How do we place science first when agnosticism claims that science does not prove God?

In 1931 Bernardt Iddings Bell wrote…

In Unfashionable Convictions (1931), he criticized the Enlightenment’s complete faith in human sensory perception, augmented by scientific instruments, as a means of accurately grasping Reality. Firstly, it was fairly new, an innovation of the Western World, which Aristotle invented and Thomas Aquinas revived among the scientific community. Secondly, the divorce of “pure” science from human experience, as manifested in American Industrialization, had completely altered the environment, often disfiguring it, so as to suggest its insufficiency to human needs. Thirdly, because scientists were constantly producing more data—to the point where no single human could grasp it all at once—it followed that human intelligence was incapable of attaining a complete understanding of universe; therefore, to admit the mysteries of the unobserved universe was to be actually scientific.

Could a Christian successfully be agnostic (agnostic theism) by simply claiming that one cannot comprehend God and place scientific observation before biblical theology?

We know that early church fathers attempted to stamp out agnostic theism, however, there is the view that God is inherently unknowable because we are mortal and simply cannot comprehend the idea of immortality and an all knowing being who lives outside of time and space.

The English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley coined the word agnostic in 1869, and said “It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.”

That reality can be reliably perceived by our sensory organs is a robustly Christian position to take since it assumes that a good God has created a meaningful, purposeful creation for us to inhabit. That is not to say we can know everything there is to know or that one person can have a complete knowledge of it. It is only YEC that has to Christianise Humean skepticism to throw shade on sense perception to justify its bogus theories. But if I can’t trust the evidence of my own eyes, how can I trust that the disciples really did see the risen Jesus. After all, I was not there, were you?

A couple of other things:

Not sure what you mean here. How can something created by Aristotle be new? Neither am I sure what crime Thomas has supposedly committed.

Also I’m assuming you know that biblical theology doesn’t mean theology from the Bible? It is a technical term for a particular branch of theological study. Besides, I think what you really mean is putting scientific observation before the biblical interpretation of me and my tribe.

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Are not almost all of us agnostic? We don’t know for 100% certain, and certainly can’t prove with 100% certainty that gods are real but we choose to place faith in Yahweh anyways despite that.

I don’t have to put science first. Science is what I use to understand the natural world and the scriptures are part of what I use to understand Yahweh. There is not a battle between science and faith.

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“It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.”–Galileo Galilei

"Professor Darrel Falk has recently pointed out that one should not take the view that young-earth creationism is simply tinkering around the edges of science. If the tenets of young earth creationism were true, basically all of the sciences of geology, cosmology, and biology would utterly collapse. It would be the same as saying 2 plus 2 is actually 5. The tragedy of young-earth creationism is that it takes a relatively recent and extreme view of Genesis, applies to it an unjustified scientific gloss, and then asks sincere and well-meaning seekers to swallow this whole, despite the massive discordance with decades of scientific evidence from multiple disciplines. Is it any wonder that many sadly turn away from faith concluding that they cannot believe in a God who asks for an abandonment of logic and reason? "–Dr. Francis Collins

“In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different Interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such a case, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search of truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”–St. Augustine

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Who and when.

You left off what Huxley was talking about.

Just means you can’t say you know or believe something about the world if there is no scientific grounds to know or believe. Given we are talking science and not theology why is this a problem?

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He left out physics (all branches of it, including astronomy and elementary particle physics). Oh, oops – cosmology was there, which includes a bunch.

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you properly understand the mechanics of science before attempting to discuss the philosophy of science.

Science isn’t “agnostic” in the sense of trying to ignore God or to write God out of the picture. When people describe science as being “agnostic,” what they mean is that science has rules, and the rules are the same regardless of whether you are a Christian or an atheist, regardless of whether God is involved or not, and regardless of whether miracles were happening or not.

  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to abide by the basic rules and principles of accurate and honest weights and measures.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to make sure that they are reporting evidence accurately.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to make sure that they interpret evidence in ways that are mathematically consistent and coherent.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to make sure that their conclusions are consistent with their measurements, and that they are not exaggerating things nor playing things down.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to correctly account for sources of error such as contamination.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to take steps to account for and eliminate cognitive biases.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to avoid logical fallacies.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to make sure that when they quote people, their quotations accurately reflect the context from which they are taken.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to make sure that their findings are reproducible by other researchers.
  • Christians and atheists alike are both required to keep accurate lab notes.

Believing in God, or in miracles, or in creation, does not give you an exemption from any of these rules. Trying to fit science to the Bible does not give you an exemption from any of these rules. Why not? Because breaking these rules is not putting Biblical theology ahead of science; it is lying.

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Actually understanding the universe in its entirety “all at once” is not and never has been an entitlement of humanity. To believe that God has created all that is never has meant that by believing the Bible is from God, that man thereby shares in the understanding of all that God has created. No more than anyone else, Christians are not privy to the mind or knowledge of God and the Bible is no reference work to that kind of knowledge. God is what God is is what God has given you in the Bible, that along with some guidance as to how to comport oneself with one’s neighbors and how to grow in one’s relationship with God. Having read or continuing to read the Bible is no replacement for the growth one must undergo to move closer to God. Becoming knowledgeable about the Bible isn’t a substitute for the growth that is needed and neither is it a substitute for science as a means for understanding what God has created. YEC misunderstands what it has in the Bible just as as it misunderstands what it has been given in the world. Starting out believing you already know everything by repeating scripture as it is written in the Bible is triumphalism devoid of any triumph.

EDITED TO ADD:

As a practicing agnostic I can tell you there is no tenet of my agnosticism that no beliefs are justifiable or that we don’t sometimes need operational beliefs even when we can’t justify them in a manner that would make them compelling to others. Being agnostic just means I will never intentionally sell my operational belief as being rationally necessary or exclusively valid. To my mind there is no reason a theist or even a Christian should not also be agnostic. All you are giving up is shady salesmanship. There is no prohibition against sharing what is in your heart or what motivates one of your own operational beliefs.

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Rather than revise my original post yet again I’ll address this separately. It occurs to me that the second prohibition imposed by agnosticism as it seems to me - that one should not represent one’s provisional truth as being exclusive- may well be a branding issue for the wider adoption of agnostic Christianity. Intellectually I understand that no provisional belief can be the exclusive truth. But at the same time you guys have schooled well enough to recognize that what it means to say you are a Christian does entail understanding that to be the only truth - at least for espousing that faith.

The now deceased American Jungian psychologist James Hillman had a useful linguistic aid for understanding some psychic truths, which is to ensconce what one says about them with the qualifier “it is as though”. So in this case for a Christian it would be true to say “I believe believe in the truth of what emerges from my reading of the Bible and theology that Jesus is the only way to God and that he is available to all who will believe in him”.* Similarly what Iain McGilchrist ways about the nature of God belief is similar. To believe in God is to experience the world in every moment that it becomes present to you as one in which God too is present. Since no one actually sees God in His true form (if there even is just one true form), then the statement regarding experiencing the world, as it becomes present to one, of the world as being a place where God is also present is not an empirical claim but rather a confession of one’s psychic reality. Such states can only be described using metaphors derived from the physical world. The “as if” phrasing doesn’t cheapen the force of the statement but only owns it as ones own confession about a matter which can only ever carry the weight of one’s confession; a statement as true for a strong atheist as it is for a believer. The atheist too can only profess the nature of his experience. One does not directly experience the non presence of God; but that too can be someone’s psychic reality.

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We think otherwise.
 
The revealed will of God in the Bible reveals some of the mind of God and imparts knowledge of God as well, and those who have experienced God personally in reality (third party verifiably or not) also have a special knowledge of God.
 

You misapply the terms “agnosticism” and “agnostic” in the premise to your question, which leads you to a wrong conclusion.
There is a difference between a Christian being agnostic in relation to God and a Christian carrying out various activities, such as observation, measurement, recording without referring to God or the Bible.

I will go so far as to say, that many, many activities that Christians carry out during our days, we carry out a-theistically, that is completely without reference to God. I drive safely by obeying traffic rules, observing what other drivers are doing, and adjusting my behavior as needed. I don’t need to consult the Bible on how to do this but my driver’s training and experience.

I select materials for my library, help researchers develop research strategies, find the information they need, develop finding aids by relying on my professional training, knowledge of the collection I work with, and experience in my field. The Bible offers me no help in these areas.

I take care to plan and prepare good food for my family without referring to biblical guidance, but rather my doctor’s recommendations, my knowledge of good nutrition and the specific health needs of my family members.

As a Christian, I try to do these things well and, when appropriately lovingly. I believe that by this I DO bring glory to God. But the activities themselves I carry out without God’s views on driving, information science or home management, because He gives no indication that He has any views on these things.

There is no reason the straight-forward application of scientific methods and tools should be any different. The tools to accomplish these tasks are available to anyone with the capacity to learn to use them without reference to God. In the hands of one who applies them well, Christians can understand that what is learned brings glory to God, whether anyone else notices. This does not need to be complicated.

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He does want you to submit to ‘secular’ speed limits though. ; - )

 
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Anyone who wishes to quote Frank Collins on his absurd theology that is completely contrary to the biblical narrative of the prophet Samuel to King Saul (to obey is better than to sacrifice) doesn’t deserve anything more than the following response…

“Science can reveal the frequency of a G-flat and how our eyes relay information about color to our brains, but science cannot tell us whether a Beethoven symphony, a Kabuki performance, or a Jackson Pollock painting is beautiful or dreadful.” https://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/whatisscience_12

Who is Frank Collins? If you are referring to the Francis Collins quote, could you comment on what part of that statement you find absurd and why? The quote regarding the music is certainly true, but irrelevant so far as I see. Can you expound on what you mean by it?

I’ll tell you what really constitutes absurd theology, Adam. What really runs contrary to the Biblical narrative that to obey is better than sacrifice.

It is dismissing out of hand the clear and unequivocal demands of Deuteronomy 25:13-16 and numerous other places in the Bible that our approach to weights and measures must be honest and accurate. It is insisting that you are entitled to flat-out lie about science in that way by claiming that those verses supposedly only apply to buying and selling.

And don’t get me started on vegetarian velociraptors in the Garden of Eden, accelerated nuclear decay, or the convoluted rescuing devices and fantasy physics that YECs have to come up with to try and explain distant starlight.

Basically, before you try taking the speck out of Francis Collins’s eye, make sure you don’t have a Travis Perkins sawmill in your own.

Well of course science doesn’t tell us everything. Nobody is claiming that science does tell us everything. But that does not justify claims that the things that it does tell us could be wrong.

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How do we place science first when agnosticism claims science does not prove God?

What a very strange idea. Since when is the ability to prove God the measure of our priorities. Do you discard your children if they do not prove God? Shall we shut down the fire department and police department because they do not prove God?

And prove God according to who? Some people see the proof of God in science just as others see it in their children and even in the fire department or police department. But it is deranged to think we shouldn’t place a high priority on any of these things just because we think they don’t prove God.

Frankly I don’t think anything proves God. And that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. You know why? Because MY religion teaches us that we must have faith. That is what Christianity teaches.

I would say the first, second, and third premises of Iddings Bell are so far from sensible that they must be specifically concocted to foster an anti-science fundamentalism.

Calling something Aristotle invented (350 years before Jesus) “fairly new” is quite bizarre.

And this is another very strange claim. There was never any divorce of science from human experience and no change in science had anything to do with industrialization, which was always worldwide rather than something which happened in America. The claim betrays an extremely provincial attitude.

This reminds me of similar bizarre premises by Karl Marx about production that it would spiral out of control till the economy collapsed. Since these lack a similar sort of sensibility as we see in Iddings Bell, I think Marx also concocted them to fabricate His predictions of doom. But it is obvious that production will not do any such thing because it is run by people seeking to make a profit. Likewise, Iddings Bell’s notion of anybody understanding everything is a total fantasy. This was never the case – our understanding of the world has always been a collective thing and the data of science only increases our collective understanding of the universe.

In summary, I would say this helps to understand the anti-science insanity of creationism as a product of an intentional effort to warp Christianity into something opposed to science. And the thinking is as warped and full of deception as the work of Karl Marx.

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So what. You do not use a Beethoven symphony to measure for cutting a two by four either. Does it concern you that you are putting your tape measure first? Science is infused with measurement. Radiometric dating is measurement. Genetic phylogenic trees are measurement. The cosmic microwave background is measurement. It is not the fault of the science that the results are not to your liking.

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That has a nice ring to it. I had to look up Travis Perkins, but a lumberyard is a fitting image.

It has been said here but I will repeat it: why must science and faith be seen as in opposition? Just because we cannot prove God through science does not mean any more than that. The Bible seems to imply that proof would kill faith because faith requires that you do not have proof. As long as God is in the realm of faith people have the choice to not believe. If God was proved then the choices would be much more serious and game changing.
Science is just what we understand about the universe, and we admit to having a bigger coastline of questions then the area of knowledge. So Faith can sail happily on the ocean beyond knowledge until, or unless Science can remove that ocean, which is probably impossible.

Richard

It’s a chain of builders’ merchants and home improvement stores that is quite well known in the UK. They sell a lot of timber, hence the sawmill reference. Not sure what the US equivalent would be.

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