What makes good theology?
  • exchemist June 2012
    Interesting stuff. I am struggling a bit to understand the problem with NOMA, though, even after reading the Denis Alexander's Faraday paper. My conception of natural science is fairly modest: the process of finding of patterns in nature which help us understand the reality of the physical world better, through the construction of models that explain the patterns. If that is all it is, then while religion may be inspired in us by what we find, and theology can help us understand what we feel, I can't see that religion or theology can tell us WHAT to find. 

    I've never seen NOMA as saying religion or faith have no place in our EXPERIENCE of the natural world, just that the PROCESS (of finding patterns) is not one that religion can help with. Having said that, speaking in an objective sense, I've no doubt that subjective inspiration of individuals can come from religious conviction (Einstein was famously convinced that God doesn't play dice, for example, though many quantum physicists might disagree.) Model-building, after all, is a creative act, requiring inspiration. But, after the inspirational act of creation, the test of the model, which is where a scientific model parts company with one based on wishful thinking, requires cool, objective observations.

    Maybe I'm advocating a "weak form" of NOMA, or something.
  • SimonSimon June 2012
    Right - I was gazing out the window thinking about this whilst on a train up to London yesterday and came to the conclusion that I/we/us are guilty of an equivocation. What I mean is that I do not think we have distinguished carefully enough between three different comparisons when talking about NOMA:

    1. Science vs Faith
    2. Science vs Religion
    3. Science vs Theology 

    My main (historical) reason for rejecting NOMA is because I view "faith" as very much a part of scientific thinking. We have faith in theories, experiments, peer review, paradigms etc. etc. As such NOMA cannot work regarding the science vs faith comparison.

    Regarding "religion" I think I also reject NOMA, mainly based upon contemporary psychology, neuroscience and social-science that shows how important religion is for the way we view both ourselves and the world. Thus science very much speaks to matters of religion and NOMA must again be rejected.

    However regarding theology I think I would like to adopt NOMA. This is because, as I mentioned above, theology is a sort of overarching meta-narrative that doesn't really speak to the issues that science addresses. Theology's role is to help us find a structure in our religion, but pertaining to the supernatural - ie forces BEYOND nature. As such any supernatural conclusion cannot, by definition, be in the realm of science - it can have no scientific explanation. This is why I think "scientific" creationism and ID is so much nonsense because it mixes two non-overlapping majesteria. Indeed if something we think is "theological" can be proven by science it is far more likely to be an example of "religious" belief and thus far more open to revision than the higher level theological concepts. Hence I now have a slightly better reason to adopt the position I stated at the beginning of this thread: 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.