I’ve been slowly reading through Michael Shermer’s How We Believe in my spare time. It is a pleasant enough read, but has many noticeable weaknesses. Perhaps the biggest weakness is that Shermer is an advocate of the separation or two worlds model of theology and science (what Stephen Jay Gould called the “NOMA” or non-overlapping magisteria approach). This is a dogmatic claim that religion and theology deal with “faith” and science with “fact”. (The dogmatism of Shermer’s stance shines through when, for example, he recalls a debate on the existence of God he had with Doug Geivett in which Geivett presented a number of arguments for God’s existence. Shermer recounts that he wouldn’t even engage the arguments because religion is about faith, not reason. In terms of lameness that rivals theologian Robert Webber who came to a similar debate but refused to do anything more than share his testimony.)
Shermer tries to make his view appealing to the theologian by claiming that it will lead to the long term health of theology, comfortably isolated from the world:
“the separate-worlds model is also better for religion because science is constantly changing and thus it is dangerous to attach religious doctrines to scientific theories, which may go out of date in a matter of years.” (How We Believe, 134-5)
We’ve heard this stuff before: he who marries his theology to the science of the age is soon a widower. (Technically speaking, the theology is the widower while the one marrying them is the failed matchmaker.)
Okay, fair enough. But does that mean you send your sons to the monastery to ensure their protection from the siren song of mortal femininity? Do we really think the best way to maintain the relevance of theology is to consign doctrine to the hinterland of monastic Mount Athos, safely away from any relevant issues in the actual world?
Here’s the problem with that project. Send your young men away and you end up with socially inept ninety year old monks with beards to rival Rumplestiltskin. Is that really the best way to ensure your theology is never a widower (or you a failed matchmaker)?
Generally speaking, isolation from the world is not the best way to ensure the flourishing of the male gender. Mutatis mutandis for theological doctrines.
So I thank Mr. Shermer for his invitation to send my doctrines to Mt. Athos. In fact, perhaps a few of them do belong there. For example, the doctrine of the divine immutability might do well raising organic vegetables in the wilds of Greece. But other doctrines concerning matters like creation, resurrection and divine action belong right in the teeming masses of humanity in Berlin, New York and Shanghai, even if that means some broken hearts along the way.