Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Problem with Theology

In recently reading some papers by theologians, I was first pleased to confirm that there are contemporary theologians earnestly trying to grapple with science and naturalism in a constructive way. Soon, though, this positive feeling was outweighed by the perennial weakness in the arguments put forth: rather than trying to discover truth through reason, theologians are trying to save what they can of the religious principles they already hold. The traditional term for this project is “belief seeking understanding”.

Now, we all have biases. The same poll data in this election season was read by Republicans and Democrats in different ways driven by wishful thinking. When it comes to the divide between religion and science, I have been biased to look for a worldview which offers scope for reducing the conflict: does this mean I could be misleading myself in this inquiry? Maybe. Perhaps a positive thing about the theologians is that their prejudices are out on the table and not hidden. Sometimes those who subscribe to scientific naturalism are accused as having an undeclared “religious” dedication to their worldview.

But at the end of the day this won’t wash. In our quest for the truth about the world, we must be able to revise or reject received wisdom -- something science does well. Theologians refuse this mandate essentially by definition.


Anonymous said...

Good post, good points.

Steve said...


Lion Kimbro said...

"Theologians refuse this mandate [able to revise or reject received wisdom] essentially by definition."

Are you sure?

It seems comparable to me, to saying that scientists are unable to revise their thoughts about science, because they are scientists. ("Essentially, by definition.")

I think both theologians and scientists regularly revise and reject received wisdom. (Not haphazardly, of course, but in light of new understandings, insights, etc., etc.,.)

When you talk with a Theologian, you want to ask that Theologian, "What do you mean by the word Theo?", because I think you'll find a lot of different answers amongst them, and their understanding of that word will be radically different (in most cases) than what you find amongst lay practicioners of their particular faith.

Steve said...

I accept what you are saying to the extent that you can't paint all theologians with the same brush, the way I did here. Some are apologists for tradition, some are creative thinkers trying to solve philosophical problems. Still, I think a commitment to preserving God in some form is a precondition to being labeled a "theologian" rather than a philosopher, isn't it?