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Science and Theology as Self Correcting Version 2.5

February 11, 2010

First, my apologies to Knockgoats and Johann for not replying directly to their latest responses. Our conversation has made me rethink a number of points about my original post and I think I would like to take this conversation in a different direction.

This thought line was prompted by something Knockgoats said when he asserted that science can correct the scientific method. It was an interesting thought and one I had not considered. I asked a number of different scientists that I know (PHD in physics and another a graduate from MIT) about the statement. They gave some good wide ranging feed back and has help me rethink a few things.

So, now, I would say, neither science nor theology is fully self correcting.

I realize this position is probably more controversial than just asserting that theology is self correcting. As a number of you pointed out, theology, as a discipline, is not fully self correcting. It has a number of different conversation partners. Many of you want to go on about science as being the Lord of theology, but this is simply not the case, no matter how much you assert it. Has science contributed to the theological discussion? You better believe it has and in very constructive ways. However, there are a number of things that have contributed to the theological discussion as well, history, archeology, and literary studies.

Whethere you like it or not, science has been corrected by all the above disciplines. Example One: The Eugenics discussion at the end of the 19th and 20th century. I know many of you will assert this is pseudoscience. We know this to be the case now.  However, at the begining of the century, it was a hot mess tearing through the scientific community. How did it stop? It wasn’t self corrected by science. It was corrected by philosophy, human experience and in many cases, theology. It showed us what happens when science tries to build a whole philosophy of life without the other disciplines to check it.

The reason for both disciplines not being fully self correctional is because both are done by individual human beings with all of our limitations, passions and abilities. None of those things are bad. They drive us to find the truth. Science and theology are both driven by a passionate desire to find the truth. Science gives us great truth in how the natural world works. However, it has been unable to give us any sort of worldview or ethical guidelines, Dawkins protestations notwithstanding.

I’m not a huge fan of Stephen A Gould’s “seperate magistarium” illustration. I think it’s a great idea in what it attempts to do. It would be a great thing if human beings could be that coldly objective. We aren’t, so the illustration falls apart. I prefer to think of science, history, theology, literary studies, archeology and all the academic disciplines as overlapping circles. That is, they can be convesations partners on shared topics and should be hands off the other where they can’t. For example, no one should take “God into the laboratory” when they are trying to do science. I don’t mean that theist scientists can’t pray or whatever when they are in the labroatory. I mean they have to be careful not to fudge the experiment just because it might fit their particular theological framework.

So, as conversation partners, they can argue and correct each other when the time’s are apporiate. They can correct each other.

Now, this should do away with the need for either science or theology to protest they are self correcting. Theology has it’s own internal process, no question about it. Same with science. However, each of those processes can be subject to correction when they step over into the other disciplines area.  

Awaiting the firestorm…..

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64 Comments leave one →
  1. to infinitively split permalink
    February 11, 2010 1:10 pm

    I think you’re obfuscating science and how we choose to use science

  2. Knockgoats permalink
    February 11, 2010 3:18 pm

    With regard to science not being able to furnish a “whole philosophy of life”, you are quite correct. You can’t derive an “ought” (an ethical precept or value) from an “is” (a fact claim), whether the latter is scientific, historical, philosophical, or theological – although fact claims can be relevant to value claims. The difference between science (and mathematics, and parts of history and philosophy) on the one hand, and theology on the other, is in their ability to self-correct with regard to fact claims, and indeed, methods of arriving at fact claims. This ability can certainly be reduced either by external interference (e.g. Lysenkoism in the USSR under Stalin), or by scientists’ own preconceptions, either scientific or non-scientific (religious, political, social – eugenics would be a good example of the latter). However, even here there is an automatic self-correction mechanism, though it may be slow to operate: if science within a particular discipline or society is sufficiently hampered in this way, it will tend to lose out to science elsewhere that is less so. Mathematics is probably less prone to such hampering, while this particular self-corrective mechanism would be much less useful in history and philosophy, and as far as I can see, non-existent in theology. We’re still lacking a clear instance of any form of self-correction in the latter.

    I don’t know the eugenics story in any detail, but the correction was at least in part internal: the formulation of population genetics by Fisher, Wright, Haldane and others in the 1920s and 1930s brought to light the number of deleterious recessive alleles we all harbour. This makes it impractical to either “breed out” genetic problems, or to “breed for” supposedly desirable characteristics, as the latter would require inbreeding, with the result that many individuals would get two copies of such alleles. We can see the results of that in many breeds of pedigree dog.

  3. Johann permalink
    February 11, 2010 5:34 pm

    Many of you want to go on about science as being the Lord of theology, but this is simply not the case, no matter how much you assert it.

    I think you still misunderstand what we’re saying. It’s not that science tells religion what to do, as you seem to imply – it’s that on questions of what the natural world is like, from bacteriology to astronomy, science leads the way and theology sooner or later has to follow or risk appearing ridiculous. Science is simply better at telling us about the properties of the world.

    It seems that you now want to direct the discussion away from “is” claims and over to “ought”. Very well; I’ll take it as a tacit admission that theology has no way to establish the truth of its claims, and move on.

    However, it has been unable to give us any sort of worldview or ethical guidelines, Dawkins protestations notwithstanding.

    Okay. Now that we’ve shifted the discussion from data to influences among disciplines and nebulous things of that sort, I can unreservedly call bullshit on this. 😉

    Animals were thought to be without consciousness (or souls, as Christian theologians claimed) for over two millennia, so anything people did to them was thought to be morally neutral. Further refinements in theology cast them as unthinking machines, able to simulate but not to actually feel pain.

    It wasn’t until the 19th century and an increased interest in investigating animal behavior that this changed in any significant way. Darwin discussed this directly in the Origin – “It is a significant fact, that the more the habits of any particular animal are studied by a naturalist, the more he attributes to reason, and the less to unlearnt instinct” – and of course, his own work and its implications of a continuity of development between animals and ourselves touched off a wave of interest in the question that has led us to the still rather troubled and shifting understanding of our day, with guidelines for ethical treatment of animals, humane farming and slaughter practices, and so on.

    Now, does science in this case explicitly tell us what to do regarding animals? No. That is not its role. What it does is give us information that we can use to make a more informed decision. Is the direction of scientific investigation on questions like this influenced by outside factors? Of course. Scientists are human, pursuing things of interest to humans, and they have limited time and resources to devote to research; the search for information is prioritized on both a personal and on a societal level. Sometimes, these priorities get fucked up.

    What’s important to understand – and where you seem to consistently confuse what science actually does and what it morally “ought” to do – is that the science still works, whether it’s in the investigation of bird migration patterns or in figuring out which combination of chemical agents will most reliably kill an enemy force. In both cases, we use it to find out things about the world.

    The scientific method doesn’t get a say in what it is applied to, much like a knife does not decide whether you use it to cut up your roast or to stab your wife. Do individual scientists make moral decisions concerning what they will work on? Of course, all the time; I know many who are vehemently opposed to working on military projects, who are morally opposed to animal experimentation, who deliberately went into a field of research based on how much it benefits humankind, and so on. Does society influence such decisions and the overall direction of research, both directly and indirectly? Of course. But whether they’re working on their own time on a project they like, or under compulsion in a secret lab somewhere, sooner or later scientists who are investigating the same thing are going to reach more or less the same conclusions about it. Or, to put it differently, continued scientific investigation converges on reality to give us an ever-close approximation of it.

    Theology does not; it specializes in things that are not real. So it has no basis for “correcting” science when it comes to the data – when theology does try this it is usually to the detriment of our understanding of the world. Now, because of its heavy involvement in philosophy and ethics theology is often invoked when it comes to deciding how to apply science and what to research – often to the detriment of that discussion as well. Consider the current brouhaha about stem cell research – or for a broader question, look at, say, religious objections to adoption by gay couples vs. the evidence collected on it and the positions adopted by leading associations of psychologists based on that evidence. (What’s that? Science correcting theology? Who’d have thunk it? ;))

    Now, this should do away with the need for either science or theology to protest they are self correcting. Theology has it’s own internal process, no question about it. Same with science. However, each of those processes can be subject to correction when they step over into the other disciplines area.

    You’re still being far too nebulous with your terms, Jon, and you still haven’t told us what in the world “correct” theology might be like and by what method one might arrive at it. I think we’ve been fairly clear about what we mean when we describe science as self-correcting, and how it goes about it. Would you do us the same courtesy?

  4. Knockgoats permalink
    February 11, 2010 5:45 pm

    Now, does science in this case explicitly tell us what to do regarding animals? No. That is not its role. What it does is give us information that we can use to make a more informed decision. – Johann

    Exactly. That’s what I meant ( but was not explicit about) by saying that fact claims can’t determine matters of value, but they are relevant – and it’s science, and other disciplines where there is the prospect of an appeal to objectively testable evidence (mathematics, parts of history and philosophy) that can (imperfectly) sift fact claims. Theology can’t, because it tries to put its key claims (there is a God, God is good, Jesus was the son of God, Jesus was resurrected, the Bible is divinely inspired…) beyond question, yet there are no remotely adequate rational grounds for accepting any of them – so it’s all obfuscation.

  5. Ash permalink
    February 11, 2010 8:30 pm

    John, on the last thread you said;

    I wonder if you read my post and responses at all.

    I did, would you like to extend me the same courtesy? Perhaps you missed my last post, in which case let me repeat my direct questions here;

    What do you define as reality then?

    You claim my post was mere assertion; is it only bad when I do it? Because you have failed to make any kind of case for religion or theology being anything but…

    I would love a response to my initial question;
    “I also presume when you talk of theology, you are talking of specifically Christian theology. If you are willing to label this as ’self correcting’, would you also apply that term to Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist etc. theology? why/why not?”

    I certainly don’t mean to move the goalposts. If i did so, it was unintentional.

    Except when it is, presumably…

  6. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 11, 2010 8:31 pm

    Johan and Knockgoats,

    I think we are getting closer to an understanding. It’s good to see that you don’t think that science is lord over everything. That is really good to know. I did think that’s what you are implying.

    As for science being better telling about the natural world and its properties, I think I have already stated that I agree with you. there is no debate. Thus, the overlapping circle statement.

    As for the animal thing, you are completely wrong. Theologians have debated the consciousness/soul issues a long time before the 19th century. The Hebrew word ruach is used for soul and its applied to animals as well as humans. So, much of the discussion has been centered arount this word and what it means.

    Johan, I can’t believe you made this statement, “Theology does not; it specializes in things that are not real”. You have no way to determine if this statement is true. The best you can do, from science if you must, is say we don’t know, especially if you are going to put out the idea that scientific knowledge is never complete. A statement which, if you are willing to agree, we will have an accord.

    You keep wanting to say that theology says nothing real, but you have no basis for doing so, even from a scientific point of you. You are making assertions that science in no way backs up. It can’t back it up because science is not Meant to address those questions and therefore CAN’T be the final judge on this question. However, I do agree with Knockgoats that science does have something to say to theology. However, I will disagree with him on the basis of rational grounds because I have yet to hear him define what those rational grounds would look like.

    Now, back to theology. Here is a system that’s more or less been follow in the history of Christianity. I’m going to assume the Bible as an authority, because to explain how that came about takes a whole other system. Once again, I will point out that the parallel between theology and science is not exact. Theology is more of an art, not a science.

    1) Get a book of the Bible or a series of verses
    2) Consider what kind of book it is (letter,gospel, etc)
    3) Who would have first heard this book?
    4)Deteremine the context of a the particular verses you want to examine. What is the flow of thought?
    5) Consult others, church authorties, fathers, theologians, weigh their words
    6)Make an argument on theological point, write a paper with above as support
    7)Submit to a peer review theological journal/seminary professors
    8)Be Critiqued.
    9) Make revisions.

    That’s the basic flow of how theology is done.

    I’m on the road most of the day to Michigan, so I may not be able to answer most of the weekend, although I will try.

  7. Ash permalink
    February 11, 2010 10:00 pm

    Oh, so theology is just literary criticism with added faith? Ok, I understand that; it just means that your analogy to science was hopelessly flawed the first time you made it 🙂

  8. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 11, 2010 11:22 pm

    Ash,
    I said nothing of the kind.

  9. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 6:38 am

    “Theology does not; it specializes in things that are not real”- Johann

    Logic tells us that the God of doctrinally orthodox Christianity is not real, because the doctrine of the hypostatic union is necessarily false. The existence of evil is very strong evidence that there is no benevolent and omnipotent god. So Johann’s statement is justified, and science doesn’t come into it. As for gods in general, they could exist, but so could leprechauns. How many chairs of leprechaunology are there?

    I’m going to assume the Bible as an authority

    Which is the fundamental flaw in the whole system. You could just as validly assume The Iliad or The Lord of the Rings as an authority, and write papers on how many heads Scylla had, or the genealogy of Frodo. In fact, more so, because these works contain fewer internal inconsistencies. A better parallel might be the Sherlock Holmes canon, because it has a lot of inconsistencies (What is Dr. Watson’s first name? Where did the jezail bullet wound him? Why wasSilver Blaze not disqualified and his owner banned from the turf?), and because (cod) learned papers are written on these questions. They have as much intellectual value as anything that assumes the Bible as an authority. Your “because to explain how that came about takes a whole other system” is just another theological cop-out. How the Bible came to be regarded as an authority is a historical question of great interest, whereas what you need is a rational justification for so regarding it.

    However, I will disagree with him [me] on the basis of rational grounds because I have yet to hear him define what those rational grounds would look like.

    Clear evidence that a god exists of course. Were angelic hosts to appear in the sky, or amputated limbs started growing back in response to prayer, or “out” homosexuals and well-known atheists to be struck by lightning with a statistically implausible frequency, or ever-burning bushes to manifest themselves, or the digits of pi from the quintillionth onwards, or human “junk” DNA turned out to spell out the Bible in a simple code, or… I would consider this good evidence for the existence of Old Nobodaddy; I might even start worshipping the old monster out of sheer terror, though I hope not. More generally, if there is a god, and that god wants to be known and worshipped (though why an omnipotent being should have such a desire is unexplained), why not make its existence abundantly plain?

  10. Ash permalink
    February 12, 2010 7:08 am

    Ash,
    I said nothing of the kind.

    See Knockgoats comment above about literary criticism. Tell us the difference if you will. Or is that another straight question that you will refuse to engage with?

  11. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 7:53 am

    Quite so, Ash – you made the point much more succinctly!

    Correction: Scylla is in the Odyssey, not the Iliad.

    For learned Holmesiana, see The Baker Street Journal.

  12. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 12, 2010 8:08 am

    Ash, I have been trying to engage your questions time and time again. See my reply to others, as I don’t feel like answering the same questions again and again. It’s fine if you don’t accept my answers,but I felt I answered all your questions in my replies to Knockgoats and Johann. Forgive me if I don’t feel like repeating myself again and again.

    So, for those who need a point by point discussion: here you go

    What do you define as reality then?

    I think it’s pretty obvious how I define reality, don’t you?

    I would love a response to my initial question;
    “I also presume when you talk of theology, you are talking of specifically Christian theology. If you are willing to label this as ’self correcting’, would you also apply that term to Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist etc. theology? why/why not?”

    I think this question begs a number of different questions. Buddhists would claim they don’t do theology. I’m not sure about Hindu. Islamic theology is something I’m not familiar with. So, the short answer to your question is that I feel highly uncomfortable dealing with those religions as I know very little about their theological processes, if they have any at all. So, I would rather not presume to speak on behalf of someone who comes from these religious traditions. If someone who has or is familiar with them, feel free to post it here. I can only speak from the Christian theological process.

    However, if you read this post, you will know that I have changed my postion on whether theology can be completely self correcting. So, maybe this is all moot anyway.

  13. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 12, 2010 8:20 am

    I feel like I made the difference pretty obvious, but I guess not. I’m not sure what else to tell you.

  14. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 8:40 am

    Jonathan,

    All your steps 1-9 can easily be adapted to describe literary criticism (except for point 6); but in the latter there is no claim that the work investigated is “an authority”. So “literary criticism with added faith” seems a perfectly fair description. Indeed, it’s quite possible to subject the Bible to literary criticism without making this assumption, and many scholars do. What’s your objection to the characterisation?

  15. Ash permalink
    February 12, 2010 9:38 am

    What do you define as reality then?

    I think it’s pretty obvious how I define reality, don’t you?

    See, this might be the problem; it’s not. You asked me what my idea of reality was, and even though I thought that was pretty obvious, I took it as a genuine question and answered accordingly. As my answer didn’t seem obvious to you (a point you have repeated by making this statement to Knockgoats; “I will disagree with him on the basis of rational grounds because I have yet to hear him define what those rational grounds would look like.”), I can only presume that you must have a different answer in mind. Perhaps, in face to face conversation, these things would be obvious, but this is cyber rather than meat space, and if you don’t wish to ‘argue with shadows’, why would you presume that it’s okay for others to be put in that position?

    All religions have an internal dialogue and discuss which parts of which books and teachings hold merit and how they are to be understood and applied. Some theology is more organised and structured than others. I am somewhat familiar with Islamic theology myself; certainly not an expert, but I know a bit. Your rough list of how Christian theology works is remarkably similar, although I do not know if there are specific publications that are open to competing views. I have read pieces from books and articles specifically on the subject of Islamic theology (mainly from feminist muslims) which are targeted at an academic Islamic audience; this then tallies with points 1-9 with the only possible exception being step 7 as explained.

    I understand you have changed your view away from theology being wholly self correcting; my issue is that you still left it open as partially self correcting. Given that, the problem arises that if both Islamic and Christian theology are both getting closer to their ‘truths’, yet they vehemently disagree with each other as to both their foundations (i.e. Bible + Qu’ran as being absolutely correct in fact if not in interpretation) and their outcomes, that both cannot be right. If then two different versions of theology cannot both be right, how can theology possibly address which, if any, is right? (without of course invoking special pleading). If it cannot do this, I do not understand how theology (as a discipline not subject to a preferred belief) can possibly be described as even partially self correcting, and I stand by my earlier statement that it is merely self affirming.

    The reason I state this is simple; to accept theology as having any worth one must already have accepted the principles on which it is built. It’s not ‘look at all this, what best explains it?’, it’s ‘ we know God explains it, how does that fit with all this?’ Starting with a conclusion and then trying to fit any evidence around that basis can only be self affirming.

  16. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 12, 2010 1:43 pm

    Ash,
    “The reason I state this is simple: To accept theology as having any worth one must already have accepted the princples on which it is built. It’s not “look at all this, what best explains it?” It’s we know that God explains i, how does that fit with all of this?” Starting with a conclusion and then trying to fit any evidence around that basis can be self affriming.”

    I would agree with by and large, but I would point out that everyone does this. I think it’s highly important we examine what we all presuppose to be true. I don’t think I have ever hid the fact I presuppose God to be true. I can’t prove to you that God exists, not the way you want. In fact, I would argue no one can prove anything by the standard you seem to be asking for in anything. Science itself would become a questionable endeavor and then, once again, we are left with complete Humian skepticism.
    From what I can tell, no one here is very comfortable with that.

    I will try to get to your other points when I get back into town.

  17. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 12, 2010 1:45 pm

    Knockgoats,
    I certainly don’t object to the literary criticism plus faith description. I think that is a good starting point in describing how theology works. So, no, I don’t object to that picture other than it’s incomplete.

  18. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 2:34 pm

    Science itself would become a questionable endeavor and then, once again, we are left with complete Humian skepticism. From what I can tell, no one here is very comfortable with that. – Jonathan

    It seems to me you’re not reading what is written. I am entirely comfortable with that, if what you mean by it is that there is nothing that should, or justifiably can, be placed beyond the possibility of revision. Nothing. At. All. There is not and cannot be any firm epistemic ground on which to base knowledge; foundationalist epistemology is fundamentally misconceived.

    Hume argued that induction is not logically valid (guaranteed to lead from true premises to true conclusions). That’s why it can only be used as an aid to framing hypotheses. Science, when attempting to discover true universal generalisations (this is by no means the only thing it does), thus uses the hypothetico-deductive method: frame a hypothesis, infer consequences from it, look to see if those consequences hold. This can never lead to a proof of the universal generalisation, although it can lead to a disproof.

    Science does not involve “Starting with a conclusion and then trying to fit any evidence around that basis” – if that’s what you’re doing, and you think you’re doing science, ur doin it rong – and what’s more, other scientists will not let you get away with it. Almost all Christian theology, on the other hand, does exactly that: nothing is allowed to cast doubt on the existence and goodness of God, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and the authority of the Bible and/or Church depending on denomination. That’s the difference. Those few theologians who do genuinely allow the possibility that central Christian dogmas might be false tend to end up like Bishop Spong or Dom Cupitt.

  19. AdamK permalink
    February 12, 2010 2:47 pm

    I can’t prove to you that God exists, not the way you want. In fact, I would argue no one can prove anything by the standard you seem to be asking for in anything.

    Short of proof, what would you cite as evidence? The bible? Your feelings? I would submit that there is no evidence whatsoever for the christian god that cannot be accounted for by other means.

    Science is not in the business of proving anything, and never claimed to be. It disproves incorrect hypotheses all the time, and weighs the evidence for others.

  20. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:05 pm

    Science is not in the business of proving anything – AdamK

    Actually, I don’t agree with that. It doesn’t put anything beyond all possible doubt, because nothing ever is; nor prove things logically from axioms, as mathematics does; but in the sense that we use the word in everyday or legal contexts, science does prove things: it proves that specific chemical substances can exist, that some are poisonous, some explosive, etc. It proves that the continents move, that Titan has an atmosphere, that photosynthesis works in a particular way, that whales evolved from land-living mammals. What it doesn’t prove are universal generalisations. The “science doesn’t prove anything” line stems from Popper, I think, who thought that, universal generalisations, such as fundamental physics hypothesises and tests, were really the only important part of science.

  21. AdamK permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:19 pm

    KG, you are absolutely right. You have identified both what I meant to say and what I should have said, as you usually do.

  22. Knockgoats permalink
    February 12, 2010 5:35 pm

    Well, thanks Adam!
    *blush*

  23. AdamK permalink
    February 12, 2010 6:28 pm

    I rarely need to even post, the ground being covered and the earth thoroughly scorched.

  24. Ash permalink
    February 13, 2010 1:09 am

    John, have a good trip, speak to you later.

  25. Johann permalink
    February 14, 2010 2:05 pm

    I am entirely comfortable with that, if what you mean by it is that there is nothing that should, or justifiably can, be placed beyond the possibility of revision. Nothing. At. All. There is not and cannot be any firm epistemic ground on which to base knowledge; foundationalist epistemology is fundamentally misconceived.

    ^ Quoting to enthusiastically agree. There are degrees of certainty, Jonathan; it’s not a binary choice, as you seem to be suggesting. For example, I’m far more certain that fairies do not exist than I am that my house will not get rained on today.

    Now, back to…

    It’s good to see that you don’t think that science is lord over everything. That is really good to know. I did think that’s what you are implying.

    Do I really communicate that badly? Yow. o.O To clarify: I think that science is a tool for improving our body of knowledge. Not a worldview, not a religion, not “lord” over anything.

    As for the animal thing, you are completely wrong. Theologians have debated the consciousness/soul issues a long time before the 19th century. The Hebrew word ruach is used for soul and its applied to animals as well as humans. So, much of the discussion has been centered arount this word and what it means.

    I’m aware of the debate, Jon, it’s been around longer than Christianity. But – let’s break this down a bit. If I’m understanding this correctly, the Hebrew ruach is equivalent to the pneuma of the Greek texts – literally “wind”, translated as “breath” in earlier English editions of the Bible. The concept is that of an animating life force – it means that the thing possessing “breath” is alive but does not imply anything about consciousness.

    If I’m correct so far, I have no disagreement with you on this – and this does not contradict what I said earlier. The point is that the “soul” said to be possessed by humans is something of a different order than that which makes animals alive – Augustine highlights the distinction by describing it as a “special substance, endowed with reason”. Even if they’re discussed with the same terms, without an explicit soul/spirit distinction, the theological treatment human “spirits” get in the Christian tradition is vastly different from animal ones.

    Do you have any examples of Christian communities, not individual philosophers, adopting the view that animals have souls in the same sense as humans do?

    Johan, I can’t believe you made this statement, “Theology does not; it specializes in things that are not real”. You have no way to determine if this statement is true. The best you can do, from science if you must, is say we don’t know, especially if you are going to put out the idea that scientific knowledge is never complete. A statement which, if you are willing to agree, we will have an accord.

    Was I appointed the Spokesman of Science while I was asleep, and must now clarify which of my statements are Official Scientific Pronouncements and which come from me personally? 😉 Very well: [OPINION] The god of Christianity is a fictional character with no more basis in reality than the Big Bad Wolf, the Loch Ness Monster or leprechauns.

    Now, if you want me to support that opinion, that’s a whole other matter. But was my voicing it really that shocking to you? It’s not even a fundamental presupposition, opposing but similar in nature to yours about God’s existence; it’s a conclusion reached on the basis of my experience of the world, and certainly open to question and correction.

    You are making assertions that science in no way backs up. It can’t back it up because science is not Meant to address those questions

    Indeed, science generally does not address questions that concern entities for which there is no evidence, because that would be a waste of time and because students of mythical literature need something to do too. See Big Bad Wolf above.

  26. Knockgoats permalink
    February 14, 2010 2:28 pm

    It’s good to see that you don’t think that science is lord over everything. – Johann, quoting Jonathan

    I noticed that strange turn of phrase and the assumption it expressed too. I think they come from a tendency, not exclusive to religious believers, to map others’ “worldviews”* on to your own. To a Christian, “Jesus is lord of all” is a central belief, so the assumption is that unbelievers must be substituting something for the Jesus-shaped hole they obviously have in their “worldview”. It’s a more sophisticated version of the common creationist belief that to those who accept the reality of evolution, The Origin of Species is a sacred text, and Darwin a spiritual leader.

    * I use the scare quotes because I’m not sure what the implications of the term “worldview” are – it may be that if Jonathan expanded on them, I would deny that I have one.

  27. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 15, 2010 9:29 am

    Knockgoats,
    You might deny you have a worldview, but it doesn’t change the fact you have one. We can’t get around it.

  28. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 15, 2010 9:39 am

    Johann,

    Nah, you didn’t communicate badly on the science as lord question. Chalk it up to Intenet communication.

    All right, let me see If I can get to all of your points:

    And I’ll point out that this claim is quite absurd if you think there actually is something to evolutionary biology. Or do you think that “natural selection” is shorthand for “God using the universe to guide us (and zebras and bacteria) to our current state”?

    That is an interesting question that I have been thinking through. I think the Universe as a whole IS finely tuned to our existence. I think it’s pretty evident. However, when you get down to the biological level, it becomes a bit more complicated, to say the least. It is interesting to note there are more “Pirate atheists” among biologists than in the other branches of science. I wonder if it has to do with Darwin’s problem of “cruelty” in nature? What do you think?

    As Knockgoats put it on the other thread, if by “being certain” you mean “placing something beyond the possibility of revision”, I’m all for not being certain of anything. In fact, I think it’s the only way to develop an honest and clear view of the world. It’s also the way and the reason science works – it deals in probabilities, not absolutes – so I’m not sure what you’re getting at there.

    Believe it or not, I would by and large agree with you on this point.

    The concept is that of an animating life force – it means that the thing possessing “breath” is alive but does not imply anything about consciousness.
    If I’m correct so far, I have no disagreement with you on this – and this does not contradict what I said earlier

    You are correct and we agree. As far as communities, that’s an interesting question. I don’t know of anyone that puts it in their official doctrinal statements, if that’s what you mean. It’s usually not a huge point of theology, so it doesn’t get a lot of “play”. In Christianity, it’s pretty much a nonessential, if you get my drift. Many take the position animals have a soul of some type, and some don’t. Personally, I think the ruach usage is pretty telling.

    Now, if you want me to support that opinion, that’s a whole other matter. But was my voicing it really that shocking to you? It’s not even a fundamental presupposition, opposing but similar in nature to yours about God’s existence; it’s a conclusion reached on the basis of my experience of the world, and certainly open to question and correction.

    Ha, no, I shouldn’t have expected anything else. But, as long as you state it as an opinion, I’m cool with that. As for science not addressing questions about God’s existence, we can be in full agreement about that, even if, I obviously would put it in a different way. 🙂

  29. Johann permalink
    February 15, 2010 12:44 pm

    That is an interesting question that I have been thinking through. I think the Universe as a whole IS finely tuned to our existence. I think it’s pretty evident.

    You really need to clarify your meaning there if you want to have a meaningful discussion on that point. 😛 Right now, what you’re saying seems essentially equivalent to saying that wherever a ball ends up when you roll it down from the top of a hill, the hill was finely tuned to make it end up there – or that, as Mark Twain put it, that the Eiffel tower was built solely to support the layer of paint on the knob on top of it.

    However, when you get down to the biological level, it becomes a bit more complicated, to say the least. It is interesting to note there are more “Pirate atheists” among biologists than in the other branches of science. I wonder if it has to do with Darwin’s problem of “cruelty” in nature? What do you think?

    The cruelty and inefficiency of many things in nature probably do lead many to question the purpose, yes – I’ve heard some people say as much. A fly that lives inside the human eye as part of its lifecycle has got to raise some questions. 😛 But I think it’s ultimately the intricate variety, the myriad adaptations, and the way the processes that create them are self-contained and require no divine intervention that convinces people that a god isn’t a necessary part of an explanation.

    I once had a door-to-door evangelist ask me, verbatim: “Well, look at all the trees and the birds and the animals. How do you think this could all come about without God?” The biologists know the answer to that question in exhaustive detail.

    Believe it or not, I would by and large agree with you on this point.

    Okay, that’s encouraging. So what were those earlier objections about? 😉

    Many take the position animals have a soul of some type, and some don’t. Personally, I think the ruach usage is pretty telling.

    I don’t. I’m not a student of history, though I have studied some – but so far as I am aware, animal rights in any sense are a thoroughly modern concept. Performing vivisection on animals was considered fine and dandy until relatively recent times, and I recall a discussion in a medieval text (wish I remembered which) on how killing a domestic animal is foolish, akin to breaking furniture – but not a word about the cruelty of it. Descartes’ view of animals as unfeeling automatons persisted for over three centuries.

    Ha, no, I shouldn’t have expected anything else. But, as long as you state it as an opinion, I’m cool with that.

    You seemed to be arguing as though we shared some presuppositions that we certainly don’t, so I figured a reminder wouldn’t hurt. 😉 Speaking of which, what’s that you were saying about a fine-tuned universe?

  30. Eric R permalink
    February 15, 2010 4:50 pm

    Science does not involve “Starting with a conclusion and then trying to fit any evidence around that basis” – if that’s what you’re doing, and you think you’re doing science, ur doin it rong – and what’s more, other scientists will not let you get away with it. Almost all Christian theology, on the other hand, does exactly that: nothing is allowed to cast doubt on the existence and goodness of God, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and the authority of the Bible and/or Church depending on denomination. That’s the difference.

    Couldnt agree more, starting with your conclusion and then “fitting” evidence to that conclusion sounds to me to be the exact opposite of self-correction. Unless our definition of self correcting is different. The only self-correction that can occur under this method is to change the “unerring word of god” from its original to match current socio-political norms.

    How likely under that methodology would it be that the Catholic church (or any other christian sect), would recant their entire theology and reach the conclusion that God doesnt exist?

    For if you are going to claim that Theology is self-correcting wouldnt that possibility have to exist?

  31. John Morales permalink
    February 16, 2010 5:37 am

    thomas2026,

    So, now, I would say, neither science nor theology is fully self correcting.

    IOW, you now think theology is not self-correcting.

    Quite a turnabout.

  32. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 16, 2010 8:24 am

    John,
    Well, not a complete turnabout, I said it’s not COMPLETLY self correcting. Only partially, just like science.

    Everyone Else,
    Okay, I laughed at all your fine tuning commments. But, I’ll still point out there isn’t an argument in any of them. 🙂

  33. John Morales permalink
    February 16, 2010 8:51 am

    thomas2026:

    The reason for both disciplines not being fully self correctional is because both are done by individual human beings with all of our limitations, passions and abilities.

    No, the reasons science is self-correcting are: That it holds all theories to be provisional, and that it can test against reality (is empirical).
    These don’t apply to theology, nor have you provided their analogues.

    (Yes, humans are fallible, but it’s the methods that are being supposedly compared in relation to self-correction, not their practicioners. The scientific method allows for human nature.)

    Well, not a complete turnabout, I said it’s not COMPLETLY self correcting. Only partially, just like science.

    Indeed. You still allude to some apparent equivalence between theology and science, though clearly the former relies on the latter (but not the converse).

  34. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 16, 2010 10:31 am

    No, the reasons science is self-correcting are: That it holds all theories to be provisional, and that it can test against reality (is empirical).
    These don’t apply to theology, nor have you provided their analogues

    Interesting. First, I would say this is a bad definition of self correcting. Second, I think you need to deal with the argument I’m actually trying to make in this post. The Scientific Method is bound by human nature, so I would argue your statement about the scientific method allowing for human nature is meaningless.

    As for theology relying on science, you have completly missed my point. I said theology considers scientific discussion, but it DOESN’T rely on it all the time. You keep wanting to put science in the place of ultimate authority of deciding what’s true and real. I say, you can’t do that because it can only tell us how things work. THis is where my argument is centered and no one is really addressing this point. You keep wanting to focus on the whole self correcting thing, which this particular post was meant to correct.

  35. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 16, 2010 10:35 am

    Eric R,

    So, is it possible to be completely objective and never fit evidence around what we presume to be true?

  36. Johann permalink
    February 16, 2010 3:48 pm

    First, I would say this is a bad definition of self correcting.

    That’s the one that actually matters with regard to science. You keep trying to capture some point about the potential for misuse and social safeguards in place to prevent it, and I’m still not sure why.

    The Scientific Method is bound by human nature, so I would argue your statement about the scientific method allowing for human nature is meaningless.

    So, is it possible to be completely objective and never fit evidence around what we presume to be true?

    …see, the combination of these two quotes tells me you keep missing the point we’re trying to make. 😛

    People can lie – for fame, for money, for any other reason under the sun. People can fake evidence or misinterpret it. People can be mistaken.

    But when it comes to science, if they are to gain any advantage from what they do they must document it. And if they document it, someone else can come along and do the experiments, examine the specimens, follow the reasoning – and point out the inconsistencies and misinterpretations. There’s no need for the mythical Completely Objective Scientist you’re asking about – it’s enough just to have someone who doesn’t share the original observer’s bias, or the relevant presuppositions. If a thousand scientists, each with a unique perspective and set of biases, all run a particular experiment and come up with similar results, how likely do you think it is to reflect any one individual’s bias?

    Creationists can scream until they’re hoarse about Haeckel’s drawings or the Piltdown Man – but you won’t get them to admit that scientists were the ones to catch and correct the forgeries.

    You keep wanting to put science in the place of ultimate authority of deciding what’s true and real. I say, you can’t do that because it can only tell us how things work.

    …or, in other words, what’s real. Come on, Jon. Stop being coy and share your alternate ways of establishing what’s real. =) And if they include deferring to mythology, there’d better be a good reason.

  37. Knockgoats permalink
    February 16, 2010 3:51 pm

    Jonathan,
    You might deny you have a worldview, but it doesn’t change the fact you have one. We can’t get around it.

    If you tell me what you mean by the term “worldview”, I can sensibly agree or disagree with this.

    I laughed at all your fine tuning commments. But, I’ll still point out there isn’t an argument in any of them.

    That’s simply false. I gave two arguments. You can laugh at them or pretend I didn’t, but you evidently can’t answer them.

    The Scientific Method is bound by human nature, so I would argue your statement about the scientific method allowing for human nature is meaningless.

    Even if your first claim were true (it isn’t, except in the trivial sense that it is human beings who do science), it would not follow that John Morales’ claim was meaningless (it quite evidently isn’t, since you knew what it meant), or false. For example, “human nature” limits us to seeing a certain portion of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, and to hearing a certain range of frequencies. We can’t detect magnetic fields at all, and our sense of smell is pretty poor. Yet we can devise machines that allow for, and overcome, all these limitations. Similarly, we are indeed prone to seek confirming evidence for what we believe, but the practices and institutional systems of science allow for and help us overcome these limitations. Theology, on the other hand, is one long effort to confirm the fundamental beliefs of its practitioners and somehow make the world conform to them: that’s why it is completely useless – except as a source of employment for theologians.

  38. Johann permalink
    February 16, 2010 3:59 pm

    Okay, I laughed at all your fine tuning commments. But, I’ll still point out there isn’t an argument in any of them.

    You haven’t presented an argument yet, Jon – just a repeated, staggeringly preposterous assertion. Would you care to correct that?

  39. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 16, 2010 4:28 pm

    Guys and Girls,

    I’m getting frustrated with this conversation. I see now that I probably begged a number of different questions that would have been helpful to clarify. I didn’t, so here we are. It’s obvious we have a presuppositional disagreement in this argument. You all keep asserting that you are not asserting that science is the lord of truth, but the way you keep talking about it says otherwise. So, how do I argue with you all when I fundementally disagree with the notion that science is the arbitrator of truth? Forgive me, but I’m a bit confused. Maybe because I’m trying to answer four people who have different arguments, I don’t know. As, once again, I’m not arguing for theology being completely self correcting, I no longer feel the need to defend this position. Your critiques were good and thus I modified my position to science and theology being unable to completely self correct. I think I have made the argument pretty clear as to why I think so in both cases.

    As for the cosmologial fine tuning argument, I would refer you here for the best arguments on the position. I don’t really have the time to summerize their arguments and it would be better if you read them for yourselves. In fact, take time to browse the whole website. If anything, it’s good for useful information for you to use against Christians.

    As for me and how I establish what is real, I would have thought that’s obvious to everyone. To put it simply, I do believe God has revealed Himself in the world through special and general revelation. General revelation would be all of the created world and everything in it. Special revelation is God’s direct intervention in the world through the person of Jesus Christ. Can I prove the later scientifically? No and I have made that very clear. I think there is strong circumstantial evidence for God in creation, but nothing that would convince any of you of His existence. I think strong circumstantial arugments from philosophy can be made for God’s existence, but nothing definitive.

    But, as many of you have pointed out, science only speaks in probablities. You would argue that God probably doesn’t exist. I would argue from science, history and philosophy that He probably does. Probably is the best any of us can hope for in this sort of discussion.

    I’m really not, Johann, trying to be coy. I’m trying to get the bottom core presuppositions that all of us accept about the world and examine them. I think until that happens, the proof discussions are really fruitless.

  40. Knockgoats permalink
    February 16, 2010 5:34 pm

    Jonathan,

    I followed your link on fine tuning. it’s bilge.

    Most scientists are convinced that the fine-tuning constraints on a life-allowing universe are very tight because small changes would make the existence of intelligent life impossible, and that the probability of a universe having these properties (fine tuned to be “just right for life”) is extremely low.

    If “most scientists2 are convinced of this, they are wrong. I referred you already to the article in the January 2010 Scientific American, and the references therefrom. Here’s another, from the physicist Victor Stenger: IS THE UNIVERSE FINE-TUNED FOR US? – see particularly the section “How fine-tuned anyway?”. In brief, we don’t know what ranges of values of fundamental constants would allow life to emerge. Second, even if we did know this, this is not a situation in which probabilities can be applied. to that, we need to know What the total set of possibilities is/was, and what the equiprobable possibilities are/were. We don’t. Third, even if we did, and the probability turned out to be low, all this would tell us is that we live in an improbable universe. So what? This is no way implies that any feature of the universe, let alone the particular feature of allowing life to emerge, had any role in determining what the fundamental constants would be.

    The bilge you linked to claims:
    ” EITHER designed universe or designed multiverse OR non-designed multiverse,
    so currently we have THREE plausible theories, not just two, for explaining the fine-tuned “just right” world we observe”

    Um, no. As I’ve just shown, the fourth theory, a non-designed universe, remains plausible. The alleged fine-tuning provides no good argument against it at all.

  41. Knockgoats permalink
    February 16, 2010 5:38 pm

    So, how do I argue with you all when I fundementally disagree with the notion that science is the arbitrator of truth?

    Well since none of us are arguing that it is, that isn’t a problem. What I’m arguing, and I think the other atheists here as well, is not the science is “lord of everything”, but that theology is a load of worthless crap, with no more useful content or function than astrology, alchemy, or leprechaunology.

  42. John Morales permalink
    February 16, 2010 5:57 pm

    thomas2026:

    But, as many of you have pointed out, science only speaks in probablities. You would argue that God probably doesn’t exist. I would argue from science, history and philosophy that He probably does. Probably is the best any of us can hope for in this sort of discussion.

    Interesting¹. Are you saying your belief in the existence of God is provisional, and are willing to change that belief upon better evidence or theory?

    I’m trying to get the bottom core presuppositions that all of us accept about the world and examine them. I think until that happens, the proof discussions are really fruitless.

    Fine, here are my only presuppositions: (1) there is an objective (external) reality and (2) I can only perceive that reality via the senses.

    They suffice.

    ¹ You really think that, scientifically-speaking, there’s a non-zero probability that the Solar System is not heliocentric?

  43. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 16, 2010 6:12 pm

    Fine, I get it. You think theology is crap. Let’s move on.

  44. Johann permalink
    February 16, 2010 6:24 pm

    I see now that I probably begged a number of different questions that would have been helpful to clarify. I didn’t, so here we are.

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. o.O More on that further down.

    It’s obvious we have a presuppositional disagreement in this argument…I’m trying to get the bottom core presuppositions that all of us accept about the world and examine them.

    See, I think we get the basic shape of the different presuppositions involved – on either side. It’s the details that bog the discussion down. For example, do you understand that we do not share your presupposition about the existence of your god? You clearly do. Do you see that our view of the world does not include a supernatural side the way yours does? I would assume so.

    Do you agree that science is the best tool we have for answering questions about the properties of the natural/physical/whatever you want to call it world? I still can’t answer that question; one day you seem to agree with this unreservedly, the next you go on about our quasi-worship of science as the “lord of truth” and your implicit rejection of that. And it’s not at all clear whether by “truth” you mean philosophical conundrums, claims about the supernatural, ethical questions or something else entirely – whether you’re saying that the natural world can’t be properly examined by science after all. You seem to assume that a few key words will make it clear to us what your position is and how you arrived at it from your basic presuppositions, and they really don’t. At all. I understand that it’s a busy time for you, but I really do think that ultimately you would save yourself some time and nerves by being more specific.

    As, once again, I’m not arguing for theology being completely self correcting

    What does that mean? All these words spent on it, and we still don’t know what you’re really talking about.

    In science, the only interpretation of “self-correcting” that seems intuitive to me is the repeated application of the scientific method to make the knowledge resulting from the process more closely match reality – that is, the actual state of the physical world.

    Your explanation of what “self-correction” means in theology was more along the lines of literary criticism combined with individual experience of the supernatural to yield a more theologically correct interpretation of the foundational text.

    These are not comparable things, at least not without a lot of extra explanation, but you keep using them interchangeably in sentences like “…I modified my position to science and theology being unable to completely self correct…” and in the very title of this post. And that in turn suggests that you see some sort of deep-seated similarity between the two that is not apparent to us – but you never explain it, you seem to simply assume that we are privy to it as well. Hence our repeated attempts to clarify the definitions and figure out what your assumptions are.

    As for the cosmologial fine tuning argument, I would refer you here for the best arguments on the position.

    Thank you for supporting my point. 😛 Did you see how the discussion went on this question in particular? First you made an offhand comment about how the universe is clearly fine-tuned; then, when pressed for details, you mentioned on another thread that you were referring to “the cosmological argument”. The trouble is, even when one reads every single word you published on this blog there are still easily half a dozen cosmological arguments you could subscribe to. So we push you some more, and this time you give us a link…to a page which itself is not at all specific on this question, and instead gives us science Creation Museum style: “To understand fine tuning, imagine that you are sitting in front of a control panel with dozens of dials. To allow life, each dial — which controls one property of the universe — must be fine-tuned to a specific setting within a very narrow range.”

    That’s the central presupposition of the arguments advanced on that page – but this presupposition itself is extremely vague for the kind of claim it makes. Not to mention unsupported and unsupportable in the context of our current knowledge, as Knockgoats points out – its basic claims reach beyond what we actually know.

    So we are still left with a very vague idea of what your position actually is – we have to fish for it somewhere in the sea of all the different shades of the cosmological arguments for creation. It’s no wonder that you might find some of the misplaced thrusts annoying and irrelevant, but the solution to that is to give us a better-defined target. 😛

    As for me and how I establish what is real, I would have thought that’s obvious to everyone.

    It really isn’t. Trust me. The road from “I believe in God and Jesus” to “This is what the world is like” is a long and twisty one for every individual believer, and there’s absolutely no telling what someone believes about the world or ways of finding truth just from knowing that they subscribe to the first statement.

    Are you on board with Mormons and their burning in the bosom? Catholics and revelation through prayer? Eastern Orthodox iconic miracles? Fasting? Flagellation? Isolation? Castration? All of these things have been sincerely and piously embraced by some Christians as a way of getting closer to and finding out the will of God. And you’re assuming that we know details of your worldview that are much more fine-grained than that.

    …I’m trying to answer four people who have different arguments…

    Four people who have different arguments aimed at four different pictures of where you’re coming from, even. Help us out here. 😉

  45. Knockgoats permalink
    February 16, 2010 6:28 pm

    Fine, here are my only presuppositions: (1) there is an objective (external) reality and (2) I can only perceive that reality via the senses. – John Morales

    “Presupposition” is ambiguous. If it means “Fact claim I put beyond any possibility of revision”, then I have none at all. Various possible weaker meanings would yield smaller or larger numbers of provisional assumptions I’d be reluctant to abandon. Perhaps the one I’d be most reluctant to abandon – but I can think of circumstances in which I would – is that no outside power (evil demon, alien superintelligence…) is directly interfering with human reasoning.

  46. John Morales permalink
    February 16, 2010 7:14 pm

    Knockgoats,

    “Presupposition” is ambiguous.

    Yes. I mean them in the sense of the minimum axiomatic truths needed to form a basis for an epistemology.

    If it means “Fact claim I put beyond any possibility of revision”, then I have none at all.

    You consider (1) to be revisable? 😉

    “Brain in a vat” would still imply an external reality, but I guess (2) would be a false assumption.

    Anyway, clearly the Christian god is not needed as a fundamental assumption; it only complicates matters when trying to understand reality.

  47. Knockgoats permalink
    February 17, 2010 5:10 am

    John Morales,

    Epistemology requires no axiomatic truths, only pro tem and revisable assumptions; foundationalism of any kind is an error.

    Yes, (1) is revisable; it is conceivable that the entire universe is the product of my imagination (it couldn’t be the product of yours of course :-p).

  48. Ash permalink
    February 17, 2010 8:46 am

    John, I’m still interested in how theology can be even partially self correcting when 2 different versions of it (I gave the example of Islamic vs. Christian; you’re welcome to stick to, say, Catholic vs. Protestant if you really can’t step outside the bounds of Christianity) can come up with 2 different sets of details and conclusions with apparently no way to determine which is ‘more’ correct?

  49. Knockgoats permalink
    February 17, 2010 9:08 am

    Ash,
    Ah, but there is a way, which was long the preferred option: you fight a war about it. I earlier suggested the more civilised option of a wrestling bout between spiritual leaders.

  50. Ash permalink
    February 17, 2010 9:48 am

    Sorry KG, I totally missed that. Doesn’t work, not least because the supposed losing side actually wins through dint of gaining more martyrs, which obviously proves it must be true-r-ist 🙂

    I also don’t think the wrestling is fair; Ghandi vs fat era Buddha would be shockingly one-sided. Might be easier to defer all judgement ’til a god or gods descend and pick a winner.

  51. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 17, 2010 10:11 am

    Ash,
    Great question. Let me see if I can put it this way.

    Orthodox Christians determine Theological Truth in Three ways

    1) Scripture
    2) Tradition/Creeds
    3)Reason Experience. (here is where science would speak)

    These are the boundaries of how we determine theological truth. So, again, let’s take the Genesis 1-2 question. We figure out what scripture is actually trying to say in regards to Creation. We examine how church fathers and mothers have approached the question. Finally, we consult reason and science into the discussion. Once all three of those areas are weighed, truth is often found as with the growing Christian consensus that Genesis 1-2 is not meant to be taken as a literal six twenty four time period. Even in America, people are backing away from this position. I know, I know, we still have the Hammites, but believe it or not, they are in the minority. A vocal one to be sure.

    I think the disagreement lies in the definition of self correcting, don’t you?

  52. Ash permalink
    February 17, 2010 10:44 am

    John, I see what you’re saying, but I’m of the opinion that the disagreement hinges on trying to equate science with theology, and only by extension could I agree about a problem with defining self correction. To explain further, for me it comes across as though, by conflating the 2 disciplines, you are using the words ‘self correcting’ to apply equally to both circumstances – kinda like when the Hammites of this world insist that Evolution holds no weight because it is only a ‘theory’, and missing the point that that word does not mean what they think it means in the application of science. In which case, we could probably agree that theology is self correcting to you, and merely self affirming to me precisely because we are communicating from the approach of 2 different categories. However, I will note that because I do not believe in the basic principles on which theology relies, I will never feel comfortable using ‘self correcting’ as applicable to theology since I feel there is nothing to begin the process, let alone correct.

    It also raises my eyebrows somewhat that Theological Truth (TM!) tends to eventually fall inline with general (not just Christian) consensus on morality, evidence and reasoning. But that’s probably another discussion…;)

  53. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 17, 2010 11:06 am

    Ash,
    That is a very fair statement. I certainly don’t want to conflate science and theology in any way that blurs needed boundaries. I think of science and theology as two possible way of knowing things or finding truth, if you will. It makes perfect sense that you don’t accept theology as a possible way of knowing truth. I get it.

    As for majority rules opinions in theology, it certainly does happen, but there is also time where it doesn’t. In the thirty years after Nicea, the Orthodox position was not the position of those in power. So, as in all things, the true story is always a bit more complicated. But, in general, I don’t see it as a huge problem. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.

  54. John Morales permalink
    February 17, 2010 7:09 pm

    thomas2026:

    Ash,
    That is a very fair statement. I certainly don’t want to conflate science and theology in any way that blurs needed boundaries. I think of science and theology as two possible way of knowing things or finding truth, if you will. It makes perfect sense that you don’t accept theology as a possible way of knowing truth. I get it.

    No, I don’t think you do.

    You’ve come full-circle.

    This is the very contention you tried to justify in the first place, which led to you claiming they’re both self-correcting.

    So, what you’re saying is that theology is not a way of knowing, it’s a way of “knowing”; it’s not self-correcting, it’s “self-correcting”.

    Science has empiricism (and thus reality as ultimate arbiter of truth), theology has, 1) Scripture 2) Tradition/Creeds 3)Reason Experience. (here is where science would speak)

    What is this knowledge theology purports to provide, and why are there so many versions? (Life after death? The true meaning of reality? The nature of God? The rules of morality?)

  55. Andrew permalink
    February 17, 2010 7:19 pm

    From a purely epistemological point of view, we know that neither “scripture” nor “tradition and creeds” are successful truth-finding procedures. In fact, both are strongly biased towards preservation of false belief.

    Accordingly we are justified in rejecting all of the conclusions of theology as being based on an insecure foundation.

  56. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 17, 2010 10:40 pm

    John,
    No, actually, I do get it.

    None of what you just said describes my positions at all. I have said science and theology are both PARTIALLY self correcting, not full self correcting.

    So, I’ll ask you this question that I asked KG and Johann. Is science the final court of appeals for all things true? Is that your position?

  57. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 17, 2010 10:43 pm

    Andrew,
    This is where we fundmentally disagree. I do think all three are truth finding procedures. We don’t know they are bad truth finders, as it were. I know you don’t think so, but I do. You have no justification to reject it other than your own presuppositions.

    The reason I think so is that you need to ask a bunch of other questions first: How do I (andrew) define reality? What does that look like? How do I discover what is true about the world?

    So, no, I don’t think you are justified rejecting theology, at least, in the form you have presented it right now.

  58. John Morales permalink
    February 17, 2010 11:24 pm

    thomas2026:

    So, I’ll ask you this question that I asked KG and Johann. Is science the final court of appeals for all things true? Is that your position?

    For “all things true”?

    That’s a broad claim, but I’ll say that science is definitive regarding reality as it is, logic is definitive regarding what can be proven to be true, philosophy definitive as to what “being true” means.

    What’s theology definitive about?

    What are some specific propositions that not-quite-self-correcting theology makes about reality¹, and how are they tested (or even falsifiable)?

    ¹ IOW, that are true in other than an ideal sense. As in, testably true.

  59. Ash permalink
    February 18, 2010 4:55 am

    None of what you just said describes my positions at all. I have said science and theology are both PARTIALLY self correcting, not full self correcting.

    Perhaps I wasn’t fully clear; fuck knows I have an issue with this even in meat space. My issue was that you seem to be conflating science and theology as comparative disciplines; they aren’t. I thought we’d come to an understanding where you weren’t keen on this comparison; my bad if I misunderstood you. It appears to be as important to me as it is to others that you understand the fundamental differences between science and theology,; by repeating your conflation of categories it seems that you don’t. If you’d given your issue as ‘theology is self correcting as is musical literacy to playing a piece properly’, chances are you never would’ve had these problems. As is, if you want to call the 2 disciplines parelell (sp?!) you’re gonna face major objections. With which I’d concur.

  60. thomas2026 permalink*
    February 18, 2010 11:24 am

    Ash,
    No, its not all your fault. I may not be clear on this one either. Let me try it another way.

    I think it depends on what you mean by comparative disciplines. I certainly think they answer different questions and in that sense, they are completely different. I think your analogy about music is a very good one in regards to theolgy. I think my big mistake was not finding out what all of you meant by self correcting. This would have been helpful for everyone, I think.

    As for whether they are parallel, in most cases, no. However, I will fight tooth and nail for their equaility of the realm of “trying to find out What is true”.

  61. February 18, 2010 4:11 pm

    All,

    I thought this might be a nice lighthearted comment that we can all find as funny quick break from this dicussion:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=theologian

    I found this hilarious. I’m sure y’all will too.

  62. Johann permalink
    February 20, 2010 10:12 am

    Heh. Thanks for the link, Cruz. =)

    However, I will fight tooth and nail for their equaility of the realm of “trying to find out What is true”.

    Perhaps you can start out by showing us how you can find the truth of – anything, really – using tradition, Jon? From where I’m standing, your (1) and (2) look mostly just like ways of perpetuating old opinions and (3) does all the heavy lifting.

  63. Knockgoats permalink
    February 20, 2010 11:09 am

    We don’t know they are bad truth finders, as it were. – Jon

    We have very strong evidence that they are utterly useless, in that the theologies of different Christian sects, let alone of different religions, come to completely incompatible conclusions, and show no sign of converging. We have no good evidence at all that the supposed subject of their enquiries, God, exists.

  64. John Morales permalink
    February 22, 2010 4:34 am

    I find this post’s first sentence strangely self-referential.

    I wonder if it’s also so for the first paragraph thereof?

    I await evidence.

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