Why is theology with its arcane scripts from ages long dead still even tolerated in twenty-first-century institutions of higher learning alongside geochemistry and biotechnology and disciplines that use synchrotrons and things? In Australia at least public universities rely on funding that is awarded in response to the research output that can be demonstrated to provide some socio-economic benefit to the community.
Unless academics can demonstrate such a benefit for their research proposals they get no public funding. What socio-economic benefit can theology offer? Why is theology even considered a respectable discipline in a scientific age when many westerners look aghast across at the dominance of mullahs in less industrialized societies? We think we should keep faith-based science out of schools, so why do we even tolerate a faith-based history discipline in a modern public institution of higher-learning?
I was re-reading an old book from my student days, The Social Sciences as Sorcery by Andreski, and came across this interesting passage explaining how it was that science appeared in universities without at the same time getting rid of theology:
The natural sciences did not advance in virtue of the universal appeal of rationality. Their theological, classicist and metaphysical opponents were not converted but displaced. All the ancient universities had to be compelled by outside pressure to make room for science; and most nations began to appreciate it only after succumbing to the weapons produced with its aid. To cut a long story short, scientific method has triumphed throughout the world because it bestowed upon those who practised it power over those who did not. Sorcery lost, not because of any waning of its intrinsic appeal to the human mind, but because it failed to match the power created by science. But, though abandoned as a tool for controlling nature, incantations remain more effective for manipulating crowds than logical arguments, so that in the conduct of human affairs sorcery continues to be stronger than science. (p. 92)
By sorcery Andreski means any of the “disciplines” that thrive on obscurity of language, vagueness and mediocrity dressed in verbiage designed to awe and intimidate, and that bombastically appears to exude great knowledge yet in reality hides much ignorance. Here is one of his examples:
You only have to look at the language of politics to see the advantage of vagueness and obscurity in the struggle for popularity, where the secret of success lies in appearing to be on everybody’s side, and to lave oneself a way out of any commitment which become embarrassing. An especially valuable asset is a doctrine which provides an outlet for wickedness in pursuit of a noble ideal; and all successful and enduring ideologies have to appeal to the base and the noble propensities of mankind at the same time – which can be done only under the cover of doctrinal obscurity. (p. 93)
Isn’t that appeal to the base and noble also what we find among theologians who try to turn people to God while peddling ignorance and bigotry, just as politicians attempt to unite people behind them while playing on the strings of public ill-will to the “undeserving” and “other side”?
Public intellectuals have for many decades now proven themselves to be, as a class, defenders of the institutional pillars on which society has come to depend or at least to which it has become subservient. Theologians are sometimes found to be theatrically parading themselves as modern-day prophets “calling truth to power”, but the reality is they usually are backing one institutional pillar and ideology against another, just as politicians squabble over Left and Right.
They look back on past sins and can smugly proclaim they are far more enlightened than their predecessors, but they are blind to the prejudices of their current vision today. They can see how they would never be like their ancestors who fought against science in the past, but fully justify campaigns against a range of scientific programs today, especially in the field of genetics.
Real scientists can defend their power today from the position of securely assured social acceptance. They only need to reply to opponents with the tools of their trade to justify their social status. Creationists are not a threat to biologists. Biologists can methodically and through civil social discourse demonstrate with clear argument and the evidence the justification for public funding and support for biological sciences, including the teaching of evolution in schools. The same standing enables them to persuade most public authorities that creationism has no place in a publicly funded classroom.
Theologians, on the other hand, must feel somewhat ethereal, vestigial even, beside these modern disciplines. They still need sorcery to hold on to public loyalties. Like politicians they need to learn the art of obfuscation, to appear to be relevant while hiding their truly irrelevant core beliefs. In a minor way, we have seen even in blog-land their appeal to the base side of human nature in their opposition to critics of their core assumptions upon which their whole theology rests. Critics who question the reality of the historical events in which they have faith are deemed threats to their survival and public support. Theologians attack these threats as viscerally as an imperial power ravages a small country that challenges its authority by openly defying its will. Even the pre-invasion tactic is the same: isolate any challengers by painting them totally black. Truth is whatever works to achieve this goal.
Andreski also speaks of bombastic proclamations of knowledge by such sorcerers serve to hide dark holes of ignorance. On a minor scale we see this in theologians and their students reacting with pique at the suggestion — let alone the reasoned argument — that they do not understand normal processes of historical inquiry. And no wonder, given that their faith is ultimately faith in a certain historical event, and that this historical event has been “established” in their world-view through a process totally unlike the way other scholars come to accept the reality of past historical events.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!