Monday, April 23, 2007

Karl Barth on Theology, Science and Philosophy

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1962), 3-5.
“Theology is one among those human undertakings traditionally described as ‘sciences.’ Not only the natural sciences are ‘sciences.’ Humanistic sciences also seek to apprehend a specific object and its environment in the manner directed by the phenomenon itself; they seek, to understand it on its own terms and to speak of it along with all the implications of its existence. The word ‘theology’ seems to signify a special science, a very special science, whose task is to apprehend, understand, and speak of ‘God.’

But many things can be meant by the word ‘God.’ For this reason, there are many kinds of theologies. There is no man who does not have his own god or gods as the object of his highest desire and trust, or as the basis of his deepest loyalty and commitment. There is no one who is not to this extent also a theologian. There is, moreover, no religion, no philosophy, no world view that is not dedicated to some such divinity. Every world view, even that disclosed in the Swiss and American national anthems, presupposes a divinity interpreted in one way or another and worshiped to some degree, whether wholeheartedly or superficially. There is no philosophy that is not to some extent also theology. Not only does this fact apply to philosophers who desire to affirm – or who, at least, are ready to admit – that divinity, in a positive sense, is the essence of truth and power of some kind of highest principle; but the same truth is valid even for thinkers denying such a divinity, for such a denial would in practice merely consist in transferring an identical dignity and function to another object. Such an alternative object might be ‘nature,’ creativity, or an unconscious amorphous will to life. It might also be ‘reason,’ progress, or even redeeming nothingness in which man would be destined to disappear. Even such apparently ‘godless’ ideologies are theologies.



The best theology (not to speak of the only right one) of the highest, or even the exclusively true and real, God would have the following distinction: it would prove itself – and in this regard Lessing was altogether right – by the demonstration of the Spirit and of its power. However, if it should hail and proclaim itself as such, it would by this very fact betray that it certainly is not the one true theology.”

5 comments:

Shane said...

Excellent. I think this is Barth at his best, which is quite good indeed.

sw

Shane said...

Barth at his best!

sw

WTM said...

Shane,

I suspected that this Barth quote would get a response out of you, but I must confess that I anticipated a different sort of response! Care to give us a few lines on why you think this passage is 'excellent'?

Shane said...

Well, because he's right. So you should make a distinction between philosophy and theology because there are two different criteria invoked in the evaluation of their arguments. Two different audiences, two different methods. But it just does not seem that it is finally possible to do philosophy in a theologically neutral way. And of course you ought to ignore as nonsense any view that theology is somehow "free" of philosophical presuppositions too. Good philosophers should think about the theological implications of their theories and good theologians should examine the philosophical horizon within which their dogmas are expounded.

Note that there is nothing particularly "post-modern" about any of these observations.

Michael J. Pailthorpe said...

Thanks for this quote Wade. Very helpful and humbling.