One last time: Our young earth creationist medical student is at it again

Oh, boy.

Last week, as part of my series Medicine and Evolution, I mentioned the blog of a homeschooled medical student who also happens to be a young earth creationist and used her as an example of why I feared that credulity towards a a pseudoscience that is so obviously wrong based on the empirical evidence, so easily debunked with so little effort is an indicator of credulity when it comes to other forms of pseudoscience, like quackery. I hadn't really planned on mentioning her again any time soon, or even ever, as I thought my point had been made.

Then a reader had to point out to me that she's at it again (discussion continued here). I don't want to spend a lot of time on this, because of the risk of beating it to death, but as a physician and a scientist, I found so much of what she said to be so wrong on so many levels that I had to address it one last (I hope) time. In actuality, I had found out about it a few days ago, but refrained from commenting until now so that my insolence would be...respectful. Well, mostly respectful, anyway.

At least Alice begins by admitting what I knew all along from her previous repetition of creationist canards:

Also, I am not a biologist; I have neither the interest nor the time to spend on detailed study of either evolutionary theory, or even better documented things like the anatomy and physiology of various species. I am mostly interested in human biology, and that only to the extent that it gets sick and I can help fix it. Many of you have spent far more time on this, and I cannot possibly equal your wealth of knowledge and examples.

So why does she then follow with a rather long post trying to do exactly that?

Alice also admits that her reasons for not "believing in" evolution are religious:

You are all quite correct that my reasons for believing in creation are not what you might call "scientific". I believe that God created the world, because he said he did. He said this in a book, in which he also explained that the book is perfect, truthful, and without error. I don't have any outside support for that statement; there was no one watching God do all this, who then told me about it. However, perhaps you will agree that if in fact there is an all-powerful, completely righteous God who created the universe, and then condescended to tell us about it, it would be unbelievably insulting to him to produce a lesser witness to uphold the truthfulness of God's statement. In other words, God is the final authority, and I do not apologize for taking his word for it. As for my literal interpretation of the Bible, I have the testimony of the Holy Spirit to my spirit of the truth, and I have the testimony of church tradition for two thousand years, which overwhelmingly tends towards what is now called a literal or fundamentalistic understanding of Scripture.

If she had just stopped there, I probably wouldn't have bothered to address her comments again. After all, she was simply stating that her religious beliefs made it such that no amount of scientific evidence would overrule them with regards to evolution or anything else. It's a rather scary attitude for a physician-to-be to have, and I have to wonder what other religious beliefs that she might hold that no amount of empirical evidence could dissuade her from--beliefs related to the practice of medicine, for instance. In any event, arguing against such a statement of faith alone would have been pointless, and I probably wouldn't have done it--that is, if Alice hadn't immediaely then proceeded to try to justify her creationist beliefs with dubious appeals to "science" again:

Tu and others ask, can't micro-evolution add up over time to macro-evolution? No, there is indeed a barrier: Entropy. There is no other area in this world in which order naturally increases over time. Information does not spontaneously generate new information. To use a very old analogy, a junkyard of metal parts will not over time turn itself into a jet, or even a little car, not even with the added energy and assistance of a tornado through the junkyard. A pile of bricks and metal and concrete will not turn into a building.

Yes, it's the old "evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics" canard tacked on to a misunderstanding of microevolution and macroevolution, with an unfounded assertion that entropy is somehow a "barrier" between the two forms of evolution. Heck, she even uses a variant of the much beloved creationist distortion likening evolution to a tornado in a junkyard producing a 747 and then proceeds to abuse information theory. Alice needs to get to TalkOrigins STAT. While there, I hope she reads these rebuttals to that old creationist abuse of the Second Law. Or she should pay attention to a commenter on your blog named Ian, who argues on a more common sense basis:

Yet, as a medical practitioner, I would expect you to know what the most very basic, absolute and only reliable definition of what life is: Life is the Fight Against Entropy. Organizing a system by definition requires expending energy (these truths are very well described in the laws of thermodynamics). The moment an organism stop spending energy to self-organize, its life is over as all its electrochemical gradients will dissipate, its cells will stop respiring, it will stop moving, etc. This is the fundamental basis for all metabolism: expending energy to overcome entropy.

In fact, there are a lot of good comments there, all wasted apparently. Also, Mike the Mad Biologist addresses her previous argument that the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria doesn't support evolutionary theory here and here.

Alice then goes on to abuse information theory, repeat her false assertion that most mutations result in the loss of information or are harmful. No, most mutations are neutral; some are harmful; and some are beneficial. Apparently Alice, in her study at medical school, has never heard of these examples such as mutations in the CCR5 gene that result in resistance to HIV infection or the Apolipoprotein AI(milano) mutant, carriers of which have a much decreased incidence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. In insects, beneficial mutations (beneficial for the insects, that is) can result in resistance to insecticides.

Didn't they teach Alice any of this stuff in medical school? Or did they mention it but fail to mention that it was a mutation that brought about this beneficial allele?

She finishes up with one of the most inane creationist straw man arguments that I've ever heard:

Next: several people have insisted that evolution is not "progress," but simply change in an unplanned direction. I must say, if you don't think that humans are an improvement on chimpanzees, salamanders, slugs, and hydrae, I am very sorry for you. If you don't think that Shakespeare's plays, and Jane Austen's novels, and Tchaikovsky's symphonies, are an improvement on frogs croaking and cows mooing, there isn't much more we can say to each other.

First, off, this is a bit disingenuous. If, as Alice clearly believes, macroevolution isn't happening, then creatures can't be evolving towards anything, much less towards what she views as the pinnacle of the natural world (humans), can they? So why would it matter, as far as evolution goes, if humans are an "improvement" over chimpanzees, salamanders, slugs, or any other creature? In any case, acceptance of the science supporting evolution does not mean that we don't think that Shakespeare's play's or Tchaikovsky's symphonies aren't great, and whether or not they represent an "improvement" over the sounds of frogs or cows is completely irrelevant to whether evolution has occurred. Similarly, whether humans are an "improvement" over chimpanzees or other organisms is a human value judgment, not an objective judgment. Such a judgment implicitly assumes that all evolution is leading towards humans when in fact evolution proceeds among all organisms in many directions depending upon the environments organisms occupy and what selective pressures are brought to bear on them. Besides, assuming that humans are the pinnacle of the animal world is clearly a religious belief inspired by the major Judeo-Christian religions, not a scientific one.

But here's where Alice makes the point of my previous post for me:

I am very puzzled by the suggestion that a belief in young-earth creationism (so no, no billions of years for all these accumulated mutations to occur) is inconsistent with reasonable medical practice. A randomised, double-blinded, controlled trial is a very nice piece of testing hypotheses and producing results that later investigators should be able to reproduce. (Wouldn't y'all approve of some skepticism towards pharmeceutical-run studies, though?) As Chris suggested, when someone can show me a randomised, double-blinded, controlled trial resulting in the evolution of new characteristics through completely chance means, I will be impressed. I think that evolutionists are sadly and seriously mistaken on a number of scientific subjects; but I don't doubt the discoveries they are making about the structure of genes, or the genetic causes of diseases, or even the possibility of gene-therapy. Let's give each other a little credit.

I'll give Alice props for sneaking a nice little bit of misdirection (no doubt unintentional) in there with her little crack about showing more skepticism towards pharmaceutical company-run drug trials, as if accepting the evidence for evolution that exists now is on par with insufficient skepticism towards big pharma. Nice one, Alice! You win the prize for a creationist nonsequitur that I hadn't heard before. (Of course, how does she know that we don't already show skepticism towards such trials?)

However, it is her suggestion that we need to do a randomized, double-blinded, controlled trial as a means of producing evidence for evolution is a brand new one on me, a creationist misunderstanding that could only have come from a medical student or physician. It tells me that she truly does not understand the scientific method, as she has proposed a methodology for testing evolution that is neither necessary nor appropriate. Randomized clinical trials are the gold standard for testing the efficacy of new drugs, but determining whether evolution is a valid theory requires different observational and experimental methodology. For example, in considering her suggestion, one has to ask, what, specifically, are we randomizing and how? How would we blind investigators to the experimental group? Why would we even have to? For example, evolutionary theory makes specific predictions that can be tested. For examples of such tests and the evidence that results from them, check out Evidences for Macroevolution for the techniques used to test the predictions of evolutionary theory independent of the mechanisms behind evolution. Indeed, in addition to evidence for common descent, the author lists evidence that, if ever found, either by experiment or observation, would cast common descent, and therefore evolution, into serious doubt.

Finally, there is a long discussion in the comments about morality, where we're treated to the usual creationist canard equating evolution and reason with immorality, this time by a commenter named Wes (you'll see why I couldn't resist mentioning this when you read it):

Christians don't deny the validity of reason. But for them reason is not the ultimate arbiter of truth. Reason cannot discover truth unaided. It's a tool to be used under a higher authority. What happens if reason is treated as the highest authority? Over on Respectful Insolence's blog, Orac has asked what would happen if a Christian doctor has qualms about giving abortions or vaccinations, etc. That too cuts both ways. If you have no absolute moral authority (and reason doesn't offer such), then what happens when a doctor whose highest guide is Science is asked by the Nazis to perform medical experiments of the most horrific kind on living beings? If there's no Most High God who has revealed right and wrong, then on what basis would an atheist doctor refuse to conduct such experiments? Critical thinking skills are indeed needed - but critical thinking skills don't teach their own right use, any more than a hammer teaches what should and what should not be pounded.

Uh, no, actually, Wes. Reason doesn't require the assumption of a higher authority, nor does it have to be used in the service of such an authority. Reason and science are neutral on that account. Indeed, whether such a higher authority exists is irrelevant to how reason should operate. As to the question about what basis an atheist physician or scientist could refuse to conduct experiments such as those done by the Nazi's, that's just a variation on the "evolution equals atheism" canard (along with a dash of the "belief in God is necessary for morality" canard). How about an ancient moral law that predates even Christianity, namely do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or don't do unto others as you would not have them do unto you? That would be enough, wouldn't it? Or are the desire to please God and the fear of going to hell absolutely necessary to keep people behaving morally?

Finally, I would point out that the Nazi reference a very poor example indeed. I could point out that the Nazi doctors (such as Josef Mengele) who performed these horrific experiments were Christians, at least nominally, but that's not the key point that demolishes the example. No, it was not primarily "reason" that drove the Nazis to do such horrific experiments. Rather the Nazis subscribed to a quasireligious belief system involving a German Volk that valued people that they considered "Aryan" above all others and viewed the people upon whom they were experimenting (mainly Jews, but also Poles, Russians, Slavs, etc.) as inferior, as not quite human. Moreover, this quasireligious belief postulated that, not only did the Volk deserve Lebensraum (living space) in the East, but that one of these groups (Jews) represented a "cancer" on the Volk that needed to be extirpated or an infection that needed to be eliminated. Given this view, it became a rather small matter to decide that it was acceptable to use Jews as experimental subjects, since in Nazi eyes, they were little more than animals anyway and mortal enemies of the Volk besides. It's no coincidence that much of the work in which they were used involved either (1) finding better ways to eliminate Jews from Europe (horrible experiments involving sterilization with X-rays, for example); (2) furthering the war effort (high altitude endurance experiments, experiments involving recovery from hypothermia after being submerged in cold water, experiments with infectious diseases plaguing German troops, etc.); or (3) crackpot racial "theories" that flowed from the Nazis' quasireligious belief in the superiority of the German Volk (Mengele's studies of twins, his attempts to turn brown eyes blue by injecting dyes into them, etc.). No, in the case of the Nazis, reason was not the highest authority and did not lead to the Holocaust. Their belief in the superiority of the Volk and their irrational hatred of Jews, accelerated by the good old-fashioned Christian anti-Semitism that pervaded Europe in the first decades of last century, did. Reason was merely yoked in service of the unholy political religion known as Nazi-ism.

I think that ought to do it. I don't mean to keep beating up on Alice, and this will probably be the last mention for quite a while (if not indefinitely). However, that last post of hers illustrated even better what I was talking about before (particularly her apparent confusion about just what randomized clinical trials are and aren't good for in science) when I pointed out that credulity about one pseudoscientific idea is almost always an indicator of difficulties understanding science in general. Right now Alice is safely sheltered in her medical school, where proper medical practice is spoon fed to her, as it is to all medical students. She is closely supervised and forced at least to learn enough to be able to pay lip service to science that she doesn't accept. In a few years, she'll be out on her own and no longer have the crutch (and supervision) of medical school, residency, or fellowship to support her. I hope that the compartmentalization that seemingly allows her to wall off her creationist beliefs and her misunderstanding of science from the practice of medicine holds, once there is no longer anything to buttress the wall.

I hope that it will, but fear that it won't.


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You know, I find this to be remarkably frightening. I have always just accepted that my doctors were rational, reasoning beings. Now I find I must re-evaluate my preconceptions. I may have to actually start interviewing any medical practitioner I consult to find out if they're a complete whack-job before I let them touch me.

If I found out that one of the doctors I go to held opinions similar to Alice, I would terminate that relationship with extreme prejudice. I need to feel confident that my doctors have at least a rudimentary understanding of how the world works.

You, Alice, or I may prefer listening to Tchaikovsky (or Joe Strummer) or reading Shakespeare, but a female frog would rather hear a male with a kick ass mating call. Just like the mating call means very little to us (unless you study such things), symphonies, poetry, and literature mean little to the frog. It's all a matter of perspective. The the frog, he is the most evolved creature on earth.

Alice needs to read St. Augustine as well as some evolutionary theory. I am a Catholic and a scientist, and I'm not sure which is more ignorant, her science or her theology.

It seems I might not end up being bored since Fore Sam's temporarily out of the way. Alice is just like him, and I just know she's going to start commenting away, performing the exact same fallacies.

I surmise Alice is a fundamentalist from your description.

Interesting paradox, that she takes a book translated under partisan conditions from text based on copies of copies of copies that no longer exist, the final compilation of which was decided centuries after the Crucifixion by the winning side of an ecclesiastical war that involved a myriad of denominations, as "true and without error" yet demands psuedo-scientific proofs regarding evolution theory.

If the King James or whatever version she is referring to is not the religious equivalent of a Pharmaceutical Company sponsored trial, I don't know what is. I quake to think of what she might use as evidence in determining what appropriate evidence-based medicine she should practice.

What competent medical school would graduate such a person with flawed reasoning?

Have you heard the frogs recently? They are having a ball in my neighbourhood at the moment. It as lovely as hearing Beethoven as it means spring is here! Nature makes beautiful music.

I just read that entry you linked to...YIPES!!!

On the other hand, she did bring up one point (in a very sideways manner) that I somewhat sympathize with. The fastest way to get me to leave a particular doctor's care is if (s)he pretends certainty in areas of uncertainty. Fortunately, my educational background gives me enough knowledge to know when a doctor speaks of that which he knows, and when it's BS (and more importantly, what are the right questions to ask to find out). Unfortunately, I've had enough doctors who think it is more important that a patient THINK he is correct than it is to be correct. Fortunately, I have also had doctors that are willing to admit uncertainty. Those are the ones I stay with.

As an atheist pediatrician, I frequently perform Nazi like experiments on young children because I don't know no better. Unfortunately I am having a little radon problem fixed today so my chamber of horrors....I mean basement is off limits.

Reading that poor confused woman's blog has ruined my day off. Thanks ORAC.

Up here, we have a local name for the little peeper frogs which is the best name ever (and I swear it's not just because I grew up hearing it)...

We call them "pinkletinks"

heh. I don't know if they're "better" than Mozart (what does that mean in the mind of a fundie?) but they're pretty great.

Back to your original point: I hope that you saw "House" last night (on FOX, of all places). A 15 year old faith healer shows up in the hospital. At one point he touches a patient who has been dignosed with terminal (Liver?) cancer. The cancer shrinks. House spends 45 minutes trying to figure it out, all the while arguing with everyone else that there has to be a rational explanation. At the end, he figures it out (amazing, considering that this show is on FOX).
I don't know whether this show is in reruns or whether you will ever be able to see it, but there is a synopsis at
The explanation is that the boy has Herpes and that that particular version attacks cancer cells - when he touched her he passed the virus to her. So, the questions are 1) Is that valid? and 2) If it is, why isn't that knowledge being used as a tool in combatting cancer?

Man. As a physicist i've been sitting here thinking about 'Rrandomised, double-blinded, controlled trial' in physics experiments... There are almost none. So i guess from her point of view the atomic theory would be out. I've taken 'pictures' (STM) of indivitual atoms, but the experiment was not double blinded. I've watched individual electrons impact a phosphorescent screen, but again not double blinded. Seen electrons tunnel, felt the pull of a persistent magnetic field in a superconducting magnet... But from her point of view none of these have ever been shown to be correct. Hell, if randomised, double-blinded, controlled trials were necessary then the transistor was just blind luck.

Or maybe she's got it all wrong. maybe the only way to test a scientific hypothesis is the way that high energy physicists do it. Slam things into each other to probe their structure and interactions. I'm sure we could have eventually figured out the internal structure of a cat this way, but i think it would have been rather messy... And those bleeding heart PETA types would probably have objected.

As you say, "credulity about one pseudoscientific idea is almost always an indicator of difficulties understanding science in general." And perhaps the most dangerous result of misunderstanding the scientific method may lie in a tendency to regard the scientific community as ripe for Conspiracy.

In order to think that the vast majority of scientists are THAT WRONG on evolution, you have to reject the belief that a competative field of cross-checking experts working over a hundred years are going to be fairly reliable. Instead, the very fact that there is a consensus is suspect. The scientific community must really be composed of dupes, liars, fools, or worse -- a cabal of "self-appointed defenders of the orthodoxy" intent on protecting their turf and closed to inquiry. Well gosh, isn't that the foundational assumption of so-called Alternative Medicine?

Young Earth Creationism requires conspiracy thinking when it comes to the science community. Not just error, but perverse error. And once you accept the possibility of a massive conspiracy on this level, where does it stop?

As you point out, probably not at quackery. Creationists and alties both see themselves as persecuted by a dogmatic hegemony -- just like Galileo.

2 points:
Should we do a double blind study as to the efficacy of appendectomies to the survival of folks with a ruptured appendix? sheesh.

I heard on the news today that a lesbian is suing her doctors who are refusing to treat her for infertility because she is a lesbian, and they are christians. So, April's belief in the Bible *could* affect her doctoring.

I agree a doctor's beliefs can affect their doctoring. This issue is even a problem with pharmacists refusing to dispense emergency contreception and birth control pills. As far as I am concerned a pharmacist should not have that right if it is not a matter of drug interactions or potential allergies they should dispense the medication. I am surprised that they are getting away with it too as long as they refer them to somebody who will dispense it.

As for infertility they should refuse to offer treatments to unmarried women as well because you arne't supposed to have a child out of wed-lock either.

As far as I am concerned doctors should only be concerned with how your personal life affects your health and should not judge patients on their moral/religious beliefs.

I agree with the axiom that adherence to one pseudoscience is an almost certain indicator of sympathy towards more quackery. I think part of it is that once someone drops down that rabbit hole, and walls off skeptical and rational thought, such mental faculties continue to remain unavailable later when they read the opinions of the next quack. It's as if once they deny the validity of the scientific method in order to remain devoted to their pet quackery, they can't apply it to anything else without exposing themselves to doubts about the original pseudoscience.

For instance, I recently came across a fairly humourous anti-psych website while doing some research into a neurological disorder. After wading through a few paragraphs of crap disputing the very concept of neurochemical transmission, I was completely unsurprised to find that they then went on to recommend homeopathy and chiropractors as "the only scientifically PROVEN therapy for these conditions."

This does raise an interesting question, though. Is the problem that one pseudoscientific belief, often due to deeply held religious or philosophical certainties, causes one to be more succeptable to the others, or is it merely that know-nothingism in general creates willing supporters for all quack causes
The explanation is that the boy has Herpes and that that particular version attacks cancer cells - when he touched her he passed the virus to her. So, the questions are 1) Is that valid? and 2) If it is, why isn't that knowledge being used as a tool in combatting cancer?

Hey that sounds like a derivative of the Coley's toxins idea that I just wrote a teeny bit about last night after reading COMMOTION IN THE BLOOD. I was going to ask Orac about that general idea of fighting toxins with toxins. I missed House last night as we were watching Hockey ...1:30 in the AM the game went til. I was sleeping and read about it this morning .

So Orac- Can you fight cancer with toxins in a way that gets consistent results. Is there a way to find out genetically who could benefit from this therapy. And why is it in Germany a doc can do ANYTHING as long as he believes (there is that word again) it to be beneficial- like administer Coleys Toxins.

The general horror in these comments over us Christians' ignorance of science seems to be in direct proportion to the general ignorance in these comments about Christian history and its connection to the rise of science, and to the general ignorance of philosophy. If you all think it would be good for us to get our science straight before we attack evolution, don't you think it would be good for you to get your facts straight about Christianity before attacking it? Your attacks on Christianity are just as horrifying and mind-boggling in their ignorance as ours on evolution seem to be to you. The chief difference I see is that there's less charity here than on Alice's blog.

Thanks for checking on me, Orac. :)

Couple of high points: You folks look at a creationist, fundamentalist Christian in medical school, and conclude that medicine is in danger. How about taking the other approach: maybe it is in fact possible to be a creationist, fundamentalist Christian, and still interact successfully with the modern scientific world?

Mutations: We can talk about a few that turned out to be beneficial, but by the very nature of genes and proteins (so many base pairs, such complex proteins that have to fold exactly right in order to work), for every mutation that turns out helpful or non-damaging, there are hundreds more which are damaging.

DB-RCTs of evolution: This was tongue-in-cheek, since we already agreed you couldn't convince me. :) Lighten up! The very act of structuring a trial would introduce too much intelligent design.

Wes is capable of defending himself, and I hope he comes over here, but: "reason and science are neutral." Not really. Take the famous "cogito ergo sum." That's not neutral. You start off with the assumption that cause and effect exist, that you can use reason to reach truth, that such logical truth is desirable, and that the religious explanation of existence is not reliable and needs to be re-examined by reason. That mindset is a priori opposed to the mindset of faith. We can debate the relative validity of these two ways of thinking: how well they describe the world we see, how internally consistent they are. But they are both axioms. I am incapable of questioning God's existence, and you are incapable of questioning the total authority of reason.

Sastra: The human mind automatically seeks refuge in any explanation, rather than believe that God created us and will judge our sinfulness.

The general horror in these comments over us Christians' ignorance of science seems to be in direct proportion to the general ignorance in these comments about Christian history and its connection to the rise of science, and to the general ignorance of philosophy. If you all think it would be good for us to get our science straight before we attack evolution, don't you think it would be good for you to get your facts straight about Christianity before attacking it? Your attacks on Christianity are just as horrifying and mind-boggling in their ignorance as ours on evolution seem to be to you. The chief difference I see is that there's less charity here than on Alice's blog.

Wes, give me a break with the straw men arguments, please. I was not attacking Christianity. I was pointing out that Alice is using pseudoscientific arguments to justify her rejection of evolution based on misunderstandings of evolution, the Laws of Thermodynamics, information theory, molecular biology, and a variety of other areas of science, and her doing so is inspired by her religious view that the earth is 6,000 years old and that evolution didn't happen. Whatever her religion is, a medical student like her should know better that to make such pseudoscientific arguments. It bothers me more to see someone who should be firmly grounded in science and the scientific method spewing such easily refuted pseudoscientific "attacks" on evolution than it does to see someone who has not had such training.

As for telling me to learn the history of Christianity, you should realize that I'm Catholic (albeit admittedly lapsed) and that 9 of my 13 years in grade school (I'm including kindergarten) were spent in Catholic schools. I know the history of Christianity probably as well as you do. Of course, as a Catholic, I also realize that a lot of fundamentalists who believe in creationism don't really consider Catholics "true Christians."

At least you didn't bring up the Nazis again.

Mutations: We can talk about a few that turned out to be beneficial, but by the very nature of genes and proteins (so many base pairs, such complex proteins that have to fold exactly right in order to work), for every mutation that turns out helpful or non-damaging, there are hundreds more which are damaging.

The ratio isn't nearly as unfavorable as that, thanks to the redundancy of the genetic code and all the long stretches of noncoding DNA. Even if your ratio were correct, that would not invalidate evolution, because there would still be beneficial mutations for natural selection to work on. In any case, "beneficial" depends on the context. Here's a relatively simple and classic example from the first year in medical school. Sickle cell anemia would appear, on the surface, to be very harmful, and indeed it is for those unfortunate enough to carry two copies of the gene for this hemoglobin mutant. However, heterozygotes (those carrying only one copy, with one normal copy of hemoglobin) can live a relatively normal life. Moreover, carrying one copy is beneficial if you live in a tropical climate, because it confers higher resistance to malaria.

So Orac- Can you fight cancer with toxins in a way that gets consistent results.

I'm neither Orac, a doctor, nor a cancer patient, and my understanding could be way wrong, but isn't that pretty much what chemo is?

By Oneiros Dreaming (not verified) on 26 Apr 2006 #permalink

Alice wrote:
"Sastra: The human mind automatically seeks refuge in any explanation, rather than believe that God created us and will judge our sinfulness."

Does this mean that you believe that the vast majority of scientists are stubbornly engaged in a perverse conspiracy to avoid or deny clear evidence for a 10,000 year old earth and a divine creation?

If so, why wouldn't these same close-minded scientists also be inclined to avoid and deny clear evidence that their materialist theories are wrong, and homeopathy, crystal healing, and energy medicine are correct? If we're beginning with the belief that most scientists are unreliable, cling together, and are willfully blind when it comes to matters of the spirit -- their primary intention is to protect their naturalistic theories no matter what the evidence -- then where and how do you draw lines?

Orac, I apologize for not being clearer. I meant my remarks for the comments, not for your post. Given your background, I'm sure you do know a lot more about Christianity than many of your commenters do. And for what it's worth, I'm not one of those fundamentalists who believe that Catholics are not true Christians. :)

Obviously chem is a toxin- I guess I should have posted it as can you fight cancer via germ warfare? If you have cancer are TNF and/or other immune system fighters turned off? Can another bug turn these on?

Obviously there is a risk that you die from the bug infection, which is a bit of a downside. And there are different kinds of cancers, which would make it difficult to know, unless there were ways to tell- through genetics?- what kinds of tumours were growing. And since I am not a cancer patient nor an oncologist, I probably have no right even writing about something I have just read about.

It just seems interesting and a bit strange and rather fascinating. Kind of like penicillin for bacterial infections, but obviously way different.

By impatientpatient (not verified) on 26 Apr 2006 #permalink

It's funny, I just finished my final project for my research methods in psych class and presented it this week. I was measuring strength of belief regarding agreement with cohabitation before marriage by looking at how people resolved their cognitive dissonance after reading data showing that cohabiting with a partner prior to marriage or engagement was associated with higher divorce rates and more marital strife. We actually did find a statistically significant change in belief (decrease in agreement) in the post-data condition: our subjects changed their belief to resolve the dissonant state. When I was putting together my slide on the Belief-Disinformation paradigm that was our model, I couldn't help but think of the creationists and intelligent design advocates and how they only seem to be able to choose the other three options to get rid of THEIR dissonance: misperception, misinterpretation or rejection of the data; associating with those with like beliefs and trying to convince others of their beliefs.

Her belief that sin causes disease even more disturbing than her creationism. This what happens when someone rejects reason.....
She has no business in medicine

I was measuring strength of belief regarding agreement with cohabitation before marriage by looking at how people resolved their cognitive dissonance after reading data showing that cohabiting with a partner prior to marriage or engagement was associated with higher divorce rates and more marital strife.

Funny That....

I have read that Fundamentalist Christians have the highest divorce rate in the States? How does that square up with this, and am I correct.

The belief in sin should not belong in medicine, yet it is endemic. Even many secular physicians have a mindset that because you did this the other happened. Psychology and Psychiatry deal havily on a sin model- incorrect thought and life lead to incorrect mental health outcomes.

There is no better place to see this in action than in patients with a longstanding irreversible disease processs. MS is often tossed off as stress and mental health issues before it is diagnosed properly. As are many other diseases. The value judgements made by your doctor on the perceived mental or physical cause of your problem can affect the course of treatment, whether it is begun quickly and sometimes even the end results- because it was not dealt with in a timely manner.

This is why a pretty huge reliance on science is necessary. Th CFS study this week, which I am thrilled about even though I know no-one with it- is an example of scientists, doctors and computer and math specialists coming together to solve a complex problem in a value neutral manner. Is there a bilogical difference? What is it? - these were two questions definitively answered in a similar fashion by four teams of experts.

Having dealt with a doctors religious faith and not enjoying the experience I am quite well aware of the biases that people who are physicians can carry. If I choose to use a legal method of something, my doctor should not tell me I am doing a bad thing. I switched doctors. This may not be an option for many in HMO style medical plans. Or it may be difficult. I have a friend that was denied a pharmaceutical from a pharmacist because the pharmacist thought it was immoral. Wow!! I had no idea that was possible where I live- it is and it is frightening, because there is no way to identify anyone until it is too late.

By impatientpatient (not verified) on 27 Apr 2006 #permalink

impatientpatient brings up a good point which is often ignored when people start to wax eloquent about the benefits of putting more "spirituality" into the doctor-patient relationship. If you do NOT belong to the doctor's particular brand of religion this can bring personal value judgements into what ought to be a strictly professional interaction. The doctor's expectations of your recovery may change, or their views of you or your illness may change -- and not for the better.

Nobody wants to be put in the uncomfortable position of realizing that their continued sickness and pain will help to confirm their physician's faith in the importance and truth of God.

"Is the problem that one pseudoscientific belief, often due to deeply held religious or philosophical certainties, causes one to be more succeptable to the others, or is it merely that know-nothingism in general creates willing supporters for all quack causes"

Some of both, I'd say. Certainly the "fundamentalist" religions, and a few of their fellow travellers, are "fundamentally" hostile to rational thought, open debate, and objective verification. They have to be, in order to keep both their followers and their identity in this modern world. Note that there's a selection process at work here -- any such creed that leaves itself open to "mere reason" will either die off, or drift out of the category as its views are constrained by reality-testing and moral pragmatics. That's the group-dynamics side of the issue.

On the individual side, it's important to remember that the "scientific mindset" is not a natural condition, it's a set of skills and abilities that usually need to be trained over time. Most people make an awful lot of their decisions using a thin veneer of rationalization over "primate politics" -- such as: "This is how 'my people' do/explain/regard this, and I'm one of them, so...." And that goes triple for fundamentally social questions such as "who should I trust to explain this to me?"

A lot of how *anybody* judges the credibility of someone else, involves "group markers" found in body language, voice, and/or wording (whichever channels are available at the moment). For religious groups, that includes not only "showing the flag" (appropriate references to deity/doctrine, ritual formatting, proper clothing and props etc), but also subtler, mostly non-verbal, cues in all channels.

These cues are difficult to fake, because they're accumulated as low-level habits deriving from the common experience of the group members. That's why a consistent display of such markers can be instinctively accepted as marking the speaker/etc as a bona fide member of the tribe, with apropriate dominance status. Of course, it's much the same for scientists! The "tribal cues" likewise come from common experiences, from childhood explorations, through the acculturations and initiations of university education, and the typical experiences of working in the field, lab, etc.

By now, some of the scientists and hangers-on will be thinking that *they* don't treat trust as a social question, they examine the evidence and/or judge the credibility of the speaker, etc. But my point here is about how you do that. Consider all the scientists you've read articles from, cited, quoted. For how many of those were you actually in the lab with them, watching them work? What makes you so sure, when reading a paper that offers some new finding, that they didn't just make it all up? Much of that certainty comes from the sense that you're dealing with a "real scientist", and "scientists just don't do that". That latter statement is backed up by a bunch of enforcement measures: political, technical, and social -- but the ultimate enforcement is that any scientist who's caught in major falsification, is cast out of the tribe. Even a minor offense against the basic values of science can destroy someone's reputation and career. Notice that while any given lab or university may have explicit rules about "anyone who falsifies a paper gets fired", the community as a whole goes much farther than that. As far as I know, here's no "law of science" demanding ostracization -- but that's what happens, and most scientists agree that it's what *should* happen.

That's why recognizing someone as a "real scientist" brings with it a certain confidence in their good faith on scientific matters... for those who are themselves tribesmen or allies of the scientific community. But of course, this is just a recent example of the question, "who can you trust?". That question is far older than humanity, so it should be no surprise that social instincts and such come into play. The flask may be new, but the wine is old indeed....

By David Harmon (not verified) on 27 Apr 2006 #permalink

"I am incapable of questioning God's existence"
Alice, what on earth did your Church leaders teach you? ALL the great Christian thologians wrestled with the question of the existence of God. Read Spinoza, read Hans Kung, read Origen.
God gave us free will - and that includes the freedom to doubt or even deny God's existence. Not to do so makes us less than human, less than God's full creation.

...I hit 'post' before I'd finished.
I meant to add: Since you probably don't have time to read theological tomes, maybe you could read this one article:
BTW - I'm not even a Christian and I'm constantly surprised at how much better I am at arguing Christian theology than most Christians.

Alice wrote, "But they are both axioms. I am incapable of questioning God's existence, and you are incapable of questioning the total authority of reason."

Reason means many things, but it is not an authority, it is a method. It may be better to say that the axiom we use is the belief that the method of reasoning is the best tool we have to explain the reality we find ourselves in.

In your case, and my understanding of your beliefs may be wrong, it sounds as if your axiom is that the authority of God is the best explaination of the reality we find ourselves in. Notice that I'm not directly talking about God's existance. The question of the existance of God is not directly related to the question of how to interpet reality.

So differences may be better stated as:
1. We believe in a method of testing.
2. You believe in an authority.
As the best method to explain observed realty.

Do those of us who believe in option 1 rely on authority? Certainly; we do all it all the time. But we trust that if there are any mistakes in the authority we use those mistake will eventually be caught and corrected by the method. That's where we place our trust, that any mistakes will be corrected in time.

Now, the authority you have chosen, God, trumps everything else. God is infallible and cannot have made any mistakes. If there are no mistakes, there cannot be anything to correct. So there is no way we can convince you that a method of testing is superior to reliance on your chosen best authority. I'm not even going to try.

However, if we are asked to accept your belief that God trumps the method of reason in explaining reality, can we ask you to accept the method of reason as the second best method?

After all, none of the inhabitants of this planet are God, and all of us are fallible. Some people go beyond being fallible and are deliberatly deceptive. Those people who are deceptive will even invoke your ultimate authority to justify their claims. Obviously those people who missuse God's authority will be punished by eternal damnation, but before they die they can cause enough pain, starvation, discord, and death to create hell on earth.

Unless divine relevation strikes, the best method we have to prevent untold misery is reason. I'll even accept your belief in the accuracy of the Bible, if you can remain skeptical of the claims of all other authority. Especially those people who invoke the authority of God as support for claims unrelated to the Bible.

This includes ideas like the 2nd law of thermodynamics disproving evolution. Thermodynamics is not mentioned in the Bible. What is not part of the revealed word, as I understand christian dogma, still partakes of the nature of God, and is part of revelation. Thus our well tested laws of theromodynaics are part of revelation. Even a cursory understanding of thermodynamics makes it clear that the earth is not a closed system and thus the 2nd law doesn't apply. Those individuals who claim that the 2nd law disproves evolution are clearly distorting God's revelation. They should know better.



Sophia - For one thing, I don't count Spinoza as a great Christian theologian; Jewish/rationalist philosopher, yes.

What I meant was, I (try to) think about everything from the assumption of God's existence and of the truth of his revelation. For me not to do so would be an implicit denial of him. Also, according to the Bible, humans are not free to act contrary to their sinful nature. We are born in sin, and continue to sin every day of our lives. And it's rather meaningless to say we're free to deny God's existence. I could say, "Gravity does not exist;" but that would have no impact whatsoever on gravity. God doesn't change, or stop requiring repentance and obedience from us, because we choose to say something foolish like, "he doesn't exist."

It's great that you study Christian theology. But no amount of book knowledge will help you when God calls for an accounting.

Sorry, I got seriously sidetracked there.... Before I went off about tribalism, (after my second paragraph) I was going to say that I see at least three issues creating a "slippery slope" about with regard to such charlatanism. One is tribal allegiance and "flocking". Another is emotional/psychological commitment. Consider that HIV-denying mother whose kid died of AIDS... is it realistic to expect her to admit killing her own child by witholding medical care?

The third is what Hyperion seemed to be alluding to, and I do think there's an issue there, but it also depends on the prior two issues. If someone has social (issue 1) or psychological (issue 2) reasons for adopting a given belief, they may well do so regardless of evidence or even consistency. But if the belief in question blatantly contradicts observable reality, and especially if it's internally inconsistent, then the believer needs to suppress their critical faculties in order to avoid cognitive dissonance. And that's a "gotcha"!

It's not so much that the supression has to be global... at first. But those new beliefs, and their implications, will occasionally come up for discussion, or thought. And everytime they do, those critical faculties have to be stuffed back in their cage so they don't make a fuss. Not only does that give a free pass to anything else that's "on the table" just then, but it quickly gets to be a habit....

By David Harmon (not verified) on 27 Apr 2006 #permalink

What I meant was, I (try to) think about everything from the assumption of God's existence and of the truth of his revelation.

Not much different than some anti-vaxxers I have the displeasure of knowing: They think about all evidence on the assumption of vaccines being dangerous. If it doesn't fit in that worldview, they make up a conspiracy that fabricates the evidence they don't like. At least Alice is explicit about that sort of worldview.

I remember a homeopath doing the same thing.

I also remember one thing my grandmother told me: One of the members of her retirement place doesn't look up at the night sky because "they're trying to trick us."

Alice wrote:

The human mind automatically seeks refuge in any explanation, rather than believe that God created us and will judge our sinfulness.

And yet the statement, "The human mind automatically seeks refuge in any explanation, [including the belief] that God created us and will judge our sinfulness," would be completely rejected by her, wouldn't it?

The human mind automatically seeks refuge in any explanation, rather than believe that God created us and will judge our sinfulness.

I have a feeling that's somewhere in the vicinity of "Show me a man who's not interested in Madonna, and I'll show you a liar!"

These are all examples of how the meme Sin=Disease has permeated our culture.

Now, I know of a family that believes in this stuff. The parent of the child took the child to a religious retreat to heal the child of something that had been there from about age two. The child was "healed" . The person telling me the story explained that the parent blamed themselves for being fearful and this disease had been a manifestation of the fear felt when the child was young. There was not enough faith.

I politely nod and smile than I leave, wondering how a really nice family has been taken over by a really strange belief system. I don't get it and it makes me worried that anything else in their life that is sickness oriented will be prayed over- to what possible outcome? I shudder.

Most of these sites say be afraid or wary of science. Why are we surprised anymore.

Dear Alice- I hope you meet someone who is religious and good, that gets something so unexplainable that you can't figure it out -because they are good and kind and "saved" like you. Then, I hope that you realize that even nice people get cancer, MS, colds, and they even die for no apparent reason. Maybe that will shake you out of your smugness and the feeling that you have god stuffed in your back pocket. You, my dear child, are my nightmare doctor. I would not want to be judged- I ,mean treated- by you or someone like you that truly believed that I deserved to be sick or dead because of sin- small or greivious it would not matter because in the eyes of your god all are the same. I would not want someone afraid of science trying to figure out what my best treatment might be. I just wish that you would go and be an orthodontist or something- it just would make your life so much easier.

By impatietntpatient (not verified) on 27 Apr 2006 #permalink

Alice-When I am sick, the last thing I want is Job's neighbors for a doctor.

*smacks head* I got as far as the 'can micro-evolution become, entropy' bit and couldn't keep going. Kudos to you Orac for having the patience to make it all the way through.

Now, if you'll excuse me I have to go puke.

She may also want to read Bart Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus'. She will see, with ample evindence to cross reference, that the Bible is not the infalable document fundies say it is. In fact, this has been known, and not widely published, (wonder why?), for a few hundred years. I would encourage persons interested to bone up on the truth of the "god wrote it, so it's infallable" farce.

So, I forgot that Spinoza was Jewish. But Jews can think about the nature God just as well as anybody else. Don't you think that's a little bit strange, Alice - that non-Christians have something worthwile to say about the nature of Divinity, even though they are so far from your Christian God?
Your comparison of God to gravity is meaningless. Gravity plainly exists; it is a measurable physical force that is a part of our existence, as much as air and light. You cannot live without gravity. People demonstrably and directly die from ignoring the law of gravity, but nobody ever died fron ignoring God. To me, this indicates that God is weaker than gravity.
And the Bible is no more an infallible guide to God and God's laws than The Science of Dianetics. Read some theologians and philosphers, of any and all religions and none, instead.

Reverse Feuerbach: Alice, you are projecting your own moral flaws, including your tendency to judge, onto God. Read some Jung. It would help you to understand the nature of projection, and how the faults we find in others (and God) are often our own most powerful faults.

(BTW, Feuerbach believed that we project onto God all in us that is good, and thus become self-alienated).

I would like to believe in God, because I would love for the universe (despite its appearance) to be a moral place. It is not. It is profoundly, and from my point of view frighteningly, amoral. Explain how your moral God could allow such a horriific event to happen, and do not condescend to me, as I understand all the historical theodicies. We are the inventors (discoverers?) of morality (despite our shortcomings), and we should give ourselves credit for that.

I am not afraid of judgment. If there is a God, he/she will not have the flaws you and your all-too-human (and prehistorically so) religion posit for him. Call us to account for not believing in him when he gives us no evidence he exists? Punish us for our intelligence and rationalism? Hurt the very humanists and scientists who have made the world a better place to live for its inhabitants? Reward the religious for their bigotry?

If you think people do not believe in God because they are afraid of him, you are completely clueless.

Let's see here... Alice's blog post is such a "target-rich environment" that it's hard to know where to start - so I'll start with her rather obvious ignorance of entropy.

Entropy works on all time scales, Alice - both short-term and long term. There is no way that the total entropy of the system can be reduced...ever, for any amount of time (quantum fluctuations notwithstanding).

Where most ID promoters and other anti-evolutionists usually fall on there faces is when they forget that the Second Law of Thermodynamics applies only to the total entropy of a closed system. Biological organisms are not closed systems - they take in energy and raw materials and produce materials that are lower in entropy. They do this at the cost (to the entire system) of dramatically increasing the total entropy.

Micro-evolutions are the "baby steps" of macro-evolution.

Most of the flimsy analogies used by the anti-evolutionists (e.g. the "tornado in a junkyard analogy") overlook three features of evolution:

[1] Selection is not "neutral" - it doesn't have a "goal", but it does have "criteria": survival. Mutations that reduce viability die out. Neutral mutations neither kill nor benefit the organism that carries them and so have no impact on survival. Beneficial mutations (probably the minority) improve the organism's ability to reproduce, and organisms carrying them increase in number. The system is "biased" toward beneficial mutations, even though they are relatively rare.

[2] A change that produces an incremental improvement in survival will be selected for. It doesn't have to be a large change. Complex systems evolve from numerous mutations over time that produce incremental changes. A worm doesn't need an image-forming eye to gain advantage over organisms that can't detect light, it just needs a light-sensitive patch of skin.

[3] Small changes over billions of years produced the biological diversity and complexity that we see about us. "Young-earth" creationists argue that we have no "proof" that the earth is 4.6 billion years (or so) old. Yet, when I use my cell-phone, it works (if I remembered to charge it). Non sequitor? Perhaps, but the scientific theories that made semiconductors and cell-phones possible also underpin the isotope decay that make it possible to calculate the earth's age.

Finally, the idea that humans are somehow more "advanced" that chimpanzees or even bacteria is a sad relic of the Aristotelian worldview. We may be more complex than bacteria, but that is both a benefit and a liability. We will never (I fervently hope) reach the population numbers that bacteria have and we have no hope of being as adaptable (through micro-evolution) as they are.

Clearly, Alice has a few holes in her home-schooling. Maybe she should sue her teachers for malpractice.


Alice, despite her religious education, actually has a pretty limited knowledge of religious history. Her evangelical religion is really a product of the 19th century and comes from a tradition that favors folk preachers over more conventionally educated religious leaders. Some useful books for Alice to read would include "Misunderstanding Jesus" which addresses the early history of the bible and "Aristotle's Children" which talks about the early history of the Church. Although Alice believes that her religious beliefs stretch back two thousand years, she's actually ignoring the 800lb gorilla of Christian religions -- the one that dominated Christianity from about the 4th century to the 16th century -- and one that is very much at odds with many of her beliefs.

Alice, in her blog, says:
"This is why I need to do something surgical. Surgery fixes a visible illness - I'll know for myself that it's there - and the results are immediate and visible. I can't wait for my ob/gyn rotation; I sure hope it's not this disillusioning. There is no way I could be happy practicing modern American medicine. It's all smoke and mirrors and paperwork."

I won't be making an appt. for a pap smear with Alice!

I don't know who is still interested in this, but Alice just confessed to me on her blog that she is a theonomist...scary stuff:

We believe that there are two biblically prescribed punishments enforceable by the state: execution and restitution. We do not believe in jail sentences. We believe in only the biblically prescribed punishments for violations of the moral law.
We do not believe that the state is the final arbiter in all matters pertaining to the moral law. Most of these cases would be resolved within families or within churches. However, only the state may execute criminals for capital crimes; only the state "bears the sword" (see Romans 13).
...We want civil government to punish evil doers according to biblical sanctions. We want all moral laws of the Old Testament to be enforced according to biblical standards.