Last night I had an hour event (45 minutes of conversation about Faith Versus Fact and 15 minutes of Q&A) at the Hong Kong Literary Festival, co-sponsored by the Hong Kong Skeptics. You can watch it by clicking on the screenshot below.
The interviewer is Mike Bigelow, a businessman, former Jehovah’s Witness (now a nonbeliever), and officer of the Hong Kong Skeptics Society; he had some great questions. The taping was done by Andrew Davidson, who kindly recorded it on his phone and posted it on Periscope.
My thanks as well to Phillipa Milne, head of the Literary Festival, to David Young, one of my “handlers” who extended me warm hospitality, and the other Literary Festival and Hong Kong Skeptic folk who dealt with the logistical hurdles.
I was gratified that the event was sold out, that the audience seemed enthusiastic, and that many people bought books (WEIT was also on sale).
After the event I got to talk to some of the audience, and I was especially interested in what four young Hong Kong medics—practitioners of modern scientific medicine—had to say.
One thing I’ve learned is that although many people in Hong Kong and China are not conventionally religious, they are often deeply superstitious, not only relying on untested or disproven forms of medical treatment (acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine), but having a belief in feng shui, lucky numbers (many buildings don’t have fourth floors), ghosts, and the like. Since the last chapter of Faith versus Fact was about the dangers of faith healing, I wanted to know whether these dangers applied to non-religious but untested Chinese folk medicine.
The medics instantly said “yes,” and noted that they’d come across many cases of people who had been severely damaged by relying on folk and traditional cures rather than scientific medicine. One, an oncologist, told me grisly stories about women with breast cancer who had tried to cure themselves by rubbing herbal creams on their tumor-ridden breasts, which of course only got worse and worse, often over years. By the time they sought Western treatment, it was too late, though many could have been cured had they consulted a real doctor early on. The oncologist said the same thing about lymphoma: it’s often a treatable and curable form of cancer, but becomes terminal if treated with folk nostrums.
So yes, there is lots of ineffective “faith healing” in which the “faith” devolves not on gods and their wills, but on untested remedies. Belief in untested forms of medicine is itself a form of faith, for there’s no systematic evidence that they work. But I suppose we knew that already. I just wanted confirmation from local doctors, and got it in spades.