Are Religious Scientists Being Inconsistent?

Intuition, revelation, and faith are part of a process that determines truth in science. This process also includes empirical evidence. This process of determining truth does not work without intuition, revelation, or faith.

Not that much different in regards to non-scientific truth.


OK, I did gloss over one intermediate step in the argument - which is that it seems obvious to me that there are some things science is incapable of explaining, such as morality, metaphysics, history, the foundations of science itself, and qualia.

For me, the question is: if we assume the Bible as data and interpret its implications together with the rest of the data of nature, what kind of beliefs system do we get? Is it one that gives us a coherent explanation about everything? If it doesn’t, then maybe the Bible isn’t good data. But if it does, maybe it is worthy of being taken into consideration.

My reading of the situation is in fact opposite: the amount of the debate over theology and science is precisely because people are trying to be consistent with their theological tradition and methodology. If the Bible can be twisted to say anything you want, then why is Josh going to the trouble of writing a whole book on the GA?

It’s not that simple. Theology and society feedback on each other. (E.g. Christian abolitionists were just a huge force in eliminating slavery as pro-slavery Christians were, perhaps even more.) In fact, even science and society feedback on each other.

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That may well be true, but the real question is whether anything else is capable of explaining them either.

Of course it doesn’t. It isn’t even self-consistent. Is it even an explanation? And if it’s coherent, which I don’t think it is, should we therefore suppose that it’s true?

If it can’t, why are all those people disagreeing with him, supposedly on the basis of the bible?

Of course. But the ability of abolitionists and slaveholders both to base their positions on the bible but come to alternate conclusions suggests to me that they were just finding what they wanted to find. I think the abolitionist movement derived not primarily from theology but from ordinary human sympathy and empathy. One may cite Darwin’s revulsion for slavery after having observed it on his voyage.


11 posts were split to a new topic: How Shall We Follow Jesus?

Perhaps some of the discussion about the use of the word ‘compartmentalization’ is based on an equivocation. If by compartmentalizing, we refer to the process in which we synthesise our knowledge, then it would be appropriate. But this isn’t what the OP actually refers to. Instead, it refers to a psychoanalytic concept (see here: Compartmentalization (psychology) - Wikipedia ).

Whether or not scientists are engaging in compartmentalization (in reference to a cognitive dissonance) would seem to depend on whether they’re experiencing dissonance in the first place.

Before we could comment on that, we would need to have confidence that Religious scientists - on account of prior religious beliefs - are, and do actually experience cognitive dissonance by virtue of their performing science. This would seem to depend ultimately upon their theology of creation and how this influences the construction of their epistemic assumptions and philosophy of science.

@John_Harshman , can you provide us with any examples of different starting assumptions typical of Religious Scientists which would lead to a cognitive dissonance? I haven’t checked the context of that post, but presumably here you are referring to religious scientists in general.

For myself, I am inclined to see science positioned in the same sorts of ways that were described in the first few posts of the thread; that it is a tool tailored to specific kinds of phenomena, and that there are different tools for other phenomena. Furthermore, science represents an incidental way for me to learn more about God. I figure that by seeking a better understanding of the world which he is ultimately responsible for creating, I may gain some unique insights into the mind of God that I may not have been able to gain otherwise.

I might expect that religious academics from most disciplines would say something similar.


I certainly would.


Sure: the ideas that intuition, revelation, and faith are ways of determining truth. You would never do that in science.

Yes. It’s tailored to phenomena for which we can try to determine truth. For phenomena that don’t fit that description, there are no tools.

Inordinate fondness for beetles?


I am coming to this discussion late, but here is my point of view:

  1. Tautologically, science itself stands on unscientific axioms - for example, the choice of logic(s) to be used, or that knowledge itself is possible (i.e. that the claim of radical skepticism is false). My religious views are just additional axioms on top of those axioms.
  2. These religious axioms are not knowledge, at least I don’t think they fall under any definition of knowledge that I know of. I believe that they are true axiomatically, but I don’t think I have knowledge of their truthiness.

I’m sympathetic to @swamidass exposition on these terms. But for the sake of argument here, I’ll grant your point here.

Granted: Intuition, revelation and faith have no direct relevance when performing scientific investigations.

How do you get from this to “religious scientists have some kind of cognitive dissonance to deal with when performing scientific investigations”?

Having a good answer for this is integral to your claim that religious scientists are compartmentalizing their scientific and religious views. As of yet, I see no reason to even suspect that religious scientists have any cognitive dissonance re: science and religion, let alone suspect that they are compartmentalizing on these things.

Are there any tools available to analyse the truth of this statement?

If so, precisely what scientific methods should we be utilizing to know whether what you’ve just said here is true?

It seems to me that one scientists inordinate fondness for beetles could only be beaten by another scientists inordinate fondness for avian phylogeny!


The dissonance is between the methods used in religious investigations and those used in scientific investigations. The question is whether intuition, revelation, and faith have “direct relevance” to determining truth in anything at all. I would claim that they don’t. If you think they do, then why wouldn’t they be relevant for science?

Yes. The tools used by science, i.e. empirical study and reason.

It’s not scientists’ fondness, it’s God’s. Are you unfamiliar with the quote?

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This is a perfectly reasonable position. What are your religious axioms?

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Do you treat your religious axioms differently from the axioms which make science possible? For example, is one “less true” or less certain than the other?

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Axioms, by definition, can’t be known to be true. They’re untestable starting assumptions.

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I find it interesting that you call @PdotdQ’s position as “perfectly reasonable” (a word you never used when responding to me), yet I would say that my conception of my own beliefs are not very different from his.


I can go only by the words you say, which are quite different from the words he said.

Maybe I’m not communicating very well.

To restate what I said in earlier threads about my own beliefs:

  • A belief system is founded upon a set of axioms.
  • Axioms are untestable within the context of that belief system.
  • However, we still have to choose which axioms to hold, which will affect the epistemic status of all other beliefs in the system.
  • I choose and update my axioms according to the following criteria:
  1. Whether they accord with my basic intuitions about reality,
  2. Whether the belief system produced by those axioms can “satisfactorily” explain what I think and experience.
  • Currently, “The Bible is God’s divine revelation to humanity” is one of my axioms.

That religious scientists use intuition, revelation and faith for religious investigations and not for scientific investigations is not enough to show that cognitive dissonance is taking place; there’s no inherent contradiction in religious scientists doing this.

Perhaps your argument is more along the lines of:

  1. If religious scientists simply acknowledged that faith, revelation and intuition are incapable of developing human knowledge, they would experience cognitive dissonance about science and religion
  2. If religious scientists experienced cognitive dissonance about science and religion, the majority of them would engage in compartmentalization
  3. Religious scientists do acknowledge that faith, revelation and intuition are incapable of developing human knowledge
  4. (1 and 3) Religious scientists experience cognitive dissonance about science and religion
  5. (2 and 4) The majority of religious scientists engage in compartmentalization

There doesn’t seem to be any reasons to believe in 1, because it’s not clear that these things are actually incapable of developing knowledge (there’s been no arguments made in this direction) and we have several comments here providing some reasons as to how they could participate in the generation of knowledge.

If we were to consider this thread anything to go by, it would seem there’s no reason to believe in 3, either.

The content of the statement is not an empirical in nature, so it would seem that the tool we are left with is reason.

It would seem to me that, irrespective of our stances on religion, things like faith and intuition would be involved in the assessment of this idea; at least to the degree that they affect our reasoning processes. What do you think about this idea?

I guess not :slight_smile:


Not sure what you mean by “belief system” here. Can you have more than one simultaneously?

Are they not untestable, period?

You base your axioms on intuition? That sounds dangerous. And I’m not sure how you judge a satisfactory explanation.

Why? Would you agree that the fewer axioms needed, the better? That seems a highly derived and dubious axiom to use.

If intuition, revelation, and faith are useful in religious investigations, what’s your reason for failing to apply them to scientific investigations? On the other hand, if they aren’t useful in science, why should we think they’d be useful in religion? (This assumes that the goal in either case is to discover truth.)

What does “human knowledge” mean? What other kind is there?

Would you wish to argue that they are capable?

Or you might consider it an axiom. It’s another way of saying that a real world exists, we can discover something about it using our senses, and our reason is not so faulty as to be useless in judging evidence. None of this can be proven; but it’s a necessary axiom in doing science and, I would claim, getting any sort of knowledge.

Really? Quick web search: “There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of the distinguished British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, who found himself in the company of a group of theologians. On being asked what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, Haldane is said to have answered, ‘An inordinate fondness for beetles.’”

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Belief system is a set of axioms and its implications based on empirical data and the rules of logic. Perhaps more accurately called “worldview”. You can only have one at a time.

Not just intuition. Did you even bother to read what I wrote and you quoted? There’s a second criteria that I listed there.

See my two criteria. I’ve already explained the details of that previously; please refer to the previous thread on Why I am a Christian.

Not necessarily. Only better if they pass the two criteria better than the worldview with more axioms.

How do you know that this axiom is necessary to “get any sort of knowledge”? Is that also another untestable axiom?

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I don’t think that’s untestable. Would you agree that the axiom, or something more or less equivalent, is necessary to science? The question remains whether there are other sorts of knowledge for which it isn’t necessary. Do you have any candidates?

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