Tag Archives: Rowan Williams

Theological intrusions into science

It’s no secret. I have no time for theology.

I try to stay away from debates about existence of gods as I think it is a mug’s game. Evidence gets distorted or invented. And logic gets skewed. The UK Humanist Terry Sanderson has a brief article about this in the Guardian (see Theology – truly a naked emperor). As he says:

What is theology? I think one of the best definitions was given by the sci-fi writer Robert A Heinlein when he said: “Theology … is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn’t there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything.”

As an example of the trade he refers to Rowan Williams: “who is lauded far and wide for the vastness of his theological knowledge. He is said to have a brain the size of Jupiter because he can produce convoluted writing that nobody with their feet in reality can comprehend. And because no one can fathom it, it must be very important, right? He’s much cleverer than we are because he can say things that we don’t understand. For instance:”

“The word of God is not bound. God speaks, and the world is made; God speaks and the world is remade by the word incarnate. And our human speaking struggles to keep up. We need, not human words that will decisively capture what the word of God has done and is doing, but words that will show us how much time we have to take in fathoming this reality, helping us turn and move and see, from what may be infinitesimally different perspectives, the patterns of light and shadow in a world where the word’s light has been made manifest.”

Well – theologians might debate this. I couldn’t possibly comment. As I said, a mug’s game.

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The Archbishop’s straw man

It has become rather popular for theologians to talk about the ‘limits of science’. That, in itself is not objectionable – after all many scientists also talk about its limitations. The objectionable part is when theologians do this as a criticism of scientists. When they attribute a position to scientists, or at least some scientists, which they actually don’t have.

In other words when they are knocking down straw men.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, indulged in this form of straw-mannery in an interview about his recent book with The Guardian (see Cross purposes). As the article says:

He also tilts in the book at the pretensions of science, and by extension scientists such as Dawkins: “Science is a set of brilliantly successful methods producing brilliantly successful hypotheses about how things work. What it’s not is a picture of reality. It will give you a very significant purchase on reality. But it’s not an ethic, not a metaphysic. To treat it like that is a kind of idolatry.”

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