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« Lyn Nofziger: A good American | Main | Nearly 4 months after election, impatience for picking an Iraqi prime minister »

March 31, 2006



If the study had showed that prayer worked, then the researchers would only have had to pray for further grants! Simple!

Isn't it nice when it turns out to be a win/win situation.


jj mollo

I don't know what you're saying here Frank. If the study showed that prayer worked, it would be a good thing. Doctors could prescribe therapeutic prayer in good conscience. Why not?

Frank Warner

I was obtuse, sorry. My point is, if someone shows measurable evidence that Intelligent Design is at work in the universe, the study probably would be labeled religion.

Similarly (or identically), if someone had evidence that prayer worked, would a federal court rule it out of order in a public school science class?


Well, if a scientific study supported some aspect of religion, I don't see why that makes it not be science.

Science is a method, not a conclusion. If the "supernatural" existed, it should be possible to prove it scientifically. I guess it would then be relabelled "natural, just weird".

It's not that science is anti-religious, I think, but rather that religion is based upon principles which don't stand up very well to logical scrutiny. However, no scientist believes they know everything (if they do, they'd be a terrible scientist). Therefore, I could be wrong! If presented with good evidence I will change my mind.

I'm pretty sure it's scientifically provable that religion has societal benefits, and indeed that religion is an artefact of the human psyche. Whether religious beliefs themselves are logical is another factor. For example, I think it would be possible to show that praying for one's self could be effective, even if it's only for psychological reasons....

Frank Warner

I agree that science is a method, not a conclusion. That's pretty much my point. I believe the judge in the Intelligent Design case, in ordering the school district never to bring up ID again in a science class, threw out the method for fear of a conclusion.

Again, the way that Dover School Board went about introducing Intelligent Design was silly and shallow, and the judge could have ordered the board simply to end the practice of reading its useless statement on ID to students. But he went further. He said science had no room for ID. What doesn't science have room for?

For example, science could test ID and prove it wrong. But not now, not in public schools.

That is what I'm getting at with the prayer studies. By Judge Jones' (the ID case judge) reasoning, school officials now might view a scientific test of prayer as sounding too much like injecting religion into science. Jones' logic would have denied Harvard the right to run the experiment.


I agree that there's no reason to disallow any science from a science class.

However, I think the problem (and it's not just limited to these examples) is the rise of Junk Science (or as Feynmann called it "Cargo Cult Science").

A lot of people can't tell the difference. It's easy to come up with something which sounds like science but is not. A lot of scientists are guilty of muddying the waters. Symptoms of Junk Science include:

* Refusal to share data and methods.
* Unwillingness to drop a theory when experiments show that it's invalid.
* Hiding or manipulating data which does not suit your conclusions.
* Misrepresenting the conclusions of other science.
* The Politicization of science.
* Designing science in order to gain funding rather than further understanding.

I could go on. This is a big, big problem. I'm not saying that ID is literally Junk Science, although I believe some elements of it is. Others are valid. However, its conclusions do not hold up to scientific scrutiny. I'd say the problem is the polticization aspect.

If ID had a lot of merit then I believe it would be accepted by true scientists. I have looked at their arguments and was no impressed. Many of them do not seem to hold up to scrutiny. Therefore I think the point is that the quality of the science is not yet good enough to be taught. If someone came up with a theory that the earth is flat that seemed semi-plausable, but disagreed with some basic conclusions, I don't think you should go to court to force your theory to be taught in schools. I also don't think discussion on the topic should be banned, however.

I think the point is that science belongs in journals and papers until it's widely accepted enough to be taught in a school to an audience who may not yet be skilled enough to understand the sophisticated arguments and where they fall down. I don't think it's impossible to teach it properly, but if you were going to teach outlier theories there are thousands of them. Why just ID?

For example, last time I checked, children at school are still taught that oil comes from fossils, when a lot of cutting edge research casts serious doubts on that theory. Why aren't alternative theories of the source of oil being taught? They have at least as much merit as ID, if not more. Where do you draw the line?

Frank Warner

I wasn't suggesting that anyone teach Intelligent Design as science.

But because it has attracted so much attention and is bound to continue raising questions, ID should be used as a hypothesis in order to challenge students to test their skills for scientific experimentation.

ID should be scrutinized in science class as a means of proving evolution correct, if it is. If studying ID reveals that certain aspects of evolution -- the timing and mechanisms of changing species -- are without foundation, we all learn something.

We're all taught evolution in high school, and yet no one ever proves it to us. Give us the numbers. Explain the biochemistry. This ID debate was a chance to let students prove evolution, and a judge threw the opportunity away.

The studies proving prayer doesn't work might soon make their way into high school textbooks. Once that happens, should no one ever be permitted to do another study of prayer? Should no one ever be permitted to say, "Prove it"?


You're basically right. All I'm objecting to is making ID a special case.

Yes, evolution should be justified. All science should be justified. Science teachers should never say "trust me". However, I think it depends on the school. I don't remember my science class *that* well but I don't think it was ever just fed to me as something that I had to accept. But, I guess that really depends on how good your science teachers are.

Of course, like all scientific theories, it's impossible to prove. However there certainly are plenty of good case studies which support the basics of the theory. I think those should be taught. I also agree that, in order to support a theory, you have to explain what evidence would falsify it. That's pretty fundamental to science.

I'm a bit fan of teaching from first principals. I don't agree with teaching formulae without explaining how they were derived. I also don't agree with teaching scientific "facts" without backing them up with evidence. I suspect your generalization is not 100% - there will be schools which teach evolution well - but you may well be right that the majority do not.

If I were a science teacher I would be interested in bringing up some of the ID concepts and fostering a debate, but I think that's an advanced topic perhaps for senior high school. What year is evolution taught in, anyway?

jj mollo

It's a matter of efficiency Frank. Course objectives seldom allow the kind of loose exploratory development you're talking about.

Frank Warner

JJ and Nicholas, I agree that no two schools will approach evolution exactly the same way.

A court would be wise to tell public schools they can't declare any untested theory as fact. But a court shouldn't tell a science class which questions it can't ask.

Rob Carpenter

If the study had shown that prayer works, and if Harvard would have lost its federal grants, then they could have prayed to get their federal grants back and they would have.... if prayer works.

jj mollo

If prayer were proven to be effective scientifically, there is no reason to expect we would know everything about its attributes. Saying that we should ban it from public funding anyway, Rob, is like using a dunking stool to test witches. That's what you are saying. If God thinks they are innocent, He will save them.

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