RE: [asa] God disproven by science?

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Wed Apr 22 2009 - 12:13:32 EDT


Probably more I'd like to say, but just briefly: the problem of prayer studies is much deeper than just the control group, as I'm sure you recognize. We aren't healed just because of liturgical prayer, or rote prayer, but the "prayer of faith" in accordance with the will of God. If science can come up with a method of measuring the quantity of faith that we possess, and quantitatively identifying God's will, then it might be capable of investigating prayer studies using methodological naturalism.

However, to take the idea of "human-social science" in a practical direction, would it be possible for sociologists to study the effects of faith in an individual, or in group studies? One example could be studies which show that people of faith are more likely to give to charities than others. Another example might be that people of faith are able to survive prisoner of war experiences better (in general) than those without any professed faith. This doesn't prove what any individual in the study might do under the same circumstances, but it does reflect trends that seem to have some rational explanation. Could such studies fall in the category of science? On the other hand, if scientific studies demonstrate that fundamentalist Christians are more likely than others to be angry and intolerant toward people with whom they disagree, maybe we will decide we don't want science investigating matters of faith and personal belief. Or maybe, we should welcome such findings as !
 a useful corrective to Christian morals and practice.

Do the kinds of studies I suggest above fall in the category of "methodological naturalism", or in a different category? If they aren't MN, would they be considered "scientific" within the relevant disciplines? If they are scientific but not MN, does that show that MN is not an all encompassing to define "science"? I'm just throwing out ideas to stimulate thought.

Jon Tandy

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Murray Hogg
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 6:41 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] God disproven by science?

Just a couple of thoughts on this thread;

First, following on from what Louise wrote:
> God, as a presumably free-will agent operating through an unknown physical (or perhaps unknowable "supernatural") mechanism can choose to answer prayer differently even if circumstances, from our human perspective, are practically identical for both patients and petitioners.
> Or, as one of the students put it last spring, "if I were God and people were doing a prayer study with me, I'd just mess with them!"

There is a similar sentiment from John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: the search for understanding (London: SPCK, 1988), p.87;

Another power we lose in personal encounter is the ability to predict. Only in the event itself is its meaning to be found. It cannot be laid down beforehand nor prescribed by those who are merely observers and not participants. The religious believer is ill and prays for the gift of wholeness in the experience. He may find it in physical recovery or in the acceptance of disability or death. What will happen to him cannot be predicted, nor may any but he say whether the experience, when it comes, is one of wholeness or of disintegration.

Scientific knowledge is concerned with generalities, what all can find if they choose to look. In consequence it has a repeatable, and so shareable, character to it. Personal encounter is always idiosyncratic, because each individual is unique. We may find analogies in the experience of others but never identity. We all hear a Beethoven quartet differently, and we ourselves never quite hear it in the same way twice. Hence the scandal of particularity, which for Christian theology finds its most startling exemplification in the unique status claimed for Jesus Christ. While such a claim clearly calls for the most careful assessment, it is a rational possibility in the sphere of the personal that God should have made himself uniquely known in a particular man.


Second, on prayer studies in hospitals, one of the greatest problems is the fact that we simply can't establish any sort of control group. We cannot stop patients praying for themselves, nor can we stop family or friends doing so. And even if patients are die-hard atheists who insist that neither they nor any of their acquaintances are praying for healing, there are still hospital chaplains and local church prayer teams. Daily prayer for all the afflicted is also set down in the Anglican prayer book as well as forming part of the liturgy of many Catholic and other traditions. In short, there's no such thing as "not being prayed for." Consequently no way, in practice, to test the claim that "prayer has no effect on healing".


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Received on Wed Apr 22 12:14:04 2009

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