I’ve been reading recently on the subjects of theology, philosophy, and science, especially where issues of cosmic origins are concerned. One of the things that is always brought up in debates over origins are supposed scientific quotes from the Bible, and discoveries in science that would seem to contradict the Bible. Meanwhile, the philosophic try to make sense of both.
I’ve found, in my research, that all three disciplines actually compliment one another. Discoveries in science help shed light when interpreting biblical passages. Philosophy often seeks to help make sense of both sides of theology and science to make some things understandable to the average person. But, there are those who say that theology and science are at war with one another and philosophy is a big bag of wind. However, if we take a complimentary view, we see that all three have a legitimate role to play because all three are essentially a pursuit of truth within the limitations of their disciplines. For instance, science tells us a great deal about the cosmos, biology, and genetics, while theology says little to nothing about such things.
Allow me to share with you a grid that might help bring some clarity to the disciplines of theology, philosophy, and science.
|Reveals morals||Explains morals||Is amoral|
|Spiritual Truth||Mental Truth||Material Truth|
Though I’ve placed these disciplines in a grid for easy digestion, in reality, these disciplines overlap one another more like a spectrum. For instance, philosophy often deals with spiritual issues even though theology specializes in the spiritual. Theology and philosophy also overlap on purpose and meaning. Let’s define these three disciplines.
- Theology is the study of God and all things pertaining to his person, behavior, and will
- Philosophy is the study of existence in a variety of fields impacting on both theology and science
- Science is the study of natural phenomenon in a variety of disciplines from astronomy to earth sciences and biology
Now, right away you might see gapping holes in the grid, noting that certain things cross disciplines. For instance, philosophy does only deal only with the mind, but has some things to say about spiritual matters. That is true. And theology isn’t limited to spiritual things either. It has a great deal to say about the mind. Theology touches on material truth, which usually falls under the realm of science. So, yes, the grid should really be more like a spectrum of things, but run with me anyway.
I find it interesting that these disciplines deal with spiritual, mental, and physical things because the greatest commandment in scripture is to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength” (Heart = Spiritual, Mental = Mind, and Strength = physical). So, even in this sense, each of the three disciplines are covered in scripture, which is traditionally considered as theological. The Bible, however, covers all disciplines to some degree.
Science can be used to help determine the truth of something in scripture. How we interpret the flood is one such example. Scientific studies applied to the flood narrative give us clues about what was possible and what was not. This is why an interpretation of a local flood is demonstrably viable (that subject is a post for another time).
All three disciplines share one thing in common: the pursuit or discovery of truth (Religious truth, philosophical truth, and material truth). When we discover that a learned truth, say from science, seems to contradict the scripture we need to go back to both science and scripture to reexamine what we’ve learned to see what might be amiss in our biblical interpretation or our scientific discovery. Yes, science can reveal our errors of interpretation. For many centuries people believed in a geocentric model of the solar system, even the universe. But when science revealed that was an error, theologians had to go back and look at the scripture again and discovered that they superimposed an error on top of scripture, compounding the error. Eventually, more careful heads prevailed to give us the heliocentric model virtually everyone believes in today.
Another thing all three disciplines share is the need for study. Whether theology is learned, or philosophy is speculated, or science is discovered, understanding completely requires study—and sometimes study across all three disciplines. This is especially true when we consider the areas of revelation, speculation, and deduction. Though theology is learned, we believe from scripture that we are not discovering new truths, rather, the Holy Spirit is revealing new truth to as we study the Bible. This is very different from science which engages in deducing material truths by studying the natural world. Philosophy pulls from many disciplines to speculate about things introduced by revelation or deduction.
There is one area, however, the rightly belongs in a single category: morals. Objective morality, by definition, can not be speculated into existence or deduced by science. Morals deal with issues of right and wrong. Theology teaches us that without God, what we may refer to as morals is actually a popular construct, but not objective or independent of an observer or actor. Morals are theological because only God can reveal what is objectively right and wrong. He alone is Creator and determines by his character and will what is true and false, right and wrong. Philosophy make seek to apply morals, but it cannot birth morals. Science is amoral, meaning that morality is not within its sphere of study. Now, some in the scientific community may try to deduce morals, but such an effort always fails. For instance, studies of the animal kingdom have revealed that many animal species engage in homosexual behavior. Therefore, according to some scientists, homosexuality should be considered natural for people and not wrong. However, the problem with this line of deduction is that you can’t superimpose such a morality for other animal behaviors. Lions keep harems. Does that make it right for man? Some animals are cannibalistic. Does that make it right for man? Some animals force themselves on one another sexually. Should that be right for man?
Theology tells us that these behaviors, and many more, are objectively wrong for man because God has designed man with a different set of ethics than found in lions, dogs, lamas, and sea monkeys. Philosophy can help us understand how to apply morals, but it cannot produce morals either. Thus, in this case, theology stands alone in revealing a truth that science and philosophy cannot.
In conclusion, all three of these disciplines (theology, philosophy, and science), are essentially the search for truth within the limitation of their fields. But they are the search for truth, nonetheless. This is something, that as Christians, we should respect and openly engage with so that the God who is studied in theology, pondered in philosophy, and whose acts are examined in science, can become known and loved with heart, mind, and strength.