If something’s not real, is it possible to study it?

In a recent survey, 20 percent of scientists who identified themselves as “atheists” also said they were “spiritual.” I checked, and the people who did the survey said it was done scientifically, so it must be true.

However, the survey also said that 30 percent of atheists, who are not necessarily scientists, say they are spiritual but not religious. 

I find this confusing. Spirituality suggests a belief in something spiritual. I thought atheists did not believe in non-material existence or supernatural events. Obviously, someone is confused. It’s probably me. 

Science is a peculiar thing. Well, so is religion. That is what makes spiritual scientists, or atheists, so interesting.

Science is the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the material world through observation and experiment.

How can any scientist, or atheist, claim to know anything about a non-physical, non-natural world that cannot be observed or experimented with? 

Of course, all atheists do claim to know something about the non-physical, immaterial world. Namely that it doesn’t exist.

How they know this, I am not entirely sure. A lack of observation seems insufficient. Most atheists haven’t seen Africa either, but still believe it’s there based simply on the testimony of others.

Did you know there are scientists who study religion while saying it isn’t real?

There is a whole scientific society called “The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.” Really!

They say the scientific study of religion represents the systematic effort by scholars and researchers to investigate religious phenomena, as well as the sociology of church participation. 

How do they do that?

I mean, even if you are a spiritual scientist, how can you apply a method of study used on the material world to non-material substance? 

Well, of course, they don’t study spirits. They further clarify that, while theology attempts to understand the nature of transcendent or supernatural forces such as deities, religious studies tries to study religious organizations, societies and people, not spirits. But that’s what their name says. 

The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion says it draws upon multiple disciplines, and their methodologies include anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy and history of religion.

Interestingly, they don’t use much physics, chemistry, biology, or geology. 

Still, this seems odd to me. And here my wife thought I was kind of the odd one.

One thing reported in their research is that the Bible is the most shoplifted of all books. Personally, I doubt this, though not because Bible readers are more moral.

In fact, most Bible readers probably consider themselves in desperate need of the Bible because they aren’t so good. I just can’t imagine that the Bible stacks up against either “Fifty Shades of Grey” or Snapchat for the average reader of the day.

Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be a society for the “religious study of science.” I’m not sure why that is, because almost all religious people I know believe in the material world and science.

It’s basically scientists who don’t believe in the spiritual world. Well, unless they are spiritual scientists, but that’s only 20 percent. 

You would think that somewhere there would be a “Society for the Theological Study of Science.” It wouldn’t try to replicate science so much as it would try to understand the spirituality of science.

For example, they might interview scientists and ask them where the universal and ubiquitous laws of the universe come from. Scientists seem to accept them on faith. 

This whole science and religion thing gets confusing.

Like, why does the media usually use the phrase “science and religion?” Alphabetically it should be “religion and science.” In an age when words like “he” and “she” are considered microaggression, shouldn’t the phrase “science and religion” be considered bigoted or something? 

I heard a scientist say in an interview on television that science was everything. Well, obviously that’s just not true. What is love, tofu? How about freedom? Naps?

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


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