost certain bias and lack of objectivity or jugement is reserved until more tests can be done that persuade the majority of the scientific community. Where two or more equally persuasive hypotheses or theories exist they drive the cutting edge of scientific investigation until one theory predominates or they give rise to a new or composite theory that explains the evidence better. All sides are acknowledged and summarized before the commencement of each new test or investigation and all are discussed in the light of the results.

      Religious knowledge seeking protocols do not pass these tests. Religiously motivated inquiry never gets past the independent peer review stage and, in most cases, does not even start down that track. Speculations, opinons, hypotheses and theories are treated as “fact” even though their acceptance is clearly factionally dependent and almost uniformly fail to persuade outsiders who are reasonably well informed of the range of opinion and argument on the topic .

      “My views are based on the best and latest scientific discoveries, the findings of the most eminent historians, medical studies by qualified medical researchers with before and after documentation, and the logic of the best philosophers.”

      Although you claim to use science to support your claims I strongly suspect that what you really mean is that you marshal the opinions and research conclusions of scientists that appear to support your favored point of view, ignore those that do not and fail to take any notice of the general independent consensus of the academic community. This is isolated scientific opinion. It is not Science because it is not how the scientific method works.

      Any fool can find a scientist or a scientific study that appears to support a particular point of view or opinion. People who are sufficiently poor educated to mistake this for “science” are persuaded by all kinds of quack medicine, new age woo, marketing ploys and religious doctrines.

      For example, the “best and latest scientific discoveries” from archeology have led the academic community to the present consensus opinion that Moses never existed, a large group of Jews were never enslaved in Egypt, the Exodus never happened, the Jews never wandered around the Sinai Desert for 40 years, the Walls of Jericho had collapsed long before the time when the biblical Joshua was supposed to have destroyed them, King David had nothing like the kingdom attributed to him by the biblical record, there was no universal Flood at any time in the history of the world, there was no Judean town called Bethlehem at the time that Jesus of Nazareth was supposed to be born. You will, however, have no difficulty in locating archeologists who disagree with all of these consensus opionions, although you might have considerable difficulty locating one that is not also a staunch conservative Jew or Christian. In other words, the dissenting opinion is flawed by its strong factional nature which is a strong indication that it is almost certainly an artifact of cognitive bias rather than dispassionate intellectual integrity. That fails the peer review test.

      “Would you like to pick one and justify your statement and I will justify mine?”

      If you want to pursue just one element that you have mentioned then how about the claim that miracles occur?

      First clearly define what you mean by a “miracle”. What are your operational criteria for deciding that something is a miracle and something else is not? Does it cease to be a miracle if it has been or could be attributed to a supernatural cause other than your version of the Christian god? .

      You have mentioned that you can quote “medical studies by qualified medical researchers with before and after documentation”. Before you quote them, consider the following methodological questions designed to determine who sound and robust the studies are.

      Do these studies pass the independent peer review test or are the findings only accepted by medical researchers with pre-existing cognitive biases in the direction of the resulting conclusion? Did the studies avoid human bias by using a “double blind” protocol? Did the researchers use an appropriately matched control group? Could the results be accounted for by the well known placebo effect or the equally well known incidence of idiopathic spontaneous remission? What about the well-known tendency of doctors to make a variety of tentative diagnoses before arriving at one that conforms to tests and prognostic predictions? How about statistical Type 1 error? Is the effect large or so small that is almost lost in the usual statistical “background noise”? How do the results compare with the type and percentage of “miracles” that are claimed to occur as the result of the intervention of other saints, gods, spirits, aliens or supernatural elements? How do they compare with “miracles” that occur spontaneosly in secular medicine? Do any of the miracles involve blatant and indisputable changes such as replacement of a severed limb, removal of infected or toxic organs, cardiac bypass surgery, regrowth of destroyed cerebral cortex? Have the results been replicated by other researchers or is this an isoloted event.

      • unklee says :

        Hello again, rlwemm, thanks for your reply.

        “it would be safe to say that your theological opinion is not universally accepted by all of Christendom and you do not accept all other factional opinions as equally “true”. It is certainly not universally accepted by equally pious members of other religions.”
        What has my “theological opinion” to do with the question of the existence of God? I have different opinions from other believers and non-believers about all sorts of things, but they are irrelevant unless they affect the things we are talking about. So can you pick a “theological opinion” you think I may have and show me how it differs from other christians’, and how that makes any difference about our common belief in God?

        “the broad underlying mechanism for determining truth that is at fault”
        So, are you saying that the only way to knowledge and truth is through the scientific method, or are there other ways to some knowledge and truth? I’d like to see your before I answer your question – OK?

        “I strongly suspect that what you really mean is that you marshal the opinions and research conclusions of scientists that appear to support your favored point of view, ignore those that do not and fail to take any notice of the general independent consensus of the academic community. “
        This statement is interesting for two reasons:

        (1) You are wrong in your strong suspicion. I base my views on the consensus of the best scientists, historians, etc. Where possible, I seek out neutral experts rather than believers. Isn’t it interesting how wrong one can be in one’s pre-judgments?

        (2) You have just finished an impassioned explanation of the scientific method, and pointed out how religious belief doesn’t pass that test – and then you make yet another broad statement without any evidence, only prejudice. It seems to me that you have already answered my previous question – you expect me to use the scientific method but you don’t even ascertain the facts before you accuse?

        “For example, the “best and latest scientific discoveries” from archeology have led the academic community to the present consensus opinion that ……”
        I am not a Jew, so I have less interest in and less commitment to the Old Testament, so I am unable to comment on many of your examples. I am aware that many historians and archaeologists are sceptical about the historicity of many OT events – whether you have fairly stated them or not I am unsure, but I would be confident that there is a wide range of opinion on some matters. But none of that bothers me all that much.

        I am aware of the doubts about Bethlehem, but I have read much more on the NT, and I think your confident statement about “no Judean town” is an overstatement – the jury is still out on that one from my reading. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that sceptics were saying the same about Nazareth, but the strong consensus now is that they were wrong.

        But I find your statements here interesting too. In your earlier statements about Jesus you made claims that are quite contrary to the consensus of NT scholars. So are you again holding me to standards that you are not prepared to hold yourself to? It seems that way. I am happy to stick with my statement that ” I base my views on the consensus of the best historians”. The question is, are you willing to do the same?

        “how about the claim that miracles occur?”
        Certainly. But first, to address your comments on how such claims should be settled. (“Do these studies pass the independent peer review test ….. Have the results been replicated by other researchers or is this an isoloted event.” No of course they haven’t passed all those tests, for it is virtually impossible to apply those tests in this situation. But note that pretty much all history, much of evolutionary biology and much of cosmology cannot pass those tests either. So unless you are willing to jettison those disciplines, you have no a priori reason to reject the evidence I will give.

        I invite you to read Ten healing miracles which summarises the findings of an experienced medical researcher who obtained the case histories and documentation (before and after) of ten people who had apparently been healed miraculously. The material was discussed with the medical staff involved, and with specialists in the relevant fields. These were serious illnesses and in most cases not ones where spontaneous remissions occur, or certainly not in the time frame of these healings.

        These were not “in places and countries where it is impossible to conduct an objective investigation” (they were all in the US) and they were not “identical with the statistical probability of coincidence”. They were analysed with as much rigour as is possible in such cases, and many of the doctors involved could not explain what occurred. This is just one of several examples I could give.

        Finally, I would like to draw your attention to your initial comments where you made a number of broad claims. In my response, I asked you (I think 5 times) to turn some of those claims into logical arguments that demonstrated your point. I notice you didn’t respond to any of those invitations. I think it would be difficult to do this, but to test my suspicion, I invite you again to take up one of those invitations and give us a logical argument.

        Thanks for your interest in this matter, and best wishes.

    • rlwemm says :

      Unclee, you are off to a bad start.

      FIrst, you failed to provide an operational definition of a “miracle”. If we don’t agree on the definition of a miracle then we cannot have a sensible discussion about them.

      Second, your first piece of evidence was an anecdotal report of a collection of claimed faith healings based on the individual assessments of someone without appropriate medical expertise in the conditions being assessed. (Casdorph is a cardiologist with dabblings in dubious “alternative” medicine such as the chelation therapy. He is not an oncologist, neurologist or pain specialist.) Reports of this nature are about as far down the chain of reliable evidence as it is possible to go.

      If readers of this site are to take you seriously you will have to do a lot better than that.

      How about we start with the definition problem.

      Here is how other people have defined the term “miracle” – and some brief comments on the philosophical problems of some of them. (There are much more expansive commentaries on these difficulties which you can look up yourself, or I can bring up as they become relevant.)

      A miracle is

      An interruption of the order or course of nature (Sherlock)

      An event that exceeds the productive power of nature (St. Thomas Aquinas)

      A violation of the laws of nature. (David Hume)

      A non-repeatable counter-instance to a law of nature. (Richard Swinburne) (

      An event that is not explicable by natural causes alone.

      A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment. (Coterminous with coincidence and normal statistically expected occurrences of highly improbable events.)

      The laws of nature … describe the ways in which the world—including, of course, human beings—works when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself, when something distinct from the natural order as a whole intrudes into it. (Mackie 1982: 19–20)

      Some definitions are multi-layered, such as this one.

      An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature (coterminous with scientific or informational ignorance)

      AND is supernatural in origin (begs the question or whether the supernatural exists)

      OR is the result of intervention by a god (which one?) or a particular god (identical to the one believed to exist by the proposer)

      AND has a positive, rather than a negative, effect (which rules out equally inexplicable events that have poor outcomes.)

      Or this one:

      Summary definition: A miracle is an event that exceeds the productive power of nature (indistinguishable from ignorance), and a religiously significant miracle is a detectable miracle that has a supernatural cause (which is at best a definition by exclusion and at worst a tautology.)

      Take your pick, but be aware that they all have philosophical and operational problems when it comes to determining whether something is, or is not, an actual example of a miracle.

      Now a little more about your first piece of evidence that you presented in support of your case that miracles happen in the current era.

      Most (all?) of the examples appear to come from the faith healing practice of Kathryn Kuhlman. You fail to report that her practice was debunked by a more reputable study conducted by Dr. William A. Nolen. Nolen conducted a case study of 23 people who claimed to have been cured during her services. His long-term follow-ups concluded there were no cures in those cases. Furthermore, “one woman who was said to have been cured of spinal cancer threw away her brace and ran across the stage at Kuhlman’s command; her spine collapsed the next day, according to Nolen, and she died four months later.” Kuhlman herself died in 1976 following open-heart surgery.

      On the other hand, Casdorph did not such long term follow up. That is methodologically unsound in this type of research project and he is obviously working outside his area of legitimate expertise. That you should believe that his study is reputable does not say much that is positive about your ability to differentiate good evidence from poor evidence.

  10. Uncle Tree says :

    I’d like to thank you two for carrying on this conversation in public view. I’ve read similar debates at a wide variety of public sites, but there is something about this particular conversation that has, and is, drawing my attention. I believe that ‘something’ is Unklee’s experience in these matters.

    In regards to miracles, I have experienced two events in my life that I consider miraculous. These were isolated occurrences, and I was alone both times. Neither of these events ‘broke’ the known laws of physics, and in my opinion, it was the timing of these happenings which made the coincidences inexplicable.
    As a living entity who appears to have free will, I have every right to establish my beliefs on my own personal experiences. Just call it, my right to know.

    Carry on, please, and thank you! UT

    • unklee says :

      G’day Uncle,

      Thanks for your positive comments. Whether the discussion continues to be worthwhile remains to be seen!

      I agree with you about personal experiences of God. personal experience is the most immediate of evidence, but can be mistaken. But when the same experience occurs several times, and to different people, it is harder to gainsay.

      Best wishes.

  11. Lucas Brasher says :

    I find your post stunning. I came to the same conclusion maybe two days ago. Christians often try to seperate the origin of suffering from god by having the being known as Satan take this role. Forgetting the fact that with prior knowledge God created such a being for that purpose. From god comes all things, including this concept of suffering. I would feel very bad if god could stop it but decided not to. Since god is acknowledged to have such power, the question now is his moral standards. Seeing as almost everyone i ask would stop rape if they had the power and opprotunity indicates that man’s moral standards would not only originate from elsewhere but exceed gods aswell.

  12. unklee says :

    G’day rlwemm,

    It seems to be a recurring problem with these internet conversations that they move on from one point to the next like a butterfly without ever resolving any of them. Not wishing to fall into that trap, before I answer your comments on healing (where I think you fall into some of the same errors of unguarded statements), let us first resolve some of the earlier matters.

    1. Non-arguments.

    In your first batch of comments you made a number of assertions that I contested (because they were mostly about me, and I know me and I don’t think you do). I asked you five times to present those assertions in the form of a logical argument, and I repeated that request in my recent comment. You have so far declined.

    Can you please demonstrate that these were more than evidence-free assertions by taking at least one of the points and presenting it in the form of a logical argument that we can assess? Or should we assume that I am correct in my suspicion that this cannot readily be done?

    2. The scientific method.

    You made a long and impassioned support for the scientific method, which I support. But I then questioned you on two counts:

    (i) Whether you think the scientific method is the only way to know truth, or are there other ways.
    (ii) Whether your commitment to evidence and truth applied to your many evidence-free statements about me, or only to me?

    I think it is reasonable for you to answer these question please, before we proceed.

    3. Choice of experts.

    You accused me of cherry-picking the experts (both science and history) that I rely on, but you also made statements about the historical Jesus that are not supported by the vast majority and consensus of scholars. Again, I asked you whether you were committed to using the best unbiased scholars or was that only something you expected of me. Again, I think it reasonable to clarify this matter before we proceed.

    4. The relevance of theology to the existence of God

    You suggested that diverse theological opinions among christians was somehow evidence against God’s existence. I invited you to point out a theological opinion I hold that can support a logical argument to this effect, but, again, you haven’t done so.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Just to reiterate. It is easy to throw a whole lot of accusations and assertions out there, but much harder to support them with evidence and logical arguments. I don’t think you can do that with most of these matters, but I am willing to discuss them if you can. I think it is important that we establish these matters one way or another before we move on. If you decline to do so again, we can all draw our own conclusions, and I will move on to your latest post regardless, but I will regard all those comments of yours as shown to be unjustified.

    Re your definition of miracles, I am not much fussed. I cannot comment on every aspect of your posts, and I thought this one wasn’t very important – after all, we were discussing the matter quite strongly without having agreed on a definition, because we all know pretty much what we’re talking about. But since you ask for more clarification, I am happy with most of your definitions, but I will opt for something like this (taken from several online dictionaries): An event resulting from divine intervention in the natural course of events. Of course we can then argue whether there is any divine and therefore any miracles, but that doesn’t affect the definition.

    So let’s resolve the old issues and then we can get onto the matter of miracles. Thanks, and best wishes.

    • rlwemm says :

      First you complain that the canvas of conversation is too broad for you to cope with and ask me to contain the conversation to one topic. I comply and you respond by asking me to expand the canvas back to the beginning. This seems to be a perverse form of conversational derailing.

      If you fail to see the logic in what I have already written then that is your problem. I see no good reason to construct it all in some form of formal logical statements. If you want to show off your ability in this respect then by all means reduce some of my arguments to this format and then point out where you believe they are illogical. So far your attempts to rephrase what I have said has resulted in illogically reframing my carefully modulated statements into absolutes. Not impressive.

      My main thrust of my arguments was to point out that your standard of evidence and your methods of truth determination are pretty low. This is becoming clearer as we proceed.

      How you stop prevaricating, stick to what you requested of me and restrict your comments to one topic at a time. We can come back to the others later, if you are still here.

      Moving on to the topic at hand: The claim that real miracles happen in this day and age and that they are proof that your particular version of the Christian god exists.

      You have stated that your preferred definition of a miracle is “something that results from divine intervention in the natural course of events.” This is not a good operational definition.

      If fails to provide criteria for determining what is “the natural course of events” and what is “unnatural”. There is no way to distinguish between events that break the laws of physics or statistical probability and events that only appear that way due to the perceiver’s ignorance of how the world works.

      Then it begs the question by assuming that anything that is asserted to be “unnatural” is divinely caused. This leaves us no way to distinguish between events that could be caused by a divinity and those that could be caused by a statistically freak event, alien intervention, paranormal powers or trickery. It also fails to differentiate between the numerous divinities that humans believe exist.

      For any event you would need to show that it was 1, “unnatural” and could not be accounted for by any known physical, mental or statistical phenomena, no matter how rare 2. could not have been caused by anybody else’s version of the supernatural 3. could only have been caused by your version of the divine.

      This invites all kinds of logical errors as well as errors of human perception and attribution.

      If we restrict our conversation still further, to the existence of miraculous faith healing then we could do not better than to follow the criteria devised by James Randi for determining whether something qualifies as an unnatural event with a positive outcome.

      1. The disease must not be a self-limiting disease. (One that will naturally get better given sufficient time.)
      2. The recovery must be complete (not just partial or temporary)
      3. The recovery must take place in the absence of any medical treatment that might normally be expected to affect the disease (including any treatment that had been started but discontinued at the time of the event.)
      4. There must be adequate independent medical opinion that the disease was present directly before the application of whatever means were used to bring about the miracle.
      5. There must be adequate medical opinion that the disease was not present directly after the application of whatever means were used to bring about the miracle.

      The above criteria is a very basic control that seeks to eliminate natural or medical explanations that could account for the ‘miracle’ in question.There is no claim of miracle/faith-healing on record that has ever successfully met these criteria, which is why Randi and most in the scientific community doubt the validity and efficacy of miracle/faith-healing.

      When an alleged cure by faith healing occurs in a religious context it is usually called a miracle. Those who have investigated these claims have not found a single case that stands up to scrutiny and that can be explained only by appealing to a miracle (Mackay 1841; Rose 1968; Nolen 1974; Randi 1989; Nickell 1993; Hines 2003; Barrett 2003).

      No legitimate research paradigm that involves human behavior and biological reactions ever presents a uniformly perfect picture. Those using legitimate methods will report on every case, negative and positive.

      Investigators who claim that miracles actually occur report only those cases that support the claim they wish to make. They do not use methodologically sound research protocols or appropriate methods of analysis. They frequently work alone rather than in a team. They fail to use methods that adequately control for the inevitable effects of any personal bias.

      The article you pointed me to in your penultimate post was a very good case in point of shoddy biased research. The researcher was trying to prove a preconceived conclusion rather than trying to disprove it (which is the standard scientific method of truth discovery). He was working on his own. He was a medical expert in diseases not featured in the investigation and had little or no expertise in the disorders and diseases that he declared were “cured”. He did no long term follow up to see if the “miracle” continued or was reversed. He presented only positive case histories and failed to report any data that conflicted with the conclusion he wanted to make. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it probably is a quack scientist.

  13. unklee says :

    rlwemm

    I want to start by saying I hate how this has turned into such a bitchy conversation. I hate how I now have to respond to you as if you were an enemy when I would prefer we could relate as friends who disagree, but are willing to learn from each other. Recovering Agnostic and I seem able to do that, and I had hoped we could too. I have tried to be courteous and friendly, but this post will unfortunately have to be a little more direct than I would like to be.

    “First you complain that the canvas of conversation is too broad for you to cope with and ask me to contain the conversation to one topic. I comply and you respond by asking me to expand the canvas back to the beginning. This seems to be a perverse form of conversational derailing.”
    rlwemm, I have consistently asked you to justify your assertions and correct apparent inconsistencies. Your comment misrepresents that. This comment of yours is simply avoiding the truth.

    “If you fail to see the logic in what I have already written then that is your problem. I see no good reason to construct it all in some form of formal logical statements.”
    Whatever you say, the fact remains that you have not provided logic, reason or evidence for a whole bunch of assertions. I have pointed out inconsistencies in what you have said and you have been unable or unwilling to explain them. You extol the scientific method but are unwilling to comply to even basic standards of reason and consistency. Again, this comment of yours is avoiding you admitting your comments remain unjustified.

    I also note that you have not answered my question about ways of knowing truth, and thus not defined your criteria for judging the miracles we are discussing – yet you both make judgments based on this undefined criterion, and at the same time criticise me for not providing a definition, then criticise the definition when I do. This is outright inconsistency, a continuation of trying to hold me to a high standard while accepting a low standard for your self.

    “My main thrust of my arguments was to point out that your standard of evidence and your methods of truth determination are pretty low.”
    Except that it is I who accept the best secular historians and you who ignore them. I accept the best cosmologists but you accuse me of doing otherwise without any justification. And it seems that you refuse to answer my questions because they would make this even more clear than it is now.

    “You have stated that your preferred definition of a miracle is “something that results from divine intervention in the natural course of events.” This is not a good operational definition.”
    You’re welcome to propose your own definition, but I’m happy with mine, and am not impressed with your objections.

    “If fails to provide criteria for determining what is “the natural course of events” and what is “unnatural”.”
    This is simply not true. We know what naturally occurs and can be explained by science, and we know patients don’t generally if ever recover from the serious illnesses described spontaneously. Of course there isn’t absolute certainty, but there isn’t absolute certainty about anything very much in this world, eve in science.

    “Then it begs the question by assuming that anything that is asserted to be “unnatural” is divinely caused”
    It assumes nothing. It defines what we are looking for, and we can then decide whether what we are looking at has a natural explanation or not.

    ” the criteria devised by James Randi for determining whether something qualifies as an unnatural event with a positive outcome”
    I’m glad you mentioned this, because Casdorph’s investigation meets every one of these requirements. Each of the five. Read the book and you’ll see this is so.

    i>”There is no claim of miracle/faith-healing on record that has ever successfully met these criteria”
    As far as I can see, this book does.

    So, where does this leave us?

    The Casdorph investigation meets Randi’s requirements. It isn’t “proof”, but it is strong evidence. My lawyer friend says the “reasonable person” test is useful in law, and asks what would a reasonable person think in a certain circumstance. I suggest that 10 cases of serious disease not prone to spontaneous remission, all healed rapidly after prayer, all discussed with the specialists involved and reviewed by an independent specialist, are strong evidence that a reasonable person would conclude was good reason to think something quite amazing had occurred. There may be something here of great value, but you are missing it.

    If you don’t think so, then that is your privilege to do so, but I think you are wilfully turning your back on information that could teach you something you apparently don’t want to know. Your criticisms of the investigation are based on what you want to believe and not on the facts of the matter, which you misrepresent.

    Finally, let is consider why we are discussing this.

    You originally said: ““There have been no rigorously confirmed miracles since the inception of science.” I have not suggested that these miracles prove the existence of God, I simply asserted that your statement was not correct and I have supported this statement with some miracles that meet Randi’s tests. This is more supporting evidence than you have been willing to give for a whole bunch of assertions, as discussed above, and more than meets your criteria for evidence because you refuse to provide any, and you use very low implicit criteria for your own statements. But since you have been unwilling to be consistent and fair in the discussion so far, I don’t suppose you will accept this either.

    So I think I will leave it there. I was having a reasonable conversation with RA, and your involvement has led to more heat than I enjoy, and no light from your side because of your refusal to be consistent and justify your statements. I have fulfilled my side by answering your questions, but this seems like it’s a one way street.

    I suggest we leave it at that unsatisfactory point, unless you are willing to approach things differently. What do you say?

    • rlwemm says :

      Hi Eric. I am an escaped bunyip who grow up in the Ron Barassi region, then spilled all over the country before following the black swans to their breeding grounds in California. I speak ‘Merican with a strong Kangaroo flavor.

  14. rlwemm says :

    I apologize for expressing my irritation, unklee. I responded out of annoyance at what appeared to be a series of rhetorical tricks that were designed, either consciously or unconsciously, to direct attention away from the exposure of the short-comings in your own reasoning. Rather than deal with the problems that were being exposed you chose to attack by hurling a boat load of red herrings. They are pretty colored fish, but they stink :-)

    For example, you asked me to do one thing (choose one topic and ignore the rest), then demanded I do another (respond to all topics). Remember that your initial response was to reply to everything in one short post and say that there was too much to comment on. You are sending some very mixed messages, my friend.

    Then you insisted that my arguments were illogical and ineffectively evidenced, but you provided no specific concrete examples of this. It was impossible to know which aspects you objected to and how relevant they were to the overall discussion.

    As far as I am concerned, the underlying question of this debate is the extent to which theists, like yourself, draw their conclusions from evidence that is relatively irrelevant, unreliable or invalid in comparison to the evidence utilized by non-theists, like myself.

    = = = Claims of illogical and un-evidenced statements = = =

    I do not understand what it is that you want me to do in regards to providing “logical” statements and which part of the text you think requires them. You were very vague. Your comment came across as a whole lot of punches thrown at random with the imperative to “guess what I want and do it or I will leave”. Does that sound like mature behavior to you?

    I don’t accept that anything that I have said so far is illogical although I accept that much of it was not provided with the level of referencing that I would provide in an academic setting – where I am not restricted by matters of textual space and can expect my readers to share a certain level of professional knowledge and background.

    I am happy to admit error if it is pointed out to me. I have done this on many occasions. It is part of my academic training to do so. I am emotionally secure enough to deal with the reality of being imperfect.

    If you want to see blatant examples of my imperfect nature you only have to look at the mistakes that occur in my spelling and grammar these days. It is frustrating to me to see this evidence of an the increasing age-related deterioration of a section of my brain-motor pathways but I don’t try to pretend that it is not happening. I just try to catch and correct as much of it as I can. I am willing to concede that I might make similar mistakes in logic these days, but only if they are clearly pointed out.

    On the other hand, I am not happy to admit error where there is merely misunderstanding or relative ignorance on the part of my accuser. I am not an ideational patsy.

    I have become blunter about exposing this type of misinformed complaint as I have got older, possibly because I have become less tolerant dealing with the incessant examples of unwarranted arrogance and disrespect that I get from people who just “know” that they are one hundred percent right and I am one hundred percent wrong. Sigh. No human is that perfect, although there are times when they can be that wrong :-) I am reminded of one podcast host’s retort to people who display profound ignorance and woefully inadequate logic: “No. No. No. You are fractally wrong”. (Matt Dilahunty of The Athiest Experience.) I am rarely that blunt unless I am tired or unwell, even when the retort is soundly deserved. You are lucky! I will at least apologize for eating you alive :-) – and feel comfortable making jokes about it because that is rarely what happens unless my child is on the other end of it. The last time I did it my opponent and I ended the conversation by agreeing that we were both pig-headed and both liked each other none-the-less. It resulted in my son getting at least some of the concessions that he needed.

    As I have already said, I do not think it would be either useful or productive to reduce all my statements to a set of formal statements of logic. That is the kind of thing that I would do to reveal the illogical nature of someone else’s argument. As I also said, you are welcome to do that to me, if you wish. At least I will then know what I am supposed to respond to. As I also said, your previous attempts to do this have revealed flaws in your comprehension of what I said, but not in my logic. As I said, you tend to reduce relative statements to absolutes that entirely change the meaning of what was said.

    I agree that these comments about your process are not very diplomatic but I am treating you like I would treat any of my academic colleagues here, not someone of lesser maturational caliber. Part of the peer review process (of which this is an example) is to question the logic and methods used by your colleagues, even in cases where you would like to agree with their conclusions. This can be a somewhat bracing experience if you are not used to dealing with such challenge to your intellectual processes. If you are involved in the academic world I am very surprised that you have not learned how to respond appropriately. Perhaps I am expecting too much of you at this point in your intellectual career.

    If we take each topic one at at time, which is what you seemed to be suggesting, then I will back up the statements with material that you might understand, if you are prepared to spend sufficient time digesting it. It is not realistic, however, to provide you with a textbook sized treatise on methodological flaws, valid research protocols and the relative reliability of various types of evidence. Unless you are prepared to spend a LOT of time learning about all this you will have to accept that I have earned the right to claim special knowledge in this area. That is the essence of credentialed expertise. My disadvantage is that I have worked with this knowledge for so long that I forget its various sources.

    I expect to be able to attack your logic or your reasoning where that is warranted. I will not apologize for that. This is pretty standard practice for academic discussions. I expect you to address the problems I expose. I do not expect you to respond by changing the topic, attempting to deflect the focus of the conversation, threatening to leave or engaging in some form of petty attack.

    Now to some specifics.

    = = = Ways of knowing = = =

    I agree that your question about “ways of knowing” is relevant to the topic we have chosen to hone in on so I will answer it.

    I do not accept that there different ways of knowing something that are equally valid as far as objective truth finding is concerned. There are only methods that are placed somewhere along a scale of reliable-unreliable.

    Subjective “truth” is a different matter, but these are things that are only true for the person internally perceiving them and are not true, or equally true, in any external or objective sense. I love certain kinds of music, prefer some foods to others and feel strong affection and love for certain people. Your reality will be quite different. These perceptions are unique to the individual and are not transferable to others.

    The “different majesteria” argument muddies the differences. It claims that subjective experiences of the divine are also objective and can be reasonably translated as universal fact. It is logically inconsistent in that it rejects the notion that any other from of subjective experience is equally externalizable or universal. It does not want to validate personal revelations that run counter to the mores of the time – for example, the personally self-evident “truths” that dark skinned people are inferior human beings, regularly inflicting pain on children is necessary for their proper development, left handed people are evil and poor people are only poor because they are lazy.

    It seems to me that the different majesteria argument is a smoke screen that allows the theist to feel justified in using measures with a poor track record for reliability and validity and a history of justifying prejudice. The only people who buy this argument are those with a vested interest in maintaining that “personal revelation” has the same level of reliability and validity as objective, measurable and evidenced truths, a notion that runs counter to the well-supported knowledge gleaned from the behavioral and neurosciences.

    The sciences, especially the human sciences, have spent the last couple of centuries discovering the extent and nature of the inevitable biases and mechanistic failings of unfettered human perception, memory and cognition. It has acted on this information by devising ways to research topics without contaminating the results with these human failings, or at least minimizing their effects. Theology has ignored this information and continues to pretend that unsupported human perception, memory and cognition is near enough to perfect. Like you, it dismisses reliable methodologies with the strawman argument that science implies that all human perception is equally flawed in every conceivable situation, one hundred percent of the time and that there is nothing that can be done to counter the biases.

    = = = A primer on evidence-based versus faith-based ways of knowing = = =

    Evidence is something that is judged to be relevant to the question
    It be useful it must be reasonably valid and reliable, the more the better. The probable accuracy of the conclusions is heavily dependent on the strength of the validity and reliability of the data.

    Reliable data is evidence that you can trust. For data to be completely reliable doing the same experiment on conducting the same investigation should result in the same data and conlusion, regardless of who conducted the testing or investigation. No data related to biological entities is ever competely reliable.

    The more the test, experiment or investigation is repeated, the more reliable the result. Single tests conducted by the same experimenter or group are not very reliable. Multiple tests conducted by the same examiner or group are less reliable than the same number of tests conducted by independent groups. Multiple tests conducted by groups with identical biases and wishes for the data to support a particular conclusion are less reliable than mutliple tests conducted by groups with a variety of biases. Tests conducted with methodology that seeks to remove the effects of examiner bias (such as double blind studies) are considerably more reliable than those that do not use such rigorous protocols.

    Valid data is data that is both reliable and relevant. Both criteria must be met.

    Secondary evidence is data that is collected by someone else. You should always check to see that it meets the criteria for validity, reliability and relevance before accepting the author’s conclusions. This includes noting whether most or all of the authors, or the people they are investigating, have similar or identical initial biases and whether the protocols were designed to minimize or remove the effects of investigator and subject bias. It includes noting whether the investigator has relevant and sufficient expertise to properly assess and investigate the subject matter. It includes noting whether the investigator includes and objectively discusses all data from the investigation rather than only data that supports their conclusion. It includes noting whether the data and the conclusion is confirmed by other studies with similar or better research protocols or whether it is only supported by studies with equal or worse protocols.

    Evidence-based truths are facts that have been confirmed or supported by multiple independent sources in multiple ways by the use of methodology that seeks to eradicate the effects of impaired human perception, memory and cognition.

    Faith-based truths are claims that have not been, or cannot be, confirmed or supported in this way or are actually in opposition to evidence-based material. In terms of reliability and validity. faith relies heavily on relatively inferior ways of knowing. It even attempts to glorify these methods and claim that they are superior to their more reliable counterparts.

    = = = Objections to the claims of validity of the cited faith-healing study = = =

    This post is already too long. I will deal with this topic in a later post. Meanwhile, compare the data produced by this guy with the criteria for assessing the validity and reliability of second hand data. Remember that this guy failed to do any follow up of the long term outcomes for these people. Remember to factor in the fact that it is not confirmed by other studies with superior protocols. Remember that this guy has expertise in irrelevant medical areas and ask yourself whether his conclusions about the inexplicable nature of these “cures” is factually correct. (Hint: I detected at least one blatant error in his assessment. He is wrong about the lack of observed instances of apparently instant but godless spontaneous remission from cancer and there are now plausible medically based explanations for such events. )

    What should bother you, at this point, is that you were persuaded that the research done by this medical con-man is robust, reliable and valid. What prevented you from discovering this before this conversation? Why were you not aware that this man’s findings were inconsistent with the findings of more respectable studies? Why were you not aware that his findings had been challenged by any other legitimate researcher at all? What prevented you from properly researching this study and plugging in all of the available data before forming a conclusion? What do you think is wrong with your investigatory methods?

  15. rlwemm says :

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  16. rlwemm says :

    For Unclee:

    This is a pretty thorough critique of the evidence you provided in support of the existence of miracles wrought by someone’s version of the Christian god. It far exceeds the normal Comment length in this kind of forum. Never the less, I will try not to sigh if you assert that it also does not provide sufficient of the “right’ kind of evidence or the “correct” logical format. But perhaps I will be surprised; miracles might actually happen :-)

    = = = A critique of Casdorph’s study of faith healing “miracles”. = = =

    Casdorph’s evidence for faith healing miracles is based on uncontrolled unrepresentative case study material. This qualifies it for placement on bottom rung of most of the hierarchies of reliable evidence protocols published by the health profession. One chart adds an even lower rung that is labeled “Someone once told me…”. This is “hearsay” – a level of evidence that is so unreliable that it is not admissible testimony in most courts of law. In other words, Casdorph’s level of evidence is so low that it would barely be admissible in a court of law and would be given little, if any, credence by any discipline where the reliable determination of truth can literally be a matter of physical life or death.

    The study is conducted by one man rather than a complementary team of researchers. The researcher is not a recognized expert in the medical conditions that he assess for the study, a fact that could be easily overlooked by someone without medical expertise of their own. Casdorph’s medical expertise is in cardiology with a dabbling in a rather dubious approach to toxic metal contamination. Neither specialties are areas that provide him with the qualifications to claim diagnostic expertise in the medical conditions that he reviews for this study.

    Although Casdorph claims to have consulted the patients’ health care providers, we do not have complete access to the medical data or professional opinions of these professionals. Nor do we have direct knowledge of their opinion of the credibility Casdorph’s claim that their patients have experienced an event that is outside the normal range of responses for that particular disease or disorder. We only have Casdorph’s possibly censored opinion.

    Casdorph’s study is not representative of the whole population of candidates for faith healing He includes only those people who appear to have experienced a positive outcome following their session with the faith healer and deliberately excludes any dubious or obvious failures, including those who were seriously harmed or killed by the experience.

    He thus avoids the problem of explaining why only certain types of medical problems show any signs of being “healed” and why certain medical conditions are never included among the success stories. He avoids the problem of having to explain why his version of the divine shows a predilection for conditions that have known incidences of symptom reduction or cessation and a clear bias against those with gross outwardly obvious physical deformities (amputees, victims of third degree burns and those with significant spinal deformations, eye ball damage) . He avoids having to explain why there are no stories of people regrowing brain regions (following accidents of strokes or excision of cerebral tumors) or report that their severed spinal cord has regenerated. What morally sound reason could their be for helping a group of Believers with one group of illnesses while refusing the help those with a different set?

    There are no control groups. There is no attempt made to compare these people with those who appear to have undergone similar changes following exposure to a healer from a different Christian tradition or by a healer from an entirely different religion. In Asian and south-east Asian countries it is very common to hear of “healing testimonies” from Taoists, Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists. There is not good logical reason why these these medical equivalents should not be deemed to be equally miraculous and equally caused by the practice of these religions.

    There is no attempt to compare the incidence of apparent healing with the known incidence for spontaneous and temporary recovery in the general population of people who suffer from those particular conditions.

    There is no attempt made to control for variables that might influence or affect the outcome. There were no tests of gullibility, suggestibility, or tendency to conform to expressed norm. There were no personality tests, psychiatric screenings or measures of education, intellect, maturity or critical ability.

    Worst of all, there is no attempt to review these patients after a year or two to see whether there were objective and other supporting evidence that they continued to be symptom free. There is no evidence that Casdorph used any reasonably objective method of checking to see if the patient’s family, care givers and physicians were uniformly convinced that the patient no longer showed any sign of the “cured” problem. In fact, there is no indication that he even used unsound methods to interview these significant others.

    Casdorph fails to acknowledge and critically review the range of other research in the area. This is normally an essential first step towards applying for a research grant or for obtaining permission from hospital or university ethics committees to run the study.

    The study is inconsistent with at least one other, better controlled, study of people who claim to have been miraculously healed following a treatment by a faith healer. That study examined 23 people who claimed to have been cured by the same faith healer who is featured in Casdorph’s study. In stark contrast to Casdorph’s contentions, it concluded that there was no evidence that anything had happened that was not explainable or well known to medical science. It also detailed at least one case of serious harm caused by a so-called miraclous cure.

    The presence of another study that reaches the opposite conclusion significantly reduces the reliability rating of Casdorph’s study. It fails the repeatability test.

    THE OPPOSITE PHENOMENA: DEATH BY FAITH

    The study is not compared with the opposite phenomena: child abuse, torture and death by parents and other Believers who presumed that their version of the Christian god would do exactly what the biblical records promises to do to people who do as prescribed in its pages.

    An edition of the medical journal Pediatrics includes a study that documents 172 faith-related child deaths in the United States between 1975 and 1995. The authors say that 140 of the children died from conditions for which survival rates with medical care exceeded 90 percent. The deaths are attributed to 23 religious denominations in 34 states.

    Asser and Swan reported that over a twenty-year period 172 children died whose parents chose religious rituals over medical care for them. They concluded: “One hundred forty fatalities were from conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90%. Eighteen more had expected survival rates of >50%. All but 3 of the remainder would likely have had some benefit from clinical help.” Every year more children die because parents choose religious rituals over proper medical care for their children.

    ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS

    No cure is necessary. = = =

    Most cases of faith healing need no cure, since most patients will get better even if they receive no treatment at all (Hines 2003). Some serious ailments like cancer and multiple sclerosis abate for months or years for reasons we don’t entirely understand (Nickell 1993: 134), although there is some recent work that suggest that one of the mechanisms might be temporally increased body temperature. There is an “impressive variety of … ailments, ranging from back pains to hysterical blindness, [that] are known to be highly responsive to the power of suggestion.” The “main requisite for curative effects” is “the patient’s belief in the practitioner’s assurances.” And, having a positive attitude seems to enhance the body’s healing capacities (Nickell 1993: 134).

    Normal spontaneous remission = = =

    The incidence of spontaneous remission from cancer has been estimated to range from 1:60,000 to 1:100,000.

    In medical terminology, spontaneous remission of cancer refers to the unexplained and sudden disappearance of all signs and symptoms of cancer. This rare and mysterious phenomenon has been observed physicians for several centuries. Many anecdotal cases have been recorded in modern medical literature.

    A number of theories have been proposed to try and explain the obscure mechanisms responsible for spontaneous remission. The most popular theory postulates that the immune system causes spontaneous remission. Another theory suggests that hypothyroidism slows down the growth of cancerous cells. Other researchers think DNA modulation plays a key role in cancer remission. Another theory is that fever and/or a heightened immune system fighting off a toxin is responsible.

    Some claims of healing have involved the post hoc fallacy: the healing is credited to the faith healer when the only evidence provided is that the healing took place after the session with the healer.

    CONCLUSION

    In summary, the Casdorph study is a very shoddy piece of research. Its conclusions should not be given much credence without considerable support from better designed studies conducted by other researchers, preferably those without similar cognitive agendas or biases.

    In any case, even if the study was correct in assuming that extraordinary events had happened it is not a valid proof that the a god exists, especially the specific version of a god that the faith healer subscribes to.

    There is a difference between an extraordinary fact,—which is a proper matter for human testimony—and the belief in its being caused by Divine interposition, which is a matter of opinion, and consequently not susceptible to support from any kind of physical evidence.

  17. unklee says :

    rlwemm

    Thank you for your reply, your apology, and your more detailed explanations. I didn’t expect that – you may have been able to tell that in my last post I had given up on you and was only replying out of sense of obligation and wanting to explain why I felt the discussion was useless. I am happy to continue the discussion now, at least a little more. I will use this comment to explain further why I was, and am, so critical of your approach to me, and then a second comment to discuss the medical/miracles question.

    “Rather than deal with the problems that were being exposed you chose to attack by hurling a boat load of red herrings.”
    I do not see it this way at all. You entered the discussion and made a lot of assertions, many of which I knew to be factually in error (they concerned my own thinking, something I know very well and I cannot see how you could know at all). For example, you said at various stages:

    “In other words, your arguments are based on such poor sources that they are not worth much.”
    “I strongly suspect that what you really mean is that you marshal the opinions and research conclusions of scientists that appear to support your favored point of view, ignore those that do not and fail to take any notice of the general independent consensus of the academic community.”

    You had no right to make these statements. They are wrong, and even if correct, you could not know this. I had the choice of rebutting them in detail, or asking you to justify them (for I knew you couldn’t) – I chose the latter as being shorter and more convincing. But you refused to either support them or withdraw them. As an academic, you should check first and accuse later if justified.

    So let me clarify. In New Testament history, I read and base my conclusions on the most respected secular scholars – EP Sanders, Michael Grant, NT Wright, Bart Ehrman, JD Crossan, Richard Bauckham, Craig Evans, Geza Vermes, etc. In science, my main interest is cosmology, and there I base my conclusions on Martin Rees, Leonard Susskind, Roger Penrose, Paul Davies, Lee Smolin, etc – all among the most eminent names in the field – and Luke Barnes (a young theoretical physicist whose blog I read).

    “For example, you asked me to do one thing (choose one topic and ignore the rest), then demanded I do another (respond to all topics). Remember that your initial response was to reply to everything in one short post and say that there was too much to comment on. You are sending some very mixed messages, my friend.”
    I’m sorry if it seemed like mixed messages, for I felt I was consistent. I pointed out a number of problems with what you said (e.g. telling me what I thought, making statements I thought were factually false, applying inconsistent standards), each with several examples. For sake of brevity, I simply asked you to pick one example in each of the cases and defend your assertions. I can’t see how that’s a mixed message.

    “There is no external confirmation of this person’s existence by historians of the time.”
    “There is no reliable method of determining whether anything written in any of the canonical versions of the Christian New Testament is a correct rendition of anything said by a character called Jesus of Nazareth, given that such a character really existed.”

    I found this particularly questionable. You accused me (as I’ve noted above) of using biased sources, when in fact I don’t, then you made statements that you could only make if you in fact used biased sources. These sound like the statements of someone who is expecting the study of history to confirm to the standards of contemporary scientific study, and who either hasn’t read in the field, or has read biased writers.

    “I do not understand what it is that you want me to do in regards to providing “logical” statements and which part of the text you think requires them. You were very vague.”
    You made the statements, surely it is up to you to defend them? An example to illustrate:

    This post was discussing faith vs evidence, and you said: “Has it occurred to you that the presence of umpteen versions of the Christian religion (about 38,000 at last count) actually mitigate against the existence of a god…. ?”

    I cannot see any logic in that. How does one get logically from “There are many versions of christianity” to “God doesn’t exist”? It would requite a few other premises that would be highly contestible. Again, rather than waste time on rebuttal, I felt it simpler to ask you to provide an argument for us to consider first, reasonably confident that you couldn’t do so. And I wasn’t very vague – go back and check – I quoted the words of yours that I objected to.

    ” That is the kind of thing that I would do to reveal the illogical nature of someone else’s argument.”
    Exactly! that is why I asked you to do it for some of your comments, and perhaps why you were unwilling to do so.

    “I agree that these comments about your process are not very diplomatic but I am treating you like I would treat any of my academic colleagues here, not someone of lesser maturational caliber.”
    rlwemm, I appreciate the conciliatory tone of your latest comments, and I don’t want to be any less friendly, but honestly, a lot of what you say here is very poor self-justification. I have no problem with a lack of referencing – I have a problem with the lack of any evidence at all for the things I objected to and have outlined above. You are decidedly not treating me like an academic colleague, for you would not say such unfounded accusations in an academic context, but you would check your sources first. In this case, if you were treating me academically, you would have asked questions before you made accusations. Surely that is true??

    Finally, you made many comments about appropriate evidence and scientific knowledge, then refused to explain what you thought were ways of knowing, and used terribly inappropriate approaches yourself. I wasn’t prepared to accept such a blatant double standard without trying to address it.

    . . . . . . . . . . .

    I propose to leave these gripes there. I am sick of making them or explaining them over and over again. I normally avoid this type of thing, and I’m not willing to continue with it. You either understand me or you don’t. But hopefully you can see why I responded to your comments the way I did – not because they were strong or critical, but because they were unjustified and unsupported.

    In my next comments I will address your material on medical studies and miracles, though not at the length that you have done! : )

    Best wishes.

    • rlwemm says :

      Thanks. I understand what bothers you now. I will take a longer look at what I said in the light or your comments. Perhaps you are right. I may have been a little too hasty in my assessment of where you were coming from. I may have been less justified than I thought.

      I’ll get back to you when I’ve had time to digest it properly. This is just a knee-jerk first response. Truce?

      • unklee says :

        G’day Rosemary, my name is Eric (I really am an unkle E!).

        Yes, I think a truce is a good idea.Thank you for the suggestion. I hope my most recent comment doesn’t jeopardise that!

    • rlwemm says :

      BTW, my name is Rosemary.

  18. unklee says :

    Now to the matter of medical miracles. We need to start a bit further back, with the nature of knowledge. Do you agree/disagree with the following statements?

    1. There is very little in life that is certain. Logic, mathematics, some personal experience (“I feel pain”), that’s about it.

    2. Science isn’t certain, but (a) is always subject to change as new information is obtained, and (b) is generally only known statistically (e.g. to 95% confidence limits, etc).

    3. You have outlined the scientific method, with which I am familiar. Hypothesis, prediction, data, assessment, repeatability, verification, etc. But not all science can apply these methods. For example cosmology cannot observe or repeat the big bang, and has to base its conclusions on mathematical models and observations of the “leftovers” of the big bang.

    Evolutionary science is similarly limited in method. take this assessment by a professor of biochemistry (W. Ford Doolittle in Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation – my italics):

    “Questions about how the living world presently works can often be answered directly. We can confirm that gene X performs a certain function for organism Y by mutating that gene, or that organism Y plays a certain role in ecosystem Z by temporarily removing it from the scene. Questions about the past—whether in cosmology, geology, paleontology, archaeology, or human cultural and political history—are different. We cannot do experiments in the past, so any attempt to reconstruct it must be based on indirect and inferential methods.
    Evolutionary biologists who seek to reconstruct life’s history have three such inferential methods: (1) comparisons of the properties of living species; (2) study of relics, such as biological and chemical fossils, or apparently primitive features retained by modern cells; and (3) feasibility experiments. The comparative approach can in principle take us back to the last common ancestor of all currently living things, and the fossil record (biological and chemical) may go a bit further, to something close to the first cells. For the origin of earthly life itself, and perhaps even up through the appearance of the earliest true cells,
    we must rely on feasibility experiments. In these experiments, hypotheses about what might have happened in the past are shown to be plausible by demonstration that similar events can be made to happen today, in the lab.
    Certainty and completeness in reconstructing life’s ancient history will never be possible, nor indeed are they possible even in reconstructing the very recent history of a nation or society. But it would be foolish to deny that we already know a tremendous amount, or that what we do know provides a compelling story of how past became present. This knowledge enriches our understanding of the biology of all contemporary living things.”

    4. The method we use to know something and the precision/accuracy we need to know it should depend on the nature of the phenomenon, the information available, the urgency with which we need to come to a conclusion and our goals in knowing. (I could give examples of all these, but let’s first see if I need to).

    Applying this to medical miracles

    1. We need to start by assessing our goals. A common goal in medical studies is to determine whether a treatment is more successful than another one, but that isn’t our goal here. We are asking, could these results be evidence of divine intervention?

    2. So our method here must be appropriate to this goal. And this is where I believe you have unfortunately come unstuck. You have gone to great lengths to describe a research method required to assess whether a treatment method is more successful than another, but all this is irrelevant because we are researching a different question. This is why I wanted to discuss scientific epistemology before we discussed cases.

    3. For our question, it doesn’t matter if another treatment works better or not, it doesn’t matter if our method (divine healing) doesn’t work very often, because I am not suggesting it be used instead of normal medical treatments. Those are all factors that relate to comparison and evaluation of treatments, but not to the question we are considering. So we don’t need a lot of the statistical and scientific methodology that you mention, which are needed to answer these question. We simply have to answer two questions: (i) Did the remarkable cures actually occur? and (ii) is there a reasonable and probable natural explanation for them?

    4. Of course there is more than that to the argument, but first to settle these two questions.

    (i) It seems certain these cures did occur, and lasted for several years at least (the book was written several years later). The cases have been documented, names have been named, in some cases the people have appeared on TV, case notes and medical records are available, etc. The cases have been discussed with the doctors treating the patients and reviewed by specialists in the relevant fields.

    (ii) But could the cures be natural? As you mention, some cancers can go into remission spontaneously. But the author specifically says about some of the cases (not all) that natural healings do not occur as fast as here. And such a large number of a rare event, all after prayer, is a big coincidence.

    5. So, what to make of them? How can we possibly ascribe them to divine intervention? Well, as you have said, this can never be certain. But we have Ockham’s razor. In 10 cases, unusual healings took place. In all cases, it was after prayer for divine healing. Ten cases, each with the same event as part of their history. It makes a strong case for an association.

    6. But it doesn’t end there. Other similar studies have been done. The Catholic church has had a medical commission examine apparent healings at Lourdes. Most were rejected as having insufficient data, but in 68 cases there was sufficient evidence for them to make this claim (see Healings at Lourdes). NT scholar Craig Keener has written on NT miracles and apparently (I haven’t yet read it yet) included an assessment of some modern miracle claims. And there are many more.

    So, where do we get? Many unusual cures occur, many of them after prayer for divine healing. There is no doubt the cures occurred, and no doubt that it was after prayer. Many of them are of such a nature that natural healing seems most unlikely (though obviously not impossible). The cumulation of evidence makes natural healing almost impossible as a reasonable explanation. The connection to the divine is also strong and cumulative.

    I wouldn’t say this “proved” God existed. But I would say this was evidence that God may exist, perhaps that he probably exists. And that was all I ever claimed. But when added to the other evidence we haven’t discussed, it makes an overwhelming case to me.

    But what about you? You are obviously resistant to these ideas, and all your scientific experience gets in the way. You have applied your learning in an inappropriate way to the question of the type of study required (something I have found not uncommon in my experience working with scientists), and you may be unwilling to accept evidence less rigorous than what you are used to. But just as cosmologists and evolutionary scientists do indirect study (the leftovers from the big bang & feasibility studies on abiogenesis), so this matter requires a slightly more flexible approach.

    This is an opportunity for you to challenge your thinking and learn something new. There may be more evidence for God than you think? Are you willing to let go and give it a more serious look? I hope so.

    Best wishes.

  19. unklee says :

    “Hi Eric. I am an escaped bunyip who grow up in the Ron Barassi region, then spilled all over the country before following the black swans to their breeding grounds in California. I speak ‘Merican with a strong Kangaroo flavor.

    Hi Rosemary,

    Nothing is hidden on the internet, and I saw that you grew up in Melbourne. By now I guess you may have discovered I live in Sydney, but my dad grew up in Melbourne (Richmond) and my mum’s mum in Prahran. We visit Melbourne about once a year and stay in South Yarra. My daughter lives in the US (Houston).

    Since we’re onto introducing ourselves, I will say that I am also retired, I am qualified as a civil engineer but worked mostly in environmental data and management, mostly rivers and catchments. I also have a theology degree (just for fun!?) and I have been a questioning believer for almost 50 years. My main interests these days include contemporary music, British ancient history, NT history, philosophy, cosmology, web design, travel (though I don’t do much), social justice and apologetics. So now all is revealed. And you’ll perhaps see why I have an interest in scientific program design, because that used to be part of my job.

    Best wishes, Eric

    • rlwemm says :

      @unklee.

      Hi Eric.

      You are correct. My assessment of your abilities and intellectual background was a little premature.

      Having read your last comment it seems that you are much better educated than the average American Fundie. Thank goodness for the Aussie Education system.

      You are, likewise, much less arrogant. Thank goodness for that also.

      I can see that you have a reasonable grasp of many scientific concepts as well as some sophisticated philosophical and theological ones. And you even speak a good brand of ‘Roo. We should get along just fine. 

      Comments.

      It is scientifically legitimate to devise theories on the basis of mathematics and inference from known phenomena or surmised interactions. However, there is an important difference between these theories and the speculations of philosophers and theists: scientific theories are required to have predictive power. Scientific theories can be supported and substantiated if what they predict is found when looked for. They can also be supported if serendipitous discoveries are consistent with the mechanics of the theory. The Big Bang theory has been multiply supported by these means. The discovery of the deep space Background Radiation was a clincher. It is definitely =not= an unsupported theory, despite its inferential origins.

      Religious theories either do not have predictive power or what they do predict either cannot be, or fails to be established. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

      The evidence-based reliability hierarchies that have been published by most branches of the health related sciences are pretty much identical with the criteria used to measure the reliability and probable level of bias of =any= evidence that purports to demonstrate a fact. The distinction between scales used by the health sciences and those used in normal academic inquiry is barely relevant since the practice of faith healing is quite legitimately defined as a medical treatment protocol because it claims to heal illness and other conditions that impair health or human function. Therefore the proper investigation of faith healing is subject to the rules governing the meaningful assessment of any other kind of treatment protocol.

      Here are some examples of guidelines and criteria for assessing the relative value of different types of evidence that have been produced by authorities dealing with the investigation of medical treatments. The higher the number, the more the results are likely to be contaminated by human bias.

      = = =U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:= = =

      Level 1: Randomized controlled trials. This is considered to be the most reliable evidence of whether a treatment or procedure is effective.

      Level 2a: Good studies with a non-randomized control group or cohort. Prospective data or case notes, similar groups, correcting for possible confounding effects in the analysis.

      Level 2b:Poor studies with non-randomized control group or cohort. Data gathered after the event, poorly matched groups, no attempt to correct for confounding variables.

      Level 3: Studies with no control group. Case studies, anecdotes, testimonials. The least reliable of the protocols.

      = = = Department of Public Health Sciences, King’s College London = = = =

      Level 1: Evidence obtained from at least one properly designed random controlled trial.

      Level 2-1: Evidence obtained from well-designed controlled trials without randomization.

      Level 2-2: Evidence obtained from well-designed cohort or case-control analytic studies, preferably from more than one research center or research group.

      Level 2-3: Evidence obtained from multiple time-series with or without the intervention. Dramatic results in uncontrolled trials could also be regarded as this type of evidence.

      Level 3: Opinions of respected authorities, based on clinical experience, descriptive studies, or reports of expert committees.

      More examples of evidence reliability hierarchies adapted for the health professions can be found here: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/content_images/fig/2480060108002.png

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_based_medicine#Qualification_of_evidence

      http://phpartners.org/tutorial/04-ebph/2-keyConcepts/4.2.7.html

      There are heaps of non-medically orientated evidence heirarchies that have been designed to accommodate the particular academic or professional discipline that utilizes them. Uncontrolled case studies are at or near the bottom of every list.

      http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/guidelines/evidence_statement_form.pdf The updated Australian guidelines. Unsurprisingly, case studies of the kind conducted by your referent are listed as the least reliable and mostly likely to be biased form of evidence.

      This means that the evidence you provided for miracles performed by faith healers that profess some form of Christian belief really is quite flimsy. As I said before, the study you cited is poorly devised and has many methodological flaws. It may convince you but is unlikely to be taken very seriously by a reputable health science researcher. It fails to control for a whole heap of important variables. In any case, its findings have already been discounted by more sophisticated research.

      Although it may appear to you that Randi’s criteria have all been met, the study would have earned the man the lucrative Randi Foundation prize if it really had done that. It would probably have earned him a Nobel Prize as well. Any research that could prove something so startling would most definitely qualify.

      Since he has not been awarded either of these prestigious awards it is fairly safe to say that he has failed to convince either the skeptical or the scientific community, which is the same thing as saying that his research just does not cut it in the academic world.

      Sadly, he fulfills the criteria for a con man with a religious and economic agenda who preys (prays?) upon gullible Believers. Anyone who feels the need to provide a CV to bolster his prestige and promote his books should raise a skeptical red flag. People who get their work published in peer reviewed journals have no need to promote themselves like this. On the other hand, the sale of his book to the Desperately Faithful will certainly have made this man richer that the legitimate papers he had published in peer reviewed cardiology journals. It might also have made richer than the average Nobel Laureate. It’s a hard life being a religious science quack but I guess someone has to do it.

      As I think I have already mentioned, there is a huge gap between determining that an extraordinary medical event has no known natural cause and determining that it is a miracle which has a supernatural cause. It is an even bigger jump to assert that the supernatural cause is the intervention of the god or power that the particular faith healer proposes in at work. There is a lot more evidence that would need to be acquired before that explanation is anything more than remotely possible. It would also require that a lot of awkward questions are resolved in a manner that is far better than merely plausible.

      A good study of these phenomena would investigate the prior and post medical histories of a large randomly selected sample people selected from the clientele of a range of faith healers, both Protestant and Catholic, Christian and non-Christian. They would be compared to a matched control group (matched on variables most likely to affect illness outcome or at control group of people who had were at least randomly selected from a pool of people with similar disorders to the ones existing in the groups subjected to the experimental faith healing treatments. One or more groups would be assigned to a treatment protocol that involved being prayed for by devotees of a particular god or religious practice and another control group would be assigned to normal medical treatment or ongoing monitoring. This would effectively control for the variables most likely to contaminate the results of such a study.

      Statistics would be kept of the type of medical condition that seems to be affected by this experience, including those that are negatively affected. Statistical comparisons would be made of the rates of efficacy for the individual faith healers and the members of the two control groups. Statistical comparisons would also be made of the range and level of effect on the various types of medical conditions that seek help or exist in the control groups.

      This way you would end up with a statistical picture that could predict the likelihood of someone with a particular type of medical condition being positively or negatively affected by any of the investigated treatment conditions, including the treatment protocols supplied to those in the two control groups.

      In order to prove that faith healing of any sort is superior to ordinary medical treatment the rates of efficacy for the faith healers would have to be shown to be significantly higher. In order for a particular god to be responsible then the positive or negative change rate for practitioners espousing faith in this particular entity would be higher. The strength of the phenomena would indicate the capacity or degree of willingness of this particular supernatural agent to effect change of this nature. If there are no appreciable differences between faith groups, or if one or more practitioners stand out as more (or significantly less) effective then this would indicate the effect is due to personal characteristics of the practitioner rather than characteristics of the supernatural power they purport to be accessing.

      If some types of conditions are notably more or significantly less likely to be effected by faith healing experiences then we are probably not looking at miracles (which should not be restricted in this manner) but at a natural phenomena that has not been successfully detected or has yet to be discovered or properly explained. {There is already significant evidence that this is the case, since there are certain medical conditions that have never been reported to show any signs of cure under any circumstances while positive or negative change in others, while rare, is comparatively relatively common.)

      Double blind protocols would be applied wherever possible. Medical practitioners providing opinions would be ignorant about the treatment or disease status of the patient (which might be somewhat difficult to arrange in practice as medical history is usually an important part of the diagnostic process).

      Unconscious researcher bias could be minimized by ensuring that the investigatory team included people with a variety of prior beliefs (on non-beliefs) pertinent to the subject they are investigating.

      You would than have a piece or research that provided relatively reliable measures of efficacy, strength, specificity, effectiveness and dangers of outcomes from a range of faith treatments vis a vis conventional or non-treatments. The statistics would provide predictive power that could be used to confirm the findings in the light of data from consequent investigations.

      Should the results fail to support the notion that medical miracles are the result of intervention by a particular god through the conduit of specially selected members of their faithful followers there are a variety of weasel ways out. For example:

      Any apparently failing supernatural power could be defined, post hoc, as being resistant to any investigatory techniques (unless they are methodologically crude and appear to support its effects, of course), resistant to any investigations that are carried out in part or in whole by humans who do not worship or believe in the existence of the supernatural power, or simply not divinely inclined to perform sufficient miracles to show up within the limits of the examination. And then there is always the lame claim that the apologist’s favorite version of god wants or needs to reward faith rather than reason. Or the claim that the god is too mysterious to be detected or understood by mere humans who have not been indoctrinated into the finer points of the relevant faith or subjected to sufficient mind altering enlightenment to enable them to draw the correct conclusion from the data. Or some other semantically ingenious objection that will be devised by some theist with a desperate need to convince him or her self that what they wish to be true is a hard fact rather than a fiction.

      Do you think you would find yourself behaving in one of these ways if the study did not provide the support you thought it should? Try to be honest!

      It continues to be my experience that the “scientific” arguments proposed by apologists for various forms of theism all use evidence at or near the bottom of the hierarchy of reliable and unbiased material. So far you have simply confirmed the trend. Do you have anything more substantial to offer?

      • Recovering Agnostic says :

        Just a quick note. I don’t want to interrupt this interesting back-and-forth, especially if you’re finding it useful, but I’ve had to manually approve a couple of comments now, apparently because they were just so long. So if you could try to keep the length down a touch, it would keep the discussion going without having to wait for me to tick the box.

      • rlwemm says :

        It’s a complex subject which is not well suited for discussions in a Comments section. I am uncomfortable about that.

        There have been quite a few books and lengthy articles written about the topic over the past few centuries, and quite a few modern ones. If these arguements and accounts are to be seriously considered then there are multiple levels at which they need to be assessed. That takes space, and quite a bit of it.

        We have not really successfully passed the “definition of terms” stage yet.

        A work around might be to chop the postings up into small chunks and post them sequentially. What is the word limit before you get a “please confirm” flag?

  20. unklee says :

    Rosemary said: “You are correct. My assessment of your abilities and intellectual background was a little premature. Having read your last comment it seems that you are much better educated than the average American Fundie.”

    Thank you. I’m not sure how much of a compliment the comparison is, but I’ll accept it as such! : ) But of course, there are many educated and thoughtful christians.

    Before I respond to the stuff on miracles, I think there is a point here worth making. There are many different types of christians and many different types of Americans. Some people in each camp, and both camps, have narrow approaches to things, and some do not.

    Because the US is militarily powerful, has a huge cultural impacts via TV, film music, sport, Coca Cola, etc, and was once more influential financially, it is easy for Americans to look inwards and not outwards. It is a stereotype, but possibly often true, that Americans tend to be naive and unaware of the rest of the world, except when it impinges on them. And because the evangelical church is one of the most influential cultural units in the US, it can tend to have similar characteristics.

    It is therefore worth asking whether the problems you see are features of christianity, or Americans, or both?

    When people gather in dominant groups, they can easily develop their own in-group view of things, which they reinforce all the time. This can include demonising and misunderstanding & misrepresenting the outsiders. I’m sure christians do it, and they can come across as boorish and nasty. I would not want to join many christian churches for that reason. Although if you did get past the veneer, you might find that many/most christians are thoughtful, sensitive, nice people.

    Now here’s the stinger (and I hope our new-found friendship can survive it!).

    The same can happen in smaller groups – especially when minorities gather together under some feeling of siege, as some atheist friends tell me they can feel in the US. I said before that I looked you up via Google, and found some of the discussions you participated in on an atheist forum. Now I am a member of several atheist forums, and what I saw on your forum conformed to my experience elsewhere. People reinforce their prejudices and stereotypes, and so “demonise” their opponents – see for example the discussion under “OK this convinces me to become a Christian !”. (Please note, I am not saying this is an atheist thing, it is a human thing – christian forums can be just the same, one reason why I tend to avoid them.)

    So may I suggest that your view of christians has probably been somewhat unrealistic because of your interaction with other atheists who reinforced your prejudices. So I’m guessing that when you saw my comments here, you forgot your skills as a psychologist and reacted as an atheist who has been influenced by in-group reinforcement.

    I’m not being critical. I’ve been through something like the same process, it has been a helpful learning experience for me.

    So I just thought those reflections might strike a chord. Best wishes.

    • rlwemm says :

      Eric,

      I’ll accept most of that.

      America is a big country which means that there is a wider range of every type of human characteristic, and more of any one type than in less populated sections of the world. That means that statistically unusual groups are more salient here.
      OTOH, the general educational level of the average American is pretty bad. So is the national arrogance that goes with the ignorance. Both these things can lead to a lot of frustrating interactions.

      In spite of the general trends there is the usual wide range of personalities and educational levels. The same can be said about the members of various religious factions/groups here. I have good friends who are Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Buddhist and (weakly) Hindu. I have straight friends and gay friends. I have friends with a whole range of skin colors and racially derived features. They speak a variety of languages, some of which I can share. We will discuss our different perspectives at times, but mostly we just live and let live. What I do not tolerate well at this stage of my existence, are that section of the community that insists that I believe everything that it believes because they are right and I am wrong, they are superior and I am inferior and their big daddy will punch me in the face if I don’t. Not nice types. In my younger days I used to be a lot more tolerant of this type of rude behavior. The US has changed that. It is so much more blatant here.

      While the political, economic and social realities of the U.S. is highly conducive to breading extremist and unique religious groups which are then exported to other parts of the globe, I am well aware that such the craziness is not confined to either the U.S. or to the Christian religion. Mind you, the unique environment here (including the lucrative financial subsidies given to religious groups and leaders) does attract similar minded people like flies. New Zealand exported Ray Comfort and the anti-science Discovery Center attracted Ken Ham.

      Since I progressed up (through?) a variety of Christian belief types/denominations before deciding that there was not enough good evidence to believe any of the major doctrines, I had close dealings with a good range of Australian Christians – most really nice people, but some insidiously nasty ones.

      My clinical experience and my international residencies taught me that the range of people’s actions, personalities and moral behavior varies hugely and that most religious affiliations are orthogonal to this. While a person’s social and cultural circumstances have significant influence over how these traits develop or are expressed there is an even greater tendency for people with certain types of personalities to gravitate to religious and ideational groups that match their usual mode of functioning. When I was involved in the eucumenical movement it became obvious that there were was more similarity across denominations than between them on a liberal-conservative split.

      In my (limited) experience, the less intellectually sophisticated a religious (or ideational) group is, the more “warm fuzzies” there are – until you come face to face with the ugly side of rigid authoritarianism. All of the church groups with which I was involved had members with a whole range of personality types. Most were just normal people who were trying to live their lives by following the same socially accepted rules as everyone else. I am sure that has not changed.

      My movement away from religion had nothing to do with the types of people who believed the doctrines. It was an intellectual response to extreme cognitive dissonance: I could not honestly continue to behave as if the doctrines were true or made good logical sense.

      BTW, I am suffering from a virus that is sweeping the San Francisco area at the moment. It is giving me a mild sore throat (not a big problem) and making me sleep for most of every day (which is a problem) It rather cuts down on my time to keep internet conversations going. Expect s.ome delays.

      • unklee says :

        I think we are on the same wavelength here, even if coming from opposite ends. I’d like to talk more but I think as we are going more general, we should vacate this blog and let RA regain control. I suggest one of three courses:

        1. We move to email (contact me on unklee@gmail.com).
        2. I have a website with a discussion forum I have just finished setting up. We could “christen” it (or whatever non-religious word you would prefer!).
        3. I am a member of a thoughtful and friendly discussion forum with mostly christians but quite a few others, where you’d be welcome.

        Just let me know if you’d like to try any of them, but I think we should give this place a rest. Best wishes.

      • rlwemm says :

        Hi Eric.

        Yes, it would probably be a good idea to move our discussion elsewhere. I have a policy against email for things like this. I prefer open discussion.

        I don’t mind joining a forum. One you own would be useful because you could upload all the material that we have contributed so far. This will provide the necessary context.

        Meanwhile, I’d like to respond to your previous objections, once I can find where my email program has stored it. You seriously misunderstood what I had taken some pains to try to explain. I guess I didn’t do a very good job. I’ll see if I can do better.

        Cheers.

      • rlwemm says :

        Eric, you wrote:

        “I found 24 studies where they attempted to assess if prayer improved patient health, and there was a slight but inconclusive majority in favour of that hypothesis, though the largest study was negative.”

        If there are 24 studies of the efficacy of prayer and all but one of them conclude that it is highly efficacious it is not OK to conclude that prayer is actually efficacious without taking into account the relative reliability of the 24 studies based on their sample size and the rigor of their methodology. If the 23 positive studies are all based on small samples and poorly to moderately controlled for bias and the 1 negative study is based on a large sample and is very well controlled for bias then the sole negative study is more likely to represent the true state of things than the 23 less rigorous studies. In other words, it is a logical fallacy to assume that all research is equally valid and that the truth can be accurately determined by simply tallying the conclusions that support or fail to support the investigated hypothesis. The truth cannot be derived by such naively simplistic means. That is something that is not easily understood by the statistically unsophisticated person.

        Your analogy with the SETI program is a bad one. The protocol is a lot more statistically sophisticated and controlled than you assume. It has few real parallels with the search for atypical changes in heatlh following a particular religious intervention. The SETI project uses complex mathematical analogues to look for meaningful patterns in the general noise of the universe. So far it has found two. The first led to the discovery of quasars. The second was very brief and unable to be studied long enough to assess its cause. No scientist is suggesting that this as yet unexplained phenomena must have been caused by sentient beings or that it is evidence for the existence of a particular deity.

      • rlwemm says :

        A very short post with a couple of links to videos exposing the so-called “miracles” of faith healers.


        This one is an Australian news item featuring video of services run by a couple of American Charismatic healers, together with details of the tricks they use to defraud their audience.


        This is a video made by James Randi which provides more details about the tricks used by faith healers. At the end of the video Randi provides a convincing performance of his own where he appears to do psychic operations, with a little help from some animal blood and a couple of chicken gizzards. The ending is hilarious.

  21. unklee says :

    RA said: “Just a quick note. I don’t want to interrupt this interesting back-and-forth, especially if you’re finding it useful, but I’ve had to manually approve a couple of comments now, apparently because they were just so long. So if you could try to keep the length down a touch, it would keep the discussion going without having to wait for me to tick the box.”

    Yes, I had begun to wonder myself. Rosemary and I have turned your blog into a long correspondence, and made ourselves right at home. I think you have been very patient. I’ll see if we can work something out. Sorry if we have imposed.

    Rosemary, maybe we should move our discussion to another venue?? (I don’t want to stop it at this stage.) I can suggest some possibilities if you like, or maybe you’d like to?

  22. unklee says :

    Rosemary, here is my response to your recent comments on medical research. You say (my bold):

    “Here are some examples of guidelines and criteria for assessing the relative value of different types of evidence that have been produced by authorities dealing with the investigation of medical treatments.”

    I want to focus on this comment, because until we resolve this, nothing else is worth discussing on this matter.

    1. I have a general understanding of the medical protocols you are talking about. I have found as many studies of prayer as a treatment (see Intercessory prayer and healing) – I found 24 studies where they attempted to assess if prayer improved patient health, and there was a slight but inconclusive majority in favour of that hypothesis, though the largest study was negative.

    2. But these studies are NOT similar to the investigation I have referred to, and you do not seem to have considered that difference.

    The aims are different – your studies are comparing the effectiveness of different treatments, the Casdorph study was investigating the source of cures and whether they could be explained naturally.

    The events are different – your studies are looking at small incremental improvements (not really miracles), Casdorph is looking at major and unexpected (perhaps even inexplicable) changes.

    The methodology is different – the medical studies need to use statistics to demonstrate the significance of small changes over a variable population, and comparing these changes to the changes achieved by other treatments, or none at all. Casdorph doesn’t need to compare to anything because he’s not making comparisons, but looking for an explanation.

    Different goals, different mechanisms, different results, different experimental methodology. All your medical protocols are thus not relevant because they address a different type of situation.

    3. The Casdorph situation is more like a hunt for evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence by radio astronomers, who analyse cosmic radio signals for signs that they are artificial rather than natural (using some criteria). Unlike the medical studies, the astronomers don’t need to compare which result occurs most often – it wouldn’t matter if they received a million negative (i.e. natural) signals, if they receive one that is clearly not natural (e.g. because of the pattern), that is a positive result. They aren’t trying to prove that one signal is “better” than another, or one part of space “better” than another, they just want to see if the criteria indicate a non-natural source. So they don’t need statistics, just positive signals.

    4. In the same way, Casdorph doesn’t need all you are setting out, he just needs to identify “positive” results – i.e. ones that seem to be non-natural. Like the radio astronomers, his criteria will be somewhat arbitrary and arguable. But if he gets enough, the results start to become convincing.

    As I said at the start, there is really no point, I’m sorry, in quoting all your medical protocols, because this isn’t a medical treatment study, it is a possible source study that happens to be looking at medical evidence.

    That seems very clear to me. I suggest there are two ways for you to proceed if you wish to continue to contest Casdorph. (i) Convince me that medical treatment protocols should be used in a source of healing study, or (ii) accept that it is a different type of study and come up with appropriate goals and protocols for that.

    Is that OK? Thanks.

    • rlwemm says :

      Hi Eric.

      I concede that studying the effects of intercessory prayer conducted away from a patient is a little different from studying the effects of prayer and other rituals performed by faith healers in front of a patient. There are other factors at work in the face-to-face condition. .

      I will also concede that the methodologically sound studies of intercessory prayer were assessing differences in recovery patterns that could be much less spectacular than what might be called “miracles”. There is, however, no good reason to suppose that rare and spectacular healing events are any less likely to occur in this condition than the face-to-face faith healing condition = = if contact with a particular deity is the sole operative factor = =. Think about the implications of that.

      What I cannot concede is that the hierarchy of reliability of evidence is any different for non-medical investigations than it is for medical ones. It isn’t.

      All scientists use similar hierarchies to assess the likelihood that the effect found by a particular piece of research is not due to artifact or uncontrolled biases. You must have skipped over the text in my previous postings where I explained this. I thought I had made it reasonably clear. Apparently I hadn’t.

      The only reason why I quoted the hierarchies used specifically for determining the reliability of medical treatment effects is that they happen to be readily available on the internet. The recent push by health professions to differentiate between “evidence-based therapies” and therapies for which there is little good evidential support has resulted in the various health-based professions providing funding sources with guidelines for assessing the reliability of evidence in their particular specialty. These guidelines really aren’t any different from the guidelines used by all those who do empirical research in any field.

      The evidence reliability guidelines published by members of my profession are a neat synthesis of the four years of statistical and methodological training that I received as an essential part of my training in psychological research. They apply to ALL research that aims to discover or confirm a phenomena of some sort. While the specific way in which studies are conducted will vary according to the focus and practicalities of the subject, the methodological controls used to avoid of cancel inevitable biases are essentially the same. That is what the guidelines are all about.

      Just to ram home the point so that you really do understand it this time around: the use of “medical protocols” to study claims of medical miracles is entirely appropriate because these protocols are pretty much identical with the standard protocols used by all other branches of scientific and empirical inquiry. It makes no difference whether the Casdorph study is concerned with “medical treatments” or not. {I think it is naïve to claim that it is not looking at the results of medical “treatment”, but that is beside the point because it actually makes no difference to how the validity and reliability of the Casdorph study is determined.}

      = = = It does not matter whether you use “medical” or “standard empirical research” protocols, they are practically identical and the result is exactly the same. = = =

      No matter whether you use “medical” or “standard” evidence reliability scales, the Casdorph study does bady. It is poorly controlled and based on evidential material that is at the bottom of the heap in terms of its reliability as a measure of the true state of affairs. On a 5 point “standard empirical research” scale where 1 is “result is very likely to be true” and 5 is “result is quite possibly not true”, the Casdorph research protocol is at the “quite possibly not true” end of the scale.

      The Holy Grail of all empirical research is the double blind study that matches subjects on all controls known to be likely to bias the results and analyses the data with statistics that allow for sample size, the relative representativeness of the sample and other measures the predict the likelihood of artefactual error.

      The main reason why this high standard is difficult to achieve is that the nature of some research topics precludes it on practical or ethical grounds. This does not mean that research in an area cannot proceed but it does mean that the results from these less than perfect studies must be treated with caution, especially if there is considerable variation in results across several such studies. In situations where the results from poorly controlled studies contradict the results of well-controlled studies the conclusions reached from the results of the poorly controlled studies should be regarded as an probable artifact of poor methodology.

      The bottom line is that the Casdorph research protocol is poorly controlled for inevitable biases and therefore the truth of its conclusions are relatively suspect compared with better controlled studies. The results of the numerous better controlled studies of this topic (listed in a previous Comment) have far greater weight as they are much more likely to be accurate. The fact that they essentially contradict the findings of the Casdorph study should indicate to you that Casdorph got it wrong.

      You are incorrect in assuming that all Casdorph has to do to claim the occurrence of “miracles” is to document cases of rare medical improvement that seem to have occurred within minutes or weeks of the subject attending a faith healing meeting. All that such a poorly controlled study can say is that there is evidence of rare cures and remissions of a particular group of medical conditions. So what?

      Medical practitioners and researchers have been documenting cases of cures and remissions that are inexplicable in terms of current knowledge for a long time.

      The fact that some of them occur after exposure to a Faith Healer from the Charismatic Evangelical Fundamentalist branch of Christianity doesn’t tell you much. Absolutely nothing can be logically concluded about the origins or causes of these rare occurrences without comparative statistics of the rare cures and remissions that occur in representative samples of similarly ill people in other environments, including groups with no religious intervention at all. Many other groups claim to be able to induce “miraculous healing” in their followers and every hospital has records of rare cures and remissions that do not appear to be caused by either religion or known scientific principles.

      Without comparative group statistics (not just case studies of the outliers) there is no way of telling whether such apparent “miracles” are unique or more commonly occur after exposure to the particular Faith Healing session than they do in other scenarios. Without that comparison you cannot rationally define these relatively rare changes as “outside the bounds of normal physical laws” or reasonably attribute them to divine intervention of any kind. THE STUDY NEEDS CONTROL GROUPS IN ORDER TO MAKE ANY LEGITIMATE SENSE. It doesn’t even acknowledge that they are necessary. No wonder this guy couldn’t get his research published in peer reviewed journals of religious studies. Any Australian honors level student of the empirical sciences could point out the holes.

      You must supply better evidence of the existence of specifically Christian miracles before your case has merit.

    • rlwemm says :

      More for Eric:

      NON-THEIST EXPLANATIONS FOR RARE IMPROVEMENTS IN HEALTH

      Not only does the Casdorph study lack essential context, it fails to explain why the small number of abnormal changes in health and well-being .that appear to have happened subsequent to attending a Faith Healing ritual could not be explained on the basis of the many factors that medical and behavioral science have found can dramatically affect health and well-being.

      There is already proof that various psychological and emotional factors, life style changes, and unusual environmental conditions can cause cures and remissions of a certain class of illnesses and disabilities – the same class of illnesses and disabilities that appear to respond to faith healing practices. These Goldilocks conditions include Cancer, Infectious disease, Auto-immune disorders, Bone fractures, some types of Arthritis, some forms of Blindness and Deafness, some Skin Disorders, states of Chronic Pain and a host of other conditions that are caused by a stress impaired immune system or exacerbated by emotional and psychological stressors. It includes stress-related psychosomatic illnesses such as: Hypertension, Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, Ulcers, Migraine, Headaches, Cancer, Allergies, Asthma, Hay Fever, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Backache, Sinusitis, Arthritis, Constipation, Impotence, Infertility, Eczema, Psoriasis, High blood pressure, Muscle Pain, and Multiple Sclerosis. The group also includes conditions that are improved by raised body temperature, emotional catharsis, meditation and the imaginative power of the mind.

      Licensed Psychologists as well as “alternative health” practitioners have successfully harnessed these forces. Generally speaking, the less reliable or rare the cure, and the less the academic training of the practitioner, the greater the advertising noise that is made and the more incistant the claim that the result is “miraculous”.

      The remission or cure of conditions in the Goldilocks group have been reported by all kinds of practitioners of health and religion. These claims are most certainly not the exlusive domain of evangelical Christian groups. No religious group of any persuasion has ever been able to provide scientifically convincing proof that it has the exclusive ability to cure a particular class of illness or disability. This does not support the claims that most religions make to be exclusively or significantly more capable of effecting such improvements.

      The biggest fly in the ointment is that there is no reliable evidence whatever (and hearsay is not reliable evidence) that Faith Healing practitioners have ever cured, or significantly and persistently ameliorated, conditions that fall outside the Goldilocks group. If a divinity were involved that is both benificent and powerful enough to change any law of the universe then there should not be a class of illnesses that are demonstrably impervious to miraculous cure by this divinity (and every other proposed diety, for that matter).

      EXAMPLES OF FRAUD AND DELIBERATE DECEPTION

      People who have claimed to be able to cure conditions outside the Goldilocks range fail to pass rigorous testing of these claims. Some have been shown to be deliberately perpetrating a well-orchestrated fraud.

      It appears that a prominent female Kampala pastor bribed and blackmailed worshipers to fake health ailments as serious as HIV/Aids so that she could then claim to have healed them. The same pastor is being accused of using spies to learn secrets about members of her congregation and then using that information to extort funds. Several other Ugandan pastors have come under fire in recent months for dishonesty and improper use of funds.

      http://www.religionnewsblog.com/19602/uganda-pastor-i-helped-top-pastor-con-aids-patients

      Similar frauds by W. V. Grant and Peter Popoff were exposed by James Randi and his team of magicians and skeptics. Although they pretended to be getting their information from their version of the divine, in reality they had more earthly sources, courtesy of secular advances in technology. Any divinity involved apparently approves or turns a blind eye to the practice of defrauding the public and extracting money from the desperate and vulnerable in order that the Faithful Practitioners can support the lavish style of living to which they wish to remain accustomed.

      Amazingly, Peter Popoff, a conman from the Evangelical faction of Christianity, resurfaced several years after James Randi devastatingly exposed him and boldly recommenced preying on sick, desperate and ignorant people.

      A deity that allows someone like him to continue in this manner either does not exist or, alternatively, doesn’t care very much about humans, doesn’t have much power or is lazy and irresponsible. Why worship a deity with these dubious characteristics, even if it exists?

      These cases of outrageous fraud do not prove that all faith healers are similar frauds, but they certainly don’t provide much confidence that the average person has the cognitive or educational resources to tell the difference.

    • rlwemm says :

      Hi Eric. This is the last in the series of postings in response to your previous response to my response to your reponse …

      I am happy to leave it here or continue on to your forum. If we take it up on your forum I might feel compelled to re-post everything we have said to each other so far in order to provide necessary context. That is, If the bandwidth can cope with the volume the two of us have already generated. :-)

      0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

      FAITH HEALING IS LEGITIMATELY DEFINED AS AN INTENDED MEDICAL INTERVENTION.

      Since they claim to be intent on improving health and well-being, both face-to-face Faith Healing and remote intercessory prayer for the improvement of the sick person are both legitimately classed as medically-orientated “interventions”. They should be assessed as such.

      Their efficacy, including the best and worst outcomes, should be compared with the efficacy of other interventions in similar classes of disease. Since they claim to have significant effects on the physical world, they have no legitimate claim to special privilege in regards to investigative methodology or the acceptance of forms of evidence that are not particularly reliable.
      The most concerning thing about research like Casdorph’s is that it fails to provide an overview of the Faith Healing process that is supposed to be the cause of the so-called “miracles”. This is irresponsible and deviously deceptive. It would never pass an FDA (Food and Drug Administration) audit.

      Only acknowledging and investigating the extreme outliers of any event gives an extremely distorted picture of the importance of those extreme examples. It fails to set these outcomes in the context of the general and specific risks of the procedure under discussion. Without this information nobody can properly assess any claim that the intervention causes acceptable positive change. Or that it can reasonably be referred to as a “miracle”.

      Without any further information, the remote chance that (less than one percent) that a procedure will result in a spectacularly positive outcome sounds tempting, especially if you are desperate.

      The assessment of the procedure will change dramatically if that less than 1 percent chance or a positive outcome is offset by a 40 percent chance that something at least mildly negative will happen to you and a 10 percent chance that something seriously bad will happen to you. Do you really want to define the rare positive event as a god-induced miracle in circumstances like this?

      In mainstream medicine, procedures and treatments are legally banned if they provide spectacularly positive results for a small percentage of patients but result in serious negative consequences or death for an equal or larger proportion of patients. The peculiar judicial circumstances that exist in places like the USA, is that those who seek to practice medicine by substituting the practice of religion are not monitored to ensure that they provide an acceptable level of patient safely but are actually protected from prosecution when these standards are grossly offended.

      What people like Casdorph fail to make clear is that Faith Healing is not a benign or positive experience for everyone and carries a significant risk of serious injury and death. The experience of Faith Healing can be a killer. If there is a divinity at work here, then it is not a responsible one.

      As one reviewer concludes: “This stuff is NOT harmless entertainment. Some healers have the “healed” people throw their pill bottles up on the stage to “make the Devil mad.” This is potentially catastrophic; those people still need that medication. Someone with high blood pressure could suffer a stroke or worse if they stop their medication. It’s not funny. The people in the audience are mostly “true believers”, and they believe that they are seeing miracles. They are being deceived! Their trusting faith makes them vulnerable.” http://www.physics.smu.edu/pseudo/FaithHealing/

      Another reviewer is just as condemning.

      “Studies with flawed designs and weak, albeit statistically significant, findings are trumpeted as having provided scientific evidence of a mysterious benefit to healing prayer.

      “Such vague and subtle findings pale in the face of the solid evidence of the killing power of faith healing, much of which involved intercessory prayer, documented in the journal Pediatrics (1998;101(4):625-9). Rita Swan, PhD and Seth Asser, MD, examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995.
      Four out of every five sick children who died after their parents put their trust in faith healing would most likely had survived if they had received medical care. Eighty-one percent (140) of the deaths were caused by conditions that had a chance of survival exceeding 90% when treated medically. Eighteen more of the children died of conditions with better than a 50% survival rate with medical care. All but three children would have benefited in some way from medical care.”

      http://www.ncahf.org/nl/1998/3-4.html

      On an actuarial cost-benefit basis, the cost to the patient and their relatives of seeking these supposedly divine miracles is not worth the enormous risks to health and safety that are involved. No insurance company would fall for it. On the other hand, doing absolutely nothing appears to provides approximately the same low risk of spectacular benefit minus the risks of being involved in the practice of faith healing. If medical science is controlled by a god, then it is much more benign than any of the ones that are supposed to be operating during the practice of various forms of healing by faith.

      In summary, Eric, I think you need to rethink what you refer to as “evidence for miracles” and what kind of god this evidence appears to support. It is just not as simple as you seem to think. There is a missing sting in the tail of the evidence that you have completely overlooked.

      • rlwemm says :

        A small correction is required to make sense of that last section.

        It should read:

        “On the other hand, for people with medical conditions that have exhausted the ability of conventional medicine to effect positive change, then doing absolutely nothing appears to provides approximately the same low risk of spectacular benefit minus the risks of being involved in the practice of faith healing.”

        Obviously, the sensible course of action for people who have not yet availed themselves of the benefits of conventional medicine the choice is extremely clear: the practice of conventional medicine by licensed practitioners outranks the efforts of any of the gods that are involved in making faith healing work.

        Summary: Medical Science: 10.0000 versus “God”: 0.0001 Science wins by a landslide.

  23. unklee says :

    Rosemary, I have set up a discussion on medical evidence of healing miracles on my forum – you’ll find it at Healing miracles. I don’t propose to transfer all the discussion here over to there as I don’t think there are/will be many people reading it in either place.

    If anyone is following our discussion (RA, Uncle Tree?), please feel free to come across and join in.

    The forum is only recently established, it is only a small site, and the forum is just to provide an opportunity for people to feed back, so (1) don’t expect many other people to be there, and (2) there are still features I am still working out, so expect the occasional need to sort something out.

    Thanks.

  24. unklee says :

    Rosemary,

    Can I respectfully suggest you stop posting for a moment?

    1. We agreed to move off RA’s blog, so let’s continue our discussion from now elsewhere – on my forum if you still want to, or elsewhere if you have another suggestion. To start that process, please go to Healing miracles, register and make any further comment you wish there (I suggest a brief dot point summary of your last five posts) and the wait for me to reply.

    2. I have only glanced through the last five posts, but my first impression is that (1) I agree with most of what you say (not all!), but (2) it is quite irrelevant to what I am saying. I will try to go through a step-by-step process of clarifying the issues when I do my first reply over there. It would be a waste of your time to keep posting until I do that.

    Thanks.

  25. unklee says :

    Rosemary,

    As I said, we need to let RA have his blog back, so I won’t be commenting any more here. Please join me on my forum, or send me an email to continue. This comment will simply be an outline of the reply I will make elsewhere if you wish to continue.

    Your extensive comments made several points that I agree with, but they didn’t address the question.

    1. I agree that prayer alone is not generally an effective general treatment. When I get sick, I go to the doctor, just as you do. (I also pray.) All your voluminous material discussing how to assess prayer as a treatment misses the point and answers a different question.

    2. I agree that some faith healers are fakes.

    Miraculous healings are uncommon events, and proving they don’t happen very often is irrelevant. The question we are trying to answer is – when an uncommon healing occurs, what is the best explanation of it? What happened a hundred other times is irrelevant.

    Somehow, you seem unable to let go of your other paradigms and consider this question. If you wish to continue elsewhere and tell me where, I will attempt to help you see this different question and analyse it.

    Over to you.

    Eric

  26. Tom Mandile says :

    This author is giving a boastful play-by-pay of a boxing match with a six-year-old, convincing himself that he’s a world contender.
    He’s not.

  27. Rusty Yates says :

    If you assume god is a psychopath the bible suddenly becomes very clear and easy to understand. The fine tuning of translations, the apologetics and the twisted logic all become unnecessary and the bible makes sense.

    • xcbsmith says :

      I’m not sure why anyone would think that an omniscient and omnipotent being (or even one whose knowledge and power was so much greater than our own) wouldn’t seem like a psychopath to us.

  28. Omega says :

    Christians are in denial and their egocentric narcissism is not helping in any way.
    It’s kinda ironic that unklee the apologist uses an avatar based on an atheist / skeptic character from the anime series Meitantei Conan / Case Closed.

  29. xcbsmith says :

    I think think there are much simpler explanations. Killing in general (and genocide in particular) is a sin because it desecrates a divine gift: life. The gift giver (the divine being) didn’t receive the gift, so obviously they aren’t committing the same sin. In general there is an issue of respecting your peers and your superiors. Believers generally shouldn’t induce suffering in their peers, but even the most dedicated Buddhist monk induces untold suffering on microbes without concern.

    The notion of a divine serial abuser also requires an assumption about our own perceptions being close to omniscient. We don’t really know what an existence without divine “abuse” is like. I’m sure we’d all prefer not to have it, but we have no ability to even conceive of what that existence is like. There is even one argument that we have no idea what “divine abuse” looks like, and that this is an existence spared of it.

    One could argue that atheist have an abusive belief system. Empiricism’s inherent limitations are torturous. The deductive reasoning process is fraught with red herrings and horrible truths. Yet atheists never consider themselves as hanging their hats on an abusive relationship, because it’s just reality, not a choice.

    It’s hard to think in these terms when one has such a different foundation for morality and ethics, and I think that’s the heart of matter leading you down this road.

    • Black540Msport says :

      Um, no, no rational person would ever claim that atheists have an abusive belief system. Why is that? Because they DON’T HAVE A BELIEF SYSTEM. Thats the point of atheism, they don’t believe in anything. They don’t believe some magical cloud fairy controls everything while (strangely) not controlling it at the same time. They don’t believe that people are murdered and it must be some part of some grandiose plan and therefore it was “their time to go.” No, they step back and look at the ridiculous concepts that people believe in because they obviously are not ingtelligent enough to use logic and reason correctly and they free themselves from the chains of the organized lunacy many people call religion. Wake up people. Religion is nothing more than a bunch of third hand accounts of Iron Age people recounting myths to try to explain a world they clearly could not understand. The day I realized I am not some evil sinner that needs to CONSTANTLY beg for forgiveness was the best day of my life. That day was the day I realized that the rules of religion were designed to keep you coming back because otherwise how would you ever get to FINALLY BE HAPPY after this lifetime? This life is all that you have, why spend it feeling like you aren’t good enough, why spend it looking forward to rewards in the afterlife? Why not just be happy that you’re alive and why not, dare I say it, ENJOY your life?

      • xcbsmith says :

        Whether you accept it or not, being certain that anything that can’t be tested empirically doesn’t exist is a belief system. I wouldn’t call it a religion or a faith, and it certainly seems more reasonable than beliefs held by most religions, but there is a belief at the foundation.

        All the logic and reasoning in the world can’t get you very far without some a priori knowledge. An atheist without any beliefs doesn’t really know much at all.

  30. Chris says :

    I can’t speak for Christians present or past as a whole, but this is possible. When I was about four, I suddenly realized the remarkable pattern of how often I’d be doing something innocuous & have it somehow escalate into getting me in trouble. Also, at that age, my knowledge on the subject was pretty simplistic- I literally thought you had to be a saint to get into heaven and when you did bad things, the “counter” started over & if you died before you could be good longer than you’ve been bad, you’d go to hell. At these things, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t tell right from wrong for myself & gave up trying. I eventually grew out of that state of mind, but it must have subconsciously stuck with me because as a teen, my life went to shit so fast & so completely, the only thing I could think was that I was being punished for something I did at some point & if I tried to fight back, it’d get worse, so I should just lay down, accept it, and eventually it’d end & my life would get better again.

    I also noticed a few others who went to the same church grow up & have similar symptoms as I did. We are all Atheists now, if you were asking, and I now know what happened then, why it happened & am now on the track to a better & happier life.

  31. T. J. Luschen says :

    I read Lamentations 3 last night and posted something very similar to the title of your post to my Facebook status. Somehow I went to church for 40 years, but missed the entire Book of Lamentations – not really a feel-good page turner. But if you look at chapter three, the writer is outlining all the horrible things God is doing to him, but halfway through the chapter, says God is great and realizes it must be his fault God is doing these things – just seems exactly like battered person syndrome.

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  34. vincedeporter says :

    Nice article. I agree — the similarities of abused children and adults, and the infamous Stockholm Syndrome is definitely linked to the fear of Hell, the fear AND love of a jealous God. The parallel is striking and disturbing.

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