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Dr. Wendy Walsh: Why Atheists Die First

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Uploaded on Jan 16, 2012

This is an older video but I wanted to add it to my collection; an article by Austin Cline* goes well with this video.

The idea that there are no atheists in foxholes is already a popular myth among Christian bigots, but Wendy Walsh seems to want to start a new one: that atheists die first in survival situations. She has no basis for such an assertion, but I suppose it makes her feel better as a theist to imagine that she is still superior to someone out there.

The problem, though, is that there are surely people who will mistakenly think she is trustworthy and believe her -- especially since she said it on CNN. You know they won't issue a correct because they have an atrocious history when it comes to providing a platform for anti-atheist bigots. "...it doesn't mean that science has the answers for everything... Most studies on survivors show that atheists die first. Because if you don't believe in something super-natural, how can you imagine that you yourself have supernatural abilities enough to survive?"

Source: Huffington Post*


It's fascinating that she would start out by asserting that science doesn't have all the answers, but then proceed to try to use science to support her claim. It seems to me that whenever someone tries to make excuses for their beliefs by insisting that science can't explain everything, then they shouldn't be allowed to start invoking science as soon as it becomes convenient.


"This was live TV shorthand and the survivor studies I alluded to are "medical" survivor studies. I forgot the word "medical." For this, I deeply apologize. It was also metaphoric language. I don't believe in magic, nor do I think that God is this giant cop in the sky or ground control for our lives. But I do believe in having an open mind.

Survival and faith are not distant cousins. Religiosity helps people cope with illness, and may even impede the progression of disease. People recovering from open heart surgery are three times more likely to survive if they have religious faith. Black women with breast cancer have lower survival rates than white women -- unless they are religious.

Then they are much more likely to outlive their white sisters. In India, doctors scratch their heads as babies born to strict Muslim families in poverty have higher survival rates than upper caste Hindus with less religion. Prayer can help manage anger and lower blood pressure. And meditation (a new age version of prayer) can increase memory, self-esteem and empathy, and even slow the progression of HIV."

Source: Dr. Wendy Walsh


Wendy Walsh doesn't even seem to know how to use old newspaper accounts of scientific studies, so I have no confidence that she knows how to use actual scientific research papers. For example, she links to an article in The New York Times to support her claim about people recovering from open heart surgery better if they are religious. In that study, only 21 died out of 232, hardly enough to justify much in the way of conclusions.

Much more important, though, is the fact that later in the article it's stated quite clearly that the findings in scientific studies "have not all been positive." Some studies find that more religious patients end up worse than less religious patients, and even those studies which do find positive correlations between health and religion have not properly controlled for the benefits of basic social support which religion so often provides -- and which can be had outside religion.

For Wendy Walsh to assert that "atheists die first" while ignoring the clearly equivocal nature of the evidence is a sign of serious intellectual dishonesty. She simply can't be trusted, yet she is invited to talk on national TV as if she were a respected expert whose opinion has value. Why? Perhaps because she willingly reinforces the prejudices of others.

* Link to this article: http://atheism.about.com/b/2011/04/11...

* Original Huffington Post link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03...

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