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Theology Should Get Real

Entry 1652, on 2014-05-15 at 22:11:57 (Rating 3, Religion)

I am often critical of various professions and wonder how much actual reality they involve. For example, I have wondered in the past whether economists genuinely study the real world, whether accountants just work with made up numbers, and whether philosophers are just dabbling with interesting but irrelevant intellectual trivialities. But none of these even begin to approach the level of silliness and just pure pointlessness of theology!

I recently listened to a podcast discussing the Christian "Trinity" of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost (whatever that is, because I still didn't know even after listening to the podcast). The only thing I could compare it with is some fantasy geeks discussing the finer points and the deeper meaning of The Lord of the Rings, or some similar work of fiction. It really is that silly!

I'm not saying that studying fiction, or fantasy, or mythology is a bad thing, but I am saying that when that discussion sounds exactly like a discourse on something that actually exists in the real world it all becomes somewhat surreal.

I mean the discussion over what the Trinity represents is really quite a simple one and doesn't deserve all of the deep analysis and intense thought which goes into it. The answer is simple: early Christians were Jews but they had created a figure (Jesus, who was probably loosely based on a real person) which they endowed with the status of a god, so they had to make something up to explain that situation (because monotheism was a prerequisite to them) and voila! the Trinity was created! Yes, as I said, I still can't figure out where that third component comes from.

I should say at this point that I don't have any really strong objections to theology, or economics, or accounting, and especially not to philosophy. It's just that we should be careful about how seriously we take them. And there is another point too: many of these areas are deeply divided between groups which are more firmly based in a real-world, scientific view, and those (usually with more traditional views) who live in what I might rather unkindly suggest is "Cloud-Cuckoo Land".

For example in philosophy the group who follow analytical philosophy are far more likely (in my opinion - they would probably disagree) to make a useful, practical contribution to knowledge than those who might be seen as Continental philosophers. And theologians who examine religious belief realistically: as an interesting social and psychological phenomenon, or as a highly speculative form of philosophy, are more likely to make useful contributions than those who start with the (apparently false) assumption that a god exists at all.

When you talk to theologians (and I have because I work in a university with a theology department) it's hard to get a straight answer about anything. For example, I once asked if theology starts with the initial "fact" that god exists. After about half an hour of convoluted explanation I still wasn't much wiser about the subject.

I agree that not all questions can be answered simply and many require an answer with a certain degree of nuance, but at the same time making a simple question more complicated and obscuring a simple idea with needlessly complex reasoning is sometimes a sign that there's a certain amount of deliberate obfuscation of the lack of profundity involved.

So theology is fine but it belongs in the same category as mythology, literature, and (at best) highly speculative philosophy. Let's have the discussion on theological topics but clarify the fictional aspects of it with plenty of phrases like "according to the Biblical myth" and "in the story about Jesus" and "early Christians believed". That way we can keep the whole topic in the right perspective.

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Comment 11 (3963) by richard on 2014-05-21 at 17:50:57: (view earlier comments)

Sorry - I meant also to (sincerely) ask, can you explain in fairly simple terms because I admit physics ain't my strong point, exactly HOW a multi-verse theory arose naturally from string theory, quantum theory, and inflation. Secondly, Does that mean then that according to those theories, the multi-verse is not merely an optional idea - in that our single universe could also be the true reality and align with them, but an absolutely required feature of 'string/quantum/inflation reality'? I am not sure I have heard that expressed before? That means little I know - LOL!

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Comment 12 (3964) by OJB on 2014-05-22 at 09:33:43:

You're right "God exists" is not a myth. It is a statement (most likely an incorrect one). The myths I'm talking about are detailed stories which might have metaphorical or literal meaning depending on your perspective. For example: creation, the crucifixion, Exodus, etc. Note that if you look at these myths literally then they are clearly untrue but when they are subject to the reinterpretation which seems normal for myths then nothing can be concluded either way.

I agree theology and science are very different, but don't both claim to seek the "truth"? Look at the many deep truths science has uncovered: relativity, quantum theory, etc. What can theology claim to have given us in comparison?

What would I accept as significant progress? How about this: does god exist and if it does, is it one of the gods the major religions have or something else?

I have never started with the premise that god doesn't exist therefore I have not begged the question. My simple conclusion has always been that there is practically zero evidence that a god exists therefore my current conclusion is that he doesn't. All I need is evidence to change my mind on the subject.

So you're invoking the good old anthropic principle as evidence for god. Fair enough. I do have to say that I find that very interesting too. But it really is a god of the gaps argument: we don't know why the constants are the way they are, so god exists. See, not very convincing, is it?

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Comment 13 (3965) by OJB on 2014-05-22 at 09:43:53:

Well I am also not a physicist and only someone working in the area would understand the maths. I can give you some links to articles aimed at a more basic level though...

Multiverse Controversy Heats Up over Gravitational Waves.
The Multiverse Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.
5 Reasons We May Live in a Multiverse.
A Physicist Explains Why Parallel Universes May Exist.

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Comment 14 (3966) by richard on 2014-05-22 at 13:11:56:

Once again, it wasn't my intention to steer this thread onto a 'Does God Exist' discussion, I was really trying to play fair and stick to thinking about the topic you raised of 'Theology getting real'. In that light, this was where I was posing the question about what you would regard as 'progress' for Theology. Thanks for the reply, which I understand completely, and actually agree with it wholeheartedly, but my concern was/is that you have made it abundantly clear many times in the past that the only evidence that would ever convince you, is not theological evidence, but physical (scientific) evidence.

That is why I am suggesting that maybe it's difficult (or near impossible) for Theology to meet your personal progress expectations, because as stated earlier it simply doesn't work in that category of knowledge. I should have clarified perhaps and asked you what sort of 'theological evidence' would you say would answer the questions you say would show significant progress for Theology? Many theologians (imo lol) would claim an abundance of theological evidence (knowledge that ) for rationally inferring some kind of 'Mind over matter' worldview shall we say, but according to your previous it is of course all lost on you. That isn't really the fault of 'theology' though is it, when you consider its constraints. Fun to muse over though.

Just to mention though too about the gaps thing (your last paragraph in comment 12). I hate to harp on about begging the question again, but you have kinda done that again by smuggling your prior philosophy (i.e. not evidence) into the statement (as you have phrased it) to unfairly bais towards the 'gaps' argument.

Your statement actually expands as: "We don't (science doesn't) know why the constants are the way they are, (BUT we 'know' ALREADY (science declares already) that God simply CANNOT be the answer to WHY the constants are the way they are, because that particular answer is not allowed in my restricting world view) and so any attempt to suggest that we COULD in fact POSSIBLY know WHY they are the way they are by saying 'God Exists' is simply adding God into the Gap, without any scientific JUSTIFICATION (that last word is the key component here).

Rather, the argument itself relies on the FACT that it HAS justification for answering the question based purely on SCIENCE and repeated scientific observation. Science (I assume we can also includes Maths here) has abundant prior evidence that shows that in EVERY case of scientifically recorded history, artifacts that laws of probability shows simply cannot occur via natural unguided processes are the result of a MIND. We are happy this applies to a well shaped prehistoric stone tool, a space shuttle, Mount Rushmore, why does this same scientific principle not apply to a Universe?

Now of course this doesn't absolutely answer the question of whether God actually exists, but we must remember that when talking about the Universe we are in a tricky spot. By definition we cannot OBSERVE anything outside the Universe, but it IS perfectly fair to assume that some basic principles still apply. The (scientific) principle that states 'Whatever 'thing' had a beginning ALWAYS (in our universal experience) has a cause sufficient to explain the thing' should sit in that category.

When viewed in that light, we also have to remember that when a gap in our knowledge is there, 'something' MUST always fill it, and filling it with 'an unknown physical cause or even worse NOTHING LOL' is actually just as much a GAP answer as God is (when thinking about the Universe itself as we were). However, to arbitrarily assume some material cause or NO cause, we actually must DISMISS all previous scientific historical knowledge of causes for similar complex artifacts - so in fact saying NOTHING caused the Universe is far MORE of a GAP argument than simply suggesting it too was the result of a mind.

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Comment 15 (3967) by OJB on 2014-05-22 at 13:34:43:

What exactly is "theological evidence"? It's difficult to say how seriously I would take it before I know what it is. Regarding "physical/scientific evidence", and I have said this before: most believers think their god interacts/has interacted with with the universe in some way. If he does scientific techniques will detect it, if he doesn't then he really doesn't exist in any meaningful way.

Can you tell me some sort of progress which you think theology has achieved?

If the evidence shows some supernatural source for the constants being the way they are then I will accept that (and I think so would most scientists). Can you think of an experiment to show a god was responsible rather than other explanations which might possibly be tested?

Many objects seem to be the result of an intelligence but after further research that is clearly show to be untrue. That's why creation and intelligent design are no longer taken seriously. I would have thought that if the universe was designed to encourage life it would be a bit more friendly than it is! How many different ways are there for life to be wiped out? Hundreds!

Actually you're wrong again. Just coming up with a childish, trite answer like "god did it" is not the same as saying the universe had no cause (a principle with support from quantum theory) or that we are part of a multiverse which is infinite in time, so had no beginning (like inflation observations suggest). The god answer just isn't on the same level at all.

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