Archive for the Religion Category

Great Footnote

Posted in Blogging, Religion on June 12, 2009 by Mike Procario

** The parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel is more fun if you ever have to deal with a PMD in conversation. Be sure to use the King James Version when you bring up Luke 17:34 — “In that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left” — and then argue that a literal interpretation suggests that precisely 50 percent of homosexuals will be raptured.

from Slacktivist.


Prayer Doesn’t Help Heart Patients

Posted in Religion, Science on March 31, 2006 by Mike Procario

Well the study on the effects of prayer on the health of heart patients has come out. It has been covered by the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and Reuters. This is being treated as big news. The results are negative, from the Post

The long-awaited results, the latest in a series of studies that have not found any benefit from "distant" or "intercessory" prayer, came as a blow to those hoping scientific research would validate the popular notion that people can influence others' health, even if the sick do not know that someone is praying for them.

I blogged about this the other day. As I expected people who believe in the power of prayer do not think this study has any merit as stated in the Post.

The findings are unlikely to change the minds of the faithful, several pastors said.

"We welcome and appreciate the involvement of scientists researching faith," said Rob Brendle, associate pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. "But this is just one study. We believe wholeheartedly that prayer changes things. So many of us have experienced that in our lives."

and from the New York Times

Other experts said the study underscored the question of whether prayer was an appropriate subject for scientific study.

"The problem with studying religion scientifically is that you do violence to the phenomenon by reducing it to basic elements that can be quantified, and that makes for bad science and bad religion," said Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia and author of a forthcoming book, "Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine."

It has struck me that this kind of study would be very hard to do, and the Times story confirms that despite very careful experimental design, it is not possible to to really control all of the variables.

The new study was rigorously designed to avoid problems like the ones that came up in the earlier studies. But experts said the study could not overcome perhaps the largest obstacle to prayer study: the unknown amount of prayer each person received from friends, families, and congregations around the world who pray daily for the sick and dying.

In his recent book, Breaking the Spell, Daniel Dennett has argued for these kind of studies. He would expect religions in the spirit of truth in advertising to stop claiming the prayer is useful, if it cannot be scientifically confirmed. That seems unlikely to occur.

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Studying the Effects of Prayer Scientifically

Posted in Religion, Science on March 24, 2006 by Mike Procario

I am beginning to think that I should call this blog, Reading the Washington Post so You Don't Have to. In today's Post there is a story on scientific research into the healing power of prayer. This is either a truly wonderful idea or a truly stupid idea. I am a firm believer in the value of scientific research. I believe that the knowledge obtained by well done scientific research is the highest quality knowledge that we have, but I also know that some types of research are very hard to do well.

If you were to test a medicine, you would try it first on mice. Can we test the power of prayer on mice? Can we pray for some sick mice and not for others and see if any get well? I do not think you will get a lot of volunteers to pray for sick mice. Clearly a scientific study of prayer would have to follow a much different course than the usual one. It would start in people with all of the compications that presents, and you would not have the benefit of results in animals to demonstrate that it worth the trouble to pursue. Who would want to tackle such a hard problem. Hopefully, it would not be someone with an axe to grind either for or against the proposition.

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Bart Ehrman in the Washington Post

Posted in Books, Religion on March 5, 2006 by Mike Procario

I have blogged about Bart Ehrman's book , Misquoting Jesus. I found it interesting and based on my reading of the book, I was of the opinion that Ehrman still believed in God although not in the literal words of the Bible. Apparently that is not true. An article in the Washington Post today contains quotes from Ehrman that clearly show he is an agnostic .

"I just began to lose it," Ehrman says now, in a conversation that stretches from late afternoon into the evening. "It wasn't for lack of trying. But I just couldn't believe there was a God in charge of this mess . . . It was so emotionally charged. This whole business of 'the Bible is your life, and anyone who doesn't believe it is going to roast in hell.' "

It is interesting that he is still a biblical scholar. His motivations for going into biblical studies are gone.

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Book: Misquoting Jesus

Posted in Books, Religion on February 22, 2006 by Mike Procario

A friend lent me Richard Rubenstein's When Jesus Became God a few months ago, and I found it fascinating. It that explained many different concepts were circulating in the early church about the divinity of Jesus, and showed how the orthodox view prevailed. I was raised Catholic and the perception that I always had was that the church exists today in very much same form as when Paul started converting the gentiles. In fact the structure of the church today did not even begin to develop until Constantine converted to Christianity and lent the power of the Roman Empire to the early church.

Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus covers similar but not identical territory. He approaches it through textual studies of the New Testament. The earliest existing manuscripts of the New Testament date from the second century, although the original texts were older they have been lost. What I took from the book is that the Bible shows a significant amount of variation, but that with some hard work and careful thought, a very reasonable approximation of the original can be reconstructed.

I read through many reviews of Misquoting Jesus on, and it is clear that this book provokes many reactions with opposite absolute reactions being common. One is comdemnation from people who believe that the Bible is the 100% accurate word of God. The other is from people who use the variation as evidence that the whole thing must be false. Certainly, neither is Ehrman's view.

I liked the book. It is clear that Ehrman has thought long and hard about his subject. This book is clearly simplified for a general audience, so one cannot evaluate whether he has gotten everything correct, but I believe that he has done a good job at explaining his method and giving an overview of the material.

I am of the opinion that simple answers and absolute certainities are rare, but careful thought and hard work can yield insights and useful knowledge that can improve our lives. It is one of the reasons that I am a scientist, and it appears that Bart Ehrman shares this view.