At EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse takes after theology’s shell game:
If theology must change every time scientists achieve consensus on something, then what good is it? If it is only allowed to make assertions about things that are completely divorced from any empirical consequences in the world, then how can we ever be confident that any of it is right?
Of course, we can’t be confident that theology is right about anything at all—except when it accords itself with science.
And then it’s redundant.
Being stuck between irrelevancy and redundancy is not a very nice position to be in, is it? In the 21st century, theology, it would seem, is like an unemployed American worker.
In the 19th century, Auguste Comte made this historical observation concerning theology (as given in Henri de Lubac’s excellent book, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, 1950, p. 84):
[T]heology would necessarily die out as physics advanced.
Auguste Comte’s world had its anti-Enlightenment reactionaries (as we have our own). There were, in other words, people who regarded the Anglo-French Enlightenment as a shipwreck, and were nostalgic for the revivification of theology’s corpse. Lubac characterizes Comte’s scorn for such reactionaries, and for their ideas, and quotes him (p. 84):
Comte has a ceaseless flow of sarcasm to lavish upon ‘the reactionary doctrine which, in truly ridiculous fashion, ventures to recommend today, as the only possible solution for the present intellectual anarchy, so fantastic an expedient as the social re-establishment of those same futile principles whose inevitable decrepitude was the original cause of that anarchy.’
The “futile principles” Comte refers to are those derived from theology and bolstered by tradition and authority. But, as Comte notes ironically, bad epistemic methods based on faith are what made for the original intellectual impasses in the first place. They are the things that prompted Francis Bacon and the other early scientists and Enlightenment philosophes to find better ways to advance knowledge (and humanity’s prospects) than faith and tradition.
And so now we live in an age in which Auguste Comte’s scientific positivism has triumphed; a post-theological age. And Jason Rosenhouse is clearly happy about it. As am I. Though I don’t pretend that it isn’t akin to being at sea.