Despite the advances that we have made in our understanding of the natural world, a shocking number of people still are fleeced by charlatans regularly. With everything that we know, people such as Deepak Chopra and Dr. Oz continue to spout off meaningless woo—and inexplicably are not regarded as the crazy people that they truly are. In fact, the opposite is true: these modern-day snake oil salesmen have made a lot of money by taking advantage of the ignorant. While this can be partly explained by the old saying that “There’s a sucker born every minute” (incorrectly attributed to P.T. Barnum), it’s incredible that such obvious nonsense isn’t treated with outright ridicule by everyone who hears or reads it.
— Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) February 25, 2015
Although several scientists openly call Deepak Chopra out for his torrent of nonsensical verbal diarrhea, the general public laps it up so hungrily that he frequently can be found on one of his many lucrative book tours. Chopra is a licensed endocrinologist, but he instead uses his perceived credibility to try to pass off his unfounded, pretentious gibberish as somehow being scientific. Among other things, he claims that by harnessing the power of “consciousness”—which he has only defined in vague terms—humans can change our genes in order to heal and improve ourselves. To quote Christopher Hitchens (who said this about Young Earth Creationism), “This is nonsense. It can’t be believed by a thinking person.”
At the risk of undermining your business model, @deepakchopra, you are spraying words around like shit at a wall, hoping something sticks.
— Brian Cox (@ProfBrianCox) July 8, 2014
Despite the fact that Chopra’s “spiritual” words actually are meaningless, he has an astonishing 2.54 million Twitter followers. Even though some probably follow him because of the unintentional humor that his musings provide, it still is discouraging that this pseudoscience is taken seriously by so many. As his own site says:
Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Dr. Chopra #40 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine.
This begs the question: why do so many people willingly let themselves get bamboozled by these wolves in sheep’s clothing? The answer partly lies with the fact that many people tend to believe something that sounds appealing to them. Even the false hope peddled by mountebanks such as Chopra can seem infinitely more appealing than harsh realities. We see this manifest itself all the time with religions, as people in unfortunate circumstances will embrace the illusion of an all-powerful deity who will love them in the afterlife forever—despite the total lack of evidence for these beliefs. In many cases, wishful thinking can actually supersede logic and even evidence in order to trick vulnerable minds into thinking that the Universe is only 6,000 years old, or that faith healing has any effect beyond a short-lived placebo effect.
While our brains can deceive us into believing outlandish things, the reality is that—like it or not—illnesses have never been cured by muttering hopeful words to imaginary friends. In fact, a major peer-reviewed study showed that not only does faith healing fail to help the infirm, it actually can be detrimental to the health of those on the receiving end of prayers.
Even though these absurd, pseudoscientific “healing” scams have been repeatedly been found to be ineffective or harmful, there is an even more sinister aspect to this. Some religious sects (particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists) believe in an interpretation of scripture that proscribes the use of medicine, and instead says that prayer is the most effective method for healing the sick and injured.
These anti-medicine doctrines have tragic consequences, as an alarming amount of children die from treatable illnesses because of parents who are too delusional to accept that what their children require is doctors and real medicine. Even though hundreds of children have been killed because they were at the mercy of brainwashed parents, 43 U.S. states still allow at least some legal exemptions for instances of kids being denied health care due to religious reasons. It’s incredibly sad that, if these parents had failed to care for their children for other reasons, they would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law—but when religion is involved, there suddenly are exemptions to protect the faithful, as if that somehow mitigates the fact that they have been complicit in killing their children.
If we can’t even move past the misconception that religions should be treated with a deference not given to others, we won’t be able to make meaningful progress. We can’t let what Jeffrey Tayler calls “Faith Derangement Syndrome” be used as an excuse any longer. If parents can continue to get away with negligent homicide, simply because the parents happened to have been brainwashed by a particular religious cult, people will continue to die unnecessarily and our society will be unable to move forward, into a more rational future.