header
What makes good theology?
  • SimonSimon June 2012
    So the latest creationism discussion, and especially Anthony's justification of reasons to adopt the YEC position, made me start to think about what constitutes good and what constitutes bad theology.

    I think the only conclusion that remains consistent with my other arguments is that if there is any conceivable way that a theological belief can be proved wrong by science, then it is not a good theological belief.

    For instance the direct biological lineage of all mankind to two individuals called Adam and Eve is a bad theological belief because it can be shown to be false using genetics. However the resurrection of Jesus is not a bad theological belief because there is no conceivable way that science can disprove it - the best science can say is that no one has been observed rising from the dead and as there is no known scientific mechanism that might allow for this, it is therefore extremely unlikely (but not impossible!).

    Is this a good test?
  • Is that a bit like NOMA?
  • croc June 2012

    Simon

    "the best science can say is that no one has been observed rising from the dead and as there is no known scientific mechanism that might allow for this, it is therefore extremely unlikely (but not impossible!)."

    Is God bound by science?

    This was a question that came to me looking at previous threads and would seem relevant to what you are asking

  • exchemist June 2012
    Croc, all Simon seems to be saying is that if science (or, I'd have thought, in principle any other realm of study) has shown that such-and-such cannot be the case, then it must be bad theology to insist that such-and-such is true (because it then flies in the face of logic). This is not binding God, unless you believe that "God" is merely the product of theology. Simon is merely proposing some logical limits to theology, i.e. to the scope for us humans to misunderstand God and His works. (Now we see through a glass darkly and all that.)  

    Simon, it seems reasonable, as far as it goes, but perhaps this is not very far. For a start, I'd have thought no scientific theory can positively disprove any belief, given the provisional model nature of theories. It would need to be a specific observation, such as your example. To be honest I'd have thought this idea would have rather limited application in theology, unless one is dealing with the wackiest of the wacky, e.g. moon is made of green cheese (when we have rock samples brought back, observation of which proves this is not so). After all, science can't disprove that Princess Diana was murdered by the Duke of Edinburgh driving a white Fiat Uno. It just seems vanishingly unlikely, to most people who are not paranoid conspiracy theorists. Occam's razor and a general trust in the boringness of things seem more relevant to dismissing such things.

    But I am starting to appreciate I've led a sheltered life where non-mainstream theology is concerned, so maybe your idea is more useful than I think. 


     




  • croc June 2012

    Exchemist

    What I was suggesting to explore is, if God is/isn't bound by science that will affect our understanding of how we view theology.

    Also, of course, our theology should be based on what God tells us in His word.

     

  • GavinM June 2012
    While it is true that god isn't bound by science, He also upholds moment by moment an ordered, structured universe filled with predictable patterns and laws that human beings can explore.

    As such we can use that to help shape our understanding of exactly how God created/creates and that in turn places reasonable boundaries on some specific points of theology i.e. Simon's point about modern genetics conclusively showing that we are not all physically derived from a single original human pair.

    Of course God is free to monkey around with His creation and could only make it appear that way, but that would be pretty out of character with a God who conciously upholds and sustains the workings of creation (Col 1:16-17), is overwhelmingly reliable (Heb 6: 17-18) and is pretty sold on truth (Titus 1:2).
  • croc June 2012

    Simon's statement that

    For instance the direct biological lineage of all mankind to two individuals called Adam and Eve is a bad theological belief because it can be shown to be false using genetics

    can be challenged as attached link

    http://creation.com/noah-and-genetics#txtRef2

    Gavin saying we can use science to help us shape our understanding of how God created everything is fine, it is when we don't accept that God also can work outside of science in  ways we don't understand, that we cause problems for ourselves

     

  • SimonSimon June 2012
    Simon's statement that
    For instance the direct biological lineage of all mankind to two individuals called Adam and Eve is a bad theological belief because it can be shown to be false using genetics
    can be challenged as attached link...

    Anything can be challenged, it's valid challenges that matter. That website is full of confusion, mistruth and lies. Go read an undergrad text book on genetics to see why. I'll only get into an argument about genetics if you show that you have read more than just creationist propaganda.

    Anthony/others - I don't think I'm advocating NOMA because I don't think we should be compartmentalising life in the way Gould suggests. Rather what I am saying is that there are different KINDS of explanations that can be valid in their own way. Take the Adam and Eve thing for instance. Biology shows us that inheritance is more complicated than the naive "everyone descended from one couple" theological interpretation, however despite this the story of Adam and Eve still tells us a lot about our theological place in life through analogy, myth etc. Thus good theology is to recognise what is valuable in the bible because this value will seldom (indeed never) be the cause of a fight with science. If it does cause a fight we need to check who is overstepping their area of expertise. Certainly in the creationism debate it is almost always those arguing from theology who go too far. A good understanding of anything uses both theological and scientific understanding at the same time.
  • GavinM June 2012
    Croc said: Gavin saying we can use science to help us shape our understanding of
    how God created everything is fine, it is when we don't accept that God
    also can work outside of science in  ways we don't understand, that we cause problems for ourselves

    I'm not at all saying that God can't work out of science, but if he does so to manipulate the physical universe then we would expect to find evidence of an abrupt discontinuity or physical impossibility somewhere where He did do so, for example a sudden dramatic change in genetic similarity across similar species. That we might do is the central claim of the Intelligent Design movement for example.

    That we don't see any such discontinuity (so far) is powerful evidence that God doesn't monkey around with the operations of the universe in such a disjointed fashion. Which is exactly what we can expect from a God who creates and orchestrates through what we perceive as the normal laws of the universe in operation, laws which He is continuously upholding and permissioning moment by moment.

    And anticipating a follow up this doesn't exclude personal acts of miracles in history, such as those recorded in the Bible. These are always specific, directed acts with a particular theological point to be made at a particular time and not whole scale reorganisations and reworkings of universal law and order.
  • SimonSimon June 2012
    At risk of splitting this discussion in two, I want to agree with GavinM re miracles. The evidence suggests that on the whole God restricts himself to acting within the physical laws/environment that he has created. When he does perform miracles they seem to be of three types:

    i) miracles of attribution - that do not break physical laws but are meaningful within the context of humans/people.

    ii) miracles of timing, that again do not break physical laws, but at the same time are too coincidental to be "random chance". 

    iii) all-out supernatural miracles that defy scientific explanation, however these are very rare and almost always have wider theological significance e.g. the resurrection of Christ. Furthermore these miracles all seem to be extremely specific and thus leave little or no physical evidence (but they do not need to because they prove theological truths!).

    I think maybe a new thread could be required to talk about miracles, however in parting I will say that people of certain Christian persuasions cause a great deal of trouble by claiming far too many type iii) miracles. For example I know a medical doctor who went to all the "healing" meetings of a certain well known American "healing" evangelist. He then asked the people who had been healed if he could check their medical notes and carry out a medical examination. Of the people who consented none had experienced any form of supernatural healing despite all of them (and the healers publicity) claiming the opposite. His conclusion was that this doesn't mean God doesn't perform specific one-off personal healing miracles, it just means that Christians need to be more honest in what they claim. It causes a great deal of harm to the gospel if Christians are caught out exaggerating or even lying!
  • Simon - on NOMA, I don't know much about Gould's views, but it seems you are pushing in a similar direction, insofar as you seem to divide the realm of explanations into two non-overlapping domains. There is the domain of scientific explanations, and the domain of theological explanations. And part of your definition of a [good?] theological explanation is that it cannot come into conflict with any conceivable scientific explanation. That sounds quite non-overlapping to me.

    But maybe I've misunderstood. For clarity, are you saying:

    (1) If a proposed theological explanation conflicts with a (true) scientific explanation, then it is still a theological explanation, but it is an incorrect theological explanation, or

    (2) If a proposed theological explanation conflicts with a (true) scientific explanation, then a category mistake has been made, and the explanation is not a theological explanation?
  • SimonSimon June 2012
    Hi Anthony,

    If you notice I've been using the words "good" and "bad" theology. So I think my position is most similar to your point 1, although not quite the same. How about:

    If a proposed theological explanation conflicts with a true* scientific explanation, then it is still a theological explanation, but an example of bad theology.

    Meanwhile good theology cannot conflict with science.

    *where true equates to the correspondent, coherent and pragmatic. 
  • croc June 2012

    Simon

    Re your statement      'That website is full of confusion, mistruth and lies.'

    Please give me examples

  • exchemist June 2012
    Simon and Anthony, It's taken me a while to work out that the NOMA you both refer to is Gould's Non-Overlapping Magisteria. NOMA does instinctively feel to me like at least a fairly good approximation for most purposes (perhaps a bit like the Born-Oppenheimer approximation in quantum mechanics). Certainly it has always seemed to me that theology has no business attempting to tell us what the patterns are that we can discern in nature (which is how I think of natural science), while conversely science is unable to speak about meaning and purpose in the world. 

    I suppose I can see that where science starts to address mental processes and consciousness, i.e. gets close to the subjective, inner experiences of being human, this approximation may break down. But I get the sense that you are both tiptoeing round NOMA and not wanting to endorse it, possibly for some more basic reason. Is there indeed a particular reason for this, e.g. some acknowledged fallacy of NOMA that I should be aware of?  

      
  • Simon - okay, that's clear. But are you now saying anything other than that there is no final conflict between science and faith? That's something that TEs, OECs and YECs all agree on!

    exchemist - sorry, yes, should have explained NOMA. I start from a comprehensive view of God as creator of everything - including science - so NOMA grates quite strongly with me. I do think there is some truth in it though - that, broadly speaking, meaning and purpose are closely associated with faith, and "how" questions are dealt with largely through science. But Christian faith is built on the events of history. If those events didn't happen, then there is no grounds for Christian faith. That is one example of where "faith" crosses the boundary from meaning and purpose into the empirical realm.
  • SimonSimon June 2012
    Anthony,

    I think I'm being a bit stronger than just saying "there is no final conflict between science and faith". Although I obviously endorse this statement, I am also wanting to say that theology CANNOT provide a good reason to doubt a well formulated scientific consensus.

    Let me expand a bit: if we want to doubt a scientific theory for non-scientific reasons then philosophy and the social sciences will almost always do a better job than theology. This is because I think theology is more of a "meta" study that provides very broad overviews, whereas the social sciences are perhaps a bit more precise, and science even more precise.

    exchemist - the reason I do not like NOMA is because it is a bit too precise for my liking. Incidentally it is discussed and critiqued very well in this faraday paper.