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The Words ‘Science’ and ‘Theology’ in Popular Usage

‘Science’ and ‘scientific’ are frequently appealed to as a means of bestowing respectability on a subject, bringing with them connotations of rationality, reliability and utility. How often in the media do we encounter the authoritative ‘Science tells us...’? Interviewees when pressed riposte with ‘We need to be scientific about this...’ and advertisers attract us with such phrases as ‘The appliance of science’, ‘The science diet’ and all manner of goods which come with a supposedly scientific seal of approval. In contrast ‘theology’ and ‘theological’ have, for some at least, taken the place of the once popular ‘metaphysical abstraction’ as the standard terms of derogation: ‘Theological nonsense’ cries an M.P. across the floor of the House, implying irrationality, confusion and irrelevance.

The theological problems occasioned by the rise of science extend then, it would seem, beyond particular disputes to a more pervasive sense that science stands as the measure of all valid knowledge in such a manner as calls into question the notion that theology is a route to truth. This belief can take many forms:

  • science is a truly modern form of knowing whilst theology represents a pre-modern throw-back;
  • science is useful whereas theology promotes a disengagement from reality;
  • science is value-free whereas theology is compromised by personal commitment;
  • science is open to falsification and renewal whereas theology is dogmatically entrenched;
  • science is based upon empirical data whereas theology is a matter of pure speculation;

in short, science seeks after objective truth whereas theology deals only in subjective meaning.

These assumptions can be as untrue to the reality of science as to the practice of theology.For a detailed analysis see God, Humanity and the Cosmos, Ch.2.Their uncritical acceptance tends to perpetuate the ‘conflict’ or ‘warfare’ hypothesis. But see possibilities for dialogue for ways to a different understanding.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

Outlines of the Debate

Index - God, Humanity and the Cosmos, 1999 T&T Clark

The Words ‘Science’ and ‘Theology’ in Popular Usage

Related Book Topics:

Science and Religion - Conflict or Dialogue?
The ‘Conflict’ or ‘Warfare’ Hypothesis
Possibilities for Dialogue
Different Sciences - Different Relationships
A ‘Special Relationship’?
The Metaphor of the Maps
The Metaphor of the Maps and Understanding the Mind
Key Figures and Developments in the Science-Religion Debate
Typologies Relating Science and Religion
Barbour’s Typology
Natural Theology vs Theology of Nature
Peters’ Typology
Drees’ Typology
Religion as Evolutionary Phenomenon
A Critique of Willem B Drees’ Typology
Critical Realism in Science and Religion
Judging the Fit Between Data and Reality
Alternatives to a Realist Position
Applying Critical Realism to Theology
The Ongoing Debate on Critical Realism and Theology
The Role of Model and Metaphor
Model and Metaphor Compared
Consonances Between Science and Religion
Greek Philosophy and the Rise of Western Science
Religion and the Rise of Science


Dr. Christopher Southgate, Mr Michael Poole, and Mr Paul D. Murray in God, Humanity and the Cosmos.Published by T&T Clark.

See also:

Saint Augustine
Sir Isaac Newton
Charles Darwin
The Relation of Science & Religion
Books on Science and Religion - General