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How the Placebo Effect Proves there is a God

Ok, catchy title aside, in fact I mean to demonstrate only that it proves that the transcendent exists and is real- further argument would be required to get to the conclusion that there is a God as Christians understand him.  🙂

We are all aware of the placebo effect.  This is often described as being the result of ‘sham’ or ‘fake’ treatments or pills with the fact being that the body would have ‘healed itself on its own’ or has its effect because the illness was ‘only in their mind.’

All of these attitudes represent a materialistic outlook, if not outright reductionism.  This hard core atheistic outlook has been at the bottom of scientific development in all fields since the early 1900s, and this has certainly spilled over into medicine.   This has sometimes been to the detriment, and even the embarrassment, of scientific progress as described in a book that is still one of my favorites, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz’s The Mind and the Brain.  The book charts the history of brain science up to the point where it was finally admitted that thought itself appeared to be able to shape the matter of the brain.

The placebo effect, or if we wanted to call it the ‘belief effect,’ seems to be a real effect.  It would appear that there is a real ability of the thoughts of the mind- which are at bottom, immaterial, to change the physical brain and body.

It is here that I put forward my fundamental point:  these thoughts are immaterial.

And if there is anything immaterial, that disproves materialism.  If we can find even one single thing that is best accounted for by positing something that transcends ‘matter’ then hard core philosophical atheistic reductionism is disproved.  (But does not, as I said in my first paragraph, conclusively show the exact nature of that which transcends).

But why is the thought ‘at bottom’ immaterial?  Isn’t the thought merely the physical manifestations of shifting neurons and what not?

This is essentially the reductionist viewpoint.  It’s all just brain, even the thought.

I think that much could be said that this isn’t the case, that at some level, in some point, abstract- immaterial- thought interlinks with matter, manifesting in physical effects, and this very well happens inside the body.  But people dispute that, so let me focus on another place that is indisputable where an immaterial idea interacts with physical ‘stuff.’  For, all I need is one such example, as I said.

That place is contained in the ‘idea’ communicated in the whole placebo experience.  When the doctor hands the patient a sugar pill, we are confident that the sugar pill itself is having no physical effect, leaving the person’s mind and/or body to produce said effect.  But in order for the person’s mind to come to the idea that it has received treatment, this information comes in the course of the transaction itself. There is, built into the event itself, the abstract, immaterial ‘idea’ that if you take THIS you WILL GET BETTER.  In short, information is passed between the doctor and the patient, and this information ‘hangs in the air’ for a time between them as a real, but immaterial, thing.

If anyone would like to dispute this, all I ask is that they catch the information as it passes from the doctor to the patient and put it into a bottle for me to look at, probe, and dissect, and I’ll believe otherwise.

If the reductionist would like to quibble that in the brains of the doctor and the patient the information is ‘merely’ bits of physical stuff like the physical stuff of a hard drive, let him.  As the message is communicated from one agent to the other it is not physical at all.

And if it is not physical, it is immaterial, and if it is immaterial that means that there is at least one area within our knowledge  where there is something that transcends physicality.   And one is all we needed.

Now, I know full well that the reductionists are hard at work to find ways to frame this reality in materialistic terms.   Despite advances in neurology which show that it is bitterly difficult to reduce the mind to brain, they are still trying.  When they at last find a model that seems to do it, they will embrace it, not because it is scientifically demonstrable but because it achieves what they sought all along- an explanatory construct that is fully naturalistic from top to bottom.  I wager that they will succeed in that.

But I do not think they will ever be able to do that with information, with platonic ideals, etc.  I think it will always be the atheist’s peculiar form of ‘blind faith,’ something that they know is true and are awaiting evidence for.

In the meantime, I appeal to everyone’s experience of reality.  Do we not experience these ‘placebo’ effects all the time?  If a person says a kind word to us, we are cheered.    Endorphins can be released through physical activity… but  also merely through the mind’s interpretation of events outside the body, things that ‘excite’ or ‘create stress.’  Ie, realities that are interpreted, translated, and compiled somehow into ‘information’ that then has a physical reaction within the body.  I could go on and on with such examples.

My reason for giving a few is to show that we do not need to appeal to high theological arguments or hard core scientific inquiry in order to detect the transcendent.  We each experience the transcendental every day, even within our own being- our own experience of reality- every day.  And if some things are transcendent, maybe there are more…



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  1. […] If a non-Christian doctor holds to a different religious faith that nonetheless recognizes that humans are more than structured piles of pulp, is better, but still does not actually perceive what humans really are.  At the far end of the spectrum are the philosophical materialists who view humans in purely mechanistic terms, thinking that every condition can be healed by some drug or what not and if the ‘mind’ of the patient ever comes into play, it is dismissed as mere placebo. […]

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