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

(Phil) #43

Well, I would think humility is never a bad thing, and is not synonymous with timidity or lack of confidence but is rather an attitude of remaining open to learning more and avoiding the assumption that you are always right. While I agree we have to have strength of conviction and confidence in order to move forward, the realization that we have gaps and limitations in knowledge is needed to move us forward.

(Wookin Panub) #44

I find that ironic coming from a theistic evolutionist, but I digress. The truth is that you cannot get any wisdom or knowledge without starting with the word of God, and the word of God will back me up on that. So, I do not see how I am placing my human opinion and philosophy over scripture?

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #45

The fact is that you cannot receive any Truth or Light without starting with the Logos, the Rational Word of God, Jesus Christ, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Light.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #46

Dear Wookin,

You seem to have taken the weekend off. I am writing this note so this discussion will be extended a few days and you will have more time to respond, if you wish.



(Albert Leo) #47

My atheistic/agnostic colleagues frequently faulted evangelical Christians for circular reasoning when they defend their reliance on Scripture. Is your statement above not a clear example of that?
Al Leo

(Shawn T Murphy) #48

@Wookin_Panub, I agree with @aleo that there is no wisdom in you statement. The founders of Philosophy (Love of Wisdom) found God’s wisdom through a thoughtful study of God’s creation. This Wisdom existed in Christianity until the pagan emperors purged (Constantine and Justinian). Christianity has changed, but the immortal wisdom given to us by Socrates, Euclid, Pythagoras and Archimedes has survived. I suggest you rediscover it.
Best Wishes, Shawn

(John Bauer) #49

@jpm I am rather grateful for that article which you had brought to our attention. [1] In my opinion, a similar attitude is valuable in the theological arena as well. I’m an evangelical Christian with a biblical world-view shaped by a Reformed covenant theology and a firm commitment to the supreme authority of Scripture as the enscripturated Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and life. Having said that, I am also a skeptic and a strong advocate for science education and literacy, honed by robust critical thinking skills and grounded in a Christ-centered biblical world-view. (I think that these are practically required for Christian apologists in the twenty-first century.)

Even in areas of theology there is a need for a scientific attitude and its epistemic virtues, as when evaluating material for accuracy, transparency, relevance, trustworthiness, fairness, and so forth in what is argued, represented, or claimed. For example, what is the biblical argument and warrant for this claim? Does this person handle Scripture, orthodoxy, or church history properly? Does he misrepresent others? Does he demonstrate an understanding of the relevant science? Are references cited so that they can be checked? [2] Is there an awareness of contrary evidence? Is it taken seriously and addressed? Adequately? And so on. As Christians we should have concern for biblical, theological, spiritual, and intellectual integrity, a principled discernment energized by something like a scientific attitude.

A specific domain in which a scientific attitude is most relevant and needed is self-reflection, beginning with a kind of humility that takes sin seriously enough to admit our own fallibility. Whatever I think I know about what the Bible teaches, I am keenly aware that I can be wrong—because I’ve been wrong, which is not surprising for a fallen humanity. It is Scripture that is God-breathed or inspired, not our interpretations thereof. And it also reflects something of a scientific attitude when we remain ever mindful of the difference between the two, as we make every effort to avoid elevating our interpretation to the level of Scripture. It is not human interpretation that has authority to bind the conscience but divine revelation. And it is already brutally obvious, right, the categorical and even metaphysical difference between divine revelation and human interpretation.

One thing I love about a scientific attitude is precisely that search for error, which Harriet Hall described in her article. “We try to find failure,” she said, and this is a point made by an evangelical Christian and scientist who explained that the focus of science really isn’t about discovering truth so much as detecting error. [3] What science discovers may or may not be true, that remains to be seen—as Hall said, a theory has warrant if it has evidential credibility, even though we cannot prove that it’s true. What science does is eliminate what is false, or superfluous, or not parsimonious, or not fruitful. It amounts to chipping away the detritus of error until, eventually, the beautiful sculpture of truth is uncovered. [4]

@pevaquark You said that “a presuppositionalist cannot be friends with the scientific attitude.” Err, I seem to be an existing contradiction of that statement. I find no conflict between the two. What am I missing? You said, in speaking to @Wookin_Panub, “Your position is inherently anti-science.” Did you mean that presuppositionalism itself is inherently anti-science?

– John Bauer


[1] Harriet Hall, “The Scientific Attitude, Not the Scientific Method, Is the Key,” Science-Based Medicine, May 7, 2019 (accessed May 13, 2019).

[2] For example, in a young-earth creationist book I had read, the author quoted a shocking statement which he attributed to Carl Sagan but he didn’t provide the source material other than the title, Contact. No publication information, no page number, nothing. He didn’t even indicate that it was a science-fiction novel. I knew it was only because I happen to be an avid reader who loves science-fiction, and a science advocate who loves Sagan. This author just expected his readers to take him at his word that this was something Sagan believed, even though it actually came from a fictional conversation between two fictional characters in a science-fiction story.

[3] Walter Hearn, “Creation Matters” (pp. 53–66), in Darwin and the Bible: The Cultural Confrontation, eds. Richard H. Robbins and Mark Nathan Cohen (Boston, MA: Pearson, Allyn and Bacon, 2009), 62.

[4] Take the heliocentric theory as an example, which makes sense of otherwise strange planetary motions. It is not itself true, it’s our best scientific explanation of what is true, the celestial bodies and their “wandering” pathways—an explanation so powerful that it enables us to intercept planets with satellites and rovers, land scientific instruments on a comet (Churyumov-Gerasimenko), even calculate the location and orbit of a tiny Kuiper belt object over six billion kilometers away accurately enough to perform a photographic fly-by (2014MU69, “Ultima Thule”).

(Phil) #50

John, welcome to the forum. And thank you for your thoughtful post. The sermon this week, given by our children’s minister as our past was out, discussed seeking truth, and the scripture given was when Jesus at age 12 was left back in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph. (That must have been an interesting conversation!) and was found at the temple (after three days!) as Luke records:
" After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions."

This seems a good example for us all, as we listen and learn, and question to refine the answers, both theologically and in life in general.

(Mark D.) #51

I agree aleo. There is something fishy about claiming to have set aside all human bias and arrogance to submit to the greater wisdom of God on high, and yet having little or nothing to say toward justifying ones interpretation of that God’s judgement. There must always be a human involved in choosing and interpreting and applying scripture and to deny that is dishonest. Real humility would be to admit you are trying your best but of course are no more privileged where the truth is concerned than any other earnest seeker.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #52

Perhaps my problem is what a presuppositionalist actually is or how that is different from presuppositionalism. Most people that I’ve run in to with that perspective tend to be Young Earth Creationist/Global Flood advocates which are positions that Christian scientists had long since abandoned thanks to contradictory and a lack of evidence. At the very least, the notion of doing preconceptual science–that is where one has a conclusion in mind and then goes and finds evidence to support that conclusion, but the conclusion is presumed to be true from the start–would be inherently anti-science.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #53

Would you be willing to grant that presuppositionalism could be much less anti-science if it didn’t come bundled with an attitude that all evidence will be filtered (or even rejected as necessary) so that said presupposition can be stubbornly maintained? I.e. I should think it’s okay to launch into an experiment (or a survey of already accumulated evidence) hopeful to support one’s wishful presupposition, but with a willingness to eventually follow the evidence where it leads should it not be favorable. Granted conclusions are stronger when they’ve been attacked (not befriended). So there is that to be sure. Theories are stronger because of the attacks - not the emotional attachments.

(John Bauer) #54

Fair enough, perhaps you’re accustomed to dealing with a unique species of presuppositionalist. And if @Wookin_Panub is typical of this species then, drawing from my own experiences, I would expect that these young-earth creationists you encounter have been influenced by the likes of Eric Hovind and Sye Ten Bruggencate, if not those very men, a noisy crowd that really began to grow a little over ten years ago. Even from a relatively well-informed position, [1] I find their arguments and strategies mostly incoherent and disagreeable. They know enough of the relevant vocabulary to present themselves as presuppositionalists, but I haven’t observed a real competence with the discipline itself. (And I suspect that almost none of them have actually read Cornelius Van Til.)

As for this notion of “preconceptual science,” which you described as starting with a conclusion and looking for evidence to support it, I’ll grant that it’s contrary to good science but it gets worse: it’s also contrary to presuppositionalism. Properly speaking, what is presupposed is the truth of God in all of his self-revelation. [2] It is the ultimate premise that grounds all other conclusions. Moreover, presuppositionalists do not elevate human interpretation to the level of divine revelation. When you assume the truth of young-earth creationism and look for supporting evidence, what you’re presupposing is the truth of a human interpretation, which is not the same thing as divine revelation. God and his word is authoritative and infallible, not our interpretations thereof. We must submit to whatever Genesis 1 is telling us, but we have to ask what it’s telling us. Is the young-earth creationist interpretation correct? It may be. That’s a good question—but let’s not go begging that question (i.e., assuming the very thing to be proved).

– John Bauer


[1] I said that I come from “a relatively well-informed position,” by which I mean that I studied presuppositional apologetics for several years from the scholars who basically developed the discipline out of a confessionally Reformed covenant theology, men like Abraham Kuyper and Cornelius Van Til—not easy reading!—as well as more recent scholars like Greg L. Bahnsen, James N. Anderson, K. Scott Oliphint and others—slightly easier reading.

[2] Divine revelation consists of both special and general revelation (Scripture and nature). Presupposing the truth of God and his self-revelation obligates us to critically examine our view when it results in a conflict between Scripture and nature, for this same God is the one author of both.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #55


Thank you for bringing a new phrase to my attention, “enscripturated Word of God.” Please tell me more. Where did it come from and what does it mean? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in this understanding of the Bible?

(Matthew Pevarnik) #56

I thought that was one of the hallmarks of presuppositionalism? If you did that then it wouldn’t be presuppositionalism anymore from my understanding.

Yes I’d agree, you can call that a hypothesis but it becomes presuppositional or preconceptual science if one doesn’t change one’s mind with evidence, i.e. the opposite of doing actual science.


Thanks for clarifying though that just makes things murkier for me. Presumably results obtained through the scientific process would fall under the category of human interpretation and these always are subservient to ‘divine revelation.’ But what constitutes ‘divine revelation?’ We have to use ‘human interpretation’ methods to figure out ‘divine revelation?’ There’s not exactly a straightforward way to decide between the two when say reading the early chapters of Genesis.

You propose that we must submit to whatever Genesis 1 is telling us, regardless of anything else. That sounds a lot like an anti-science perspective that assumes a conclusion despite any evidence otherwise. I understand that some amount of presuppositionalism seems inherent to Christianity, though it would be part of any religion as well. Softer language could be easier to swallow in that the scientific attitude is a different approach then one of presuppositionalism. Yet the two are very different in their approaches to learning about reality - one assumes a conclusion based upon ‘divine truth’ (i.e. THE authoritative interpretation of the Bible). The other, the scientific attitude, has no sacred tomes or untouchable truths and is always subject to revision based upon more evidence. Let me know what you think.

(Phil) closed #57

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