Why accept consensus as reality?

I am a free thinking follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and am so based on my acceptance of the life and teachings of Christ expressed from his eye witnesses. I don’t think there is any issue with the book of the Bible that would be a reason for me to reject any empirical evidence from the book of nature.
However, on a purely logical basis, I reject naturalism (a. k. a. scientism or materialism) and any concept dependent on it.
Naturalism to be defined as only the physical is real or known to be real.
I find it self contradictory as it is itself an abstract concept that denies the reality of of abstract concepts. Some try to say that abstract concepts are merely our physical brain; however, even if there is a synapses going off when we think of a geometric point, that synapses itself is NOT a geometric point. The abstract is other than the physical.
Which brings me to consensus. If there is a consensus built on naturalism then that consensus is nothing more than group think on an abstract philosophy. It doesn’t pass the evidence and logic needed for any scientific claims of elucidation about the natural physical world.
My understanding from a couple of leaders at Biologos is that the basis of accepting something as true is the scientific consensus.
So how does this equate?

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I think there is a fine line between looking at expert opinion and untrained amateurs. To put it simply, you don’t go see a mechanic to have a baby delivered.

In the end though it is fallacious to appeal to consensus. “The majority believe this so it must be true” is patently false. It’s called Argumentum ad populum. Carl Sagan wrote:

“One of the great commandments of science is, “Mistrust arguments from authority.” … Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.”

In the end only the evidence matters but a very good starting point for belief is to see what most of the experts, the people who have studied an issue for most of their lives and written on it in peer reviewed journals have to say. People have no problem disagreeing with consensus when it disagrees with their base beliefs.

So if I was undecided on an issue and I had to choose between an untrained, amateur opinion on the internet or all the experts in a field, I am going to side with the experts knowing it is possible they could be wrong. The truth is we cannot become experts in every field so if we want to learn we have to trust testimony.

I mean do you read koine Greek or Biblical Hebrew? Have you looked at every Biblical manuscript or read tons of ancient literature to immerse yourselves in the language? If not you are reliant on expert testimony for both the reconstruction and translation of the Biblical text.

I think in some fields consensus is also stronger than others. In modern science today it is very strong because the methodology is the best there is. In conservative theological seminaries, it means nothing to me. I say that based off of thousands of hours of research and comparing arguments.

In the end, evaluate the evidence but start with the experts to see what they actually believe and why. Amateurs will often caricature and misrepresent them because they are amateurs.


So you know non-physical reality. Please transfer that.

I can see how that could be the impression, though I do not think any leaders (none of whom post here regularly, by the way) would say that exactly. It might be useful if you could reference the source of that impression. As I see it, your statement turns around the word ‘“true” as in science there is no ultimate truth in general, but just our best approximation based on the data at hand. And, when most of the people who are knowledgeable in the subject agree what that shows- Volla! You have a scientific concensus. Which is going to be right more often than when a few outliers think something different, but not always, of course. If someone thinks most of the people who are trained in a subject are wrong most of the time, there may be a problem, whether be that science, theology, or cooking pancakes.


Nothing I have read that is officially Biologos would suggest that the domain of all that is true is limited to the scientific consensus. Scientific consensus is a pretty reliable, not to be confused with infallible, guide to what is true about natural phenomena. Note also that consensus itself varies from essentially universal “the earth is old”, to a contested or tentative majority, “dark matter consists of yet to be discovered particles”. Objections to well established, universal consensus are generally unqualified, misinformed, and ridiculous.


I agree and would add that a good scientist (good science) operates on the principle of trying one’s best to FALSIFY the hypothesis. So the best hypotheses stand up over time (and become more generally accepted within the scientific community) not because scientists buy into “group-think” naively, but because they have done their darndest (is that a word?) to refute their own hypothesis, but have failed to do so. I agree that ego affects us all, and sometimes scientists are reluctant to give up on their “pet theory” but competitive scientific colleagues are always waiting in the wings to shoot your own hypothesis down if you are not :wink: Prestige in science comes not often from just confirming existing ideas, but by coming up new and better ones (that can be tested and falsified of course!).


Most folks here don’t accept naturalism either, and certainly not the BioLogos staff. And don’t confuse philosophical naturalism with methodological naturalism.

Accepting consensus science is a matter of trust. We have good reason to trust most scientists, As a guest writer explained here long ago, God has blessed the scientific enterprise with fruitfulness, making our lives so much better.

Occasionally science is used for nefarious purposes, but usually it is used for good. In the curious case of Fritz Haber, science was used for both good and bad–he killed millions but saved billions!


I think that the most important thing to understand about consensus is that it isn’t the final word on what is true and what isn’t. There are two levels of scientific maturity over and above expert consensus that are far more robust and far harder to challenge.

The first is application level science. This is where scientific theories are put to work in real world situations where they have to deliver real world results. We can be pretty confident that application-level science is true because if it were wrong, then at best its failure to work as described in the textbooks would kill off your startup, and at worst it would kill off your customers, your colleagues, or you.

The second is foundation level science. This is where scientific theories have other theories that depend on them. We can be even more confident that foundation-level science is true because if it were wrong, then everything else on which it depended would be wrong as well. Since foundation level science usually has application level science that depends on it, that would make things very, very, very, very messy indeed.

I understand your frustration here. I do sometimes get the impression that academics look at consensus-level science as if it were the be-all and the end-all of what is real and what isn’t, when to be fair the scientific consensus does change from time to time and it can be influenced by social and political pressures, groupthink, or biased editorial policies. But at the same time, one does need to be careful. I often hear people viewing potential weaknesses of scientific consensus or the peer review process as if they were a free pass to let them disregard anything and everything about science that they don’t like. They aren’t. Consensus level science may occasionally turn out to be flaky, but application level science and foundation level science are about as rock solid as you can possibly get.


Is it fair to say that without our understandings of genomic activity and molecular biology we would not have been able to develop mRNA COVID vaccines and follow the mutations, the evolution of the virus? Someone active in the science could probably say it better. Our understanding of evolution and the tools developed to study it have application level status and are also foundational?

Yes, that’s an example of both application-level science and foundation-level science.

There are certainly at least some aspects of the theory of evolution that are at both application level and foundation level. Evolutionary algorithms in computer science are the example that I am the most familiar with – these depend on the ability of mutations and natural selection to be able to produce new information in order to deliver their results. Other areas that come to mind include virology, epidemiology and cancer research, though biologists would be better qualified to provide details than I am.

There was a thread that discussed this particular question a few years back:

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Whatever is true is going to line up with reality. A literal/historical reading of genesis1-11 for example is not true because it does not line up with reality.

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Allen - you are on to something. A problem with referencing ‘consensus’ as an authoritative, even absolute, perspective on a topic, is that it is then inferred that that perspective is irrefutable, i.e., no idea that conflicts with the ‘consensus’ is even allowed to enter the discussion. In our world I mostly see this linked to environmental activism on a range of topics. Activists are by definition ‘true believers’ so it is convenient for them to justify their actions or proposed interventions using the ‘consensus’ argument. Unfortunately, history has not been kind to environmental activism in particular. I could list all the things they have been wrong about but others have done that much more eloquently and researched the topics so that they are well-referenced and thus worthy of attention. Examples would be Ronald Bailey’s book The End of Doom, Matt Ridley’s book The Rational Optimist, and Hans Rosling’s Factfulness. For me, utilizing ‘consensus’, and especially one someone attaches ‘scientific’ to it is a red flag alerting me that I’m about to be ‘told’ what to think.

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What particular scientific consensus don’t you like @AllenRhoades?

Only problem is that book authors usually do not write about consensus science, but rather more edgy views, unless they are writing textbooks.
On environmental issues, it is common for critics to quote provocative voices and represent them as consensus. Also, predictions are by nature opinions and conjecture rather than science, and of course are more likely to be in error.


Sure - but you do need to read the books to know what they say.

Regarding environmental activists, they of course are seeking to inspire activism or justify their activist stance, and so being hyperbolic and apocalyptic is necessary, or at least they believe it to be necessary.

The interesting thing about the apocalyptic environmental predictions of the 70s is that they are almost all wrong by orders of magnitude. That is why one should be skeptical of those who lean on ‘consensus’ statements to justify their positions and don’t bother to give you factually salient and contextually accurate information to make your own conclusions (because they can’t).

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Global warming is a scientific consensus, nothing to do with activism. I bought in to anti-nuclear hysteria for decades. No more. So how are you with the scientific consensus on global warming?

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Why do accept this consensus of your Christian community in this way?

Or… can you demonstrate this “free thinking” you talk about in some way. How do you think differently than your family or church?

Me neither. But… I had it easier than those raised Christian. I started with science and then read the Bible, never reading it in a way that was contrary to the findings of science.

I reject naturalism. I also don’t harbor any delusion that there is anything purely logical about it. Logic only takes you from premises to conclusions (or visa versa). So you have just chosen to adopt premises which preclude naturalism just like me.

The only contradiction is with the premises you have chosen to accept.

The majority of the world is theist, so I don’t know what consensus you are talking about.

That is not quite correct. This is far less the case for science than it is the basis of your church and fellow Christians accepting something as true because of their consensus. Science relies on the testing of hypotheses and written procedures anyone can follow to get the same result no matter what they want or believe. For religious groups, consensus is all they have.

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Hole in the ozone? We fixed that environmental hazard. Leaded gasoline? We fixed that environmental hazard. Smoking? We regulate it much better now. Nobody can sicken us with 2nd hand smoke in this country. Global warming is upon us now, it’s not something in the future. And so on.

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Wildfires pretty much globally fits one apocalyptic book I’ve read.

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I highly doubt that you reject scientific knowledge which is based on methodological naturalism. If you have an infection do you accept the scientific consensus that it is caused by germs? Do you seek out a doctor who is highly trained and bases his treatments on the scientific consensus, often involving antibiotics that were themselves developed through the scientific method?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact that you rely on computers and the internet to communicate with us means you are relying on methodological naturalism.


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