Layman Public

This was originally written as a response to letter published in the New Paper (24 March). However, I never got around to write it down proper.

Instead of doing that, I decided to just pick out a few bits and post them in this blog entry. (And yes, I do realized that's like 2 months ago - things happened).

The church has said that the claims of faith healing were based on actual testimonies by those who have had such first hand experiences. These claims should be demonstrably verifiable.

Yes, indeed, such reports should be demonstrably verifiable.

However, take note, the real issue is with demonstrating what the claims in the testimonies. And that must be done via clinical trials (since we are talking about "medicine"). The testimonies themselves are not worth much at all - for the make one of the lousier forms of evidence.

Anecdotes about subjective experience is necessarily second hand information to any objective observer. They are known to be wrought with psychological and perceptual errors such as confirmation biases, false memories and other illusions. Given such knowledge, scientists tend to treat anecdotes as starting points for further research - the anecdote itself is close to being worthless without other supporting objective data.

...... if there are people who can testify that they were healed through such prayers and prove their case with medical research?

As mentioned previously, personal testimonies are not worth much as evidence - such data is clouded by a myriad of human errors.

In medical cases, a layman may (and many times will) interpret the well-known placebo effect as the efficacy of the alternative medicine he is observing. That is just one reason - other phenomenons prevent uncritical individuals from knowing fact from fiction thus rendering such testimonies useless.

In any case, if we're talking about healing through prayer, I dare bet that the medical records will show that is as effective as chance (or at best, the placebo effect). On a side note, I want to add that taking aspirin while praying your headache away is not a demonstration of the efficacy of prayer.

I would like to add in the matters of faith, science is not reliable measure. Science cannot make pronouncements one way or the other on God,


Science is, in principle, capable of examining the question of god(s)' existence. The existence of any entity that we can meaningfully say to exist should be detectable and measurable - God or gods is no exception.

* Why "meaningfully say to exist"?, check out On Existence.

If your god, or any gods, exist in actual physical reality, he would be detectable. Similarly, if your god, or any gods, is capable of manifesting and interacting with the natural world, he would be detectable even if he is "supernatural".

... metaphysics,

False too.

Metaphysics, ie the study of the nature of reality, should at least partially informed by science. As long we're still talking about our observable reality, I seriously doubt metaphysics belongs to the list.

... ethics...

Why is ethics even on the list? Why do some religious still think in such a manner?

Science is a method of acquiring knowledge, NOT a system of ethics. Science comes closest with ethics as an informant but the method itself is amoral.

Scientists being ethical and unethical is a separate issue and has no bearing on the methodology itself.

... and so on and it certainly cannot declare them meaningless.

Who did that anyways? (If you followed the letters yourself, you might ask the same question)

Science does not make such value judgments. But if your belief involve actual physical reality, then science most definitely can inform your of its validity.

...... The claims could "mislead the public" because they "do not operate under scientific boundaries".

I disagree with the usage of the phrase "do not operate under scientific boundaries" in the context.

Nature does not operate under scientific laws. Rather scientific laws are our attempts to describe how nature operates. Unlike our legal laws, scientific laws are descriptive not prescriptive. We follow legal laws; Scientific laws describe the workings of nature. There's a difference - understand the logic.

The relevant, more appropriate, phrase may be "have not been sufficiently verified" or "yet to be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt". When phrased this way, it exposes the emptiness of the tired arguments against the idea that things "operate under scientific boundaries".

Faith healing cannot be quantified by science.

Utterly wrong.

If faith healing actually works (ie, cures illnesses), its effects would be quantifiable. This would show up as statistical significance on clinical trials. This is true regardless whether its mechanisms is known or unknown ("supernatural" or not).

... (science) which itself changes over time with each new scientific discovery.

Hmmm, why is this always phrased with the implicit idea that it's a bad thing?

It's the beauty of science that it is self-correcting in nature.

Which is worst? Changing and inching towards a more accurate picture of reality or stay wrong forever and not know it as with religious dogma.

I'll take science over religion (or any dogma) any and everyday.