Fine-tuning the sources of theology
I argue that progress in theology is possible and real. I focus on one kind of progress, increased knowledge of the object of study. Progress in academic disciplines is often understood in this way. For example, increased knowledge of the atom is regarded as progress for physics; increased knowledge of the mechanisms of natural selection is regarded as progress for biology; and increased knowledge of human behavior is regarded as progress in psychology.
Traditionally the object of study in theology is God(1). Knowledge of God is in turn achieved through various means or sources. On one influential traditional account the 4 main sources of theology are Scripture, tradition, reason, and Christian experience(2). Often nature or creation is regarded as an additional source of knowledge of God.
I argue that increased knowledge of each source can contribute to knowledge of God. New knowledge of a source can show what conclusions from that source about God are warranted and which ones are not. The table below gives examples of progress in each
After briefly discussing how understanding of all theological sources can be augmented, I focus on experience. I argue that data from cognitive science of religion and neuroscience can in crease or knowledge of religious experience. I give examples how data from these disciplines increased our understanding of pluralism (Boyer 2002), anthropomorphism (Barrett 1999) and cultural influences (Andersen 2017)(1). According to other accounts of theology the object of study is rather human beliefs or human religious communities. My arguments do not apply to theology construed in this way (2). This traditional account is known as the ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral’ and was commonly attributed to John Wesley. Despite of its distinct association with Methodist churches, similar accounts of the main sources of Christian theology are widely accepted.
-‐ Empirical insights into religious experiences teach us nothing new.
-‐ Religious experiences are only marginally relevant for theology.
List of references
Andersen, Marc. 2017. “Predictive Coding in Agency Detection.” Religion, Brain & Behavior, 1–20.
Barrett, Justin L. 1999. “Theological Correctness: Cognitive Constraint and the Study of Religion.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 11: 325–39.
Boyer, Pascal. 2002. Religion Explained: The Human Instincts That Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors. London: Vintage.
Hans Van Eyghen holds an MA in Theology and Philosophy from the Catholic University of Leuven. He got his PhD at VU Amsterdam. His research focuses on epistemology of religion, cognitive science of religion and cognitive neuroscience of religion.