5X5 Episode 28

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5X5 Episode 28
Equating faith healing with medical care
13th July 2008

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5X5 27 5X5 29
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
ML: Mike Lacelle
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Show Notes

Exposing the logical fallacy of equating faith healing with medical care[edit]

Voice-over: You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU 5x5 and tonight we're doing a Name that Logical Fallacy. This email comes from Joseph Bernanke from Madison, Wisconsin, and Joseph writes:

Hi guys! I think I have a tricky logical fallacy for you. You probably remember the tragic story of Kara Neumann, the 11-year-old girl who died from untreated diabetes as their parents attempted to heal her by prayer. Well, the faith-healing group her parents belonged to made the following statement: "If you persecute faith healers when their patients dies, you must persecute doctors for every patient of theirs who dies." As far as I can tell, they commit the equivocation logical fallacy in that they equate the healing you get from prayer with the healing you get from modern medicine, but since that's not a fallacy heard about every day, I could be misapplying it. I'd like to hear what you think is specifically wrong about this statement. Thanks!

R: That sound suspiciously like false analogy to me.

ML: I agree!

R: —indicating that the healing from doctors is the same as from the frauds, and therefore, they should be treated the same, when in fact they're not and they shouldn't.

S: Yes, I agree. I think that Joseph was getting at that, although he used the wrong term. "Equivocation" refers to using ambiguous statements. That's a logical fallacy deriving from ambiguity. This is—I agree Rebecca, a false analogy, or you can also look at it another way; that there's an unstated major premise—that premise being that praying for someone to get them better is equivalent to modern medicine. The other thing that they're assuming is equivalent is the ethics concern. There's—it's actually not a problem that they prayed for their daughter. And again, very quickly, for those of you who may not know the backstory: 11-year-old girl, parents belong to, you know, a faith-healing cult that eschews modern medicine. She died of a diabetic ketoacidosis. That means that she had untreated diabetes that went untreated for a long period of time. She must've been very ill for days, at least. And in fact, the parents never brought her to medical attention. It was her aunt who called 9-1-1 and tried to get the police to intervene, because the family refused any care for her. By the time they got there, unfortunately, she was already dead and they could not revive her. So—but it really isn't a problem that they were praying for her. The problem is that they failed to provide the minimal standard of care for the child. And in fact, if a physician failed to deliver the minimal standard of care, then they will be liable for that as well. It was the fact that, not that she was prayed for, but that she was not treated. That was the problem.

J: Well, Steve, being treated is up to the parents, you know? That's a definition that is in standard. They think they were treating her as best they could.

S: They—and that is what they said. They said "we were just doing the best that we knew how to for our daughter." But it's established; it's well established that you are not allowed to neglect basic needs for survival for your children. Adults can decide that they do not want to be treated medically, but they cannot make that decision for their children. So, they failed to do the minimum necessary to provide life-sustaining intervention for their child. That's the equivalent of starving a child to death; not providing food. It doesn't matter what the reason is, you're not allowed to make that decision for your children.

E: This is an attempt to justify their transgressions or their wrong actions, because it happens in other cases as well, which is the tu quoque logical fallacy. So, what they're saying is that because people sometimes die at the hands of doctors legally, why should it be criminal when people die at the hands of faith healers?

S: Right, doctors' patients sometimes die. So it's OK if faith healers—administrations of faith healers—that their quote-unquote "patients"—just the very use of that term is trying to make it seem like they're equivalent—if their patients sometimes die. But again, it's a non sequitur because it's missing the actual point, which is that, you know, there is a standard of care, and you cannot withhold that for whatever reason. Even when physicians are doing medical research, you still can't withhold the standard—the minimal standard of care in order to study something. You know what I mean? You have to at least give what's already established.

ML: So when I got into the whole skepticism thing, you know, you guys were talking about the logical fallacies, and I really didn't find—I didn't think it would be that important to me, because I wasn't really into it to get into debates with people about anything. But I found that logical fallacies are very important to know, especially to examine my own logic and thinking.

S: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I agree. It's very easy to slip into fallacious logic if you are not aware of all the pitfalls that you need to avoid, so that's why I think this is a critical exercise for anyone who wants to think critically.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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