Monday, January 25, 2010

Over 100 Russians hospitalized after drinking holy water

This is yet another example of what can happen when people ignore scientific facts for superstitions. The Orthodox Christian holiday of Epiphany was January 19, and the Russian Orthodox have an interesting superstition that goes along with it:
The Holy Spirit, coming down upon the water, changes its natural properties. It becomes incorrupt, that is, it does not spoil, remains transparent and fresh for many years, receives the grace to heal illnesses, to drive away demons and every evil power, to preserve people and their dwellings from every danger, to sanctify various objects whether for church or home use.
Yep, God is apparently so good at water purification, he changes its natural properties...whatever that means. The Russian Orthodox take this very seriously:

People line up in churches to fill their bottles with the holy water which is believed to have a curative effect. Many defy sub-zero temperatures and take a dip in an ice hole to cleanse themselves of sins and take advantage of the heath-giving properties of Epiphany water as it is thought that any water on this day, be it tapped water or a pond, becomes baptismal. The number of "walruses" increases by the year. In Moscow, some 60,000 people are expected to enjoy Epiphany bathing. The holy water doesn't spoil and therefore needn't be kept in a fridge.
And what's the result?

More than 100 Russian Orthodox believers have been hospitalized after drinking holy water during Epiphany celebrations in the eastern city of Irkutsk, an official said Monday.

A total of 117 people, including 48 children, were in the hospital complaining of acute intestinal pain after drinking water from wells in and around a local church last week, said Vladimir Salovarov, a spokesman for the Irkutsk Investigative Committee.

Salovarov said 204 people required some medical treatment after consuming the water, the source of which was a stagnant lake. He said, however, that it was too early to say what caused the illness.

You know what? I have a feeling they'll discover that it's caused by some sort of bacteria or parasite in the stagnant lake, not by the priest praying incorrectly.

While these sorts of studies are fun for giggling at people who hold ludicrous beliefs, they're also useful. People often argue that religion and science occupy different realms of knowledge, and that science cannot test religious claims. That is totally false when religion claims to affect the natural world. Here's a simple test:

1. Get water from a pond on January 18th (this is your control)
2. Let priest pray on it for Epiphany.
3. Collect water from the same pond on January 19th.
4. Make observations:

  • Have all (or any) of the microbes in the water been destroyed?
  • Has the concentration of harmful chemicals decreased?
  • When left out, does the control water spoil and the holy water not?
  • When administered to ill patients in a double blind study, does the holy water significantly increase their health? (Okay, maybe giving pond water to sick people isn't ethical...)
5. Repeat at multiple water sources.

If my hypothesis that Science Wins is supported, that falsifies their religious claims. They are outright wrong. It's not a matter of opinion, it's not a separate magisterium, and it's not something we should respect. It's a false claim with consequences. How many adults and children need to get sick with scientific explanations before people give up their superstitions? How is it ethical for churches to be telling all of these people that it's safe to drink from this water when it's not?


  1. Obviously, the people who drank the water were vampires.

  2. I think this sort of story is useful as well for combating the argument "why do you get annoyed that other people have religion" : simple because it (can) create situations like this.

    I hope these guys get better.

  3. So I wasnt supposed to drink the Rev. Peter Popov magic water?

  4. Ah, but see the "separate magesterium" argument only works if one of the magesteria only makes claims that are unfalsifiable. The Russian Orthodox Church apparently didn't get the memo that they were supposed to restrict their claims to things that can't be empirically disproven, like souls or the existence of Heaven. When you make an empirical claim you're treading into the magesteria of the scientist and you will be smacked around by empirical reality no matter who you are.

  5. Reminds me of that joke about the three men and the holy water. You've probably heard it already but I'll post it here (at least the version I know) in case others haven't:

    Three men walk up to a priest to confess their sins. The priest asks the first man what he did. "I stole money from a bank." The priest says, "Go, drink the holy water, and your sins are forgiven." He asks the second man, "What is your sin?" The second man says "I stole a woman's purse." The priest again tells him to drink the holy water and his sins will be forgiven. The priest asks the third man, "What is your sin?" The man replies, "I peed in the holy water."

  6. It just means the people who got sick were sinners. SINNERS!

  7. Uh... Did you mean to copy the ad in the article?

  8. You're wrong Jen, religion and science had "separate magisterium", religion belongs to the magisterium of phantasy, and science belongs to the magisterium of reality. If religion enters in the reality magisterium, science can argue against it.

  9. That's what they get for drinking bloo...

    Oh. Wait. Isn't this the Catholic Wingnut forum?

    Oh. Sorry.

  10. How exactly does water spoil?

  11. @Paul Gowder--Or they could have been completely pious and screwed over on a bet with the devil.

  12. lol@CJ

    Why doesn't the water remember that it was purified by the man in the funny dress? Water memory fail.

  13. Rofl, I didn't even notice I included the ad because I have adblocker on. I thought you were hallucinating until someone else told me too.

  14. This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 1/26/2010, at The Unreligious Right

  15. Sorry, but where in the Bible does it say anything about holy water? It doesn't! Therefor the claim that water can be blessed by sinners (Catholics and Prodestents) and made clean by them is devilish and they are sinning for preaching false doctorines. No wonder we have so many lost people running arround beleaving these hercies. But JEN please do remember the righteous will judge the world in the end. The Saints will prevail...Rev.6:9-17 IN THE END WE WIN!

  16. re: Anonymous,

    Wow. Sometimes satire writes itself. Of course, Poe's Law being what it is, one never can tell...

  17. I do not know if anyone else will ever read this, or if you will notice a comment on a 2 year old post but... Challenge Accepted.

    This study was done.

    1. Water samples from various reservoirs, wells, rivers, lakes...
    2. Believers and non-believers prayed over the water
    3. Shouldnt I have taken 2 samples on the same day and observed them?
    4. The Lord's prayer improved blood pressure/indexes in such a double blind study.
    5. see #1

    Here is scientific proof that saying the Lord's Prayer and crossing yourself has an effect on the physical world.

    --Part of the article, see link for more info.

    Water samples from various reservoirs - wells, rivers, lakes - were
    taken for the research. All the samples had goldish taphylococcus, a
    colon bacillus. It turned out however, that if the Lord’s Prayer is said
    and a sign of the cross is made over them, the number of harmful
    bacteria will decrease seven, ten, hundred and even over thousand times.

    The experiments were made in such a way as to exclude a possible impact
    of mental suggestion. The prayer was said by both believer and
    non-believers, but the number of pathogenic bacteria in various
    environments with different sets of bacteria still decreased as compared
    to the reference templates.

    The scientists have also proved the beneficial impact that the prayer
    and the sign of the cross have on people. All the participants in the
    tests had their blood pressure stabilized and blood indexes improved.
    Strikingly, the indexes changed towards the healing needed: hypotensive
    people had their blood pressure raised, while hypertensive people had it

  18. Based on the link provided by K phillip, I would say that something real is going on. Unless the scientist are flat liers, there is just no way they fumbled the results, not after ten years of study.