Ology and religion

A guy calling himself “Francis” over on BioLogos took it into his head to get personally insulting in reply to one of my now infrequent posts there. I’ve neither the time nor patience to tease out exactly where he’s coming from – I think it’s blind literalism of the order “If the KJV was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me” type. But it may be Tridentine Catholicism, or even Pentecostal “Only those baptized with the Spirit know God’s will, and they always agree with me.” Plain trollery is another possibility, but whatever the motivation he was quick to play, unsolicited, the old “plain folks versus hifalutin’ college boys” card. Ten years plus in pastoral ministry taught me to refuse to play that game. But one thing he wrote is a useful starting point for me here:

“How would you value the theological opinion of a blue-collar fisherman versus that of a highly-educated/trained theology teacher (i.e. Pharisee)?”

The one-line answer is that anyone who does a three year full time theology course with Jesus is no longer just a blue-collar fisherman, if he ever was just that. But the truth hidden in the question (usually just as applicable to the homespun types as to the graduates they despise) is that with Jesus, theology and religion were indistinguishable.

That wasn’t the case with the Pharisaic opponents of Christ, and it often isn’t the case today. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing of itself, but can become so.

In Gregory’s recent thread on Uncommon Descent, in which he argues the case for his “Human Extension” concept, Steve Fuller says this:

Like Gregory, I draw a strong distinction between religion and theology. Religion is about faith and ritual, which is fine but not especially relevant to science. Theology, however, is a different matter because when it is not ashamed of itself (i.e. not following Karl Barth) it aims to provide an account of God as an explanatory principle of the highest order.

This is a distinction which, like methodological naturalism, can be unpacked usefully but is liable to be taken too far. As far as Intelligent Design goes, viewing that purely as a natural theology project, I wouldn’t really deny its truth. As I wrote to penman here natural theology always leads to Romans 1, and by implication never beyond it. That theology which approaches God (even via the Bible) as an explanatory principle is a parallel project to the disciplines of science and philosophy as properly pursued, that is, in order to think God’s thoughts after him. In other words, all the “ologies” have as their aim the discovery of what we can know of God and his works by our natural faculties. This was succinctly shown by this 1980s TV ad by Maureen Lipman:

If you’ve got an ology, you’re a scientist. And the pursuit of knowledge becomes your governing principle. The difference between an ology and religion is demonstrated by their response to paradox. A scientist qua scientist, who finds an anomaly in his work, will look for a fault in his data or theory. A philosopher finding an anomaly in his will look for a fault in his reasoning. A theologian will look for a fault in textual understanding, or in the modern discipline, a fault in the text itself (though of course, much of the kind of theology Steve Fuller refers to in his comment is actually philosophy with God as subject). In all cases, the increase of reliable knowledge is the aim. If we have a right view of God, our explanatory principle will be sound and our explanations of (in ID’s case) the natural world more reliable.

But Blaise Pascal, a philosopher himself, famously found that God far transcended what could be deduced about him, and left this memorial:



The year of grace 1654,

Monday, 23 November, feast of St. Clement, pope and martyr, and others in the martyrology.
Vigil of St. Chrysogonus, martyr, and others.
From about half past ten at night until about half past midnight,


GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob
not of the philosophers and of the learned.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
GOD of Jesus Christ.
My God and your God.
Your GOD will be my God.
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD.
He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Grandeur of the human soul.
Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you.
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have departed from him:
They have forsaken me, the fount of living water.
My God, will you leave me?
Let me not be separated from him forever.
This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified.
Let me never be separated from him.
He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel:
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Complete submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day’s exercise on the earth.
May I not forget your words. Amen.

Actually what prompted this blog was a mild reflection I had whilst reading Isaiah 63, in which God speaks of his distress and grief at Israel’s situation. I mused on how such passages have led to arguments with the scholastic concept of an unmoved mover. But I also considered how the Bible itself – even Isaiah – has passages in which God denies being subject to human passions, so simply viewing Yahweh as a volatile Spirit with emotions like ours won’t do either. The theological answers (in the “ology” sense of removing anomalies) have recourse to analogy, accommodation to human minds, accommodation by human minds, religious polemic or plain inconsistency on the writers’ part. And study of these has a real place, because Biblical religion calls us to use our whole being, including our intellect, in his service. It’s valid to do science, and philosophy, and theology – provided we recognise their limitations.

After all, science seldom, if ever, delivers truth that remains unchanged for all time. Philosophy too will never deliver reliable truth until every philosopher is convinced by one argument – which isn’t going to happen any time soon. Likewise theology, even as the “queen of sciences”, can rise no higher than the human minds that do it.

Religion, on the other hand, by which I mean you to understand revealed, saving truth rather than C S Lewis’s less flattering definition of empty religion opposed to “mere Christianity”, has as its final response to paradox the simple taking of God at his word. There is a recognition that we live in a partial revelation which cannot be guaranteed to resolve all we want to know even about the world, let alone about God himself. Present reality is two-fold – that which we can know, and that which God reserves to his own counsel. The truly religious response to that is a most non-ological acceptance. As the Deuteronomist wrote:

The secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29.29).

The last clause gives the key to this acquiescence – the core of relationality in faith. Knowledge is not the final aim, but covenant relationship with God. That also is the key to that passage in Romans 1, though it’s usually elided in discussions about the scope of natural theology. For verse 21 shows that the “innate” knowledge of God given to mankind through his works was not intended to give evidence for belief in God, but matter for worship:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Note that futility and darkness are opposed here not to atheism, but to failure of appreciation, or in other words worship. Whatever else imago dei means, it encompasses primarily the priestly function of bringing acceptable worship to God on behalf of the creation that is revealed by all the ologies. It is not simply belief in God as an explanation: even the demons believe that – and shudder.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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18 Responses to Ology and religion

  1. Avatar photo penman says:

    Indeed. If it weren’t for the high-falutin’ college boys, the plain folks wouldn’t even have a translation of the bible from Hebrew & Greek into English, KJV or otherwise.

    The “plain folk” mentality is itself unbiblical. Scripture says there some things in scripture hard to understand which ignorant (hah!) & unstable people twist to their own destruction, 2 Pet.3:16. I seem to recollect a certain Ethiopian who admitted he couldn’t understand Isa.53 unless someone explained it to him. The ministry of God-given teachers is part of God’s provision for equipping “plain folk”.

    The historic Protestant view is not that “scripture can be understood by plain folk” but that “everything in scripture ***necessary to be known for salvation*** can be understood by plain folk”. That, however, covers a relatively limited compass of scripture.

    So I agree: let’s have no truck with the “plain folk” gambit. It is unbiblical nonsense.

    Note: I am in a bad mood today. Forgive my unhabitual absence of mercy.

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Note: I am in a bad mood today. Forgive my unhabitual absence of mercy.

    They should be grateful not to be burned at the stake, that’s what I say.

  3. Avatar photo penman says:

    Who says I haven’t burned any of them at the stake? How do you think we collected on our fire insurance last year?

  4. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Noli illegitimi comburundum?

  5. Cal says:


    I would qualify that the gift of teaching does not necessarily come by school or ought to be recognized because of university accreditation.

    The Ethiopian didn’t dismiss Phillip because he was no rabbi or scribe from Jerusalem.

    I guess it all depends on how someone says “plain folks”. There is certainly a place for Teachers, but we ought not to make a “Clergy-Laity” divide out of it. Karl Barth once said that every Christian is (maybe should be) a theologian; however, we all certainly must be taught!

  6. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Quite agree Cal – Richard Baxter had indifferent private tuition but largely taught himself … but still through reading what the Oxbridge guys were reading – essentially the languages the Bible was written in and the spiritual insights of the Church down the centuries.

    Tyndale said toi a cleric: “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” But he wasn’t condemning learning – just the willful ignorance of the clergy.

  7. Gregory says:

    “As far as Intelligent Design goes, viewing that purely as a natural theology project, I wouldn’t really deny its truth.” – Jon

    Yes, this is precisely why the ASA found general agreement on its previous forums in ‘intelligent design’ (small-id), but not ‘Intelligent Design’ (Big-ID), which could either denote a Movement, or the idea that Natural Sciences can ‘prove’ or ‘detect’ what they call ‘design in nature.’ If the ‘design in nature’ is not ‘naturalistic’ design, then the implication is that science has proven the existence of a transcendental designer.

    The problem is, Jon, that the IDM does not view ID “purely as natural theology,” but rather as a ‘natural science,’ which is focussed “mainly in biology.” This is their insistence, which is now coming back to bite them. This can be viewed in the exchange you witnessed where Meyer confessed his sins of scientism to Fuller, who though not a traditional theist, nevertheless creates more space for ‘natural theology’ than has the IDM thus far.

    In your definition of ‘science,’ Jon, can ‘science’ prove the existence of a transcendental designer/creator/God? ‘Natural theology’ here is surely welcome. But not if it is used as an implicationistic weapon such that it turns the corner into becoming a ‘natural science’ substitute. In a balance-seeking dialogue between science, philosophy and religion/theology, that would allow science to dictate the relationship, instead of collaborating in harmony.

    In regard to Fuller’s quote, I’m not sure I make such a strong a distinction between religion and theology as he does. I’m curious to hear more of what he means, e.g. the institutional argument or the prophets vs. priests distinction he made here: http://social-epistemology.com/2011/11/11/social-epistemology-revisited-25-years-after-an-interview-with-steve-fuller/ and which I replied to here: http://social-epistemology.com/2011/11/11/social-epistemology-revisited-25-years-after-an-interview-with-steve-fuller/. A classic definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding” would suggest faith is not just about religion.

    “That theology which approaches God (even via the Bible) as an explanatory principle is a parallel project to the disciplines of science and philosophy as properly pursued, that is, in order to think God’s thoughts after him.” – Jon

    Yes, this accurately reflects my thoughts on this topic too. Does anyone know if “thinking God’s thoughts after him” comes uniquely from Fuller or if there is a similar statement by someone in the history of the Church?

    I was reminded recently of this in reading again the Canadian philosopher George Grant, from his 1954 paper “What is Philosophy?” There he concludes: “that is finally what philosophy is – the practice of the presence of God.”

  8. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Gregory, you’d be hard put to it to read a confession of scientism from Steve Meyer even into my writing, let alone into the conversation with Steve Fuller itself. Exaggeration starts rumours!

    “In your definition of ’science,’ Jon, can ’science’ prove the existence of a transcendental designer/creator/God?”

    Since nobody else gives a toss about my particular definition of science, I’ll avoid that question. However, as you’ll know from my previous wriiting I think that empirical evidence currently points to intelligent agency as a better explanation for the design of biological systems than chance and necessity, which cannot give an adequate account of it. However, a weight of evidence in favour does not constitute proof of design, and establishing design does not in itself prove God.

    As Fuller agrees, though, there is a case to be made that the nature of the design in biology reflects what one would expect from a designer like the Abrahamic God.

    Currently methodological naturalism precludes the scientific community from following that evidence. If Fuller’s argument (that the scientific project depends from the start on the nature of the Abrahamic God) were to prevail, then the underlying assumption of science (God exists and we can trace his works in nature) would receive confirmation as strong as that for cosmic fine tuning. The prolonged naturalistic diversion would be at an end.

    “Thinking God’s thoughts after him.”
    Far too iconic for Fuller – attributed to Kepler, though I have a feeling he didn’t put it in as few words. But he was an example of faith driving, whilst theology might have informed, his effort.

    “Faith seeking understanding” is Anselm’s phrase – Abelard took a very different view of theology. It’s possible to do theology without faith at all, which was my point. Likewise Grant’s definition is inspiring – until you remember that a majority of philosphers deny the existence of God. I can’t really believe that logical positivism is practising the presence of God.

    But historically both theology and philosophy have been the handmaidens of faith, aiming not to use God as an explanatory prinicple, but to learn to love him and serve him better.

  9. James says:


    Regarding “natural theology,” Gregory seems (like Fuller, sometimes) to use the term in a puzzling way. He seems to have in mind a theology of nature that proceeds from the prior assumption — a religious assumption — that nature is created by God and that man is in the image of God. I don’t know whether there is some historical basis for such a reading of the term, but it is certainly not how the term is used in most scholarly works that I have read. Most writers use the term to mean “such knowledge of God as one can gain from the use of unaided reason” — that is, without the knowledge of God provided by revelation.

    It is precisely with this definition of the term in mind that many BioLogos writers (and other TEs) have lambasted ID people for having *too much* (not too little) natural theology. The charge has been that the ID folk wrongly think that inferences to God, or even to just plain design, are possible without “the eyes of faith.” Often this sort of “natural theology” is condemned by BioLogos as smacking of “the Enlightenment” or of deism or of modern rationalism. And historical exemplars of “natural theology” such as Paley are sneered at, whereas people like Newman, Pascal, and Barth are held up as shining examples of wise Christian theologians who rejected natural theology.

    So it is a very strange situation that ID folks are in, if the TEs can bash them on one side for overdoing natural theology, and Gregory and Fuller can blast them on the other side for underdoing it. I suspect that Gregory and Fuller are just understanding something different by the term. But here I would plead that the sociologists adjust *their* language to that of the theologians, philosophers, and historians of ideas, rather than the other way around. I think it makes conversation easier if people stick with the common usage of scholars who deal most directly with a notion, rather than employ rare or idiosyncratic usage.

    As far as ID’s actual use of natural theology, as opposed to its potential use, it is very cautious. Certainly in the technical works, the ID people stay away from it — except for Michael Denton in his second book. Generally the ID people rest satisfied — as far as science is concerned — with proof for, or at least strong argument for, design in nature. The movement to “design implies God” they never make in their technical works, and even in their personal works, they stress that such a move is not part of ID proper, but belongs to their personal philosophy and/or theology. Behe openly denied, in debate with Barr, that his purpose was to find a proof for the existence of God. He affirmed that his purpose was to establish design, because in his view, design provided a better heuristic for understanding nature than neo-Darwinism does. In other words, the inference to design is confirmed for Behe, not because he can then use it to prove the existence of God (“teleological argument”), but because he can use it to do better science.

    Of course, I am not denying that many ID proponents believe that the fact of design in nature *can* be used to mount a teleological argument for the existence of God. I expect that many of them mount such arguments in their religious writings, in their churches, etc. But they are scrupulous in separating such arguments from what the science of design detection can tell them. I applaud them for that intellectual caution. (The writers at BioLogos have generally not even noticed this intellectual caution, and more often than not write as if ID people have claimed to prove the existence of God from nature. They seem to be constitutionally incapable of reading ID writers carefully before they launch into criticisms of them.)

    Regarding “thinking God’s thoughts after him” — the idea, if not the exact wording, was a commonplace among the Christian pioneers of early modern natural philosophy. I would not be surprised to find near-equivalents in Medieval and Patristic writings as well, though the “thoughts” of God would in such cases be understood in a neo-Platonic manner, as “ideas” of perfect circular motion, etc. rather than as “mathematical natural laws.”

  10. Avatar photo penman says:

    Cal says:

    “I would qualify that the gift of teaching does not necessarily come by school or ought to be recognized because of university accreditation.”

    Oh, I agree. Jon has highlighted Richard Baxter – a grand example. My point is that godliness & good learning should go hand-in-hand in Church teaching, by whatever path the good learning comes. Take away the godliness, we’ll end up with mere man-made philosophy. But take away the good learning, we’ll end up with superstition & fanaticism. Neither of these is Christianity.

  11. Gregory says:

    Hi Jon,

    I owe you an answer to this: “you’d be hard put to it to read a confession of scientism from Steve Meyer even into my writing, let alone into the conversation with Steve Fuller itself.”

    Surely Meyer won’t confess to ‘scientism,’ especially because he and most others in IDM-ID rail against it. But the ‘scientism’ I have in mind obviously differs from the one he has in mind and it does seem to be that he is guilty of the former, if not the latter.

    Fuller speaks of ‘scientism’ this way: “the application of natural science theories and methods to social phenomena – a fairly straightforward case of what might be called ‘reductionism’ or ‘scientism’.” Here with IDM-ID, however, what we have is two concepts – ‘intelligence’ and ‘design’ – that are already widely used and applied in human-social sciences, being presumptuously transferred, i.e. claimed as ‘relevant’ and ‘revolutionary’ in natural sciences, such as biology and cosmology (e.g. origins of life, Meyer’s home domain). Is that not also an example of ‘scientism,’ just as is the definition of ‘anthropic principle,’ in the sense of trying to ‘scientifize’ one field using the ‘scientific tools’ of another?

    As Tom Sorell wrote: “Scientism is the belief that science, especially natural science, is the most valuable part of our culture.” Or as quoted from him at BioLogos, “Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.” Isn’t this exactly the attitude of those IDM-IDers who consider ID to be a ‘science-only’ topic and who refuse it to be officially and properly called a ‘science, philosophy, religion’ discourse, as I’ve been suggesting at UD?

    Thus, it seemed to me, Jon, from your report, that you felt Meyer was agreeing with Fuller that a ‘natural-science-only’ approach to ID is incomplete, that it is not enough, is misleading, etc. If Meyer was doing that, if he was opening-up ID to theology, more specifically, to theodicy, then to me that is an admission that ‘scientism’ does not (read: should not) rule the day regarding ID, but that sometimes it does. Iow, the myth of IDM-ID that ID is ‘just doing science’ can no longer be maintained. But maybe that’s going too far toward cooperation with theology and philosophy?

    If I recall from past conversations, Jon, you don’t consider yourself a ‘scientist,’ but rather a medical doctor (who is now doctoring music instead of patients! 😉 ). Otoh, I am in a way required to consider myself a ‘scientist’ (in the meaning of uchyeoni), given that my degree is call Candidate of Sociological Sciences, even if PhD’s in sociology in Canada, the USA or U.K. don’t often call themselves ‘scientists’. What makes it even more difficult is that my speciality is in ‘sociology of science’ and thus also ‘sociology of scientists.’ Meyer may consider himself a ‘scientist,’ given that he worked as a geo-physicist. But the topic of ‘scientism’ is closer to sociology of science than to Meyer’s background in philosophy of science, because ideologies are what people embrace and interiorise, that spread out and in, that enter into peoples’ worldviews.

    If we narrow it down even further to the subtitle of Sorell’s book, to speak of “the infatuation with science,” then clearly those IDM-IDers who take a ‘science-only’ attitude count as having an ‘infatuation with science.’ Meyer’s new move, if it is sincere and not just caught up in the wave of Fuller’s attractiveness in near proximity, may help to provide balance that IDM-ID has been sorely lacking.

    It seems to me we have to be very careful, then, in light of this thread, of when an -ology (or a pre-ism) can turn into an -ism; empiricism, positivism, naturalism, biologism, anthropism, theologism and sociologism included. Ignoring ideology because it is tainted by Marxism (as Thomas Burnett wrote at BioLogos: “so many people use it to mean ‘ways of thinking that they disaprove of’. In labeling something ideology, they condemn it before they even give it careful consideration.”) is not a fruitful way forward in the 21st century. Scientism is one of the most significant of these ways of thinking, and Stephen C. Meyer is not above questioning or safe from scrutiny in clarifying his views.

    Let’s not forget what N. Matzke wrote: “I don’t think NCSE pushes any dispiriting ideologies, just standard mainstream science, the same science promoted by BioLogos.” Yeah, right! 😉

  12. Gregory says:

    Here added are Fuller’s thoughts from more recent “Humanity 2.0:”

    “overextending the scientific method, aka ‘scientism’.” (2011: 37)

    This one is obviously closest to my view of ‘ideology as exaggeration.’ Let ‘extensionism’ not be a danger I might fall prey to!

    “science itself might become a kind of religion (aka scientism)” (2011: 186)

    Even ‘seeking legitimacy in science-alone’ when philosophy and theology should instead be consulted could be defined as a kind of ‘scientism.’

    StephenB spoke at UD of an ‘ID worldview.’ But lately he is again pushing the mantra of ‘ID science.’ Thus, the need for clarification by leaders like Stephen Meyer seems obvious.

  13. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    “If a word means everything it means nothing.”

    Tom Sorell’s definition of scientism is a little softer than common usage – which is that natural science is the only valuable part of our culture.

    Meyer couldn’t be convicted of either – it is not scientism to suggest that a particular phenomenon or discipline comes appropriately under the heading of “science” (even if mistaken), nor even scientism to spend ones whole professional effort on natural science.

    The error is when Matzke’s “standard mainstream science”, with its “dispiriting” metaphysical pretensions, is promoted as sole (non-trivial) truth. Now Matzke’s statement begs the questions (a) Is his science free of those metaphysical pretensions or not? (b) If not, to what extent does he recognise BioLogos science as the same? (c) (flowing from b) If in practice science cannot be free of metaphysics, does BioLogos science share any of Matzke’s metaphysics, and if so what?

  14. Gregory says:

    Not sure what qualifies as ‘common usage’ for you, Jon, but the topic of ‘scientism’ is fresh enough that is needs more work done on it. For example, you didn’t participate in that thread on BioLogos (not that you’re obliged to) and T. Burnett mentioned his disappointment with lack of literature on ‘scientism’ (presumably, in English language).

    Here’s a link to a text by Ludwig von Mises (1957) on ‘scientism’: http://mises.org/media/5341/11-The-Challenge-of-Scientism

    “it is not scientism to suggest that a particular phenomenon or discipline comes appropriately under the heading of “science” (even if mistaken), nor even scientism to spend ones whole professional effort on natural science.” – Jon

    With the first, I partly agree. The caution: Don’t make ‘scientific’ what is not meant to be ‘scientific,’ and don’t exclude from being ‘scientific’ what uses scientific methods. There is a balance of spheres needed, such that Philosophy and Theology (or Religion) are or can be honoured for their mutual aid in conversations and understandings about human life and living.

    With the second, also, can only partly agree. Spending one’s whole effort on natural science, as in, the study of nature for science’s sake, might sound like a noble cause. But the end goal, the raison d’etre, the purpose is always (and must always be) to better humanity, to ease suffering or to promote wellness, flourishing, justice, etc. Without it ‘dehumanisation’ (or read: ‘disenchantment’ or ‘secularisation’) is bound to occur. Those career natural scientists who do not participate in ‘public understanding’ or in projects related to human flourishing and elevating humankind, are in my view, patrons of ‘scientism’ – science for its own sake, lowering the character of (or in Jon’s language, the nature of) human culture, devoid of inspiring and aspiring humanity, etc.

    In your work as a doctor, Jon, surely you aimed to take care of the humanity of your patients, in addition to simply administering medicine? What would the proper -ism be for those in your profession who did/do not?

  15. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    Replying to second point, we’re agreed ideologically and only disagree on the precise meaning of my (I thought) carefully chosen words. When I told a Christian musician friend of my post-retirement interest in science-faith, he said, “It’s the sort of thing I’m very glad that someone else is doing.” And that’s because, though he sees that science has a value, his whole professional effort is spent on music, that being his vocation. That does not preclude his motivations being multiple – to serve God, to please audiences, to create beauty, to pay the mortgage – and of course an element of obsession that tends to mark off the great from the merely adequate. Neither does it preclude his helping a fellow-musician in distress, loving his wife and kids, helping out in Sunday School and so on.

    A well-balanced scientist too would have a broad take on life, including caring about the wider implications of his work in society. But I’ve no doubt that there are some who are so obsessed with their molecules that they occupy every waking hour, and the dreaming hours too. They get a Nobel prize, bore people at parties and lose their wife to the barman. I’ve certainly know doctors rather like that. But I can also imagine such a person saying, “I’m completely obsessed with proteins – they’re endlessly fascinating. Thank goodness not everyone is like me, or the world would be an awful place.”

    Even such an extremely disordered human being is not being scientistic. Yet the guy in the next lab could be far lazier, support Manchester United, take his family on outings and love Beethoven, yet practice scientism by insisting (inconsistent to his humanity, in this case) that the music can be explained fully by physics, the family by adaptive evolution, and football support by primitive tribal survival mechanisms. Of course, in practice it’s probably more likely that the first guy would be blind to the world outside – but scientistic blogs have plenty of references to cats, country music and politics.

    Medicine is a funny one, because intrinsic to the job spec is “care” as well as “knowledge”, so both come under “profesional effort”. Personally I felt a strong sense of the idea as medicine as one means to furthering my patients’ wholeness, which is why I was a GP rather than a research pathologist. But I’m glad there were some of those – who tended to be those more comfortable working with test tubes than with suffering humanity. Nearly all had the broader vision of “helping people” nevertheless. I can think of a range of “isms” to which doctors might be prone, from genuine scientism to careerism, narcissism and financial materialism!

  16. Gregory says:

    Hi Jon,

    A note of follow-up, now that you linked this piece over at UD.

    You wrote: “I’ve no doubt that there are some who are so obsessed with their molecules that they occupy every waking hour, and the dreaming hours too.”

    This reminded me of the article Steve Fuller wrote in New Scientist in 2005 – “I am not a Molecule.” Here is the link, though you need a subscription to read the whole thing (it must have become popular; when I found it not long ago no subscription was required!): http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18625024.800-i-am-not-a-molecule.html

    Of relevance particularly for the ID-talk over at UD, is the un-bending belief by people like StephenB and Timaeus that they are ‘revolutionaries’ who hold a cutting-edge paradigm. Yet they deny the humanity of people in the process of professing ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design.’ They want a ‘natural science’ of ID rather than a ‘natural theology’ of ID, the latter which opens up a more personal-divine dimension. But to the objectivist, e.g. StephenB speaks of ‘reason’s rules’ as if they are something ‘out there’ and Timaeus can’t conceive of a ‘design process’ because to him ‘design/Design’ has an abstract, disembodied, detached from humanity meaning, the actual person who is living in God’s universe and relating to it via his or her imago Dei is lost in the equations.

    Fuller speaks of people who support ‘social physics,’ that to them “the motives and thoughts of the revolutionaries are irrelevant.” This is the same approach taken by several IDM-IDers and I suspect it is also why they have such difficulties understanding the hermeneutic dimension and that theology influenced the coining of ID and continues to influence the DI and ID leaders. They don’t want their motives and thoughts to be relevant; they want to hide behind anonymous internet names and publish not in peer reviewed journals on ID, in order to ‘sound scientific’ (read: objectivistic or positivistic) and thus able to ‘beat their opponents,’ i.e. the ‘new atheists.’

    These folks make, returning to Fuller’s article, “a huge oversimplification that obscures the real human condition.” Instead, they should realise that “Understanding [this] complex decision-making process is one of the goals of social science.” And indeed, this was and is obviously a part of coining the concept duo ‘intelligent’ + ‘design’ in such a way as to have an implied double-meaning, which can be played tricksy by proponents as it suits them in dialogue.

    “all the ‘ologies’ have as their aim the discovery of what we can know of God and his works by our natural faculties.” – Jon

    In some realms, this can be seen as a danger. For example, if sociologists take that approach, they can wind up deifying society, making society into a kind of God-substitute. Indeed, this is part of the meaning of ‘secular’ and the secularisation thesis; society has what it takes to replace God as an object worthy of veneration.

    For the theologian-sociologist or the soul-ciologist or the Adamic sociologist, of course the situation is different, which is why understanding that all sociologists, anthropologists, culturologists, political scientists, etc. bring with them presuppositions and ideologies to the table, which should be known and understood up-front if one is to make sense of their contribution to knowledge about society, culture, humanity, polity, etc. Can social science glorify God? Sure it can, and that seems to be the meaning behind your ‘-ology’ statement above.

  17. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    It’s a shame the full article can’t be linked, since your argument above doesn’t really hang on the abstract alone. For others, Fuller is talking about an old stream of sociology that treated social phenomena statistically, whereas sociology has moved on to seeing the importance of individual decisions.

    Statistical findings, for example, that might show that men tend to marry people the same height as their mothers, ignore the multiple human decisions in choosing a wife. So I can understand your linkage of this idea to a “view from nowhere” concept of ID.

    But I can see another angle too, which is that, as people like StephenB have argued, the sum of ID is a statistical average of many different human approaches and reasons, religious, scientific, political and whatever.

    So it could be argued that ID averages out as a scientific pursuit, just as Britain has broadly centrist politics because there are roughly equal numbers of left- and right-leaning individuals. So ID has to sort out which application is most relevant.

    My post on UD was an attempt (like the OP of this thread) to put a spotlight on what seem to be Steve Fuller’s “presuppositions and ideologies,” and where I think they differ profoundly from mine – I’m not sure from his writing so far that he’s a “soul-ciologist” in your sense. That wouldn’t matter if ID is actually a “pure-knowledge” pursuit – I can glorify God for a spider named after, or discovered by, an atheist.

    But if it is to be theologically underpinned, the type of theology makes a difference – if it were, for example, trule “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” it would not be served by a purely philosophical theology.

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