… do we perhaps lose something in relinquishing the idea of theology as a science? Cannot perhaps the revision in the understanding of science that came about with the growth of experimental science give us a truer insight into the nature of theology as a science? Is there not something to be said for restoring theology to the realm of the sciences, if not to her erstwhile pre-eminent position as the ‘queen of the sciences’? And, given the enormous respect in which the sciences are held nowadays, would it not be of considerable apologetic value if theology could be regarded as being genuinely ‘scientific’? And is there not a further consideration, taking us back to the concerns of chapter I? There I spoke of a divide, a ‘dissociation of sensibility’, in our culture, and suggested that one of the elements in this dissociation is the way in which the claim of the scientific method to be the sole route to truth, with its consequences that truth is limited to the form of impersonal objectivity, has been too easily conceded by the humanities. But if we argue, as I have done, that the humanities are concerned with truth and that their way to this truth is radically different to the experimental method of the sciences, are we not promoting just such a divide in our understanding of the world, and therefore in our culture, that we have deplored in chapter I? May not the rediscovery of ‘theological science’ be the way to help us heal this breach?
Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983) 47-48.
Louth begins his chapter on “Science and Mystery” by outlining the fundamental shift that has taken place in the relationship between theology and science. Within an Aristotelian perspective theology was the “queen of the sciences” because, being concerned with the study of the highest reality, its subject matter made it the highest of the speculative or theoretical sciences. Such a perspective was deductive, drawing conclusions from indubitable principles and resulting in a hierarchy of knowledge at whose pinnacle was natural theology. This understanding was undermined by two factors. The first was the change in the notion of science brought about by the experimental sciences whose methodology was inductive and worked from hypothesis and experiment. The second was that the historical consciousness inherent in the Judaeo-Christian tradition itself had always fitted rather awkwardly into the Aristotelian perspective.
It is against this background that Louth considers some attempts to rethink the relationship between theology and science, and focuses in particular on the work of T.F. Torrance. Torrance discusses Barth’s distinction between philosophy and theology and of the necessity of revelation and faith for the latter.
… what is interesting, and what concerns us most closely here, is Torrance’s final comment in this discussion: ‘As it has turned out, does not theology bear a closer comparison with an exact science, such as physics, which restricts its activities to the limits laid down by the nature of its concrete object, and develops a method in accordance with the nature of its object, bracketing it off from every world-view (either as an a priori condition or as an a posteriori product), and involving an open mind about what may lay beyond the limits of its own area of knowledge?’ (50-51)
Thus Torrance attempts to find illumination for the theological task from the way in which modern science, and especially physics, has had to grapple with problems of epistemology. However, Louth argues that such commonalities as there are between theology and science come precisely from the fact that, as a human activity, knowing in the sciences “is much less unlike understanding in the humane disciplines than the early protagonists of the scientific method seem to have thought.” (52) Moreover, the experimental method is not only inappropriate for theology because of its concern with grace, but also because it is concerned with men and women, with persons. Thus Louth considers the illumination that Torrance brings to the theological task as “mainly oblique” – while not fundamental to the identity of theology it can nevertheless be helpful to it – and insufficient for identifying theology as a science, although he continues to problematise the absolute divide between the humanities as the sciences as becomes apparent in the rest of this chapter.