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Letters: Theology has no place in a university

Reposted from:
http://comment.independent.co.uk/letters/article3015309.ece

Sir: Professor Richard Bowen thinks I should engage with serious academic theologians rather than the fundamentalist "McDonald's" version of Christianity. He and the Rev Richard Hall (Letters, 19 September) agree with Peter Stanford ("Doubts about Dawkins", 14 September) that I should read theology. Fortunately it looks as though I shall have every opportunity to do so. Oxford University has just officially noticed that its leading theological halls are not fit to admit school-leavers, so these institutions will presumably be touting for mature students.

According to a report in The Times (19 September), Wycliffe Hall and other theological establishments "could risk losing their Oxford University licences altogether". This follows a review that concludes that what is on offer at Wycliffe Hall "does not resemble an Oxford experience in its essentials" and is not "a suitable educational environment for the full intellectual development of young undergraduates". The Rev Mr Hall encourages me to engage with theology academics whose "intelligence is at least equal to Dawkins' own". Indeed I should enjoy engaging with my neighbour, the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, who said in The Independent (25 May), "We are committed to bringing the gospel message of Jesus Christ to those who don't know. In this land, that's 95 per cent of the people: 95 per cent of people facing hell unless the message of the gospel is brought to them." Presumably he is one of the intelligent theologians with whom I should engage.

We who doubt that "theology" is a subject at all, or who compare it with the study of leprechauns, are eagerly hoping to be proved wrong. Of course, university departments of theology house many excellent scholars of history, linguistics, literature, ecclesiastical art and music, archaeology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, iconology, and other worthwhile and important subjects. These academics would be welcomed into appropriate departments elsewhere in the university. But as for theology itself, defined as "the organised body of knowledge dealing with the nature, attributes, and governance of God", a positive case now needs to be made that it has any real content at all, and that it has any place in today's universities.

Richard Dawkins
Oxford

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Sir: It is not often that a professor admits to poor scholarship, but that is what Richard Dawkins has done (letter, 17 September). Had I received an essay from a first-year undergraduate in which he admitted not having studied the position of his opponent, I would have insisted on it being rewritten. What is even more remarkable is that Dawkins seems unaware that the positivist account of science, which forms the main plank of his argument, is thoroughly discredited.

To argue for the position he advocates requires a working knowledge of the philosophy of science and religion, epistemology and metaphysics. While scientists of a previous generation, such as Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn, have shown the application required to master these fields prior to publishing their philosophical work, Dawkins has so far shown himself unable or unwilling to do so.

The Revd Dr David Heywood
Lecturer in Pastoral Theology, Ripon College, Cuddesdon Oxfordshire

TAGGED: EDUCATION, RELIGION, RICHARD DAWKINS


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