Sometimes I think, for example, that a mathematician cannot be religious. I mean, the idea of belief in a God is very antiquated and not coherent for a scientist like a mathematician. But I know that Gödel said he believed in a superior being. He was a deist, not a theist. He declared this. And this makes me curious because it let me believe that religion and science have really something in common – but I can't explain what.

I think, a scientist should accept only logical statements and the point of view of an atheist is more logical than others, I believe.

What do you think?

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    All the best philosophers believed in God. Atheists only believe that they're being coherent in their avoidance of all the explanatory gaps. For example, there remains no coherent theory for a materialistic origin of life — primordial soup or whatever they're calling the latest myth. Another example: Rather than recognizing that the properties of consciousness don't in any way resemble any known physical laws, many atheists prefer to deny that consciousness is anything more than an illusion, etc. There's nothing coherent about avoiding the truth.
    – user3017
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 13:31
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    "I think a scientist should accept only logical statements"... Also about food, music, sports, love ? Science has NO answers for all possible questions. Thus, there is no reason why science must try to answer faith's problems and religious beliefs. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 13:40
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    1. Gödel was a theist. 2. your question is very vague and difficult to answer objectively. 3. why do you take mathematicians as examples for scientists? Mathematics is a very special talent. It involves reasoning about structures, quantities and formal logic and can be disconnected from the physical world. It's a mental endeavor with no experiments. 4. If for the sake of argument, we accept that belief in God is positively irrational, there still should be no surprise. You can be delusional but still do math. Gödel himself would be an example, he suffered from serious paranoia in his life.
    – viuser
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 16:00
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    @PédeLeão that's quite the straw argument about atheists. Atheism is merely the lack of belief in deity and that is all. Even theists such as yourself are atheist when not actively believing in deity and atheists theists when they speak of god (presuming they believe the word to actually mean something). That a theistic way of looking at things might be accepted as an explanation of that which is beyond our ability to know does not make a solicitation to agreement with sentiment and opinion the confirmation of hypothesis.
    – MmmHmm
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 6:34
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    @Mr.Kennedy Atheism is the belief in the lack of a deity, not the lack of belief in a deity. Otherwise there is to point in calling out agnosticism or all the other ways of not being a theist. People who say children are born atheists, simply because the idea of God had never occurred to them, are shading the truth. And the similar word-games here are unusual and unfair.
    – user9166
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 22:30

8 Answers 8


On the contrary, many mathematicians were historically believers. Some also thought that mathematics was a way to decipher God's design for the Universe.

In particular for mathematics, since it deals only with ideas in fact, there should be no collision with a God, or multiple gods. Mathematics does not really attempt to say anything about the world, esp. in its modern form. It happens, by an incomprehensible stroke of luck, that mathematics is useful to the natural sciences, but it did not need to be that way.

I could see much more of a problem between a natural scientist, who tries to say something about the world, and religion. But the mathematician, ideally, is content with making deductions from various sets of axioms. Whether these deductions say something about nature or not, doesn't really causes any mathematician to lose sleep (more or less), whereas a physicist would lose sleep over his inferences from observations and his models of natural phenomena. I might go as far as questioning whether mathematics is a science. I might try to reserve the word "science" for a discipline based on observation and inductive reasoning.

So, in my humble opinion, we can dissociate mathematics enough from the natural sciences that it should never collide with religion.


There seem to be 3 (maybe 4) separate questions here:

Sometimes I think, for example, that a mathematician cannot be religious. I mean, the idea of belief in a God is very antiquated and not coherent for a scientist like a mathematician.

As Frank pointed out, math and science aren't the same thing (from a philosophical point of view). Science is about empirical facts, while math is about relations of ideas. If anything a "pure" mathematician would be more inclined to rationalism, mathematical realism and Platonism than a physicist or a biologist. And from there, the leap to theism is much easier than it would be for an empiricist.

And this makes me curious because it let me believe that religion and science have really something in common – but I can't explain what.

There are many answers to this, but I would point to Quine's "Two Dogma's of Empiricism", where he states his belief that physics and Greek Mythology are just different degrees of the same thing.

To illustrate Quine's point: An ancient Greek would say that the sun is pushed through the sky by Apollo. Newton says the sun's movement is due to gravity. Both are using invisible metaphysical entities (Apollo, gravity) to explain the movement of the sun. It is not that gravity is a different kind of explanation than Apollo, only that it does a better job at predicting the sun's movement.

If one wanted to avoid metaphysics and use only observable facts, then they have to avoid any invisible or abstract concepts and use only pure observation to describe the sun's movement. Quine claims (and most agree with him) that this is impossible, there will always be theoretical presuppositions and unobservable entities necessary for any useful scientific theory. See this post for more details.

Note that Quine himself was an atheist, so it wan't like he was trying to save religion or anything. On the contrary, he arrived at that conclusion after pondering the empiricist's efforts to separate science from metaphysics and realized that

I think, a scientist should accept only logical statements and the point of view of an atheist is more logical than others, I believe.

Logic can't prove or disprove religion, see this post for details. Per Quine's above mentioned results, as well as others such as Kuhn, theories (including religious views) can always be reconciled with facts, if one is willing to add additional assumptions. The claim that atheism is more logical (using the strict definition of logic) than belief is fallacious.

The reason that people interpret science as being in conflict with, and more logical than, religion is that in practice science has produced more results than religion (As Chris Sunami pointed out). Even most devout believers will go to their doctor not their priest when they have a serious disease. Quine argues that it is this pragmatic consideration which justifies atheism and materialism, not any logical considerations.

Others have argued that religion and science aren't contradictory. See this lecture by Rorty

What do you think?

As an atheist who is sympathetic to religious faith, I find that defenders of religions spend far too much time on the "science vs religion question", and not enough time trying to resolve the much bigger issue (to me) of religious pluralism. Most of the problems and bloodshed that come from religion seem to be about inter-religious conflict, not disputes between believers and scientists. I truly wish the Rortys, Plantinguas and Tariq Ramadans of the world would stop trying to defend faith from science and instead focus and defending faith from faith itself.


Many great mathematicians have been people of faith. Pascal and Descartes, two giants of the field, are merely the first that come to mind. And all the way back to Pythagoras, the "mysterious" qualities of math (how it all fits together, seemingly by itself, and how mathematical entities seem to have their own independent existence) have attracted those of a mystical frame of mind. It is even the case that Platonic idealism, which posits the real existence of non physical entities, still has a following among mathematicians, although it is largely discounted elsewhere.

So it is not the case that science and mathematics are necessarily opposed to religion. What gives them the appearance of being so is the fact that the successes of modern science and technology have led many people to believe that rational physicalist explanations can be found for all phenomena. It's worth noting, at this point, that there are those who don't consider even a rational physicalist universe incompatible with a deity, in principle.

In practice, of course, there can and often are specific science-based claims that are incompatible with specific religion-based claims. To give what is perhaps the most notorious example, the accepted scientific explanation for the development of diverse biological life on Earth entails timespans that are many orders of magnitude larger than the timespan for the existence of the Earth promoted by what are called "Young Earth" creationists, who typically advocate an interpretation of the (Judeo-Christian) Bible that casts it whenever possible in purely literalist and physicalist terms (which, despite its pose of orthodoxy, is not the most mainstream way to interpret the Bible). A person would clearly not be able to consistently hold both those positions at once. Some people can, and do, however, accept scientific orthodoxy on all and only the points that don't directly contradict important religious convictions.

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    i think you underplay the role that science has had in actually discrediting the bible
    – user6917
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 16:33
  • @MATHEMETICIAN Chris didn't mention the Bible. The thing is, there is nothing inherently illogical about deities or religions, since those words do not have universal specifics and require further definition. Once you assign definitions, they can and have been challenged. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 16:35
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    @called2voyage yes obviously he didn't, i think that underplays it
    – user6917
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 17:09
  • @MATHEMETICIAN I just don't see how it is relevant. The Bible does not represent all religions. The OP specifically mentions deism, which is not necessarily based on any religious text. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 17:10
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    @called2voyage yes obviously it doesn't, we can even just say that god is some hidden prime mover personality and leave it at that. babies and bathwater? the burden of proof seems to be on the theist these days
    – user6917
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 17:12

The discord between science and religion is less complete than many teach it to be. The key to untangling them is to demand science hold to what it truly is: an empirical approach to modeling the world and predicting what will happen in the future. It does not state what "reality" is. That would be ontology, rather than empirical epistemology.

The conflict began when science began to make models which were remarkably good at predicting things about the world around us, but which, when applied to events any given religion made, came to starkly different conclusions.

This would not be an issue if science was left at "just an empirical approach," but that was not accepted by many. Instead we add assumptions which bring it into the world of ontology such as "the most likely hypothesis is true" or "all of reality is governed by immutable laws."

However, if you really push on these assumptions, they are indeed assumptions. We have no good way of determining whether reality is governed by immutable laws or not. Once this axiomatic issue is raised, there's more room for other axiomatic systems, such as religion, to come forth.

The extreme version of your argument is the one at the root of skepticism. I like it best when phrased as the Münchhausen trilemma. This trilemma states that any logical proof must contain one of:

  • The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other
  • The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum
  • The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts

The idea of this is that every logical proof contains some issue to tug at. Given that, I think there's a great deal of room for a logical mind to explore more than one system of thought.


I think, a scientist should accept only logical statements and the point of view of an atheist is more logical than others, I believe.

By using 'logical' this way, you have blurred the distinction between proper abstract reasoning (e.g. manipulating symbols according to rules) and proper evidential reasoning. Someone can be quite irrational while being completely logical. Just throw out the empirical data which doesn't fit your rationalistic system. William James identified a tension in this realm in Pragmatism (1907); he thought that philosophers could be classified as being various combinations of the following two modes of thinking:

Rationalistic (going by 'principles'), Intellectualistic, Idealistic, Optimistic, Religious, Free-willist, Monistic, Dogmatical.

Empiricist (going by 'facts'), Sensationalistic, Materialistic, Pessimistic, Irreligious, Fatalistic, Pluralistic, Sceptical.

One simple way to illustrate this is via the contradiction between predictions of general relativity and quantum field theory near the event horizons of black holes. These are two of our best scientific theories, and yet there is a contradiction. It is not 'logical'. But it is empirical. Of course we hope to ultimately resolve this contradiction, but putting a supreme value on being contradiction-free ("rationalistic") would appear to be extremely bad for doing more science.

Were you to be properly empirical when it comes to what makes for the best scientists, you would be able to provide evidence to demonstrate at least one of the following propositions:

     (1) upon becoming an atheist, a scientist does better science
     (2) upon becoming religious, a scientist does worse science

I have offered this challenge quite a few places on the internet over the past several years, in atheist-dominated domains, and never gotten a single peer-reviewed article demonstrating either (1) or (2). Instead, I got ad hoc hypotheses, in the manner of conspiracy theorists: they are absolutely sure their underlying "theory" is correct, and so any failure to produce expected evidence or explain unexpected evidence is rationalized away. For example, scientists are said to be able to "compartmentalize" away their religious beliefs while doing science. Curiously, the very attempt to squash religious belief in scientists is irrational if this compartmentalization produces no measurable ill effects. Never has evidence of ill effects been presented to me.

What I suspect is going on is that you have a rationalistic idea of reality which predicts (1) and (2) so strongly that you have felt no need to actually go out into reality and check. Or, perhaps you have observed unscientifically and concluded that (1) and (2) are true, forgetting that in so doing, you have violated the principles of science in order to support science. Humans do this all the time and it's not clear they could wholly act in any other way. Nevertheless, it is self-defeating to bolster science through unscientific means. That is exceedingly illogical.


The consistency that underlies laws of thought or laws of nature has to have a cause. If you believe it is real, but do not accord it the possibility of being caused, instead imagining it must cause itself, you believe in an uncaused cause. Earlier in time, that would have listed you with Aquinas, and so on the side of the theists.

Now the balance has swung the opposite directions, and atheists want to claim the middle ground is all theirs, equally by force majeure. But that does not make any more sense. The logic is twisted by the dichotomy, which is dismissed by ideas like pantheism or Brahmanism. Such positions have been the bases for religions, and not atheist religious philosophies like Buddhism, but real, straightforward religions. They are therefore not atheist in the normal sense of denying the possibility of the existence of the divine. If you include such forms, theism is not such an unscientific idea.

Mathematicians in particular tend to believe there are conditions upon thought that transcend physics. For instance, if pressed, they tend to believe that large cardinals actually exist in some sense. But only if thought is material can one find atheism more logical than theism of some sort.

If there is anything other than physics, or even if the laws of physics are based in something other than themselves, it is likely that that underlying thing constitutes something someone historically has occasionally considered divine.

It may not lead to a personified deity that will do you favors. But that is not necessarily what various forms of theism have believed in. That is a meme (in the Dawkins/Dennett sense, not the silly Internet one) that infects theisms. Even the Christian God does not exist to respond to prayers or make you feel better, by any orthodox standard, He exists out of necessity, or out of his own choice (which is necessity).

The underlying source of mathematics or physical predictability has the form of a god, giving order to the universe. And it is a single overarching such thing, so it is a God. Most of science and almost all of mathematics unconsciously worships this God, in never questioning why there is order to thought or order elsewhere in the universe, but thoroughly believing that it is so.

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    Why the down votes? This response it on point. Jobermark's style is an acquired taste. Once you get past the idiosyncrasies, his answers are very informative and on point. You just need to put a little more effort into them. Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 0:32
  • @AlexanderSKing If my thoughts are any indication it is because this answer uses an extremely broad definition of God, so broad that people might down vote to object that he's stretched the language past its breaking point. However, you are correct in that this answer actually is a useful way to respond to the OP.
    – Dave
    Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 2:35

Even in a world where you can make logical sense of gravity, physics, evolution, etc. there is still scope for external agency. Nevertheless, some philosophies simplify the concept of godhead to something more abstract such as first cause, "possibility". Even then there is again "still scope" for an as-yet unimaginedly abstracted godhead. Indeed, unimaginable, and yet it could still be what you would call godhead, if only you could conceive it.


I just read a biography of Abdus Salam, Cosmic Answer; and the author makes quite clear that he was deeply committed to his faith; though it wasn't by any means orthodox.

Abdus Salam is a well known physicist; and was awarded the Nobel Prize along with Weinberg & Schwinger in the 70s for their contribution to electroweak unification.

There are plenty of other examples from the history of science - Newton, Darwin and Einstein; as observation is a key means of gathering evidence to buttress argument in science, I'm sure you appreciate that science and faith can work together; its not 'logical' to assume that they cannot.

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