Friday, December 05, 2008

When Good Religion Makes Bad Science

I really hate bad science. I just read of a study on religion and health which concluded:
When the researchers adjusted the data to account for physical health, age, ethnicity, income, education, social support, important life events and life satisfaction, they found that weekly religious service attendance was responsible for a 20 reduction in the risk of death. Attending less than once a week was responsible for a 15 percent drop in the risk of death.

Am I crazy for suggesting that the "risk of death" for everyone is 100%, no matter what they do? I mean, we're all going to die. And even adjusting this for what they probably meant, I don't understand what they probably meant. I refuse to believe that I have a 20% higher chance of dying at any given moment simply because I'm not religious. I'm sure they're not saying the odds are that high, as that should indicate that most atheists would be dead by the end of the day. But it never really is explained what they meant.

And then there's this tidbit:
Before adjusting the data, there was no significant difference in the risk of death between regular religious service attendees and those who chose not to attend.

So the straight results showed that there was no significant difference, and it was only after they "adjusted" the data that they found what they were looking for. Yeah, no hanky panky going on here, folks. I mean, this was a study conducted by the Yeshiva College at Yeshiva University, which has a "duel education" program which seeks to combine the sciences with the study of the Torah and Jewish heritiage, so there's no way they'd be screwing around with the facts. And hey, the article even quotes Dr. Koenig, the founder of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University Medical Center, and he says this was a "very well done study." So you know it's GOT to be good. There's no way that people seeking to combine religion with science would ever deceive themselves regarding their scientific studies on the wonders of religion.

And the funniest thing about the article is how they tiptoe around what they want to believe the real cause for this difference is: God. They're all coy about it and act like they're willing to accept non-God related explanations, but it's obvious which answer they think it really is. But of course, if something supernatural is the cause of this, then how to explain why it didn't matter which god people worshipped? If this is supernatural, I'd guess the monotheists are the big losers here, because it's obvious their One True God wasn't playing favorites.  

And does it really need to be said that the belief in the supernatural is inherently anti-science by definition?  I think not.


Mahakal / מהכאל said...

God is not supernatural, though, any more than you are.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal - Please look up the definition of the word "supernatural" and get back with me about that.

Mahakal / מהכאל said...

Consciousness is perfectly natural. You are conscious.

You don't have a scientific explanation of consciousness, but that doesn't make consciousness supernatural.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal - You're clearly not getting it. "Supernatural" doesn't refer necessarily to things science doesn't currently understand or can't currently explain. It refers to things that cannot be studied empirically, and therefore will always remain outside the realm of objective knowledge. It means that science has no way of proving or disproving anything about it.

Scientists can study consciousness. Scientists can test consciousness. Scientists can define consciousness based upon empirical knowledge and use this knowledge to create rudimentary theories explaining it. The question isn't whether science can explain consciousness, but whether science can observe it objectively.

None of these things apply to your god. Your god is entirely faith-based, and according to your beliefs, he wants it that way. There's nothing to study. There are no facts to gather or experiments to perform. We can't even tell if he's ever existed. Science can't prove or disprove anything about your god. By definition, this makes him supernatural, and he's the one that made it that way.

That's not an insult of any kind. That's just the definition of the word "supernatural." You can dislike that word all you want, but you can't change the meaning just because you don't like it. Saying that your god isn't supernatural is like saying that "blue" isn't a color. You can claim such things all you want, but you're just speaking gibberish. Blue is a color and to suggest otherwise is meaningless. Similarly, your god is supernatural. That's what the word means.

And hey, if that's how your god wants it, that's fine by me. But if you've got a problem with your god being supernatural, you should take it up with him. Assuming you think he's omnipotent, it really shouldn't be too hard for him to prove his existence. But don't blame science just because your god wants to play games with his existence or test our faith. That's between you and your god.

Mahakal / מהכאל said...

You say things about my God having no idea what my conception of God is. It is therefore you who speaks gibberish.

Try this metaphor on. God Shiva is pure consciousness, and Shakti is his manifested energy. All that exists in the universe are these two, and they are in truth one. Nothing material exists, all is vibration and awareness.

ronny said...

You've been outclassed again, biobuttplug.

Stop blogging before you embarrass yourself further.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal - I didn't need to know anything about your god, other than knowing that he is supernatural. And that's all I said about it. Reread what I wrote and you'll see that I was intentionally vague about your god. How could I not be? Everyone's god is different from everyone else's and no two gods are identical.

I have nothing against your metaphor. Sounds about as plausible as anything else, I suppose. But all the same, there is no empirical evidence to support it, so I'm forced to reject it. Perhaps you're totally right about all this, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Science can't confirm or deny any of it. That's what makes it supernatural. The understanding of your god is completely outside the realm of science. Why do you remain confused about this? Any attempt by you to suggest that your beliefs are not supernatural just show how confused you are about what that word means.

And are you suggesting that it's impossible for your god to make his presence empirically knowable? Again, it sounds to me like your problem is with your god's decision to make things as confusing as possible. You should take this up with him, not me. I didn't make the rules, he did.

Mahakal / מהכאל said...

I'm absolutely not suggesting that it is impossible for God to be known empirically. It is simplicity itself. Look within, and there you will find.

You are too closed minded to look, perhaps. Meditate a while, and then we can talk about it. Otherwise, you only speak from ignorance about it.

Mahakal / מהכאל said...

Again, there is nothing supernatural about consciousness and energy. You may not be able to explain their existence scientifically, but they exist naturally.

Lilyana said...

To the less scientifically savvy folks out there who might just happen to read this comment, all the criteria are wrong. To account for one specific variable, all of the other have to be REMOVED, not added.

Let's assume for a moment that they do have some good reason for being there. Some of their "adjustment" criteria I can almost see as feasible, some of it has no business even being suggested, and some of it I am willing to bet is completely misrepresented. Important life events? Seriously? Maybe all the time I spend constantly reading scientific literature just hasn't been thorough enough but to my knowledge there is nothing to support that as a criterion. I can only imagine that age, ethnicity, income and education are all being misrepresented. Numerous studies have pointed to atheists having on average higher levels of education (which has a correlation to living longer), garnering higher levels of income (again correlation to living longer), in our current society being younger (this is a duh), and white persons having a longer average lifespan and lower levels of religious affiliation. It may not be fair that white people live longer and is probably the result of socioeconomic variables, but that is how it is currently. This may different in places outside of the US but Yeshiva is based out of NY.
There has been evidence to suggest that a more positive life satisfaction correlates with more positive health. Although if people are more positive because of their health, or people are more healthy because of how positive they are is the real question there.

Returning to my initial point, even if these factors are not being misrepresented, the adjustments suggest at best that people who attend church have factors in common that are a predictor of longer life and have similar habits like religious attendance but religious attendance itself, as pointed out when no adjustments were made, does not improve quality of life. Period.

To Mahakal, your arguments are dodgy, fail to address what was stated, and are even wrong. As the Doc said, supernatural is not indicative of your god existing or not existing nor is it indicative of you being right or wrong about that existence. It is simply a statement that it lacks the ability to be empirically tested by science. Nor are introspection and meditation methods for obtaining such evidence. There have been people who believed whole-heartedly that dogs talk to them. Things such as that are exactly why physical evidence is required.

You are correct in that energy and consciousness are not supernatural. You are wrong about science's relationship with them though. While we may not yet have obtained all of the answers pertaining to every form of energy and every detail of consciousness, scientific study has provided a boon of knowledge about both and we continue to discover more.

Unsupported metaphors are not evidence. Try finding something more useful to contribute to the topic of discussion instead of hinging on pointless semantics and unsolicited proselytizing.

Mahakal / מהכאל said...

Lilyana, your agreement that energy and consciousness are not supernatural is entirely the point.

It is not an unsupported metaphor that God Shiva is pure consciousness, for that is what the Hindu scriptures say. If consciousness exists, if it is not an illusion, it is Shiva.

Likewise, Shakti is energy, and everything material is nothing but energy, as you should certainly know. This is why it is called Maya.

That science is always finding out new knowledge is undisputed.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal - If I can only find your god by looking within myself and only if I want to find it, then your god is inherently NOT empirical.

Good lord, man. Do you not understand what words mean? Please look up the meaning of the word "empirical" and then try to tell me that I can find empirical proof by looking inside myself. And then maybe you can look up the word "supernatural" and understand why you're wrong about that one too.

The god you're describing is the DEFINITION of supernatural and non-empirical. Science isn't about understanding things. It's about using a specific method for uncovering knowledge. If knowledge cannot be gained using these methods, then it cannot be scientific knowledge; and looking within oneself is NOT one of the approved methods. Perhaps what you say about Shiva and Shakti is true, but without some sort of scientific method for testing your theory, it's all supernatural.

Now either develop a scientific way to test your theory or bugger off. You may have found truth, but it sure ain't science.

Mahakal / מהכאל said...

You could look out the window and see a rainbow outside when one appears, but if you refuse to look out the window and insist that rainbows are supernatural and nonexistent, you're just being willfully ignorant and stupid.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal - Your rainbow metaphor is clearly faulty. Because you're talking about a rainbow that can only be "seen" if one already believes in rainbows. And I put "seen" in quotes, because you STILL can't actually see your god. You merely accept on faith that he's there and have decided to interpret what you do see as evidence justifying that belief.

But I understand rainbows. I know what they are. I can test the theory of rainbows. I don't believe in rainbows. I know they exist. As does everyone else who's willing to test for their existence. This is nothing like your god. Your god can only be believed if one chooses to believe. And that's why it will always be supernatural. Again, this isn't an arbitrary decision I've made. This is what the word "supernatural" means. If you don't like it, complain to your god about it; not me. This isn't a decision I've made.

Ramesh said...

I am shocked you have not got a response from the "good lord "man"". Its almost pointless. All life is pointless. To hell with it :)

-- r