What I Think About The Relationships Between Science, Philosophy, and Faith

In my “What I Think About” posts, I am summarizing my views and providing relevant links on major topics as a reference for readers new and old. In other posts, I have covered objective values, faith and religion, my response to moderate and liberal religious people, and why I call myself a gnostic theist/agnostic adeist. In this post, I tackle the relationships between science, philosophy, and faith, and indicate the nature of my opposition to “accommodationism”:

I think science and philosophy can undermine religious beliefs.

There is no “non-overlapping magisteria”. Religion has no proper “magisterium” over any beliefs. Insofar as religions make propositional claims, science and philosophy can scrutinize and debunk them or vindicate them. Whenever religious thinkers make pretenses to fact claims, they should be given no special waiver from challenge by independent scientific and philosophical reasoning just for being religious. The questions of metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, meaning in life, etc. which religion attempts to answer are properly the domain of philosophy, not religion.

There are implications of the theory of natural selection that rule out a divine guidance to evolution, that make the idea of an intelligent designer less likely, more superfluous, and inconsistent with the apparent processes of unguided change and selection by natural pressures. Being scientific does not just mean admitting evolution happens, it means accepting the theory of natural selection, and accepting the theory of natural selection means rejecting divine guidance to the process. One might still believe in evolution and a deistic god, but if you believe in evolution by divine guidance you are rejecting natural selection and, so, rejecting science for a discredited, unsupported faith-belief. That is not a scientific attitude and it is bad philosophy, regardless of your other scientific credentials.

I think scientists need to take philosophy, and scientific truths’ influence on the philosophy of God, seriously.

The existence of religious scientists does not vindicate religious beliefs as rational.  Being a good scientist by following good scientific procedures in the lab does not give you the right to use your scientific credibility to promote bad, faith-based epistemology and metaphysics. And scientists should not bend over backwards to make sure people accept science even if it means allowing them to believe whatever false things they want about philosophical matters like ethics or metaphysics or epistemology.

Scientific organizations should admit religious scientists of course and should reach out to religious groups to educate them and encourage them to embrace science. But they should not actively promote the idea that religion has rights over ethics and metaphysics and they should not actively promote the idea that necessarily theology can be harmonized with science and that necessarily science could never undermine metaphysical beliefs, like the belief in gods or the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. This is anti-rational cowardice, terrible philosophy, and politically irresponsible. It evidences an ignorant, shortsighted, and narrow minded unwillingness to treat philosophy as intellectually serious or relevant at all.  It treats some of the most important subjects there are–including our values themselves–as matters of complete indifference best left to superstitious hucksters, simply because they are not scientifically solvable.

Posts fleshing out these views:

Against Accommodationism: Religion Has NO Rightful Claim To An Unencroachable “Magisterium” Of Its Own

How Belief In “Theistic Evolution” Is Nearly As Much A Denial Of Science As Creationism

Defending The Apparent Truth Of Evolution’s Mindlessness

The (Jesuit) Father Of The Big Bang Theory

In What Sense Religious Scientists Shouldn’t Exist

What’s Wrong With Religious Scientists?

More Thoughts On Scientists In The Public Square

When Should A Scientist’s Faith Disqualify Him From Scientific Institutional Authority?

On Unjustifiably Leveraging One’s Credibility

Against Faith and In Defense of Naturalism and Induction (7)

Your Thoughts?


About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • val

    A gift for you…
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    • Noah the epistemic pinata

      Hi Val!

      Out of curiosity, and since this is a philosophy blog, I’m curious: is “Satan has deceived the whole world” a form of the Omphalos hypothesis? Are you suggesting that a supernatural force altered our understanding of reality? If so, how can we claim knowledge of that alteration?

      PS: Your blog is incomprehensible. You may want to hire an editor.

      Your pal,
      Noah, editor-for-hire!

  • information voyeur

    I’m not a believer, and I think metaphysics must be informed by current scientific understanding. So for example, a “no miracles” policy and “only try to explain known acknowledged phenomena” would both be guiding principles for me.

    However, going beyond the specific case of religion to your more general “metaphysical beliefs, like the belief in gods” I find unjustified.

    Even though I don’t advocate those beliefs myself. god-like ideas like universal consciousness, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence are not incoherent under current science because current science still has huge gaps, most significantly the very bottom (and possibly fundamental) layers of reality.

    This is why we still have metaphysics at all, and to assume physicalism and denounce other views is nothing more than scientism, which serves no more purpose than to give those with truly unscientific ideas a bone.

    • information voyeur

      I misunderstood the thrust of this piece and retract my objection above.

      I would argue that science in no way currently undermines belief in gods (in the wide metaphysical sense of a thing or being with god-like properties), but would fully agree that science *could* do so.