Friday, January 28, 2011

Experiment Time!

Okay, so we are encouraged to find out for ourselves what religion is true, right?

So I thought, why not be scientific about it?

If you feel good after reading the Book of Mormon and praying like Moroni says, that's one data point.  Completely useless.  The same goes for other religious experiences as well.

The thing is, you need a decent number of trials, a good sampling of the available hypotheses, and a well-constructed control group.

It is obviously not a good idea to try to take on each of the tens of thousands of religions in the world.  Best to try a good, generic example of each major category thoroughly.  If one stands out above the others zoom in on that category of religions and start testing some.  Hopefully, by "hunt and peck," you can narrow it down to just a few in not too many steps.

But, each religion is going to have to be tested thoroughly.  Praying on a bad day and feeling comfort can't count... too many variables.  Praying on a good day and feeling a swell of gratitude is a poor data point as well.  No, you need your most normal, meh days.  These days are the ones you are most familiar with, and therefore anything out of the ordinary would be much easier to separate from statistical noise.  Plus, you have lots of these.  So, make a questionnaire for yourself.  Do all the religious things some days and none of them other days.  Record your experiences, well-being, apparent luck, etc each day.  Even better, have someone close to you fill out a questionnaire as well, but don't tell them if it had been a religious day or not.

However, there are still too many variables.  Maybe the religious practices make you feel good, but aren't based on truth at all.  So we need a control group.  For each religion you test, take a couple of other religions and do the same things for them.  Pick maybe one other religion from the world (so, read the BoM and pray to Buddha), one obsolete religion (pray to Baal or Hermes), and one religion you make up yourself (pray to Dyith, the great chili god).  Obviously, you can't approach this without bias, but you have to do your best.
Additional helps:  listen to new-age music while you pray for each of these, then don't.  This will hopefully give you a very rough estimate of how much you can trust feelings during a movie or presentation created by the religion in question.

This is a very rough outline: I haven't covered how to write up the questionaires, how to run a decent statistical analysis, etc.

Why don't we hear about this kind of procedure at church?


  1. Hi. Ok so here are my thoughts about your experiment even though you never asked for them.

    I would ask: how do we even begin to formulate a standard by which we can distinguish an authentic Spirit induced revelation?

    You suggest that we should wait until a normal day where we could potentially recognize anything out of the ordinary. But how do we not know that the Spirit is actually a very ordinary feeling?

    Who is anybody to say what the Spirit should feel like?

  2. All excellent points. My answer would be that the "confirming" feeling is described be any religion that encourages one to seek it (though the descriptions may be disparate between religions). Seeking that feeling by the recommended actions, and then trying to see if it can be induced in other ways (of course contrary to the teachings of said religion) would allow you to at least search for unique experiences. There is nothing to guarantee that the unique feelings are true, but it seems like a step in the right direction, at least over simply doing the "trial" once for one religion in one way and basing all your beliefs off of that.

    I realize that this is still not scientific, and that your concerns are very much damning of the rigor of my suggested process.
    I'm just trying to point out the extreme lack of rigor in existing "experiments," and suggest some possible improvements, inadequate though they may be.