Friday, March 02, 2007

Barth on theology

To put itself in a systematic relationship with the other sciences, theology would have to regard its own special existence as fundamentally necessary. That is exactly what it cannot do. It absolutely cannot regard itself as a member of an ordered cosmos, but only as a stop-gap in an unordered one.

-Karl Barth, CD I/1, 9

Barth doesn't really explain this claim. I assume that what he is getting at is that theology is the church's critical reflection upon its own speech and action undertaken in order to seek to make them conform to the foundation, aim and content of its own existence, namely, Jesus Christ. In an ordered cosmos, there would be no need for such critical reflection, since speech about God would not be problematic. However, I wonder whether it is not simply the disordering of the cosmos due to sin that makes speech about God difficult. Isn't such speech also difficult (though not impossible) because of our creaturely finitude?

6 comments:

Christian A said...

"a stop gap in an unordered cosmos". I've just been reading Barth's Evangelical Theology and I've been struck by the lowly, humble, unassuming status he gives evangelical theology. I think he speaks of evangelical theology in humble terms because he wants instead to magnify the God of Jesus Christ...but I'm still a bit surprised by his tone. I haven't read any Church Dogmatics, but the very title he gives the volume would seem to suggest that when Christ's church speak about God, what we're saying is more than a "stop gap".

Hmmm, can anyone clear this up for me?

Looney said...

The other thing that I will note is that in my 25 years of engineering R&D, not once has a philosophy of science concept been invoked for anything. When I do hear about a philosophy of science, it is usually from the ivory tower and in an ideological or religious context.

I don't see why theologians worry about reconciling theology with a philosophy of science that is completely irrelevant to those who actually use science.

byron said...

Christian - as is often the case, this quote is only one side of a complex picture that Barth is building over many pages as he tackles the same issue from various angles. The point he is making in this passage is the fundamental difference between theology and other branches of knowledge. I think the point he is making is that while all the others would still be needed in an unfallen world (an ordered cosmos), theology as a critical disciple reflecting upon our language about (and to) God would not be.

Looney - that there is no explicit invocation of philosophy of science makes me think that its study is more important, since there are inevitably assumptions being made and concepts being used, just uncritically. In my experience this is one of the big dangers in much 'actual science': its false assumption that it works without assumptions.

Looney said...

Byron, perhaps you are right, but I have never met or read anyone who was competent to tell me the assumptions in a way that seemed even remotely true. It is always people with a agenda who are making things up as they go. (ref. 2 Peter 2:1)

byron said...

Looney - try reading What is this thing called Science? by Chalmers. It's an excellent introduction to philosophy of science. Alternatively, from a Christian perspective, you could try Unnatural Enemies by Birkett.

Looney said...

Thanks, I will try to find it.