The sun will rise tomorrow. This seems to be an uncontroversial statement. The sun came up today, and the sun came up yesterday, and the day before that. Just as it has for millions of days before that. Gravity held today, just as it has held since the formation of the universe. This is, again, another uncontroversial statement. We often predict future events based on generalisations of past experiences. It is how science works, and it is how science creates laws of nature. Science forms hypotheses based off of past observations, and creates predictions about the future. It works, and we are gifted by technological advances and medical advances. However, science is based inductive reasoning and inductive principles. It is based on the idea that the future will continue on in the same manner as the past. Is this a rational and reasonable stance though? What is the problem of induction?
Most people make claims every day about particular things, such as ‘the car started this morning’. We also make general claims about various things too, such as ‘the car will start when I turn the ignition’. These claims are also made about various things in nature, such as ‘there are cherry blossoms on that tree’ and ‘the cherry tree will blossom this spring’. These general claims are known as empirical generalisations. Science is a source of, and based on, these empirical generalisations. Many of the empirical generalisations made by science are deeper and richer in detail than we would have if we simply relied on common sense. The tools it has given us has allowed us to make greater and more detailed investigations than our senses alone would allow, and has allowed us to build up a greater depth of knowledge than our senses alone would allow.
However, if we were to ponder about the nature of empirical generalisations then we would see that there is something of a problem with them. If we were to ask what kind of evidence supports these kinds of empirical generalisations, then the only answer that we could give is our past experiences. Our empirical generalisations are derived from the past experiences we have with particular instances. Meaning that they rest on an assumption, the assumption that the future will always continue on as the past has. Why is it an assumption? Well, because there is no way to prove that the empirical generalisations made from past events will continue on in the future. This is the problem of induction as put forward by David Hume, and as philosophers like Bertrand Russell, AJ Ayer, and Karl Popper have argued, it is a problem that is unsolvable.
Using Logic to Solve the Problem
There are philosophers, like Aristotle and Descartes, that have tried to use logic to solve the problem. Their claims are that universal generalisations can be deduced by logic from very general claims such as ‘Events in nature occur in a regular law-like manner’ and ‘Nature behaves in a uniform manner’. These claims are treated as logical truths or tautologies, they are accepted as true by definition. These serves as the basis of a deduction similar to:
P1) Events in nature occur in regular law-like manner
P2) The blossoming of a cherry tree is an event in nature
C1) Therefore the blossoming of a cherry tree will occur in a regular law-like manner
However, this can be criticised in a couple of ways. First, we can doubt that the claims about the uniformity in nature are actually logical truths or tautologies. If the claims were actually tautologies, then its denial or negation would be self-contradictory. Yet, it is not obvious that the statement ‘it is not the case that events in nature always occur in a regular law-like manner’ is self-contradictory. If it was a contradiction then there are certain claims that scientists make, and take seriously, that would have to be rejected as nonsense.
We can also argue that all that can be deduced from logical truths and tautologies are further logical truths or tautologies. A main feature of tautologies is that their subject matter is not real-world events and objects, their subject matter is themselves. Tautologies do not succeed in conveying truth about the world itself. A statement like ‘cherry trees blossom in spring’ is a statement about events in the world, and not merely confined to the meanings of words.
Real World Claims
Empirical generalisations made by science are real world claims though. They are claims about how the world has worked, and how the world will work. Other philosophers, like JS Mill and Francis Bacon, have claimed universal generalisations can be justified by treating such claims as empirical claims, claims that can be considered true or false. If they are treated as empirical claims, then we can assume that past events can be a reliable guide to future experiences. As these past events can be seen to consistently occur in a regular way, then we have good reason to believe they will consistently occur in a regular way in the future. How would we go about proving something like that though? The only way we can prove inductive reasoning to be accurate is through inductive reasoning, making the enterprise circular. We are proving it to be true by using it, and making predictions based off it, and then using those predictions to prove it again. We are essentially begging the question; we are assuming the claim is true while proving the claim to be true.
Consider a conversation as such:
A: ‘Why should we trust inductive arguments?’
B: ‘We should trust them because scientists have made many successful predictions using inductive arguments.’
A: ‘And how do we know that the inductive arguments of science are successful?’
B: ‘We know by showing how successful science has been in the past.’
A: ‘But how can we guarantee that this regularity will hold in the future, and that successes will continue?’
B: ‘By using inductive reasoning to show past successes.’
A: ‘And why should we trust inductive arguments?’
The conversation can be brought round into circles. The only justification for the successes of inductive reasoning is the success of the inductive reasoning. There are of course times when inductive reasoning fails too. Consider the case of the black swan. If we only ever came across white swans for centuries, would this be a good guarantee that we will never come across a black swan. Is it rational to say that because we have only ever encountered white swans in the past that we will only ever come across white swans in the future? It would seem not, considering the experience of the black swan. There are many instances such as this where it could be shown that inductive reasoning fails to continue to hold in the future. Whether the agent wishes to admit it or not, there is a certain level of faith necessary in inductive reasoning. ‘The future will continue on as the past, because the past has always continued on in such a way… except in all of these examples, but we know that these other examples will continue on because they always have.’
There will be many who read this now, angered, spitting out statements like ‘science works, we don’t need faith in it, we know it works’; and one should agree. Science does work, but that is not the question, or the argument. The argument is about whether or not science will work, and whether or not our empirical generalisations will hold true in the future simply because they hold true in the past. For those arguing that there is no faith necessary, they should pause and ponder for a moment on what justification beyond ‘it has worked in the past so it will work in the future’ that they have. What good rational and logical reasons do they hold beyond this that the predictions of science will consistently hold in the future?
AJ Ayer took the view that problems can only count as genuine philosophical problems if there is actually some solution to the problem. As stated earlier, Ayer took the stance that the problem is not one that is solvable. As it cannot be solved either empirically or logically, some philosophers have concluded that the problem itself is a fictional one. As pointed out by AJ Ayer, scientists will continue to rely on inductive arguments regardless of such a problem, and they will also continue to flourish regardless of such a problem. No claims about the unsolvable nature of the problem of induction will stop scientists from doing science, nor will it stop those fans of science from claiming that science can give us the answer to any problem.
A More Pragmatic View
We can, as Ayer did, take a more pragmatic view to the justification of science and how it relies on induction. It can be argued that science only has to satisfy its success in practice, and it passes that kind of test quite often. The gains it makes are often significant gains, giving it the right for it to be taken seriously. A scientific hypothesis or theory has a right to be taken seriously if it can be shown to work or have practical application. We have the very technology that was used to write and read this article to show that science can very successfully be applied to make our lives better, and we have advancements in medical sciences as evidence that it can be successfully applied. If science is doing the work it should be doing, and it is doing it successfully, then it is reasonable to have faith in it. It is reasonable to see it as a meaningful, and important, branch of knowledge. It could even be referred to as a paradigm of knowledge, on that appears to be progressing successful when it comes to predicting future experiences and events. It also gives us the ability to control and organise our environment in ways that reach pre-determined ends.
However, the sceptic can still be sceptical even of the pragmatic approach. It still holds true that they can simply argue that just because it has had success in the post does not guarantee it will continue to have that success. We could, as Ayer might, simply call it a pointless objection. Arguing that it is a waste of time trying to guarantee something that it is not logically possible to guarantee. Just because a guarantee cannot be provided it does not follow that it is irrational to expect science to continue to deliver in the future as it has done in the past. After all, part of what is meant by saying that humans are rational is their ability to recognise and act on the relevant guidance of past experience and past knowledge.
There is one point in favour of the pragmatic approach that can be put forward, one that will appeal to scientists and fervent fans of science. It might be seen as slightly ridiculous, at least from the point of common sense, that this sceptical question mark hangs over science while a logical guarantee of the uniformity of nature and reliability of induction cannot be provided. We must be honest in the fact that it is able to make successful predictions about the future in a better way than many other human activities. Astrology, fortune telling, palm reading, revelations from religion, none of these have the success rate at making predictions that science does, nor could they give us the medical and technical advances that science is able to give us. Science can be relied on to provide the theoretical reasoning that is behind our ability to produce machines and other technologies on a vast scale, and technology that works.
A High Price to Pay
Disregarding, or even stopping the use of, science simply because of its use of inductive reasoning would be more detrimental to us than the admission that there may be an element of faith necessary in the use of inductive reasoning. It could even be said that if we were to drop inductive reasoning entirely that it would be impossible to lead a normal human life. If we only acted on beliefs that we were knew were absolutely true, then we could never cross a bridge, we could never plan ahead for tomorrow, and we could never eat knowing that food will give us sustenance. These things all rely on some form of induction. In fact, understanding that there is some element of faith involved, and that the past experiences may not always resemble future events, gives us good cause to be more cautious about our predictions, and to never become complacent about our knowledge. The pragmatist counts on the fact that sane people will think all of these things are simply too high a price to pay for rejecting induction, and living according to very strict demands of logic.
Another line of thinking that concerns the pragmatic approach is its common sense and practical attitude towards rationality. It could be argued that those extreme sceptics, like Russell and Descartes, treat rationality in a very limited way. For people like that, rationality means being prepared to believe and act only on principles that can be proven beyond any shadow of a doubt. Principles that cannot be doubted, and that logic has proven to be absolutely the case. According to this approach it would not be rational to accept principles that might be true, and could only be regarded as probably true. The pragmatist wants us to agree that this is too narrow and restricting a view of what everyday rationality amounts to. In order to lead a regular human life then we must place trust in the assumption that the past is a reliable guide to future experiences, and future expectations. It is rational because by behaving in this manner a human being can lead a varied and meaningful life.
The Sceptic be Scepticking
It is unlikely that the person that is sceptical about inductive reasoning will ever give up that scepticism about inductive reasoning though, just as those that put complete trust in the scientific method will ever admit to there being a level of faith involved. The sceptic will always be able to level criticism at the pragmatic approach, and those that put complete trust in the scientific method will always be able to point to its successes. The sceptic, and the pragmatist, both already accept that any empirical defence of induction is simply begging the question, and the argument defending the pragmatist simply goes around in circles.
If we accept that induction is not deduction though, and understand that we should not expect the same of inductive reasoning as we expect of deductive reasoning, then we can still speak of a certain kind of certainty with inductive arguments. As long as we are clear that what we are referring to is not ‘logical certainty’. The word ‘certain’ can be gathered from context and the circumstances we use it in. If we step out in front of a bus, or a speeding train, we can say that we are certain that we will be hit by it, and we can say that we can be certain that we will burn our hands if we hold it in fire. A colleague of AJ Ayers at Oxford, Peter Strawson, approached the problem of induction by trying to show that philosophers have created the problem by misrepresenting everyday uses of ‘reason’ and ‘rationality’ in his book Introduction to Logical Theory.
Peter Strawson’s View
The argument can be summarised as the following. It generally makes sense to ask if we are justified in holding a particular belief. In the case of some beliefs, we appeal to and apply inductive principles. Is there are further standard that can be appealed to so the inductive reasoning can be justified? Yes, the inductive principle itself. All things being equal, it is reasonable to suppose that nature will continue to behave in the future just as it has in the past. Can we appeal to some more fundamental standard to justify our appeal to the general inductive principle? Is our appeal to uniformity justified or grounded? There are two responses that are given here. We can show our faith in the certainty of the inductive principle by appealing to its reliability. By doing so though we give a circular response. Or we can state that it makes no sense as a question because there is no answer.
To settle disputes we appeal to standards, but to suppose these standards themselves can be justified is senseless. They are axiomatic, they are the standards we just happen to have. Strawson argues that a question like ‘Is the sun going to come up tomorrow?’ is similar to ‘Is it against the law to shop in the nude?’. Our grounds for settling the first is the inductive principle, and our grounds for settling the second is the law. The question ‘Is there a justification for induction in general?’ is the same as ‘Is the law legal?’. Strawson’s conclusion being that searching for a general justification for induction is a mistaken endeavour.
So, as we can see, the problem of induction is itself a tricky one. The sceptic of induction will always be just that, and as we can see they have good reason to be sceptical. Perhaps it is even necessary, because by remaining sceptical of the inductive method we can remain honest about it. As pointed out by people like Ayer though, science will go on using the inductive method regardless of what issues sceptic raises. Fervent fans of science will go on being fervent fans of science, because science brings us results, and often amazing results. It appears to be one of the best tools in our toolbox for understanding the world around us, and for adapting the world around us in useful and beneficial ways. The sceptic allows us the ability to never become complacent about the knowledge gained using science, and to keep questioning and fine tuning the scientific method, as people like Popper and Kuhn have done. The fervent fans of science, and those that ignore the sceptics, allow us to continue doing science, and to continue getting results, and advancements. Just as the sceptic needs to accept that the pragmatic approach works, the fervent fan of science needs to accept that there is some level of faith necessary in science. The New Atheist may have a problem with this, because faith is one of those words that feels dirty in their minds and mouths, and is a word only worthy of disdain; but faith it is. And there is nothing strictly wrong with that, accepting it can keep us honest and help stop science becoming dogmatic and followed with a religious like sense of reverence. Long live the problem of induction, and long live science.
Hi, I’m Dave. As you can already tell, I’m one of the authors at AiR, as well as a member of the podcast. I’m also the Dave you see on our live streams on Twitch and YouTube. I am an atheist. I don’t use the ‘lack of belief’ definition though, and use the ‘belief God does not exist’ definition for me. I have always been an atheist, and have never been part of a religion.
While I do enjoy discussions around the existence of God, I try to post a wider range of content here. My focus is mainly on philosophy, as that is the topic I enjoy. I have a BA in Philosophy and Psychology, and am waiting on the results for my MA in Philosophy. Will find out in December whether I have been awarded the degree!
This is why my posts tend to focus more on the philosophy side of things. I try to post a wider range of topics than just those surrounding theism and atheism. You will also find articles discussing arguments from atheists that I find to be lacking, or poorly argued. This is mostly because I want to see the atheist community improve its arguments, and to see atheists give stronger and better arguments.
Hopefully you will enjoy some of my content, and I hope even more that it makes you look at certain arguments and ideas in a different way. Plus, hopefully some atheists that dismiss philosophy out of hand might actually see it’s more interesting than they first though. Philosophy is an awesome subject!
Comments on “The Faith of Science”
Davidian, thank you for your post. Rational discourse is a good thing. I don’t want to begin my comment by setting a bad tone, but I find it necessary to mention that choosing to delete this comment, rather than logically engaging with it, would not be “full logic,” as per your above Dr. Spock image. Rather it would constitute a withdrawal from rational discourse. And a person who withdraws from rational discourse is fooling himself if he considers himself logical.
Max Planck, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who is recognized as the founder of quantum physics, put it best:
“Anybody who has seriously been engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with… Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. That is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of nature and therefore a part of the very mystery that we are trying to solve.”
Philosopher of science Michael Polanyi (who was also an Oxford University chemist, elected to the Royal Society) demonstrates why it is necessary to first believe before one can know. In other words, belief precedes knowing. Mark T. Mitchell discusses Polanyi’s philosophical insights in his article “The False Dilemma of Modernity”:
“…the rationalist, who refuses to begin with any commitment or faith and instead seeks to proceed on the basis of reason alone, actually cannot avoid beginning with faith. At the simplest level, he necessarily begins with a faith in his rational faculties. Furthermore, as Polanyi argues, all thinking persons necessarily depend on a tacit commitment to a particular tradition, which includes one’s language and one’s culture, and even to articulate a rejection of one’s tradition requires a dependence on resources provided by that tradition.”
“Since all knowing rests on a fiduciary framework, belief, as we have seen, precedes knowing. [Fiduciary is defined as ‘involving trust’] But belief requires an object, and this role is filled by tradition operating within a community committed to its perpetuation. For example, at its most basic, language requires belief. When a child learns a language, he believes that the language-speakers who surround him are not uttering gibberish. The acquisition of skills, as we have seen, requires submission to a master even though the novice does not yet comprehend the meaning of that which he is practicing. Science is no different, for the aspiring scientist must submit himself to the authority of a scientist, and such submission requires belief. ‘Thus,’ in Polanyi’s words, ‘to accord validity to science—or to any other of the great domains of the mind—is to express a faith which can be upheld only within a community. We realize here the connection between Science, Faith and Society.’ The connection is that science or any other area of knowing, depends on a fiduciary framework in which belief necessarily precedes all knowing. This belief, though, cannot exist apart from a community of believers who sustain the tradition by passing it to the next generation through a process of apprenticeship.”
Because we are so accustomed to taking our rational faculties for granted, the idea that we rely on a faith in these faculties in order to participate in activities such as science may seem strange to many in modern day society. But, as Albert Einstein famously said, “The most unintelligible thing about the universe is that it is intelligible at all.”
And unless one has spent some time studying various philosophical and cultural traditions, one may fail to realize that there have been, and continue to be, many such traditions which reject the belief that our rational faculties are reliable, and therefore that the universe can be intelligible to humans. The most up-to-date example would be the philosophical stance known as “postmodernism”. As this article (https://www.spaceandmotion.com/Philosophy-Postmodernism.htm) mentions:
“In the postmodern understanding, interpretation is everything; reality only comes into being through our interpretations of what the world means to us individually. Postmodernism relies on concrete experience over abstract principles, knowing always that the outcome of one’s own experience will necessarily be fallible and relative, rather than certain and universal.”
“Postmodernism is ‘post’ because it is denies the existence of any ultimate principles, and it lacks the optimism of there being a scientific, philosophical, or religious truth which will explain everything for everybody – a characteristic of the so-called ‘modern’ mind.”
One is compelled to ask: How could scientific progress ever occur in an intellectual climate which lacks belief in such a thing as scientific truth? How could scientific progress occur among a group of people who don’t believe human rational faculties are reliable because there is no objective world for our rational faculties to study?
In short, scientific knowledge can only be constructed upon an adequate framework of underlying belief. The concept of scientists advancing science without a suitable underlying belief framework, upon which to build, is as absurd as the concept of a child advancing his/her understanding of the world without a language structure (as Polanyi alludes to above).
Here, the important question is which belief framework fits best with reality, and therefore, best allows for scientific progress. Christian beliefs are often ridiculed by skeptics of Christianity as unscientific. But the problem with this stance is that science itself is a product of Christian beliefs. In point of fact, without Christianity, there would be no science. Cambridge University historian of science Ronald Numbers notes that, among historians of science, it is virtually UNANIMOUSLY accepted that science is the product of Christianity:
“Generations of historians and sociologists have discovered many ways in which Christians, Christian beliefs, and Christian institutions played crucial roles in fashioning the tenets, methods, and institutions of what in time became modern science. They found that some forms of Christianity provided the motivation to study nature systematically; sociologist Robert Merton, for example, argued seventy years ago that Puritan belief and practice spurred seventeenth-century century Englishmen to embrace science. Scholars still debate what Merton got right and what he got wrong, and in the intervening years they have drawn a far more detailed portrait of the varied nature of the religious impetus to study nature.”
“Although they disagree about nuances, today almost all historians agree that Christianity (Catholicism as well as Protestantism) moved many early-modern intellectuals to study nature systematically. Historians have also found that notions borrowed from Christian belief found their ways into scientific discourse, with glorious results; the very notion that nature is lawful, some scholars argue, was borrowed from Christian theology.”
(Efron, N. 2010. Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion. p. 80.)
—Concepts with Christian origins are necessary for modern science—
Regarding Numbers’ above comments about the lawfulness of nature, please recall that the purpose of the scientific method is to discover regular, repeatable, and predictable (law-like) patterns in nature, such as the laws of physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics. This is why the scientific method demands that experiments be repeatable. Only a worldview which perceives nature as conforming to laws could give birth to the scientific method.
The Christian worldview declares that nature follows the laws instituted by God. As Robert Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry (and a Christian), put it: “The nature of this or that body is but the law of God prescribed to it [and] to speak properly, a law [is] but a notional rule of acting according to the declared will of a superior.” Or, as James Joule, the propounder of the first law of thermodynamics (also a Christian), put it: “It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.”
Nancy Pearcey elaborates on specifically how Christian belief was a crucial ingredient in the birth of science in The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy:
“Science demands some kind of unique soil in which to flourish. Deprived of that soil, it is as capable of decay and death as any other human activity, such as a religion or a system of government. What is that unique soil? [Science writer Lauren] Eiseley identifies it, somewhat reluctantly, as the Christian faith. “In one of those strange permutations of which history yields occasional rare examples,” he says, “it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.”
“Eiseley is not alone in observing that the Christian faith in many ways inspired the birth of modern science. Science historians have developed a renewed respect for the Middle Ages, including a renewed respect for the Christian worldview culturally and intellectually dominant during that period. Today a wide range of scholars recognize that Christianity provided both intellectual presuppositions and moral sanction for the development of modern science.”
“Science is the study of nature, and the possibility of science depends upon one’s attitude toward nature. Biblical religion gave to Western culture several of its fundamental assumptions about the natural world. To begin with, the Bible teaches that nature is real. If this seems too obvious to mention, recall that many belief systems regard nature as unreal. Various forms of pantheism and idealism teach that finite, particular things are merely “appearances” of the One, the Absolute, the Infinite. Individuality and separateness are illusions. Hinduism, for instance, teaches that the everyday world of material objects is maya, illusion. It is doubtful whether a philosophy that so denigrates the material world would be capable of inspiring the careful attention to it that is so necessary for science.”
—Many scientists, too, have noted that Christianity was a necessary ingredient for science.—
But the stance that Christian belief is a necessary ingredient for science is not limited to historians of science. Prominent scientists have also taken notice of this truth. Indeed, the very person credited with establishing the scientific method, the 17th century scientist and philosopher of science Sir Francis Bacon (who you mention in your above post), was himself a Christian. Bacon wrote:
“It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy brings about man’s mind to religion: for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.”
(Sylva Sylvarum Century X (1627))
Similarly, physicist Paul Davies, winner of the 2001 Kelvin Medal issued by the Institute of Physics and the winner of the 2002 Faraday Prize issued by the Royal Society (amongst other awards), writes:
“People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature–the laws of physics–are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.”
(Physics and the Mind of God, Paul Davies’ Templeton Prize address, August 1995)
There can be no doubt: Atheism is quite fashionable in current day academia. But, as Davies elucidates above, even a hardened atheist scientist must borrow elements of Judeo-Christian theology in order to perform science. For example, how can the atheist worldview explain why matter so consistently follows natural laws? In short, atheism cannot explain this orderliness of the universe, but rather, must merely assume it to be a brute fact. But to accept brute facts without explanation is, well…brutish. Biochemist Melvin Calvin, winner of the 1961 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the Calvin Cycle, echoes Davies’ above points:
“As I try to discern the origin of that conviction, I seem to find it in a basic notion . . . enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.”
(Melvin Calvin (1969), Chemical Evolution (pg. 258))
Famed English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead discusses how Christian belief furnished the conceptual framework in which science could take root, and his view that the possibility of science was “an unconscious derivative of medieval [Christian] theology”:
“When we compare this tone of thought in Europe with the attitude of other civilizations when left to themselves, there seems but one source for its origin. It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality. Remember that I am not talking of the explicit beliefs of a few individuals. What I mean is the impress on the European mind arising from the unquestioned faith of centuries. By this I mean the instinctive tone of thought and not a mere creed of words.”
“In Asia, the conceptions of God were of a being who was either too arbitrary or too impersonal for such ideas to have much effect on instinctive habits of mind. Any definite occurrence might be due to the fiat of an irrational despot, or might issue from some impersonal, inscrutable origin of things. There was not the same confidence as in the intelligible rationality of a personal being. I am not arguing that the European trust in the scrutability of nature was logically justified even by its own theology. My only point is to understand how it arose. My explanation is that the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative of medieval theology.”
(Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 18-19.)
—Christian beliefs provide the conceptual framework for science to flourish—
Philosopher William Lane Craig elaborates on the specific philosophical assumptions, derived from Christianity, which serve as an underlying conceptual framework necessary for science:
“Christianity furnishes the conceptual framework in which science can flourish. Science is not something that is natural to mankind. …Although glimmerings of science appeared among the ancient Greeks and Chinese, modern science is the child of European civilization. Why is this so? It is due to the unique contribution of the Christian faith to Western culture. As [science writer] Eiseley states, “it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.” In contrast to pantheistic or animistic religions, Christianity does not view the world as divine or as indwelt by spirits, but rather as the natural product of a transcendent Creator who designed and brought it into being. Thus, the world is a rational place which is open to exploration and discovery.”
“Furthermore, the whole scientific enterprise is based on certain assumptions which cannot be proved scientifically, but which are guaranteed by the Christian world view; for example: the laws of logic, the orderly nature of the external world, the reliability of our cognitive faculties in knowing the world, and the objectivity of the moral values used in science. I want to emphasize that science could not even exist without these assumptions, and yet these assumptions cannot be proved scientifically. They are philosophical assumptions which, interestingly, are part and parcel of a Christian world view. Thus, religion is relevant to science in that it can furnish a conceptual framework in which science can exist. More than that, the Christian religion historically did furnish the conceptual framework in which modern science was born and nurtured.”
Regarding Craig’s above comments, just think about it, how could one SCIENTIFICALLY demonstrate such things as the laws of logic, or the reliability of our cognitive faculties, etc? With chemistry experiments involving bunsen burners and test tubes? With biology experiments involving microscopes and petri dishes, perhaps? Nope, I don’t think so. These are philosophical leaps of faith with serve as necessary meta-scientific precursors.
Hi Scotty, good to hear from you.
Just got clarification, this article is by Trolley Dave and not me (Davidian)
I don’t think I’ve ever deleted your comments, we just hold them for validation in case of spam etc and manually authorise each one. In fact the last one of yours I responded to I never got an answer back.
I’m presently exhausted, lockdown life with a newborn, and can’t really focus enough to think straight right now, so I’ll come back to your comment in the future, however I will let Dave know you have responded to his article – although if memory serves he has a tutorial tonight so might not get back to you for a day or two either.
Hope you’re well!
Right Scotty, I’ve finally had a few minutes to discuss your post.
Firstly I note you still haven’t addressed my comment above nor the previous responses I have given to your comments elsewhere on the site.
You seem to have thrown doubt on yourself with your own first paragraph. Do you want a rational dialogue or not?
Your claim // science itself is a product of Christian beliefs. In point of fact, without Christianity, there would be no science// is a very common one among Christians and Muslims, but is in error.
It is PEOPLE that have advanced science, from all walks of life, regardless of creed, colour, or ontological position. Isn’t that wonderful? The giant melting pot of ideas and work to further this wonderful thing.
In fact, many theists reject science when they feel it contests something in their holy books, and there are many examples throughout history of the church trying to beat down science, especially when it illuminates we are not the centre for the universe.
Back to the discussion at and, this an many of your responses are mass copy and pastes that barely even relate to the topics at hand, often without regard for their accuracy or what you seem to be asserting. This is a debate technique known as Gish Galloping.
Whilst I have let this go in the past, I have responded to you a number of times without further response.
We are happy to communicate with anyone on our articles and any number of other topics, but we would like to have a rational discourse rather than one filled with presup, fallacies, and random debate techniques.
Just to reiterate, we would love to have a rational discourse, not someone trying to win a debate. We prefer quality comments over the number of words.
If you would like to have a dialogue with us in future, you are more than welcome, but please stay on topic and avoid the Gish Galloping etc.
If you do persist with this style of discussion in the future, we will not be authorising your comments.
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