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Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine

Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine

Book Description

Pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives. Surgeons who pray in the operating room. Pro-life clinics and end-of-life interventions, intelligent-design activists and stem-cell-research opponents–is this the state of modern medicine in America?

In an America that increasingly turns its back on the teachings of science, the worlds of religion and medicine have grown disconcertingly close. A majority of Americans now see prayer and other religious activities as a substitute for well-researched methods of curing disease. Many ask, “So, what’s the problem with prayer?” By taking a hard look at the scientific evidence, Richard Sloan believes there is no proven curative power to prayer and that the use of it as a medical treatment undermines effective patient care. In Blind Faith, Sloan exposes the questionable research practices and unfounded claims made by ethical scientists who manipulate scientific data and research results to support their claim of effective mystical intervention in healing. Sloan begins by looking at how good science works and what it’s founded on. He then discusses the faulty methodology employed by those trumpeting the role of prayer in healing and implicates a gullible media in the propagation of bad science. He looks at ethical and clinical concerns of the debate and the ultimate trivialization of religion that results. As the Christian right turns its back on science, medicine seems to be its next target. Sloan lays bare the faults of these assertions.

In Blind Faith, Sloan examines the fragile balance and dangerous alliance between religion and medicine–two practices that have grown disconcertingly close during the twenty-first century. While Sloan does not dispute the fact that religion can bring a sense of comfort in times of difficulty, he nevertheless believes, and in fact proves, that there is no compelling evidence that faith provides an actual cure for any ailment. By exposing the flawed research, Sloan gives readers the tools to understand when good medical science is subverted and, at the same time, provides a thought-provoking examination into the origins and varieties of faith, and human nature itself.


        Acknowledgments  vii

Part One: Religion and Health, Yesterday and Today

    1. Introduction  3

    2. Religion and Medicine in History  15

    3. From Sputnik to Angels: Science, Subjectivity, and the Rise of Irrationalism  27

    4. Why Now?  53

Part Two: Reading the Evidence

    5. Are There Really So Many Studies on Religion and Health?  73

    6. How Good Is the Evidence?  81

    7. Is There Really a Health Advantage to the Religiously Active?  107

    8. Attendance at Services and Mortality  141

    9. Why Long-Distance Healing Doesn’t Have a Prayer  157


“Reason has regained its voice. Richard Sloan speaks the truth in Blind Faith. It is an eloquent description of the scientific method, and a condemnation of those who pander to a superstitious public with shoddy and deceptive studies that purport to show that religion is good for your health. Professor Sloan explains the statistical tricks that opportunistic researchers use to deceive the public, and does not spare the media for telling the public what it wants to hear. This book should be read by everyone that loves truth.”

– Robert L. Park, author of Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

“If one were to believe the popular media, the efficacy of faith-based therapies is well established. Even in the professional medical literature, there are those who assert the health benefits of prayer, attendance at religious services, and other religious activities. Richard P. Sloan, PhD, professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University, has written extensively on the relationship of medicine and religion and takes issue with this current trend.
Blind Faith is his attempt to answer the following questions:
    Do the efforts to link religion and health represent good science?
    Do they represent good medicine?
    Do they represent good religion?
This readable, well-reasoned book critically examines these issues and cites … important research papers on the subject.

Journal of the American Medical Association

“In Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine, Dr. Richard P. Sloan Ph.D., has written an important book that should garner the attention of medical practitioners, clergy and the faithful alike. He offers an honest and unsentimental assessment of one of our cultures most powerful shibboleths–that combining religion and medicine represents the highest standard of health care. This carefully reasoned study will give attentive readers pause about the many ethical and professional issues at stake when physicians make faith a subject of their medical practice. Bolstered by a thorough grasp of the extant research, Dr. Sloan probes the deeper consequences of an easy acquiescence to what seems to many to be a panacea at best, or a harmless bit of bedside manner at worst. He makes the case that it could be much more serious than that to patients and the society as a whole.”

– Reverend Robert Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches, USA

“Sloan … takes a close look at the growing encroachment of religion in yet another sphere of American life: medicine. In a series of well-argued, well-documented chapters, Sloan first addresses the medicine tradition in which ill health and disease were linked to moral turpitude and the displeasure of the gods. Disturbingly, he sees signs of a return of this antiscientific attitude in the rise of religious fundamentalism and New Age touchy-feely behavior. Next, he addresses the ‘research’ purporting to show that religiosity pays off–that going to church and praying or having prayers said for you are good for your health and lead to lower mortality rates. His arguments here form a neat summary on how science works, and on the pitfalls that can beset the design, conduct, analysis and reporting of a clinical trial. For example, the research suggesting that regular attendance at church services (as opposed to even sporadic attendance) was associated with lower mortality rates totally ignored a confounder: People who are sick or disabled are not likely to be regular churchgoers. Other egregious examples include making multiple comparisons after a trial to search for some secondary outcome measure or for a subset of patients where the findings appear statistically significant … Finally, the author deals with the many ethical issues that arise when doctors are encouraged to take spiritual histories, ask their patients to pray, or otherwise promote religion. Issues here involve the white-coated authority vs. the vulnerable patient, the lack of training of physicians in areas of religion, the trivializing of faith and even the potential for studies that would explore whether Christian prayer is more healthful than Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist. Sloan has done well to sound the alarm, while providing an excellent primer on how medical evidence should be collected.”

Kirkus Reviews

In Blind Faith, Richard P. Sloan has written a provocative, yet judicious and timely book based on meticulous scholarship. This major study comes at a moment when there is vigorous, ongoing national debate and widespread concern about the growing influence of religion and religiosity, and their impact on science, medicine, health and patient care. In his balanced consideration of these issues, Professor Sloan has provided an in-depth examination of key questions including how to preserve the coexistence of faith and science without violating the sacred domain of religion and the necessary autonomy of science and medicine.”

– Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation

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