Faith vs Science - A False Dichotomy?

I’ve started to become aware of what seems to be a false dichotomy of “science” and “faith,” often put forward by the New Atheist types. And, to be honest, I think I bought into this narrative a bit without really questioning it.

Science - that which is studied/investigated by the scientific method, which is often attempted subjected to repeated attempts at falsification (Popper’s criterion)

Faith - “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-3).

Unfortunately, it seems many who claim science and faith are at odds have the idea that Faith is, in the words of Mark Twain, “believing in something you just know ain’t true.” Furthermore, claiming faith is an epistemology (like Boghossian) Wix a mischaracterization; I’ve never heard of anyone claim faith is an epistemology.

The simplistic narrative goes like this: science is about suspending belief, while faith is about suspending disbelief, and therefore the two are at odds.

However I don’t find this to be accurate. In particular, the faith or trust many Christians have in Jesus is based on evidence (and for the early Church, “many infallible proofs”), not just claims about the world. On the other hand, science itself often is accompanied by faith (or “trust”) in induction, the methodology of science for producing an accurate picture of the world, the applicability of mathematics, etc. Scientific Realism itself is a metaphysical and philosophical stance (along with naturalism and materialism) not a scientific one. Any thoughts?


These days, more questions than thoughts. An interesting post. I hope it brings a good discussion.

Thinking about Christians living today, not the earlier churches, what sort of evidence do you find valid for supporting faith, and specifically faith in Jesus?

Do you see a difference between faith in God or god, and the faith you describe as associated with science?
Do we employ and evaluate the results of faith in these two contexts in the same of different ways? Howso?

Are there alternative stances to the study of the natural world that tell us what we need to know? What would those be? What would they tell us? How would those stances’ employment and results be similar or different, particularly to scientific realism, naturalism and/or materialism?



Hey, Kendel, too many good questions! I do have some thoughts, will try to stay within the scope of this thread, but there is no way I could ever answer all your questions!
On your first question, my personal faith in Jesus is based heavily on what I was taught as I was growing up, but has modified significantly, especially in the last couple of years. My personal belief that I was getting something that was real to believe in is very strongly based on many times that I have felt a subjective indication that something was true. But I have also noticed that what I have been told by others has been seriously distorted by the limits of knowledge that those folks have. And, when I am honest with myself, I also recognize that my understanding of anything (especially my faith in things that are not able to be proved by empirical observation) is distorted by my own knowledge limitations. One specific example of something that was “revealed” to me in a strange way is something I saw in an Internet chat group a long time ago, before there was an internet. An avowed atheist stated that, “If god will show himself to me, I will grovel; otherwise, since he has not showed himself, I will not grovel.” (I’m not sure the words are exact, but the intent is definitely correct.) What suddenly struck me was something that all who believe that God exists must take into serious account as we try to understand God. If God (the Big GOD, creator of everything, all knowing, etc.) exists, and God really wanted us humans to grovel, we absolutely would grovel. So anyone who believes that God exists really needs to accept that God wants a different relationship with us humans than grovelling, if the believer wants to believe in a set of things that are internally consistent. And now I think I have come back to what I feel is the correct interplay of faith and science: Yes, faith does include a significant component that is not fully provable, and good “science” can be used to help us get to a set of beliefs and facts that form a consistent interpretation of the world in which we live.
For this forum, a particularly sad fact is that when (I hope well-meaning) religious leaders come up with interpretations that seem internally inconsistent, or inconsistent with facts that can be observed, they make it easy for atheists to discount all religion.

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I don’t think “assurance” is a good translation of the word “hypostasis.” Assurance implies some kind of guarantee and that is certainly not what the word means. “Hypostasis” means substance. The substance in the case of faith is the way we live our life. It is by faith which we ignore the universal lack of proof in order to make a choice and live our lives accordingly.

Science is based on two methodological ideals: the honesty of testing our hypotheses rather than trying to prove them as lawyers and car salesmen do, and the objectivity provided by written procedures anyone can follow to get the same results no matter what they want or believe.

Neither do I. On the contrary, I see science as being one of the best examples of faith in modern times. Science does not hold itself up by its own bootstraps. It is founded on the presumption that the evidence does not lie – that there are no supernatural beings out there arranging the evidence to deceive us. That is not an hypothesis which can be tested. We simply accept this on faith. It is a reasonable faith, but it is faith because there is no proof that this is the case.


I got tired of encountering that assumption among my fellow non theists but don’t know whether the emergence of that reflex was the result of YE Christianity’s emergence or if it was the other way around. Regardless I think it is incumbent on all reasonable people to step away from the fray whether they identify as Christian or not.

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For me, there’s a personal element and transformation in my own life. I have been far happier, kinder, and less judgmental after becoming a Christian. Of course that doesn’t necessarily “prove” that it is true but it does give evidential weight to the idea that it is true. One thing critics of Christianity often miss is that Christianity is more than a set of propositions about the world. I’d even argue it isn’t primarily a set of propositions about the world. Rather it is primarily a way of life/living (that consequently involves propositions).

Similarly, I’d argue “science” isn’t primarily a set of propositions or a collection of facts. Instead it is a methodology for producing theories and differentiating between theories. The move from learning the theories themselves and claiming they are “true” is a (albeit justified) philosophical leap. Unlike most religions, I don’t know if it necessarily implies any propositions itself, though it is often accompanied by them.

Hmmm this is a good question. I think on the surface the two look pretty different. Namely, we can verify and observe results associated with science, while assertions about God can’t be so easily verified or tested.

As I’ve thought a bit more about this, however, I’ve come to realize they’re more similar than I initially thought. The history of modern science shows that it emerged as a branch of “natural philosophy.” I make this observation because us scientists and researchers often take for granted the foundation laid by philosophers in this area. Yes, science involves empirical observations by our (fallible) senses. But perhaps even more important to science are a “trust” or “faith” in reason itself (and by extension, perhaps mathematics). In many ways, the usefulness of reason itself and mathematics is not justified only on empirical grounds. There seems to be something more going on.

Science proceeds under the assumption that even if our empirical senses can be wrong or tricked, we can eventually use these senses to discover models that are accurate. Where does this trust in the methodology of science come from? My empirical senses tell me the table in front of me is solid wood. Yet the scientific method suggests that it is actually mostly empty space. Why am I justified believing the results of science over my own empirical observation, given that they contradict?

I’d argue it’s because I have “faith” in the applicability of reason and mathematical models, perhaps over my own empirical senses. I do trust that mathematics will produce reliable pictures of the world and that if scientists perform an experiment that seems to contradict my empirical notions, these results are (likely) trustworthy.

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I was very surprised to learn that YEC and biblical literalism as we think of it today are actually relatively “new” things in the course of human (and Christian) history. I picked up a copy of Mark Noll’s “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” (thanks @Kendel for the motivation to buy it" and Noll, as a historian, traces how these things came about. Very fascinating.


As I say, regardless of who went bonkers first, I hope reasonable people on both sides can move away from such assumptions.


Thanks for this. ↑
It’s interesting that it is so often translated as assurance, but there are some interesting variations:

Hebrews 11:1-3

Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition

11:1 Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.

1599 Geneva Bible

11:1 Now faith is the grounds of things which are hoped for, and the evidence of things which are not seen.

Holman Christian Standard Bible

11:1 Now faith is the reality of what is not seen. 2 For our ancestors won God’s approval by it.

I wonder why there is such variation. It makes a difference, as you pointed out.

Besides being a “reasonable faith,” would you say that it’s possible to contrast the kinds of results one finds (or is able to find), based on the foundational presumption/s one makes? I wonder if the evidence that one foundational presumption is more reliable or reasonable than another can be demonstrated after it has been employed – by the way its use leads to results that more (or less) conform to other observations of the natural world.

Or is one so bound by one’s presumptions, that s/he is not able to see beyond them to contrast and evaluate the difference they make in studying the natural world?

Thanks for clarifying this. It’s a hard thing to live a long time with the assumption that we have hard and fast proof, and to be told (from the inside) that subjective evidence is inadequate, not to be considered. As Christians I think it’s essential that we recognize and accept the challenge that “evidence of faith” for us is something quite different than what we are told we need to have. The standard evangelical belief is that evidence of faith is objective and akin to proof. I think it’s what Jesus was getting at in John 20:29 (Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."). Thomas and the Disciples had Jesus standing there with him, even though unimaginable things were going on. It would be a lot easier to believe in the resurrection, if the crucified one you had spent the last three years of your life with was suddenly standing there, talking with you and your friends all at once. We don’t have that kind of objective evidence. Faith for us requires something different.

So, what is meant by evidence in science is quite different from evidence in faith.

Paul, Christians miss this, too. It’s so much easier to memorize statements than try living those out (and fail and try and fail and try).
At the end of this post I have put a long quote from the end of the Introduction of Myron B. Penner’s book, The End of Apologetics, that I think addresses what you’re talking about. He also talks a great deal about what a life of faith looks like, when one deals with the subjectivity of faith.

Sphinxlike, I return to questions:
Could you explain what you mean here, and particularly in light of the philosophical?

I’m not sure what you mean here.

Yes. I agree they are pretty different.
When you say:

what do you mean with the qualifier “so easily”? Can they be at all? If so, how?

Does it emerge as a branch? Or did natural philosophy simply continue to develop into what we now call “science.” To start with, the study of the natural world was done in conjunction with philosophy, the only game in town. We would hardly recognize it as “science” now, but “natural philosophy” was what was happening at the time.

I think I"m repeating myself, but am too lazy to dig for it, You do see thrust or faith in reason as something quite different from trust or reason in God? Yes?

Glad you got Noll’s book. I hope you find it satisfying.

From The End of Apologetics

Rather than framing the issue in terms of an apologetic defense of Christian belief, I prefer to consider a postmodern apologetics in terms of the concept of witness-a prophetic witness, to be clear-for it orients us to the task differently and generates a completely different set of goals. Here edification-or building" up the self-replaces “,winning the argument” as the goal of Christian witness (apologetic discourse). This type of postmodern Christian witness is sensitive to the fragility of faith in our secular condition. It is not focused on a defense of the propositional truth of Christian doctrine, but performs an ironic poet­ ics of truth. What we discover is that theshift away from the (modern) epistemology of belief as the paradigm for Christian witness toward a hermeneutics of belief also opens up an ethics of belief that, in turn, deepens the critique of modern epistemology. How we believe-not just what we believe-is important to our belief being justified.

But what of this notion of a "poetics of truth’'? What sense can we give that? And how in postmodernity can there be any substantial talk of truth once we have adopted a hermeneutical perspective?

In chapter 4 (“Witness and Truth”) I further clarify the approach to truth involved in my Kierkegaardian account of Christian witness and relate it to propositional truth. I begin by noting that the goal of traditional apologetics is to justify the objective truth of the proposi­ tions of Christian doctrine. Christianity, the “essentially Christian,” is therefore assumed, implicitly or explicitly, to be captured in these propositions. The Christian truths defended by such modern apolo­ getics are taken to be ahistorical, unsituated, abstract, and universal. I then use Kierkegaard’s concept of truth as subjectivity to launch a critique on apologetic propositionalism and to provide an alternative way to think about Christian truth. To possess Christian truth is always to confess it to be true, to win its truth existentially for oneself. This is not a·disavowal of the cognitive content of Christian witness; it is a shifting of our perspective about a given truth claim so we think of it in terms of what Paul Ricoeur calls “attestation.” As I develop it, this account of truth and truth-telling is agonistic – it involves a struggle to stake our truth claims and make them true of us. Christian truth, then, often involves suffering on the part of the witness, and martyrdom-the act of laying down one’s life-is the ultimate form of testimony to the truths that edify us.

See also:

I often hear atheists arguing that science proves itself because it works. But those in religion say exactly the same thing about the methods they have put their faith in. This is not to argue that there is no difference, but only that an absence of faith is not the difference between them. The difference is found in those methodological ideals of honesty and objectivity which do provide a reasonable expectation that other should agree with the results of science. And we do see a difference in the degree of agreement and consensus which is far greater in science than in religion.

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As it must be a hard thing to have invested so much in the absence of real proof, and then to be repeatedly told that it can be known for certain.

John 20:29? Blessed will be those who have their eyes of faith opened by the self-evident work of the Spirit. As you may remember, this was the one thing Penner couldn’t hear Craig saying. I recall as if it was yesterday, pounding that thread, with my disbelief that Penner acknowledges it, but can’t or won’t understand it either. Plain as day was Penner’s cognitive disconnect with understanding how this affected Craig’s epistemology.

There is more than a little about confidence and boldness:
        The Christian’s Confidence

It irritates some (many?), Christians and nons alike, but there it is.

Mike, you mischaracterize what I am saying, have been saying. I have made no such investment. If you believe that’s what I’m saying, you have misunderstood me at best.


Of course the Holy Spirit is needed to open our eyes. But then I have to ask how something could be self-evident, if we are unable to see it without the work of the Holy Spirit. If something is only self-evident once one has been illuminated, it isn’t self-evident.

[Looking back at my first post that we’re referencing, I see I didn’t complete the thought I had begun, though. So, I’ll go back and fix that, when I finish here.]

Yeah. Sorry. No, I don’t. We obviously brought very different concerns to TEA. I wasn’t paying attention to Craig beyond an example of an apologist. My main concerns had more to do with understanding my faith better in accordance with what I had already recognized, at least for myself. I was hoping to have found a book by someone who already had similar experiences and assumptions, and who could provide thoughts on “where to go from here.”
Kierkegaard, for example, has always been seen as dangerous (in my church background), precisely because he was grappling with the understanding that Christian faith is not something demonstrable according to scientific method or purely rational arguments. And when you try to get to faith by those means, you end up with something very different; see Kant and Hegel, for example.

Lewis is always held up as a “better” defender of faith. I like Lewis. I mean, really like Lewis. But the last time i read Mere Christianity more than 30 years after the first time, and everyone else in the group was nodding and “oh, yeahing”, I was sitting there, thinking, “I remember this book being better. I find it entirely unconvincing now.” And even more frustrating, “How could I use the arguments in this book (or any other Im familiar with) as support for faith in Jesus, when speaking to any of the many many nons in my life, if I as a Christian don’t find these things convincing?”


I don’t think you agreed with a single thing I’ve said about the proofs there are, so I am misunderstanding you. Not to long ago, I explained the significance of the “therefore know for certain” in Acts 2:36, and it feels to me like you don’t care or don’t want to hear about it.

I am often wrong. So help me better understand what you are saying.

What investment have I made? In what way have I invested time, energy, any other resouce in the absense of real proof?
I haven’t sought this conclusion or desired it. And I haven’t heard any aguments I find convincing of what I understand is meant by “real proof”.

I am one of those later disciples, who without the physical resurrected person of Jesus to examine have faith in him for reasons I can only attribute to the Holy Spirit. This is not “real proof” by any human standards. Try to convince an unbeliever with it, and they’ll step away from the cult member (I am here referring to myself).

Trying to pull this back around to Paul’s OP, faith in Jesus and whatever we hold the scientific method to be comprised of, are different with different standards of proof or evidence, which are based on very different assumptions.

Thinking further about Paul’s OP and John 20:29, what need is there for faith at all, when the claims of faith are proven?


These are good questions that I want to come back to.

I thought this had something to do with the Apostle Paul… :grin: no not that Paul…

I want to come back to this, but my first.thought, is it is an imperfect relationship between faith and science… divine hiddenness is a subject I’ve not really explored much at all… the scripture writers seem to have found a better way, as imperfect as it still appears to those on the outside… even as plausible as historical arguments are, or big picture OT narratives. Sure, the internal testimony of the Spirit is cult like and imperfect to those on the outside who have not tasted and seen, and such is the call of Jesus for his people to evidence genuine love for one another. Beginning with the widows and orphans and even the fatherless men… I guess I said what I had to say… I’ll still come back and look at your questions again.

Again, it’s not something I’ve explored; it’s something that has confronted me.
And others, both believers and nons.

A better way to …?

You’re getting warmer.

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