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God vs. science
Posted: 29 November 2006 03:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Speaking of God vs. Science, this week’s Time magazine had a 20-page feature on the big stories in medicine over that past year.  On page 87, there is a quick summary of (apparently) the Harvard/Mayo clinic study on the effects of prayer which was published in April (the STEP trial):

In an attempt to nail down the question of whether prayer really can heal, six hospitals had strangers say prayers for 1,800 coronary-bypass patients and then studied the post-operative complications.  Patients who were told they might or might not be prayed for had roughly the same complication rate, whatever their prayer status turned out to be.  But those who were told for certain that they were in someone’s prayers actually did worse.  The doctors’ tentative conclusion: people who knew they were being prayed for might have thought they were sicker than they realized, which could have made their outcomes worse.  But anyone tempted to think this study disproves the power of prayer should think again.  The doctors and clergy who ran the study had no control over whether friends and family were also praying for the patients—and they certainly couldn’t have forbidden personal prayers even if they knew about them.  Beyond that, the prayers said by strangers were provided by the clergy and were all identical.  Maybe that prevented them from being truly heartfelt.  In short, the possible confounding factors in this study made it extraordinarily limited.

Isn’t that adorable?  “Extraordinary limited”?  The largest scientific study of intercessory prayer ever conducted, by the most prestigious medical schools in the country, and funded by the Templeton Foundation itself fails to find any medical effect from prayer at all, and what does our intrepid Time reporter do?—he uses nearly HALF his space reassuring his readers that they need not take it seriously if they really don’t want to!  I couldn’t help thinking of all the magazine articles I’ve read about much less ambitious studies that still somehow managed to “prove” how well prayer does work, and I can’t seem to recall any of those articles having anywhere near as comprehensive a disclaimer as this!  LOL!

This is my favorite excuse:

...the prayers said by strangers were provided by the clergy and were all identical.  Maybe that prevented them from being truly heartfelt…

Do you suppose Catholics will stop doing Hail Marys and Protestants stop teaching their kids the Lord’s Prayer, on the grounds that prayers by rote aren’t “heartfelt” enough to suit God?

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Posted: 29 November 2006 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Well, advocatus, I think this is called “confabulation”. Had the prayer study come out positive for prayer, the results would have been trumpeted to the skies. Now that they have not, they are discounted. It’s an after-the-fact justification that makes the study heads-I-win, tails-it-doesn’t-matter.

And in fact, unless he is suggesting that there is some design flaw in the experiment that can be remedied in another similar experiment, it is intellectually dishonest. The problem with these sorts of confabulations is that there is no proposed experiment that they would accept as providing reasonable evidence. Just as spoon-benders typically say that the presence of skeptics in the room makes their powers mysteriously disappear, religious believers typically say that testing their claims “tempts god”. Or in this case it does not produce “heartfelt” prayer. (A claim which, on the face of it, is absurd, since the people doing the praying were themselves believers).

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Posted: 29 November 2006 01:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816,1555132,00.html

There ya go.

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Posted: 29 November 2006 02:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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[quote author=“Jaik”]http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816,1555132,00.html

There ya go.

Unfortunately it appears you still have to be a subscriber ...

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Posted: 29 November 2006 02:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“Jaik”]http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816,1555132,00.html

There ya go.

Unfortunately it appears you still have to be a subscriber ...

Really? I can read it…hmm. Try this:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1555132,00.html

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Posted: 29 November 2006 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Great, thanks, that works. Time Magazine is still annoying non-subscribers with some sort of ‘poll’ at each page, but at least it’s readable.

I think Dawkins’s responses could have been a bit better, but I suppose he did as well as should be expected in this sort of constrained forum. The odd thing with Collins’s position is not so much that he believes in god, but rather his more substantive belief in the miracles of Christianity. I think Dawkins should have pressed harder on that.

It wouldn’t entirely surprise me to hear of a scientist with a belief in some sort of Deist or Einsteinian god (due to belief in the beauty or comprehensbility of the universe, or as basis for some sorts of ethical principles or the like), but where on earth does a scientifically minded person get to the miracles of the New Testament? There is quite clearly no evidence whatever for them, and every reason in the world to believe they can’t have occurred. These miracles are epistemologically identical to the claims of psychics and spoon-benders. And any objective study of the Bible will show it is not particularly credible as an accurate historical document. So that’s just a disaster.

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Posted: 29 November 2006 03:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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We have to remember that the article only contains excerpts of a 90 minute debate, so I assume much more was said by Dawkins on a number of subjects. I also assume that in the goal of seeming unbiased, TIME opted to present both sides, but not favor one of the other, and thus if Dawkins really went to town on Collins, that it would be minimized in print.

I want the 90 minute tape   :(

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Posted: 29 November 2006 03:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Quite so. There’s no reason to assume that their editing would have been particularly apt. At least they let Dawkins get in the last word, which is no small thing.

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Posted: 06 December 2006 02:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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This is off topic, but you might want to check out a very funny item on the last page of this week’s Time called “God’s Inbox” (okay, next to the last page; the last page is an ad).  Once again, it’s not worth buying a whole magazine for, but it’s only a page long, so you could glance over it while standing at the magazine rack.  Or one of you Internet wizards could provide us with a link…

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Posted: 11 December 2006 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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“Dr” Francis Collins on Colbert Report . You have to watch this…priceless! Colbert has a capability to cover a lot in a very short time.

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Posted: 11 December 2006 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Wow. I had no idea how nutty Collins was. He had no response to Colbert’s (very good, IMO) point about the dinosaurs: if evolution is god’s plan, why have there been so many billions of years of extinctions?

Collins said it was “god’s upgrade plan”, but this is just a misinterpretation of evolution. Evolution doesn’t do “upgrades”, it doesn’t aim towards any particular target. And there is no evolutionary sense to be made of the claim that we are somehow “upgrades” of dinosaurs.

He is also appears to be a creationist, in the sense that he believes that the DNA structure was miraculously created by god. Ugh. What sort of evidence is there for that?

But I suppose in this format one can’t expect the best arguments to be made.

rolleyes

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Posted: 11 December 2006 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Collins is a dangerous man. I’ve heard a few people to justify their beliefs using Collins as an example…and I don’t really know what to tell them. How I am to discuss the importance of science and the danger of religion when people throw Collins (a DNA expert) in my face and tell me that I don’t know 1% of what he knows? Any suggestions?

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Posted: 11 December 2006 04:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Well, to begin with, you could read his book to find out what his actual arguments are. (I haven’t). Clearly he isn’t a “vulgar” creationist, in that he believes in Darwinian natural selection.

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Posted: 20 December 2006 05:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]What nonsense! God cannot be completely contained within nature, and therefore God’s existence is outside of science’s ability to really weigh in? What is this supposed to mean? And From my perspective? What kind of argument is this? This man (Collins) calls himself a Doctor and a scientist…what a shame.

For a believer, the supernatural does lay or begin or originate outside of the natural.  I don’t see where the rub is here.  Faith is a thing some people have.  When believers don’t try to back up their faith, skeptics rail against them, and when they do try to give some kind of explanation for how they can believe in something beyond science,  skeptics attack again.  As a skeptical believer, I embrace the possibility of God.  That my molecular makeup has consciousness and knows it exists and even questions its existance seems amazing enough for me to have faith that maybe there is a God who loves and creates and somehow sustains.  Maybe there isn’t.  I certainly wouldn’t let science have the final say, since, by its very definition, science can’t comment on God.

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What’s the point?

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Posted: 20 December 2006 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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[quote author=“thakkus”]Faith is a thing some people have.  When believers don’t try to back up their faith, skeptics rail against them, and when they do try to give some kind of explanation for how they can believe in something beyond science,  skeptics attack again.

“Faith”, by definition, is a belief one holds without evidence, reason or argument. So it doesn’t make any sense to “try to back up faith”. And that’s the whole problem. We shouldn’t as a general program, believe things without evidence or reason.

[quote author=“thakkus”]As a skeptical believer, I embrace the possibility of God.  That my molecular makeup has consciousness and knows it exists and even questions its existance seems amazing enough for me to have faith that maybe there is a God who loves and creates and somehow sustains.  Maybe there isn’t.

Let’s be clear here. I don’t deny the “possibility” of god, just as I don’t deny the possibility of anything that is not self-contradictory. It is also possible that the moon is made of green cheese, or that there is a Buick in orbit around Saturn.

So in saying that you “embrace the possibility of god” you really haven’t said anything very much. The question is, is there any reason to believe that god exists, which is a very different question from is it possible that god exists. And what it seems to me is that there is no good reason to believe that god exists. And since we ought, as far as possible, to believe things based on reason and evidence, we ought not to believe in god.

[quote author=“thakkus”]I certainly wouldn’t let science have the final say, since, by its very definition, science can’t comment on God.

What do you mean “by its very definition”? How are you defining science?

I define science as, among other things, the best epistemic methodology we have. And by definition we ought to believe what the best epistemic methodology tells us is true. Since science has not provided us evidence of god, we should not believe he exists.

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