In praise of theology

In the spirit of fair play and all that, I should make a list of what I like about the enterprise of theology.

  • It’s less harmful than economics,
  •  

If I think of anything else I’ll add it to the list. Right now I’m drawing a blank.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05693985638589020492 Mark

    Is there some particularly silly theological exercise that provoked this thought?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09934402450298584577 Charles Sullivan

    1. It makes for great fantasy fiction.

    2. It tastes like chicken (invisible chicken, that is).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14479224236264150172 WAR_ON_ERROR

    Sometimes it's a good foil for getting to know reality better. It's great for the "how not to do epistemology" thing. hehe

    Ben

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Are you talking about philosophical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, or dogmatic theology?

    Also, what is "theology" in your view?

    Note: if you try to define "theology" then you are doing philosophy, perhaps even philosophical theology!

    But if you don't try to define "theology" then there is not much chance that you will persuade any critical thinker that your views about theology are reasonable.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09934402450298584577 Charles Sullivan

    @Bradley:

    One just needs to examine theological claims, not define theology.

    And yes, one is doing philosophy by examining theological claims, but so what?

    One is doing philosophy by examining a whole host of claims: psychological, sociological, anthropological…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Bradley Bowen, have you had your sense of humor surgically removed, by any chance?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06394155516712665665 CyberKitten

    It keeps theologians busy……?

    Idle hands & all that jazz….. [grin]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Since no clarification of "theology" seems to be forthcoming, I will try conversing with an imaginary person, call her Sophie, who is more inclinded towards having a discussion of this interesting topic.

    Sophie: "Theology" is the study of God. There is no such thing as "God", so any attempt to study God is doomed to failure.

    Bradley: Hold on. How do you know that there is no such thing as "God"?

    Sophie: There are no good arguments for the existence of God, and science can provide explanations for all the phenomena that we experience without the need of the hypothesis that there is a God.

    Bradley: So, have you ever considered the argument from design or the first-cause argument for God? How about Anselm's ontological argument?

    Sophie: Yes, I'm familiar with those arguments, but they are all unsound. They either make questionable assumptions or use faulty logic to arrive at the conclusion that God exists.

    Bradley: Good. I'm glad that you've examined some key arguments for God; otherwise, you opinion on this question would not deserve much respect, being an opinion formed out of ignorance. But in considring those arguments for God, you were doing philosophical theology, so you were doing the very thing that you claim is impossible to do, right?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14479224236264150172 WAR_ON_ERROR

    Bradley,

    Um, can't Sophie have concluded from various theological attempts that God does not exist? One can say that theology is worthless because God does not exist presuppositionally or one can conclude theology is worthless because it either fails to reasonably conclude God exists or even outright disproves that God exists. Your fictitious wisdom proxy seems to only represent one school of thought there, and certainly not the best one.

    Ben

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Bradley: Sophie, do you believe that the Old Testament and New Testament are in complete agreement? Do you think that the New Testament is like a building that has a solid foundation in the teachings of the Old Testament?

    Sophie: No, not at all. The Old Testament and New Testament present us with logically contradictory views of God, human nature, and morality. It is clear that the Bible is not the inspired "Word of God" because it advocates various conflicting beliefs and points of view on the central topics that it covers. If there were an all-knowing and perfectly good deity, such a person would not communicate to humans such a garbled and logically inconsistent jumble of ideas and viewpoints as we find in the Bible.

    Bradley: Have you read the Bible, Sophie? Do you have a good grasp on what the OT writers believed and taught, and what the NT writers believed and taught?

    Sophie: Yes, of course I have read and studied the Bible. I know what I'm talking about.

    Bradley: Great, I'm glad that your views about the alleged inspiration of the Bible are not based on ignorant and unthinking impressions about the contents of the Bible.

    When you read and interpret the Bible, especially concerning issues about God, human nature, and morality, as you obviously have done in this case, you are doing biblical theology.

    In attributing certain views about God, human nature, and morality to OT writers, you are making a claim in the area of biblical theology. The same is true for your claims about the NT writers. And your critique about differences and inconsistencies between these writers is also a matter of biblical theology.

    So, once again, it seems that you have already been doing the very thing that you say is impossible to do, right?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Charles Sullivan said:

    "One just needs to examine theological claims, not define theology."

    "One just needs to" do what is necessary to do in order to achieve one's particular objective(s).

    If the objective is to show that theology in general is impossible or worthless or intellectually illegitimate, then one needs to define (or clarify the meaning of) theology in general.

    Providing examples of specific theological claims might be helpful as part of the task of defining or clarifying "theology", but I don't think you can do an adequate job of clarifying what "theology" is apart from some attempt at explaining what connects the various pieces or examples of theology to each other.

    Perhaps a traditional genus-species defintion won't be adequate. Perhaps a standard list of necessary conditions that jointly form a sufficient condition won't do either.

    But shovelling out a bunch of alleged examples of theological claims certainly will not suffice, by itself, to clarify the meaning of this concept.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    War On Error said:
    "Your fictitious wisdom proxy seems to only represent one school of thought there, and certainly not the best one."

    My personal preference is to have discussions of interesting issues with real people, rather than imaginary people. But that requires that a real person be willing to make claims, and also be willing to explain, clarify, and defend those claims.

    If you are offering to replace the imaginary Sophie and to supply your own ideas, beliefs, arguments, explanations, clarifications, comments, and objections on this topic, that is just fine with me.

    Do you believe that theology is impossible? or possible but worthless? or intellectually illegitimate? If so, are all types of theology (philosophical, biblical, systematic, dogmatic) impossible? or worthless? What is "theology" in your view? Can you give a general definition of it? or some kind of analysis that clarifies this concept?

    If you cannot define "theology" or give a clear characterization of what "theology" means, then why should I (or any critical thinker) take your views about theology seriously?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Taner Edis said:
    "Bradley Bowen, have you had your sense of humor surgically removed, by any chance?"

    I asked the surgeon to remove my sense of humor, but the surgical team had not started using checklists yet, so they got confused and accidentally removed my ability to suffer fools gladly. ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14479224236264150172 WAR_ON_ERROR

    Bradley,

    You don't appear to be asking any questions that are not already answered in my previous comment.

    Ben

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    War On Error (Ben) said:
    "One can say that theology is worthless because God does not exist presuppositionally or one can conclude theology is worthless because it either fails to reasonably conclude God exists or even outright disproves that God exists."

    I think this answers one of my questions. I infer that your view is that theology is possible but worthless. But I don't see a definition of "theology" in your brief post, or any attempt to clarify the meaning of this concept.

    You have stated a position, and hinted at an argument for your position, but you need to clarify the central concept in your conclusion: "Theology is worthless."

    If you don't know what theology is, then you are not in a position to make this claim. If you do know what theology is, then you need to enlighten the rest of us, so that we are able to rationally evaluate your argument and the claim you are making (and so we have a chance to learn something from you).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14479224236264150172 WAR_ON_ERROR

    Yeah, I don't think I have a novel definition of theology. It's the study of anything that might be related to the God question. That's pretty generic and open ended. Seems you've picked the wrong post and topic to make some kind of point to the other side. Better luck next time.

    Ben

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    War On Error said:

    Theology is "the study of anything that might be related to the God question."

    That is a very broad definition of theology, so if you think that "theology" in this sense is worthless, then you think that a whole lot of intellectual efforts are worthless.

    Is the study of history worthless? It seems to me that some historical studies are relevant to the question of whether God exists or whether God has intervened in human history on some occaisions. Such historical study would count as theology on your definition, and would thus be worthless.

    Is the study of psychology worthless? It seems to me that the study of psychology could and has shed light on alleged religious experiences, and since religious experiences are used to justify belief in God, the study of such experiences is related to the question of whether God exists, and whether belief in God is justified, so such psychological study would count as theology on your definition, and would thus be worthless, in your view.

    Any study of arguments for or against the existence of God is obviously related to "the God question", and thus would count as theology on your definition, so any study of arguments for or against the existence of God would be worthless according to you.

    This puts you in the same position as Sophie. Have you never examined any arguments for or against the existence of God? If that is the case, then you have no right to expect me (or any critical thinker) to take your opinion about "the God question" seriously.

    On the other hand, if you have taken time to examine some arguments for or against the existence of God, then why do you say that engaging is such study is worthless? You appear to be advocating a position that you yourself do not follow.

    There is some unclarity or vagueness in this definition: "the God question". Your use of the definite article "the" suggests that there is only one question in view, perhaps, "Does God exist?". Is that what you mean, or do you have a whole set of questions, or topic, in mind?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    One more example…

    Is the study of biology worthless? The study of biology to determine the origin of species has cast doubt on the religious claim that God created all of the animals on earth in a short span of time about ten thousand years ago. Thus, the study of biology in a very important area (evolution) appears to be related to "the God question". If this is so, then the study of biology would, in some important cases, qualify as "theology" on your definition, and would therefore be worthless, on your view.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    So, are you sticking to your definition of "theology"?

    If so, then I cannot accept your claim that "Theology is worthless" because this would mean that a lot of intellectual efforts in history, psychology, biology, and other areas are worthless.

    Would you like to narrow the definition of "theology" a bit to make your conclusion more plausible?


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