Theology and Science
I guess I owe my readers some remarks on what I did on Easter, but before I do this I want to tell you about a series of Systematic Theology lectures that happened on Tuesday last week. A couple of people spoke as part of their application for the vacated professorship in Systematic Theology. (Systematic Theology is the philosophy section of theology. It’s not really a proper noun, it’s just a usual noun, so I will spell it with small letters only from now on.). Since they want to become professors (or partly already are), their level of professionality was high and due to the occasion they tried of course to give their best. In difference to theology in SA, there are plenty of faculties of theology in Germany, so once you become a professor somewhere, you will probably not stay there, but after some time look for the next step up: a professorship with better payment or more resources. Competition is high, and (of course) there are more theologians than professorships. Anyway. It’s a lot more competitive than in SA. But it’s much harder on the people as well – it’s hard to have a family and difficult for any relationship if your income is unstable and you have to move often because you are dependant on varying temporary employments at different universities. Not just for a few years, but until you are close to forty years old.
Anyway, some of these poor bastards with (mostly) highly professional abilities spoke on issues of their choice to prove they are competent to do the job. I’ll present the first one shortly and please feel free to comment on them everyone (down below) because I would love some theological discussion on my blog. I picked that one because I guess that is the one that both scholars of the humanities and scientists can relate to.
The first to speak was a Reformed theologian from Utrecht, but he spoke German without an accent: Prof. Dr. Dirk-Martin Grube. His lecture was “About the Relation of Revelation and Knowledge according to Paul Tillich”. The German word for “knowledge” is here “Erkenntnis”, maybe “kennis” in Afrikaans, it means (here) the process and result of understanding something. He started off by presenting Tillich’s view: There cannot and must not be a conflict between ordinary (→ rational, → scientific) knowledge and the knowledge of revelation (→ faith), because they are two different realms or dimensions. Revelation does not give knowledge of nature, if there is a conflict either faith or science or both are forgetting to which dimension they belong.
Than Grube presented two paradigms or two types of relating science and religion in the Anglo-American discussion. Richard Dawkins and the likes and his immediate adversaries, the creationists, belong to the “conflict-paradigm”, which holds that scientific and religious knowledge are competing and are contradictory.
Tillich and e.g. the biologist Stephen Jay Gould are representatives of the “independence-paradigm”. Tillich was described above. Gould characterises the science and religion as “Non Overlapping Magisteria” (“NOMA”): science is empirical (fact and theory), religion is about “moral meaning and value”.
Grube proceeded to criticise the “independence-paradigm”, because (so he said) it removes parts of reality from the sphere of revelation’s knowledge. He pointed to Tillich himself who stated that religion must interfere if science is talking about revelation under the cover of science (which is fake then).
Grube then proposed to amend the “independence-paradigm” to fix that, to enable it to include legit interaction. He proposed a “non-propositional” term of revelation, “non-propositional” meaning “not including factual statements”. He proposed to understand revelation as the accepting of a certain perspective that understands given facts differently. Thus e.g. Jesus of Nazareth (a “fact”) becomes Jesus Christ the messiah. [Or Mohammed might become the prophet, etc.]
Revelation, so Grube said, then guides understanding, it is not that understanding. But revelation does then guide the understanding of the whole reality, it is being understood as creation. He calls revelation “a knowledge of the second order”.
He concluded that on the level of propositions and claims about facts there can be no (justified) conflict between the knowledge of revelation and scientific knowledge. On the level of discussion about perspectives (i.e. hermeneutics) there can be a conflict – e.g. the notion that the world is created against the claim of certain scientists that there is nothing beyond the physical world.
So, now my comments on all of that.
1. I do find Tillich is right, but he doesn’t reflect on where, why or how the two types of knowledge separate. This causes the problem Grube is treating – there seem to be interactions, and they seem to be legitimate, but the formulations of Tillich suggests they are not.
2. Gould is not right however – religion does not equal ethics. One needs a hell of a lot explaining to limit the notion “God made me” to “God wants you to do this and that.”. Meaning: it is impossible. To claim the two sentences are identical would be faulty. In fact, there is a set philosophical term for that kind of mistake: “naturalistic fallacy” or “Is-Ought-Problem”. Was described by Hume. It says: you can’t conclude from something without an imperative to something with imperative. If you have a statement that does not have an imperative (like: “you are standing in front of the house and the door is locked and the kettle inside is boiling”) you have to add the imperative to gain an imperative, like: “The tea must be brewed.” or “There must not be a fire.” This “must” was not implied in the former sentence, yet without it, there will be no need/incentive to unlock the door.
In short: At the very least there are parts of religion that are not ethics - like the notion that one is created.
3. To give a more precise description of the “knowledge of revelation” term and characterising it as a perspective was a good move by Grube, but it does not suffice. Characterising “knowledge of revelation” as a “certain” perspective does not suffice as well. A scientific method of interpreting data is a “certain perspective” too. Yet, the religious perspective is very different from it.
4. I would say: the religious perspective is not just any perspective that might be on a another plane of reflection than science. The religious perspective is the one, where a “Me” percieves the world as an experience. On the other hand, the scientific perspective (more or less consciously) prescinds from the Me of the scientist and reduces the world to the physical reality. Plus, it does not allow to include any interpretation of the world but through reason. One could say that scientists simulate not to be people but computers: emotionless processors of the world without self-awareness. Computers can take in consideration that they are of course, but they are not having a “Me” and are not experiencing that they are doing something.
Thus, religion does indeed see more than science, because it does not let aside the Me, does not abstract from personal experience.
But science of course equally sees more than religion, because using rationality as means of understanding it comes to a much more complex understanding of the physical reality.
5. Is there still some interaction? Grube is not right if he claims that the protest of religion against the transgression of science into the territory of revelation does constitute a real interaction – science talking revelation is not science, it’s some religion pretending not to be.
But there is still interaction: Science can look at faith as a phenomenon of the physical reality. In fact, history, psychology etc. do that.
And the knowledge of revelation does of course make statements about science: it perceives and receives it as creation from the creator, so please thank the Lord for your TV!
Sorry for the blunt finish, but I spent way to much time with this text.