Re: Who's opinion should be considered: (was:Re: Snoke's response)

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Sun Aug 14 2005 - 16:38:42 EDT

George and Glenn

Excellent posts! There are various types of training! I was amazed to discover Glenn has no "formal " geological training, because his stuff is consistently good, but if Drs Snelling or Austin write on geology I will tend not to believe a word of it! There is also the question of what any one of us is competent at - hence I don't comment on physics and cosmology or most of biology

I was amused by George's comment that Barth had no earned doctorate - I don't think any of my theological teachers had earned doctorates like Ph Ds, despite going to Durham which has long been one of the best theology faculties in Britain. They included CK Barrett, C Cranfield, Rogerson, HEW Turner. Most did not do Ph Ds until the 60s and I don't think we are any better off with them . One colleague has done a Ph D on naughty vicars and it goes on.

My early days are a bit like George's!

As for personal opinions Janice writes about, they are worthless unless they are backed up by serious thought scholarship and a knowledge of the relevant field be it science or theology. Too often people think all that matters in religion is personal opinion and as a result many have views which are scarcely Christian or if they are lop-sided or heretical.

----- Original Message -----
  From: George Murphy
  To: Glenn Morton ; janice matchett ; Gregory Arago ; ; Randy Isaac
  Sent: Sunday, August 14, 2005 6:41 PM
  Subject: Re: Who's opinion should be considered: (was:Re: Snoke's response)

  ----- Original Message -----
    From: Glenn Morton
    To: janice matchett ; Gregory Arago ; ; Randy Isaac
    Sent: Saturday, August 13, 2005 9:22 PM
    Subject: Who's opinion should be considered: (was:Re: Snoke's response)

    janice matchett <> wrote:
      At 12:18 PM 8/13/2005, Gregory Arago wrote:

        "..... neither am I am trained in theology ....."

      ## You, and how many others? :) Yet many of the untrained nevertheless voice opinions on the subject which they inexplicably expect to be embraced as carrying equal weight with the opinions of (small "o" ) orthodox biblical scholars. That is a major point that many seem to overlook. These presumptuous biblical illiterates "...Do Not Deserve the Benefit of the Doubt "

      Another point I would make, which is my own personal opinion, but which I personally add to the equation any time I'm making an evaluation of the opinions of others in regards to important matters:
    Janice, I quote you above as you try to argue against the need for training in science before having an opinion worthy of hearing. You are clearly arguing against the oft made assertion that anti-evolutionists don't have training in science and therefore their opinions should not matter or be weighed heavily.

    First off, it isn't formal training that is important, it is experience. Some of the world's greatest scientists had no formal training in the topic in which they became experts. One can think of Faraday as an example.

    Now, why should training in science be considered different than training in theology? First off, theology has no experimental aspect to its study. One can't get God to step in to a lab and perform miracles depending upon what incantation one uses. This makes theology quite different from science. In science, on can go into the lab and perform experiments which will distinguish between what is true and what is false. This determination is done in a way that all, who are familiar with the experiment or series of experiments, are forced to agree that the experiment worked as described and leads to a single conclusion.

    Without the crucial experiment, theology is left without a means by which one can definitely determine whether God is an Arminian or a Calvinist. What experiment can we perform to determine the truth or falsity of each of those viewpoints? What this means is that you can find formally trained theologians who are just about equally split among all possible positions. There are few theological issues which can claim 95+% adherence.

    But in science, with the data from crucial experiments, 99+% of scientists will be drawn to a single conclusion. And this is why those who are unfamiliar with those experiments are not listened to in science and why theology is a bit different. It is the power of logic tied to crucial experiments to test competing ideas that gives science its strong difference. So, if you don't know the details or logic behind the experiments and act as if they don't matter, then your opinion in science will be ignored. Such an unthought out position isn't worth listening to. With science, one must be able to address this data. But there is no such data for theology.


    I certainly agree with Glenn about need for scientific competence in order to discuss scientific issues. But Janice also has a point, that there is far too much amateurish theology being done - & I would add, both on the left & on the right. This is not a matter of formal credentials: Arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth, had no earned doctorate.

    There is a great deal of confusion about what theology is. I don't know that it's terribly profitable to get into debates about whether or not theology is a science. It certainly is in the broad Wissenschaft sense, a body of organized knowledge. Furthermore, there are commonalities between the way theology and the natural sciences work, as Thomas Torrance and Nancey Murphy (to name just a couple of people) have argued in different ways. But they obviously aren't the same - which is just to say that theology isn't physics & physics isn't theology.

    Theology is, in the simplest sense, just thinking about what we believe. It is fides quaerens intellectum, faith in search of understanding - faith in the God revealed in the history of Israel culminating in Jesus Christ, revelation to which scripture is the witness. That is the fundamental "data" of theology. Of course we can't compare various theological claims with that data in just the same way that we can compare theory & experiment in physics, but we can say that any theological claim that isn't grounded in that revelation is out of court.

    So does one need formal training in theology? Not in an absolute sense but it sure helps! It is, to begin with, pretty presumptuous to think that one can ignore all thethought which teachers of the church have devoted to understanding the implications of the Christian message for the past ~2000 years. At best you just end up re-discovering something that was known centuries ago & at worst you come up with some "new truth" which is really just an old heresy. Theology is an activity that must be done in the context of the Christian community, both of the present & of the past.

    I can mention my own experience. Before I started seminary I had read a fair amount of theology - patristics, Luther, some modern theologians &c - as well, of course, as the Bible. I had taught adult Sunday School classes & even published a few articles in the theology-science area. But when I started formal theological training I quickly found that I didn't know nearly as much as I'd thought I did - not simply in terms of amount of information but in how to put things together, see what was significant. The bits of "preaching" that I'd done had really been lectures, not proclamations. I'd read Luther's Heidelberg Theses which are fundamental for the theology of the cross but hadn't at all seen the significance of what he said there. I'm kind of embarassed about those first few articles on science & religion that I published, not because they were heretical or totally uninformed, but because they're just so amateurish. I remember talking with my pastor in Australia & saying something about Bultmann in the kind of contemptuous way that conservative Christians do (sort of the way fundamentalists spit the name "Darwin.") & my conservative Lutheran pastor said rather thoughtfully, "Yes, Bultmann's christology is weak but he's quite good on St. Paul." Oh - you mean that doing theology involves more than just saying "This guy is orthodox and this one isn't?"

    I'm not trying to discourage anyone from talking about theological matters. If theology is thinking about what we believe then all Christians should have some engagement with it. But it takes prayer, work & a willingness to grow.

Received on Sun Aug 14 17:17:12 2005

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