Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Is Theology Science? Re Peterson

David F. Siemens, Jr., ASA Fellow
2703 E. Kenwood St.,
Mesa, AZ 852132384

From: PSCF 50 (June 1998): 155.

Peterson's attempt to make theology a science (PSCF, 50 [March 1998]: 2231) involves linguistic confusion and problematic consequences. Theology is Wissenschaft or scientia, for these terms apply broadly to rational endeavor, as "science," in contemporary usage, does not. The regina scientiarum of the medievals is now recognized by the orthodox as the application of philosophical techniques to the data of Scripture, but what it may become among liberal theologians is unpredictable.

Peterson explicitly exempts metaphysics from science (pp.21f). However, a research program is as possible here as in theology. Someone has claimed that there are four consistent metaphysical positions: materialism, realism, absolute idealism, and pragmatism. Assuming this assessment is correct, although it may not be true of all variants of the basic views, the disproof of the doctrine via reductio ad absurdum is not possible. Yet one can lay out the consequences of each of these positions. The required research program will examine the adequacy of each outlook to support (or explain away) rationality, morality, freedom, origins, etc. Here we have to call in auxiliary hypotheses. So this is as clearly a Lakatos' "research programme" as what Peterson suggests for theology. Indeed, I believe that any problem, down to what one may have for breakfast, can be made into a "scientific" matter within Peterson's  criteria.

I recognize that he tries to give an empirical content to theological predictions (pp.27ff). But how can he distinguish between the unpredictable work of the Spirit (John 3:8) and psychological factors? It appears to me that sects that teach that certain activities are necessary to attain bliss or greater bliss, or to avoid perdition, more effectively motivate their membership's activity than do evangelicals who declare the biblical doctrine of grace. Shall we then declare faith erroneous and supersede it with legalism on empirical grounds? I note that the infamous argumentum ad baculum is far more persuasive than careful rational analysis.

If one reduces theological studies to psychology, sociology, and anthropology, it will be scientific, softly. But this is neither orthodox dogmatics nor biblical theology.