Quine gave a serious challenge to the positivist program of establishing a purely observation and logic based epistemology. This essentially lead to the failure of the logical positivist's attempt to free philosophy of metaphysics, and made it impossible to establish a clear boundary between what is science and what is not.

At the end of "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", he poignantly states:

As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries -- not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits18b comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer's gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits.

Similarly, Kuhn and Feyerabend presented serious challenges to the special epistemic status of science and logic compared to other fields of inquiry.

All these challenges started from premises based on the logical positivist program itself, not from any outside considerations - in a sense positivism contained the seeds of its own demise.

As Max Horkheimer (presciently and very eloquently) put it in his 1941 paper "The End of Reason":

Reason, in destroying conceptual fetishes, ultimately destroyed itself.

Defenders of intelligent design typically use the gaps and problems of the theory of evolution as arguments to support to worldview.

In the same vein, it seems to me that someone would use results like Quine's (science and mythology differ only in degree not in kind, and it is impossible to separate science from metaphysics) as arguments for justifying a religious or mystical worldview.

Have there been any notable religious scholars or mystics who have given serious arguments in favor of a religious/mystical worldview based on the failures of philosophers to establish a special epistemic status for science and the impossibility of separating science from metaphysics?

  • The question is an interesting one, but you're setting it up by suggesting that philosophical arguments from 55–90 years ago reveal “the failures of philosophers to establish a special epistemic status for science.” They do not. You might still ask how scholars have built on the assumption of that failure, yes. But the assumption is dubious. Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


C.S. Lewis' argument is basically that there exists no basis for rejecting of the supernatural. All such attempts to do so always involve unjustified presupposition. However, his arguments are much more interesting than that, so I'll let him speak for himself:

"This point of scientific method merely shows (what no one to my knowledge ever denied) that if miracles did occur, science, as science, could not prove, or disprove, their occurrence. What cannot be trusted to recur is not material for science: that is why history is not one of the sciences. You cannot find out what Napoleon did at the battle of Austerlitz by asking him to come and fight it again in a laboratory with the same combatants, the same terrain, the same weather, and in the same age. You have to go to the records. We have not, in fact, proved that science excludes miracles: we have only proved that the question of miracles, like innumerable other questions, excludes laboratory treatment." (God in the Dock, p.140)"

"If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the philosophy we bring to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question." (Miracles, p.1-2)

"When a thing professes from the very outset to be a unique invasion of Nature by something from outside, increasing knowledge of Nature can never make it more or less credible than it was at the beginning. In this sense it is mere confusion of thought to suppose that advancing science has made it harder to accept miracles. We always knew they were contrary to the natural course of events; we know still that if there is something beyond Nature, they are possible." (Miracles, p.76)

"The whole mass of seemingly irregular experience could never have been turned into scientific knowledge at all unless from the very start we had brought to it a faith in uniformity which almost no number of disappointments can shake." (Miracles, p.109)

Lewis also argues that the supernatural has, in fact, entered into the natural realm as evidenced of by man's faculty of reason:

"[We have] already discovered that in every human being a more than natural activity (the act of reasoning) and therefore presumably a more than natural agent is thus united with a part of Nature: so united that the composite creature calls itself 'I' and 'Me'."

The epistemology of Cornelius Van Til is based on the principle that true knowledge cannot be had in isolation from the whole. Since God alone has access to all knowledge, His revealed truth is the only truth in which we can fully trust. According to my understanding of this, concepts do not consist of isolated instances alone but rather they are the product of the sum total of our understanding of the subject in question. Knowledge cannot be had in isolation from one's overall worldview, so true knowledge cannot be had presupposing a false worldview. If it is untrue that the natural can exist in complete independence from the supernatural, then it is impossible to keep any given concept completely isolated from this false presupposition. For that reason, it doesn't make sense to presuppose the non-existence of the supernatural. He says the following:

"The antitheist maintains that the term existence may be applied as a predicate to any 'fact' even if the 'fact' of God’s existence is not a fact. On the other hand the theist maintains that the term 'existence' cannot be applied intelligently to any 'fact' unless the 'fact' of God’s existence is a fact. In other words, the antitheist assumes that we can begin by reasoning univocally, while the theist maintains that we cannot begin otherwise than by reasoning analogically, i.e., on the presupposition of the truth of that which the Scripture says of God." (Survey of Christian Epistemology)

"So C. C. J. Webb, in his book Problems in the Relation of God and Man, clearly indicates his agreement with the Idealistic theory of the judgment which contends that parts apart from the whole have no meaning, and synthesis can have no meaning apart from an equally ultimate analysis. At the same time Webb thinks it quite possible to investigate the phenomenon of the moral consciousness according to the ordinary method of scientific empiricism. We may say then that on the one hand Webb thinks it impossible to think intelligibly of the non-existence of either God or the universe, and still wants to study the universe as though totally new things were appearing in it, while on the other hand he thinks it quite possible to start with the antitheistic method of ordinary empiricism and come at last to a theistic position." (Survey of Christian Epistemology)


The simple answer is: no. Mystics for obvious reasons: they're not in the rational argument line of business. "Theologian" generally means somebody who does logos on behalf of a revealed religion, and they never justify faith by failure of science. Revelation is by their lights a kind of knowledge beyond science, so science is fundamentally irrelevant; it cannot by definition pronounce scientific judgment on revelation and faith. That's why you can be a hard-core scientist and a devout Catholic at the same time. And why theologians can be both excellent philosophers and scientists.

That doesn't mean they don't have interesting things to say about science; many do.

Reason is a whole 'nother story. The superiority of revelation to reason is a very old trope; see Augustine and Aquinas, for example. But reason and science are different games.

In short, a theologian who advocates for religion because of science ' s failings is not really a theologian. May be "religious " in some sense but not a theologian.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .