Leaving the Land of Woo

A rational, sceptical look at the ideas of alternative medicine, food, religion, and the paranormal

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Tragic death from faith healing

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Tags: death from faith healing

Today, Dale and Leilani Neuman, were convicted of reckless homicide because as devout Christians, they believed that their god would heal their child of easily treatable diabetes.  The didn't take the child to the doctor, and eventually she worsened and died.  They will be devastated and disorientated.  They will not understand how their god could have failed to act.  They will blame themselves and wonder why their god let them and their daughter suffer.

But the judge in sentencing them said they were good people, and gave them a sentence of one month in jail per year for the next six years, followed by a ten year probation period.  Their other children would have their health monitored.  The judge suggested that God acts through doctors as well as other people, and that the couple should reflect on what God wants them to learn from the tragedy.  They will be appealing against their sentence.

In making those comments, the judge implicitly expressed his own confusion.


He wanted to sustain the very irrational belief that led to the tragedy whilst ameliorating the more severe consequences.  He condoned the belief in a supernatural being, all powerful and omniscient, whilst having to ensure rational behaviour to protect the lives of children.  It's OK to believe in a god and to observe a religion, but not to believe so strongly that you place the health of your child in the care of such a supernatural being.  He's on the belief spectrum, just like they are, but he's on the more rational end.  He knows that faith healing doesn't, and can't, work.


But rather than getting them to question the irrationality of the belief that led to the tragedy, the judge wants them to keep that irrational belief, just to tone it down a bit.  Millions of people believe that prayer makes a difference to the real world, rather than simply being a form of contemplation that provides psychological benefits for some people.  Millions flock to places of pilgrimage, offer prayers to saints, relics, icons, and plead with supernatural beings for some benevolent intervention.  Though the thought of success might provide a comfort, there is no rational justification for such activity.

Once someone is on this irrational belief spectrum, they can be pulled one way or the other, towards extreme beliefs, or towards rational beliefs.  But wherever they are on the spectrum, the imaginary supernatural beings will have no effect on the physical world.

In this particular case, the judge would have provided a much better service if he had asked to couple to question why they believe in a god in the first place.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 25 July 2010 14:07