What is a "Secular" Scientist?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

It is still a strange experience to see myself the topic of a blog somewhere. This one from @TSZ is no exception. Seems like there is some confusion to clear up.

I encourage a secular-confession society, where “secular” means “fair,” and “confessional” means “dignifying of self-disclosure.”

This is how Greg takes it.


Apparently, he means ‘non-confessional,’ since he actively pits ‘secular scientist’ over against ‘confessional scientist’ at ‘Peaceful Science.’

Swamidass’ chosen dichotomy may seem stark to some people, almost as a kind of ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’. Notably, it has achieved some success so far, mainly among natural scientists. In other words, you’re either with ‘mainstream science’ or you’re against it. Swamidass upholds ‘mainstream science,’ while at the same time promoting non-mainstream evangelical protestantism as a ‘confessionalist’ approach to the topic.

“The science we are putting forward here is solid. It does not require a religious point of view to accept. Even secular scientists endorse it.” – S. Joshua Swamidass

The devil is in the details when natural scientists write: “does not require.” This is the legacy Swamidass’ confused embrace of ‘methodological naturalism’ as if it were free from ideology.

Hopefully it is obvious that Greg is confused, and in fact he advertises this with a question in the title. So perhaps he knows he is confused. Reading some of the comments it seems others might have questions too.

The key point I want to make is that I am not pitting secular science against confessional science, and I have no idea what “confessional science” could possibly be any way. Rather I am saying that confession (by which I mean self-disclosure) is entirely consistent with “secular” science. Christians do not need a new version of science. Mainstream science works just fine. We can still disclose our personal beliefs alongside science, and this is accepted and even encouraged in secular science.

Secular science is pluralistic, including people from a large range of personal views. We include Atheists, Jews, Agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and everything else, and use a largely common set of rules to adjudicate evidence. That does not mean science is always correct, but secular science is fair in that it is not guided by any idiosyncratic agendas or claims.

I am a secular scientist, and I also confess my personal beliefs. My title “confessing scientist” does not pit itself in opposition to secular science, but is an expression of secular science’s best ideals.

Happy to take any additional questions here.

On this thread, please keep focus on understanding what I mean by these terms, not what they could mean or what others want them to mean.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) split this topic #2

A post was split to a new topic: How Goes The Skeptical Zone

(Neil Rickert) #3

As I commented early in that TSZ thread, science is a secular activity. So the expression “secular scientist” seems redundant.

1 Like
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #4

I’m contrasting secular science with, for example, creation science. Though @nwrickert, I do see your point.

1 Like
(George) #5


It only seems redundant because you are not a theist.

When you are in a room full of jumping theists… extra modifiers are always needed…

(Neil Rickert) #6

A theist doing science would still be a secular scientist. The “secular” qualifies how he does science. And science is a secular activity. Science is neither theist nor anti-theist.

(George) #7

And it is STILL true if you say “Secular Scientist” in a room full of Theists who have the wrong idea about science.

Just roll with it, okay?

1 Like
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #8

@gbrooks9, I think we all (including @nwrickert) are on the same page.

(Jordan Mantha) #9

I felt my “cultural context” welling up, when I heard “secular” I immediately thought “atheist”. I’m not sure if “fair” is the most easy to understand description, I really like your (slight edited by me) version:

Secular science is pluralistic, including people from a large range of personal views who use a largely common set of rules to adjudicate evidence.

That sounds like science to me.

(George) #10

Remember, @jordan,

America’s entire political philosophy is “secular”… and intentionally so. The wild-eyed preachers alive during the American Revolution were keenly aware of what a dominant denomination (like the Church of England in England) could do to his humble flock of followers!

1 Like
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #11

That is precisely the cultural assumption I aim to challenge by embracing “secular,” which is not “atheistic” at all, but in fact what confident Christians should themselves be promoting. We do not need special privileges or advantages, which is strong rationale for being “secular.”


This I agree with fully. Secular doesn’t mean atheistic, secular means inclusive of all.