Friday, February 12, 2010

Science and Theology and Tucker Carlson

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:36-40

A couple of nights ago, I caught just a portion of a roundtable discussion in which I heard Tucker Carlson proclaim that, “Theology is the enemy of science.”

Did he really say that?

In fact, he did. It was near the end of a discussion of climate change and global warming, in which the participants were generally criticizing scientists for letting their political beliefs get in the way of their analysis. To their credit, the commentators specifically noted that the current weather in Washington has no bearing on whether or not global warming is a reality. This is how he summarized the issue:

. . . today's storm doesn't affect the science. But that's not what is causing doubts. It's the proof, the manipulation of data by some climate scientists have raised doubts sufficient that a real debate can take place.

And that is a victory for all people who believe in free inquiry and the scientific method. We need a debate. Theology is the enemy of science. That's true in every case, including global warming.

Christians have been, and continue to be, on both sides of the debate about climate change. And some on both sides have undoubtedly had their reading of the science influenced by their political beliefs. But that is not my focus right now.

From a theological perspective, I am most concerned about Mr. Carlson’s declaration that theology is always the enemy of science.

Certainly, we need to admit (confess?) that in the United States the conflict has most often been initiated by Fundamentalists and Literalists attacking scientific theories and ideas based on their narrow reading of the Bible. But in more recent years, the secularists have gone on the offensive and have sometimes claimed that religion is inherently opposed to science. Tucker Carlson is just the latest example.

This is simply not true for most Christian and Jewish theologians. In our United Methodist tradition we have been clear in our insistence on a thinking faith. We do not park our minds at the door when we go to worship.

When we approach theological issues we use something called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” named for John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. The four corners of the Quadrilateral are Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral represents John Wesley’s methodology for theological reflection and ethical decision-making. Simply put, Wesley believed that a sound theological perspective begins with scripture, testing individual texts against the whole of the biblical witness, and then reasoning about the issue, using the tradition of the church as well as every aspect of our experience.

Science plays a part in two quadrants. Reason includes scientific reasoning, as well as common sense and philosophical reasoning. And experience includes the data of science as wells as personal experience and the experience of the community of faith.

For us, science is never the enemy of theology; it is a partner. We believe in free inquiry and in the scientific method. We believe in the pursuit of truth. If we are serious about loving God with our minds, we have to be open to scientific inquiry.


  1. Great blog, Bill.

    "Theology is poetry plus, not science minus."(Krister Stendahl).

  2. Ok so I'm a little late on this but I actually love this topic. Being a scientist, I have people ask me how it works with my religion all the time. I don't really see a separation of science and theology. How can you fully appreciate everything God created and is a part of if you don't learn as much as you can about it? Every day I'm learning something new and finding out how things work and seeing just how amazing and jaw dropping nature is. I think you have so much more appreciation of things by having to learn about them and having them revealed to you over time rather than just taking things at face value. Yes, data can (and is often) manipulated for political agendas and whether you believe in global warming or not, I think everyone can agree we have a responsibility to take care of the gifts that have been given to us.