What is the scientific attitude? Can it be applied to matters of faith?

Several topics have been discussed regarding philosophy of science and I came across this blog post today:

In it, the author reviews Lee McIntyre’s new book The Scientific Attitude: Defending Science from Denial, Fraud, and Pseudoscience. There he suggests that the scientific method is not well defined and many discoveries are not made through a defined methodical pathway, but rather the most important thing is a “scientific attitude.” In Harriet Hall’s (the reviewer) words, " …science is not characterized by a specific scientific method but by the scientific attitude. Scientists value empirical evidence and follow the evidence wherever it leads. They are open to changing their mind rather than stubbornly clinging to an ideological belief system."
It seems something similar is also true in faith as well, where we need to follow truth where it leads, not where we want it lead. This point was made by RHE in a blog from 2009 in which she mentions BioLogos:

In any case, perhaps all that is too much to present at one time, but what are your thoughts on the “scientific attitude?” Do you agree or disagree? Is it applicable to faith?


I think that’s a great summary of ‘scientific thinking.’ In one sense, it is easy to compare this to what many theologians do on a regular basis where they have some hypothesis and then would be subject to testing (either from intra or extra biblical sources).

However, I think there are some tensions between the scientific attitude and faith. Perhaps a concept like God’s plan that many Christians have:

The faith based perspective seems to be one of eternal optimism and hope. Even in light of circumstances we are still encouraged to believe in this plan. Even if we perish in a tragic way, then it can be chalked up to God’s plan. In this way, the idea of God’s plan or God’s will is automatically true regardless of what happens. That is the opposite of scientific thinking that would update our perspective with more evidence. Another example could be the goodness of God. Again, regardless of what happens, God is always good:

Some also do this with certain understandings of the inerrancy of the Bible. That is we cannot question or bother to ask (or sometimes interpret) parts of the Old Testament in particular any differently. Therefore it would be wrong of someone to say ‘A: God was wrong when he gave the commands in Numbers 31 in how to divide up the tens of thousands of virgin women from war and is therefore immoral’ or ‘B: the Bible got God wrong at times and used him as an excuse to justify our selfish desires.’ For some, this is also the opposite of scientific thinking then where one cannot consider alternative hypothesis but must absolutely believe certain things regardless of the evidence.

Finally you can apply this to things like flood geology. Flood geology will always be correct, even if all the evidence in the world be against it. Kurt Wise said this nicely (emphasis mine):

Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.


Dear Phil,
Thank you for the post and the reference to Rachel. I have written a number of times that some of the early Christians were decedents of the great Greek scientists. Origen was one of these who used the scientific method to examine the OT in the Hexapla. If you look at his complete body of work, you will find no doctrines, but concepts that are supported by the text and those that are not. He let the science lead him, but the political powers did not like the results. Galileo had the same problem.

Thanks Phil for sharing these articles. I loved this concise statement:

I think this applies to certain matters of faith, such as certain theological beliefs. For instance, I am a Calvinist despite being raised Arminian because I was led to this position based on biblical evidence. This position has at times sharply challenged my sensibilities about the way the human mind wills and operates, and my innate sense of fairness. For a long time, I struggled to come to terms with it because I did not like where the evidence was leading me. I do not share this to be polemical or start a debate about theology. But in a very real sense, I only came to this position once I adopted a scientific attitude in my approach to scripture.

On the other hand, I concede that many times my interpretation of the events of life could be considered by others as merely wishful thinking. I try to practice a kind of hopeful optimism rooted in God’s sovereign goodness that interpret fortunes and misfortunes as the sweet and bitter providences of God. This could be perceived by others as blind naivate. And I admit that I cannot disprove them with objectivity or empirical evidence. In the end, I don’t think any metaphysical claims can be subject to empiricism based on their very nature.


The evolutionist has just as much, if not more faith than the theologian. The dictionary defines faith as “belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof.

When pushed through it’s logical progression the evolutionist must relent that his base for reasoning is his own opinion, which then renders him circular. The biblical worldview is the only worldview that can an account for logic.

I’m not sure how to respond to this. I understand that a presuppositionalist cannot be friends with the scientific attitude so it’s not surprising that you came up with such a statement. Your position is inherently anti-science. However, the interesting thing is that the presuppositionalist approach is like other post-modern perspectives where each person has an inherent bias that cannot be eliminated. The solution then is not the scientific attitude/process that eliminates such bias, but it is to introduce your own bias as your own bias is superior to all others or your own perspective is superior because you include multiple biases in your conclusions (i.e. the presuppositionalist that ‘accepts’ science).


A piece by the same author was published in today’s Boston Globe. It’s really good.

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As usual… it is a matter of definition. Human languages have considerable ambiguity because words have more than one definition. In this case, the scientific method is not so much a detailed procedure we follow like a recipe but a set of ideals we strive for. Let me remind you what they are…

  1. Honesty. Again a word in a human language. But what is meant here is so much more than simply claiming you really believe what you are saying. There is a special procedural standard of honesty in scientific inquiry which we call the scientific method. It means we put an hypothesis to the test which can return a result of true or false. That is a very different standard of honesty than what you get from lawyers, politicians, preachers, and used car salesmen. All those guys are out to prove their claims no matter what.
  2. Objectivity. Again this is a great deal more than the usual English meaning of thinking you have a balanced point of view. There is a definite procedural meaning to this is the case of scientific inquiry. It means that when we make a scientific claim then we effectively provide a written procedure which anybody can follow to get those same results, no matter what they may believe.

So notice very carefully that although these are not a set of detailed instructions you follow in order to conduct a scientific inquiry, they are ideals founded on a procedural difference and that procedural difference is critically important to all the scientists and scientific journals when they review a prospective publication to determine if this is a proper scientific investigation.

You mean that I cannot be friends with your presupposition of your scientific attitude

Your position is inherently anti-science.

Actually, I am anti-your presupposition of what you think science should look like. My position is not only logical but biblical as well. My worldview can give account for the laws of logic, uniformity of nature, absolute morality.
A naturalist cannot account for logic, since naturalist only believes naturalism is all there is, therefore cannot remain consistent when believing something abstract as logic.

A naturalist cannot account for believing in the uniformity of nature “Induction” in a world subjected to random processes, chemicals constantly changing.

For a naturalist to say that my belief is wrong would require the naturalist to have some standard apart from his own mind in order to know right from wrong.

However, the interesting thing is that the presuppositionalist approach is like other post-modern perspectives where each person has an inherent bias that cannot be eliminated.

I categorically deny this. Post modernism is an arbitrary philosophy with no foundation. Presupposition apologetic starts with a biblical worldview, a worldview that is consistent and covers all the preconditions of intelligibility.

(Proverbs 9:10) “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge…”

Without a biblical worldview. You cannot know anything

Gotcha. So again presuppositionalists are preconceptual scientists and then they presume that scientists do science the way they think about reality.

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How do you prove the laws of logic without first assuming them?

First of all nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Bible is the Word of God. What is does say is that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, John 1:1 and following.

Now for the Bible to be the Word of God, then Jesus Christ and the Bible must be the same thing, which they are not. The Bible did not die on the Cross for our salvation. The Bible is not the Second Person of the Trinity.

In other words there is nowhere in the Bible where it says that the Bible is God, therefore when God commanded us in the First Commandment to have no other gods before God then God included the Bible as one of those false gods. The Bible is not wrong, but when we use bad theology to make the Bible something it is not, that is, the Absolute Word of God, we abuse the Holy Spirit.

I am not absolutely sure, but this sounds like a quote that an atheist used some time ago on me to say that YHWH condoned the use of captive women as sex slaves. After some careful research which was not easy because it was not always clear what was going on in this unclear history of the Hebrews, the fog finally lifted.

What happened was the Hebrews conquered pagan people, who opposed their entering the Promised Land. Some of the captive women conspired to use sex in order to seduce Hebrew men and turn them against their faith. When the conspiracy was uncovered they needed to punish the guilty parties. Those women who were virgins would be considered prime facie innocent of the offense because they had no sexual relations.

If my analysis of this event is accurate, and I am confident that it is, then the assumption that YHWH’s command was immoral is false and of course the other assumption that the Bible might be wrong is because it was written by selfish human beings.

On the other hand we cannot rule out the fact that the people what wrote the Bible were humans and that means they were limited in their understanding of the universe. Genesis 1 contains the truly magnificent knowledge that the universe has a Beginning and God created the universe, and space, and time out of nothing.

On the other hand the authors and hearers of this information were limited by their ANE world view. God gave humans the information that they needed most even though it was contained in out-dated scientific information, that needed to be set aside.

The Bible is the holy history of God’s People and history means change. The Bible is not the Word of God, Who is Jesus Christ, Who is without sin, but not necessarily without error. The conservative Church made a serious mistake when it made this assertion, which is bad theology and not supported by the Bible itself.

(2 Timothy 3:15-17)

“All Scripture is God-breathed…” theopneustos

God inspired is not the same as the Word of God. I am inspired by God, but I am not Jesus.

That’s funny. I can’t see how it isn’t :slight_smile:

@Wookin_Panub And how do you know you have the correct biblical worldview? What outside source do you reference to determine this? There are many different biblical worldviews so saying it comes from the Bible isn’t going to be a complete answer. How do you even know you are understanding what the Bible says correctly? Remember our conversation on fallible human interpretation.

Please read Malachi 2:7-9, Jeremiah 8:8-9, Ezekiel 2:1-7, Matthew 3:7 and Matthew 12:34 showing the prophets and Jesus telling everyone that the scribes and priests have not recorded the Word as it was given.

I agree with Proverbs. The fear or better respect for the YHWH is the foundation of wisdom and knowledge.

On the other hand I do not believe that without your particular “biblical” worldview one cannot know anything.

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Do you believe that or do you KNOW that one cannot know anything based on my particular worldview? You can believe anything

And how do you know you have the correct biblical worldview? What outside source do you reference to determine this?

(Colossians 2:3) “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

(Colossians 2:8) “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

(1 Corinthians 1:25) “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men…”

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

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