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Why am I reading theology? - Comments

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 1 by Steve Zara

Over the past few years I have been starting to dip my toes into the shallower end of philosophy. I'm getting to the stage where I can manage a few strokes without sinking. It's great fun, and very educational. As a side effect of this, I have learned something about theology: philosophers have no time for it. Philosophers don't even mention people like Lane Craig to their students. Such people are of no significance at all in modern philosophy.

Theology is nonsense. All of it. It's nothing but desperate attempts to defend theism using Medieval views of reality. It's like a belief in God based on alchemy and astrology. The thing that puzzles me is that while philosophers seem to want to have nothing to do with it, scientists do! I have to ask - why?

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 19:59:58 UTC | #846136

kraut's Avatar Comment 2 by kraut

Do you see why my head feels about to explode?

What you are studying is just christian theology...you have to keep going now on to Islam, Hindu theology...etc...how many theologies are there?

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:06:47 UTC | #846140

superbeanson's Avatar Comment 3 by superbeanson

I’m starting to think that modern theology is simply postmodern literary criticism applied to a single book of fiction.

lol- great quote

Steve Zara

When I studied undergrad philosophy in the 90s we did look breifly at the ontological argument, from Anselm through Descarte onto Malcolm and Plantinga. This argument has an interesting logical form to it.

None of the other stuff in theology was noticed for 2 reasons I guess.

1: No new developments since the scholastics

2: Modern academic philosophy is concentrated in the areas of language and logic

Scientists (and others) are interested in the philosophy of religion at the moment precisely because RD has engendered a new debate on a popular, practical level

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:14:00 UTC | #846141

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 4 by Steve Zara

Scientists (and others) are interested in the philosophy of religion at the moment precisely because RD has engendered a new debate on a popular, practical level

Is theology the philosophy of religion? I really don't know. Perhaps there is some interesting philosophy of religion, but what I'm not sure I understand is how scientists end up dealing with people like Lane Craig, when, as far as I can tell, most philosophers won't go near him.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:29:59 UTC | #846144

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 5 by Cartomancer

Theology is very interesting. It tells us all kinds of things about the real world. Admittedly all of those things are about the bit of the real world sitting between the theologian's none-too-receptive ears, but it's still worth trying to understand.

Okay, so I'm an historian of medieval thought. Well, kind of. Probably not for much longer given the severe lack of employment prospects therein for someone with no undergraduate teaching experience or publications to his name, but I have the letters now at least. And thus I'm biased. Knowledge of theology is very important in understanding the intellectual outlook of the Middle Ages. There was quite a lot of it about, and in the context of medieval societies and medieval approaches to knowledge and science, it made as much sense as anything else.

Modern Theology, however, is, essentially, tie-in fan fiction. The genre is quite common in certain quarters, such as the sourcebooks for fantasy roleplaying games, which often go into lavish and elaborate detail about the specifics of their fictional worlds. I have hundreds of the things, and they're very entertaining. They cover topics as diverse as the precise way in which a vampire's soul works, lists of High Elf kings, navigational star-maps of the areas surrounding space-time anomalies and the physics behind the devices used for the heat-shielding of alien war engines. Theology is just the same. Except that the people writing this stuff under the name "theology" tend to think the world they're writing about is this one. That's the only appreciable difference.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:30:04 UTC | #846145

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 6 by God fearing Atheist

I hope Michael Ruse gives Jerry a sensible reply, after all Michael repeatedly claims that, while he is an atheist, at least he understands theology, unlike Richard Dawkins (as expressed in The God Delusion).

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:30:27 UTC | #846146

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 7 by God fearing Atheist

Comment 5 by Cartomancer :

but I have the letters now at least.

Congratulations Doc.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:33:20 UTC | #846147

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 8 by God fearing Atheist

Comment 4 by Steve Zara :

but what I'm not sure I understand is how scientists end up dealing with people like Lane Craig,

Because the xtian nut jobs are pissing all over science education in general, and (evolutionary) biology education in particular. If they were pissing over philosophy there might be a different attitude.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:39:49 UTC | #846150

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 9 by Schrodinger's Cat

Why am I reading theology?

Mid life crisis, mate. It's theology or the Kamasutra.........you just chose the pointless mental gymnastics rather than the pointless physical ones. Doesn't your local newsagent have anything decent on the top shelf ?

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:40:21 UTC | #846152

Tony d's Avatar Comment 10 by Tony d

I applaud the effort of the author of this piece.But i think he is wasting his time.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:43:41 UTC | #846154

JackR's Avatar Comment 11 by JackR

But each occasion transcends the causality of the past by responding to it with more or less originality. This requires that physical prehensions are supplemented by “conceptual” ones. Thus, in addition to prehending past events, an occasion also takes account of possibilities ingredient in those events or closely related to them. Just how it relates these possibilities to the actualities it feels is its “decision.” That means that in a situation that is inherently indeterminate, there is a determinate outcome Other possibilities are cut off.

Let's see if we can parse this wilfully obscurantist arsewash, shall we? As far as I can determine it seems to be attempting to communicate something close to the following:

"Every incident is non-causal because... well, it is. This requires that preconditions can be overruled by imaginary ones. Therefore, as well as being causally-derived, incidents are also affected by imaginary possibilities. The nature of the actual incident isn't clear until it happens."

This, of course, is a classic example of "Quantum Bullshitting". The idiot writing this drivel is dancing around the idea of collapsing probability waves without offering the slightest evidence or justification for doing so. It is the purest quintessence of wank.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 20:51:55 UTC | #846155

gordon's Avatar Comment 12 by gordon

Studying the history and context therein of theology is an exacting and useful science. Theology itself is ridiculous. The minute someone tells me they are studying theology at college or university I switch off. I usually tell them I am studying Ancient Amazonian Spiritual Beliefs and their Effect on the Rainforest Canopy and hence Global Warming, for which I am preparing a paper. They look bemused, and then usually back off. BTW, has anyone done a study of how many god botherers are AGW deniers? It seems to be rampant.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 21:52:59 UTC | #846167

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 13 by AtheistEgbert

What is the deep end of philosophy? Most philosophy is mumbo jumbo theology including the analytic tradition.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 22:06:36 UTC | #846171

spectator's Avatar Comment 14 by spectator

I'm not sure who originally said it, but the statement "Theology is the study of nothing" seems to me to be the best description ever.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 22:14:08 UTC | #846173

Saganic Rites's Avatar Comment 15 by Saganic Rites

".....obscure bafflegab...."

Just gotta love that expression!

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 22:14:43 UTC | #846174

debonnesnouvelles's Avatar Comment 16 by debonnesnouvelles

Comment 14 by spectator :

I'm not sure who originally said it, but the statement "Theology is the study of nothing" seems to me to be the best description ever.

are you sure? it's not as interesting as the following, or?..

http://richarddawkins.net/videos/633562-bbc-everything-and-nothing

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 22:19:24 UTC | #846177

Baron Scarpia's Avatar Comment 17 by Baron Scarpia

I very much doubt that philosophy of religion can really be classed as theology. Any more, at least, than philosophy of physics can be called physics.

The trouble is that a lot of theology is based around stuff that philosophers wouldn't look at. The letters of Paul? The concept of the Trinity? How salvation works? Not a philosopher's concern. The theologian usually starts with the assumption that god exists and works from there. The philosopher won't even concede that. This is why you don't find courses on Christian ethics in philosophy departments; god's kind of a big assumption to shoe-horn in.

Of course theology faculties do like to talk a lot about religious ethics and the like, and they may even class it as philosophy, but it's not the philosophy you'd actually come across in a typical philosophy department. The amount of cross-over is just about zero.

The large exception is when theologians actually bother to ask themselves what evidence they have for god. Since you're not meant to guess the answer in advance, this is a game philosophers can also play. Secular philosophers tend to be rather better at it (the answer's no), but this doesn't prevent the theologians from going on about it.

(I once saw a wonderful question in a Theology BA examination - 'Does David Hume have any alternative to the theology he so elegantly ravages?' You could see the vitriol dripping off the question paper.)

On the other hand, there's no reason why even atheist philosophers can't join in with theologians on occasion. JL Mackie, who wrote an entire book claiming that the arguments for god were rubbish, spent a whole chapter on the problem of evil. It wasn't necessary, as if there's no god there's no problem of evil, but Mackie was being evil himself. He wanted to show that even if a theistic god existed, religions such as Christianity were still rife with inconsistencies. I could also point to Plato's view that even if god exists, you can't use him as a source of morality. So sometimes philosophers can have a great game of It Gets Worse with theologians, who may even be forced to Swinburne themselves to get out of the trap.

Still, such things are rare. Usually philosophers are quite happy getting on without theologians, and vice versa. Even if you said David Hume was doing theology with the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, there's still very little overlap.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 22:35:16 UTC | #846180

Baron Scarpia's Avatar Comment 18 by Baron Scarpia

Alfred North Whitehead

Whitehead? Whitehead? You mean AN 'Co-author of Principia Mathematica' Whitehead?

You know who the other co-author was?

Bertrand Russell.

Should have followed Bertie, Alfred.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 22:39:01 UTC | #846182

Marc Country's Avatar Comment 19 by Marc Country

Another nail in the coffin of Postmodernism.

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 23:02:30 UTC | #846187

sgturner59's Avatar Comment 20 by sgturner59

I studied theology for eight years at a Catholic university in New York, taking a BA in general theology and a MA in Biblical theology. It's drivel. The scholastics offer a rigorous system if you're willing to accept an Aristotelian worldview. The most common form of academic buffering was the phrase "theology is faith seeking understanding, " ie, faith is required for genuine theological understanding.

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 00:00:03 UTC | #846193

Wendy Farts On Her Bible's Avatar Comment 21 by Wendy Farts On Her Bible

Why am I reading theology?

Why you would undertake something as excruciating as reading theology beats me, Jerry.

Unless it is a desperate attempt on your part to block out the thought of Karen Armstrong in suspenders.

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 00:21:42 UTC | #846199

Quine's Avatar Comment 22 by Quine

Comment 5 by Cartomancer :

Modern Theology, however, is, essentially, tie-in fan fiction. The genre is quite common in certain quarters, such as the sourcebooks for fantasy roleplaying games, which often go into lavish and elaborate detail about the specifics of their fictional worlds.

Exactly right (and the base fiction does not hold together as well as what J. K. Rowling writes, in the first place). As I wrote yesterday on another thread, when I start to read theology I only keep going until something is required to be taken on faith, or until the existence of their deity is assumed as part of an argument supporting the existence of their deity. The first of either of those and I just drop it. That Jerry Coyne is willing to use up his time by hanging in there past that point (just to be sure) is a service he does for us so we will not have to do so. We owe him our thanks for parts of his life he is not getting back, ever.

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 00:26:21 UTC | #846201

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 23 by Alternative Carpark

Comment 20 by sgturner59 :

I studied theology for eight years at a Catholic university in New York, taking a BA in general theology and a MA in Biblical theology.

Any regrets?

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 00:45:21 UTC | #846204

scotsman4188's Avatar Comment 24 by scotsman4188

Is theology the philosophy of religion? I really don't know. Perhaps there is some interesting philosophy of religion, but what I'm not sure I understand is how scientists end up dealing with people like Lane Craig, when, as far as I can tell, most philosophers won't go near him.

---------- Theology is mainly done within particular confessional stances since theology uses as its starting point what are believed to be the revealed truths of that particular faith, and then to work out the implications from there using philosophical constructs and analysis. Of course, even within the same confession or denomination, there can be disagreement not just on the implications of the revealed truths but also on exactly what are the revealed truths.

It seems to me that a lot of people on this thread are expecting that theology would be mainly concerned with "rational arguments for the existence of God" as in the Kalam Cosmological Argument or Aquinas' Quinquae Viae. But this actually is only a small part of theology called natural theology. Natural theology is really better considered to be part of philosophy since the arguments purport to proceed from reason rather than revelation. More or less, I think philosophy of religion would be the same as natural theology, except that philosophy of religion might have a more slightly more expanded focus than simply arguments for the existence of God, such as attempting to understand the philosophical presuppositions that underlie different faith traditions or different religious phenomenon.

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 01:27:12 UTC | #846210

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 25 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 9 by Schrodinger's Cat

Why am I reading theology?

Mid life crisis, mate. It's theology or the Kamasutra.........you just chose the pointless mental gymnastics rather than the pointless physical ones. Doesn't your local newsagent have anything decent on the top shelf ?

A motorcycle or tattoo I've been told is the norm for a mid life crisis. I can't afford a Harley, so am considering a big fuck off red 'A' theist tattoo.

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 01:46:55 UTC | #846213

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 26 by MilitantNonStampCollector

Gotta love Paine on theology:

"The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion". --- Thomas Paine

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 02:38:41 UTC | #846217

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 27 by Alovrin

C'mon Jerry we all know this is just the appetiser, and your working your way up to those Eastern theologies. You gunna take Sam dowwwn.... Those western theologies were seriously crippled when jesus turned up. And him being the son of you know who..... and offering the deal of a lifetime. All you gotta do is have ....Oh shit what was it again.....

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 03:00:17 UTC | #846219

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 28 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 26 by Derek M

"The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion". --- Thomas Paine

Hemmingway does it better....

"Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee."

(From “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway)

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 04:16:58 UTC | #846228

Tridhos's Avatar Comment 29 by Tridhos

You should be grateful you might have been asked to read something by William Lane Craig what fun that would have been for you.

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 04:33:26 UTC | #846229

Eyerish's Avatar Comment 30 by Eyerish

Theology - Religion's attempts to create academic 'credibility' to the convoluted mental gymnastic backflips and somersaults it has to do to try to make sense of the senseless - yet then still cannot 'pin' the landing.

Theologist - Someone with some impressive sounding letters after their name who attempts the impossible mental gymnastics to justify their beliefs so they don't appear wrong or as if they are suckers for story. Resorts to confusing babbling and weird use of language to achieve nothing but confusion in the minds of those listening. To the believer it sounds impressive and it justifies their beliefs, and to the unbeliever it sounds like what it is - tortured bullshit!

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 05:12:39 UTC | #846233