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TIME Magazine: How Faith Can Heal
Posted: 16 February 2009 09:16 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Under the banner headline: “The Biology of Belief,” TIME (February 23, 2009) Magazine writer, Jeffrey Kluger maintains:

“Science and religion argue all the time, but they increasingly agree on one thing: a little spirituality may be very good for your health.”

1.  Is this surprising coming from a gifted and recognized writer on science like Kluger?
2.  Is there are scientific proof for this assertion by Kluger that anyone knows about?

[ Edited: 16 February 2009 10:45 AM by Fat Man ]
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Posted: 16 February 2009 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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i’m in the middle of writing a lit review on the issues and concerns w/ extending the religion-health research to nontheistic minorities. 

so far the literature supporting the religion/spirituality-health connection is full of methodological gaps that imho seriously undermine the validity of the claim - esp. when it comes to differentiating the “affirmatively nonspiritual/secularist” from those whose beliefs are vague, uncommitted or transitional, or those who are experiencing a spiritual crisis as a result of some external trauma. 

a partial listing of relevant sources:

Hwang, K. (2008). Experiences of atheists with spinal cord injury: Results of an internet-based exploratory survey.  SCI Psychosocial Process.20, 4-17.

Hwang, K. (2008).  Atheists with disabilities: a neglected minority in religion and rehabilitation research.  Journal of Religion, Disability and Health, 12, 86-92.

Levin, J.S & Vanderpool, H..Y. (2007). Religion and health: is there an association, is it valid, and is it causal? Social Science and Medicine, 38 , 1475-82.

O’Connell, K. A. & Skevington, S. M. (2005). The relevance of spirituality, religion and personal beliefs to health-related quality of life: Themes from focus groups in Britain. British Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 379–398.

Savulescu J, Clarke S. (2007). Waiting for a miracle… miracles, miraclism, and discrimination. South Med J. , 100-12, 1259-62.

Sloan, R.P., & Bagiella, E. (2002). Claims about religious involvement and health outcomes. Annals of Behavioral Medicine , 24, 14-21.

Sloan, R.P. & Ramakrishnan, R. (2001). Religion and health. Health Psychology, 20 , 228.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That’s great!  I read somewhere, but can’t place the thought yet, that there is no reliable research on this issue and that most of it is tainted by beliefs, small samples, prior intentions, non-validated questions and so on.  I’ll keep looking - I think it might be worth working to get multiple, informed responses to TIME and requesting space for an article opposing the point-of-view expressed.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The approach skuld is pursuing will eventually provide us with definitive results. In the meantime, I’d like to offer a purely hot-air line of thinking on this. I shall tell it in the form of a story that gave me a flash of insight; I’m sure you all can generalize the underlying principles. I was watching a television show with my wife. One of the main characters was facing the likelihood that her brother would die of a very nasty medical condition. Now, the characters in this show are highly educated and utterly secular; there has never been a mention of religious belief at any prior time. But suddenly this character turns up in the chapel trying to figure out how to pray for her brother. She’s a good actor; the expression on her face inspired a realization. Faced with a disaster that made her feel utterly helpless, she felt like a child facing a calamity that she could not understand, and sought the support and guidance of a father-figure to cope with the calamity. “Daddy will make it better” seemed to be the expression on her face.

This line of thinking suggests that religion is an extension of childhood dependency into adulthood. And it even makes a testable prediction. Girls are raised to be more dependent upon their fathers, whereas boys are raised to outgrow their dependence upon their parents. Accordingly, we would expect religion to be more popular among women than men. As far as I know, this is in fact the case.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 01:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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anyone interested in exploring the “god as ‘universal daddy’” model should read sigmund freud.

The psychoanalysis of individual human beings, however, teaches us with quite special insistence that the god of each of them is formed in the likeness of his father, that his personal relation to God depends on his relation to his father in the flesh and oscillates and changes along with that relation, and that at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father.
—from Totem and Taboo, pt. 4, sct. 6

The rest of our enquiry is made easy because this God-Creator is openly called Father. Psycho-analysis concludes that he really is the father, clothed in the grandeur in which he once appeared to the small child.
—from “A Philosophy of Life” Lecture XXXV (1932)

my personal favorite freud quote of all:

The true believer is in a high degree protected against the danger of certain neurotic afflictions; by accepting the universal neurosis he is spared the task of forming a personal neurosis.
—The Future of an Illusion (1927), quoted from Encarta Book of Quotations (1999)

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Posted: 16 February 2009 02:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Regarding this subject, I like to refer to this particular podcast program for starters:

http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2007/05/18

As for just a start of my own thoughts:

The Placebo Effect, once categorized as merely fooling some people into believing they feel better by some power of suggestion, continues to amaze researchers by demonstrating real power to cure an increasing variety of medical conditions. This would appear to be a coaxing of resources otherwise held unused within the human body and/or mind.  Apparently, the real key is to “fool” someone into actually healing himself!

Nothing is better than a good arguement about religion, so what’s the (even remote) possibility that something akin to the placebo effect is also the underlying source of religious ferver (including “faith healing”) also inherent in humans to various degrees? Discussions might include the term “God gene”, another facter in this matter which has recently been recognized by scientific research.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_gene

Humans are strange animals. They can know that placebos have been proven to work in many cases, yet if they “know” the medicine that was given to them is “only” a placebo, the effect is gone. The strength is in the not knowing, it is the power of expectation that is at work.

Finally, even if god and/or faith healing is a placebo, (checks for clouds before leaving building) does that really matter so long as otherwise unexplainable positive effects manifest nevertheless? That said, should I initiate “Placeboism” as the next wave of science based religiosity to benefit (or plague) mankind? Could such possibly worsen the current level of confusion in things spiritual?

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

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Posted: 16 February 2009 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Interesting idea, gray1. We can also invert the thinking to represent the placebo effect in terms of faith in father. The smart authority figure gives me a pill and says it will help me. I take it and it helps me because father said it would help me.
This suggests an interesting variation on the placebo effect. What if we were to break down the studies by the gender of the doctor and the patient, and possibly even their age. A nice white-haired male administering the placebo to a young female should show the greatest effect, and a young female administering to an old male should have the least effect.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 04:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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My understanding about the placebo effect is that it is minor, and focused exclusively on endpoints that are related to psychological well-being; pain being the most crucial. Mark Crislip of Quackcast did one of his episodes (#5) focused on the placebo; the upshot is that placebos have no effect on any objective human endpoint—e.g., people who claim to have pain reduced by a placebo nonetheless end up taking the same amount of pain medication. It is likely that much of the placebo effect is psychological in character—that is, it is mediated by the patient’s wanting to please the doctor.

More on placebos from Quackwatch HERE.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 07:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Chris Crawford - 16 February 2009 10:51 AM

This line of thinking suggests that religion is an extension of childhood dependency into adulthood. And it even makes a testable prediction. Girls are raised to be more dependent upon their fathers, whereas boys are raised to outgrow their dependence upon their parents. Accordingly, we would expect religion to be more popular among women than men. As far as I know, this is in fact the case.

Hmm, I don’t know. I am sure women also outnumber men in, say, the belief in the existence of ghosts and angels. I think you’ll have to go deeper that that, Chris.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 07:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I am sure women also outnumber men in, say, the belief in the existence of ghosts and angels

Hmm, good point. Well, I’m just engaging in hot-air speculation.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 07:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I think the reason why more women than men are religious (and are more likely to believe in ghosts, angels, etc.) can be perhaps explained by the fact that more women than men suffer from schizophrenia; men are more likely to be autistic (they now suspect that autism and schizophrenia represent opposite ends of a spectrum). Maybe “religiosity” is just a mild form of schizophrenia. This would also explain why most scientists, usually men (many of scientists are slightly autistic), are non-believers.

[ Edited: 16 February 2009 07:47 PM by George ]
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Posted: 16 February 2009 09:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Maybe “religiosity” is just a mild form of schizophrenia.

Doesn’t that mean that atheism is a mild form of autism?  cheese

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Posted: 16 February 2009 09:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Yes, Doug has hit on a key point. The effect of beliefs on disease seems to always amount to small improvements in subjectively reported variables- pain, nausea, etc. Objective measures of outcome don’t seem to be affected by the various belief-relted factors that get lumped under the umbrella of “placebo.” So faith may make you feel a little better, but it doesn’t heal.

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Posted: 17 February 2009 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Chris Crawford - 16 February 2009 03:52 PM

, and a young female administering to an old male should have the least effect.

Being an “old male"myself, I suspect that a young female administering to me would have at least some positive effect.  cheese

As to the “father figure” thing, unfortunately there appears to be an ever increasing percentage of our population having no reference point in this respect or even worse, a negative one.  The same could be said for having a blind, childlike faith in any all-powerful father figure upon which to draw some inner strength.  To digress for a moment onto a macro scale, we (for better or worse) have also lost our sense of “Manifest Destiny”.

There are many documented and witnessed curative effects having been attributed to “faith” or the placebo effect, but can we also include hypnosis in this thread?:
http://www.hypnotistexaminers.org/facts.html

Again, hypnosis apparently seeks to find a “cure within” such as I proposed actually happens along the line of the faith/great expectations route.  All such practices currently enjoy a great following and (in my sole opinion) represent much capital industry with perhaps much less actual altruism.  The situation seemingly gets worse over time in trying to separate any actual wheat from all the “tares” (reportedly it takes angels to accomplish such, so there we go again!).

Collectively, any positive results from such mental squeezings remains a “miracle” until some brainiac can pin down the actual working mechanism(s) and explain it all - at which point anyone who actually understands it is apparently doomed to lose it!  Ironic, no?

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

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Posted: 17 February 2009 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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First,would anyone consider Tai Chi spiritualism?Or meditation?If these could be construed to be spiritualism,which in my opinion they are,then the connection MUST be made considering RomanCatholicism,Judaism,Mormons,Muslims and all the rest.
Tai-Chi or meditation are certainly lauded as healing,restoring methods of obtaining a good mind-body balance.Is there direct evidence which shows that a person who is relatively well-balanced,and less stressed more apt to have good health?
I think this topic came up earlier in a discussion about the history of the diagnosis and reasons for ulcers.Also,I believe stress is directly related to obesity,heart troubles and addictions(alcohol and cigs for example).
Skuld,in your final and favorite quote from Freud,certainly this also goes along way to understanding the benefits of spiritualism.
Of course the bridge that must connect it all is the relation to ones mental health and their physical health.I think most people agree that there is a relation.This would then show,that an old lady kneeling at a pew in some church,praying a couple of rosaries,in a quiet,peaceful setting,is having a positive impact on her health.
Oh yeah,yoga,that was the other one I was trying to think of.

[ Edited: 17 February 2009 11:53 AM by VYAZMA ]
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Posted: 17 February 2009 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I’d never say that anything which reports healthful benefits whether spiritual or otherwise should be totally disregarded as so much hokum.  I would say, however, that while an attitude of pure atheism might bear the risk of leaving this particular table relatively underfed, the abuse we see regarding same could be deened damnable.  As always, the cure or the poison is in the dosage - so choose your poison carefully.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lvU-DislkI

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

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