• Bad Faith – Book Review

    I was shocked and a lot pleased to go to the mail box and find a book. Especially since I hadn’t ordered one recently. Very rarely, I get a preview book and make a concerted effort to read it and write about it before the publication day.


    Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine is by Dr. Paul Offit, a medical doctor and researcher. He is a professor of pediatrics in the division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He’a also the director of the Vaccine Education Center. Finally, he’s a professor of vaccinology at the Perelman School of the University of Pennsylvania.

    He was a practicing doctor during the measles outbreak in Philadelphia in 1991. That outbreak was centered on two churches that refused to vaccinate their children. Which gives him something of a unique insight into the subject of Bad Faith.

    I’ve written about this before in 13 Reasons To Doubt: Essays from the writers of Skeptic Ink. So I look forward to reading this book.

    First impressions are important. This is a short book. The text is barely 200 pages, then another 35 pages of notes, references, and index. However, like some other small publishers, it is a very well put together book. The paper and jacket are good quality. The binding is also good. Without the jacket, it’s a very plain book. Even though the jacket is also fairly plain, it’s also quite striking, so a well put together book.

    Right away though, something jarred me out of my interest. It’s a minor thing and it occurs in the Forward, so I’m not sure what the results will be. (As I write this, I’ve only read the Forward.)

    Dr. Offit mentions several of the books by prominent atheists (Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Harris’ The End of Faith, and Hitchens’ God Is Not Great) and says that after studying the stories of medical neglect (his words) that he would feel the same as those authors, that religion was illogical and potentially harmful. But, he didn’t. He found himself embracing religion. To him, religion is about humanity, love, and faith. Those who interpret the words of the Bible into forms that result in children dying from religious diseases are not acting in God’s name, in spite of their claims otherwise.

    Here, Dr. Offit and I have to disagree. This smacks of No True Scotsman. I don’t disagree that, as Dr. Offit mentions, the religious often give to the needy, minister to the sick and hurt (emotionally and physically) and are capable of much love. But those things are not done only by the religious. While praying over a child until they die, when 7 days worth of antibiotics could have saved them is done by the religious.

    I think that Dr. Offit would agree with me that modern medicine is one of the greatest things that science has ever produced and that to not use it is a crime against humanity.

    Now that all that is out of the way, I’ll pause, read the book and get back with you.

    Note, I had put up some pictures of kittens while you waited for me to finish the book… as a joke. But this is not the time for jokes.

    The book is well written. Dr. Offit, with several books already under his belt seems to have a decent style. The writing is clear and, sadly, leaves little to the imagination. With that, it’s a really hard book to read. Not because of the prose, but because it’s really hard to read the pain and suffering, especially of children… babies. It’s really hard. There are tear stains on the book now.

    Dr. Offit talks a lot about religion in the book. As he said, he found himself getting more religious, rather than less. But reading this, I can’t help but feel that I am much more in agreement with Dawkins and Hitchens. Dr. Offit spends a few pages considering the psychological state of some of the parents, who watched their child die, even though they knew that he had diabetes and HAD been giving him insulin… until a charismatic preacher visited the church and convinced them that their boy was healed of diabetes.

    But Dr. Offit misses the point here. Regardless of their psychological state, regardless of the good that religion does, it is still the religious in this country who, until very recently, have had a free pass to let their children die… in massively painful ways… in ways that, for the most part, could be easily treated.

    Offit says that this book really is about religion. I agree with him. He talks of how Jesus was different, loving the children. At the time (and before and since), children were considered property and tools. Little more than small tractors and plows. He talks about how children are to be loved and cherished and looked after. Not allowed to die because the parents have been brainwashed to the point that people with Ph.D.s don’t know that a fever means that a child has an infection.

    I think that everyone should read this book. I think that the stories in this book of the results of not vaccinating are powerful lessons in the futility of prayer. I also think that they are powerful lessons in the strength of modern medicine. Almost every case reported in this book would have survived with treatment. Some, like the case of exorcisms leading to child deaths, wouldn’t have been needed at all (and yes, Catholics still have a large exorcism core).

    One thing that is never shown in this book, and considering the 30 pages of notes and research papers, is a single instance of prayer actually working. I think that if Dr. Offit had found such a case, he would have reported it. Dr. Offit discusses the idea of the placebo (and a fascinating study I hadn’t heard of before)[1].

    Having written all of this, I want to make it clear. I disagree with the author’s religiousness. I think that it is unnecessary and, as mentioned several times in the book, potentially dangerous. However, I feel that I may have let my antipathy toward one small aspect of the author cloud my judgment of the book itself.

    This is a serious book and a serious topic. Dr. Offit talks about the courts and why the US allows some practices, restricts others, and has opened the door to a possible minefield of cases. He talks about how and why religions have moved toward faith healing and the consequences of those decisions.

    This book should be read by anyone who deals with children, parents, medicine, or religion. I think that this book does offer some small insights into the minds of the religious. But more importantly, it shows what happens when people reject science-based medicine.

    This isn’t some nebulous concept. This is real and real kids have died because of their parents’ decisions to not get proper treatment. In my own research, I found a study (Asser, 1998) that examined 172 child fatalities between 1975 and 1995. Of the 172 children who died, 140 would have had a 90% or better survival rate with medical intervention. Eighteen more would have had a 50% or better survival rate, and all but three children would have had at least some benefit from medical care. Instead, every one of them died because their parents chose faith healing over evidence-based medicine.

    This is a problem and I agree with Dr. Offit. Anyone who would let their children die is not acting in a good manner. Forget Godly, these people are not good parents. I am a parent. I have sat up all night with my child doing everything in my power to make them feel better when they are sick. When dealing with a baby, you assume the worst and work up from there. You don’t take chances with their lives.

    And that’s the thing about these stories. These people didn’t feel like they were taking chances. They were committed to the belief that a myth was going to heal their child… if only they were committed enough. That’s the power and the problem with religion.

    I’ve got another 30 notes stuck in my book, but there’s too much. Read the book. Make up your own mind about the religious aspect of it. But get the kids to the doctor.



    1) the conclusion of the paper is very interesting “In this trial involving patients without knee osteoarthritis but with symptoms of a degenerative medial meniscus tear, the outcomes after arthroscopic partial meniscectomy were no better than those after a sham surgical procedure.”  Wow, now that’s a placebo effect.

    Category: Book ReviewCulturefeaturedMedicineReligionScienceSociety


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat