Several of the comments in response to my article “Have theologians made a single contribution to knowledge?” have focused on a comparison between theology and science. It’s an extraordinarily presumptuous comparison: that is, it seems to presume that those who are atheistic or agnostic somehow have a claim to the success of science. Having just completed my two part interview with physicist and evangelical Christian Don Page, I can assure you that isn’t the case.
The fact is that the comparison is simply confused: it’s apples and oranges. More particularly, it is the apples of scientific enquiry and the oranges of metaphysical enquiry. A subset of the oranges of metaphysical enquiry can be called “theology”. These are forms of metaphysical enquiry which believe that some entity which is best called “God” is part of that enquiry. Other oranges are called “atheology”. In other words, they are forms of metaphysical enquiry which exclude any entity which is best called “God” from being part of that enquiry. To sum up, the theologians include God in their metaphysical enquiry while the atheologians do not.
With that in mind, you don’t compare the theologian to the scientist and then conclude that insofar as the former doesn’t do what the latter does, this counts against the former. That’s presumption and confusion all at the same time. Instead, what you do is compare the theologian to the atheologian, and theological metaphysical systems to atheological metaphysical systems.
And from there you can ask the cheeky question: have atheologians made a single contribution to knowledge?
Alas, the question isn’t any better when pitched to atheologians rather than theologians. I merely repeat it in the spirit of “two can play at that game”. But in point of fact, this is an ignorant question for it really shows little grasp of the nature of metaphysics and metaphysical enquiry. Whether the question is pitched at theologians or atheologians, the background assumption seems to be that metaphysics is not really worthwhile. (Of course, the rejection of metaphysics tends to give rise to its own form of metaphysic, typically one that drinks deeply from the well of pragmatism and an unreflective scientism. Hence my point about scientism in the previous article.)
To sum up, Krauss’ question was both presumptuous and confused. And that presumption and confusion are perpetuated by those who repeat the demand. To the thoughtful atheist who is intent on thinking through the metaphysics of atheism (a task that usually results in one or another form of “naturalism” or “materialism”), the atheologian has made invaluable contributions in thinking through what it would mean, at the level of metaphysics, if atheism is true. Likewise, to the thoughtful theist who is intent on thinking through the metaphysics of theism, the theologian has made invaluable contributions in thinking through what it would mean at the level of metaphysics, if theism is true.