Theists' inverted quest

October 18, 1996

Keith Ward's attempt to portray himself as a persecuted seeker of truth deserves comment (THES, October 11).

First, it is misleading to lump theology with the humanities and to see the well-deserved criticisms to the former as a general attack against the latter. The humanities are qualitatively different from theology in so far as they have different methodology, aims and ethos. Indeed, after the phenomenon of religion is explored by history, literary analysis, and moral philosophy (as well as by sociology, psychology, and economics), there is nothing left for theology to examine in a rational and rigorous way. The fundamental difference that seems to escape Ward's attention is that, unlike the sciences and humanities where the ideal is the rigorous quest for an as-yet-undiscovered truth, theology inverts the process and starts from a revealed "truth" to be imposed on reality.

Second, it is significant that Ward underplays the moral dimension of religion. Theology is not "an attempt to understand the hopes, desires and feelings of human beings", but rather the underpinnings of a specific world-view aimed at making human beings conform to some pattern of behaviour. Third, Ward conveniently ignores the fact that, unlike the scientists he quotes, who owe their status to peer-sanctioned rigorous contributions to the advancement of knowledge, his claim to be heard by the scientific community and his own "academic" status are based on the conventions, procedures and values of the religious establishment.

People like Ward are best advised to restrict their pronouncements to the self-selected audience of church congregations; serious scientists and humanists should reject the application by theists for membership of the club for the quest of truth and knowledge and remind themselves that behind the mantle of "academic" respectability lurks the very same intolerance that persecuted Galileo and Giordano Bruno and that condemns billions of people to a life of superstition.

Manfredi La Manna Reader in economics University of St Andrews St Andrews, Fife

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