Up is not Down, Out is not In, Yes is not No

Ah – things become a little clearer. I became curious about a commenter who keeps conflating theism with theology, so I googled and found a blog, where conflation turns up again.

Early in the month, a friend called my attention to this Salon interview with philosopher of science Michael Ruse, talking about evolution-vs-creationism. Ruse is pointing out some of the argumentative excesses of science (for example, the rantings of Richard Dawkins, which I’ve blogged about before) and he’s trying to stake out space to allow someone to endorse both science and religious faith. I liked what he had to say. As I’ve seen argued elsewhere, atheism didn’t exist before the Enlightenment.

Just by the way, that’s not true. Consider Lucretius and Epicurus and Democritus, for instance; and consider the entire world; and consider all classes and conditions, including people who lived out of the reach of clerics. But that’s a side issue.

According to Ruse, scientism, positivism, secularism, whatever you call it, is a worldview, quite comparable to a religious worldview in that it dictates modes of thinking, patterns of rhetoric, and certain cultural norms at the expense of other valid norms.

Hang on – you can’t call ‘it’ those three things interchangeably, because they’re three different things. You might as well say ‘According to X, mysticism, Biblical literalism, spirituality, whatever you call it, is a worldview.’ Different things are different things, and it’s impossible to get anywhere in a discussion or analysis by blithely tossing them together and saying ‘whatever you call it.’ Making careful distinctions is a crucial part of careful and critical thinking. We seem to have a habit of mind, here.

This Ruse interview caught the notice of Butterflies and Wheels, who quickly proceed to belittle Ruse. This is an example of why I lose heart for this type of argument. Ophelia of B&W pretty bluntly admits her ignorance of theology on her way to dismissing it as a serious discipline. This is Richard Dawkins’s M.O. as well. In the way of many scientists and analytic philosophers, they are overly literal, clumsy in their use or interpretation of metaphor. Also, they argue by way of snark and bullying, of unacknowledged biases and a distinct arrogance in the face of something they don’t know much about.

This is probably where the confusion started. In that comment, I did indeed talk about theology, because Ruse did. That was the subject of that comment. But it was not the subject of a later comment, which was not about Ruse, but about Paul Davies, who did not mention theology, but rather belief in God, which is not the same thing. ‘…belief in God is largely a matter of taste, to be judged by its explanatory value rather than logical compulsion. Personally I feel more comfortable with a deeper level of explanation than the laws of physics.’ Distinctions again, you see. Theism is not theology, and theology is not theism. And more: asking questions is not necessarily the same thing as admitting ignorance. Asking questions is a (well established) part of argument and analysis. And I still think the questions I asked are both serious (as opposed to being ‘snark and bullying’) and legitimate. I still want to know: if God is outside of nature, how can theology exist at all? How can human beings study or inquire into something that is outside of nature? I can see how we can speculate about it, imagine it, tell stories about it, have hopes and dreams and wishes about it – but I fail to see how we can make an ology out of it. That by the way is an argument with (or a question about) what Ruse said, more than it is about theology itself, because for all I know (there is some ignorance – I don’t know) theology in fact does not hold ‘the classic Augustinian position that science and theology can never directly contradict one another, since science can only consider nature and God, by definition, is outside nature.’ Maybe theology repudiates that idea for the very reason that it would make theology itself a nonsense. But Ruse is the one who put it forward, not I. He seems to think it is still a respectable theological view.

So: let’s keep our distinctions distinct. Scientism is not secularism, secularism is not positivism, and theism is not theology. (And cheese is not peanut butter, Keats is not Shelley, blue is not green, dog is not cat – see how this goes?)

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