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Alternative remedies can be dangerous for children and even prove fatal if taken instead of conventional drugs, according to a new study.

Editor's Note: Earlier this week, in an essay that drew a deluge of comments, British comic, actor and filmmaker Ricky Gervais argued against the existence of God.

To give Wall Street Journal readers a chance to respond, we asked Gervais to answer via email some of the most frequently asked questions about his article.

In your piece you write, that "Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn't know." In fact, mainstream scientific thought has sometimes been wrong, and it is constantly changing and revising itself. So how can you be so sure that science supports your belief that God does not exist?

Ricky Gervais: Science doesn't concern itself with the non-existence of something. The periodic table of imaginary things would be too big for a classroom- infinitely big in fact, and rather pointless. It's not trying to prove the non-existence of anything supernatural. All it knows is there is no scientific proof of anything supernatural so far. When someone presents a jar of God it will test it. If it finds some evidence of "godness" it will follow the evidence till it knows everything it can.

The fact that science can say "we don't know" is exactly my point. Science doesn't start with a set of convenient conclusions and try to justify them. It follows evidence. In fact, it tries to prove itself wrong. When it can't, it's right. Superstition, religion and blind faith cherry pick the evidence and justify the results by changing the goal posts. There are no cover-ups in science. For better or worse it finds stuff out. It has no moral code as such. It leaves those decisions to society. It discovers life saving drugs but leaves it up to you whether to use them or not. It discovers that splitting the atom can release a massive amount of energy very quickly and leaves it up to governments to try it out or not. It finds out what and how and why. It asks can we? Not should we? This is why it baffles me that some god fearers believe that without a god there is no reason to be good. Really?


 

Comments

I took exception to one statement Gervais said in his original article and that was something along the line of he didn't see any harm caused by religion if you want to believe it - I pointed out that as religion is totally lacking in reality checks that leaves the believer open to every kind of manipulation. The con artists that pass as priests/ministers etc know this very well, if only at a pre-conscious level.

"Alternative remedies can be dangerous for children and even prove fatal if taken instead of conventional drugs, according to a new study."

Or, basically:

Taking a substance (of which there is no evidence of efficacy) for illnesses that may kill you if not treated BY substances that are proven to work... may kill children with that illness.

Or, even more bluntly:

Taking shit that doesn't work for shit that's already killing you will probably result in death (from the shit was already killing you).

That's why I only take alternative treatements for the common cold, stress, and minor back aches.

holy sh*t - look at your time stamp. Did you catch Santa?

My Nephew got us up early, but my time stamp was midwest and my location was eastern checked the webs while eating breakfast.

Re: the placebo study. (The Ed Yong link is broken, btw.)

I like Orac's take better.

As with others, like commenters #3 and #4 on Yong's page, this statement from the authors is more than a bit bullshit-smelly:

Before randomization and during the screening, the placebo pills were truthfully described as inert or inactive pills, like sugar pills, without any medication in it. Additionally, patients were told that "placebo pills, something like sugar pills, have been shown in rigorous clinical testing to produce significant mind-body self-healing processes."

Also:

Participants were recruited from advertisements for "a novel mind-body management study of IBS" in newspapers and fliers and from referrals from healthcare professionals. During the telephone screening, potential enrollees were told that participants would receive "either placebo (inert) pills, which were like sugar pills which had been shown to have self-healing properties" or no-treatment.

Overall, I thought Ricky Gervais did an outstanding job. The hard part about holding "unconventional" beliefs (in a society where you aren't being strung up for them) is having to refute the same crap over and over again:

Saying atheism is a belief system is like saying not going skiing is a hobby. I’ve never been skiing. It’s my biggest hobby. I literally do it all the time.

..it gets repetitious, but he does it in a way that sounds fresh anyway.

I like the one about "bald" being a hair color.

Off is a TV channel

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i think the western world can be quick to point out failures in the use of "alternative medicine", especially in cases where the people using them have little to no knowledge of what they are doing. i believe in modern medicine, but i also believe medicine as we know it has a lot of room to grow when combined with the knowledge of old and non-western medicine or ethnomedical uses of plants. let's face it, the predominant culture is lacking in this field.

The article about CAMs really hit home for me. At my first job, the founder of the organization believed very deeply in CAMs and advocated for them as part of a comprehensive medical system. Because we were essentially an advocacy organization that focused on health issues, CAMs would actually make their way into a number of our papers. I was the only person in the organization that thought they were wrong, useless or counter productive, yet I was not in a position to advocate against them to my bosses. I don't go out seeking articles on the ill-effects of CAMs, but when I come across them, I always get sad and hope that we didn't do too much harm by promoting their use.

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