Can Christians apply the scientific method to faith claims?

Hello all. I’m new here and am glad I found a forum for the intersection of science and faith. Quite a resource.

This content of this particular blog - The Scientific Method as a Tool for Faith Formation - fails to live up to its title. If a pilgrim properly applied the scientific method to religious claims, those claims would fall short on the believability scale. Virgin birth and resurrection, for example, cannot be satisfactorily explained by the scientific method. I’d like to hear a Christian’s report on his or her experience applying the scientific method to faith claims. Any takers?

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Hi Gunter, welcome to the forum. I moved your topic to its own thread since it was tangential to the blog post it was posted under. Hopefully, this way you may get more responses.

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I must agree with the esteemed Gunter! Applying science to miracles is impossible.

I think the first question to ask is, what kinds of claims can science test? The only evidence for a virgin birth comes form the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. If we were there at the time, with a pregnant Mary what could we even prove? You can certainly test if someone was a virgin and pregnant at the same time. Anyways, you get the point. DNA tests on the baby? Joseph’s not the father?

You can certainly test someone’s claims if they have any kind of physical evidence (i.e. there was not a global flood that killed everything 4,000 years ago). One interesting example is found in the Old Testament with the prophet Jeremiah who is recorded as saying (Jeremiah 32:6-8):

6 Jeremiah replied, “The word of the Lord came to me: 7 Watch! Hanamel, the son of your uncle Shallum, is coming to you to say, ‘Buy my field in Anathoth for yourself, for you own the right of redemption to buy it.’ 8 “Then, as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to the guard’s courtyard and urged me, ‘Please buy my field in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for you own the right of inheritance and redemption. Buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

Here’s the guy who apparently could have been put to death for wrongly prophesying, but yet wasn’t sure about God speaking to him until the thing he heard came to pass. That certainly is an interesting way to move forward with faith claims.

However, perhaps you might more generally be wondering, God where are you in all this? In which case I think this article also you might find interesting:

The greatest mystery of the world just might be what half of Jesus’ genome was Not from Mary!???

Science could have told us it didn’t belong to any human donor!

[Edit: Assuming what made Jesus unique was, at least in part, due to his genome!]

pevaquark: Thank you for the thoughtful response. I read it and your link to the rain blog with much interest. My journey is that of a scientist, firmly and defensible wedded to the scientific method. Not in the white lab coat sense, but the everyday way when we sniff the milk to determine if it is still fresh. The bible (I’ll bet the most quoted book ever) can’t be used to prove the existence of a god. There has to be more than affidavits, historical narratives and theological claims to prove a god. We need some evidence. (BTW - I know that the existence of a god cannot be logically proven/disproven).

So what evidence do we have? Like you laid out, the virgin birth is untestable. Where else can we turn for evidence that leads us to a comfortable, realistic conclusion about virgin birth? We venture into the science of mortuary practices, definitions of death, the process of decay. These things are reliably documented. Judging it all, it is safe to conclude that humans do not regain life once dead. Can I prove that Abraham Lincoln is not walking among us? No, but it is extremely unlikely. Unlikely enough that we smart humans all concur that Lincoln is not alive.

Same with Jesus. And the same skeptical, evaluation applies - and succeeds - with every supernatural claim.

I’m new here so if I am a distraction form other discussions I apologize.

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Thanks for the observations and questions. I don’t have a great deal of time this morning, but I’ll throw in one point to ponder – there were not hundreds of people willing to risk imprisonment and death to tell others that Abraham Lincoln was resurrected from the dead. True, there are some claims that cannot be tested scientifically, but it is important to acknowledge the limitations if methodological naturalism.

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cwhenderrson: intersting point about the greater devotion to jesus than Lincoln, but it isn’t evidence of the veracity of christian claims.

You mean like this:

At the very least, I point to my internal life where I’ve encountered something bigger than myself. I’ve encountered this divine being on a number of specific occasions in my life, from reading about this man called Jesus in Luke 23 to studying the cosmos and looking at the famous Pale Blue Dot picture. I am not one to wave around scientific arguments (even fine-tuning/Anthropic Principle–the ideas are consistent with a wise Cosmic Architect but not proof in the sense of scientific inquiry). Ultimately I struggle with claims of faith and theology. They cannot be tested the same way as the ideas and experiments that I read about in the scientific literature. It is very off-putting at times to see the absolute certainty that people have about the Scriptures, especially given my study of how we’ve wrestled with science in the past (like Protestants and Catholics dogmatism regarding the Aristotelian model of cosmology as being the ‘plain sense’ of Scripture despite being completely wrong).

My mind just wants to say, well the most likely reality is that Mary lied about it. That’s certainly a likely possibility given the cultural pressure and irresponsibility of the act. And then Joseph goes along with it since he screwed up too, claiming another angel told him about it. How do the New Testament writers know details about Mary and Joseph? Mary and Joseph had to tell them of course! Since nobody else was there when the angel spoke to Mary and nobody could witness Joseph’s angelic dreams, how do we know what they say is true? After all, looking at the Scripture in Isaiah it almost makes more sense to go with the ‘young maiden’ translation instead of ‘virgin.’ Why were Matthew and Luke so insistent upon the Virgin Birth in the first place (more so Matthew)? – part of the answer might come from the Dead Sea Scrolls ( which actually help fill in the gaps for where certain Messianic expectations came from that aren’t actually in the Old Testament. Anyways, dunno if this is helpful or useful and might not be the most popular thing to say but I’m being honest here.

I did appreciate one thing John Lennox (in one of his debates with Dawkins noted) is that you cannot have miracles mean anything if they are popping up all the time. In other words, if people arose from the dead all the time, Jesus’ resurrection isn’t anything spectacular. But since people do not come back to life once ‘dead,’ it makes the claim of Jesus’ resurrection all the more meaningful. Even if we do not grant certain orthodox Christian doctrines, this person, Jesus of Nazareth is at the very least an important person in history. That in itself makes it worth our time and attention.

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pevaquark: Interesting post you provided. I especially like the circular reasoning graphic. May I use it in the future? With credit of course.

I don’t look to the bible for any truth telling except maybe historical data but even that is hard to suss out of the religious puffery.

Why bother? Christians rely on supernatural claims. If the supernatural doesn’t exist then neither do the truth of the claims.

Just for science fun, check out nudibranchs - - and other sites. Here is the hallucinogenic weirdness of the natural world. THIS is the stuff to lose yourself in!

Not mine, a google images search.

True, but I can’t, even as a Physicist rule out the supernatural world-- I don’t see how it is a question of science to affirm or deny the supernatural world. This is not an appeal to non-overlapping magistera, but just some limits of the types of questions that science can (at least currently) answer. When there is some sort of physical evidence, it can address some of the claims (like a global flood 4,000 years ago - though few here would truly argue the Scriptures teach that) but few can be evaluated like this.

These are pretty interesting:

And thanks for the nudi pics.

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Hi Gunther
You might find it worthwhile to read my account of how I “wrestled with the angel” to reconcile the faith claims learned in parochial grade school with the science, medicinal chemistry, I have practiced the last 65 yrs. Just click here:
In the case of ‘faith claims’ based on miracles that clearly defy what science has confidently determined as Natural Law, some, like Joshua’s command of the sun to aid his victory in battle–these are more likely _misrepresentations of fact and unessential to real Christian Faith. Other faith claims, like Jesus’ resurrection, are solid miracles that must be accepted on Faith or rejected outright.

There are many ‘happenings’ that do not defy Natural Law but are so UNlikely to occur as to seem miraculous. In January 1945 I had two such ‘happenings’ occur to me within 3 days that the Army surgeons flatly declared ‘miraculous’. However, a detached scientific analysis of these events would conclude I was just a lucky ‘dog face’ when thousands of others were not.

Many years later I again took a part in a ‘happening’ that occurred against odds of many million-to-one against–this time witnessed by three other scientists who were solid skeptics but had to accept what they actually saw. I recounted this incident in an earlier post titled ‘The Miracle of the Panel Truck’. I could repeat it for you if you are interested.

Bottom Line: As a scientist, I am a severe skeptic in accepting any ‘miraculous evidence’ to support a Faith Claim. Yet I want to be sure I ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ It pays to look carefully for exceptions.
Al Leo

These two references beautifully dance around, but do not address the definitional contradiction between faith and reason. The two are mutually exclusive. All of Pete Enns “participation, longing, fullness, transrational (what in the world is that?), contemplative apprehension uncluttered by thought (?), defying compelling verbal expression, depth, immediacy” do not differentiate between faith and reason. In fact, this word salad just confuses things.

Its fun and reassuring to have out-there moments that are hard to explain. But they are not supernatural, they are not a peek behind the veil. Maybe they are glimpses into things we can’t understand given our limitations. Doesn’t mean a god is behind it.

Hi Al:

I’ll read with interest the piece you wrote. Late where I’m at.



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