Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Religious Medicine: Faith-Based Quackery

I live in an insular world, surrounded by scientists, engineers and business people who are, for the most part, non-religious or outright atheists. And since my "day job" is part of the mainstream of modern pharmaceutical research, these same people are by-and-large all well educated in the virtues of modern medicine.

Every now and then, I leave this insular world and meet people from all walks of life, and I'm always startled at the ignorance and outright rejection of modern science. Scientists can be arrogant, dishonest (witness the recent fake scientific journals published by a major science publisher on behalf of paying drug companies), or just plain wrong (e.g. thalidomide). But most of the scientists I know are dedicated and hard working, and genuinely care about helping people, and the science they do is solid, well done, and results in bettering people's lives.

So when a woman I met recently asked me, "What do scientists know?", then went on to say things like schizophrenia is mostly bad nutrition and poor diet, I was appalled. She continued on about a book of herbal remedies that had been passed down to her from her mother and grandmother, some sort of ancient wisdom that science knew nothing about.

Not surprisingly, this same woman was raised in a churchgoing family – I don't remember if it was Lutheran or Catholic, but one of the two. These are religions that, on the one hand, claim that science is the road to knowledge, but on the other hand, that a magical sky-god impregnated a virgin who bore a son, but that son was actually the sky god, who then arranged to have himself tortured to death by being nailed to a cross, where he died, but then came back to life, except that the stories about all of this conflict and you can't even figure out who saw him and when and how long he was alive, and ...

In other words, this woman was taught to deliberately accept hocus-pocus, beliefs that can't be reconciled with reality, and illogic. She was taught this from an early age, and it was reinforced by a culture that ejects non-believers via excommunication and a horrifying promise of burning for all eternity in Hell.

Is it any wonder that this same woman was later able to reject logical, rational science in favor of her great-grandmother's voodoo medicine?

1 comment:

  1. There is actually a good deal of evidence linking gluten and schizophrenia, and a gluten/dairy free diet helps some people. I don't know if schizophrenia is *mostly* about diet, there are likely many different causes. Schizophrenics on average have higher IgA antigliadin antibodies than other people. Schizophrenia is statistically correlated with celiac disease (gluten intolerance).
    I went crazy when I was 19, then when I was in my 40's I found out I was gluten intolerant - after an elimination diet I got very sick from grains and I had very high IgA antigliadin antibodies. I had been slightly visionary, very anxious, and all that changed a lot when I quit gluten.
    So she wasn't spouting nonsense in that regard.


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