March 31, 2007

Miracle Weight Loss or Absence of Critical Thinking?

fitness digital scale/weight loss

I found a fascinating example of how kind the mainstream news media tends to be toward religious nonsense. I think this sort of thing may be one of many factors keeping people trapped in irrational belief. The content of this story, an obese pastor who found that the only way to lose weight was by changing his behavior, is only somewhat interesting. What was far more interesting (and a bit infuriating to this atheist) was how his story was presented.

According to this story from The Beacon News (update: link no longer active), Chicago pastor Robby Dawkins lost 200 pounds. He once weighed 425 pounds, and "the faithful man of God who firmly believes he has witnessed numerous miracles could not understand why his own prayers for weight loss went unanswered." Indeed, how could his god fail to answer his prayers? Never mind the millions of prayers from starving children which go unanswered every day - this "man of God" takes priority!

But the good pastor seems to have come to his senses, at least partially. "I realized that God wasn't going to do it," Dawkins said. "This was a discipline issue that I needed to learn myself." Really? You mean he's just like everyone else? After spending his career claiming that prayer could heal and making absurd claims about how "Cancer and other diseases have disappeared because of faith in God," the pastor oriented himself to reality. He lost weight through the same combination of diet and exercise that physicians have been recommending to everyone else.

Just how does the article's author address the pastor's success through behavior change? "In a sense, Dawkins has experienced his own miracle." What? Weight loss through diet and exercise is miraculous? In what way? Just because something is difficult does not make doing it any sort of miracle. I see no evidence of supernatural intervention here.