Wednesday, 9 May 2007

The Queen of Sciences

Theology is defined as "the science of God". It comes from the Greek words "Theos" meaning God and "Logos" meaning "word, or reason". The science of God, then, involves reasoning about the things of God. Today many would balk at the idea of putting "science" and "God" in the same sentence.

For instance, Jon Krakauer in his book on Mormon fundamentalism, Under the Banner of Heaven, clearly sees reason and faith as exact opposites. In the prologue he writes:

"…extremism seems to be especially prevalent among those inclined by temperament or upbringing toward religious pursuits. Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness a crucial component of spiritual devotion."

He might be forgiven for drawing such a conclusion in relation to his subject since he is studying extremely irrational belief and behaviour patterns amongst people who would not stop at abuse and even murder to advance what they see as the plan of God. The book tells a very disturbing story and paints as dark a picture of faith gone as wrong as can be imagined.

The problem is that he tends to see this story, as well as others like it, as an extreme example of what faith ordinarily is in any case, i.e. irrational. He goes on to write, "…when religious fanaticism supplants ratiocination, all bets are off. Anything can happen." In other words, when people stop thinking and start "believing", reason has gone out the window and who knows where it might lead?

Later in the book he writes about the impossible claims Mormons make for the Book of Mormon, writing that it is "riddled with egregious anachronisms and irreconcilable inconsistencies". Citing the famous Mark Twain observation that the Book of Mormon was "chloroform in print", he goes on:

"But such criticism and mockery are largely beside the point. All religious belief is the function of non-rational faith. And faith, by its very definition, tends to be impervious to intellectual argument or academic criticism…Those who would assail the Book of Mormon should bear in mind that it’s veracity is no more dubious than the veracity of the Bible, say, or the Qur’an, or the sacred texts of most religions. The latter texts simply enjoy the considerable advantage of having made their public debut in the shadowy recesses of the ancient past, and are thus much harder to refute."

And yet theology was once regarded as "the queen of sciences". How did we get to a place where the "queen of sciences" has become the jester of the court?

Queen of Sciences

The queen of sciences is so named for two reasons. The first is that, although we use other sciences in studying theology because we are reasoning creatures and can only understand through reason, nevertheless theology ultimately does not depend on these sciences but on the knowledge of God Himself. We "do theology" in the context of a God who reveals Himself to mankind both in creation and by His Spirit-filled Word, and reason from what we observe of this revelation.

What is revealed in creation may be termed "practical". What is revealed by His Spirit and is acted upon "by faith" may be termed "speculative" in the sense that it is not directly observed but we may arrive at a point where we decide it can be reasonably trusted. Science also falls into these two categories of practical and speculative. Theology is the queen of sciences, secondly, because it straddles these two categories as does no other science because, both in practical and speculative terms, it derives knowledge from God.

Reason to Believe

Sir Anthony Flew, the famous British philosopher and atheist, has been a champion of atheism for years. In the Winter 2005 issue of Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society ( and one of the top circulating philosophy of religion journals in the world, the 81 year old philosopher explained why he changed his mind. In an article entitled My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism he said that naturalistic efforts to explain the world have failed. In his view, he explained, the scientific discoveries of recent years make a compelling argument for a designer and, although he does not believe in a revelatory God, he describes himself as "open, but not enthusiastic". Revealingly, he remarked:

"It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design."

From practical science, then, Sir Anthony Flew drew the conclusion that discovery of increasingly intricate design is compelling evidence of a designer. This is in complete accord with the argument of Paul in Romans:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Ro.1:20).

"Men are without excuse", or as Sir Anthony Flew put it, "Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself…pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers." To constantly overlook facts does indeed leave us without excuse. In the same passage Paul explains the inexplicable, indeed inexcusable oversight of compelling facts:

"Men suppress truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them…[but] although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools." (Ro.1:18-22)

When Krakauer claims that the veracity of the Book of Mormon "is no more dubious than the veracity of the Bible" he is in error because the veracity of the Bible rests, amongst other things, on practical scientific evidence. Internally and externally, archaeologically and epistemologically, historically and philosophically the Bible is verifiable as historical as well as revelatory. No such claim may be made for the Book of Mormon. He arrives at his conclusion because he begins with a false premise, i.e. "faith is the very antithesis of reason". To a reasonable man like Anthony Flew this claim may itself look unreasonable. To this writer it is a simple prejudice of the type all too prevalent in a world that has lost all reason and faith.

Purpose of Belief

I recently visited the biggest single room of books in the whole of England. It is in Oxford, Blackwells in Broad Street, which is also one of the largest bookshops in the world. Being a bibliophile I expected to be thrilled by what I saw. It was thrilling but, as I surveyed seemingly endless shelves of books extending under Trinity College, I found it, frankly, daunting. So much to read, so many exciting and fascinating subjects, so many experts to consult and so little time (and even less money). Had I been able to read every book in the place where would it have got me? I realised the futility of knowledge for the sake of knowledge and thanked God that, in his scheme, knowledge has an end beyond simply finding things out.

In the Westminster Catechism we read that "Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever" (Ro.11:36; John 17:21-23)

If Anthony Flew comes to the realisation that all we have been saying here is true and comes to know the God who reveals himself in the ways discussed, that may be described as "speculative" science. Speculative, not in the sense that it is a guess, but in the sense that it may not be directly observed but he may arrive at a point where he decides this truth can be reasonably trusted because of the compelling witness of God’s Holy Spirit. The evidence for God is compelling, it seems, to even the most sceptical mind that is open to the truth. But to the mind that is darkened no amount of evidence will do. As Christians we can only strive to know God better, present our apologetic more clearly and encourage others to enter into this voyage of discovery that leads to a better understanding of God.

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