Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cancer Research, Prayer, and St. Jude

Be sure to read this excellent article by Michael Egnor.

Yet Myers used this tragedy to denigrate religious faith. Noting his subsequent conversation with a pediatric oncologist in which he learned about the progress that has been made in the treatment of childhood cancer, Myers claimed:

How does she [the oncologist] do that [successfully treat some children’s cancers]? With science. She sent me a whole stack of references on the amazing progress that has been made over the last several decades, thanks to clinical trials and evidence based medicine… If we want to cure … cancers…, don't look to magic, or wishful thinking, or ancient shamanistic wisdom, or prayer — we've had those for millennia [sic], and they do nothing…What we need is more research, more doctors, more clinical trials, and more money.[Emphasis in original]

He points to graphs showing the remarkable improvement in outcomes of children with acute lymphocytic leukemia over the past 40 years. And indeed there have been significant improvements in the outcomes for many kinds of cancer in the past few decades, particularly in children’s cancer.

But, leaving aside his dubious tactic of using the death of a relative to advance his ideology, I take exception to his claim that prayer and religious faith had nothing to do with the improvements in the treatment of cancer.

The remarkable progress in the treatment of cancer in the past several decades had a lot to do with faith and prayer. Myers misunderstands the origins of modern medical science and the history and nature of cancer treatment.

Advances in science and cancer treatment emerged, not from science in isolation, but from a culture that made science possible and that directed the fruits of scientific work toward good and compassionate goals. The culture from which science has emerged is Judeo-Christian culture, and modern science has arisen only in Judeo-Christian culture. Why has science been so closely linked to this specific culture?

The scientific investigation of nature using the scientific method depends on the metaphysical view that nature is rational and that natural laws can be discovered and used by human beings. The Judeo-Christian understanding of God and of man’s relationship to God accords with these preconditions for successful science. The application of science to care for the sick presupposes the view that we have an ethical obligation to help the weakest among us. The atheist view of metaphysics — that the universe has no purpose and no designer and no transcendent ethical code — provides no impetus to scientific inquiry or to the compassionate application of scientific knowledge. Modern science arose in Judeo-Christian culture — a milieu of faith and prayer. It arose from Judeo-Christian culture — and nowhere else — for a reason.

Read the rest of the article HERE.

The following provides an example of the power of prayer...

[Edit: Spelling error flagged by Eureka/Dave. I have no idea why I *always* misspell Dr. Egnor's name. He's Dr. E*n*gor to me for some weird reason.]