Can Religion Overturn Science?

I’ve heard this (paraphrased) argument used by atheists before:

There are plenty of examples of science proving a religious claim wrong.

There are no examples of religion proving a scientific claim wrong.

Are there any responses a theist can give to it? Are there any examples of religion proving science wrong?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • MrOrange

    Of course there are! Many and many! Or, are you behind on your astronomy news? Don’t you know that the Bible proves the heliocentric model wrong and that the Sun orbits Earth?

    http://www.geocentricity.com/

    Big Science has just been systematically silencing these religious proofs for fear of embarrassment. :P

  • BoxerShorts

    Interesting question. I can’t think of any that actually hold water.

    There’s the one about how “science” once said the world was flat, while the Bible says the world is a sphere. But that is of course fallacious because science never said the world was flat, and the Bible verse they cite calls the world a circle, not a sphere.

    (Never mind that other Bible verses refer to “the four corners of the Earth.” Contradict much?)

    I guess it’s possible that an ancient religious text happened to get a scientific fact right before academia did. Not that it would “prove religion right” or anything.

  • sam

    Since science is a self correcting system of obtaining knowledge about nature, can the present understanding through science ever be ‘wrong?’

  • Zack

    Not in modern times, but arguably some of the early scientists were wrong when the religion (with hindsight) was correct. The big bang…. Not an especially convincing example….because it hasn’t really happened.

  • http://atheistblogger.com Adrian Hayter

    Kinda eerie that this question would be asked on the anniversary of the day Galileo was sentenced for believing the Earth wasn’t the centre of the universe. Of course he turned out to be wrong as well, since he thought the Sun was the centre of the universe, but he was right about the Earth moving at least.

  • Beowulff

    I would even say it is impossible for religion to prove science wrong, at least in a way that would satisfy a scientist. The argument is as follows: Suppose a religious claim would disprove a scientific claim. To do so, it needs to be backed by scientific evidence first. At that point, it is not just a religious claim anymore, but a scientific claim as well. Therefore, a religious claim can never refute a scientific claim without becoming a scientific claim itself.

    Of course, this assumes that you need science to disprove a scientific claim. I imagine not all believers agree with this assumption, but it would be hard for them to come up with a different way to explain what “disprove” means.

  • http://alcaritown.myminicity.com/ Sanity

    Well, certain theists will point out:

    big bang
    evolution
    germ theory
    psychology
    age of the earth
    age of the universe

    Of course, I still can’t think of any valid ones.

  • Richard Wade

    Since science is a self correcting system of obtaining knowledge about nature, can the present understanding through science ever be ‘wrong?’

    Good point, but it can never be “right” in any absolute sense either. Be careful not to sound like you’re implying that science is never wrong. As you say, it’s constantly finding where it is wrong. Best to avoid such absolute-sounding terms altogether.

    Science keeps giving us the best understanding of nature we have so far, given what we have observed and tested so far. When we observe more, better and differently and test things more, better and differently then science will revise our present understanding to a better understanding. Science writes everything in pencil with a big eraser handy.

    The power of science comes from its being “right enough” to produce useful things that make our lives better, longer, safer and more satisfying, and to make accurate predictions of events in nature.

    This lack of a constant, absolute “truth” frustrates and intimidates some people who want things to be cut and dry, already decided, clear and simple, unchanging and reliable. Children are like that, but some children grow up.

  • http://odderstories.wordpress.com vitaminbook

    To my mind, the following conditions would have to be met before you could safely say that ‘religion proved science wrong’:

    The ‘science’ in question would need to be a conclusion arrived at with the modern scientific method, not by some early ‘scientists’ who didn’t conduct experiments or rely on empirical evidence.

    The specific scientific theory in question would need to be overturned by science and found to be in accordance with long-standing religious belief. For example, let’s say we find out tomorrow that the Universe is, in fact, six thousand years old; how else do we know that our previous estimates were wrong and that religion was right all along unless science itself has demonstrated it? Religion contains no mechanism by which to determine the validity of a hypothesis; that job would still rest with the scientific method, unless we’re assuming that religion has undergone some sort of drastic metamorphis.

    The religious belief in question would have to have existed from the religion’s early days, not something that was ‘added in’ later.

    Anyone else want to criticise/add to this list?

  • Eliza

    Problem is, a solid definition of “prove” requires the gold standard of “truth” be known.

    (This essentially echoes what Beowulff and Richard Wade said above.)

  • http://bruisescolours.wordpress.com/ bc

    Good point, but it can never be “right” in any absolute sense either.

    Experiment is never wrong. It always goes exactly according to reality. However, sometimes reality includes faulty parts which fail in a realistic way, people who forget, misstep and/or mislead in exactly the way people are likely to do and so forth,.

    The whole idea of science is to study reality and distill an understanding from that study, but for a variety of reasons, the wrong conclusions can be made. At least reality is always there for a second check.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ Jason Horton

    Science can be “wrong” but it can’t ever be “not even wrong”.

  • Polly

    There was some talk in the 60s I think that physics “proved” the universe was subject to collapse and reexpansion every some odd billion years. Some version of (I think) Hinduism or Buddism made the same claim. So, it was argued that that religion had been right all along.
    If anyone else has heard of this, I’d be interested in hearing more. I’ve forgotten the details.

  • Eliza

    Polly, check out the comment under the photo on this page (one of several pages that came up on googling expansion+collapse+universe+Buddhism)

  • Richard Wade

    bc,

    Experiment is never wrong. It always goes exactly according to reality. However, sometimes reality includes faulty parts which fail in a realistic way, people who forget, misstep and/or mislead in exactly the way people are likely to do and so forth,.

    We do not seem to be in disagreement. If I’m understanding your meaning, I would prefer to say “An experiment is never a failure,” and then continue with the rest of your statement. My only point in my previous comment is that the terms “right” or “wrong” are thrown about so casually that in the minds of the general public they have picked up connotations of absoluteness which science tries to avoid. Add to that the moral definitions of “right and wrong” and we get muddled misconceptions.

    Just as when we try to eliminate confusing variables in an experiment, we should also try to eliminate the confusing variables of ambiguous terminology when we educate the public about science. We really need to help society understand how science works, not just what it tells us, and at least in the U.S. we are failing badly.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    I believe the standard response is that there are many instances of famous religious scientists, and instances of scientific discoveries that have confirmed previous religious beliefs. I believe the ur-example of this is the Big Bang.

    The Big Bang was first proposed by Catholic priest and astronomer Georges Lemaitre. I’m not sure how much religious motivation Lemaitre himself had, but lots of religious people since that time have commented on how it seems to confirm the Christian creation story (see one example). See, the Big Bang created something from nothing. Never mind that the universe only has two possibilities (finite or infinite), so they had a 50% chance just by guessing.

    Anyways, one time, it was unfashionable for scientists to consider “before the Big Bang”, since such a question didn’t make any sense. However, nowadays, modern cosmology can seriously consider what, if anything, was before the Big Bang. It turns out that “The universe came from nothing” is one of the most questionable predictions of Big Bang theory. My bet is on a finite universe, but there’s no way I can know that. But hope springs eternal among the religious, and many will still talk about the Big Bang as a fantastic confirmation of dogma.

  • Richard Wade

    …lots of religious people have commented on how [the Big Bang] seems to confirm the Christian creation story…
    …hope springs eternal among the religious, and many will still talk about the Big Bang as a fantastic confirmation of dogma.

    I think that if reliable astronomical observations showed that the universe is a ball of giant goat shit that religionists would somehow find a way to say it fits their creation dogma.

  • Pseudonym

    Are there any responses a theist can give to it? Are there any examples of religion proving science wrong?

    No. There are two reasons for this:

    1. Science knows that its domain is limited to that which is testable and reproducible. In other words, it has limitations, it is aware of them, and it doesn’t step outside them. (On those rare occasions when it tries to, it gets promptly smacked down for it, often from scientists themselves.)

    2. Religion doesn’t do scientific “proof”. In further news: philosophy, art, golf, knitting and the wearing of kilts have also never “proved science wrong”.

  • http://www.thoughtcounts.net/ thoughtcounts Z

    I can imagine two possible routes for a theist response.

    One would be to point out that science has disproved specific claims from specific religious dogmas. That might mean that one or another specific religious story is unrealistic, but does not prove the basic premise of theism: simply that a deity exists. A broad sort of theism, unrestricted by a particular religious text or ideology, could be defended against any particular scientific facts.

    The second would be to reject the premise of the attack. Who cares what has been proved or disproved? Religious belief is not about logic or facts. In fact, it’s sometimes argued that proof lessens faith, because it makes it less challenging and less of a spiritual commitment.

    A supernatural, all-powerful god could create any evidence, supposedly proving any claim, and it’s impossible to prove or disprove the existence of an entity definitionally outside of the realm in which we can make direct observations. If you don’t believe in a god, it’s not because you have concrete proof that no god exists — it’s because of some sort of Occam’s-razor-type approach you’re applying. The question of what’s been proved wrong really highlights the different mindsets at play in the debate.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    I unfortunately don’t have time to ponder this deeply and provide a more considered response but some initial thoughts are:

    1/ I am not that concerned to prove science wrong in the first place. I respect science insofar as it works within the scientific method and refrains from making absolutist claims. For instance, I am quite comfortable with science concluding that resurrection is highly improbable. It it were an everyday occurance, if it was repeatable in a lab, it would hardly be the revelation we claim it to be now would it?

    2/ I am wondering if there are not a few category confusions burried within the question itself. As someone above said, “a religious claim can never refute a scientific claim without becoming a scientific claim itself.”

  • Polly

    Eliza,

    Thanks for that link. That sounds like what I’ve heard. So, it was both religions. No wonder I was a little confused.

  • Lizzy

    I think that this question is simply a bad question because it misses the point of science. Science sets out to define the world as it is, to understand the principles that govern our world and our universe. This is goal is not inherently at odds with religion. Scientists rarely set out to disprove what is written in religious texts. Because science attempts to define the world as it is, it seems to me that it would be impossible for religions to prove it wrong. Here is why:

    1. Religions are typically unable to “prove” anything because all that exists to support them are the views of the followers and the religious texts or stories from which the religions were created. Stories prove nothing.
    2. Any attempt by a religion to “prove” science wrong, would, almost by definition, be forced to use science (as mentioned above).
    3. The above, however, does not make religions unable to disprove something science has to say. It is perfectly reasonable for someone to scientifically attempt to prove something their religion currently believes and in the process disprove a current scientific belief. That is, to take question of something contained within science does not require one to take question of science as a whole.
    4. HOWEVER, the key to all of this is: If science made a claim that was later shown to be incorrect (whether by a scientist in the name of science or by a religious person using science in the name of religion), science allows for this possibility and subsequent adjustment. Science does not hold dogmatically to its own views.
    5. Therefore, even if a religion claimed to disprove science on some point of contention, if this new claim was true, this would mean that a religion had simply done the task that science attempts: TO DEFINE/UNDERSTAND THE WORLD AS IT IS. It does not matter who does the defining as long as it can be shown to be correct, not simply believed to be correct.

    Again, the goal of science is not inherently to disprove religions, it just happen to does so in the process of existing.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Are there any responses a theist can give to it? Are there any examples of religion proving science wrong?

    There’s no need to since we’re on the same side. Science is already included within my religion.

  • Darryl

    I doubt that religion can prove by methods admissible by science that science is wrong, but if we redefine “prove,” then everything is possible.

    We know that people can live perfectly comfortable lives in ignorance of science, since most people know little or nothing of it. For these people, who often have beliefs of one kind or another, there is a proof that convinces them of the truth of what they believe. When you confront them with some factoid of science that sounds incredible to them, they may not believe it, especially if they think it contradicts something they believe. For them, their belief disproves the science.

    I would put Creationists and I.D. people in this subculture. It is not scientific proof that convinces them that the universe is young or that evolution is false, but another kind of proof. Existentially, their religion disproves science. They have a certainty rooted in something else besides the scientific method.

    If you think that this is a trivial point, consider the historical examples that we know of wherein a despotic regime tried to wipe out certain kinds of knowledge by banning certain books, isolating populations, killing or imprisoning intellectuals, restricting education, etc.

    As a thought experiment, suppose the Galileo experience were spread world-wide. If, by force, the truth about whatever were suppressed globally, and everyone believed what they were told, in what meaningful sense could it be said to still be true? To develop the idea even further, imagine that a whole vein of science was effectively suppressed for so long that knowledge of it was completely lost to the world. Can something be true that is not known?

  • Christophe Thill

    I’m not a believer of any kind, but if I was, I think the best defence I could find would be this one :

    None of the factual statements refuted by science are central to religion. For instance, the core of Christian faith is comprised of unprovable statements: God exists, God is the cause that the universe exists, God loves you, do the right things and you’ll go to heaven… All the pseudo-factual stuff, the refutable one (the 6 days of creation etc.) is metaphores, morality lessons disguised as ancient history, poetry, or just remnants from a primitive worldview.

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew

    “Are there any examples of religion proving science wrong?”

    The question is an absurdity. In order for religion to prove science wrong, a scientific means of proof would have to be employed to substantiate said proof in order to answer the question affirmatively with any degree of satisfaction to the interrogator. By proving science wrong, science would have to be used and so, it is an absurd recursion that cannot be answered.

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  • LKM

    Drew is right. Religion can’t *prove* anything by definition because its whole point is that it is based on faith. Would religion prove anything, it would need science to do so.

  • Loren Petrich

    I think that a better way of stating this might be:

    What did theologians discover first that scientists had to rediscover by correcting earlier misconceptions that they had had?

    But in any case, I’ve seen several such claims, though I’ve never seen anyone claim that the Bible had first described biological evolution and that the scientific community had had to rediscover it.

    Come to think of it, I remember challenging people to come up with Biblical arguments for evolution; nobody ever took that challenge.

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew

    “What did theologians discover first that scientists had to rediscover by correcting earlier misconceptions that they had had?”

    I am not sure this resolves the issue. The object is not the issue here, it is the process of substantiating the claim that is. Although I have to admit I am not sure what this is other than a new theory to explain a discovery that already happened. It’s not like saying “Hey I found my keys!” only to lose them and then say “Hey I found my keys, but they no longer start my car :-( ” That would be wierd for sure, but a different “thing” than what the challenge raises to which this post references.

    So let me do my service to atheist arguments by assisting you to tighten this up and get rid of the argument which Hemant’s post addresses, as it is an absurd claim as I have stated. Don’t try to re-phrase it, just dump it.

    Issue is this: If God is real, then what theory other than religious experience can substantiate that claim? Science has offered other such theories, religion really cannot (even if it tries). When religious people try to do so they often do and look foolish and stupid because they are trying to stay within scientific discourse. It’s as failed a mission as the current Iraq conflict because it does not have the proper equipment to manage the conflict religion has with scientific evidence just as this Iraq conflict never had the proper equipment to deal with sectarian chaos and the powerful force and interpretation of Shar’ia Law in the region when left to explode.

    So the end-game with this is that scientific explanation is at least more rational since it allows for multiple theories of why God most likely does not exist from multiple disciplines. Religion has to stay home by resting its laurels on previous claims of experience and present re-articulations of similar experiences.

    So try this line of argument with religious folk instead and thank me later ;-)

  • Pseudonym

    While I agree with Drew, that the question is absurd, I found Loren’s question interesting:

    What did theologians discover first that scientists had to rediscover by correcting earlier misconceptions that they had had?

    This isn’t an answer to that question (I think that the right question, again, is “nothing”), but one observation may help here.

    In the early days of the scientific era, this question would have made even less sense than it did today, because everyone who discovered anything of value was probably a polymath. It wasn’t uncommon for someone’s job title to be along the lines of “natural philosopher, astrologer, astronomer, mathematician, theologian and priest”. So this distinction between “scientist” and “theologian” was a less useful distinction to make than it is today.

    In those days it wasn’t uncommon at all for an interesting discovery in (say) mathematics to be made by someone doing theology at the time. Pierre Gassendi’s take on the ontological argument is a very good case in point: his reframing of the issue of quantification led more or less directly to Frege’s formulation of mathematical logic.

  • http://theframeproblem.wordpress.com/ Ron Brown

    How could religion ever prove Science wrong? If something from religion is found to be correct while the corresponding claim held by the scientific community is shown to be wrong, the finding would be a scientific finding – and/or a historical finding. It would instantly become a part of our rational worldview, as Sam Harris might phrase it.

    Has religion ever accomplished this? Well, I’m not a scripture scholar but I would imagine that the scriptures of all world religions are replete with scientifically accurate statements. But since the religions we talk about are so old, these accurate statements are probably always considered by us to be very mundane – so obvious that we just wiz right by them. Perhaps some of these accurate statements might have been new and interesting when they were first written in the scriptures. But I would imagine that most of them were mundane to the original writers (e.g., describing that things fall down, that the sun rises and sets).

    A relatively recent non-mundane example of a religious community advancing human understanding and wellbeing is the Westernization of Eastern meditation. Over the past few decades mindfulness meditation, which has its roots in Eastern mystic and philosophical schools of thought like Buddhism, has received a rich body of scientific support for its efficacy in aiding in managing depression and anxiety, improving one’s focus, relaxing people, and so forth. Buddhism, however, is often practiced not as a religion but as a school of thought and philosophy. The religious beliefs (i.e., beliefs without evidence) such as literal belief in reincarnation and karma are not subscribed to by all Buddhists.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    In religious resurgent times, where the ranks of the faithful are swelling… where church attendance and applicants to seminary are increasing and applications to secular universities is declining, you will notice the following….

    People will prefer easy absolute answers form the bible over the hard work of science. Operationally speaking, religion will win out over science due to nothing other than religions doing better at attracting converts.

    Hopefully the larger historic trend away from religion will continue, though. Hopefully the recent retrograde action in the USA and the Muslim world is only temporary.

  • Lew Wall

    One example of religionists proving science wrong involves the Newton equations of motion. During the much of the 18th and 19th centuries these formulations of Newton were believed to describe everything about the motion of matter and were given the title of “laws”. They implied an inexorable destiny determined by the exactly predictable position and velocity of every irreducible bit of matter at any instant of absolute time in absolute space. This presumed certainty of prediction left no place for God except as the winder of the clockwork universe or a breaker of God’s own law.

    The great mathematian Laplace expressed the idea that a being of sufficient mental capacity could know the position and velocity of all matter at one time and therefore could predict exact physical conditions at any future time. The exsistance of a mentally endowed being is not necessary for this argument. According to Newton’s theory, all bits of matter have a position and velocity at a moment in time whether these parameters are known by a mind or not. The equations then predict any future position and velocity, exactly. This implies choice is irrelevant since the state of all matter is predetermined by the state in the past. Religionists, however, refuted the validity of these equations because they denied the possibility of free will.

    Physical theory now holds that there is not absolute time and space, and furthermore the exact position and velocity cannot be known. Free will is then possible and the religionists were proved correct and the science proved wrong.

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew

    “the larger historic trend away from religion will continue, though”

    Where are the statistics to support this claim? Nowhere. Church attendance has hovered right around 34% since the 1920′s in the US. Declines in religious belief in the West are balanced right now by increases in Asia and South America. Church attendance in the US only spiked in the 50′s (look to return of GI’s there) and the 80′s (look to the effects of the Right). Asians, Africans, and South Americans are now doing mission work to the West. There is no historic trend away from religion at all. It is a fabrication.

    Such pronouncements are totally assumed to be true perhaps because folks like Harris give their books titles like The End of Faith. Sells books, but there is no data to support it – at all.

  • Richard Wade

    There is no historic trend away from religion at all. It is a fabrication.
    Such pronouncements are totally assumed to be true perhaps because folks like Harris give their books titles like The End of Faith. Sells books, but there is no data to support it – at all.

    There is a huge amount of “data” but its validity is questionable. In books, articles, reports, studies and surveys, predictions about the future of religion and secularism are all over the map.

    One bit of “data” I have noticed is that there seems to be a strong positive correlation between what the authors’ roots, background, religious affiliation or sponsoring organization suggest is their bias, and the predictions they make. Generally they predict whatever they hope will happen. So religiously sponsored/authored analyses usually predict the growth of religion while non- or anti-religiously sponsored/authored analyses usually predict its decline. It is frustrating that the bias effect is so strong that a simple glance at the authors’ background or sponsor immediately makes both the “data” and the conclusions suspect.

    Not just the analysts’ bias, but sampling problems and ambiguity of terms plague even the most rigorously designed surveys. For instance the assumption that affiliation implies adherence is a sadly common flaw. People are classified by surveyors and even by themselves as “affiliated” with a religion merely by their membership in their family or their community. Even when a survey includes follow-up questions which attempt to measure the individual’s personal commitment, there are problems with reliability due to the ambiguity of terms in those questions.

    In predictions about such things the larger the area described and the longer the time period of the prediction, the less likely it is to turn out to be accurate. Saying something about the near future of a small region is more likely to be proven accurate by the passage of time but where the whole world is going over the next five to ten generations is literally anybody’s guess.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Lew Wall said,

    Physical theory now holds that there is not absolute time and space, and furthermore the exact position and velocity cannot be known. Free will is then possible and the religionists were proved correct and the science proved wrong.

    (BTW, the long rant below is a response to quantum free will in general, not to Lew Wall in particular, who might even agree with me for all I know.)

    Don’t you mean that the religionists were proven correct by science and the scientists were proven wrong by science? I also have to wonder what absolute time and space has to do with anything (relativity is deterministic, you know).

    Quantum mechanics and free will is another good example of “hope springing eternal”. “Free will” is a contentious issue… a contentious philosophical issue that is filled with many definitions and other details. I would say “free will” has neither been proven nor disproven by scientific discoveries, though discoveries have certainly brought much to the table.

    First of all, even in a “deterministic” Newtonian universe, we cannot actually predict the outcome of any large system. For one thing, the equations aren’t solvable when there are more than two particles. For another, it’s simply not practical to keep track of so much information, so instead we use statistical descriptions like temperature. There’s still plenty of room for free will or the illusion of free will (is there a difference?).

    Second of all, quantum theory is not really any more “free” than classical theory. Why is basing your decision on a quantum coin flip any more “free” than basing it on the momentum of a particular particle? A stochastic process isn’t really any more free than an unpredictable deterministic process. In any case, I believe the current science says that the brain is on too large of a scale to be affected by quantum mechanical processes.

    All that stuff about quantum theory being stochastic is based on one particular interpretation. What most popular sources won’t tell you is that there is another respectable interpretation called the many worlds interpretation. This interpretation is objectively deterministic; all quantum possibilities are superimposed on top of each other. If your decisions were determined by quantum coin flips (which they’re not), you would be forced to make all possible decisions, each in a different universe in which you are not aware of the other versions of you. So we’re sort of back to where we started: a deterministic universe in which it’s still possible to have free will or its illusion.

    But, you see, this still fits religion perfectly. Now we can finally answer that question about how we can have free will if God knows and controls everything. Those religionists sure showed up the rest of us knowledge-seekers, didn’t they? They knew this was going to happen all along. If only we had listened to them when they told us about quantum theory back in the seventeenth century.

    But seriously, this is all an exercise in confirmation bias. I don’t care if you think science and religion are compatible. I do too. But it’s just an exercise in bad thinking to look for scientific confirmations of religion and then finding them in idiosyncratic interpretations of quantum theory.

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew

    Blah blah blah. Numbers. Statistically significant data is all that matters here. I could care less about the speculative assertions of a few unless of course those assertions have a basis in statistically significant data. If something’s validity in this regard is questionable, then make it more rigorous and statistically significant or toss it out. The statistics of religious patterns of behavior suggest strongly that it is in no danger of ending anytime soon but that it continually finds energy in enough people to sustain itself and be maintained by often very flexible systems overall.

    “One bit of “data” I have noticed is that there seems to be a strong positive correlation between what the authors’ roots, background, religious affiliation or sponsoring organization suggest is their bias, and the predictions they make.”

    So is this true of journals such as The Scientific Study of Religion, The American Journal of Sociology, The National Study of Religion and Youth, Pew Research, Social Forces, etc.? You are offering a Red Herring rather than significant data. Don’t throw the sociology of religion under a bus because it doing so makes a flawed assertion work or appear to work.

    “For instance the assumption that affiliation implies adherence is a sadly common flaw.”

    Where? I have read over a dozen studies on attendance which has been validated externally as a significant measure of adherance. Check studies by Roozen, Chaves, Hoge, Hout, etc. Here’s a reference: Hout, M., & Greeley, A. M. (1987). The center doesn’t hold: Church attendance in the united states, 1940-1984. American Sociological Review, 52(June), 325-345. This was later supported in: Hout, M., Greeley, A., & Wilde, M. (2001). The demographic imperative in religious change in the united states. American Journal of Sociology, 107(2), 468-500. See for yourself. Religious involvement is quite steady in the US and this is not an assertion, it has viable statistically significant results to substantiate it.

  • Richard Wade

    Drew, Thank you for those references. I will check them out. You challenged an assumption that I had held and so I wanted to see if you were correct. My initial search for information produced a bewildering zoo of books and websites that claimed every possible trend, claimed to have their credibility and claimed to posess statistically reliable numbers. Exactly how those numbers were gathered and by whom was not made clear. They just seemed to be more bluff than anything. I felt like I had stumbled into a snake oil salesmen’s convention. Perhaps my statements were too strident because they come from my frustration at not being able to easily tell the data from the dung. I suppose it will never be easy.

    In anticipation that with your references I find your assertions credible, I thank you for disabusing me of an incorrect assumption.

  • http://mattstone.blogs.com Matt Stone

    Richard said,

    …the assumption that affiliation implies adherence is a sadly common flaw.

    I agree, at times affiliation may indicate nothing more than funeral perferences and say nothing about what the adhere to in the everyday. Flaws in data collection can also arise from only giving people one option in surveys. In Japan for instance it is perfectly acceptable for people to claim affiliation to both Shinto and Buddhism simultaneously. And there are plenty of people here in the west who practice split level religion too, affiliating with Christianity for rites of passage stuff while affiliating with spiritualism for crisis stuff like seeking spiritual guidance, protection and empowerment.

    There is also the thing that what is true locally may not be true globally. Christianity seems very much on the wane in the west, particularly Europe, England and Australia. But not so globally, it is booming in the southern hemisphere overall. And even in the west the situation is patchy. So every peice of data needs a context. What is true in one context may not be true for another. Unfortunately journalists rarely pay attention to such things.

    I think religion poses some challenges here for science in terms of how social scientists actually measure it.

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew

    Richard,

    I think what you are noting is what I saw when the various Pew studies came out this year. People jumped on the assumption bandwagon and flooded the blogopshere and papers with just bad assumptions about what the research actually said. Your reading of it is on target with what most articles indicated and to that degree you are mostly correct.

    And, most folks are not regular readers of sociology journals. Can’t blame them really can we? :-)

  • http://www.godandscience.org Rich Deem

    The most famous example was the biblical claim that the universe and time itself came into existence at the hand of God. Until less than 100 years ago, science assumed the Bible was wrong and that the universe was eternal. Now science has proved that the universe (and even time) came into existence 13.7 billion years ago. In 1985, Carl Sagan proposed that science could distinguish between two competing religious claims (Bible vs. Hindu scriptures) regarding the nature of the universe. He was right, but the answer probably wasn’t what he expected, since the reincarnating universe model lost:

    General Introduction for Non-Believers, Part 3: Why Christianity?

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew

    “science assumed the Bible was wrong and that the universe was eternal”

    Huh? Might want to take a look at Bacon’s taxonomic system which was the root of the scientific method long before 100 years ago. It was a litle bit longer than 100 years ago that the Bible lost its credibility as an explanation for cosmology.

    Was that just as add for your site? I didn’t visit it.

  • Richard Wade

    Now science has proved that the universe (and even time) came into existence 13.7 billion years ago.

    Rich, with respect I think the phrase “science has proved that…” should be avoided like the phrase, “never go out of style,” or the phrase “the ultimate in…” It doesn’t reflect the spirit of science, which is to keep looking for better explanations than the ones that some folks have claimed are “proven.” There are plenty of “proven” ideas that are now in the dumpster. Scientists usually shy away from saying “proven” because they know that other scientists may get the chance to laugh at them.

    I think a better way to express what you are saying would be to say that the universe as we see it now, or space-time as we see it now apparently began expanding from a super dense, super hot point way back then.

    I don’t want to sound too spacey, but that does not necessarily rule out some other kind of space-time that contained that event. There may come a time when we will have to give some space for this possibility and to expand our concepts of space and time. They might be called “overtime” or “time-and-a-half,” or “double time.” Rather than just the conventional “outer space” and “inner space” we might also have to work with concepts such as “extra space,” or “crawl space,” or “rented space,” or dare I say it, “parking space.” but getting one of those could take quite some time. Since space seems to be extremely compressible it may not be actually taking up that much space, which is good, since I’m often running out of space and always running out of time. If I run out of space, where have I run to? We all know that time can fly when your’e having a good time or time can drag when you’re not, and depending on who is enjoying the show and who is not, those good times and bad times can be happening in the same space at the same time. You know, time after time I tell myself that I’m so lucky to have the time I do, cause how you gonna make some time if all you got is one thin dime and that won’t even shine your shoes? I have often found that I have time on my hands but I have never found that I have time on my feet, or any other part of my body for that matter. I don’t really understand them, but some cosmologists are spending a lot of time talking about being able to study the “time before time.” They could be spaced out, but I suppose whether or not they are wasting their time, only time will tell.

    Well, I don’t want to take up any more space. Thank you for your time.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Now science has proved that the universe (and even time) came into existence 13.7 billion years ago.

    Like Richard Wade, I strongly disagree that it has been proven.

    Just after Big Bang Theory became the scientific consensus, it was fashionable for people to say that it makes no sense to talk about “before the big bang”. That’d be like talking about “north of the north pole”. But current cosmology is arguably moving beyond this. For instance, we have inflation theory, which may give us hints about how the universe was formed. There are still a lot of speculations of a bigger universe from which ours arose.

    The fact of the matter is that current theory cannot know what happened at the “beginning” if there was one. The early universe was extremely hot and dense. These are conditions under which quantum theory and general relativity must be combined. As you may have heard, these theories, as they are currently formulated, are incompatible. There are attempts to combine them (ie string theory and loop quantum gravity), but these are still in the hypothesis stage. Therefore, it is impossible to know much about the early universe until we have further theoretical developments. I would say 13.7 billion years is our best bet for the age of the universe, but it is not proven.

    In any case, the problem with the cosmological argument is not really scientific at all, it’s philosophical.

  • Darryl

    So every peice of data needs a context. What is true in one context may not be true for another. Unfortunately journalists rarely pay attention to such things.

    Your opinion. Many fine journalists pay strict attention to such things.

    “Ladies and Gentleman, give it up for Richard Wade, he’ll be here all week!”

  • Richard Wade

    Thank you, thank you. You’re a great audience. Good night! (Is this mike on?)


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