by Patrick Appel
Saletan asks: "Should parents go to jail for believing so devoutly in faith healing that they don't seek lifesaving medical treatment for their children?" His answer:
...the more important thing to communicate to parents is that this is bad religion. Science is a way of grappling with what we can know empirically. Religion is a way of grappling with what we can't. Each of these disciplines must recognize its limits and defer, beyond that, to its counterpart. Properly understood, there's nothing unscientific about religion, and there's nothing irreligious about science.
I'm not saying the distinction is perfectly clean. It isn't. Sometimes religion and science have to work together. But it's crucial to ask which kind of question you're facing. Healing is a physical phenomenon. Can faith influence it? Yes. Look at the latest study on acupuncture: It sometimes works, apparently because patients believe in it. But what happens when people pray for your recovery without you knowing about it? Answer: Nothing. Belief, not God, is the medically salient factor.
That's how science, at its best, works with religion. It doesn't claim to disprove God's existence. It can't. It addresses only empirically testable ideas, including faith healing. And it reports whatever its methods find. Instead of laughing at acupuncture, it looks at the evidence, admits that acupuncture sometimes works, and tries to figure out why.
Religion, at its best, needs the same humility.
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