Does the Science Show that Spirituality Will Benefit Your Child?

“Spirituality may not speak to you at all,” Lisa Miller writes near the beginning of her new book, The Spiritual Child. “But it is foundational to your child.” Miller is a psychologist at Columbia University whose research focuses on how personal spiritual experiences shape the development of children and adolescents.

The Spiritual Child
Lisa Miller
St. Martin’s Press (May 5, 2015)

In The Spiritual Child, Miller draws on decades of research to argue that spirituality is important for children’s well-being and protective against depression, substance abuse, and other dangers. Miller approaches spirituality with a tactical pragmatism. The question here isn’t whether or not spiritual experience is verifiable. Instead, the questions are: does spiritual experience have verifiable benefits? And, if so, what should we do about that?

That can be contentious territory, and Miller is keen to emphasize that this is “all in the science”—specifically, “established scientific fact” that’s “grounded in the science” and “the picture created by science,” now made available so that parents can make decisions “grounded in science and in our natural love.” In the book’s 20-page introduction (from which all five of those quotes are pulled), Miller uses variations of the word “science” sixty-eight times.

Unfortunately, the book’s sourcing doesn’t entirely bear out its own claims to scientific rigor. Shortly after The Cubit spoke with Miller, The Daily Beast published a review of The Spiritual Child highlighting errors and shaky interpretations. As reviewer Vlad Chituc (who, in full disclosure, is a friend) points out, Miller misrepresents key details of a study by the psychologist Paul Bloom. She also cites a pair of studies from The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicineone involving psychic communication, and the other discussing energy fields—neither of which is an acceptable source for a work that purports to be scientific.

For an academic researcher, this presents serious questions, and we considered not publishing the following Q&A. But these missteps don’t involve Miller’s own research, and, despite the dubious sourcing, a number of Miller’s claims are persuasive. There is evidence—much of it from Miller’s own, peer-reviewed work—that self-reported spiritual experience lowers the risk for substance abuse, depression, and unprotected sex among adolescents. There’s also plenty of evidence that adolescents can use spiritual experiences and techniques to navigate emerging adulthood, a process Miller discusses in depth.

Over the phone, Miller spoke with The Cubit about adolescence, definitions of spirituality, and the reframing of spiritual experience as a pragmatic tool.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

So how are science and spirituality interacting here?

Science is actually an elegant way for understanding spirituality. It connects what so many devout people have known through the heart with what we can collectively witness through the lens of science. In the same way that we honor and listen to the testimony of [individuals], when we look through the lens of science we’re listening to a whole chorus of voices—to a whole group of people expressed through a collection of data of points. It’s a chorus of voices offering witness. I view science as essential on my own spiritual path.

When we think of science tackling spiritual topics, it’s usually in the context of Big Questions about life and the cosmos. Looking at the effect of spirituality on an individual is a very different kind of approach.

What I am looking at in The Spiritual Child is a very powerful body of science on spiritual life.

Looking at hundreds of studies, we can say three things. They are not my opinion. They are in the science.

The first is that human beings are born innately spiritual. We have a natural capacity through which we experience transcendence and the relationship with the higher power. [Second], we look at optimal functioning and we see that we are healthier at every level of analysis. Whether we’re looking at the brain, the cell, or the whole human life course, we are healthier and function optimally with a strong spiritual life. The third way is we can look at markers of health and wholeness, for instance in the brain. In JAMA in 2014, I was the first author on an article that showed a thicker cortex, which is processing power associated with IQ and health, in people with a strong personal spirituality over time.

Spirituality is an extraordinary protection against the most prevalent forms of suffering. Young people in the first two decades [of life] very rarely die of cancer or diabetes. They die of risk-taking and suicide, things like that. And there’s nothing in the medical sciences as robust and protective against the most serious forms of suffering and risk as a personal spirituality.

There’s the term “spirituality,” as we use in ordinary conversation, which is fairly vague. But for research, you need to have the term locked down. How does our day-to-day use of “spirituality” differ from the definition you use in the lab?

Spirituality comes for many people within their religious tradition, and for many other people spirituality comes outside their religious tradition. There’s a very broad range of spiritual experiences. The piece that I focus on in The Spiritual Child is a direct relationship with a higher power, whether that is in the language of God, Allah, Hashem—whatever the language may be, whether it’s Judeo-Christian at all.

That living transcendent relationship is, according to science, where the greatest protective benefits are found. There are other spiritual and religious paths that support that, and interact with that. For instance, going to church or temple supports the development of a personal relationship, a transcendent relationship. A parent supports the relationship.

But at the end of the day, the strongest source of thriving and health, the dimension of spirituality with the greatest footprint on our health and thriving, is specifically the transcendent relationship, the relationship with the higher power.

In the lab, how do you determine that someone is having what you would call a “transcendent spiritual relationship”?

The transcendent relationship was first measured starting in the late ‘90s. The best study to come out was Kenneth Kendler’s in 1997, and then again in 1999. They simply asked people to self-report, which turned out to be extremely valid when you’re talking about self-experienced spirituality.

One thing we found was that a sense of living in a sacred world, or simply saying spirituality is important to me, is always highly correlated with that personal relationship. It’s the portal through which opens a sacred world. That’s the sense, in the West. Again, in the East, it’s often a sense of oneness, of feeling part of the life force, part of a way.

Dozens and dozens of studies send a clear signal that that personal relationship with God is 80% protective against risky sex in girls. It’s 40% protective against substance abuse in kids, as compared to someone who’s just average. A highly spiritual kid, as compared to someone who doesn’t feel any spirituality at all, is 80% protected against substance abuse. There’s nothing like this in the epidemiological or clinical research. It’s jaw dropping. And it drove me nuts, as a parent, that I didn’t see other parents benefiting from this. I could see it clear as day every day in my lab, and it wasn’t crossing the barrier of the lab.

I grew up in the Bible Belt. There were lots of opportunities to cultivate “transcendent spiritual relationships,” and I think we probably didn’t use quite as many substances, or have quite as much premarital sex, as kids growing up in, say, New York. But I’m not sure that had to do with spiritual experience so much as a less permissive (or more repressive) culture. How do you separate out the effects of personal spiritual experience from the effects of the broader culture? Correlation from causation?

This personal transcendent relationship happens within or without of religion. It is part of our birthright, it is part of our nature. The rigid adherence to creed was also identified in the 1997 paper by Kendler—a close and rigid adherence to creed. And that is not protective against substance abuse. It has a small effect in preventing kids from ever trying substances, but once that boundary is crossed, it is not protective against heavy use, it is not protective against downward slide or abuse.

Similarly, in our study, we look at a large study of adolescent girls. That deep spiritual piece puts sex in the context of relationships and love. Girls who have a strong relationship with a higher power tend to have more stable ongoing relationships, fewer partners, and less exposure to dangerous sex. However, rigid adherence to creed actually poses risks for some girls to end up in situations that they weren’t ready for. Once the line is crossed, science does not show a protective benefit.

So you can separate it out?

You can. Yes, you can statistically separate them out. Overall, the personal relationship with God is deeply protective. The rigid adherence to creed has no protective benefits except first time exposure. All it does is slightly mitigates the likelihood that a teen will try substances, try sex, be in a dangerous place. But once they are, and they often are, there is no protective benefit against deep danger and slide into profound problems.

Do you think that spiritual people are ever uncomfortable seeing belief described in such pragmatic terms?

The person who was most moved by this of anyone was a deeply devout priest. I think it’s a tribute to the hunger of people to understand spirituality through our lived human existence.

I just wonder if I’ll be standing in synagogue one day and suddenly think, “Hey, this is making me 40% likelier to avoid drug addiction,” or whatever. That seemed like it might be a jarring experience.

Well, “its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” [Ed. –Proverbs 3:17; the verse is used widely today in Jewish liturgy, in reference to the Torah]. Those who keep Shabbat, Shabbat keeps them, right? I think it’s deeply entrenched in spiritual and religious life that the spiritual life, that the spiritual path, is also the path of thriving and flourishing and healing.

I don’t think it diminishes it. I don’t think it’s sacrosanct. I think it’s testimony.

How can parents balance the desire to have critical, questioning kids with a wish to encourage thinking that may not be entirely rational, or that may involve perceptions of entities that can’t be materially explained?

We have multiple ways of knowing: we have intuition, we have rigorous logic, we have investigation. We need to use them all. They’re all important, valid forms of perception.

We see epidemic rape on campuses, of depression that is not major depression, it’s not clinical major depression, it’s a developmental growing depression. It’s the moving up and asking, what is my meaning, what is my purpose? And you can run that question in your head for 70 more years and not get an answer.

But if you allow the question of what is my meaning, what is my purpose, what’s ultimate meaning and purpose? to be responded to by the heart, there can be a synthesis of deep-felt wisdom, a deep-felt clarity. That’s real. That’s not less real because it involves multiple forms of knowing. It makes full use of the human instrument to engage in life.


  •' NancyP says:

    I have to say that the excerpt isn’t supporting the “scientific” nature of Miller’s contention. To use a definition of “personal relationship with God” as a measure of spirituality biases the target group toward those with a lot of ego, who think themselves important enough for God to bother about them, as opposed to some depressed or less assertive people who may not consider themselves worthy of a “personal relationship with God”. So, people who have enough self-esteem to believe that God cares about them may be happier than people who think no-one, human or divine, cares about them. That sounds circular. It also biases the target group toward conservative / fundamentalist evangelical Christians who use the language and concept of “personal relationship with God”, as opposed to the less individualistic / egotistic, more communal language and forms of worship used by many other religious groups, for instance, Episcopalians, with their emphasis on liturgy in common worship.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    How about adults? Does belief in heaven benefit adults?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Instead of rejecting science, now Christianity wants to convert science to become a believer.

  •' Rmj says:

    Except Christianity never rejected science, especially if you consider the examples of Gregor Mendel and George LeMaitre.

    Science, in fact, rejected Christianity, sometime after Newton established what he thought was a vindication of God in his idea of a “mechanical universe.”

    Which is not to say science should support the claims of Christianity, nor Christianity the claims of science. But neither is the animosity between them something essential and inherent to either understanding of the world.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The only reason for animosity between them is the Christian sects that reject some or much of science.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    My response here was about the person in this article trying to use science to say spirituality benefits children. It was kind of trying to convert science to see their way as scientific, and so in a way they were trying to convert science, or give Christianity to science. Hopefully science can see this is just some more Christian pandering to try to convince people.

  •' seashell says:

    This sounds suspiciously like the arguments for Intelligent Design and science. ID advocates have admitted that their goal is to change the ground rules of science and its methodologies to include the supernatural (God and variations of God, like higher powers). However, as the courts have recognized, the existence of the supernatural in an argument automatically takes the argument out of the realm of science and into the realm of religion. I’m not buying this one either.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    It’s not just how Darwin was treated. It was also Galileo, and during the transition from dark age to industrial world the entire scientific community who lived in terror, should any of their ideas be perceived as blasphemous, that they could be tortured and killed after enduring examination by pre-ordained mock tribunals. Sounds a lot like the Soviet Union, which is to say such horrors are entirely human in origin, not unique to religion. And all those poor women living on the fringes of society who were burned as witches for no reason at all, other than perhaps that through no fault of their own they excited the repressed erotic desires of church leaders. Throughout its history religion has done an admirable job of offering evidence for the theory that we all are sinners, which scientifically simply means we are imperfect humans by nature.

    And then of course there is that whole disagreement on the existence of the so-called “super-natural”. That seems to me an enormous reason for science and religion to be in conflict intellectually. That need not lead to hostility, though in fact it often does. Certainly they can’t both be correct, and attempts to frame the divide this way are admirably perhaps motivated by a desire to keep the peace, but they entirely lack rigor and integrity. One of the two, science or religion, is necessarily fundamentally wrong in the metaphysical foundation of its beliefs. It’s not a secret which one I think is fundamentally wrong about reality.

    But as this article suggests, the narratives of religion can have good therapeutic impacts psychologically on individuals, on their choices and how they relate to families and communities. This can be true independent of whether the underlying transcendent experiences are emotional states based on fictional products of imagination, or as religion imagines them to be, part of natural reality existing prior to and independent of humans.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    Your comment covers what bothered me the most. When asked to “lock down” the meaning of “spirituality”, Miller seems to use “transcendent relationship to a higher power” as a working definition. Of course no attempt is made to define “higher power”, and inherently unreliable self-reporting is the basis for observing transcendent experience. It is, as you say, circular. Nothing is studied here that transcends subjective states of the brain. Whatever the word “spiritual” refers to is not a scientific object of study here. What is being studied is how the subjects are impacted by what they believe “spiritual” means, regardless of the truth or falsity of those beliefs.

    I really like your point about the egotism involved in feeling worthy of a personal relationship with the all-powerful divine creator of all time and space. Rather grand indeed.

    For young children in development the “higher power” is typically the parent, and the gradual decline of belief in the parent’s omnipotence is what we call growing up.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    “We have a natural capacity through which we experience transcendence and the relationship with the higher power.” – I don’t and as far as I remember, never did.

    How does this square with Phil Zuckerman’s work?

    I am skeptical of this “science”.

  •' DKeane123 says:

    In 1277, following Pope John XXI’s instructions, the concept of ‘laws of nature’ was declared to be heresy because they conflict with God’s omnipotence. But “Pope John was killed by the effects of the law of gravity a few months later when the roof of his palace fell in on him”.

    Scientist are also pretty smart people, you lock a few up and burn Giordano Bruno – they begin to understand that self censoring the types of questions they investigate is a good idea.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That is true about Galileo, but Christians I know today hate Darwin, probably more than they hate all the other scientists put together. That is why Darwin is who they should deal with. In Darwin’s time DNA was unknown, and the patterns of inheritance were now well understood. In fact the big questions were under the authority of religion back then. Darwin saw the pattern, life comes from life, and over long periods of time adapts to conditions at that time. He might not even have been the first to understand any of this, but he followed through in spite of the hostility from religion, hostility that exists to this day.

  •' seashell says:

    And then of course there is that whole disagreement on the existence of the so-called “super-natural”. That seems to me an enormous reason for science and religion to be in conflict intellectually.

    Except that there isn’t disagreement on the subject. Because science works with the observable and testable, it doesn’t attempt to answer the question “Is there a God?” It neither confirms nor denies the existence of God.

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  • Jim,

    You realise, of course, that Darwin is buried in Westminster Abbey? That’s a, ahem, Christian cathedral.

    Some half-wits, mostly American Republicans pretending to be Christians, reject Darwinism. They are a bunch of tiny silly cults — all the more reason you shouldn’t tell lies about them, e.g. by attributing their faults to “Christians” as a whole.


  • Jim,

    You write “In fact the big questions were under the authority of religion back then.”
    Darwin lived very recently, into the 1880’s — our great-grandparents’ time.

    What big issues do you imagine were under the authority of what religion that recently? In his own society religion was pretty much finished as any sort of ruling authority by then. What are you thinking?


  •' Jim Reed says:

    I was just going by Christians I know. Surveys seem to show a large percentage of Americans rejecting his work.

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    Exactly. Science provides absolutely no support for anything supernatural, so any time I see the word “spiritual” referring to something supernatural, then see the word “science” attached to it, my bullshit detector starts up. It means we’re heading into Deepak Chopra territory, using a scientific veneer to mask metaphysical nonsense.

  • Jim,

    You write “I was just going by Christians I know.”

    I don’t think this is true.

    The original sentence may apply to some, but certainly not all, of the members of the rather odd church you apparently grew up in. That was years ago, though. You have been out in the world. You have still had time to meet other Christians by now.

    So I think you were telling a story for effect, and not talking about Christians you know.

    “Surveys seem to show a large percentage of Americans rejecting his work.” No. Surveys show that some percentage of people pestered by a surveyor can be persuaded, with the right wording of the “question,” to check off an opinion hostile to Darwin as it is presented, preformatted, to them.

    I have never seen a survey showing that the people surveyed knew anything about Darwin’s work, so they had no way of supporting or opposing it as you implausibly claim.



  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    But science is pretty clear where it stands on the general question of the existence of a “super-natural”, which generally includes God and the things people like to think of as “spiritual”. The idea of a “spiritual” existence is dualism, i.e. that in addition to the physical there exists something else non-physical. The “spiritual” is considered to be “higher” than the mundane physical.

    Here is where science is clear on the idea of a supernatural: if there were supernatural force that could affect any physical matter in any way, then science could detect and measure it. For example if a spirit could move our arm or legs, cause us to speak, heal a body, or move any physical object of any kind, then some apparatus could be constructed that would be able to detect such a force. We know how to stimulate a brain to move an arm. We know that our movements and speech are not caused by a “spirit”. They are caused by the electro-chemical actions of the brain, and we know what kinds of things can stimulate electro-chemical reactions. Spirit is not one of them, or else we could detect its presence. Our experiments in particle accelerators are exhaustive with respect to how matter and energy interact, and the kinds of things that can possibly have an effect on physical atoms and molecules. If there were something else that could interact with matter on the scale of time, space, and energy from the smallest sub-atomic particle up to the size of galaxies, we would know of it and be able to account for its effects.
    The super-natural, or “spiritual” does not exist in the Universe we inhabit, except as an imaginary idea. If it exists in some way in some place outside of our Universe, it is not here and has no interaction with us and our world or Universe, so it has no meaning or importance to us except in the way language, fiction, myth, literature, etc. have psychological and emotional meaning to us. These things are not inherited from some external realm. They are products of the human imagination for the benefit of humans, just as houses, streets, restaurants, and clothing are. They are all part of the culture we construct out of this physical material world.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    I suppose that’s true. One can see it in the way Christians think of Darwin as an atheist substitute for God or Jesus, someone to “believe in”. There really is no question about “belief” when it comes to Darwin. He is indisputable fact, and the correctness of his ideas, on the whole except for a few finer details, are also indisputable facts. People try to dispute them, but only based on ignorance, so they are simply wrong.
    Darwin pretty thoroughly killed the idea that humans are the direct creation of a divine hand. So much reason for them to particularly hate him.
    Once somebody fully explains the relationships between the brain and conscious experience, the game is up for religious belief. There is no room left for pretensions about spirit, soul, life after death, transcendent experience, etc. They’ll probably try to crucify whoever does that.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    As you imply, the way you ask questions matter to a survey result. Questions about Darwin’s work don’t normally involve personal reference to the man himself. It’s true that most people don’t know a lot about Darwin or his work.

    Normally questions are framed in terms of evolution vs. creationism. People understand one to be the idea that humans evolved via a natural process lasting millions of years from animals, in particular apes (or incorrectly “monkeys”). The other they understand to be the story of creation as an intentional act of an all-powerful God, as narrated in Genesis of the Old Testament.

    The Pew surveys say that about 60% of US adults accept that we have evolved over time. The bulk of evolution deniers are in the very loud and politically vocal evangelical protestant group. Of those 60% that support the idea of evolution, roughly half say that the process was guided by God, which violates the scientific understanding of how evolution works. So these don’t really accept scientific evolution, they accept their own religion-friendly version of evolution, which isn’t authentic evolution. It is a convenient hybrid constructed to avoid facing the truth about nature.

  • Jeffrey,

    You write: “Normally questions are framed in terms of evolution vs. creationism.”
    The term for that in logic is “false dichotomy.”

    If you ask an incorrect question it follows that none of your answers can be correct.



  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    “The term for that in logic is “false dichotomy.””
    I know what a false dichotomy is. I don’t know how you arrive at the idea that evolution vs. creationism is a false dichotomy. The two are unique non-overlapping concepts that are wholly distinct. Either you believe in one or the other.
    If you are trying to imply that some fluffy hybrid of evolution guided by God allows you to believe in both, then you do not actually accept scientific evolution. You are avoiding the issue by practicing what we call “wishful thinking”. You believe in a modified version of creationism, one that attempts to substitute new details into the Genesis story while maintaining God’s agency in the matter. If you think this eliminates the conflict in what you call a “false dichotomy”, then you don’t really understand evolution and you are deceiving yourself.
    That isn’t evolution. The question I originally framed is not a false dichotomy, and is logically valid if you don’t distort the definitions of either evolution or creationism. Of course if you modify the premises and the definitions, you can claim any question is a false dichotomy.

  • Jeffrey,

    Saying things twice, but more firmly the second time, doesn’t make them any true..

    My observation is that the view “evolution is the process by which God creates” is extremely common. The falsity of the dichotomy is obvious to most people, if not to you.

    I see nothing “fluffy” about that view, although I do not share it. It is a view which assumes a powerful god acting resolutely and cleverly through the elegant means Darwin discovered. Not a bit of fluff in the joint.
    (You should perhaps pay more attention to the smiles you cause when you use the phrase “I don’t know how you arrive at the idea that…” Your ignorances may not have the probative value you seem to assume they have.)

    I have now read the interesting Pew article you pointed me to. It includes the claim that a third of Americans believe “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”
    Here their pre-programmed set of answers has forced everyone into affirming that time had a beginning. There have been times when no scientists believed that, and that view is becoming respectable again as there are at least a few doubts about the Big Bang.
    There are of course many religions which do not believe in a beginning for time, but Pew doesn’t allow them any voice.



  • Jeffrey,

    You say to me “You believe in a modified version of creationism, one that attempts to substitute new details into the Genesis story while maintaining God’s agency in the matter.”

    And your evidence for this wild and crazy claim is…?


  •' Jim Reed says:

    That is true, but maybe it gives a way out. There is no evidence for the spiritual world, but Christians can believe in it anyway. It can be a way to agree to disagree.

    Instead of arguing whether or not there is a God, it might be better to argue whether or not Jesus was real. This is a question that does leave historical evidence, and the record written in the Bible, so we have something to work with.

    The Bible has the story of Jesus written in the last third of the first century. It is a story of events from the first third of the century. But in the middle of the century you have the writings Paul, extensive writings that describe a different Christianity from the later gospel accounts. In this record you have a Christianity that was finding Jesus in Old Testament scriptures, and going by their visions. It knew nothing of those later gospel stories. If they existed in the time of Paul, they would have had a lot of influence on what he wrote. This means the gospel stories were a later invention, and didn’t actually happen.

    Religion in America is almost totally Christian. Once the people understand the Bible shows Jesus is not real, the religion will change. We can see the beginnings of this now. Some are saying it doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus was real, the message is the important thing. I think this is a step along the path of liberal Christianity evolving to become like secular humanism, a way to follow the golden rule and environmentalism not dependent on ancient scriptures.

    Conservative Chritianity may take longer to totally fade away, but they will be fighting a loosing battle because since Jesus is not real, it becomes certain He will not return.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    Saying that a view is common does not make it true.
    It appears my guess was incorrect, you do not believe in evolution guided by God’s hand. It is an obvious way to attempt to resolve the conflict between evolution and creationism, I’ll grant you that. But it isn’t obviously true. In fact, if you truly understand the details of how evolution works, you know that it doesn’t need any guidance from God to explain how it works, just the laws of physics and chemistry following their natural course over long periods of time.
    So people who believe in this “divine guided” form of evolution are not correctly understanding evolution. This isn’t a debatable question. Evolution does not rely on divine intervention. The reason I say this view of guided evolution is “fluffy” is because it can be understood by a child, arrived at by a child, and requires none of the hard work of learning about evolution and the science behind it.
    What remains is that when you begin with the correct definition of evolution, and the literal story of creation, which is what people who self-identify as “Creationists” believe to be true, there is no false dichotomy. The two are clearly distinct.
    If you use the “fluffy” idea of evolution that people who are unwilling to challenge their own religious faith are eager to believe in because it makes them feel like they are being modern and in step with science while preserving their precious traditions, sure, there is a false dichotomy. But that has nothing to do with scientific evolution. It involves a religiously motivated substitution for evolution that is an imposter.
    As I said, if you change the definitions for your own convenience, you can make any dichotomy into a false one.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    As I stated in another post, I falsely assumed that you believe in evolution guided by a divine hand, which I call a modified version of creationism (because it literally is that). So that is my reason for this “wild and crazy claim”.
    Since you said you do not hold this view, I’m at a loss, unless you take the time to explain, how it is you see a false dichotomy in the choice between evolution and creationism.
    I’ve clearly explained why I see this dichotomy as real in two previous posts, but you haven’t offered any details justifying your claim that it is a false one. You simply stated it is obvious. So tell us the details. How is your view coherent?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Christianity has been forced into learning some debate techniques, like taking credit for scientific advances. Now they say things like the Big Bang, yes, they know that because it is in the Bible.

  • Jeffrey,

    You write “Saying that a view is common does not make it true.”

    Quite right. My feeling is that commonly held views are commonly held.

    “It appears my guess was incorrect, you do not believe in evolution guided by God’s hand.” That looks like a confession, not an apology, but I’ll accept it.

    “If you use the “fluffy” idea of evolution that people who are unwilling to challenge their own religious faith are eager to believe in because it makes them feel like they are being modern and in step with science while preserving their precious traditions, sure, there is a false dichotomy.”

    Thank you. If you keep thinking about it I’m sure you can come up with a couple of other ways it’s false, too.

    “As I said, if you change the definitions for your own convenience, you can make any dichotomy into a false one.”

    Jeffrey, I have neither given any definitions, nor changed any. You, on the other hand, have just given us two highly original, and differing, definitions of “fluffy.”



  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    Apparently you don’t realize there is a contradiction between the false dichotomy which you thanked me for explaining, and your claim that you aren’t changing the definition of evolution in order to arrive at that same false dichotomy.
    Unless your point is the utterly trivial claim that you personally did not change the definition of evolution, while someone else did change the definition. If that’s the case, you’re being ridiculous (I hope not). The point is identifying the difference, not assigning personal responsibility.
    I can easily correct that be re-phrasing using a passive construction: the definition of evolution in your “false dichotomy” construction of evolution vs. creationism is not the same as the actual scientific version of evolution. The definition is changed between the two. Scientific evolution does not resort to any divine forces to explain how it works. No God is involved. Just physics, chemistry, and time is enough to produce all the objects of biology.

  • Jeffrey, poor Jeffrey,

    What possible relevance could my view of evolution have to whether or not a dichotomy presented by the opinion managers of Pew is false?

    The dichotomy is false, as you finally came to see in your second long post, because many thoughtful and sensible people hold both opinions. You, incidentally, have shown no evidence, other than some spluttering and loud declarations of what you have no idea of, to suggest the dichotomy exists at all.

    The two ideas are simply different views about quite unrelated facets of the complex subject of speciation. The word, central to the whole topic, appears in none of the questions.


  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    This makes a lot of sense. What seems important is to clearly distinguish between belief in the unknowable source of existence, and belief in the various deities that are supposed to have various concrete properties and supposed to intervene in our world in ways that at best nobody could possibly ever know, and at worst are provably false.
    You’re right, the message is the only thing important. Asserting the truth claims about various religious events seems to take an unhealthy priority because those are the things upon which religions base their claims to authority and power. It would be nice if those things could go away and people just debated the merits of different ideas in the various religious messages.

  •' seashell says:

    Let me try this again. We are in total agreement that evolution is based on science and creationism is based on religion. Because scientists and the scientific method cannot observe, replicate, test and falsify anything outside of the natural world, such as a supernatural being, they neither try to confirm or deny the existence of God. In essence, they take no stance on God as there is no stance to take.

    The false dichotomy that exists between science and religion in this case, comes from the false belief of creationists that any evidence that doesn’t quite fit into evolution must therefore mean that God is the creator. Scientists, in turn, believe they’re just missing a piece and it will be resolved eventually through natural scientific methods.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That opens up another line of questioning. Why “religious” messages? We have advanced to the point where there may be better messages on TV, and in literature, or certain internet sites. As ancient religious messages fade into the dust, new religious messages are generally just trying to keep the old ones alive, and society is moving on to better messages from newer sources that have more meaning in our life now. Religion has a lot of baggage, so we are headed for the time when non-religion beats out religion as a source for your personal guide.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    “In essence, they take no stance on God as there is no stance to take.”
    I agree with all your remarks but this one, with caveats. In an abstract philosophical metaphysical sense, without leaving our arm chair or our purely mathematical reasoning, science can not prove or disprove the existence of God. Because of the induction problem, science can’t even prove science everywhere in our Universe.
    In a more practical sense though, while I can not prove that the sun will rise today based only on my observations from the roughly 20,000 previous daily observations of the sun rising each day, and from my knowledge that certain conservation principles generally rule out radical discontinuities or departures from the usual movements of objects in space, and from the iron clad laws of gravitational forces, I’m still very confident that the sun will rise today. Confident enough that I can safely predict that it will rise.
    There are many things that those who believe in God believe about God’s role in our natural world. For example that God has something to do with the conception of a child or the origin of a life, or that God somehow injects consciousness or a soul into people, or that our conscious mind is in some way part of the spirit of God, and that it can live after the body’s death. They believe that God impregnated a virgin, and became flesh, was crucified, was dead and then resurrected. They believe he listens to and acts upon their prayers. I can list many more if we consider every religion and every God, but I’ve just offered a few examples familiar from Christianity and monotheistic traditions.
    The pattern I’m illustrating is that these are not just beliefs about a super-natural world that is wholly parallel and outside of our natural physical world. These are beliefs about the super-natural somehow being injected into, influencing, and interacting with the physical world. And these kinds of statements are things that in fact scientists can make measurements on because in each case they involve interactions that modify the behaviors of otherwise purely physical objects in ways that are not consistent with the entirely natural laws of physics. If such super-natural forces exist, they leave traces in the physical or else they are completely irrelevant to our physical existence.
    For example the history of observations in neuroscience have produced enough evidence of the relationship between the health and integrity of the brain and normal human cognition and emotion, so that every human mental aspect from language to memory to recognizing loved ones, feeling love, or even the perception of transcendent spiritual experience has been observed to be effected by the physical states of the brain, and that such human qualities can be entirely eliminated from people’s experience by various brain injuries or diseases. This very strongly suggests that such conscious experiences are impossible without the brain, and thus impossible after death. Many scientists are quite confident, about as confident as we are that the sun will rise, that there is no life after death. No, it is not “proven” in a pure philosophical sense, but neither is it proven that the sun will rise.
    The cosmologist Sean Carroll at Cal Tech is willing to state that the range of experiments done by physics, from our particle accelerators to our observations of space, exhaustively cover a range of energies, time intervals, and spatial extents from the extremely tiny sub-atomic to the enormous distances between stars in which we can safely say that there is no room left in this domain for unknown forces and interactions other than those described by the standard model of quantum field theory and the equations of general relativity. From this he infers that we know with a great deal of certainty (again, as with the rising sun), that there are not supernatural unknown forces meddling with our physics, and that we can rule out phenomena on the time space and energy scales of human lives and events on earth that are the results of unknown “super-natural” forces.
    And he infers for himself from this that he can state with confidence that there is no life after death. Many scientists agree with such arguments. Philosophers can point out that there is a certain lack of absolute rigor, and that these things do not constitute proof, and they are right, just as they are right that we can not prove the sun will rise today. But we can have a great deal of confidence that this reasoning is right, just as we can have a great deal of confidence that the sun will rise.
    So there is a great deal science can say about God, as ordinary religious humans perceive God to be and the things they believe about God. There are positions to take. It is not necessary to remain quiet and to concede that an entire realm of spirits, angels, heavens, and miracles are all around us altering our world fundamentally simply because people believe that is true and science cannot positively disprove it. Science can with great confidence eliminate that possibility using observations of how the physical world behaves, and note that the consistency and predictability rules out unknown forces changing our world. The reasoning of David Hume regarding miracles applies here, and is taken further by our extensive expansion of scientific knowledge.
    That pretty much confines God to an unknowable thing outside of space since the time of the big bang, a thing that does not interact with or change our world, our experiences, our lives in any way at all, other than having possibly something to do with creating matter, energy, and the laws of physics. That is of course a huge thing, but it does not justify most of the ideas people have about God or the properties humans associate with God. Such a Deistic God of creation only could be entirely mindless, and such a God’s existence could also depend on some other thing beyond that which is also mysterious and unknowable to us. The only thing we can be pretty certain of is that such unknowable and mysterious entities are extremely unlikely to be aware of our existence, if they even have anything we understand as awareness at all, and that they would not have prepared a heavenly paradise for our life after death, and they are in no way involved in the creation of human life or consciousness.

  •' mikehorn says:

    The protectiveness on risky sex isn’t demonstrated at all. Quite the opposite. STI, teen pregnancy, early marriage, and early divorce are all highest in the most religious parts of the country. Number of partners makes no difference – that is a red herring – it’s the partner that hadn’t practiced safe sex and now has HPV, chlamydia, others. It doesn’t take five clean partners, just one repressed situation that breeds bad decisions. Religious youth correlate directly with risky sex, with bad health, social, and economic consequences.

  •' seashell says:

    Let’s try to ratchet this down from the universe[s] to life back here on earth. Scientists have learned a lot about tornadoes in the past few decades and have saved many lives as a result. However, they are still studying how some super-cells can produce one or multiple violent tornadoes and other super-cells, under what appear to be similar conditions, produce no tornadoes or only weak short-lived ones.

    Nowhere in their studies of super-cells and tornadoes are scientists hypothesizing that violent tornadoes are either a result of certain atmospheric conditions or the result of an angry God. Until they find the evidence for what they don’t know now, their answer is simply, “we don’t know yet” and not “we don’t know, but we know it’s not because of an angry God.”

  • Jeffrey,

    Enough, silly bunny. Silly fluffy bunny.


  •' RhondaEMcKnig says:

    ♡♡♡♡$77 /hr 0n the computer@me29//



  •' seashell says:

    To clarify: For a scientist to conclude that X is not a result of God implies that somewhere in the premise exists the possibility that God did cause X.

    This is exactly the opening that creationists are looking for. They’re not trying to prove God exists or that God caused X – they know they can’t do that. What they are trying to do is to stretch/change the rules and boundaries of science to include the possibility that X is caused by God (or a supernatural being, which is the Christian God.) Once they have that and as far as they and their adherents are concerned, they have proven that God exists.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    They know what kinds of things cause the weather. It’s thermodynamics. Solar energy, moisture, atmosphere, pressure, heat capacity, cause atmospheric events. They know that super-cells are caused by some combination of this kind of thing, so there is some constraint on the possibilities, even though they can’t predict the conditions or explain the process of development for super cells exactly. They know where to look for the answer, and none of them are looking to God.
    There is a long list of things they can say don’t cause super-cells:
    Unicorns do not cause super-cells. Saturn the planet does not cause super-cells. Pretty much anything you can name does not cause super-cells unless it is one of those atmospheric thermodynamic energy related phenomena capable of moving huge masses of air with great power. The list of things that scientists know for sure does not cause super-cells is an angry God. There isn’t any doubt about this.
    You are being extra specially accommodating of religion. When you say “We don’t know if God causes super-cells”, you are according God some special status that you do not accord to Unicorns, leprechauns, space pixies, cow farts, and many other things we can imagine. I’m not sure why you would do this, because the likelihood of God causing a super-cell is the same as the likelihood of any other non-thermodynamic non-atmospheric non-physical phenomenon causing super-cells.
    This comes down to knowing something about what you don’t know, vs. things that are completely unknown unknowns. You seem to be saying that until a complete picture exists, the answer could come from anywhere. That’s not how scientific enquiries work. You approach a solution, narrowing down the possibilities. As you approach a solution you have less and less uncertainty, and you have eliminated all possible causes but a few.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    You’re talking about the “God of the gaps”, a widely discussed strategy of religious people to move the goal post as soon as science discounts natural claims made in their religious texts and doctrines.
    They are not going to prove God exists. At best they can raise doubts about what is not yet known.
    My post describing why science has something to say about God is basically describing why the goal posts are already outside of the known Universe to some time before the big bang. They don’t have any gaps left in the natural world, except in the area of human consciousness. Cognitive neuroscience has made great progress at closing that gap, and probably before the end of this century they will have unlocked the mystery of how neurons lead to consciousness. The simple fact of anesthetics is already a good boundary constraint that indicates that looking for the causes in brain structure and biochemistry is the right place to look, and looking to something super-natural is not.
    I have often seen cases where religious pseudo-scientists are claiming that some thing or another proves God. They can say whatever they want, and they always will no matter what, even though every one of these is debunked as motivated reasoning and faulty interpretation of established science.
    Even if science were to prove absolutely that no God could exist, they would not understand the proof, and they would not believe it, and they would ignore it. So worrying about what Christians say and think is not productive. Seeking out the truth is.

  •' seashell says:

    Jeffrey, nowhere did I suggest that we don’t know if God causes super-cells. What I said is that scientists don’t claim that God might cause super-cells in the same way that they don’t claim unicorns, leprechauns, or space pixies cause super-cells. If a possible cause is not included in the premise, then it can’t show up in the conclusion – even as a negative.

    As a born atheist, I have no reason to promote religion or God or God in the gaps or whatever. The only place I have any argument with you is in your claim that science argues with religion over the existence of God:

    And then of course there is that whole disagreement on the existence of the so-called “super-natural”. That seems to me an enormous reason for science and religion to be in conflict intellectually.

    What I’m saying is that science doesn’t argue the question on the existence of God. I’ve never heard of a scientific hypothesis that included God as a possibility. Science doesn’t take God into account at all and neither confirms or denies the existence of a God. Any argument is one sided and based on a false dichotomy.

  •' seashell says:

    So worrying about what Christians say and think is not productive.

    Even if they’re teaching it in the classroom? C’mon.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    Going back to the start, you claimed that there was not a disagreement between science and religion on the subject of God.

    Except that there isn’t disagreement on the subject in theory. Because science works with the observable and testable, it doesn’t attempt to answer the question “Is there a God?” It neither confirms nor denies the existence of God.

    This reminds of the non-overlapping magesteria model. It is an attempt to define things so there is no conflict.
    I’ve explained fairly carefully why I think there is a conflict. I agree that speaking purely philosophically science can neither confirm nor deny the existence of God. But this is only true if God does not have any observable qualities, and if God performs no observable actions. Otherwise I think that some specific claims about God can be refuted by science.
    Religion makes many claims about the natural observable world that depend on accepting the existence of God. For example that heaven exists, that life-after-death is real, that prayers can be heard and an omniscient and omnipotent being can intervene in our personal lives in reply.
    If science can neither prove or disprove God, neither can religion. But religion claims to prove God’s existence by authority and revelation, and by personal transcendent experience.
    All of these things are valid targets for science to reduce to absurdities or virtual impossibilities. Yes, there is always room to doubt whether any outlandish claim is true or not, but in practice, by examining boundaries and limits, by scrutinizing probabilities, by proving alternative explanations that are simpler, more direct, and repeatable, science can develop high confidence levels that speculative propositions are non-sense. For example the claim that the sun will not rise unless a live virgin is sacrificed each year.
    I think it is wrong to give religion a break by accepting that they need never answer to scientific findings. The claims about the natural world made by religion are directly in conflict with scientific views of nature and reality.

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    I meant that they can’t be stopped from stating opinions no matter how much proof and explanation science offers. I meant in public discourse, even if they are proven wrong, they will assert otherwise.
    Of course we can not have sectarian indoctrination in classrooms in a secular society. I didn’t mean to suggest that religion has no harmful effects. Everything I’ve written and argued is in the hope that religion should lose its special protections and accommodations in society. It should be treated like astrology or palm readers. Some people will always pursue emotional comforts in naïve self-deception, such as believing in psychics or prayer, but it should not be placed side-by-side with science as a credible source of knowledge about the natural world, or even about human consciousness.
    As a repository of folk wisdom, instructive stories, and other cultural and psychological items that people may find useful in their personal views on how to live, fine, religion has some place. But it should not be taken seriously as a source of truth about reality. It’s assertions about the soul, about God, about heaven and life after death need to be downgraded to fairy tale status.

  •' seashell says:

    I agree that speaking purely philosophically science can neither confirm nor deny the existence of God. But this is only true if God does not have any observable qualities, and if God performs no observable actions. Otherwise I think that some specific claims about God can be refuted by science.

    Stop after …and if God performs no observable actions. Unless you’re now saying that God does have observable qualities and performs observable actions, there is no need to go on.

  •' etseq says:

    Whatever her academic credentials and accolades, no one should take her seriously after she blew any scientific credibility she ever had by appearing on that paragon of investigative reporting, A&E’s “Psychic Kids” described by the network as follows:

    “This spin-off of Paranormal State spotlights kids who show signs of possessing psychic gifts. Medium Chip Coffey and psychologist Lisa Miller join forces to help these gifted children accept their gifts and meet others like themselves. Three children from different locations are brought together with their families to learn they are not alone.”

    Dr. Miller apparently didn’t react well when challenged in an interview as part of an ABC Nightline investigation as she stormed out when the reporter balked at her attempt to invoke science to justify her participation in a TV show that arguably exploited vulnerable children and their parents.

    See following links:

  •' Jeffrey G. Johnson says:

    Except that believers claim observable actions and real impact on the physical world. Remember, my original point was that an argument exists between science and religion about the super-natural. I’m saying you have to look at the practical aspects (as you did with your schoolroom example). You may make a true metaphysical statement, but that isn’t necessarily in step with how people behave, and how people tend to think. So my point was that there is an argument, and science has something to say about it in practice. You may state an abstract case for why there should not be a conflict in the ideal sense, but that has little to do with the facts on the ground.

  •' phatkhat says:

    I have had spiritual experiences of great intensity, but I would describe them more as moments of intense “awe and wonder” rather than as a relationship with a higher power. I think maybe true “spirituality” is the capacity to experience awe and wonder at the magnificence of nature, from the complexity of the microscopic to the grand order of the cosmos. No relationship to gods required.

  •' phatkhat says:

    The number of partners bit is just slut-shaming.

  •' Colonel Potter says:

    In sort…horsehockey!

  •' Colonel Potter says:

    er, in SHORT…horsehockey. Buffalo chips. With salsa.

  •' chewy cabeza says:

    “his interview has been edited for clarity and length.”
    Well, OK, good try. Perhaps the length goal was achieved, but clarity was clearly impossible with this mishmash of nonsensical Deepakisms.

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