Is it time for an intellectual movement from theology to science?

I shifted focus to sciences recently, and have been reading Douglas Futuyma’s Evolution. While reading the book, I could relate to the famous three-stage model of Comte.
Auguste Comte believed that there were three-stages of societal development. The first is the theological stage, where humans try to answer and relate every unknown to God. God is the central force and usually a single rigid idea.
The second is the metaphysical stage: a transitional phase. Although a strong belief in God, prescientific conjectures find place.
The third is the positive/scientific stage where abstract notions do not find a place. There is an acceptance that every question cannot be answered and solutions have to be derived on the basis of experimentation and verification.
Comte believed that math and natural sciences quickly moved from the theological stage to the positive stage, and hence is more verifiable and based on rock-solid evidence.
However, with the social sciences which is highly intertwined with human lives, he believed, humans intellectually live in these three different stages, and this is a reason for political turmoil.

I’ve interacted with people from different religions - Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism. A common assertion I’ve seen is the claim to ultimate truth. There are extremely simplified answers and abstract claims to the increasingly complex nature of problems humans face.

Also, there are two common and general types of believers. The first who view science as against religion, and the second who believe in accommodating science with religious beliefs and claims (both cases show a clear mismatch in intellectual stages). Now, considering Comte’s model, evolution, and the general observations of religious extremism and the political violence that they’ve caused globally - Is religion a hindrance to human development and science? Is it time for an intellectual movement from theology to science (how do you do it)?

Note: Sorry, if I’ve been long and confusing.

Actually, it is the “positive / scientific knowledge” … that fails to ‘find a place’ if there were no such thing as abstract notions. It is all the philosophically abstract stuff that provides a context within which science or any other human endeavor can even be meaningful. The religious / philosophical context has always been and will always be there, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse depending on what it is and how we use it.

It is religion that populates concepts such as ‘hindrance’ or ‘progress’ with actual content. Without some grasp or application of these ‘abstract concepts’, the very notion of either one disappears into a fog of incoherence. Science (or anything else) couldn’t be said to be doing anything meaningful without it.

1 Like

Hi Chad,

Nice to meet you here. This time you’re asking right into my wheelhouse raising Comte as a point of comparison. Sorry to let you down though, Comte’s 3-stage model doesn’t hold much weight anymore & unravels ideologically before one’s eyes. A former mentor of mine was the Comte chair of social philosophy at his university, so this is a topic I’m fairly up on.

One of the problems with Comte’s positivism was that there was no room for negativism (cf. negative thinking, apophatic theology), nor for accepting anything else than himself as “high priest” of the new “religion of humanity.” Unless you’re asking to invite an anti-christ figure, I’d wholeheartedly suggest refraining from such invocations as Comte’s. It was reason, progress & order … until his ideology collapsed.

“Is religion a hindrance to human development and science?”

Sure, “religion” may erect social or personal barriers, and thus act as a “hindrance” in some ways, indeed. Why not, since it’s a human institution, expressed variously in different locations, with traditions, customs, etc.?

Certainly “theology” isn’t a hindrance to human development or science. How could it be? Nor is it a hindrance to philosophy, when philosophy is done “spiritually”, not just analytically (like it is done in a lot of “western philosophy” these days), though you have left that wisdom realm out.

One could say theology combines in the flowering of all three major realms (science, philosophy, theology), but one must first “let theology in” to the conversation. Are you up for that, Chad, or following Comte (who curiously enough largely copied the “institutional structure” of the RCC in forming his “religion of humanity”), do you instead reject theology as “outdated”? If you answer the latter, there are some contemporary theologians who might have a thing or two to say about it. :relaxed:

“Is it time for an intellectual movement from theology to science (how do you do it)?”

Umm, why not just seek a better, more inquisitive balance of both, along with actually improving society’s philosophical awareness at the same time. Hyping “science” can quickly turn into promoting “scientism” in some kind of “scientocracy”, and surely you’re not proposing that, right Chad? Why the need for a zero-sum game where theology is ‘danced off the stage’ by spiritually unmusical (hyper-rationally numb) natural scientists? Perhaps theology is life’s dance coach you haven’t yet had?

For all the “extremism & violence” implied with “religion”, I would ask for a reprieve, to turn that off for a moment and pay attention as part of your research to the inclusivism, physical and spiritual care, and peace-promotion that the Abrahamic faiths have offered to the world throughout history, and still today. Taking a “news media says religion bad so I believe it” approach doesn’t do justice to history and people who are not politically violent extremists.

The practise of theology combined with good science and human betterment philosophy would seem to have so much more to offer than restriction to science alone = scientism. Perhaps that wasn’t really your suggestion about an “intellectual movement”, after all?


Is it time for an intellectual movement from theology to science?

That is a question for people individually not humanity as a whole because there are people (like me) who are already raised from childhood in the scientific worldview and they ask the opposite question.

If you are looking for objective truth (things true for everyone no matter what they may want or believe), then yes, science is the place to look. If you are looking for things you can use or control, then yes, science will give you that.

But life cannot be lived as an objective observer. Life requires subjective participation, where what you want and believe is important. And limiting yourself to what you can use or control is not going to make for a great life either. Thus I guarantee that after devoting themselves to science alone, either you or your descendants will end up asking themselves the opposite question of whether it is time for a movement from science to theology.

As for Comte, I would say to him (if he were living today), that following his way of thinking, the ultimate intelligence is found in computers and now he really ought to give up on life and die because computers have now been invented and they can do the objective observations and calculations of science better than he can so there is really no reason for him to continue living. :laughing:

1 Like

Ya true (Couldn’t mention as it would have made the post longer). Comte does mention that theology provides the ground for basic inquiry and research and that they are an important stage. But also mentions that they need to be discarded.

Although a brilliant sociologist. Comte did suffer from this syndrome in his later writings.

Agreed, but the question is recognizing that religion has played an important role, is it time for a goodbye.

For me that class system is not relevant. I don’t believe there is a need to shift from theology to science, or from science to theology. I think theology deals with different issues than science. Theology and science is not at war for me. It would be like asking should we give up philosophy for science… no… it’s separate systems focused on separate issues.


Thanks a lot Gregory, I do not propose any dogmatic view. Just shared my reading fascination. As for the religious extremism part, I am not going for the classic media image of extremism. But the latent hostility and the vehicle of political violence religion becomes.

What was the religious associations of the terror Hitler, Genghis Khan or even the bloody war between the Heike and Genji or what Alexander did throughout the ancient world and so on? To me it seems like evil violent greedy men are
Simply evil violent greedy men and uses anything to push their agenda.


Now is not the time and the time will never be now. Science is a tiny minority pursuit at the doctoral level, less than 1% of the first world’s workforce are scientists. Double that for science graduates. Bundling all science, medicine, engineering graduates is still only a couple of percent. If you want to know the future, it’s African. Then Indian. Then Chinese. At best they may tend to flavours of technocracy. Their masses will slowly secularize as their standard of living slowly improves. Just as they did in the now overwhelmingly irreligious WEIRD world.

Also that ship sailed nearly 400 years ago with the Enlightenment. Theology has been struggling to keep up ever since. It hasn’t even begun in the main. And folk religion can never catch up.

1 Like

Are you sure about Secularization with respect to India? India started out as a secular country but is in the strong and unshakable cusps of the authoritarian right, which has been trying and is successful in imposing the majoritarian religion. Again here, religion has been the hindrance and hatred factor.

Hinduism is the oldest religion on Earth; prehistoric, from the Bronze Age. Religions are the oldest human institutions, outlasting languages. India as a political entity is over 2300 years old; the Empire of Asoka or Maurya Empire. Religion - where it exists - is always being suborned by the right to consolidate political power, as in the US, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland, Saudi, IS, Taliban and India. That doesn’t work in Europe - home of the Enlightenment - outside Poland. So yes, the arc of the moral universe is long and it will take a century of economic development (correlated with nuclear power) for secularization to advance and bring its unintended consequences: religious people tend to be psychologically healthier. Secularization can become a religion - a binding therefore strengthening cultural force with psychological benefits - at cost - as in the US, France, communist states. French Laïcité is creating a clash of cultures with Islam now. The secular can even want religious institutions to have someone to believe for them.

Hence my previous response, Religion is here to stay, having a biological basis. It’s human. Intellectually it’s nowhere, but we’re not a rational species; we’re a three legged rhetorical one - pathos, ethos, logos in that order.

1 Like

"Thanks a lot Gregory, I do not propose any dogmatic view. "

You’re welcome, Chad.

That’s no problem, because there are lots of good dogmas. A non-dogmatic coach, the way the “secular” usage of that term, is a contradiction of terms. Dogmas are good for coaches, they are teachings, they are guidance for play and for life. As a basketball player, John Wooden’s teachings for example, met this category.

If to be scared of “appearing dogmatic” means never embracing true dogmas, where will that leave you?

Besides, to the point of your OP, as if a transition from abstract “theology” to abstract “science” were possible, wouldn’t it be better to seek a proportional balance of the “Big-3” in Science, Philosophy, Theology, than going ‘science-alone’ and thus most likely falling into ‘scientism’, even if unintentionally? You’re framing it as a kind of ‘thought experiment’, after all, right?

Unless philosophy and theology are supported by science, they are meaningless.

It does not seem as much an issue of if they are supported, but rather of identifying where there is support and who supports the harmonious collaboration of science, philosophy, theology. Thus, yes, striving for a “proportional balance of the Big-3” includes the meaning you identify is needed.

Intellectually rationality comes first, science is its empirical measuring stick. Philosophy emerges out of rationality. Morality out of biology. They merge obviously. Theology emerges from biology too of course and feeds back in to morality.

1 Like

Comte’s system is one of may examples of Enlightenment-style pseudoscience. Marxism, Freudianism, Kuhn’s paradigm shifts, militant sociobiology, and Wellhausen’s model of religious development are a few other popular ones. Basically, the problem is that these come up with a simple formula that supposedly applies to everything, no matter what the data say. Of course, all of these do identify some common patterns, but they ignore the complexities of the real world. Futuyama’s text is fine on science, but not very good on philosophy, religion, or human history, as is typical of science texts.

1 Like

Are you blurring Futuyma and Fukuyama?

Futuyma’s classic textbook Evolution is quite good on the science, but the edition I have contains some ridiculous stuff on philosophy like claiming that evolution shows that we are masters of our own fate. Yeah, right, just like the dinosaurs getting clobbered by an asteroid. Of course, one could claim that humans are now able to overcome such factors and become masters of our own fate - it doesn’t prove that we aren’t masters of our own fate, either. Evolution is just a well-supported biological pattern.

It’s time for an intellectual movement away from naive Enlightenment philosophy that belongs in the historical dustbin along with young-earth ideas, both having been firmly disproven by the late 1700’s. Yes, that would require significant revision of things like the Constitution as well as eliminating most “new atheist” claims about philosophy, but it seems overdue.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.