Theology (and Science)

People who have one foot in science and the other foot in theology are engaging in a remarkable enterprise. On the one hand, they are engaged in the pursuit of new knowledge, presumably to aid them in uncovering a better and more complete understanding of the universe–on the other, they are engaged in the practice of making sure that everything they discover fits into their foregone conclusions.

The discipline of theology is nothing but glorified post-hoc rationalization. It is scarcely even an art form. Can you write a poem that expresses this sentiment? Can you come up with a divine story that makes sense of both A and B being true? An excellent critique of theology that I recently read explained that theology is in the business of supplying the personalized God that suits your needs, by mangling the rigid (and very non-personalized) source material. It is the business of making the Bible say whatever you wish it to say, and providing people with a way to keep believing whatever they wish to believe (or in the few honourable cases, pointing out what the Bible actually says/meant–but this is not theology so much as it is history and sociology).

There is also that well-known, and spot-on analysis by Thomas Paine:

The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.

Even as a Christian, I nearly posted these same words on this blog, owing to my suspicions that the whole enterprise was based on nothing. It just turns out that my suspicions were far better founded than I thought.

If you study Greek, Hebrew, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Ancient Near East, World Religions, the things people believed in the past, or the New Testament, then you are doing something. But you are not doing theology.

If you are serving the poor, playing in worship bands, having potlucks in your church gymnasium, then you are doing something. But you are not doing theology.

Theology has got to be one of the most vacuous of all human activities. Not only is it invented, but it is invented within the constraint of arriving at the old conclusions from the new facts. It is the parading of meaningless language and platitudes. If you are engaged in this discipline, I would advise you to stop before you waste any more of your life, or spill any more ink.

Those who would defend theology (and I have never had the heart to tell a theologian just how pointless I view his/her endeavours, so I don’t know how they defend it) might say that “If you assume the Christian God doesn’t exist, of course there is nothing to study! But if the Bible is true, then it is all worthwhile.” But why’s that, and how’s that? Think about it.

A) Theology demonstrates absolutely nothing. It procures no new information whatsoever; it rests entirely on existing information and assumptions, arriving at no fundamentally new conclusions. If any of its conclusions are new, it must admit that the history of the Christian church has been wholly in error, which it cannot do.

B) Theological rationalizations are stupid. Just read some of that stuff. If you think it isn’t stupid, it’s probably because you’re either a theologian yourself, or you’re thinking about the theologies that fit in with your worldview. But let me show you what some theologians say who are more “liberal” than you, and you will necessarily agree with me on how stupid it is. I have sat through three or four services at a United Church of Canada, and it took effort not to giggle. A presbyterian girl I knew kept glancing back at her boyfriend with a “can you believe how stupid this is?” look on her face. Indeed.

C) Theology does not speak about tangibles. It is like a horoscope. All of the nouns in theological writing are immaterial objects that have no connection with human experience whatsoever (“Spirit, Holy Spirit, Atonement, Sanctification by Blood of the Faithful Transcendence of the Triune…”), and the best you can do is imagine vague, shifting shapes and colours whilst conjuring up whatever feelings you please. There is no way to imagine what a theologian is talking about; therefore an almost infinite number of theological statements can be equally valid, and they cannot be tested or scrutinized in any way, shape or form.

D) Why would God even download the trouble of theology on us? Why would he obscure himself–but not well enough that you can’t figure him out; just enough that you need to study theology? Or read a theologian (two thousand years later)?

E) Theology is guaranteed to succeed, therefore its existence is meaningless. Have you ever seen a theologian set out to develop a theology… and fail? No. If you want a pro-gay Christian theology, shazam, there it is. If you want a Muslim theology, hadith; there it is.  If you want a theology where aborted babies go to heaven, people get to choose their way out of hell, the wicked get annihilated instead of pointlessly suffering forever, or even a theology where nobody goes to hell, then fear not. We pay people to say these things, and to believe what they say. In robes, no less.

You might say that theology doesn’t always succeed: nobody has theologized that God’s Will is for Catholic Priests to be porn stars. But that’s just because nobody has tried it. If Christians wanted to prove this, it could be done overnight.

Since theology always succeeds, it means nothing when a theology of some topic exists. All it means is that you can always come up with a way of making anything “work.”

You can theologize up a theology that places the end times on pretty much any day you want (see: Harold Camping), and you can even convince thousands of people that it all makes sense. We don’t respect people who are professional interpreters of their own horoscopes. Why should we respect the profession of theologians?

If the purpose of theology is to know God better, it could not have failed more spectacularly. The church today is fragmented into thousands of factions with increasingly bizarre “non-essential” beliefs (if they aren’t essential then why are we arguing about them?). It’s full of Catholics with their own bizarre theologies (I have a book called “Evolution and Eden” which you simply must read–so much for Catholics having one almighty orthodox Christian doctrine). Nobody claims to have any better idea what God is like. Nobody even agrees any better what God is like. The church is farther than ever from having a clue what’s going on. Theology has merely flapped in the wind as science, history, archaeology and linguistics discover new things.

Why look for answers about the nature of the world in science if you already know those answers by divine revelation? You don’t. It’s amazing to me that we have people engaged in both theology and science. It’s amazing to me that I wanted to be one of those people someday. Do you know what I dreamt of doing? I dreamt of doing good science, dusting off my hands, and standing in front of a large crowd of people, saying: “See! I did science, and I am a Christian. There is no conflict.” That is the real purpose of doing theology and science. It was all based on the assumption that Christianity was true, and I just had to find some way of convincing these other people that it all worked out. It was not an effort to discover; it was an effort to make sure that nobody had discovered anything that invalidated the existing paradigm (and if they did, it was an effort to explain it away).

Theology and science are the absolute antithesis of one another. When you sum a positive and a negative, do you know what you get?



One Response to “Theology (and Science)”

  1. Brutal, but very satisfying and entertaining. I hope the internet lends some souls to offer good rebuttals.

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