“How religion poisons everything” was the subtitle of a recent Christopher Hitchens book on God. He could equally have said: “How religion turns everyone into idiots.” Case in point: Andrew Sullivan, who is otherwise one of the most intelligent and lucid commentators on the blogosphere (and the MSM) today.
Yes, resilience is obviously built into our genetics, but my point was the unique ability to transcend suffering, not just endure it. That requires a mind that renders humans uniquely self-conscious, which has led to inquiries into ultimate meaning that, so far as we can tell, no animal experiences in the same way. Many survive suffering – most, in fact. The question is whether it is overcome, rather than endured. For that, something beyond mere physical processes are necessary. Which is where religion has its place.
On a related note, here’s an entertaining guide to homoeopathy (thanks to Sunil). Homoeopathy has much in common with religion: rational arguments don’t work with true believers, and in particular, it is impossible to answer the claim “but it worked for me!”
There are two caveats I would put, however. First, homoeopathy (and religion) may actually work if you’re a believer. The best explanation of homoeopathy I’ve heard is the following (I previously posted it as a comment here): A colleague of mine claims the following is, roughly, an actual conversation he had with an actual practising (and believing) homoeopath. My friend expressed his skepticism on scientific grounds — the dilution is so extreme that hardly a molecule or two would be expected to remain, if that. The homoeopath said, “Have you been to a homeopathic doctor?” My friend said yes. “What happened?” “The doctor asked lots of questions and then prescribed me a medicine.” “How long did the questioning take?” “It took about 20 minutes and was very detailed.” And, according to the homoeopath: “It is the 20 minutes of questioning that is the therapeutic part of homoeopathy. The pill is a placebo. It is just a sugar pill.”
Now, placebos can have real effects (Skepdic has a good discussion), so it would not surprise me that homoeopathy (or praying) could help you with some conditions, if you believed in the first place that it could.
The second caveat is that not everything that passes for homoeopathy need actually be homoeopathic (that is, diluted according to Hahnemann’s prescriptions). This is especially true in India, but there was also a recent case of a “homeopathic” cold medicine in the US that turned out to contain non-homoeopathic quantities of zinc, with a detrimental effect on the patients’ sense of smell. “Alternative” therapies are poorly regulated, all over the world. Caveat emptor.