"The only thing we can and should trust is the sciences"

That's one of my claims in chapter 4 of The Christian Delusion (p. 89). I had previously argued that Christians use the naturalistic scientific method when they debunk the religious faiths they reject (p. 86), and later on in that same chapter I argued that without a better alternative method this is all we have (p. 94). I mean, really, is there any comparison to accepting blindly what we learned on our mama's knees, or through an "inner witness of the Holy Spirit," or the poor evidence of historical evidence, or a the warming of the bosom? Come on. Let's get real.

But a Christian can still say:
Unfortunately, this claim isn't a deliverance of any natural science. Science can't tell us something like this.
Sure it can and does. As Barbara Forrest argues:
The relationship between methodological and philosophical naturalism, while not one of logical entailment, is the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion given (1) the demonstrated success of methodological naturalism, combined with (2) the massive amount of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of evidence for the supernatural. The above factors together provide solid grounding for philosophical naturalism, while supernaturalism remains little more than a logical possibility. Link.
What do you want, a massive probability with science or a mere possibility?


Anonymous said...

This paper on methodological naturalism by Plantinga should be read along with Forrest's paper. Here's what the paper is about:

"Part of the problem, of course, is to see more clearly what this methodological naturalism is. Precisely what does it come to? Does it involve an embargo only on such claims as that a particular event is to be explained by invoking God's creative action directly, without the employment of secondary causes? Does it also proscribe invoking God's indirect creative action in explaining something scientifically? Does it pertain only to scientific explanations, but not to other scientific assertions and claims? Does it also preclude using claims about God's creative action, or other religious claims as part of the background information with respect to which one tries to assess the probability of a proposed scientific explanation or account? We shall have to look into these matters later. At the moment however, I want to look into a different question: what reason is there for accepting the claim that science does indeed involve such a methodological naturalism, however exactly we construe the latter? I shall examine some proposed reasons for this claim and find them wanting. I shall then argue that nevertheless a couple of very sensible reasons lie behind at least part of this claim. These reasons, however, do not support the suggestion that science is religiously neutral."

If Plantinga is right, we have an undercutting defeater for Forrest's conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Forrest references a book by Pennock in the first footnote that takes on Plantinga. You should get it, Eric.

Then too take this!

shane said...


Your comment reference only deals with the outer fringes of what could "possibly" be!
Where John's reference deals with observable conditions!

A very simple question to ask is-"where is God"?

What observation do we have to rely on that shows us the distinct divine intervention of God, as oppossed to naturalism?

According to the bible, God made Himself distinctly observable through His interactions with humanity and the world in the OT as well as the NT.
But where are Gods interactions now?

It is easy to appeal to an invisible spirit (holy spirit) communicating and acting with humanity, when no real tangible scientific expectation can be met in regards to it!

GearHedEd said...


Eric doesn't 'do' "simple"...

shane said...


No kidding, this is what an entangled web of lies amounts to!

Unknown said...

If the only thing we should trust is the sciences, then should I trust your statement that the only thing we should trust is the sciences if that statement can't be scientifically verified?

Steven said...


That sort of semantic stupidity doesn't fly. This all boils down to the problem of induction, so I have two challenges for you.

1. Please provide a justification any non-abstract piece of knowledge that doesn't run afoul of the problem of induction.


2. Please provide a justification for religious belief that doesn't run afoul of the problem of induction in a way that isn't worse than the rather imperfect solution provided by the scientific method.

When you can do that, I, and many other people will take your objection seriously. Otherwise, all you're doing is spouting solipsistic nonsense.

Unknown said...

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the problem of induction so I can't offer any sort of critique of it. I was just raising a question.

He says the only thing we should trust is the sciences, but that seems to be a self-defeating statement at face-value to me. If I can only trust the sciences, how can I trust a statement that is not scientifically verified? I don't understand how that isn't self-defeating.

But you say I am wrong because of the problem of induction. Could you point me to somewhere I could go to better understand it?

Steven said...


Please accept my apology for the overly pithy response. We frequently get people on here that make this sort of argument who know the issues, and should know better than to raise this sort of objection.

The strength of the sciences hinges on the ability to overcome the problem of inferring conclusions based on observations. eg. The inference that the sun will come up tomorrow because it has come up the day before, and the day before that, etc. is not a deductively valid conclusion. That in a nutshell, is the problem of induction.

The scientific method doesn't really resolve the problem of induction, but by utilizing provisional and falsifiable conclusions drawn from the best possible data, it appears as though we can arrive at conclusions that have a high degree of certainty associated with them, high enough certainty that to question their truth essentially becomes silly.

As such, science is more or less a self bootstrapping process, and objections about the process being circular ultimately wind up being even more self defeating for the person raising the objection, since the alternative inevitably leads to solipsism, which is an epistemically useless position.

So how can you trust a statement that isn't scientifically justified? You can't, and you shouldn't really trust statements that have been scientifically justified either. Scientific justification really only means that we can attach a degree of certainty to a given statement, but it is never 100%.

Now, it is the case that we all accept scientifically unjustified statements every day, but by and large these are not statements that are of great importance or are of great epistemic weight. As such, developing a scientifically rigorous rationale for accepting them isn't really warranted, unless, for some reason, they become important enough to need that kind of scrutiny (and sometimes they do).

In short, the degree of rigor that is required is largely proportional to the degree of importance of the statement you are being asked to accept.

Chuck said...

Here's the difference. I am at an oncology conference right now and I've attended multiple presentations where clinical trial conclusions are accompanied by the caveat "we need to know more if we are going to be of optimal help". Science offers intellectual humility in service to measurable human solutions whereas faith clings to conceit making assertions to truth it will never test.

PhilosophyFan said...

I side with Plantinga's epistemology of authority: we take what seems to be trustworthy, on authority, until they are proven wring. Now stop and think a minute...can't any "facts" within the sciences themselves be disproven at ANY future time? Moreso, if Hume is RIGHT we cannot even move towards certainity! Therefore, I side with Plantinga's own epistemology and NOT the strongest scepticism there is: We cannot know anything except that we know NOTHING AT ALL. Prima facie, that is false. Recommended reading from me to you? Read Karl Popper OR Nicholas Taleb's TWO books (both!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

GearHedEd said...

PhilosophyFan asks,

"...can't any "facts" within the sciences themselves be disproven at ANY future time?"

Yes, of course.

But the LIKELIHOOD of complete reversal approaches zero the longer it remains valid under the scrutiny and testing of the ongoing scientific process.

A bare possibility, but effectively 'zero'.

Sounds like the case for God is approaching the same limit...