Science, Skepticism, and Faith

Yesterday, Dr. Novella (my hero) made a post at Skepticblog on this topic: Science and Religion – Again

It’s really hard for me to say much more than /agree to that post. The man is more coherent and eloquent than I think I’ve ever been in my wildest dreams.

I will say that this goes a long way toward elaborating on the utter discomfort I’ve felt some times at skeptical events. It’s no secret that I’m an atheist, and that I don’t personally have much use for faith, let alone organized religion. But I start feeling really squirmy when some of my fellow non-believers get frothy enough to declare that someone can’t possibly be a good skeptic if they’re not also an atheist. I’m really not a fan of purity tests when it comes to inclusion in a social group; once you get to that point, it seems that a rapid slide in to savaging one another for not being whatever enough is almost inevitable.

Now, this is not to say that I think many religious/faith-based claims should be given a free pass. But this is the big point, as stated by Dr. Novella:

It is important, in my opinion, for skeptics to be crystal clear on this point, because often the purveyors of pseudoscience will try to evade falsification or the negative effects of evidence on their claims by positioning the claim outside of science. At that point the skeptic must acknowledge that science can no longer demonstrate that the claim is likely to be false, but rather the claim is no longer scientific and can only be an article of faith.

If there’s a claim that you can build a scientific test around, it’s fair game and shouldn’t be given a pass. Faith healing? You can test that – if the tumor hasn’t been prayed away, the answer to that claim is pretty apparent. Someone says that they can talk to your mom’s ghost? If they can’t answer questions about her without resorting to google or cold reading, there you go. If nothing else, claims like that are things you can put in to a really nice “If… then…” statement. “IF that is real Bigfoot hair, THEN it definitely shouldn’t have the DNA of a yak,” or “IF homeopathy works, THEN it will have a statistically significant effect in randomized, placebo-controlled trials” or “IF the Shroud of Turin is a real artifact, THEN it will carbon date to the appropriate age and there will be evidence that the image is created with blood rather than paint.”

But if someone tells me, “I believe in God because I can feel His love in my heart,” well… there isn’t a lot I can do with that. Let me see… IF you really feel God’s love in your heart, THEN… uh… THEN…

I suppose I could get in to a philosophical argument at that point, because once you’ve hit the faith-zone, that’s all you have left. But frankly, I don’t have a whole lot of use for philosophical anything, let alone philosophical atheism. (Sorry, guys.) My own conclusions are based on what I feel is a lack of convincing evidence for the existence of a god, rather than long-winded debates about the existence of evil or what-have-you in the world. Because when you come down to it, my non-belief is the result of evidence that cannot be tested in such a way as to provide a solid conclusion. I took a look around and decided that, well, with that we’ve got there’s no reason to actually believe in a god, but I’ll keep an eye out to see if things change.

But you know what? I think it’s just as fair that someone else looked around and decided that, well, with what we’ve got there’s no reason to not believe in a god. And hopefully they’ll keep an eye out to see if things change as well.

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