Prayer as scientific evidence for God?

We have seen that Victor Stenger wants us to believe that if science had clearly shown intercessory prayer to have health benefits, then we would have scientific evidence for God’s existence, all scientists would acknowledge this, and I suppose, atheism would be abandoned.  Of course, this is either a ridiculous fantasy or just more Gnu propaganda.  For if science had clearly shown intercessory prayer to have health benefits, an attempt to cite God as the cause for this phenomenon would not only be unscientific, the atheists would be among the very first to aggressively make this point.

One way we can tell this is the case is to consider a letter to The Guardian back in 2009. A scientist offered up the following claim in his letter:

But a softer definition of creationism is not as easily dismissed. Although science can state a great deal about what followed after the big bang, it cannot in fact explain how “something” (the energy of the universe compressed into a volume the size of a golf ball) arose from nothing beforehand.

Below the fold is a representative sampling of many of the responses:

That assumes that science is (or could ever be) omniscient, which is an enormous fallacy. When you say ‘science cannot in fact explain…’ it is not clear whether you mean ‘cannot now explain. . . ‘ or ‘will never be able to explain. . .

The first would be a trivial observation. Everything that now can be explained was inexplicable until some clever scientist solved the riddle.

The second would be a bold claim indeed. It may well be that in a hundred years (or far less), the scientific method will have taken our understanding so far beyond current limits that the question can indeed be answered.

If you are claiming that the question is beyond the limits of scientific inquiry, then it is by definition not a scientific question, but a philosophical one.

And

We may never work out what happened before the big bang, or what was the cause of it, but this does not mean that whatever irrational explanation you choose must automatically be credible.

And

Using semantic constructs such as deities, miracles, omniscience is not part of any modern science (it is simply left over from the medieval period). Science uses words like ‘not fully understood’, ‘interpretation of data’, ‘theory’, ‘probability’ etc. instead.

So, I’m sorry but your idea of sneaking bits of religion into science is simply erronious. By all means enjoy your religious ponderings: in private or in whatever ‘church’ social group you may frequent.

And

I’m shocked and extremely disappointed to find this kind of proposal coming from a scientist of one of our leading universities who really ought to know better. By writing this article, you have quite frankly brought the name of your university into disrepute.

And

No, it is not. Science can’t explain the big bang – there is a place to say : I do not know (yet). That is how science works. Making up answers when you do not know something is how religion works. And that is why creationism and ID really oppose and deny science. If you think that you already know the answers, then you will not search for one. You will just try to confirm your previously given answers.

And

Professor Crowley, perhaps you could furnish me with an explanation as to why you think that with a current dearth of understanding of what caused the Big Bang a parsimonious explanation invokes something for which there is no evidence.

History has dictated that supernatural explanations are always replaced with scientific ones. Why do you think that our current lack of understanding of the big bang is any different?

Err no, if science can’t explain the big bang, then the answer is “we don’t know”.

Sorry if that sounds flippant, but if you are prepared to accept “God did it” without any evidence whatsoever, then the danger is people stop looking for answers or worse as history has shown try and suppress the inconvenient truths.

Of course your view gets you nowhere as the unanswerable question of where God came from raises it’s head. If you answer to that is God has always been then you may as well accept the big bang “just happened” as it’s intellectual equivalent.

See?  Now instead of science determining that our space-time reality has a beginning, imagine science determining that intercessory prayer resulted in a statistically significant health benefit.  Then imagine someone using these prayer studies to argue God exists. The very same arguments cited above would apply.  For example:

We may never work out [why health benefits derive from prayer], but this does not mean that whatever irrational explanation you choose must automatically be credible.

Using semantic constructs such as deities, miracles, omniscience is not part of any modern science (it is simply left over from the medieval period). Science uses words like ‘not fully understood’, ‘interpretation of data’, ‘theory’, ‘probability’ etc. instead.

And

Professor [X], perhaps you could furnish me with an explanation as to why you think that with a current dearth of understanding of what caused [answered prayer] a parsimonious explanation invokes something for which there is no evidence.

History has dictated that supernatural explanations are always replaced with scientific ones. Why do you think that our current lack of understanding of the big bang is any different?

 

And

Err no, if science can’t explain [answered prayer], then the answer is “we don’t know”.

Sorry if that sounds flippant, but if you are prepared to accept “God did it” without any evidence whatsoever, then the danger is people stop looking for answers or worse as history has shown try and suppress the inconvenient truths.

Etc.

So let’s not fall for the Gnu’s “science could have shown that God exists” tactic.  It is rhetoric that betrays either ignorance about how science works or a disingenuous position.

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