I think the time has come to get rid of theology departments from universities. Theology is a fake. Like Scientology, it is an activity appropriating a false name to pretend to be something it isn’t – identity theft on a grand scale.
Before you start jumping up and down on your couch – take a pill, calm down, let me explain.
As it happens, we can pretty much define the year in which science and religion parted ways, thus consigning the latter to the dustbin of history. The year is 1538, and Vesalius publishes anatomical drawings based on his own dissections of the human body. It was the beginning of the end for a tradition which simply accepted as fact what had been said by the Ancient Greeks, notably Galen, even when what they said contradicted what you could see with your own eyes. If you saw something which appeared to contradict what Galen had said 1500 years earlier it was not Galen that was wrong but your eyes. Andrea Vesalius began believing the evidence of his eyes, and science was, effectively, born.
Biology is often translated as the ‘science of life’, and there are many sciences with the logy ending – paleontology, physiology, archeology, endocrinology and so on. It comes from the Greek word ‘logos’, which can be translated as reason. So ‘biology’ means applying reason to the study of the living world, or using our brains to analyze life. The scientific method of course uses reason in a particular sequence of observation-analysis-hypothesis-observation-analysis-new hypothesis, and so on. So when Vesalius began actually observing the body, instead of taking on faith what he had been told by an authority, he was setting in motion the process that led next to Harvey developing an hypothesis about the flow of blood, and ever onwards to our highly developed understanding now of how bodies function.
By 1538 religious students had also had some 1500 years of taking on faith what they were told, in spite of the evidence of their eyes and ears and brains. And although the Reformation had begun two decades before Vesalius published his drawings, the religious reformation had nothing in common with the scientific one, since it merely replaced one set of beliefs, one kind of faith, with another. And for the last 500 years this has remained the situation.
Similarly ‘theology’ has nothing to do with reason, the scientific method, to the questions of religion, and everything to do with maintaining, unchanged, the beliefs handed down from even before the time of Galen. It is not a science, just as Scientology, which merely reinforces its own beliefs instead of testing them, is not a science. In both cases, using the ‘ology’ ending lends a spurious air of respectability, a pretense about being seekers after truth and wisdom, instead of being merely followers of long discredited myths. Having departments of theology in universities is a cover for religion, it is the respectable face of irrational belief, and that cover should be removed.
It is sad though. If theology had followed biology in the use of reason to address the questions of the day, had cast aside the received wisdom and been determined to test the propositions that had been handed down from ancient times, then it could have done the world a great service. By now, after 500 years of the systematic application of reason to the question of religion, there would be no more religion. And just as modern medicine has reason to look back with gratitude to Vesalius, so modern society would have had reason to look back in gratitude to Martin Luther if he had really been a ‘theologian’ and not just another religious leader, relying on faith to maintain his position.
Who was it who pointed out that ‘if only’ are the saddest words in the English language?
15 May 2007