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Methodology of Scientific and
Religious Cognition

by Dmitry A. Olshansky


To enunciate the problem of investigation let us firstly define the terms 'methodology' and 'knowledge'. Methodology as I understand this term is an epistemological strategy, i.e. the way of searching and receiving knowledge. In my mind methodology depends on (1) object of investigation, as well as (2) aims of search.

For example, when searching for scientific truth one has to create (or use) a scientific strategy, that is the methodology of notice, experiment and rational analysis. That methodology aims to discover and state new laws of nature. This methodology rides on the object of investigation (on nature) and rides on the aims of search (scientific conclusion, account and prognosis). That is why methodology of science looks for a consistent pattern in nature, engineering and economic results.

Searching for sacred truth one must create a religious strategy, which addresses mystical revelation. Religious methodology aims for a mystical approach to the Absolute (to God*, to Nirvana, to Tao, even to the Devil and so on). Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches as well as Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism propose their own way of connection with the Absolute.

The religious way of cognition deals with knowledge too, just as in the scientific way, but the believer uses religious methodology (not rational and scientific). She/he deals with knowledge, but she/he receives it with religious methodology. That is why science denies the importance of religious knowledge, and religion longs for deliverance from the power of science (as well as of reason). Scientists call religious dogmas non-scientific which are, in their mind, non-truth. And the Fathers of the church criticize reason. Tertullian said, "I believe because it is absurd." (Credo, quia absurdum.)

Some philosophers say that we can not cognize the Absolute. I fully agree that we can not cognize the Absolute with our mind, but we can conjoin with the Absolute in mystical revelation (or in dialogue, according to Martin Buber and Mikhail Bakhtin), and we can feel the unity of our soul with God. Mystical revelation (or sacred dialogue) is the form of investigation of the Absolute. It is the form of receiving the knowledge about Absolute and from the Absolute directly. According to Semen Frank, in revelation our soul receives knowledge from God. This knowledge can be calibrated and used by mind, but can not be changed by mind.

So, founding on this idea, Frank defines the 'trivial' and 'proper' consciousness of the believer. Trivial consciousness of the believer differentiates faith and reason sharply. Trivial belief follows Tertullian's principle by pressing for the denial of reason as well as all rational knowledge. 'You should believe and not to think' - this is the slogan of trivial believers.

But there is proper belief that applies to mystical (but not rational) knowledge. The proper believer does not deny knowledge as it is, but she/he denies the superiority of mind. Frank agrees that there is rational knowledge as well as mystical, and the proper believer aims for mystical knowledge of God. This way of mystical cognition Frank names as revelation, that is contiguity of the human soul with God. That is why I think that Frank's religious ideas are very close to William James's thoughts in 'The Varieties of Religious Experience' (1901). James calls events of revelation 'automatisms'. 'Beliefs are strengthened wherever automatisms corroborate them' (p. 457). So, I think that we can affirm the encounter between Franks's and James's ideas. But this comparison needs further investigation.

According to Frank, the believer receives knowledge from the God in revelation. That is why mystical knowledge should not be in contradiction with rational knowledge. Mystical knowledge can be examined by the mind, but it does not oppose rational knowledge. In my mind, this is one of the main motives of all Orthodoxy, which appears in Bakhtin's theory of dialogue too.

That is why trivial belief, according to Frank, corrupts the nature of man, it makes a wrongful distinction between mind and soul. And trivial belief and practice is a sin. I consider that this edification to Christians is Frank's own reason for writing 'God With Us' (1946).

I would say that we can not affirm only one truth (or epistemological strategy) and deny all the others. So, we can not affirm scientific knowledge and deny religious or affirm religious truth and deny scientific, because its has different methodologies. First of all, religion and science have different objects of investigation. Science investigate nature, religion investigates the Absolute.

Eventually, religion and science have different aims of research. Religion aims for revelation and receiving clear knowledge from the God directly, science aims for rational and empirical investigation of the nature and receiving laws and common principles of nature.

Of course, science uses the entire arm to make methodology the form of science. It tries to show religious 'knowledge' as based on mere belief. For example, the scientist says that no one has seen God, that is why the 'fact' of God's being is based only on belief. There are no experimental and empirical proofs of God's being, there are only theoretical and scholastic ideas, but not scientific.

Contrariwise, some bishops say that God can not be understood by mind. The knowledge of God is founded upon the act of belief. According to Augustin Aurelius, no one knows to whom God will give the revelation and salvation of soul. So, the human mind is helpless and, according to radical treatments, is excrescent in human nature.

I think there are many ways of cognition: science, religion, art, poetry, psychology, philosophy and so on. There are different objects of investigation and different aims of search, just as there are many methodologies of investigation. Wittgenstein said that every question has an answer and the nature of the answer is determined by the question. So, it may be that the object of science and the object of art is the same (for example, a blade), but the aims are absolutely different: science investigates the blade by experiment: looking at its chemical composition, physical and biological affinities, and art uses metaphor to describe the blade. That is why there are two different methodologies of science and art.

In reality, the sense and purport of the objective world is determined by our methodology. If we use scientific methodology, we see the objects and the aims of scientific investigation. The objective world is formed by our own methodology, by our tool of cognition. That idea is close to Kant's a priori 'form' of cognition, which is contained in our mind and which is the tool of investigation and describing the world.

I agree with Kant that methodology is only the tool of our investigation, and also that it is a result of tradition, the result of previous experiences. But I disagree with his claim that there are the same a priori forms for all people. In reality, there are a lot of different methodologies and the researcher should not choose only one way of cognition. To achieve a new result, the researcher can combine and accomplish different ways of research, different ways of treatment.

Contemporary investigation in my view is the game of different methodologies and treatments. Contemporary research is poly-methodology, which combines different principles and different aims to create a new original treatment. But it does not mean that contemporary investigation denies mono-methodology, it does not deny clear science and clear religion. But it aims for the combination of methodologies and pursues the border between the aims and the different methodologies.

* I am Christian, that is why I associate Absolute with God

© Dmitry Olshansky 2001

Urals State University
Yekaterinburg City
Russian Federation

E-mail: Olshansky@hotmail.com