The Scientific Method applied to Religion

Baumgardner, in quoting Frank Wolfs, boils the scientific method down to the four following essentials:1

  1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  2. Formulation of a hypothesis to explain the phenomena. (In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a mathematical relationship.)
  3. Use of the hypothesis to predict other phenomena or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
  4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters.

Wolfs explains, “No matter how elegant a theory is, its predictions must agree with experimental results if we are to believe that it is a valid description of nature. In physics, as in every experimental science, ‘experiment is supreme’ and experimental verification of hypothetical predictions is absolutely necessary.”1

Similarly, Atheist Ethicist explains “The way science works, a scientist can’t just shout out that [s]he knows something. She has to say why she thinks she knows something, and then wait for somebody else to confirm the findings.

Some say that the scientific method is a superior form of attaining any meaningful knowledge and that all others are to be discarded. However, Inasmuch as the scientific method requires independent verification, it is inadequate in matters of religion.

All the life and power of true religion consists in the inward and full persuasion of the mind. Religion itself is made of two components: a profession of faith toward God and an outward form of worship. If we are not fully persuaded in our own minds that our faith is true and our form of worship is well-pleasing, we are conducting an exercise in hypocrisy and adding to our list of offenses toward God. This being the nature of religion, the only force that can be used therein is not force at all, but admonishments, exhortations, arguments, and advice.

To require the truth of religion to hinge upon independent verification conducted by another person is to leave the care of your soul, indeed its very salvation, to a person who does not have as vested an interested in your salvation as you have. The mere position of an outside observer does not yield more insight into other men’s faith or worship. These things ought every man to sincerely inquire himself with due diligence, search, study, and meditation. We are all equal in nature concerning these things and no man has been placed above another.

But, let us grant for the moment that the person independently verifying another man’s faith is seeking only that man’s good and has attained superior knowledge. Even then we are in no better position. A government official who shows me the best way to conduct a business, may, upon my failure, shore up my losses and provide security for me. But, there is no security for the life to come that can be given by another man. It is not within another man’s power to ease my loss, or prevent my suffering, or restore me in some measure. That is a matter between God and myself.  The Kingdom of God is in the hearts of men (Luke 17:21) and therefore no man, who’s only real jurisdiction is in the physical world, can affect a better care than I of my soul by use of superior knowledge, or outward force, or coercion.

The failure of the scientific method in attaining any efficacious change in the full persuasion of one’s mind in matters of religion, renders pointless the need for proofs or evidence to be submitted to anyone for scrutiny. Every private man’s search and study discovers the truth of the matter unto himself. Indeed, the man to whom the proofs or evidence must be supplied will have his hands full making his own salvation sure. It would be even more treacherous for a man who cares for his soul to submit evidence for scrutiny to someone who has a complete lack of care for his own soul. An atheist is a very poor man indeed to receive advice from on matters of religion.

Therefore, let us leave aside the scientific method in matters of religion and reach toward God in faith and in the full persuasion of the mind.

1. Wolfs, F. 1996. Introduction to the scientific method. Physics Laboratory Experiments, Appendix E, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester