Science vs. Religion: the epic clash of a false dichotomy

science vs religion figuresWhy is science and religion so often pitted against each other as if the two are inherently at odds?

I’ve written on this before and have read mountains of material on the subject, but I’m still surprised every time I hear the charge that science and religion are in some sort of locked combat to the death. I wonder why some feel it necessary to create the clash since in reality there simply isn’t one.

I freely acknowledge that there are plenty of advocates on both sides of the fence that will never let the invention die, and, incidentally, they are typically the ones whom I find the most difficult to have civilized conversations with. I’m specifically thinking of Young Earth creationists (YEC) on the one side and the philosophical naturalists on the other (though I know there are plenty more in between). But for those with even the slightest open mind on this subject I’m hoping this articles helps.

I think the best way to dispel the myth is to highlight the reality of different modes of discourse inherent in any act of knowing.

This an extremely basic point to consider in any sort of analytic work. Different modes of discourse go with different issues. The scientific mode and the religious mode are different, yes, but not inherently at odds. It is a similar situation with, say, a legal and an ethical mode. Because something is legal does not necessarily mean it is ethical and vice versa. But one would have to be borderline deranged to believe that one of them must be mere fantasy simply because they do not present the same insight.

Science and religion present different insights.

Charles Morris (scholar and innovator of differing types of discourse) made the obvious but profound point that a person is “ill served when one of them [discourse types] claims for itself an adequacy and importance which it does not possess.” For example, the scientific mode, which he labels Designative-Informative, deals with what is “confirmable (or disconfirmable) in terms of empirical evidence.” This mode is vital for the natural sciences, but silent on a host of other questions.

One often hears the claim (put in various ways) that if a thing cannot be confirmed by science then it is either ‘no-thing,’ (doesn’t exist) or is not to be taken too seriously. But if one is consistent with the charge then not only religion but ethics, morality, and a gang of other issues must be mocked.

“But,” the critic will argue, “religion claims the reality of a supernatural world whereas ethics and the like do not. Science deals with real things and if the supernatural is a real thing then it is within the scope of science to investigate.”

This of course is non-sense. The physical sciences have nothing to say about the supernatural—either to confirm or disconfirm (hence the term supra-natural). The best science can say is that there is no trace of said “supernatural” detected in the physical universe. To this the classical theist heartily agrees, indeed defends! It does not claim that the supernatural consists of “things” alongside all other things in the known universe. If religion has already claimed this then science is hardly putting religion to death by confirming its own tenets (granted, not all religions reflect classical theism, but you get the point).

It is important to note that the religious mode has a much broader scope of inquiry than the physical sciences. The scientist operating in the scientific mode is under no compulsion to bring together all the facts about the outside world and the values he holds inwardly into a single comprehensive system. When he does attempt something like this he is playing in the philosophical and/or religious mode.

And this is precisely the burden of the religious mode: it must account for everything and bring all things into a comprehensive framework—which opens itself up to endless criticism. Religion must account for the world of morals, ethics, meaning, emotion, and particular cosmological questions well outside the scope of science.

To know something scientifically requires most of all that the scientist treat the analytic process objectively, which demands that he objectively distance himself from what is being explored—his personal life must never get in the way of pure science.

To know something religiously requires a very different set up. Whatever is to be understood requires the believer to treat the process subjectively, which demands passionate personal involvement with what is being explored—his personal self must not be removed from the equation of the truth.

It’s the difference between running test cases with married couples to learn about marriage dynamics vs. being married.

It goes without saying that there is a marked difference between observing something from the outside versus from the inside. As Gordon Allport said, “To stand wholly outside the phenomenon is to understand it less well than by entering in.”

One would have to be ignorant on the level of insane to believe that the religious mode would ever render the sort of data necessary to run a combustion engine, power a computer, or find the cure for cancer; likewise one would be foolish to use the scientific mode to settle matters of good or evil, to deal with personal relationships, or find a cure for guilt.

But, again, these different modes are answering different questions; they are not in conflict. My advice to those who struggle to find the balance is to increase one’s own degree of awe and wonder of creation. All the differing modes have their special insights which work together for the person who is earnest in grasping what this life really is. Science offers a limited scope of certainty, but too often people play the fool by translating this into the possibility of building one’s life on certainty. Life is, from start to finish, a mystery of the grandest proportions. The person who is bent on excluding the religious or the scientific due to some personal ax to grind simply needs to grow up.

It was said that “Darwin at age 60 complained that he could no more enjoy Shakespeare, for he had too long disciplined his mind to conceive of reality as limited, verifiable, one-faceted” (Allport). I suppose this same deadening effect can take hold of anyone who limits themselves to any one mode of thinking.



The whole Young Earth creationist vs. evolution debacle is not lost on me. I understand that for the extreme literalist on both sides of the fence there seems to be irreconcilable differences between Biblical religion and science. I have not attempted to unravel this long and tiresome issue in this article not because it is impossible—it can be done in a few sentences—but because I do not want to give it more spotlight than it is worth. I admire the work of both the natural evolutionist and the intelligent design advocates, though I do not fall in either camp. My own opinions on the subject are not particularly unique and basically fall in line with the historic Church, which never found it necessary to hold a strict literalist interpretation of historic narratives in the Bible, nor to make the issue a matter of creedal significance. At any rate, please feel free to leave comments regarding this angle if you feel it necessary and/or if you have some unique perspective on the matter.

Thanks for reading!


42 thoughts on “Science vs. Religion: the epic clash of a false dichotomy

  1. It is so nice to read level headed analytical writing about this. I’ve gone down the rabbit hole on this on so many occasions that it is tiresome to me, but was necessary to be able to stand firm (and silent when necessary) when confronted by the ideas that have created this false dichotomy (a word I throw around all too much lately with my protestant friends). It makes me crazy crazy crazy as a homeschooler that there are so many science books written with the preface ‘ you either believe that the entire Bible is literal truth or you are not a Christian ‘. I will keep to the written word and tradition, thank you Answers in Genesis. I am reminded of a Serbian folk tale I read this morning called ‘the friendly animals’ where a king who went to war against the animals, once he realized that they were working to defend themselves to the detriment of his army, said ‘ Clearly, God is against us. I will give up my daughter and we will stop fighting the animals.” My children and I got to have a conversation about how nice it was to read a story where a stubborn man with good reason to fight stopped and changed his mind rather than blindly finishing what he started.

  2. I’m so sorry, are there any other programs for homeschooling besides Answers in Genesis? Sounds terrible. Truly, from an ex-Protestant, now Orthodox perspective, that sounds terrible. Thank you for your thoughtful post. Glad to have you on.

  3. It’s not a false dichotomy unless you allow for a special exemption for religion or a re-categorizing of what science is.

    Look, both are ways to model the world. The world, by the way, is an exterior place independent of us (or at least this is a good assumption that can be support by vast compelling evidence unless everything is a computer simulation with no way for us to determine it is so). You try to suggest that religious claims are by definition an interior claim, and thus artificially produce difference. Well, someone need to tell all those people making religious claims about the world that they’re overstepping their bounds because it is exactly here where we find the product of the incompatibility you define away.

    The incompatibility starts with an incompatible methodology. This is not based on philosophical naturalism whatsoever; it’s based on methodological naturalism… you know, the method you use to navigate the world. Unfortunately for your thesis, believers in religious claims about reality impose their a priori beliefs ON to the world and then try to claim that this offers no incompatibility with models adduced FROM the world.

    Guess what? We find these two methods incompatible, which is demonstrated by the contrary and conflicting claims between the two. Evolution and creationism is a fine example of how religious belief that produces the creation model stands contrary to and incompatible with the evolution model (remember, common descent by NATURAL selection?). The supposed ‘interior’ belief about creationism utilizes exactly zero knowledge adduced from the world to back it up. It is completely a religious notion empowered solely by religious belief. This claim is then imposed not on the interior of people but on the reality we share… as if it’s an equivalent explanatory model equivalently reasonable. It’s not. Such a belief denies all the evidence adduced from reality for an explanatory model that produces applications, therapies, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time. That’s methodological naturalism in action and it works. Imposing religious beliefs on reality supports ignorance and credulity and gullibility in the form of an explanatory model that produces no applications, no therapies, no technologies for anyone anywhere at any time.

    It’s not a false dichotomy when comparing and finding incompatible the claims reliant on method of science and on the method of religion. There really is a conflict in method. It is a false equivalency to suggest that religion offers us any equivalent knowledge at all about anything – interior or exterior.

  4. Tildeb, there’s so much wrong with this post it’s difficult to know where to begin, and judging from our past ‘discussions’ I know that trying to find common ground with you will be difficult. The biggest obstacle is that you argue using philosophical naturalism but are wholly unaware of it, claiming instead that you are using methodological naturalism.

    One of your most interesting philosophical ideas this time is that “The world is an exterior place independent of us.” This of course is not a scientific notion but pure metaphysical assertion. I’m curious where you fit in with the world if it is “independent” of you? Are you a phantom of pure reason? But you really make my point because it emphasizes just how mysterious the human being is for someone using only the scientific mode; one is forced to treat the world as something out there, having no avenue to discover one’s self (perhaps an unconscious rejection of self?, Ohhh)

    At any rate, if you could take a second (or first?) read of the article it may help answer most of your assertions.

  5. As surprising as it may seem, and after two reviews of both your post and my criticism of it, I find my points on target.

    The incompatibility problem lies when the two approaches make claims about the same subjects. They really are incompatible in method. They are incompatible in their models. They are incompatible in their explanations. They are incompatible in their claims. These incompatibilities arise whenever religious claims/model/explanations address the same subjects. What you are doing is redefining religion and science to be separate inquiries into different subjects and then concluding that therefore they are not incompatible. But the problem is that they really are – and can be demonstrated to be – incompatible whenever the same subjects are addressed and this really does happen all the time. That’s why I used evolution versus creationism… to show you that these are incompatible claims about the same subject. In fact, you already know this to be the case if we stick to religion itself (and omit science altogether)… a subject of faith-based beliefs absolutely brimming with incompatible claims between these!

    What this means is that your claim about no incompatibility problems between science and religion rests on a false equivalency (that both can and do produce knowledge when only science accomplishes this task) and not on some imaginary and imposed false dichotomy.

    I understand why you want to have your cake and eat it too, but pretending there is no incompatibility doesn’t accomplish what you want it to accomplish. And redefining the crumbs left on the plate of the eaten cake do not recreate the original piece no matter how much philosophy or faith or metaphysics you bring to bear.

  6. Thanks Eric for the post. I cannot claim my offering to be a unique insight into the matter but sometimes saying the same thing a different way will help some to understand. So, in a nutshell, the answer to why do some feel it necessary to create the clash since in reality there simply isn’t one is that people desperately try to create a clash and distance when they feel threatened or superior to others – both of which originate in fear.

    But to elaborate on that nutshell, I would add this – Those who live in fear do not see that all is one and that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The fear in this example of science vs. religion is usually expressed in its intellectual and educational snobbery (pride). In my experience of religion and science they say the same things, it is just that more simple terms and examples are used in religion to enable us all to understand and follow, so that we may unite instead of competing because this is our most profitable existence, but many do not understand that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Many want to use science free of conscience in order to be (or merely appear to be) stronger than others or natures dangers. But fear all too often leads us to accumulate the wrong possessions such as wealth and pride in a false attempt to protect ourselves from the things we fear. As Jesus said ‘Love casts out fear’. To understand is to stand under, which is a subjective position, it is unavoidable and inevitable – Thomas More is said to have asked Ritchie ‘What does it profit a man to possess the whole world, (but for Wales!?). Life is as good as dead but for love. Growing up (time), will hopefully teach those who do not yet understand. If there is any purpose to life, I believe this to be it.

  7. The competing claims between, say, evolution and creationism, is not based on some imaginary fear as you suggest but two explanatory models that are in very real competition (and to demonstrable effect interfering with students learning about why evolution is true)… one of which – evolution – works to explain all the evidence from reality and the other – creationism – that stands incompatible with this overwhelming evidence.


    All the rest is just hand waving and rabbit-hole diving trying to make room for an explanatory model of creationism that requires a god but explains nothing about how reality operates and simply doesn’t fit the data reality provides. Such god claims are believed for one reason only… and that reason isn’t fear. That reason it isn’t to accurately describe the world. That reason isn’t to account for the evidence it provides. That god claim is believed for one reason only: because it is religious and, as such, is a necessary claim to support a necessary religious tenet – that god really is a causal agent in this reality. That claim is then used as a prop to uphold the role religion tries to play as the doorway to knowledge about this god… a doorway that also just so happens to grant us access through faith-based belief in such a creative, interactive causal agency called ‘God’ to some mystical and nebulous fount of (deeply hidden) wisdom. This claim is also necessary in order for religion to sell itself as the means to offer value for the belief invested in it by falsely advertising that religion can provide us some sought after purpose and meaning for the reality we share. And it does this by pretending to offer explanations about reality that support belief in such claims… but claims that really do stand contrary to and in conflict with explanations that do account for the evidence not by belief, not by fear, not by personal preference, but by informing technologies, applications, and therapies based on this explanatory model that work for everyone everywhere all the time. These are the products that demonstrate the knowledge value of the scientific method. Religious belief produces no such knowledge equivalencies.

    Religion is a warren of such holes and completely self serving. Its master is itself. Religious claims serve only itself and offers us absolutely nothing of truth and/or truth value to aid us in better understanding the reality we do share. And that’s why all of its claims about reality – especially claims about causal effects attributed to some god – are incompatible with it. Hiding behind the notion that the ‘supernatural’ is exempt from this truth value requirement from reality when it tries to describe this reality is just another waving of the hand.

  8. Tilteb – I don’t suggest for one moment that evolution is not true (I already said that I believe the bible offers a basic understanding for those who do not require any more). The fighting is between those on both sides who do not want to see all possibilities.

    Shrug you say – You will indeed shrug if you are stuck in your position but keep up the contest with those in a different position. The contest is tiring. Seeking the common ground or giving up the contest is far easier.

    Eric has already explained why such religious matters cannot be seen from a scientific analysis. But, in my own words – Science is not necessarily the only reality. It is just the analysis of the visible reality since the earth was formed. Science examines what that reality is, but not where it comes from. If you think science could ultimately be able to create a universe, that’s your prerogative, but leave others to theirs or stop shrugging, it is a sign of arrogance. Nothing comes from nothing. The concept of a spirit is something eternal. As I said, you do not have to go there.

    Your arguments are absolutely correct BUT ONLY when applied to those who are ‘wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing’. They also use the concept incorrectly due their own need to have power and to manipulate others and psychology will show, when properly examined, that this is generated by fear (insecurity and vulnerability).
    This is exactly what the religion of Jesus was not. People who speak from your position ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ because they have not seen the difference. They are too full of fear of the harmful dirty ‘bath water’ to take the easy position of objectivity (without their personal, emotional reaction), in order to get the clear picture.

    I am not a professional so I cannot dress this up for you in professional terms.

  9. Oh girl, you’ve brought enough philosophy, faith, and metaphysics in these posts on your own, I hardly need to add more. But let’s look one more time at your main contentions and call it a day:

    1. You state that science and religion make claims about the “same subjects” and offer evolution vs. creationism as your examples. Two problems with this: (a) you have conflated religion with creationism. Creationism is relegated to a a very specific sub-group of religious believers. Religion as a whole gets on just fine without Creationism, though, again, I give kudos to Creationists (not so much the YEC, but Creationism in general. (b) I’ve made quite clear that science and religion have wholly different modes of discourse and answer very different questions. If you didn’t grasp this from the OP then I can’t help you move the ball down field. You’ll have to look elsewhere.

    2. You say that I redefined science and religion, though it seems to me you have not represented science in the slightest, and misunderstand religion to comedic proportions. You’ve made numerous unfounded and unscientific assertions, many of which simply do not track with this post. If anything I’ve articulated the modes in which both science and religion operate and what it requires of the inquirer. You provided no examples except to claim that they use different methods to answer the same questions which is manifestly false (please reread the OP for more, and if that doesn’t suffice see for additional help.)

    3. You claim that only science produces knowledge, again, providing no definition or clear understanding of what you mean by “knowledge.” I’ve repeatedly asked you in this and other threads if you are a phantom of pure reason since you seem to analyze and view reality as something wholly external from yourself; indeed, you even said this very thing in your last response, which I challenged you on which you, again, ignored. You essentially do not believe that you have a self (apparently) and/or that nothing can be known about it. I wondered why you avoid this topic like the plague but I think I get it now: You may actually believe that the “world” is only that which is external to you. You imagine yourself as a objective observer of the universe and are not connected with it or part of it in any serious way. You are exempt from all human concerns. You fantasize that reality is clean and easy, that all things needed to be known are available in a laboratory; that we maneuver through life using only methodological naturalism, never mind the irony that nothing within these discussions were had in this manner, and almost nothing in ones day-to-day affairs follows this method either.

    Last thing, you must know that I am a very inviting blogger. I’ve never blocked anyone from my blog because I don’t believe it is necessary in 99% of the cases. However, you have demonstrated in your 53 posts on my blog that you are not here to discuss and grow but to push an agenda regardless of the feedback you receive, which warrants blocking. I even enjoy debates with fully dedicated philosophical naturalists, but only those who are self-aware enough to know that they are engaged in philosophical naturalism. The lack of self-awareness you have demonstrated in this regard, and the continued rejection of speaking to your own place in the world and giving an account of it, leave me with no other option. I simply cannot justify giving more time to answering your posts. Thanks for your participation. Have a good one.

  10. Oh dear…

    Problems with this reply:

    1. The conflation of religion in general with Creationism in particular.
    2. No examples given for said incompatibility of Creationism with scientific evidence and, interestingly, no claim to conflict outside this very specific, narrow debate.
    3. Undefined and narrow understanding of “reality”.
    4. The denial of God as a causal agent yet not providing a counterclaim, which amounts to the illogical belief in uncaused causes (e.g., the very existence of the universe); a belief in “just-thereness” which differs in no way from pure magic.
    5. The decrying of religion for assessing meaning and purpose and then drawing a false parallel with science providing “technologies, applications, and therapies.”

  11. Tildeb, I truly hope that you are unconsciously fighting religion, (at least the version in your mind), in the unrecognised desire to find something of wonder, beauty, truth, strength and eternity. Many working in science (and other disciplines) have finally come to see religious verification, through working with something they love.

  12. Oh, if you knew the pressures of the academic peer review mafia (or maybe you do). Just look at what happens to a person like Thomas Nagel when he strays from the group-think of prominent atheist scientists and philosophers. (If you haven’t read his book “Mind and Cosmos” do, it’s incredible)

  13. I think that this clash of science vs religion arises when people do not understand the difference between a claim and an explanation. This of course comes to the fore in the never-ending YEC/evolution debates, and the ‘first cause’ arguments.

    Science is our best explanation for what we observe. “God did it”, or ” God must have done it” is a,(religious), claim. We cannot pretend that a claim, religious or otherwise is an explanation and therefore science.

    You state, “One often hears the claim (put in various ways) that if a thing cannot be confirmed by science then it is either ‘no-thing,’ (doesn’t exist) or is not to be taken too seriously.”

    Perhaps physics should take ‘the God hypothesis’ seriously. After all the existence of God or any object is an OBJECTIVE issue, which I shall reason: evidence, proof, belief, faith, experiences or revelations do not come into it.

    God either exists or He doesn’t. There are no other options.

    Theists hypothesize that “God” is a ‘something’ rather than a ‘nothing’. They claim that God can perform activities, like create. God created our Universe, a concept we use to describe all space and matter. One also finds references by theists, to God being a Spirit and having presence.

    Objects/things may well be, hidden, mysterious, untouchable, invisible – Not able to be scientifically analyzed etc. However, for us to rationally conclude that something exists. It must be a something, rather than a ‘no-thing’ and must be located somewhere,(or everywhere), rather than nowhere, before we can rationally say that ‘it’ exists.

    Even God cannot elude His object-hood and structure to His being, which gives Him shape. Those that disagree that all entities/objects have shape/form, whether invisible or not, have a lot of explaining to do.
    In order to be a ‘something’, God must absolutely have shape/form, and structure to His being. Only ‘NOTHING’ lacks shape/form.

    God is hypothesized as an entity/object who created space and matter. “Creation” is an action, (verb) which necessarily invokes motion i.e. motion of God/causal action.

    Objectless motion is impossible. Nothingness cannot move. Whatever God is made from, whether He is visible or invisible, is totally irrelevant in the instant context. The point is that God absolutely has to have ‘shape’ to His being, and therefore the hypothesized God is an object: a real thing.

    Whilst physics cannot detect God, perhaps we can reasonably and rationally explain that the existence of the hypothesized God is highly unlikely.

  14. Hi Sean, thanks for your comment. I’ve actually written at length on the subject. Here is an excerpt and link to another article that will help answer your question-statements:

    “Simply stated: Orthodox Christianity has never believed in a God that is another being among other beings, differing only in power, authority, and durability; it has never conceived of God as a mere ‘First Cause’ and master craftsman of existence; in short, it has never believed in God as a ‘demiurge.’ Rather, as David Bentley Hart has put it, “Beliefs regarding God concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and of the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all” (From: The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss).”

    …” Orthodox Christianity does not insert “God” among all other known entities in some sort of naturalistic taxonomy; “God” is not a term to be inserted wherever one lacks sufficient understanding of how some mechanical something works or what ‘caused’ said mysterious something to exist. Rather we hold that God is the ontological ground of all existing things. This is not a position that is supplanted by science, but rather one that gives science meaning.”

    Read the full article here:

  15. Hi Sean, Hope you don’t mind me adding – You conclude with ‘perhaps we can reasonably and rationally explain that the existence of the hypothesized God is highly unlikely’ – No, we cannot reasonably and rationally explain that the existence of the hypothesized God is even unlikely, let alone highly unlikely. This remains an assumption since science/physics has discovered how many things work but this has no bearing whatsoever on something of a spiritual nature. To suggest that it can possibly do so in any way whatsoever is taking a giant leap from one place to another with no recognisable ground for a safe landing. The concept of God is not the same concept of ground that the forces physics/science examines. We cannot explain God by scientific methods. The question of God/spirit remains a question until science proves it otherwise, so, don’t fall into assumption/bias. Hold your thoughts and words open for as long as you need to!

  16. I have read Eric’s’ blog as suggested, and thank you for your reply dichasium. I think I reasoned it out as to why God must be an object.Even if God is a spirit, he still must have shape or form. Eric states, “Rather we hold that God is the ontological ground of all existing things. This is not a position that is supplanted by science, but rather one that gives science meaning”.

    Every term or word in human language resolves to either an object or a concept. There are no other possibilities. Sometimes physicists refer to matter/objects as, being everything that is not a concept.

    Once we start to claim that God is a concept, like love, truth, intelligence, alpha and omega, energy, pure actuality, presence, “the source and the end and the ground of all reality”, “unity and existence of all things”, “totality of all things”, not to mention the, “possibility of anything at all”.. we have summarily excluded God from existence. Because only objects can objectively “exist”..

    Whether there be humans to experience God or not, whether there be any matter in existence or not. Theists claim that God still does and always has existed. What is it then that existed before creation? Giving a list of concepts(relations between objects in human heads), has nothing to do with the claimed objective existence of God.

  17. hi Sean, Having read your comments I see these language issues:

    Using the words ‘something and nothing’ restrict us to the nature of ‘things’/matter/objects/forms/shapes – This causes confusion based about God and matter/shape.
    ‘Performs and presence’ add to confusion – A spirit performs a motion without being made of matter and its presence is within matter but not made of it. And, being the ground of existence means being the source of it.
    Hence, we have not excluded God from existing, but simply existing in the scientific mode of explanation (within its language restriction – a restriction of forms but not of spiritual concept). This is where you confuse scientific explanation (in words) with spiritual concept and think there is perhaps a logical/rational scientific response).

    The other concept you have not been able to allow is that of eternity. You put the question ‘what then, existed before’ (God)? Spiritual concept can accept eternity so the question is not relevant.

    All of this is why I said you cannot define God the spirit in scientific terms. It will always be an impossible leap, unless science can one day use its scientific methods to explain God.

    I hope this will help sometime if not now.

  18. I was raised an evolutionist from early childhood (with regard to “scientific” explanation of the origin of life and of human development) and only came in contact with the creation side of the story after coming to Christ 3 years ago, which is extremely exciting and makes perfect sense to me. This means that I am the *reverse* of most born-and-raised Christians who later abandoned, hid, or second-guessed their childhood belief in creationism in exchange for origin-of-life and evolutionary material given in mainstream textbooks.

    Dr. Hugh Ross has so far been very successful at keeping me not merely satisfied with but continually amazed by the extensive and expanding amount of evidence indicating compatibility between the Bible’s description of the origin of life on earth, and good science. In fact, now in becoming a scientist I have never appreciated God more in my life nor been more in awe of this natural world He created. Furthermore, I am becoming more and more aware of how limited science truly is sometimes, even in the subject matters that science deals with. In research and in physics we simplify the natural world and reduce it to formulas in order to make it comprehensible and manageable for us, but our knowledge is still a tiny speck compared to the “raw data in its natural form” that still abound in the universe.

    It is simply untrue that science and religion are against each other, though some love to act the false play and some love to watch it.

  19. Sean, clearly no theist, at least not the classical theist or the modern Christian whatever his/her stripe may be, believes that God is a concept, nor do they believe he is an object among all other objects in the universe. I’m hoping my article that I linked you to explained this. I linked it because it is important to understand what historical and/or Orthodox Christianity has to say about how God exists. He is, in philosophic parlance, the “Necessary” by which all things have their contingent existence by. As Hegel argued, since God is eternal He never “came into existence”. One can say indeed that He does not “exist” in this sense, which is the sense in which you want to find Him.

    That words must resolve in either objects or concepts has really nothing to do with God’s existence. All words stand for something else and are not things at all. What they stand for need not reflect the actual “thing” in which they reference. Kant argued rightly that the human mind interprets reality according to its own limited mental constructs and as the world presents itself to those mental constructs. Those mental constructs can never know the “thing in itself” (the “ding an sich”) of what is presented to it . Even if you are to describe the table sitting before you, you are not describing the thing in itself but rather what appears in your mental constructs. Thus nothing is truly objective at core but rather subject to these factors of knowing.

    But, this may be only confusing the matter. Let me take one more stab at clarity that I think nearly anyone can grasp. Try this: if everything must resolve into objectification then at the very least you should be able to objectify a human being. Try it. You’ll find this is impossible. Now relate that to proving God’s existence through objectification and you’ll see where Orthodox Christianity is coming from. Incidentally, the fathers of the faith all warn against holding concepts of God in the mind. We believe by faith in the God who is Trinity. Our description of Him is merely to outline what we mean when we speak of Him but we do not claim to have objectified Him.

  20. @Sean Brennan,

    I wanted to disagree with

    Every term or word in human language resolves to either an object or a concept. There are no other possibilities. Sometimes physicists refer to matter/objects as, being everything that is not a concept.

    that. But before I do, it’s perhaps pertinent to ask why you believe this theory of language to be relevant? I could just be undergoing a personal disconnect as to why it’s germane to the discussion at hand, so help me understand, if you can or wish.

    Another interesting facet is no sooner is this theory advanced than it is deferred to how scientists (in this case, physicists) “refer” to things. One is burdened with the question why do physicists need to advance such “theories of language” when, to be blunt, language itself is so very far from being any kind of “hard” science? A bit baffling to me, and of course the issue is usually swept under the rug whenever somebody feels “stop arguing semantics.” Which tends to translate to me: “Stop arguing with my personal theories of language.” Do the theories of language sometimes advanced by scientists really matter worth a bucket of warm spit? Debatable, open question, really. Another rival theory of language, of course, is that you can use it to tell the most outrageous inane lies and design them in such a way to garner fantastic airs of credulity from others. This isn’t a present accusation one wit, just an observation that is important (to me, anyway) to keep in mind.

    Anyway…the general disagreement… Does gravity resolve to either an object or concept? It is a concept, no doubt, but I was under the impression that gravity is real too/has reality other than our conception of it? If it is an object, what is its object? I am hard-pressed to think of gravity itself as an “object” yet it is no less real and true. In so far as we are related to gravity, a force compelling us to the firmament, but of course, gravity is even more than that. A force acting on particles. Perhaps you mean “matter;” if so, is gravity technically “matter?” I didn’t think so, but I could be wrong.

    Similarly, if I say “I love pancakes” does my love for pancakes resolve itself as either pure concept or pure object? Again, I’m hard pressed to see it. Rather, pancakes are the object of this love, correctly understood.

    I also like Eric’s example of trying to objectify human beings. Impossible to do, indeed. Though, I’m going to guess that “object” in this gloss will perhaps shift to being translated to “matter” somewhere down the line.

    Whatever. I really hope I’m not splitting hairs here, I just find this theory of language somewhat inadequate and, worse perhaps, wildly reductive.


    Once we start to claim that God is a concept, like love, truth, intelligence, alpha and omega, energy, pure actuality, presence, “the source and the end and the ground of all reality”, “unity and existence of all things”, “totality of all things”, not to mention the, “possibility of anything at all”.. we have summarily excluded God from existence.

    I fail to see how that conclusion follows from the premises or relates to any conclusion Eric has put forward; a question I might have is how exactly did you arrive at it?

  21. Hi Paul,
    The “theory of language” (as you put it), is relevant to the topic at hand because theists love to use ambiguous language to describe their beliefs.
    If religious beliefs and explanations cannot be conveyed in unambiguous terms : then what point is there, in religious instruction or discussion?

    Physics is the study of reality, real things, objects. Theists claim that God objectively exists; whether there be any human to acknowledge His existence or not: He is.
    I reasoned that by definition of an object, God would fit into that category.

    In science we use unambiguous language, so as not to confuse anyone. It is the presenters’ responsibility to define the words used. Definitions must not invoke an observer within them. The existence of God or any object does not depend on any observers.

    So on to your gravity and pancake problem 🙂
    Object = that with shape/form
    Concept = relation between objects and or other concepts
    Exist = object + location.

    What is gravity? A mystery actually 🙂 we do not know what gravity “is” in any fundamental way – we only know how it behaves.

    Here is what we do know…Gravity is a force of attraction that interacts between any two masses, any two bodies, any two particles. Gravity is an attraction that interacts between all objects, everywhere in the universe.

    Therefore Gravity = a concept: the relation between objects in the universe.

    Love = an intense feeling of attraction( as far as pancakes go….I assume)
    Paul = an object (relation with ) Pancakes = an object
    So we have a concept.

    We do not have to try and objectify human beings. As far as existence is concerned using the scientific method, humans are objects, end of story. The human may well be your loving, kind aunt, but that is just a relation between Paul, an object and dear aunt Matilda, another object.
    Object = that with shape/form.

    I note that Eric states that God is neither an object or a concept. I would be interested to see a definition of this additional category,to concepts and objects with some examples.
    The definitions I have given are Scientific and not just because I say so….they are Scientific because they are objective and can be used consistently in Physics. They are impossible to contradict.

    In science we define our terms. We don’t whine and avoid justifying our terms and our arguments because we are scared the audience will see thru our bull$h*t.

    Once we start using concepts to define real things that we claim objectively exist, we run the risk of making them, non existent. Most Christians accept that God is a being. Being = that with the quality or state of having existence.

    If we look at the arguments for the existence of God and take Aquinas’s way of motion, or way of efficient cause; these arguments rely on a being to make sense. IE Something with shape or form.

    The argument from Motion states that each thing in motion is moved by something else. The sequence of motion cannot extend ad infinitum. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

    All objects are moved by other objects. What sense does it make to get to the first mover and suddenly invoke magical and inconceivable matterless motion?

    The same goes for the efficient cause argument. Basic causality is:
    Object A causes motion to object B = the change/event.

    What sense does it make to get to the uncaused first cause and invoke a formless/shapeless, inconceivable no-thing and call it causality?

    I trust this shows how I arrived at that conclusion.

  22. Thanks for the explanation, at any rate. Of note, I will say that I find “it is not I now who live, but Christ who lives in me” far less ambiguous than either Quantum Mechanics or General Relativity–which cannot both be correct and, last I checked, are currently unreconciled into Theory. Perhaps, hopefully, they will be one day, but for the time being so much for any supposed lack of ambiguity on the scientists part.

    Furthermore, language is by its very nature ambiguous. Words have multiple meanings and some not even just two! and they certainly don’t cease having such merely because a scientist (or perhaps somebody on wordpress who views themself as speaking scientificially) is pontificating. Or are you seriously going to contend there are not massive pockets of confusion, caused perhaps through sheer ambiguity and lack of clarity, among even strictly scientific communities who cannot come to any form of agreement on terms? I rather thought the internet is filthy with them. Sometimes they make my head spin.

    I suppose I can empathize with somebody finding Christian theism ambiguous. So I wish to extend you the counter-proposal that Christianity, far from being ambiguous, actually both speaks to our deepest problem (sin and death) and our deepest need and longing: union with God, to whom we as a species are positively homesick.

    My takeaway, anyway.

  23. Sean, you mistaken Aquinas’ argument if you believe he needed a “something” with shape and form to make his argument work (which, properly speaking, is not his argument but the combination of Plato’s and Aristotle’s arguments). Aquinas uses the analogy of how the mind causes motion of the body; “such as to understand and think is a kind of being moved.” Unless you believe that thought is equivalent to “magical inconceivable matterless motion” then I’m sure you can understand how God can move things without being a physical object Himself. Maybe you believe that thought has a one-to-one correspondence with physical matter, but that is a rabbit hole to an entirely different logical conundrum.

    I’m not sure why you still need me to explain what “category” of being God is since this has been done a few times already. God says of Himself: “I am that I am,” which, in our abilities to explain, resemble nicely the description of God as the Necessary. He is the source from which everything else “stands forth” (which is the etymology of “exist”). God is THE ontological necessity. Everything else in existence is contingent. What is it all ultimately contingent upon? Something else contingent? Thus the oxymoron of absolute contingency? This is what physics is left with without a metaphysics. If you want a category for God’s being then “the Necessary” will have to do until the point in time that you are initiated into the faith, then there are much more exciting horizons.

    Also, if we are going to be exact in our definitions let us properly define physics. It is not the study of “reality” but rather the study of matter and its motion through space and time, along with related concepts such as energy and force (Wikipedia). “Reality” needs its own defining if one wants to use it in his definition of a natural science. 🙂 This definition helps reveal the limited scope of physics and what exactly it is after. It is a tool for exploring some questions, not all questions – not by a long shot.

  24. Hi Eric,

    You state, “Aquinas uses the analogy of how the mind causes motion of the body; “such as to understand and think is a kind of being moved.” Unless you believe that thought is equivalent to “magical inconceivable matterless motion” then I’m sure you can understand how God can move things without being a physical object Himself.”

    This is a very good point but, ” the brain consists of about 100 billion cells. Most of these cells are called neurons. A neuron is basically an on/off switch just like the one you use to control the lights in your home. It is either in a resting state (off) or it is shooting an electrical impulse down a wire (on). It has a cell body, a long little wire (the “wire” is called an axon), and at the very end it has a little part that shoots out a chemical. This chemical goes across a gap (synapse) where it triggers another neuron to send a message. There are a lot of these neurons sending messages down a wire (axon). By the way, each of these billions of axons is generating a small amount of electrical charge; this total power has been estimated to equal a 60 watt bulb.”

    So the mind as you put it is not an immaterial thing, but rather a very powerful chemical and electrical machine, with billions of moving parts,on/off switches.

    It makes no sense to me to observe object to object motion and object to object causes, and then postulate an objectless first mover or cause and claim it as motion and cause. no sense at all. That is just magic and not an explanation.

    Of course consciousness becomes a whole other problem for skeptics, like myself 🙂 Therefore my agnosticism.

    Eric, I do enjoy your blog and a lot of what you write about makes good sense to me, a welcome change from the fundamentalist nutters we so often find on the net. I do enjoy coming here to read your stuff, and in this case test my thinking.

    Merry Christmas Eric

  25. Hi Sean, we can all come at things from different angles so here’s mine for what it’s worth.
    You ask for definition and example of the God category. Can this be of any use to you? :-
    Definition -It is not visibly seen as it is spirit and independent of us but it is placed within us and is capable of being brought into our experience by our actions.
    The more we want it (God/goodness and love) the more we move towards. The closer we get the stronger the attraction becomes, until we meet and then we experience IT, (not an EXAMPLE of it, but, itself, the very essence). We then express it openly towards others who then receive a sense (an EXAMPLE) of it.

    Happy Christmas and a good 2015 to you and all.

  26. That’s very beautiful and profound dichasium.

    Especially, “it is placed within us and is capable of being brought into our experience by our actions.”

    Merry Christmas

  27. Hi Sean, sorry for my delay in responding (Christmas and all). Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate your replies very much. I just responded to the discussion you are having with someone else on the article over the argument from reason, which I think tackles some of the points you brought up.


  28. Let me add my two cents:
    I’ve done science for 40 years. It is very good at explaining how things work. Hey, we can now build nuclear weapons of mass destruction which is not easy.
    Science unfortunately utterly fails at explaining what the essence of something is and why it is. Let me give an example:
    Man sees lightning, hears thunder and is frightened and looks for an explanation. Now we have figured out how it works, right?. No need to invoke the Gods. We have a potential difference between cloud and ground, breakthrough occurs, electrons flow and heat the air to a plasma state, we see light coming our way and hear sound waves. We can simulate and even control this in a smaller scale in the lab and apply it in technology (spark plugs). Now we know how it works and the fear is gone. Case closed. No need for the supernatural anymore.

    The problem is we have not at all explained what it is. We have replaced a visible unknown with several invisible unknowns that are less bothersome to us because of their obscurity..

    What is an electron? An elementary particle, meaning it either has no substructure (how does it get it’s fascinating properties then?) or the substructure is unknown (maybe some strings rolled up in 11 hidden dimensions?) By the way, it has neither “shape” nor a defined “location” in space due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. (I would advise against drawing the conclusion that therefore lightning does not exist) If you need your mind blown, study quantum mechanics.

    Even stranger is light. Sometimes it is best described by an electromagnetic wave, sometimes this does not work and we need to describe it as a particle. Apparently mutually exclusive concepts, but whatever. Such a claim made by theists about the spiritual world would be met by ridicule and derision by atheists. In science it is perfectly ok, because it is “the best we have right now” and is good at explaining how things behave if you know when to apply what. But mind you, this particle (photon) we have defined here has some mighty strange properties that are borderline divine. It has no mass (strange for a particle, isn’t it ?) which allows it t travel at the maximum allowable speed (I wonder who set that speed limit?) which greatly affects time. In fact, as you approach the speed of light, time slows down, you reach it and it stops. Photon are not bound by time. A photon reaches its target literally in “no time” – for it all space shrinks to a point. Nice!

    Sorry, I think we still have not figure out what lightning is. But it is very comfortable to live with that illusion.

    Now when I mention this I usually get the “we will eventually fill the gaps nonsense” No we won’t! We have no complete axiomatic system not even mathematics, and there cannot be one that has any utility according to Kurt Gödel (Very interesting person, by the way) . We have to admit that we are stuck in the mud and cannot pull ourselves out by our own hair.

    I like to think of science as an inflating balloon. What is in it is knowledge and it increases rapidly. Unfortunately on it’s surface it touches the unknown and that surface area also increases. The further away that surface moves from our day to day experience the less people are bothered by it. However, if you try to go there you find increasing strangeness and increasingly incomprehensible and contradictory concepts.So a little humility would be in order.

    Happy New Year.

  29. An interesting post CatholicScientist,

    You state,”Science unfortunately utterly fails at explaining what the essence of something is and why it is. Let me give an example:
    Man sees lightning……..We have a potential difference between cloud and ground, breakthrough occurs, electrons flow and heat the air to a plasma state, we see light coming our way and hear sound waves…… Now we know how it works and the fear is gone. Case closed…”

    I think you have done a good job of explaining the attributes of lightening and why it occurs.

    But you state,” The problem is we have not at all explained what it is. We have replaced a visible unknown with several invisible unknowns…..What is an electron? An elementary particle, meaning it either has no substructure (how does it get it’s fascinating properties then?) or the substructure is unknown (maybe some strings rolled up in 11 hidden dimensions?) By the way, it has neither “shape”…..”

    According to

    ” The electron, against predictions, appears to be perfectly round, raising questions about one of the fundamental building blocks of the universe. An electron’s shape refers to that of the cloud of so-called virtual particles thought to surround a dimensionless point……….But now physicist Jony Hudson of Imperial College London and his colleagues have analyzed the shape of the electron in unprecedented detail and found it to be as much a perfect sphere as can be measured, down to less than a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a billionth of a centimeter.”

    You go on to state ,”By the way, it has neither “shape” nor a defined “location” in space due to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. (I would advise against drawing the conclusion that therefore lightning does not exist)”

    The particle may not have a defined location as in a known static distance from other objects, but it is still there. It is somewhere as opposed to nowhere.

    I understand that we are in the dark on many explanations. The article I have referenced interestingly states,

    “However, almost all physicists believe that our current theory of particle physics isn’t the be-all and end-all,” Hudson said.For instance, modifications to the standard model are needed in order to potentially explain what dark matter ? that invisible, as-yet-unidentified component that makes up about 85 percent of all matter in the universe ? might be. Many of these modifications, such as a theory known as supersymmetry, suggest electrons should be far more warped in shape than the standard model suggests.”

    I must say I cannot help thinking that some of these “particles” like photons and gravitons seem to be things of convenience to make the “model” work.
    I am well aware of the “strangeness” and contradictions of many scientific concepts. I agree with your statement,” We have to admit that we are stuck in the mud and cannot pull ourselves out by our own hair.” And, so we soldier on trying to make sense of the world we find ourselves in.

    I am not arguing that science replaces religion at all. All I have said is that if it is claimed that God objectively exists, and I reasoned out why He should, then it is Physics job to perhaps investigate this claim.

    But it seems that God is being defined out of objective existence, as all definitions given require a human observer. My question remains :How can we rationally say something objectively exists, if it is not a something, rather than a nothing that is located somewhere,(or everywhere), rather than nowhere?

    “So a little humility would be in order.” CatholicScientist?
    Well unlike the theists here that seem sure of their God and His attributes, despite having trouble articulating their claims to me.

    I don’t know, I am not sure.

  30. Sean, thanks for taking the time to reply. I hope you didn’t take my last sentence the wrong way. It was not directed at you. Humility is what I am still learning both in science and in religion. When I was a teenager I was totally fascinated with science, I gobbled up every astronomy and physics book I could lay may hands on. The sheer size and the complexity of it all was baffling but also very motivating. I firmly believed that if I studied and worked hard enough I’d have a chance of figuring it all out, finding the truth, so to speak. I don’t think that way anymore. In fact I have lost most interest in cosmology as a discipline. Same with subatomic particles. To be honest, I think we can’t push the boundary in either domain much further. The Large Hadron Collider that was used to discover evidence for the Higgs-Boson is a monster of a device, many kilometers in circumference and several billion (!) dollars to build (yes we could feed a lot of hungry people for that kind of money). If we wanted to smash apart the next generation of elementary particles we would need much higher energies still. At some point the earth is not large enough to build the collider. Same with cosmology. We are now calculating what presumably happened 1/ (1 billion x 1 billion x 1 billion) seconds after the big bang, an event that took place more than 10 billion years ago. To me that qualifies as an eternity. Many of the theories now put forward require huge leaps of faith, for example parallel universes. At some point I realized that I am way to dumb to understand the universe. I’m like an ant trying to solve a partial differential equation. I can at best comprehend things on our human length, time, and energy scales. Surprisingly, accepting this was not depressing but liberating.
    Maybe I am guilty of hubris in generalizing this to all humans, but I think the correct response when faced with the size, age, complexity and general awesomeness of the universe is humility. It puts us into our place. I arrive at the same conclusion as a scientist and as a believer.
    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
    As high as the heavens are above the the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Isaiah 55 8,9
    Yes, indeed.

    In the last part of your post you react to a “claim” that God exists. I do not think like that, neither as a scientist nor as a believer.

    As a believer and critical thinker at the same time I tried to poke holes into Church teaching for many years. There are sure a lot of pesky, inconvenient demands and rules that are hard to take for a strong-willed, egocentric person like I was (am?). It sounded foolish, really. All categories that mattered to me were unimportant, even bad, what I considered weak and useless was supposedly powerful and good. However, it didn’t go so well. In all cases it finally dawned on me that what the Church teaches is right and that I was out to sea. There comes a point when this kind of attitude becomes tiresome. This would be like trying to reinvent physics all by myself, because I don’t trust a single textbook or equation someone else has developed. I have now made the decision to give up the opposition and trust it and see where it leads me. It’s the real deal for me. It’s was a bit like making a decision to marry someone. It’s a two sided thing. There seems to be this constant pull on God’s side asking me to just let go and trust it, which may not make any sense to you, if you have not experienced anything like that. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it anyways. I definitely didn’t come to believe through some abstract proof of God’s existence.

    As a scientist I am used to work with hypotheses. The best explanation for observations and data. My hypothesis is that God created the universe. It provides an explanation for the fine tuned nature of the fundamental constants. As a scientist I will hold on to that hypothesis until a better one comes around.

  31. Many scientists in their effort to oppose religion, position themselves on the same plane, at the opposite end of the same stick, for belief and disbelief are two sides of the same state of mind. And so they enter into a sort of collective co-dependent dynamic whereby they spend their time trying to outdo one another but in fact remain rolling around locked together, and which looks rather immature to outsiders with wider and less emotionally invested views. Quite clearly, science has progressed best in fields where it does not compete with religion.

  32. >>As a scientist I am used to work with hypotheses.<> The best explanation for observations and data.<> My hypothesis is that God created the universe. <>It provides an explanation for the fine tuned nature of the fundamental constants<< sure, one explanation amongst a number of possible explanations. Other solutions would be that the universe is very large and the laws/constants of physics vary over substantial distances – the weak anthropic principle would lead to the conclusion that we are going to exist and be conscious only in those portions of the universe which are consistent with our ability to survive.

    Another solution would be the multiverse – again with the idea that conscious beings are only going to be found in those universes consistent with the ability for conscious beings to survive. It's worth noting that the constants of nature are not ideal for living/ breathing creatures – they could be better or improved – and an explanation would be that this is consistent with what we would expect given random universes with randomly varying laws of nature – there are likely more universes that are capable of at least marginally supporting living beings than universes that are ideal for supporting beings

    A third solution would be that our universe is born, grows, and then dies, giving birth to a new universe – each rebirth comes with its own randomly chosen laws – and the above arguments continue to hold true

    it's worth point out that if one adjusts one knob amongst many of the constants of nature, one might well end up with a universe that does not support life – but that varying a number of knobs simultaneously seems to give rise to viable universes – or at least that's what computer models would seem to suggest

    and Crossbow, I think you're right that the vast majority of scientists, particularly the ones in the physical sciences don't believe in God. I don't see how your ad hominem against them advances your position and I await your argument supporting your claim: "Quite clearly, science has progressed best in fields where it does not compete with religion." It seems to me that the vast majority of the scientific disciplines will contradict some religious dogma or other – whether it be the scientific study of religions, cosmology, physics, psychology, neurobiology, biology and the theory of evolution, anthropology, archaeology, and so on

  33. hmm – that didn’t post the way I expected – at least the 1st paragraph – essentially, as drafted I had indicated that I was agreeable with the suggestion that CatholicScientist was used to working with hypotheses and the best explanation for observations and data and I was agreeable to the idea that he had a hypotheses that God created the universe and that God provided a possible explanation for the fine constants – where we stray is the idea that God is the best or only explanation.

    It’s funny how entire words and paragraphing disappeared – I used a symbol which is 2 arrows to mark my quotes and it appears that everything after those arrows simply disappeared as a result of how the website treats the arrows as a type of formatting –

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