What can the Christian Theologian learn from the Scientist?

(system) #1
Just as the science professor seeks to open the eyes of their students to the wonders of the natural world, so too must the Christian theologian seek to open the eyes of their students to the reality of the triune God.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/what-can-the-christian-theologian-learn-from-the-scientist

(Larry Bunce) #2

I have always thought of theology as a very abstract way of looking at the world. Theologians working in an academic environment in a secular institution would seem to be forced to keep an eye on reality. Theology and science are two very different disciplines, but they can learn from each other. Scientific progress often requires leaps of faith, (of course followed by careful experiment and observation) and theology left to itself can easily degenerate into arguments over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Theologians working in an environment where their students and colleagues represent different religions would seem to have a better chance of coming up with a sound theology with wider appeal.

(John Silvius) #3

Thanks for what I consider a stimulating article on distinctions between the methodology or approaches of theologian (or other faith pursuer) and scientist in their respective pursuit of truth from God’s revelation in Word, world, and in His Son. I am in general agreement with you except would you please clarify what you mean by your final words, “he pursuit of truth––to scientific study of the living God.” In particular, what do you mean by “the scientific study of the living God?” Can you cite an example or a recent project you could cite in which there is a scientific (method) study of God?

(Andrew Torrance) #5

Thanks John! I can see how my final words might be a bit unclear given that the “scientific study” is normally equated with “natural scientific study”. I’m using the terms scientific more broadly as referring to a way of studying an objective reality by way of a method that is true to the nature of that objective reality. In Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans, he describes theology as scientific when when it is ‘thrown up against reality’ with an ‘unconditional respect for the uniqueness of its chosen theme.’ In the last century, Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance are two of the key figures who have taken this approach to theology.


Well stated. And your revision was a good idea. I like the way you worded the above sentence, but nowadays only very specialized audiences would appreciate that particular definition of science. However, because the word “science” has become so often abused in our day, I’ve actually grown quite comfortable with the science textbook definition: equating Science to that which can be investigated by the Scientific Method.

My answer to the OP question is quite simple: The Christian theologian can learn how the universe operates. I would think that answer obvious, yet I’ve had many fellow Christ-followers express grave concerns that “You are implying that methodological naturalism is superior to the Bible in explaining the physical world God created.” (Of course, that one sentence provokes at least a half dozen disclaimers and reservations, each probably deserving its own forum thread.)

I’m travelling so I will mostly be observing from the sidelines. But I’ll be interested in how you all develop this discussion.

(John Silvius) #7

Thank you, Andrew. Your response seems reasonable to me. If I understand correctly, you are using “science” in the broader sense of “any systematic approach to understanding reality.” Many science disciplines (natural sciences, social sciences, theological sciences) would seem to fit under this broader use of the term. So, I am comfortable with the way in which you have used “scientific study” as long as we understand that the methodologies (and the objects of study) are of necessity quite different. In other words, with reference to the Karl Barth quote, each of the sciences would need to exhibit “unconditional respect for the uniqueness of its chosen theme” (or the object of its study?). Likewise, it is important that the findings (theories, interpretations) of one science not be used to falsify the interpretations of another without careful consideration of individual “evidences” and interpretations. Does this make sense to you? I would appreciate it if you could share one or two references from Barth or T.F. Torrance that would shed further light on this subject. Thanks again!

(Andrew Torrance) #8

Yes, I agree with you. Methodologies will often be very different and one of the biggest problems facing the conversation about science and Christianity is a failure to recognise this point (for example, when the Bible is read like a scientific textbook). With regard to references, Barth’s got a great essay called ‘Fate and Idea in Theology’, which would be worth reading. Otherwise I would recommend looking at his Church Dogmatics I/1. For Torrance, I would recommend reading his book Theological Science (and he has a few other books on a related theme). If you want an introduction to this topic, you could have a look at McGrath’s biography on Torrance (which has a section on Theology as Science). I hope this helps!

(John Silvius) #9

Thank you for your reply, and for the helpful references which I will look forward to checking out.