Theology as Science

Theology as Science

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Religion has experiential as well as intellectual dimensions. The latter is reflected in a time-honored discipline which approaches religion in ways similar to what obtains in the scientific realm. Known as theology (etymologically, a systematic study of God), its goal is to analyze, understand, and formulate in a reasoned framework the doctrines and worldviews of a religion.

Thus, theology is a rational enterprise: That is to say, it is based on logic and reason, exactly like science. Pursued by keen thinkers in practically all classical religious systems, it takes into account the facts of experience vouched by religiously inspired sources, and attempts to give cogent interpretations to the statements and texts from these. As a discipline, theology is quite old. The word may be traced to Aristotle who spoke of theologike as the systematic study of the nature of the divine. There have been theologians in the Hindu, Judaic, Christian and Islamic, traditions also, although the term is used most often in Christian contexts.

Until the twentieth century, following the Aristotelian classification of human inquiries into mathematics, physics, and theology (metaphysics), theologians generally considered their discipline as separate from science, essentially different in scope and concern, though no less systematic and analytical in its approach. Theology was/is concerned with cosmogenesis, ethical behavior, goal and ultimate salvation, and other questions of profound significance to the human condition. During the twentieth century, as science began to investigate issues relating to the origin of the universe, the genetic roots of human tendencies, the neuro-physiological origins of human behavior, the psychological dimensions of unethical desires, and the like, theologians could not remain indifferent to advances in the sciences. Many of them became interested in physics, astronomy, biology and psychology, and weaved the results of science into their discussions. From these emerged the view that theology may be regarded as another branch of science.

Among the thinkers who have articulated this point of view in the Christian tradition is Wolfhart Pennenberg who argued that though science and theology are different in their concerns, both deal with the domain of public reality. He went on to say that science needs theology for establishing a foundation for the Laws of Nature which it discovers. In the Hindu world, Sri Aurobindo was an eminent scholar of stature who, with a profound understanding of Hindu visions, formulated its essence in the context of modern scientific perspectives like evolution.

There are two planes in the human experience of reality: the external and the internal. There are aspects of the world that we consider, study, speculate upon, and explain whose impact on us as beings with feelings, emotions, and culture is minimal. On the other hand, there are aspects whose consideration, study, and speculation have significant impact on our feelings, emotions, and cultural identities. The scientific enterprise deals by and large with matters of the first kind, whereas theology is concerned with matters of the second kind.

Thus, we may look upon theology as a sophisticated enterprise that analyzes issues related to those aspects of human existence that touch us profoundly as beings situated in a cultural/religious framework with a history, rooted in traditional and spiritual sources, especially in a context where science marginalizes the human presence as an inconsequential (in the long run) byproduct of the laws of nature.