Saturday, July 3, 2010

Stenger vs. Bartholomew on the radio (UK)

Because this exchange was done in a radio show format, the two disputants don't get around to making their cases or debating one another for quite awhile. I find this mildly annoying especially when I cannot easily fast-forward, as when driving.

Bartholomew leads with the idea of a randomized controlled trial, provides a reasonably concise and accurate thereof, and points out that only a couple of the formal studies of intercessory prayer quite fit the bill. He then boldly states “It seems to me quite unjustified to suppose that God will be manipulated by our prayers. If He were, He wouldn’t be God in the sense that I understand him.” Bartholomew thus disregards the entire concept of intercessory prayer, without so much as a nod to the many Scriptural references assuring true believers that their prayers will be heard and answered. For example, in James 5 the author of the epistle makes it clear that sincerely offered (and thoroughly lubricated) prayers for healing will prove effective. Of course, if this was truly so, we should find a notable lack of Christians in hospital, but it turns out they are hospitalized just about as often as anyone else.

Stenger counters by pointing out that while Bartholomew hastily dismisses a negative result, he would have happily accepted a positive result. They go back and forth on this for a bit, and Stenger holds his own. Bartholomew goes on to say that he cannot think of anything that would count as clear scientific evidence of a deity, which seems to me to indicate that he’s trying to craft a god hypothesis which is both unverifiable and unfalsifiable. Such a markedly sloppy approach to truth should militate against taking him too seriously, however sonorous and distinguished he sounds on the radio.

They cover a few other topics for awhile, but the debate fails to really get off the ground because Bartholomew insists that god would never provide the sort of evidence that would readily convince scientifically-minded people. Naturally, he doesn’t say what the explanation should be for such thoroughgoing divine hiddenness, but instead seems to assume that god is a bit of a non-interventionist, despite various Scriptural claims strongly to the contrary. In short, it seems that Stenger takes the God of the Bible far more seriously than Bartholomew does.

Overall, I was disappointed to have two very fine scientific minds in the studio without getting the chance to hear them go over anything much resembling scientific evidence.

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