How We Should Do Science and Theology
(The Methodology of Science and Theology)
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Classes in Science and Theology are usually about the results of studies in each of those fields. Reliable results should be the products of a method of study designed to produce conclusions that necessarily follow. But in each field of study there are often claims and theories which are in conflict with one another. They are not “necessary” conclusions because a faulty method of study has been used to derive them. This produces a confusion of ideas, and even of the facts.
There is a growing need to rescue True Science and True Theology from the way they are commonly presented. People often say “Science says …” or “The Bible says …”, but what they claim as truth is often just the findings or opinions of some group of scholars or teachers. A sound method may not have been used in arriving at the conflicting conclusion they are promoting. Peer-review does not make something true. That only means that some group of reviewers agrees about the ideas being promoted. Theories and their predictions are not in themselves facts.
There’s another concern that also needs to be considered in Science and Theology. We all begin with a set of assumptions, things we suppose to be true and reliable before hand. These are the standards we accept as the test for all truth. Natural Science assumes the reliability of careful measurements and observations. Christian Theology assumes the reliability of the Bible as the word of God. Science and Theology both use the logic rule of “no-contradictions” to evaluate their basic facts. We call those preliminary supposings, “presuppositions“. The reasoning process is always based upon assumptions, admitted or not. They influence the way basic facts are interpreted, and how the processes used for drawing conclusions are designed.
An example of the influence of our presuppositions is seen in the way ancient astronomers studied the movement of the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets. They assumed that the Earth was the center of the Universe, and that everything in space revolved around it in perfect circles. They assumed that ellipses would be imperfect, and God only creates perfect things.
However as an example, there are times when the planets Mercury and Venus appear to reverse direction for a brief time. To make the observations fit their assumptions, they assumed that each planet orbits in smaller circles attached to larger circular orbits. Things got very complex trying to make it all work out.
When the Geocentric (Earth Centered) assumption was replaced with a Heliocentric (Sun Centered) one, and ellipses replaced the assumed circles, things worked out more simply. The assumption effected the conclusions and theories which they had accepted as truth.
The same is true in Theology. Instead of a direct study of what God has revealed objectively in his Word, some build theories about God based upon what they already think he ought to be. People often say, “Christianity says …”, when it’s really just what some preacher, author, or someone who claims to have personal visions says.
Reliable results of investigations are not found by counting how many believe a certain thing to be true. They are based upon an objective analysis of confirmable information which has been thoroughly and accurately tested, and which produces no contradictions to other confirmable bits of information.
The Basic Method of Study
- Precisely define the problem. Clearly state what is being examined.
- Gather all confirmed data related to the problem.
In Science: all related measurable observations
In Theology: all Bible passages dealing with the problem or its parts
- Identify and examine all variables that could effect the interpretation of the data.
In Science: consider the precision of measurements, the interaction of external influences that might effect the observations or measurements
In Theology: consider what each Bible passage directly states.
– Lexicography: the meanings of the words in the original languages
– The Grammar of each sentence and phrase
– The Context of each passage: the flow of thought in the entire book or epistle, local idioms and cultural influences at the time or writing, the relationship of each idea with other clearly stated facts in Scripture
- Carefully define the limitations introduced by the sampling of data used.
In Science: consider the size of sampled observations and measurements, variations of characteristics within the sample, any external influences upon the observations or measurements
In Theology: consider the influence of other passages that address parts of the problem.
- Reject all results that produce a contradiction.
- Affirm the results that derive by necessary deduction from the study.
The problem with what some call “Science” is that some approach a problem with an agenda to defend some assumed theory. This will introduce unsubstantiated theories to get around what the raw data actually supports. The problem in Theology is to use poor translations and unsupported assumptions that change the plain grammatical meaning of the biblical text in context.
The goal of the Protestant Reformation was to apply this careful method to test beliefs that were popular at that time. Their intent was to reform (reshape) what we believe back into the original form presented in Scripture rightly translated and interpreted.
In the 21st Century the tendency of many is to abandon careful methodology to create a “Science” or “Theology” that supports certain assumptions and agenda driven motivations. We need to restore these two disciplines to what they ought to be, rather than a means to support what popular consensus prefers. We need to correct and counter the often distorted theories that support political, ideological, theological, and socialistic agendas. We need a new reformation in Science and Theology that reshapes agenda driven assumptions back to the form they ought to have which derives from sound data and reasoning.
Note: Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.