The discussion reminded me yet again why I think religion is bad for society as a whole. It teaches that faith trumps reality, and convinces people that if they want something to be true, it must be true.
On the one hand, you have people trained in the sciences who work hard to remove their biases so that they can find the truth even if it is disagreeable. They've developed techniques that make it hard to fool themselves, such as randomly assigning people to one treatment or another, "double blind" studies where those evaluating the outcome don't know which person was assigned to which treatment, and many other tricks that help eliminate our wants, prior beliefs, and desires from biasing the results.
"A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, a mere heart of stone."On the other hand, you have a large group of people brought up with religion. They're taught that they're sinners even though they never did anything wrong. They're told that God is loving, just, and never makes mistakes, yet they can see a staggering amount of misery in the world. They're taught that all the suffering in the world is part of some plan, yet it makes no sense. They're taught that thinking is wrong.
– Charles Darwin
"Divine revelation, not reason, is the source of all truth."In other words, if logic and science prove that something can't be true, but you have faith, then your faith rules the day.
– Tertullian of Carthage (150-225 AD)
(From our shameless commerce division: I wrote an entire chapter of The Religion Virus devoted to this very topic. It's what I call religion's "immune system" which evolved to defend against the rise in scientific methodology that began with Aristotle. Click here to learn more.)
AA is a cherished institution that has helped millions overcome their addiction, and many of these people are fiercely devoted to it and its principles. But the core job of science, its raison d'etre, is to ignore our feelings and find the truth. The question is simple: Does AA do more good that harm?
Unfortunately, the religious training of many seems to make them unable to look at this question objectively. I can dismiss the name-callers and "shouters," but there were a number of very thoughtful replies by AA members that were nothing more than assertions of faith. Roughly speaking, they argued:
- It worked for me, so it's good.
- You obviously never attended so you're uninformed
- Those whom AA can't help don't want to be helped
- It works for 30% of participants, so the other 70% are responsible for their own failure
- I'm a "militant atheist" so I must be wrong.
The point is that science doesn't care about your story, or your beliefs, or what you want to be true. Science cares about results. If a person attends AA are they more likely or less likely to successfully fight their addiction? Not you, not your brother, and not your uncle or mother. It's only the overall success rate that's being measured.
People trained in religious, faith-based thinking don't seem to even understand this distinction. They argue from personal experience and from what they want to be true, or believe to be true. They don't understand scientific methodology.
It may very well be that AA does work, that these scientific studies were flawed in some way. But the right way to find the truth is not by arguing from faith and wishes. The right way is to find the flaws in the science, to divorce ourselves from what we want to believe, and devise new experiments that will reveal the truth.
Lives depend on it.