Thanks (I think) to John Loftus, I’ve become acquainted with a half-dozen books on science and religion that I didn’t know. All of them are written by Christians and either attack science or defend the proposition that science and Jesus are compatible.
I’ve just finished the first one, and it’s dire: J. P. Moreland’s Christianity and the Nature of Science (1989, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI). Moreland, who has collaborated with the odious William Lane Craig, is a philosopher and theologian at that hotbed of LOLzy creationism and baraminism, Biola University in California. (“Biola” is a contraction of its previous name, The Bible Institute of Los Angeles.)
The book is dire. Its thesis is that science and theology are not only compatible methods of inquiry, but the same method of inquiry. They are said to use precisely the same methods to find truth.
The book also attacks scientism (on no good grounds), contains tedious philosophical disquisitions about whether there’s a real universe out there, and about whether it’s even possible to understand it if it does exist, and in the end touts creationism as not only a scientific view, but one that’s well supported. In other words, the book is replete with what comes out of the south end of a horse facing north. When you open the book and see all the symbolic logic and equations, you know you’re in for a grueling and unrewarding read, for symbolic logic is what religious accommodationists use when they’ve run out of arguments.
But Moreland presented one argument that was new to me, despite my extensive incursions into theology and science. When lecturing on their incompatibility, I always mention that although science has progressed enormously in the past few hundred years, theology has not. That is, we know no more about the nature or existence of God than we did in, say, 800 C.E. Hell, theologians aren’t sure whether there’s one god or many gods (as Hindus believe), or a red-horned devil, not to mention more trivial issues like whether the wine and crackers at communion are wholly Jesus’s blood and body (“transubstantiation”) or only partly Jesus’s blood and body (“consubstantiation”). The only “progress” theology has made has been forced upon it by science, which made it abandon time-honored tenets of belief like Adam and Eve, Noah’s Flood, and the Exodus. Theology is like postmodern lit-crit: it wobbles from pole to pole but never arrives anywhere. And of course it can’t, because there’s no way to test whether you’re getting closer to reality.
Well, Moreland contests that in his book. In his last chapter, “The scientific status of creationism,” Moreland gives the first long discussion I’ve read about why theology doesn’t seem to progress. I say “seem” because he first admits that it doesn’t progress like science, but then asserts that it has progressed—to a near-complete understanding of God! He gives several reasons; here are a few of them from pages 238-239:
Second, theology and especially philosophy tend to operate a higher levels of generality than does science. So, in general, we should not expect theology or philosophy to progress as science does. Progress is not an appropriate standard for rational comparisons between two theories or disciplines when they operate at different levels of generality.
. . . Fifth, if some philosophical or theological view is true, or some scientific one for that matter, we should not expect further progress in that area. Thus progress can only be a sign of approximate truth at best, not of truth itself. . . . The slow progress in philosophy and theology may indicate not that they are less rational than science—that is, that they have progressed less toward truth—but that they are more rational. Why? Because the slow progress could be an effect of their already having eliminated proportionately more false options in their spheres of study than science has eliminated in its. If this is true, it means that they have already come closer to a full, well-rounded true world view than science has come.
In sum, philosophy and theology may not progress because they may have already arrived rationally at some truth concerning the world. This means that a philosopher or theologian has the right to be sure about this conclusion, not in the sense of terminating inquiry or being closed to new arguments, but in the sense of requiring a good bit of evidence before abandoning the conclusion and not being able to use it to infer other conclusions.”
. . . Sixth, it is not true that philosophy and theology do not make progress.
As an example of philosophical progress, Moreland gives the increasing refinement of the ethical principle of utilitarianism. As an example of theological progress, he gives. . . nothing.
Now let me first agree that philosophy has progressed, at least in areas I’m familiar with, like ethical philosophy, where bad arguments have been weeded out and questions have become clearer.
But that doesn’t apply to theology. One need consider only this: if theology has arrived at “some truth concerning the world,” then that “truth” is flatly denied by adherents of other faiths. There is in fact no unanimity among religions about how many Gods there are, what God is like, what God’s commands are, whether there’s a hell or an after life of any sort, how you get saved, whether you’re reincarnated, and so on. There are, for example, more than 34,000 denominations of Christianity alone, and that doesn’t include all those other religions. And all of them differ not only in claims about the nature of God and how one is saved, but about things like divorce, sex, gay rights, and birth control. If you think that religion has arrived at the truth, first have a look at this truncated phylogeny of Christianity (which of course leaves out the thousands of other religions).
There is, of course, no schism like this in science, which would be pretty much a straight line. There is no Hindu science, no Muslim science, no Catholic science—there’s just science, which does apprehend real truths (albeit, of course, provisional ones), and ones agreed on by scientists of all stripes, faiths, and ethnicities. The speed of light, or the molecular formula of benzene, is the same to a Catholic or Jewish or atheist physicist or chemist. But whether the cracker turns totally or only partially into Jesus’s body differs for a Lutheran and a Catholic. To an evangelical Christian, you go to hell if you don’t accept Jesus as savior. To a devout Muslim, you go to hell if you accept that. For many Jews there is no afterlife, and Hindus believe you can come back as another person, or as a cat (blessed existence!). So what is the theological “truth”?
Theology is like postmodern lit-crit: it is a game that never progresses to any real understanding. It bounces around from fad to fad, blown by the winds of secular thought, but has no way within itself to arrive at a real understanding of the universe.
It takes real chutzpah for a person like Moreland to claim that theology has eliminated most of the false alternatives. When the faithful, as they are wont to do, urge scientists to show some humility, they might try looking in the mirror first!