Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A scientist's idea of Truth (in relation to theology)


I have, and it seems I am stuck with this for good or ill, a scientist's idea of Truth.

This means that while I regard Truth as a transcendental entity - that ultimate Truth is eternal, permanent, objective - I regard the Truth that we can know in a broad-brush fashion: when stated as something that is as broadly correct or broadly wrong (details to be worked-out, if possible, at some later point).

So when it comes to theology, I am, compared with most people, unfazed by detailed error - because this is something I expect with all Truths, because this is always the case in scientific theories.


To believe that a scientific theory is True is certainly-not to believe that every microscopic detail of it is True; it is, on the contrary (almost contrary) to believe that it is basically true, but to accept that all Truths will have errors of detail - and indeed these errors are what get worked-on by many scientists.

Sometimes they turn out not to be errors, and very occasionally this leads to a revision of the theory - other times the appearance of error was the result of some kind of misunderstanding, or problem with an observation, or problem with expression... or else they just don't get sorted-out (maybe in future, when theories are better or technology is better they will get sorted out?).


So, in science, Truth is real, objective, consistent etc; but the Truth that I can know as a scientist is not like this.

Rather, Truth is the best among rival theories, Truth is single and objective and self-consistent but Truth that I can perceive is (or contains the) subjective; is not eternal, not self-consistent etc.


I feel just the same about theology. Theology is not primary reality - it is the science of 'God' - of religion, of Christianity - it is a second order kind of thing.

Theology is never coherent, consistent etc - none of the Christian theologies are without significant problems in detail.

To me it is very obvious, undeniable, that all and every one of the Christian theologies are wrong, in detail, to some extent - but how could they be otherwise? Theology is not 'revealed' by God but made by man from what God reveals and also from other ingredients and using man-made methods. 

Theology, like science, is therefore a work-in-progress; and choosing the 'correct' theology, like science, is a matter of choosing the best among flawed theories.


All theologies are incorrect in detail - and some are incorrect in broad brush terms as well (useless, wrong, misleading); and therefore it is a matter of judgement (discernment) about which theology/ theory is best overall (which in turn depends on the purpose in hand).

(But although all theories are wrong in detail; scientific theories that are basically-wrong do not work in more obvious and immediate and damaging ways than theories that are basically-right - that is the importance of knowing which is best - and the importance of distinguishing between broad brush truth and detailed error.)


We ought not to build Christianity from theology; any more than science is built from theories;  theories come from science, not the other way about and the same for theology with respect to Christianity.

Or, at least, that is how I seem to perceive things, perhaps because of my scientific education - and can't seem to shake it off.


I simply cannot regard theology is primary, nor can I see good reasons why I ought to regard theology as primary, nor could I choose which denomination was 'best' primarily on the basis of theological coherence.

Each theology is a theory.

I perceive that theology is necessary, yet each theology is flawed in detail (and some of these details are more important than others - as revealed by whether the theories of theology work in practice); and each theology is always wrong - but some theologies are better than others.

However, this evaluation of 'better' does not come from within theology, is not a matter of coherence - but the judgement of 'better' must (as in science) come from that which is the primary well-spring of Christianity: a matter of the heart, I suppose; working upon experience and knowledge of how theology comes-out in practice...

Just as with science, the test of theology is how it works-out; but the measure of 'works-out' is, of course, qualitatively different from the measure of validity in science. 


NOTE: My conversion to Christianity (from an unstable mixture of secular materialism with New Age subjectivism) was precisely on the basis that although I did not believe (nor did I understand) all the specific details of Christianity; I perceived that it was a better 'theory of everything' than the one I already had. - including that it worked better in practice. Since I became a Christian understood a lot more of it, and believed more of it; but the process has never approached completion nor do I expect it ever shall in this life.