Religion no substitute for reason
The case of Dale and Shannon Hickman is a tragically relevant example of the results of unsubstantiated beliefs being carried out to severely unfortunate conclusions. In 2009, Shannon gave birth to a three-pound baby boy at their Oregon home. While they both thought he looked healthy, his condition took a turn for the worst. Instead of taking him to a hospital, Dale held him and prayed for him. The baby died at home.
The Hickmans did not escape justice per se; they have been convicted of manslaughter for an astonishing level of negligence. Unfortunately this is only one of several similar cases to have appeared in recent years; all stand as a clear testament not only to the illusion that is “freedom of belief,” but to its moral repugnance as well.
When I say that we do not have unrestricted “freedom” of belief, I should care to explain that we are never “free” from the consequences of our beliefs. Our beliefs inform our actions and our most sincere beliefs about the nature of reality. They will lead to either human flourishing, if true, or a much more tragic outcome, if false.
The Hickmans, for example, believed in the power of prayer and followed the doctrine of their church which abhorred any and all forms of modern medicine.
These two beliefs — of the efficacy of prayer in concert with rejecting medical science — proved to be a tragic and deadly combination.
On the one hand, the power of prayer has never been categorically demonstrated — even organizations like the Templeton Foundation which have tried to scientifically prove that prayer works (to support their own religious bias) have repeatedly discovered that praying for someone’s healing is just about as effective as doing nothing at all.
In contrast, the benefits of the last few centuries of advancements in medical science are so powerful and varied that they could never be properly summed up in this article — that is, the efficacy of medical science is demonstrable.
The Hickmans’ child could have lived but he died due to complications that have regularly been treated at hospital at a nearly 100 per cent rate of success.
The Hickmans can never escape the consequences of their beliefs now; they let their child die when he could easily have been treated in a hospital and they must have known that modern medicine works. They just thought that prayer was better. I think it should be clear just how wrong they were.
Reason and evidence are the only
adequate tools each of us has at our
disposal for determining what is
really true in this world; blind faith
amounts to a rejection of intellectual
honesty and reason in favour of
choosing what you want to be true on a
In this world we are not absolutely free to believe whatever we want precisely for the kinds of consequences described above. The potential for causing undue harm and misery to others (especially to innocents) is simply too great. I have no doubts that the Hickmans sincerely believed in what they were doing on that day when they rejected a medical approach to saving their son.
They put their religion above common sense, their belief in God above a belief in proven medical science.
While they are free to believe in whatever they wish, they failed to consider the ultimate well-being of their child.
Sure, they were convicted for their crime of negligence, but truly their greatest crime was that of wilful ignorance which developed to a deadly level.
They made their choice with the same knowledge any other person living in the 21st century has about the effectiveness of medical science; they rejected reason and evidence in favour of blind faith.
Reason and evidence are the only adequate tools each of us has at our disposal for determining what is really true in this world; blind faith amounts to a rejection of intellectual honesty and reason in favour of choosing what you want to be true on a whim.
Canada should set an example for the United States here: that we no longer let the unfounded (and dangerous) religious superstition of parents get in the way of saving the lives of their children.
We value their right to live much more highly than the right of their parents to impose their unreasonable beliefs upon others.
If being free to believe anything you want about the nature of reality (in spite of evidence to the contrary) means that your beliefs will lead to self-harm or the harming of others, then you should absolutely not be free to believe whatever you choose on faith.
And I think that would be a damn good thing, for all our sakes.