-Placebo Faith

Placebo Faith

Gregory Koukl

How do you know if your faith is a sugar pill or an effective medication? See how Greg confronts the argument of faith being merely a placebo.


The suggestion of the last caller was that since a doctor can stimulate faith by a placebo, that seems to have some relevance for the question of faith with Christians. What is interesting and frustrating to me is that there is such a deep misconception about the notion of faith. People have this feeling that faith is something that is resident within you and the power comes from within you. I'm not at all surprised in one sense, because a great portion of Christianity--especially in the area of the electronic church--seems to represent faith as a force in itself. So if you have enough of this faith force you can accomplish more things.But faith isn't a force; it is an attitude of trust which allows you to depend on someone that can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Now, this is very important. Faith is trust. Trust allows you to go to the source of the power. Trust isn't the power.The reference to the placebo seems to imply that faith is the power itself, such that a physician can give you a placebo, like a sugar pill, which has no medicinal qualities, but you think it does. And because your mind has been fooled, this stimulates the power inside of you--call it faith power if you want--that affects your cure. The doctor has just fooled your faith system, so to speak, into thinking it got something and therefore it stimulates this faith and the faith ends up curing you because, obviously, the sugar pill didn't.

What this illustration shows is nothing about faith, but the power of suggestion. Someone can give a placebo to a person and that placebo can make that person feel better. By the way, the placebo doesn’t cure the disease. When you have a real disease, it doesn’t cure anything. If that were the case, then sugar pills would be used to cure everything. This makes a very important point. Even though you have the faith to take the pill, in other words you are encouraged to act in trust by taking the pill which you think will do something for you, you will die unless the pill really has the capability to make you well. The point being, faith is an act of trust that is only helpful and useful if the pill is not a placebo but it is in fact the real McCoy.

I agree that religion is a placebo for many people, but it can only be a placebo if it is a sugar pill that doesn’t solve the problem. In other words, Christians just believe something to make them feel better with no conviction, so sense that it happens to be true that the religion can cure their spiritual ills. It’s just merely wishful thinking.

I’m not so concerned about what you wish and that you get a placebo that I give you a religious prescription that is merely a piece of candy so that you feel better about life. I am concerned that your spiritual disease gets healed. It will not be healed by giving you a placebo.

That’s why the issue of truth is so important to me. That’s why I’m so deeply concerned that arguments regarding issues like morality are well-constructed and lead us to the truth, and that when counter-arguments are offered we look carefully at them to see if they really do the job. If they don’t do the job, as this one doesn’t, we have to abandon it and go to the best explanation because the best explanation is most likely to be true. If is most likely to be true, it is least likely to be a mere placebo–a mere sugar-coated pill.

The argument that morals were developed simply by a culture is a placebo. It is not true, and I’ve given the reasons why I believe it is not true. In other words, it can’t cure your ills, but it does something for you. It makes you feel good so that you don’t have to admit that there is a God that you owe allegiance to and need to bend the knee to. No, you can make yourself feel good about the idea that morals are just something that we invent and there is no need to postulate a God so you can go on living your life the way you want to apart from Him. You have taken a sugar pill, a placebo, regarding the issue of morality. It is not the truth, it isn’t the best explanation, but you feel good in a way that will ultimately lead to your destruction just like a person who is dying of cancer takes a bit of chocolate to make them feel good, but it doesn’t address the problem.

That’s why the issue of placebo is really critical. Marx said that religion is the opiate of the people–religion is a placebo. My concern is whether that is a true statement. Let’s take a look.

Can we demonstrate that certain truth claims about religious things are reliable apart from our feelings about them? I am committed to the task of answering that particular question. Let’s offer the truth claim. Let’s look at it apart from whether we like the notion or not, whether or not it tastes good because if it does taste good then we may just be opting for a placebo that we like rather than opting for the truth. So let’s rigorously test this medicinal offering to see if it does the job or it is merely just a pleasant-tasting pill that makes us feel better and will ensure our destruction in the long run. It will ensure the fact that we die of this disease.

I think that there are many people who have the conviction that all religion is a mere placebo, as Marx has suggested in his famous quote, and they don’t do the harder work to examine it to see what is true and what isn’t true. We are talking about desperately important things here, ladies and gentlemen. Desperately important issues. That’s why we can’t be satisfied with something that merely tastes good figuring that is all that religion is about anyway–just to make us feel good about our circumstances. We desperately need to know what is true in the realm of religious truth. We desperately need to know the difference between placebo and medicine so we get the real medicine to cure our real disease.


1 Comment on -Placebo Faith

  1. And heaven will be opened when we will praise and thanks the lord with joyful mind and hearts and when we will give our tens to Lord and do his will and turn to him will love and trust and pray for all those who will lead and quard us ordinarie men,thanks and be bless and joy,keijo sweden

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