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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Theolology

What is Theology? By pure definition it would be the study of gods. Theos meaning Gods, and ology meaning the study of. Is that what theologians do though? Apparently not.

To me it seems that theologians, and the practice of theology is concerned with how to derive doctrine and dogma from religious texts. You'd not be likely to find a theology class trying to figure out just what the hell a god actually is. Inquiry at the the deepest level seems to be completely absent in this discipline. Indeed thought of this sort generally seems to relegated to philosophers. With any serious area of study, you actually have to have something to study first. Biologists study biological systems, chemists study chemical reactions and molecules, physicists study the physical world, cosmologists study the cosmos. Theologians simply assume that some ancient text written by men was inspired by a god, and then work from there to determine what the text teaches about the supposed god.

Take this for example:
"Before Christian theology can be seriously studied it is necessary to recognise that the Bible is our ultimate authority and that its statements are factually true and without error."
—Carey Baptist College: Introduction to Christian Theology Course Book (page 4-4)

Never mind that the Bible is quite plainly not without error, and many things contained in it are factually incorrect....... They are free to do whatever they want with their theology, but as long as it is based on unfounded assumptions, and blatant falsehoods like the quote above it cannot be considered to be an academic pursuit. I can not even imagine how one would go about trying to demonstrate that the Bible is actually inspired by a god, but that isn't my problem is it? Furthermore, no one has even demonstrated that God itself even exists.

I am bringing this all up, because of a criticism of Stephen Hawking regarding his statement about heaven being "a fairy story for people afraid of the dark", that he was speaking outside of his field of expertise. That lead me to post this as a comment on a friend's link on facebook:

"Whose field of expertise is the existence of the afterlife? Someone who studies ancient religious texts? Someone who studies the doctrines of ancient/modern religions? How do they study the existence of the afterlife?

Physics at its most basic level is all about studying the nature of the universe, and existence itself. If Hawking is speaking outside of his expertise, then so is every single other person who speaks on the afterlife."

After all, theologians such as N.T. Wright, the one levelling the criticism of Hawking, do not actually study the existence or nature of an afterlife, or the existence or nature of gods. To me, they are no different from an expert on The Lord of the Rings speaking of the nature of Magic, or the existence of Wizards. They are basing all of what they know about the subject on texts which were emphatically written by anonymous, fallible men, about things which have not been shown to actually exist.

4 comments:

  1. Oh yeah, theology requires one to assume a lot in order to do it "right".

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  2. If we approach a holy text as a book, we will come away with the conclusion that it is 'just a book'. If we approach a holy text with the 'standard' theological presuppostions usually associated with believers, we will come away with the conclusion that the core story is true. When believers say they are truly looking at their holy text in an objective fashion so as to obtain 'the truth', they are deceiving themselves.

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  3. Andy and cuber, I agree completely. If one has to assume outright that the Bible (or any religious text for that matter) is inspired by said deity, then I can't take the enterprise of theology seriously.

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  4. What is Theology? By pure definition it would be the study of gods. Theos meaning Gods, and ology meaning the study of. Is that what theologians do though? Apparently not.

    Well, of course not; that would be like having a whole branch of knowledge dedicated to the study of unicorns or fairies. Talk about a field suffering from a lack of hard observational data.

    If, say, biology worked like theology, it would completely ignore actual organisms and focus entirely on analyzing what people down through the centuries have said about organisms, without bothering to determine whether such statements were true -- that would simply be assumed. Needless to say, such a "biology" would never produce any useful results.

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