Is Theology a Science? – For Christians

Is theology a science?

Well… lots of people believe that science is good.

So religious people like to say that theology is a science. They say this because they believe that calling theology a science makes religion look good.

Meanwhile, atheists will say that theology isn’t a science because they believe saying so makes religion look bad.

Both peoples are saying things to support their ideology, and neither group is concerned with the truth.

So we are left without a clear answer to the question, “Is theology a science?”

And the purpose of this writing is to provide that answer and present the views advanced by both sides of the issue.

A pro-Christian position is taken throughout.

So, is theology a science?

Theology is a science. It is concerned with the development of knowledge and uses scripture and revelation as its starting materials. Theologians proceed to develop their respective religions from these according to established exegetical methods and standards.

So, theology is a science. Now, one may distrust its starting materials, or they may reject its methods, or they may dislike theologians, but these objections do not make theology unscientific.

Now let’s move deeper into the issue.

Is Sacred Doctrine a Science?

Most people use the word science when what they mean is empiricism. They treat the two as though they are the same.

They are not.

Science merely means the study of a thing in accordance with some rational principles. And the being of rationality is not dependent upon empiricism.

So it is possible to study something without empiricism.

The most easily understood example of this is the case of logic. Many things which can be proven logically cannot be verified empirically.

Consider the following proof:

If Achilles is taller than Hector, and if Hector is taller than Ajax, then Achilles must be taller than Ajax.

This is logically true, but it cannot be verified empirically because the characters involved are mythological.

So there must be ways to determine truth aside from empiricism. The study of things by these ways is both scientific and un-empirical.

And a set of things which can be studied without empiricism must exist because logic exists, and it is not empirical.

Theology may be a member of this set.

Thomas Aquinas presents the following arguments in the Summa Theologica.

It is not a science because it is taken on faith.

Theology is not a science. All sciences must arise from principles which can be either clearly observed or deduced. Theology is not among these.

Theology does not arise from obvious principles; it comes from faith instead. And the fact that its principles are not accepted by all is proof that they are not obvious in the same way those of a science are.

Therefore, theology is not a science.

It is not a science because it deals with specific facts.

Sciences begin with general principles and use these to deduce rules which are meant to be applied to general cases.

However, theology does not.

Instead, theology requires that one selects certain events from scripture and to conclude from these. This creates the potential for fallacies related to cherry-picking to arise.

So the method by which theology arrives at truth is logically flawed. Therefore, theology is not a science.

St. Augustine implied that theology is a science.

In St. Augustines’s work, On the Trinity, he states the following:

“…to this science alone belongs that whereby saving faith is begotten, nourished, protected and strengthened.”

Here the saint asserts that a science exists which imparts faith leading to salvation. His use of the word alone also indicates that only one science could do this. So he must be referring to theology.

It is a science because it follows the same rules as all other sciences.

This is the view which Thomas Aquinas advanced.

Theology is a science. This is because two types of sciences exist, and the first objections ignore this fact.

Some fields are derived from obvious knowledge. A few known facts are used to deduce other truths. These are the first sciences

Bu other sciences are only revealed by the progress of others. Much in the way that genetics could not have existed without botany, so too are the majority of sciences. These are the second sciences.

So two classes of science exist: those borne from self-evident knowledge and those borne from the former class.

And theology is a science of the second class.

God exists and behaves according to certain self-evident principles. He reveals things to mankind. His revelations are then used as principles to produce further knowledge.

And this constructive process is theology.

That scripture is taken on faith does not overturn its scientific validity.

A|ll sciences are derived either from self-evident principles or from the conclusions of older studies which, themselves, arose from self-evident principles.

Theology is of the latter sort, so it is a science.

That the scripture from which it is derived is not accepted by all men does not refute its validity.

This is because many true things have been rejected by the majority of people on the planet, yet they were nonetheless true. Moreover, many falsehoods have deceived these same numerous people who rejected the truth.

And the belief that a thing would be false because it is not widely accepted is an example of the argumentum ad populum fallacy. So a reasoning person will reject this position.

Moreover, all arguments and sciences are built upon axioms. These axioms are rules which are assumed to be true and left unexamined by the arguer.

And no argument can exist without the acceptance of one or more axioms. To attempt otherwise leads one into infinite regression.

So all arguments and sciences must hold at least one axiom, although the axiom in question may be hard to see.

And theology accepts scripture as the source of its axioms.

Moreover, because the axioms which support theology can be easily found within scripture, this science is greater than most others. This is because many sciences are borne from axioms which are poorly known. Theology is not among them. One can see its sources with ease.

That theology is concerned with specific facts does not make it unscientific.

It is true that theology concerns itself with specific events and people.

“Abraham built X.”

“Isaac did Y.”

“Mary thought Z.”


And so on.

And it is also true that they are used as sources to build knowledge of the divine.

Moreover, if theology used these specific cases as rules for building knowledge, then both its status and value as a science would be in question.

But this is not the case.

Theology uses the examples of men such as Jesus, Isaac, and Jacob in order to show proper moral behavior for men on earth.

Theologians also teach by their example in order to maintain the position that such characters are authorities on righteous behavior.

And theologians must maintain the position that these great biblical men are authorities because the scripture from which theology is built is dependent upon them.

But the emphasis that teachers of the Law and the Way place upon certain examples is not used as a replacement for their values or first principles. Specific cases are used as a supplement and not as a substitute.

Conclusion

So, here are the key takeaways from what has been presented above.

Theology is a science.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians can accept that this is true because St. Thomas advanced the position.

Theology is a science because it has clear foundations and set standards for establishing truth.

Theology is scientific, but it is not empirical. Sciences aside from empiricism exist, and most people have forgotten this.

Theology is more trustworthy than most other sciences because its sources and methods are clearly known.

…And one should not waste their time trying to persuade atheists of these things. They are not interested in the truth. Instead, they are interested in saying that theology is not a science. Nothing you say will convince them otherwise.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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