Faith Healing vs. Medical Science
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Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010
Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
“If a sense of disease produces suffering, and a sense of ease antidotes it, disease is mental. Hence the fact in Christian Science that the human mind alone suffers, and the divine mind alone heals it.”
This metaphor belongs to Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), author of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” (1875) and founder in 1879 of the Church of Christ, Scientist, whose modern, cathedral-like headquarters — the Mother Church (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, left), completed in 1904 — emerged in downtown Boston rivaling in architecture the Trinity Church, the Holy Cross Cathedral, and even the Massachusetts Statehouse.
During a three-year search for the “divine laws of life” within the Bible, Eddy compiled passages about healing and envisioned a cure method based on prayer, which by the end of the 1880s propagated among the students at her Massachusetts Metaphysical College, a short-lasting enterprise (1881-1889). Her charismatic personality seeded the Christian Science Journal (1883), the Christian Science Sentinel (1898), the Herald of Christian Science (1903), and the Christian Science Monitor (1908), currently a dynamic online news survivor of historic financial struggles.
Like most spiritual therapies, Eddy’s “pray healing” faded, although the enormous Mother Church of Christ Scientist she inspired still breathes in the heart of Boston through a majestic golden pipe organ (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, left), which gives the impression of resounding even in silence.
In fact, deity-mediated physical and mental well-being are inconsistent with modern medicine. However, the positive effects of the “relaxation response” — a mind-and-body state of calmness which is elicited during meditation and monotonous behavior like chanting or bead-praying — on the recovery from depression, anxiety, insomnia or pain seem biologically rooted and scientifically measurable.
The Institute for Mind Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital has sponsored the most compelling research on the relaxation response (RR). Cardiologist Herbert Benson described RR in 1974 as changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry triggered during the meditative state.
RR counters the fight-or-flight response, conceptualized by Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon in 1915 as an animal’s ability to cope with danger via, not surprisingly, opposite mechanisms to RR. In essence, the fight-or-flight response excites stress response, while the relaxation response calms, thus bringing the organism to homeostasis.
Benson and his collaborators ignited three decades of investigations on RR which included the physiological changes that occur during RR, the cognitive-behavioral and psychological variables associated with it, and the diversity of meditation methods. Most recently, gene expression induced by RR has been the focus of Benson’s exploration. In all scenarios, Benson and his colleagues have been cautious to insert RR as another variable into the complex equation of mind-body health.
Indeed, good research often demystifies popular certainty. In a 2006 study of the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in 1,800 cardiac bypass patients, sponsored by the Templeton Foundation — famous for surpassing the Noble Prize by granting $1.5 million to explorers of life’s spiritual dimensions — Benson and his team reported a higher incidence of complications among patients who knew Christian devotees were praying for their recovery, in contrast to patients uncertain about receiving such prayers, who convalesced.
The data published in the American Heart Journal disappointed supporters of proximal or distant pray-mediated healing.
The Templeton Foundation, however, further committed $150,000 to study the effects of prayer on auditory and visual impairments in rural Mozambique, and religious studies professor Candy Brown, from Indiana University, embraced the task. In the September 2010 issue of the Southern Medical Journal, Brown and collaborators report 24 cases of improvement in hearing and/or vision after intercessory prayers.
The authors themselves confess the flaws of the study: unknown source of the impairments, unconfirmed diagnosis of ear or eye malfunction, patients’ cultural habituation to healers, no control group, and a sample size 75 times smaller than that of Benson’s. In sum, much enthusiasm and poor science, but the authors go on to state that prayer “may be a useful adjunct to standard medical care … in contexts where access to conventional treatment is limited.”
Benson’s research on RR has brought into scientific scrutiny the belief of pray healing and provided a rational explanation for the sense of joy, well-being and calmness induced by meditation and its equivalents.
Graphene (click picture for photo credit and information about graphene)
At times of nanotechnology medicine, where single-atom-thick sheets of carbon (graphene) can be injected into a body with the mission of cauterizing cancerous breast tissue if stimulated by laser (Nano Letters, 2010), or when vaccination can immunize an entire country and prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) from spreading among sexually active teenagers, or when evolutionary principles enlighten our understanding of disease and cure, pray healing cannot replace nor supplement, in urban or rural communities, scientific medicine. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved
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