Learning Theology …

So, Jerry Coyne is making an honest effort to learn theology. The latest comment on it is here, a response to Edward Feser’s criticisms of his project.

Now, since for me theology follows the Philosophical Method, the main issue seems to me to be that Coyne simply doesn’t understand how philosophy works and what it’s trying to prove.  He won’t find anything of interest in anything philosophical unless he understands that they’re after the concepts and not necessarily the things, and that progress and sophistication are measured at the concept leve, not the thing level. 

So, let me give Jerry Coyne some advice:

  1. Don’t start with anything that takes a side.  This is generally a bad idea since you get a skewed idea of the opposition.  Always start with a neutral introductory text.
  2. In this case, your best bet is to start with Philosophy of Religion, which will outline the arguments and the issues therein in a way that highlights the philosophical bent without taking any side.
  3. Considering, though, that you are indeed philosophically naive, I’d actually suggest that you take a step back and learn some philosophy first.  Start with “Philosophy of Dummies”.  No, that’s not an insult; I started with that book when I started my undergrad and it was quite good.  From there, move on to some “bridging” works like those in Philosophy of Mind that look at real things through a philosophical lens.  There are lots of examples of these, but if you want something accessible you could do worse than my essays on psychopaths, which is empirically minded moral philosophy and aesthetics, which is pure philosophy.

Once you understand how philosophy works, then you can understand what theology is after.  Theology is more difficult because the concepts don’t fit into common experience well; all the details have to be derived and so it’s far more abstract.

I know he won’t read this, but if he does I’ll make a deal with him:  if he does this, I’ll:

a) Read any book on biological determinism he likes, as long as I can buy it conveniently (like on Amazon) and comment on it.
b) Read any theological book he ways (same conditions) and comment on whether it’s good or not.

Now, I know that I’m a nobody and so my challenge simply won’t matter, but I’m up for it if he is.


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