Krauss on the difference between science and faith

This short clip was excerpted by reader Brian from a longer debate in Australia between physicist Lawrence Krauss and Uthman Badar, the media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Muslim organization. It’s a very concise presentation of the difference between science and theology, and of why theology doesn’t find “truth.” I have long used the quote by Feynman, which is one of my favorites.

You can find the full two-hour debate here.

The YouTube notes:

Discussion forum held at the ANU, Canberra on 9 April 2012 entitled “Belief in God: Prohibitive or Liberating?” Dr. Lawrence Krauss and Uthman Badar discuss the following and related questions.

Is belief in God rational or irrational? What role should religion play in our private and public lives? Is science sufficient to make religion redundant? Is the way forward for humanity in the 21st century a return to God or the completion of secularisation process of modernity?


  1. revjimbob
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    The link to the full debate isn’t working for me.

  2. Dave
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    ^^^ Here’s the full debate

  3. Mark Joseph
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Excellent clip. Just a few days ago my son-in-law (wonderful person, sophisticated theologian) sent me a link to an article about Wittgenstein’s lecture on scientism ( I was casting about for a short, but meaningful response, and this video fit the bill. Along with it, I sent links to the posts on scientism that have appeared on this website over the last year!

  4. marycanada FCD
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Krauss is so passionate. Will watch it this evening. Thanks for the link

  5. abandonwoo
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Halfway along or so Krauss realizes he is speaking at the equivalent of a Soviet show trial before the Muslim gathering he appears at. By the conclusion of the video he clearly wishes only to end his ordeal, and who can blame him? The moderator, the audience, and his opponent are all (extraordinarily) polite, but if there were open-minded attendees it is impossible to tell. The totalitarian mindset of the Islamic debate opponent and many of the audience who posed questions was quite depressing to witness.

    • Posted February 4, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      …as I was thinking: “this gathering seems like a nice addition to Uthman’s resume; Krauss’ not so much.”

  6. Posted February 2, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Really liked this clip. Thanks.

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Krauss is right on target.

    The theologian who most openly admitted that theology does exactly what Krauss said it did is John Henry Newman, and it’s disturbing to me that he is revered as a great theologian even in liberal circles.

    In “The Idea of a University” chapter 8 “Christianity and Scientific Investigation”, Newman just flat out says that theology simply seeks to confirm what it already knows. He holds that as such theologians only do “investigations” and never do “inquiries” because they already know what is true!!! (Catholic theologian Hans Kung subtitled his book attacking papal authority as “an inquiry” as a subtle riposte to Newman. I’m not sure about what sense of the word Princeton U’s accommodationist “Center for Theological Inquiry” chose their name.)

    Contrast Sherlock Holmes’ dictum “It is a capital mistake to theorize without data. One twists facts to suit theories rather than theories to suit facts.” He realizes the great enemy of rationalism is rationalization. Holmes (yes, I realize he’s a fictional character but he’s reflective of his creator, Conan Doyle) also has an accommodationist streak of his own, but he keeps his religiosity quite vague and nebulous,

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 2, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      …but he’s reflective of his creator, Conan Doyle…

      Not so much. Conan Doyle was an enthusiastic believer in all manner of psychic and spiritualist woo, and famously fell hook, line, and sinker for the Cottingley fairy hoax perpetrated by two teenage girls.

      • Cliff Melick
        Posted February 2, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Conan Doyle said that the Holmes character was based in large part on Dr. Joseph Bell, a physician for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

  8. Veroxitatis
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this. Also, it led me to a talk by Krauss hosted by Dawkins, entitled “A Universe from Nothing” wherein Krauss made the following witty remark:-
    “Never mind Jesus, the stars died so you could be here today.”

  9. Pray Hard
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I’m imagining an F16 at 200 feet flying over the heads of the Muslims at Mach 1.5 …

    • Fastlane
      Posted February 4, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      That’s gonna create a helluva shock wave.

      Hrmm..I guess that part of the analogy works too. 😉

  10. Posted February 2, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Atheist and commented:
    Krauss is at the peak of his speaking abilities here. Just about the best I have heard from him in a debate yet.

    • Posted February 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Good, because I thought that he needed to improve on this after listeing to his debate with WLC.

  11. Michael Fisher
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    THIS 27 MINUTE VIDEO from 2012 is of Uthman Badar speaking on “HOW to implement Islam radically and comprehensively” at the Khilafah Conference, organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir [Australia], in Sydney. The theme of the conference was “Muslims rise – Caliphate imminent”

    Uthman Badar is the spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir [Australia]. from THEIR “ABOUT” PAGE I offer this partial quote:-

    2. The Aim of Hizb ut-Tahrir

    Its aim is to resume the Islamic way of life and to convey the Islamic da’wah to the world. This objective means bringing the Muslims back to living an Islamic way of life in Dar al-Islam and in an Islamic society such that all of life’s affairs in society are administered according to the Shari’ah rules, and the viewpoint in it is the halal and the haram under the shade of the Islamic State, which is the Khilafah State. That state is the one in which Muslims appoint a Khaleefah and give him the bay’ah to listen and obey on condition that he rules according to the Book of Allah (swt) and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (saw) and on condition that he conveys Islam as a message to the world through da’wah and jihad.

    The Party, as well, aims at the correct revival of the Ummah through enlightened thought. It also strives to bring her back to her previous might and glory such that she wrests the reins of initiative away from other states and nations, and returns to her rightful place as the first state in the world, as she was in the past, when she governs the world according to the laws of Islam.

    It also aims to bring back the Islamic guidance for mankind and to lead the Ummah into a struggle with Kufr, its systems and its thoughts so that Islam encapsulates the world.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 2, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Short glossery:-

      Da’wah: The proselytizing or preaching of Islam

      Jihad:- An inner spiritual struggle or an outer physical struggle

      Kufr:- “unbeliever,” “disbeliever,” or “infidel.” The term refers to a person who rejects God or who hides, denies, or covers the “truth”

      swt:- “Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala,” or “Glory to Him, the Exalted”

      saw:- “Sallallahu ‘Alaihe wa Sallam” or “May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him

      Ummah:- The collective Muslim peoples

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 2, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink


      • Veroxitatis
        Posted February 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        I found it difficult to listen to more than half but I heard enough. Dangerous lunatic.

    • Rain
      Posted February 2, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Awww, and Uthman seemed so reasonable in the debate with Krauss. He was pretend-laughing at the funny jokes and at times pretend-agreeing with what Krauss said. That’s the thing I love about debates. All the pretend-laughing at the opponents jokes, so as to score brownie points with the audience, and all of the pretend-agreeing with the opponent so as to score more extra bonus brownie points.

  12. Sam Salerno
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    This is one of the clearest definitions I’ve heard of how science works compared to religion.

  13. Vaal
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed Krauss’s comments in the video and whole heartedly agree (who here doesn’t?).

    That said…

    Something that struck me is the inconsistency I’ve noted in a number of people who disparage philosophy, Krauss having taken a number of pot-shots. That is, they seem fine with the idea of questioning basic assumptions, in fact recognize the value of it when it comes to the assumptions they want questioned – but start to become dismissive when their own assumptions are the object of scrutiny.

    Krause: “If you don’t challenge your beliefs you are never learning, you are never questioning yourself.”

    Krauss also talks about the idea that students ought to have their most fundamental beliefs challenged and would benefit in seeing some of those assumptions proved wrong. And says that science provides liberation by acknowledging that: “To assume the answers before you ask the questions leads you nowhere.”

    Exactly. But the justification for the approach Krauss recommends isn’t scientific; it’s philosophical!

    And philosophy is in exactly this business: it asks us to question our assumptions. That includes our most basic, fundamental assumptions about epistemology, morality, reality, etc, and asks what assumptions are justified. Krauss would immediately recognize that he can point out to a Christian that basing the belief “the bible is true” on “the bible declares it’s contents to be true” is a poor justification. He would not be doing science to do so – just philosophically noting the poor structure of the reasoning, pointing out the viscous circularity and hence it’s content-free conclusion.
    The most scientific oriented atheists among us continually do some level of philosophy when discrediting Christianity: “It’s obvious you have simply assumed God to be Good and are interpreting all evidence via your assumption; whereas you ought to be looking to see if the evidence justifies your conclusion.”

    But when philosophers turn the lights back on what we atheists believe, and in particular philosophers scrutinize the justifications for science, then it seems handwaved away as make-work and silliness to go questioning the assumptions. “OK, you go away and do your philosophy while I stick with what works and progresses; science.”

    But of course the idea that science works, progresses, finds truth or whatever rest upon other fundamental assumptions, be they realist, coherentist…and all manner of epistemological concerns.

    But this seems to be waved away by the anti-philosophy folks as just thumb-twiddling and not worth anyone’s time.
    So it’s ok for scientists or atheists dismissive of philosophy to point out that theists beliefs sit upon all manner of unfounded assumptions theists have not been willing to truly analyze, but when asked to justify the assumptions for their own science-oriented attitudes, the anti-philosophy folks wave it away as beneath their time to bother, as that would be “doing philosophy.”

    (Prof. Coyne as many acknowledge here, seems to acknowledge that at some points philosophical levels of analysis seem necessary).

    I think science and the general approach to reason and evidence we atheists share is certainly justifiable when you get underneath it philosophically. But it gets a bit frustrating to see philosophy used to demolish theistic assumptions, but become poo-poohed as a method to question or justify the assumptions underlying our reason/evidence/science-based approach.


    • Posted February 2, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      I have no expertise in philosophy, nor have I studied it particularly extensively.

      But it seems to me that part of the issue here is definitional.

      Strong empiricists like Krauss, or our own Torbjörn Larsson or Ben Goren define philosophy as thinking that is totally divorced from empiricism. The defenders of philosophy I’ve seen here don’t really challenge this definition, but I think it should be challenged.

      Surely much philosophy rests, at bottom, on a foundation of empiricism. For example: “…he can point out to a Christian that basing the belief “the bible is true” on “the bible declares it’s contents to be true” is a poor justification. He would not be doing science to do so – just philosophically noting the poor structure of the reasoning…

      Wouldn’t pointing out the unreliability of circular reasoning and appeals to authority rest on our experience that such things are unreliable?

      Is it going too far to say that I’m not so sure there’s a huge gulf between philosophy done well and science?

    • Christopher
      Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      I am not certain we use philosophy to demolish theistic assumptions anymore than philosophy was used to demolish alchemy or astrology. For example, is it philosophical to point to genetics as a proof of man’s evolved nature rather than a fairy tale of adam and eve? I think they are evidential arguments against fairy tale explanations. As Laplace said, “it works well without that hypothesis (god)”.

      I am certain I am not well read enough on philosophy to understand philosopher’s contentions, maybe I should go back and read Kuhn. But, for example, if Quantum Electro Dynamics and its weirdness is mathematically described and failed to be proven wrong up to this point and it is held to be provisionally correct at describing phenomenon and experimentally robust, what assumptions could philosophy hope to shed light upon this understanding of nature?!

    • Posted February 3, 2013 at 3:28 am | Permalink

      The problem is that philosophy has become entangled with theology to such an extent that it has become hard to separate them out. It’s much easier to distinguish science from pseudo science than it is to distinguish philosophy from contrived arguments.

      The last refuge of theology is to retreat into dense obfuscation and claim that your opponents are insufficiently trained in “philosophy” to understand the arguments. That’s the whole basis of the “sophisticated” defences of religion, such as Plantinga, Craig etc.

      • Posted February 3, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

        The problem is that philosophy has become entangled with theology to such an extent that it has become hard to separate them out.

        Um, excuse me? I went through the process to get a Masters degree in Philosophy and I don’t think I even took one course in philosophy of religion, and came across the theological arguments only a handful of times, if that. I’m quite sure that I studied the classical theological arguments myself, and not in class. How in the world are they actually entangled?

        It’s much easier to distinguish science from pseudo science than it is to distinguish philosophy from contrived arguments.

        Well, for someone with a science background it is of course much easier to distinguish good science from bad science than it is to distinguish good philosophy from bad philosophy. However, it is easier for someone with a philosophical background to distinguish good philosophy from bad philosophy than it is to distinguish good science from bad science. And the criteria for each don’t carry over well to when you want to judge the other.

        • Posted February 4, 2013 at 2:31 am | Permalink

          The point is that people such as yourself (presumably) study philosophy, because they have an honest interest in philosophical enquiry. But Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig also have qualifications in philosophy, and in my opinion they and many like them use their knowledge of formal logic etc. just to create a blanket of obfuscation and arguments from authority (I’m a philosopher and you don’t understand my arguments). So such people tend to devalue genuine philosophy.

    • eric
      Posted February 4, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Vaal, I think one issue may be that you are misperceiving outcomes and conclusions of science as assumptions. Using empiricism, controlled experiments, peer review, confirmation/repeatability – these are things that we have learned through experience to be valuable. They are not assumptions at all. If scientists are dismissive of philosophical questions regarding how science is done or its limits (and not all are), its because this appears to us to be re-inventing the wheel. We’ve covered that, hundreds of years ago. Someone questioning how science is done and what it can do seems very ‘late to the party’ to most scientists.

      Now, this doesn’t mean philosophy can’t contribute to changing or improving science. Absolutely it can. But to do so, its going to have to come up with some novel proposal for a solution to a problem the current methodology has. Not just rehash the tools and methods we currently use and say “aha! Not perfect!” That sort of observation adds nothing.

  14. Diane G.
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink


  15. Posted February 2, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Great clip. I also wish for what Krauss wishes, at the end of the clip. Major wake-up call for the deluded. The truth might hurt at first, but it’s so freeing!

  16. marcusa1971
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic clip. Lawrence Krauss is a brilliant champion of science, much like the host of this website.

  17. Christopher
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Krauss states the scientific value of doubt, of not knowing, of putting what you suspect through the fire to see what remains and that is the merit behind the method. This clip reminded me of how Hitchens stated the point in similar manner, eschewing certainty in favor of doubt at a debate at the Prestonwood Christian Academy in Nov 2010, “…the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way, is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet; that I haven’t understood enough; that I can’t know enough; that I’m always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Which leads me to a similar Feynman saying, “you can never prove something right, you can only fail to prove it wrong. We are never right, we can only be sure we’re wrong”.

  18. marycanada FCD
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Krauss did a great job. It was obvious how frustrated he was near the end. It speaks volumes about humanity when a scientist feels compelled to apologize for any statements that may offend the pious and righteous.

  19. Pray Hard
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Caliphate imminent? Yeah, in your hair, Muslims.

  20. Posted February 18, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Quite interesting. Krauss did quite good.

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