Faith vs Science - A False Dichotomy?

Even John takes this both/and approach between evidentiary arguments and self-evident experience

Don’t neglect the former types of evidence and let’s see how God intends for it to come together

Me too… I have explored the via negativa but that’s not how I understand divine hiddenness… What’s your definition of DH?

What I meant by this is science doesn’t produce “truths,” it produces models that try and describe observed data in some particular way. The claim that some (or all) of reality can be understood from scientific models is a philosophical assumption, not a scientific one. In other words, claiming science describes reality needs to get its authority outside of science to avoid being circular. Is this “faith” in science and the scientific method to (asymptotically) approach true propositions about the way the world works (instead of simply good approximations) similar to faith in God? I think so, at least to a certain extent.

While I do think it is often a good assumption, for models to apply to the rest of the natural world (beyond a laboratory) involves assumptions about the regularity and uniformity of nature. Many of the original assumptions about the regularity of nature have been challenged (quantum mechanics, for instance, solves inconsistencies with Newtonian mechanics, but at the expense of making things more probabilistic instead of deterministic). The extent to which observation effects phenomena, for instance, doesn’t seem to be fully understood.

I think we can be naive when we move from the pragmatism of science (at producing models that are generally “good enough” to build stuff) to claiming this is exactly how the world behaves in itself. This claim is justified, but it requires a leap of faith and cannot be justified by science.


To better illustrate this point, consider the following: what would falsify one’s belief that falsification itself (as in the scientific method) is the best method for finding truth?

If we cannot give an answer, then we cannot justify the epistemic authority of science on its own grounds. Is it fair to say we trust the epistemic authority of science on “faith”? Or is it justified on pragmatic and/or foundationalist grounds (which some contemporary epistemologists argue also justifies religious and specifically Christian beliefs?)

Honestly I don’t know much about epistemology. My friend who is a philosopher told me that positivism is literally “dead” in serious philosophical circles. Yet it still seems to be alive among many new atheist types (and science worshippers, which there seems to be a significant overlap). She made an interesting point about mainstream academic philosophy not taking Dawkins, Harris, etc seriously and even expressed gratitude for this (even though she is an atheist).

Your question of what other methodologies cousin help us discover truth about the natural world is an interesting one…


Someone posted this recently (I wonder who it could have been ; - ) …

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I’m back to that one again and had tried to ask @mitchellmckain about it, too, but I wasn’t clear. Let me try this way. (Sorry, more questions, but really more rhetorical and absolutely chosen to direct your thinking in a specific way.)

Can we move away for a bit from the philosophical questions about falsification and epistemology in order to consider history of enquiry into nature? You had mentioned natural philosophy earlier.

What assumptions did “The Ancients” hold regarding the best ways of learning about nature? Did those assumptions change over time? How? What kinds of variations were there simultaneously and chronologically?
How effective were the various assumptions at gaining the information that was sought (assuming that that information was findable or actually desired – Finding out what Zeus’s favorite place to vacation is, for example, may have been a legitimate ancient question, but has little to do with what we might call science today.)?
What effect did the various underlying assumptions have on the effectiveness of the enquiry? How can that be evaluated?

Does research done with these different historic underlying assumptions lead to different outcomes?

Do scientists still rely on those same assumptions?

Why or why not?

Is it fair to say we trust the currently-used methods of science on “faith” or is there another process involved that may have brought scientists over time to conclude that the scientific method is preferable to methods of enquiry that are based on different assumptions?

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As the other Paul said, we see in a mirror dimly. This is one sense of faith, knowing that we have encountered the living God, even though we are going through a season where he seems absent or our reasons are not as convincing as they once were.

You said you believe in Jesus for reasons that you can only attribute to the Holy Spirit, and while those are subjective reasons, they are real reasons. God does this work in various ways, for me it was the knowledge I had of my sin, that convinced me in conjunction with the historical arguments that Jesus was indeed true.

Believing Jesus because you have seen him alive from the dead, or for the miracles he did, is as much an example of faith as those who knew on the day of Pentecost.

Consider this as an explanation of what “faith is the evidence of things not seen” means:

The examples that follow demonstrate a posture of firm confidence in the promises of God even though the believers had not yet received the fulfillment of those promises (11:39).

From “Hebrews” by George H. Guthrie

In my opinion theology, philosophy, and science are all interdependent. Theology is about spiritual/moral truth, philosophy about rational truths, and science about physical truths/facts, all of which are relational.

The problem has been that in the past theology and philosophy have not been considered relational. This is not true. Since Faith without Works is dead (nonexistent,) then we can say that there is a clear, logical clear between faith and works. Jesus is both God and Human because He serves as the bridge for salvation between God and Humanity, not because He has two Natures.

Many say that God is Infinite, but if that is true how can we say that God is good, because goodness indicates God is limited, or not evil. We know that God is Good, because we experience the Goodness of God, not because we think that God is Infinite. Philosophy need to be subject to experience and logic just as does science and theology.

You overlook that evil is the absence of good. I am definitely among those who say that God has many infinite attributes.

I had a similar experience. I recently read Mere Christianity and thought it made some good points but didn’t find it the most convincing. However I just finished listening to the audiobook of CS Lewis’s Miracles (it’s free on Audible!), including the appendices, and that book really impressed me. Coming from mostly knowing Lewis from the Naria series, reading Miracles shocked me. I went from seeing Lewis as a lay theologian and children’s writer to an academic of high caliber.


Roger, I couldn’t agree more here, and I’d add mathematics to the mix too. I think our students (like myself) are done a disservice when they are taught ideas themselves disembodied from the cultural/historical views of the people who came up with them. Many students know Bayes’ Theorem, but how many know Reverend Bayes developed this as a response to David Hume’s argument against Jesus’s ressurection in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding? How many know (and use) Georg Cantor’s idea of transfinite numbers without knowing Cantor’s ideas were inseparable from his philosophical and religious views?

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I think you are overstating the need to understand the context.

Not too long ago, I had a lovely discussion about transfinite numbers and fully appreciate how the natural and real numbers cannot be put in a one to one correspondence. It is real genius to be able to prove this based on the contradiction of supposing they can be put in direct correspondence.

What I do find interesting, and the other person who I was having the discussion with agreed, is that subsequent transfinite numbers are no different than natural numbers for the way the function is subsequently applied to each set. So saying there are an infinite number of transfinite numbers is no different conceptually from saying there are an infinite number of natural numbers.

From what I understand, “natural philosophy” emerged as a branch of Aristotelianism, and modern science as we know it today emerged as a result of Aristotle’s work being rediscovered in Europe/Christendom and promoted as a result of the Church adopting Thomas Aquinas’s synthesis of Aristotelianism with Christianity (similar to what Augustine did with Platonism/NeoPlatonism). Some (like Whitehead) theorize that Christianity was uniquely disposed to allow the rise of modern science because of its belief in the rational intelligibility of the universe. Regardless (and even I am a bit unsure of Whitehead’s thesis completely), as Tim O’Neill over at History for Atheists remarked, there has to be some reason modern science arose first in Christendom and not in other religions countries…

I think the history of natural science shows it was deeply linked to mathematics, theology, and philosophy (hence it was practiced by universities that originally taught the quadrivium and trivium). I’d argue now modern science relies even more heavily on mathematics and philosophy than empirical observation (more so than in previous generations). This is especially true in disciplines like theoretical physics, evolutionary biology, etc where experiments are difficult to do.

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Huh. Hey, Dan @EastwoodDC, maybe you knew this?

The disservice that was done to me was it led to me believing that these guys were just really smart and “magically” came up with these theories. This is opposed to a picture of them studying relevant information and engaging with the literature, asking the right questions and being motivated to find the answer. More important (for a researcher like myself) than the content of their theories is the process with which they came up with it. Is it fair to say one really “understands” a theory if one does not know what inspired it or led to its development? For example is it fair to say one understands algebraic number theory if they do not know the significance of Fermat’s Last Theorem?

One can understand the real and natural numbers cannot be put in a one to one correspondence without having personally done the proof.

Thanks, Paul.

I need to look more into the development of the natural sciences as we know them now, but this claim is debatable:

Please see:


And for history, these may be useful:

There’s more at Plato about Natural Philosophy. Just type the phrase in quotes in its search box.

Yes, Islam had a lot of important insights and development during the middle ages. Some theorize it is due to their access to a translation of Aristotle before the west, though to ignore the influence of al-Farabi al-Ghazali, and Avicenna would be like ignoring Augustine and Aquinas in Christian tradition. Islam even referred to Aristotle as the “First Teacher” in the middle ages (al-Farabi was considered the second). Those three are excellent but honestly just the tip of the iceberg, there were many others doing great work during that time too.

Modern science needed to move away from some aspects of Aristotelianism, and many credit Newton, Bacon, and Galileo for this. I do think an institution or governing body like the medieval Christian church was necessary, along with a reasonable amount of political stability.

I read an interesting article that claimed modern science arose when scientists moved away from Aristotle’s ideas of logical deduction into induction, which is somewhat ironic considering how much more mathematically based it has been since then.

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From my perspective, the main difference between science and faith is the methodology and the role that they play in understanding the world. Science is scientific not because of any particular story it tells, but because of the method used to arrive at that story, that is, making observations, making hypotheses to explain the observations and testing them either through experiments or predicting results. Science is good at telling you the underlying mechanism. In other words, it answers the “how” question, how life sustains itself, how planets form, how volcanoes work, and so on. Faith tells you a story that gives meaning to the mechanism. What is the ultimate purpose of the universe, of volcanoes, of life? You don’t believe this story because it is testable but because it gives a meaning to the universe that is compelling. In this sense, I would agree that all scientists, whether atheist, Christian, Buddhist, etc., use both science and faith. Even an atheist will have faith in something. He or she will have a story that gives meaning to the universe. Ecologists don’t have any reason from science to believe that life in inherently valuable. Astronomers do not have any reason from science to believe that studying the universe is inherently valuable. They have faith. They have a story that gives stars and life meaning.

Infinite is a quantitative quality, not a qualitative quality like Good or Evil. Infinite does not imply that God is everything, but does specifically state that God is bigger than any finite thing, even the observable physical universe. So God can be infinitely anything that has a quantitative aspect to it. The question relative to God being infinitely Good is whether “goodness” is quantifiable. Infinite can apply to quantity of information (perhaps a more accurate term than knowledge, for quantifying), and that is the image I had in mind.

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