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Skeptical Inquirer Asks: Can Religion Coexist with Science?

June 18, 2014

Religion is a powerful force in human civilization, and it cannot help but collide with scientific reality, the consequences of which can be enlightening, violent, or downright strange. A special issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine grapples with this troubled coexistence between faith in the supernatural and modernity.

Scott O. Lilienfeld and Rachel Ammirati grapple with perhaps the toughest question: Would the world be better off without religion? Despite their shared atheism, the authors find that the question is not easily answered. Surveying an extensive body of social science data, they find that, if anything, faith does loosely correlate to moral behavior and that “religious belief appears to play a protective role against antisocial behavior among high-risk individuals.”

But religious belief does clash with reality in some deadly ways. Retired Air Force flight surgeon Harriet Hall exposes the dark world of faith healing, where deeply religious parents refuse medical care for their own children due to religious prohibitions against modern medicine, resulting in indescribable suffering and needless death. “The medical ethics principle of autonomy justifies letting competent adults reject lifesaving medical care for themselves because of their religious beliefs,” writes Hall, “but it does not extend to rejecting medical care for children.”

Ryan Shaffer, meanwhile, raises the specter of witch hunting in India, where (usually) women in the middle of disputes over property or politics are accused of being witches or “dayan.” These women are blamed for all manner of troubles, such as diseases and bad weather, and can be tortured, raped, hacked to death, or burned alive. Shaffer notes that legislative efforts are underway to control this backward practice in a rapidly developing nation but reminds us that “legislation is not a cure for superstition; improving critical thinking is the key.”

Also in this special edition of Skeptical Inquirer: Barry Kosmin of Trinity College surveys the skeptical attitudes of secular, spiritual, and religious college-age Americans; Mark Rubinstein compares the Raelian UFO cult to the messianic religions that came before it; Charles Wynn encourages a greater understanding of the differing approaches to knowledge of religion and science; and much more.

The July/August 2014 issue of Skeptical Inquirer is now available on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms. For more information, visit

Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at