Doctors, God, and Forcing Faith

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Well, most doctors in the U.S. believe in God, according to a survey reported here. [hat tip: World]

This is surprising according to the author, because supposedly scientists tend not to believe in God, but is that true? I remember seeing some survey that said most scientists do believe in God but accept the standard evolutionary picture other than its denial of God, including the common origins of all animals including humans (the one element of standard evolutionary theory that some but not all of the ID people deny).

One thing this attitude (that this result should be surprising) ignores is the difference between doctors and scientists. Notwithstanding the fact that the medical industry is in the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies and is more often a for-profit business than a collection of organizations designed to help people, many doctors are in their profession not to make a buck (or at least not just to make a buck) but because they want to be in a profession that serves, a profession that heals. I don't want to suggest that atheists aren't interested in helping people, but it would surprise me greatly if you found a higher percentage of atheists in healing and helping professions than you do in society as a whole. Those who believe in religion-based morality tend to be much more highly represented in such professions. Why wouldn't this apply to those who go to school for eight years to be in that profession?

Another thing that caught my interest in this article was the following quote: "Dr. J. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association, said religion and medicine are completely compatible, as long as doctors do not force their own beliefs on patients." I really have to wonder what this guy means by forcing beliefs on patients. I'm imagining a doctor taking a laser scalpel and threating to burn someone's eyes out if they don't repent and surrender to Christ. This sort of language has always annoyed me. How can a doctor force beliefs on patients. Is it forcing your beliefs to say "God bless you". Our doctors say it all the time. Is it forcing beliefs to have literature that's Christian for patients to be able to pick up if they like? Is it forcing beliefs to refuse to perform an abortion? Is it forcing beliefs to want to make sure a patient is informed of the ethical issues behind embryo creation for fertility purposes? Is it forcing beliefs to tell them what you yourself happen to believe about God?

I think the answer to all those questions is obviously no, and this is so even in a professional context. There may be reasons not to do some of them, and there may be reasons to do some of them, but not one of them is forcing beliefs on someone. I can't imagine that something worse than any of these things would even take place regularly enough for someone to bother mentioning it in this sort of "as long as you don't..." kind of clause. Saying that sort of thing seems to me like saying, "It's perfectly find to hire black people to mow your lawn as long as you don't enslave them." Why would anyone say such a thing in our context? No one would bother.

Why, then, do they say something like this when the possibility of a doctor forcing beliefs is so ridiculously low that there's no point in reminding someone of it? The most obvious thing I can think of is that these are code words to inflame the anger of those who think doctors might be forcing their beliefs down their patients' throats. It's thus conspiracy theorist bait. The only other thing that occurs to me is that this guy is scared to death that people will see him as being too positive to religion, so he has to say something to assure the secularist lobby that he's not on the other side. Either one seems pretty lame to me.

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