MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

In the US, some right-wing politicians might answer this question in the affirmative, having suggested that American citizens don’t really need healthcare, if only they believed stronger in God. Here in the UK, some right-wing MPs are not that far from such an attitude, it seems.

A 2012 article in the ‘Plymouth Harald’ revealed that the Tory MP for South West Devon, Gary Streeter , has challenged the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for banning claims that ‘God can heal’. Mr Streeter was reported to have written to the ASA demanding it produce “indisputable scientific evidence” to prove that prayer does not work – otherwise they will raise the issue in Parliament, he threatened. Mr Streeter also accused the ASA of “poor judgement” after it banned a Christian group from using leaflets stating: “Need healing? God can heal today!… We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness.”

The ASA said such claims were misleading and could discourage people from seeking essential medical treatment.

The letter to ASA was written on behalf of the all-party Christians in Parliament group, which Mr Streeter chairs. Here are a few quotes from this bizarre document:

“We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made… It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible. On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?… You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do… It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene? … We invite your detailed response to this letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.”

Mr Streeter displays, of course, a profound and embarrassing ignorance of science, healthcare and common sense:

  • ‘Indisputable’ evidence that something is ineffective is usually not obtainable in science.
  • In healthcare it is also not relevant, because we try to employ treatments that are proven to work and avoid those for which this is not the case.
  • It is common sense that those who make a claim must also prove it to be true; those who doubt it need not prove that it is untrue.
  • Chronic pain disappearing spontaneously is not uncommon.
  • The plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not evidence!

Personally, I find it worrying that a man with such views sits in parliament and exerts influence over me and our country.

14 Responses to Is God an alternative to healthcare?

  • I always wondered about why Christians also die or for that matter, why do they also get sick, or why do they need to eat?

    It is indeed dangerous views

  • Mr Streeter is entitled to his beliefs, even to tell his constituents about them.
    IMHO he is not entitled to lean on the chairman of a duly constituted authority to moderate or reverse a determination it has made in the public interest, that certain leaflets were misleading and potentially harmful to the public.

    Mr Streeter clearly does not understand the basic premises of the scientific method – that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence in their support, and that it is for those who make claims to provide evidence in support.
    It most certainly is not for the ASA to prove ‘prayer does not work.’

    And, of course, that there never can be ‘indisputable scientific evidence’ of anything. There can always be a dispute. That’s why it’s called ‘science’ and not ‘belief’.

    This article was published in 2012. Did Mr Streeter raise the issue in Parliament as he suggested he would do? Was he given short shrift. Or was he all bluster?

    Finally, his claim that ‘the whole nation is praying’ for the healing of a footballer is hyperbole in the extreme, unworthy, and impertinent to those of us who do not share his beliefs.

  • I severely doubt that the fellow Streeter would be the first to point out that prayed-for people do not always get well. Millions have beaten him to it in that respect.
    I despair at the kind of human who-for instance- rejoices at surviving 9/11 because ‘God has a plan for me’ ( but not it seems for all the other poor saps).
    Mr Streeter makes an eloquent response to people like the late Logos-Bios who resent ‘politics’ being ‘brought in’ to these matters.
    And I’m betting I’ m not the only one cackling at the part where he says ‘My hand hurt for a bit but I prayed and now it doesn’t. What does the ASA have to say about that?’.
    This also brings up again the ‘ad hominem’ debate from a while back.
    While, in other words, it’s possible for an idiot to make a valid point, I should be worried we’re such a man to be my MP. Or anybody’s MP.

  • Even as a lay person to the scientific process, I find Mr. Streeter’s assertions absurd.

    At the risk of sounding callous or flippant, I suggest we let the faith-healing community fully enjoy the fruits of their endeavors, then let Darwin do his thing. The tragic downside of this approach would undoubtedly be innocent children and the infirm who would be caught up in this disasterous mentality.

    Sadly, the long-held Constitutional wall separating church and state, here in the US, is beginning to crumble.

    • The middle east has no monopoly on religious fanatics. They are everywhere, but just distinguish themselves by different denominations and theologies.

  • Personally, I find it worrying that a man with such views sits in parliament and exerts influence over me and our country.

    I think this is a problem inherent to democracy, and while I can think of solutions, I have so far not found any satisfactory ones. How can one exclude someone like this, clearly an irresponsible crackpot, from having the influence he has without negatively affecting the fundamental values of our – less than flawless – democracy?

    • the trick clearly would be to educate the public better, much better – so that they no longer elect idiots.

      • the trick clearly would be to educate the public better, much better – so that they no longer elect idiots.

        Indeed. Especially by educating them on the scientific/skeptical method, which should be rather simple, at least in principle. One of the problems with that – but unavoidable as far as I can see – is that it is (or can be) extremely painful to the children, because religionists won’t (and currently don’t) accept it, because they know full well that education is their downfall.

      • Please tell us how we can do that in the US so as to avoid the disaster we have now in the White House!!!!(the answer would also be the clue to eradicate or diminish all the alternative fake health care so prevalent in the world, modern developed and underdeveloped).

        • I don’t pretend to have all the answers.
          but it seems to me that putting an emphasis on sound educational standards should not be such a difficult thing to do or strategy to follow. it needs a political will and funds to carry it through. to create both, it requires pressure from groups with influence. there must be such opportunities in the US and elsewhere; we all might have become a bit too complacent and used to rely on others to do such tasks. yet, essentially it is up to us, I believe.

          • we all might have become a bit too complacent

            I think many of us have simply become discouraged and have given up. In my own case, I am reminded of the words of Sister Gerda, who told me decades ago that there are times we have to accept defeat and move on. I find that impossible to do, but at the same time, after having to witness and experience the stone-walling of religious crackpots, and their brethren in crime, the alternologists, one cannot help but at least wonder “à quoi bon?” every now and then.

      • Wonderful response: education is very much the solution to so many problems in society, but our culture (like all cultures) is mired in ‘tradition’. That’s why we enthusiastically sustain the tradition of quasi secular schools based on some form of god worship. Streeter’s letter reinforces this: “It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible.” What about the very clear ‘teaching’ in the i ching? the qu’ran? the Vedas? the Upanishads? and the Bhagavad Gita? the Kojiki? the Nihon-gi? They’re all ‘holy scriptures’, for goodness’ sake!

        Personally I detest the use of the word ‘teaching’ in the context of texts setting out religious dogma. If we still followed the ‘teachings’ in the bible we’d be stoning to death adulterers, unruly children and people who work on the sabbath.

        I also agree with Michael Kenny — “absurd beliefs are the root cause of most alternative medicine dogma as well.” Why is it so difficult for people to look dispassionately at the world around them instead of clinging, crag-fast, to beliefs with which they were indoctrinated in their infancy?! “I was brought up as a … [name your favourite religion] …so I believe… [name your favourite nonsense]

  • Thanks so much for this blog….absurd beliefs are the root cause of most alternative medicine dogma as well. Religion and CAM both try to protect their turf behind testimonials and dogged adherence to fallacious reasoning. As vaudevillians’ would say: “if you buy the premise you’ll buy the bit”.

  • Ouch. Do people really vote this guy ? I am a catholic attending church regularly, but this guy is a deep embarrassment. He does not understand science and advertising – or even Christianity for that matter.

    OK, first, since we live in a world driven by stats, nothing in this world is impossible, it is only highly unlikely to happen. The characteristics of an advertisement is that it promises that something happens with a certain probability, e.g. this mineral water will refresh you then a certain percentage of people will be refreshed – over which the advertising company has data and a certain control.

    Faith healing is a completely different chapter. First, their probability is very low. God uses them as sign of faith and not as opportunity to prove his existence. Therefore they happen randomly and can not be studied very well.Further, they happen at the discretion of God and are therefore completely out of control of a church.

    For this reason, advertising in this field is indeed false representation. It is akin to advertising the British Order of Merit of which only 24 living recipients exist, all personally selected by the Queen.

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