Majority of Doctors Believe God Intervenes in Patients’ Lives

An article was passed on to me today by Mr. Davis that I thought was worth passing on to you: “Doctors and faith” by the Chicago Sun-Times’ health reporter Jim Ritter.  (Actually, the original title of the article seems to have been “In God They Trust,” as is visible in the Internet Explorer window title and the websites links to the article, which in other cases seem to match the title of the article linked to.  Perhaps they were afraid that such a title would be offensive.)  It concerns the results of a University of Chicago survey of 2000 physicians nationwide.

Rather than go into a great deal of detail on the content, I’ll encourage you read the article for yourself if you are interested, but here’s the kicker and what seems to be the article’s impetus: According to the survey, 54% of doctors surveyed “believe God or another supernatural being intervenes in patients’ health.”

I will be the first to admit: I tend to be very wary of the media’s efforts to publicize statistics form surveys.  There is so much work that goes into such things, such as how many doctors actually responded (apparently it is 63% in this case) and exactly how were the questions submitted to the study subjects (which can accidentally — or “accidentally” — add bias to answers).

Still, taking things on the surface, it is a remarkable result and one that surely won’t sit well with everyone.  The article discusses one such fellow…

Among the most vocal critics is Richard Sloan of Columbia University Medical Center, author of Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine.

Sloan is troubled by the study’s finding that 54 percent of doctors believe God intervenes in patients’ health. “That’s a religious assertion, not a scientific assertion,” he said.

I find Mr. Sloan’s annoyance annoying for two reasons.  One, it annoys me that an assertion that mentions “God” is somehow automatically not a scientific assertion.  I fault Mr. Sloan less for this, because it likely is a non-scientific assertion on the part of some or many of the surveyed doctors — that is, they were expressing their opinions.

What bothers me more is the fact that Mr. Sloan seems less concerned that the doctors might actually be right.  I mean, please don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to paint Mr. Sloan inaccurately after having only one fact and one quote.  Let me restate: Shouldn’t it matter more to us whether or not these doctors are right or wrong than whether or not it’s a religious assertion?  What’s so unacceptible about a doctor’s making an (questionably) unscientific assertion based on the evidence he or she has seen?  (“How many medicines are prescribed to patients on less “scientific” evidence?” he asks himself parenthetically…)

These guys and gals are in the trenches so to speak, and the conclusion that most of them have drawn is that there is a supernatural being who sometimes intervenes in the health of their patients.  Why should such a conclusion “trouble” anyone if they are simply giving their impression of what they have seen?  Unless the “anyone” in question would rather that such intervention not be the case.  I suppose that if one would rather that God did not exist, having a majority of doctors claiming to have seen enough to believe that He does would be, indeed, “troubling.”

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are to be found in your test tubes and petri dishes.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene V (sort of…)

One thought on “Majority of Doctors Believe God Intervenes in Patients’ Lives

  1. “Among the most vocal critics is Richard Sloan of Columbia University Medical Center, author of *Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine*.”

    Hm. I’ve hear of Dr. Sloan before, and I suspect, Dear Sir, that you’ve pegged him right. Your “statistical basis” isn’t limited to one quote by him; the fact he’s written an entire book with a particular title and has given a particular quote — all loaded with particular semantic “catch phrases” — gives you a pretty reliable basis for inferring where he’s coming from.

    Albert Einstein said famously that most scientists are poor philosophers. He could’ve added “poor theologians” (including, sadly, himself). Those who argue about “blind faith” understand neither the nature of faith nor their own blindness. Every scientific hypothesis starts with one or more articles of faith, and there is no reason why supernaturalistic faith should be excluded if it leads to better explanations of the facts than naturalistic faith does. (And is that not what the doctors are saying in essence?) Only the often-all-too-willing confusion of natural science with naturalism and scientism keeps people from seeing that.

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