Debunking Debunking: What can a science of religion prove

by phil on Friday Mar 31, 2006 7:48 AM

Are there limits to the questioning of faith with science? For example, the John Templeton Foundation, an organization whose purpose it is to "pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science," recently conducted the largest survey on prayer to date. The findings are that praying by strangers did not help patients recover, and that ironically, it even correlated with complications after surgery. And yet, despite this evidence, people persist:

Sister Carol Rennie, prioress of St. Paul's Monastery in St. Paul, Minn., whose prayer group participated in the study, said faith couldn't be scientifically analyzed. "God must be smiling broadly," she said. "It tells me, frankly, that God's way of working with people is a mystery and that technology really can't determine the effects of prayer."
Daniel Dennet attempts a sideways route to debunking faith by going through a natural history of religion. He summarizes and makes accessible numerous theories to explain how religion "evolved." One theory is that primitive humans needed a way to understand the existence of other minds, which lead to an over-assigning of agency to otherwise uninteresting objects. While Dennet strikes an earnest pose, ultimately his objective is to demystify religion by belaboring its potentially mundane and mechanical origins. But can science truly debunk religion?

To reverse this, can evidence really support one's faith in religion? For example, excerpted from Christianity Today:

As historian Paul Johnson notes, Christianity is a historical religion that deals in facts and events. Among those facts is that Jesus, the Son of God, was born of a virgin, in a specific time and place. Johnson cites the mounting archaeological discoveries that have almost universally supported the biblical accounts. And the life of Jesus, he notes, is better authenticated than most other figures of antiquity, like Aristotle and Julius Caesar. As Johnson puts it, "It is not now the men of faith; it is the skeptics who have reason to fear the course of discovery."
How should the believer/non-believer approach evidence? Is there a middle-ground between agnosticism and atheism that says, "I'm still waiting."

I'm cross-posting this on Plastic. A few days ago, I came up with an idea for a Web 2.0 schtick that would try to make a better version of Plastic. Since I will have virtually no visitors on day one, I'm trying to see if I have an ability to write compelling forum-topics on my own while waiting for a decent chatty community to emerge.


Avadhuta said on June 24, 2006 11:19 PM:


God doesn't necessarily help the improvement of ones bodily ill condition. He rather has effect on the soul. Further, one interesting thought that comes into my mind is that there are few interesting places where many people had/have a vision of mother Marry. Lourdes in France and Medugorje in Croatia are very famous places for this occurrences. Interestingly many people became cured praying at these places. Thus it seems that there is certainly something beyond material science that scientists cannot comprehend by examining these phenomenas with their material instruments. And in my opinion this will never be possible. They will be able only to see the symptoms or effects. One more interesting religious phenomena accepted even by the greatest skeptics was the drinking of milk by the Hindu deity Ganesh in 2005. Whoever offered to Ganesh a milk it just disappeared. This was occurring only for one day, but still it is again telling us that there are things that material science cannot explain. Ganesh is a very well known deity, a demigod well-wisher.

For the end here is an interesting link for one website: 'The Hare Krishna Views On Science' that discuss many esoteric things; gives critique of scientific methodologies and much more.

With best regards

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