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Applied Theology – Avicenna (the original dude) would Weep

There is a word from the “His Dark Materials” trilogy.

Applied Theology. The notion that we can simply apply theology to the visible world and thus make sense of it.

This is how we lived most of our lives until the scientific revolutions. It was easier to explain things by gods and demons and ghosts than by thinking about events. It is why we tried to reason with the storm by creating gods such as Thor and Indra and indeed Jehovah himself who may have begun as a Storm god.

These beings were seen as agents which we could petition to influence the world to our favour.

We know better now. But people still attempt to do so. The Creationists are a great example. Even holding up real fossils of carnivorous dinosaurs and laughably claiming they ate watermelons with jaws designed to kill other animals. But this is particularly seen in the Muslim World. Where there are major attempts to square the natural world with the writing within the Koran.

And it has effects on the mentally ill. For example? This paper.

Schizophrenia is typically a life-long condition characterized by acute symptom exacerbations and widely varying degrees of functional disability. Some of its symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations, produce great subjective psychological pain. The most common delusion types are as follows: “My feelings and movements are controlled by others in a certain way” and “They put thoughts in my head that are not mine.” Hallucinatory experiences are generally voices talking to the patient or among themselves. Hallucinations are a cardinal positive symptom of schizophrenia which deserves careful study in the hope it will give information about the pathophysiology of the disorder. We thought that many so-called hallucinations in schizophrenia are really illusions related to a real environmental stimulus. One approach to this hallucination problem is to consider the possibility of a demonic world. Demons are unseen creatures that are believed to exist in all major religions and have the power to possess humans and control their body. Demonic possession can manifest with a range of bizarre behaviors which could be interpreted as a number of different psychotic disorders with delusions and hallucinations. The hallucination in schizophrenia may therefore be an illusion—a false interpretation of a real sensory image formed by demons. A local faith healer in our region helps the patients with schizophrenia. His method of treatment seems to be successful because his patients become symptom free after 3 months. Therefore, it would be useful for medical professions to work together with faith healers to define better treatment pathways for schizophrenia.

Yes. I kid you not. This is discussing the potential cause of mental illness as “demons”. Literal rather than the metaphorical ones.

“Hallucinations are a cardinal positive symptom of schizophrenia which deserves careful study in the hope it will give information about the pathophysiology of the disorder. We thought that many so-called hallucinations in schizophrenia are really illusions related to a real environmental stimulus. One approach to this hallucination problem is to consider the possibility of a demonic world. Demons are unseen creatures that are believed to exist in all major religions and have the power to possess humans and control their body. Demonic possession can manifest with a range of bizarre behaviors which could be interpreted as a number of different psychotic disorders with delusions and hallucinations. The hallucination in schizophrenia may therefore be an illusion—a false interpretation of a real sensory image formed by demons.”

Dr. Irmak thus creates a dialogue where patients can be abused and mistreated by faith healers rather than real medicine. It enables quackery while treating a major medical issue with quack science.

It is what you get when you drag applied theology to its logical conclusion. Demons Exist. Demons Possess People. Demons Were Traditionally Regarded As the Cause of Mental Illness. Therefore Demons are Real and Exorcism + Faith Healing is real.

In order to prop up their version of Islam, the entire science of psychiatry and the patients it helps are sacrificed. Many Arab hospitals take on the name of Ibn Sina in memory of the Golden Age Islamic scholar. He is widely regarded as the father of Evidence Based Medicine due to being the first known doctor (he was a polymath to be fair) to recommend proper experimentation and comparison between treatments.

Imagine taking his name and producing something as vapid and scientifically unsound as this to prop up your religious views?

Comments

  1. says

    These beings were seen as agents which we could petition to influence the world to our favour.

    In “Against the gods”, Bernstein explains a lot of this as a failure to understand probability until fairly recently. For example, people literally didn’t understand why 7’s came up more frequently on dice — if you could go back in time you could gamble on that fact and clean up — until you were burned as a witch. But that’s probably how 7 got to be considered a “lucky number”; the gods just liked seeing 7’s on dice. I’m amazed that Ptolemy or Archimedes never worked that stuff out, but that’s apparently how the ancients rolled.

  2. jesse says

    Q: s it possible (I only saw the abstract) that this guy is looking at it as, “OK, let’s assume demons for the moment because lots of schizophrenics think that’s the problem. We know that faith healers don’t really do anything, but in the case of this particular mental illness it seems to work.”

    That is, and looking at it from the schizophrenic’s perspective, the magic guy helps and the symptoms go away. So you do whatever works. The reality of demons doesn’t really matter.

    I’ve seen a bit of this with doctors that work on Indian reservations. I could go on all day about how sand paintings probably don’t accomplish much and the spirit world doesn’t exist, but the only way to get some Native people to work with docs is to incorporate some of their spiritual practices, and they get better results and compliance. (Westerners do a bit of this too, BTW, though in a way we aren’t always conscious of — why do docs wear white coats, for instance? There is no rational reason for it, the coats could be electric blue with orange stripes for all that it matters. Doctor’s jackets date from medieval times, and even the way we treat disease often has echoes there — the very word “disease” shows that).

    Or one parallel: I know that I won’t exercise without a trip to the gym even though there is no rational reason whatsoever to not work out at home. But whatever, I get exercise at the gym. I get the health benefits. Problem solved, even if the solution isn’t elegant.

    But I haven’t read the whole paper.

    @Marcus Ranum – looks like the first studies of probability date from the 16th century. I doubt that the fact that more combinations are 7 on two six-sided dice was lost on early mathematicians — you can observe it pretty easily, and even children will remark on it if they play with dice. And cons existed long before the 17th century. There are ancient Roman examples of loaded dice, so plainly they had some intuitive notion of probability. There is a difference between our intuitive notions and a rigorous mathematical analysis, though, and sometimes our intuition is right and sometimes not.

    I might guess that one problem wasn’t just that the probability wasn’t treated mathematically but that early dice weren’t perfectly cubical. (A perfect cube is not an easy thing to carve by hand — try it sometime! — and many early dice were actually roughly tetrahedral, since they were made of the “knucklebones” of animals).

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