Really Sciency

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Saturday, 8 January 2011

Science and religion can’t mix

From Wikipedia; 
In science, a theory is logical explanation, or a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment.

 I’m not saying scientists can’t be religious. I’m saying the scientific method; the most reliable way we have to make sense of the world is inherently irreligious. I find it exasperating when the faithful use their religious experience and testimony as ‘evidence’ that I should take with a level of credibility.

Religions by making pronouncements that are, even if only in principle testable, are entering the area where they have to be prepared for them to be tested logically. Does prayer work? Can all, some or part of the scriptures be true? Can miracles and cures be verified? etc. In answering these questions religion has come up lacking.

Science is full of theories that can never be proven – science does not do proof. A scientific theory explains what the evidence, experiments, observations etc show. If all this couldn't be explained by the theory or if something else came along to better explain it, the theory would be discarded or modified. Rresults are published, peer reviewed and criticism is encouraged.

If the religious are going to treat prayer or any other belief where a god directly affects the material world as evidence, then they should be prepared for sceptical people to see if such claims can withstand scrutiny. Prayer has been tested, including double blind tests but no statically significant results were found for it having any benefit. Actually one test showed those who knew prayers were being said for them faired slightly worse when recovering in hospital. Prayer cannot be repeated to obtain similar results. Prayer simply does not work. It has no more chance of being answered than what could be expected from chance alone.

Of course I have been told by people that prayer does work in their own life. At one time I would have claimed the same. But such claims cannot be verified by the scientific or any other credible method.


  1. "I find it exasperating when the faithful use their religious experience and testimony as ‘evidence’ that I should take with a level of credibility."

    How do you feel about witness testimony being offered as "evidence" in a court of law?

    Do you understand that words such as "evidence" mean subtly different things in different contexts and thus "evidence" with respect to religious faith does not normally mean the empirical evidence that one would associate with scientific investigation?

    For a religious person their experience may be "evidence" of the existence of God even if it not of the same category as the "evidence" that would be used in a scientific context.

    Just because science places limitations on that which can, and cannot, be considered evidence for the purposes of scientific investigation it doesn't follow that anything else is not "evidence".

    ev·i·dence   /ˈɛvɪdəns/ Show Spelled
    [ev-i-duhns] Show IPA
    noun, verb, -denced, -denc·ing.
    1. that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.
    2. something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign: His flushed look was visible evidence of his fever.
    3. Law . data presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.

  2. "How do you feel about witness testimony being offered as "evidence" in a court of law?"

    Actually a very good question.

    As you say evidence can mean different things in different contexts but as a materialist I would only accept it in a empirical or scientific context if it was being used to support a claim of physical intervention.

    In court, faith and belief are not accepted as evidence. Opinion may be sought but un-collaborated testimony is subject to cross examination. It is a requirement of the opposing council to cast doubt on the reliability of such testimony and forward other explanations, interpretations and more likely conclusions.

    This isn't generally encouraged by those using their faith as evidence, nor are alternative explanations often accepted even though those alternatives are always going to be more rational.