Thursday, February 2, 2012

Guestpost: The Placebo Effect Proves God Exists?

I (Steve) recently posted the following on Google+ (no, really people are using it!) after reading another “brilliant” Huffington Post Religion section article.


"How fuzzy definitions make god irrelevant."

There. Now I don't have waste any more time refuting HuffPo garbage.

Luckily occasional guestposter Jason found the article funny idiotic and decided to whip something up. Enjoy.

The author, Richard Schiffman, attempts to show that God exists, using the placebo effect as proof. He explains what the placebo effect is by saying it is when a thought immaterially impacts the body, which is material, “in a way which utterly defies logic.”

So the placebo effect is painted as some mystery event of which we have no understanding. Schiffmann claims it comes from the realm of the immaterial and impacts the material in a way that we cannot comprehend. But this isn't true. It is willful ignorance that he is hoping his readers practice...shall we say “religiously.”

The simple fact is the medical community has a strong understanding of the placebo effect. There is an understanding of the parts of the brain that are involved and the mechanisms for this. This information is readily available, and well sourced by a simple browsing of the Wikipedia entry on placebos. To claim that the placebo effect is some illusive event shrouded in mystery is dishonest.

And what of the claim that this is an immaterial event impacting a material event? I will bypass the detailed discussion of “what is a thought” but rest assured, it is a physical event. It is an electrical event that takes place in the brain. It can be measured, tested, and impacted through physical means. We have brain surgery and understand brain damage because the foundation of our understanding of thought is the knowledge it is a physical process.

To the degree that a thought can impact our physical bodies; to claim this as an unprecedented event is ridiculous in its absurdity. You can consciously move your extremities with the power of thought. You can flinch without conscious effort in a reaction. You can experience the physically measurable effects of sadness or elation, excitement or depression. we already know about psychosomatic reactions that the mind can induce on the body. These do not defy logic. They define the human mind.

What objective effects are we discussing, when we talk about placebos? Current wisdom indicates that the placebos have no objective effect in long-term objective testing. Instead, they only impact factors that are subjectively reported. In short the placebo effect may simply be nothing more than a statistical recording of increased expectations.

But what if we learn the placebo effect is objectively verifiable? This would not be an unexplained revelation. The effects of psychology on the physical are well documented. Recent examples are no further away than upstate New York, where an outbreak of Turrets like symptoms has been diagnosed as “mass hysteria.” Or you could turn to the CDC who recently concluded Morgellon’s is not an infectious disease, but instead a variant of delusional parasitosis - in short, a delusion without a physical cause. What we believe can have a profound impact on our physical state. This is no mystery. This is accepted medical fact.

What if we grant the author’s assumptions? What if we, for the sake or argument, assume that thoughts are immaterial? The placebo effects the material, is statically verifiable, and absolutely nothing is known about the placebo effect. When we grant these, what is the result? Where in his reasoning does he go from the placebo effect being a complete mystery to there being proof of something supernatural? Here is the analysis:

“Which brings us back to the placebo effect. It is mysterious, right? We don't know how it happens. A person was sick and they take a sugar pill and next thing you know -- voila -- they are healthy. To call this "the placebo effect" is to dress up our ignorance in words. What has actually happened is nothing short of a miracle.” (emphasis added)

He just jumps from "we don't know how it happens" to "what actually happens is nothing short of a miracle." He doesn't give a poor explanation. He doesn't give any explanation. He just declares it as fact.

There isn't really anything to say other than "you can't just do that."

But of course, he did.