So, scientists and science organizations are being disingenuous when they say science can say nothing about the supernatural.
And that’s where I disagree with both Stenger and Coyne. I see it as entirely correct to say that science can say nothing about the supernatural.
To be fair, Stenger’s post is titled “Scientists and Religion.” I have no objection at all to the idea of scientists criticizing religion. However, I want to distinguish between what scientists say, and what science says. The two are not identical.
From Stenger’s post, we read:
In recent years, right under the nose of the NAS, reputable scientists from reputable institutions have vigorously pursued several areas of empirical study that bear directly on the question of God and the supernatural.
He then mentions a study on the efficacy of prayer. But that study does not directly concern itself with God and the supernatural. There might be such implications, but those would be very indirect and uncertain implications.
The prayer study concerned itself directly with natural phenomena.
Teams of scientists from three highly respected institutions — the Mayo Clinic and Harvard and Duke Universities — have performed carefully controlled experiments on the medical efficacy of blind, intercessory prayer and published their results in peer-reviewed journals. These experiments found no evidence that such prayers provide any health benefit. But, they could have.
There’s nothing supernatural about providing health benefits. The studies might have undermined the claims of religious groups, but they did not study the supernatural itself.
Suppose that the result of the study had been that prayer was efficaceous in providing health benefits. I doubt that scientists would have been proclaiming that the supernatural exists and that it works like magic. It is far more likely that they would have been looking for natural explanations.
If a positive result would not have proved anything about the supernatural, then the actual negative result should also not be seen as refuting the supernatural.
Jerry Coyne says that people like me, who disagree with him about this, are accomodationists, are appeasers of religion. But that’s just wrong. In my case, I have no interest in appeasing religion. I think religion is nonsense. But I do think it hurts science to overstate what science can say. Science, at present, has nothing to say about the supernatural. By contrast, scientists ought to be skeptical of supernatural claims.