Pharyngula

Dawkins does know how to tweak the fluffy little wankers, that’s for sure. He is suggesting that universities ought to dismantle their theology departments!

We who doubt that “theology” is a subject at all, or who compare it with the study of leprechauns, are eagerly hoping to be proved wrong. Of course, university departments of theology house many excellent scholars of history, linguistics, literature, ecclesiastical art and music, archaeology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, iconology, and other worthwhile and important subjects. These academics would be welcomed into appropriate departments elsewhere in the university. But as for theology itself, defined as “the organised body of knowledge dealing with the nature, attributes, and governance of God”, a positive case now needs to be made that it has any real content at all, and that it has any place in today’s universities.

You don’t see colleges retaining their astrology and alchemy departments, so I think it is quite reasonable to shuffle the superannuated fogeys off to the glue factory, and let the others find their places in disciplines with some foundation in reality, like philosophy and history.

It ought to be considered a promotion. I’d be embarrassed to have a degree in theology … and history, philosophy, literature, etc., all have considerably more respectability.

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    October 1, 2007

    PZ:

    You don’t see colleges retaining their astrology and alchemy departments

    But they’re establishing new ones.

  2. #2 Comic Book Guy
    October 1, 2007

    I do not need this, I’ve got a masters degree in folklore and mythology!

  3. #3 Christian Burnham
    October 1, 2007

    I disagree.

    It’s perfectly appropriate for academics to study a delusion which affects billions of people.

    Even Dawkins is a theologian of sorts.

  4. #4 Brownian
    October 1, 2007

    From my discussions with theologians, I’d suggest they rank below community college Communications majors in terms of anything resembling academic rigour.

  5. #5 CJO
    October 1, 2007

    Theology is the study of God. Different from the study of religions, the actuality of which nobody questions.

    It really is pretty absurd. Is there another academic discipline the subject of which is believed by many to be imaginary? I guess you can study God as a fictional character, but that would be like having a department devoted solely to studying Ahab, separate from Literature.

  6. #6 Keith
    October 1, 2007

    Even Dawkins is a theologian of sorts.

    How could someone who rejects all theological arguments (because they are based on faulty reasoning) be considered a theologists? That’s about as daft as saying Atheism is a religion because it’s opposed to religion.

  7. #7 Janus
    October 1, 2007

    I disagree.

    It’s perfectly appropriate for academics to study a delusion which affects billions of people.

    Even Dawkins is a theologian of sorts.

    Well, it didn’t take long for that objection to come up.

    Dawkins says exactly what he means by “theology”, and it’s not the study of a delusion. It’s the study of a being that can’t be studied (if it even exists). And no, it’s not a strawman. Some dictionaries define theology only as the study of God, other dictionaries define it as the study of God and the study of religion. Could theology still be called theology if it was stripped of the “study of God” part? I would say no, because all that would be left would be covered by other fields such as sociology. And this stripped-down theology certainly isn’t the theology that critics such as Orr are accusing Dawkins of not being knowledgeable enough about. But whatever, it’s a matter of semantics.

    If you prefer to look at it that way, Dawkins is saying, “Get rid of professors and courses that make claims about the nature of God.”

  8. #8 efp
    October 1, 2007

    “Is there another academic discipline the subject of which is believed by many to be imaginary?”

    *cough* string theory *cough*

  9. #9 Christian Burnham
    October 1, 2007

    Yeah yeah- get off your collective high horses.

    You all know what I mean when I said Dawkins is a theologian of sorts. It’s perfectly possible to study fictional characters- take the literature department (no please- take it!). Also- it can’t be denied that Dawkins and Dennet have argued for more research into what we believe and why.

    If you want to split hairs then invent your own term for what Dawkins and Dennet are doing when they study belief systems. I’ll stick to plain English.

  10. #10 Sven DiMilo
    October 1, 2007

    Actually, I have always suspected that Organic Chemistry may well be imaginary.
    Or maybe I just wished it.

  11. #11 AnthonyH
    October 1, 2007

    It’s perfectly appropriate for academics to study a delusion which affects billions of people.

    But they don’t study it from outside the bubble, like psychologists study mental illness; they study it from inside the bubble.

  12. #12 Moggie
    October 1, 2007

    British universities have been busily closing chemistry departments in the past few years, and it would be good to see the pain spread to departments which surely contribute much less to human advancement. But I imagine a theology department is dirt cheap to run, and as long as it’s bringing in paying customers, it probably looks good on the balance sheet.

  13. #13 Harry Tuttle
    October 1, 2007

    *cough* string theory *cough*

    But the brane-deaders still have better math than the theologians.

    And I wouldn’t count ST as a “discipline” anyways. It’s a part – to an unhealthy degree I’ll admit – of the discipline of theoretical physics.

  14. #14 archgoon
    October 1, 2007

    >>Is there another academic discipline the subject of which is believed by many to be imaginary

    Have you been reading this blog at all? Evolution.

  15. #15 Greg
    October 1, 2007

    Christian,

    The answer to “what it’s called” is in Dawkins’ full letter, in the implication that those studying sociology, psychology, iconology, archeology, philosophy, etc. will find companionship in the other parts of the humanities department. Dennet is a philosopher, for example, although I dare say he crosses into some sociology with some of his works – but that’s pretty typical for much philosophy.

  16. #16 raven
    October 1, 2007

    “Is there another academic discipline the subject of which is believed by many to be imaginary?”

    Exobiology. As another poster mentioned string theory.

    Intelligent UFO aliens.

    To be fair, both exobiology and SETI have one fundamental question to answer. Does their subject matter even exist? It is a key question and I support both.

  17. #17 le_sacre
    October 1, 2007

    i was about to say that in my dictionary, theology is not the study of god, but “the study of the nature of god and religious belief,” thinking this seems rather acceptable from an academic standpoint. but then i realized that none of the universities i’ve been affiliated have theology departments. what do they actually do? if my dictionary is right, as long as “the nature of god” means “the nature of the concept of god,” then this seems fine to me.

    sure, it could be subsumed under other departments. but in our era of specialization, interdisciplinary departments have their place. i’m in a neuroscience program, for example, and would rather we not be split up into molecular biology, genetics, psychology, and computer science.

  18. #18 bullfighter
    October 1, 2007

    I’d say that most reputable American universities don’t have “Theology” departments. Usually it is called “Religious Studies” or something similar to that. So the dictionary definition from RD’s letter doesn’t apply. Some older, or more traditional, univeristies have something called “Divinity School”. There, the argument might be similar to RD’s, but I think there are enough atheists and agnostics teaching at those schools to make the issue moot.

  19. #19 Donalbain
    October 1, 2007

    Great and benevolent PZ. it is time to demonstrate the futility of framing by enhancing actual science education.

    Are you getting involved in the Donors Choose Challenge? The loyal pharyngulites could make a massive difference AND you could show those other bloggers who has the most powerful army of sycophants.

  20. #20 Azkyroth
    October 1, 2007

    I say we keep the theology departments, but establish a qualifying exam for all faculty positions in them: the applicant must enter a lightless cellar at exactly midnight without bringing any source of illumination, locate a black cat that isn’t there, and return with it before one minute has elapsed.

  21. #21 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    Religion science isn’t the same as theology. Theology studies one denomination from the inside; religion science studies any number of faiths from the outside.

  22. #22 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    Religion science isn’t the same as theology. Theology studies one denomination from the inside; religion science studies any number of faiths from the outside.

  23. #23 CJO
    October 1, 2007

    When rhetorical questions aren’t…
    Okay, in order:
    String Theory. Is a subset of Theoretical Physics, the subject of which nobody but solipsists think is imaginary.
    Evolution. First, I guess I should have qualified my question somewhat, to “many reasonable, educated people belive to be imaginary.” Second, very few deny the existence of spontaneous biological change over time. They either equivocate on “spontaneous” a la TEs, or merely seek to downplay the power of the process a la “it’s still bacteria.”
    Exobiology, SETI. Here you have a point, Raven. But the differences kind of prove what I’m saying. SETI properly has as its subject extraterrestrial radio emissions. No one doing SETI asserts unequivocally that there are extraterrestrial technological civilizations, much less that they can discuss the nature of same. Exobiology, likewise, is currently a sub-discipline of planetology, and nobody’s going around discussing alien lifeforms’ genetics or claiming to know anything they don’t.

    But meh. Probably just the wrong question.
    (If I were to answer it myself, I might have said Economics.)

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    Should have been “from inside” and “from outside”.

    So the dictionary definition from RD’s letter doesn’t apply.

    To the USA, which is rather unique in having had an official separation between church and state for close to 250 years. Vienna University (founded in 1348, IIRC) offers Catholic theology and Lutheran theology the same way it offers biology and scandinavistics.

  25. #25 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    Should have been “from inside” and “from outside”.

    So the dictionary definition from RD’s letter doesn’t apply.

    To the USA, which is rather unique in having had an official separation between church and state for close to 250 years. Vienna University (founded in 1348, IIRC) offers Catholic theology and Lutheran theology the same way it offers biology and scandinavistics.

  26. #26 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    To be fair, both exobiology and SETI have one fundamental question to answer. Does their subject matter even exist?

    This question is their subject manner. Exobiology adds the questions of how we can recognize life when we find it and where we should look for it. The question of whether God exists is not the subject matter of theology; theology simply assumes that and builds everything else on that assumption.

  27. #27 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    To be fair, both exobiology and SETI have one fundamental question to answer. Does their subject matter even exist?

    This question is their subject manner. Exobiology adds the questions of how we can recognize life when we find it and where we should look for it. The question of whether God exists is not the subject matter of theology; theology simply assumes that and builds everything else on that assumption.

  28. #28 Ray C.
    October 1, 2007

    You don’t see colleges retaining their astrology and alchemy departments, so I think it is quite reasonable to shuffle the superannuated fogeys off to the glue factory

    Creationist quote-mining in 4…3…2…

  29. #29 Blake Stacey
    October 1, 2007

    I doubt that the “market share” of string theory in the theoretical physics community is even all that “unhealthy”. It is, still, the most viable candidate for a theory of quantum gravity — and no other candidate is doing a better job in the make-experimental-predictions game, either.

    It is both interesting and unfortunate that the polemics about string theory which have erupted in recent years paint such a poor picture of the actual state of research. I remember when ScienceBlogs’s own Chad Orzel made an offhand remark about some accelerator experiment “not being able to test string theory”, the string theorists popped up to correct him and discovered that he hadn’t even heard of the AdS/CFT correspondence.

    Nobody likes to talk about gauge/gravity dualities or the application of quantum-gravity machinery to nuclear physics and high-temperature superconductivity. It’s too hard to consider ideas developed in one subfield turning out to be shockingly useful when applied in another, even though that’s how innovation happens, time and time again. How much more satisfying to crow about the death of a discipline by inventing one’s own pet history of the 1990s (Smolin) or declaring that string theory is not only unpredictive now but will be unpredictive forever, without the math to back that up (Woit).

    We have good reasons to think that a quantum theory of gravity exists, and it’s entirely plausible that the adjustable parameters of the Standard Model might be tamed at least a little by some as-yet-unknown physics. I’d say it’s also completely reasonable to suppose that organic chemistry led to life on other planets; what forms that life might take and how easily we might detect are completely up in the air. Our species might self-destruct before it gets the answers, just like we might perish before figuring out quantum gravity. The day might come when we’ve grown sick of asking questions whose answers we cannot find, or when we have to devote resources to other activities in order to ensure our continued survival.

    But right now, it’s a beautiful autumn day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I’m not quite willing to stop asking questions just yet.

  30. #30 DaveX
    October 1, 2007

    Why stop, PZ? Just get rid of all the useless artists, musicians, and lit folks while you’re at it? All we produce is smears of pigment, lies, and noise!

    Or hey, how about the philosophers? The best thing they ever produced was an imaginary cave, filled with prisoners… It’s amounted to nothing more than books filled with arguments, and confused freshman– get rid of it too!

    *rolls eyes*

  31. #31 Azkyroth
    October 1, 2007

    DaveX:

    If literature professors spent all their time talking about the themes, structure, cultural implications, and narrative content of invisible, intangible books which they insist their libraries are full of despite the visible bareness of the shelves, you might have a valid analogy there. As it stands…

  32. #32 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    But if we get rid of theology departments, we’ll give up all hope of determining how many angels can dance on the head of a standard pin!!!!

  33. #33 Janus
    October 1, 2007

    Why stop, PZ? Just get rid of all the useless artists, musicians, and lit folks while you’re at it? All we produce is smears of pigment, lies, and noise!

    Do artists, musicians, and literature folks pretend to make claims about reality? Do they pretend to know things they don’t know?

  34. #34 other bill
    October 1, 2007

    I realize that it is great fun to speculate on what theology departments do. Or you could collect data to pick one example at hand….

  35. #35 Gilgamesh
    October 1, 2007

    Firstly, with SETI, they are able to do standard science with their radio telescopes while examining the signals for an artificial nature; that is one beauty of higher technology. Secondly, SETI also examines the ways life can exist in environments that are not considered friendly to life, including UV-light-filled vacuums of space, or at least low ph-level boiling mud, such as at volcanoes. I would also like to point out that the search for intelligence is more of just that–a search. It is a matter of exploration. It is also completely funded by private donations and not by taxes since 1993.

    As for theology, I highly recommend Hector Avalos’ book “The End of Biblical Studies.” He is himself a biblical scholar and is calling out the theology departments across the world because they haven’t been doing much of anything for decades. For example, in textual criticism, if you were to take the newest version of the Greek New Testament reconstruction, it is less that .4% different than the one produced in the late 19th century. Avalos compares this position then to the paid solving of Sudoku puzzles. It has been a waste for decades.

    In reality, the theology department could and should be dissolved in to comparative religions/myths departments and perhaps philosophy.

  36. #36 David
    October 1, 2007

    But theologians at schools like Harvard are advancing our understanding of evolution:

    God and Evolution: A New Solution

    If we disband the divinity schools, who will do the research?

  37. #37 MartinC
    October 1, 2007

    Leprechauns aren’t real ?

  38. #38 other bill
    October 1, 2007

    I realize that it is great fun to speculate on what theology departments do. Or you could collect data to pick one example at hand….

  39. #39 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    Do artists, musicians, and literature folks pretend to make claims about reality? Do they pretend to know things they don’t know?

    “All You Need Is Love”

    This has been another edition of …

  40. #40 Leni
    October 1, 2007

    If this ridiculous theology school is anything like the norm, then Dawkins has a point. They seem to think that theologians are (at least sometimes) catalogers of “facts” about God, lol.

    Amazingly, it very soberly advise you to avoid the “fallacy” of making pronouncements about God until “you meet him”. Oh what sage advice- if only more religious people followed it.

    LOL the whole thing is pretty silly. I wouldn’t necessarily expect this site to be representative, but holy crap. This was so bad I had to share it.

  41. #41 mk
    October 1, 2007

    #9–If you want to split hairs then invent your own term for what Dawkins and Dennet are doing when they study belief systems. I’ll stick to plain English.

    I’d say ‘anthropolgy’ fits.

  42. #42 efp
    October 1, 2007

    Of course, I was just taking a friendly jab at string theorists. It’s hard to resist. At least they *aim* to make experimentally verifiable (or falsifiable) predictions. They just haven’t managed to produce a single one in twenty seven years *cough*

    For anyone that says string theory is not science, I point out that Maxwell died before an experimental test of his theory of electromagnetic waves was within reach. Was he not doing science? I do happen to think it has an unsubstantiated market share, but hey, there aren’t enough real problems to give all these Chinese grad students something to do…

  43. #43 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    Of course, such changes would make it difficult for folks like Allen MacNeill at Cornell to start that new interdisciplinary study: theosophical psychobiology.

  44. #44 Pablo
    October 1, 2007

    “It really is pretty absurd. Is there another academic discipline the subject of which is believed by many to be imaginary?”

    Complex analysis?

    (ba-dump-bump)

  45. #45 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    I do happen to think it has an unsubstantiated market share

    It’s all relative. The future is atmospheric physics, baby. Ride the global warming gravy train.

  46. #46 Alex Whiteside
    October 1, 2007

    There once was a man from Trinity
    who found the square root of infinity
    But he got such fidgets
    When he saw all those digits
    He dropped Math and took up Divinity

  47. #47 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    “It really is pretty absurd. Is there another academic discipline the subject of which is believed by many to be imaginary?”

    http://www.auburn.edu/academic/science_math/cosam/departments/biology/faculty/webpages/hill/ivorybill/Updates.html

    http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory

    Read it and weep.

  48. #48 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    Theologians founded universites: theologians were the sole guardians of the greek philosophical writins that thereafter made possible thius endeared ration alism of h

    Thomas Jefferson had slaves, therefore slavery should be preserved. It’s a matter of respect, if nothing else.

  49. #49 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    What they really want is elimination of the church from the state.

    Death by natural causes, babe.

  50. #50 John Danley
    October 1, 2007

    Basket Weaving has been considered as a plausible alternative.

  51. #51 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    so…you’re comparing rationalism to slavery, GWW?

    Not at all. Just comparing your lame-ass argument about the contributions of past theologians to an equally lame-ass argument about the contributions of past slave-owners.

    Unsurprisingly, that comparison sailed right over your pointy head. Try reaching higher next time.

  52. #52 Leni
    October 1, 2007

    Anti Atheists Patrol wrote:

    More proof that atheists are not really interested in separation of church and state.

    What they really want is elimination of the church from the state.

    Oh crap. Don’t look now, but I think we’ve been found out.

    Quick! Someone call Nisbet! We need an emergency frame, stat!

  53. #53 Janine
    October 1, 2007

    I see that the Shit Pinata is busy today. Please tell us about your neighbor who died last year. Damn, even Dave X was able to put up a better argument then you. And Dave X was mistaken about PZ’s desire to get rid of the philosophy department. (Hint, try reading all of the post before you rip into it.)

  54. #54 Sven DiMilo
    October 1, 2007

    GWW: Good call on the IBW.
    Where you been, anyway?

  55. #55 Fishbone McGonigle
    October 1, 2007

    Probably just the wrong question.
    (If I were to answer it myself, I might have said Economics.)

    Nah, there’s actually some pretty valuable stuff in there, particularly in microeconomics-related subfields. It’s just not the stuff everyone thinks about when they think of economics.

    Most of that truly is shit.

  56. #56 CJO
    October 1, 2007

    Okay. Still not snarky enough (re: Economics as a study of the imaginary)
    How about Business Ethics?

  57. #57 386sx
    October 1, 2007

    Sounds good to me. They’re not studying God anyway. How the heck are they going to study God when God doesn’t like being put under the microscope, as they themselves would be the first to admit quite happily with much glee and joy.

    Maybe if they could actually “poof” something, but even that most basic tenet doesn’t like being under the microscope.

    Uhhh, maybe they should actually try studying some the things they’re supposed to be studying instead of just studying the other studiers.

  58. #58 Skemono
    October 1, 2007

    Actually, I agree with DaveX in part: get rid of the philosophy departments, too. My esteem of philosophers is much like that of Woolsey Teller.

  59. #59 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    GWW: Good call on the IBW.
    Where you been, anyway?

    I went to the liquor store to get more Tecate.

  60. #60 Karey
    October 1, 2007

    I don’t know, in my english language theology and religious studies mean the same thing. Probably any university that doesn’t have a theology dept does have a religious studies dept. Maybe its because the word theology stopped getting taken seriously in academia though.

  61. #61 poke
    October 1, 2007

    I second the vote for eliminating philosophy. Actually, if all we had were the sciences and the professions (medicine, law, engineering), it wouldn’t make much difference to the world.

  62. #62 Caucasian Jesus
    October 1, 2007

    Stop persecuting them PZ; they’ll just use that as a plus by their name when they’re standing at the pearly gates and you’re getting anally poked by Satan.

  63. #63 Dahan
    October 1, 2007

    Tossing my weight behind Christian Burnham here. Keeping theology only makes sense. As long as it’s relevant (and who here would dare say it’s not?) it should be an available degree.

  64. #64 Greg
    October 1, 2007

    Dahan, I believe the point that many are trying to make is that the valuable parts of theology can easily be done by other disciplines. The leftover parts, those that philosophize over the existence of pink unicorns, can safely be cut away.

  65. #65 Moses
    October 1, 2007

    “Is there another academic discipline the subject of which is believed by many to be imaginary?”

    *cough* string theory *cough*

    Posted by: efp | October 1, 2007 4:05 PM

    It’s a theory in physics, of which not all physicists subscribe without question. Not an academic discipline where the existence of the Giant Leprechaun in the Sky is not only accepted without question, but is necessary despite it’s complete lack of proof.

  66. #66 Gobaskof
    October 1, 2007

    The other day I had just emerged from a fairly fast and complicated lecture on Electromagnetism. I pass near the theology block, and two students emerge discussing “Why God made man before woman.”
    I find it annoying to think that the government is paying the same for these student’s useless education as they are for any of us doing real subjects base in REALITY!

  67. #67 Caledonian
    October 1, 2007

    We can make the same arguments about philosophy – the vast majority of academic philosophy fits into other disciplines, and what doesn’t is nonsense, so why not eliminate it?

    Well, why not? Help me out here, people, ’cause I can’t think of a thing.

  68. #68 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    But theologians at schools like Harvard are advancing our understanding of evolution:

    [link]God and Evolution: A New Solution

    If we disband the divinity schools, who will do the research?

    ARGH! That’s a lay attempt at mimicking a postmodernist essay! It burns!!!

  69. #69 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    But theologians at schools like Harvard are advancing our understanding of evolution:

    [link]God and Evolution: A New Solution

    If we disband the divinity schools, who will do the research?

    ARGH! That’s a lay attempt at mimicking a postmodernist essay! It burns!!!

  70. #70 other bill
    October 1, 2007

    We mustn’t forget that the theology departments think they have experimental verification of their ideas, later.

  71. #71 Dahan
    October 1, 2007

    Greg,

    I understand that. However, I’m still siding with keeping the degree. I am thinking of this (perhaps naively) as a “general” degree. Sort of like you can get a “general science” or art degree if you wish. I understand the need for specialization, but believe that there can still be found some amount of utility in having a degree which spans more than one field of study. Often the most important discoveries in science come from people with cross-field knowledge. A theology degree certainly wouldn’t be something I’d be interested in getting, but I feel it’s at least as useful as a degree in art history or etc.

  72. #72 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    “Why God made man before woman.”

    And why he did so only in Genesis 2, and not in Genesis 1…

  73. #73 David Marjanovi?
    October 1, 2007

    “Why God made man before woman.”

    And why he did so only in Genesis 2, and not in Genesis 1…

  74. #74 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    October 1, 2007

    Good idea, somewhat reminding me of the swedish humanist organization proposing to make away with the special laws on religion (since the remaining part is covered by freedom of organization laws).

    I’m pretty sure we have more interest in astrology in Sweden (with a column in most papers), but we don’t see that as a study area. What would be useful would be resources for sociology on beliefs.

    String theory:

    Blake, another comment that reads as a splendid post. The increasing number of connections to different areas and new ideas (black holes, holography) of physics is indeed compelling.

    They just haven’t managed to produce a single one in twenty seven years

    Oh, please. It took at least 27 years between Planck’s initial model of energy quantization in 1900 to Dirac’s formulation of a unified quantum mechanics 1927, and the simultaneous start of von Neumann’s work on modern foundations.

    Similarly, it took over 27 years from the beginnings of relativity in Michael’s & Morley’s experiment 1887 until general relativity was confirmed 1919.

    Long development time seems to be a characteristic of fundamental theories. And why shouldn’t it be, considering the scope of the data they must explain?

  75. #75 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    October 1, 2007

    Good idea, somewhat reminding me of the swedish humanist organization proposing to make away with the special laws on religion (since the remaining part is covered by freedom of organization laws).

    I’m pretty sure we have more interest in astrology in Sweden (with a column in most papers), but we don’t see that as a study area. What would be useful would be resources for sociology on beliefs.

    String theory:

    Blake, another comment that reads as a splendid post. The increasing number of connections to different areas and new ideas (black holes, holography) of physics is indeed compelling.

    They just haven’t managed to produce a single one in twenty seven years

    Oh, please. It took at least 27 years between Planck’s initial model of energy quantization in 1900 to Dirac’s formulation of a unified quantum mechanics 1927, and the simultaneous start of von Neumann’s work on modern foundations.

    Similarly, it took over 27 years from the beginnings of relativity in Michael’s & Morley’s experiment 1887 until general relativity was confirmed 1919.

    Long development time seems to be a characteristic of fundamental theories. And why shouldn’t it be, considering the scope of the data they must explain?

  76. #76 Higgs Boson
    October 1, 2007

    Speaking as someone who actually has a theology degree (from Bob Jones U, no less) I am indeed profoundly embarrassed to have it. I am now one of those “Militant Atheists”, due in no small part to individuals like P.Z. Myers who posted on talk.origins back in the day.

    (So, thank you P.Z.)

    Maybe if we could finally let go of our cultural religious baggage people like me wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by our degrees in nothing.

  77. #77 Dahan
    October 1, 2007

    Higgs Boson,

    I’m truly curious. Why are you embarrassed by your degree? Is it because of how you feel you will be perceived by atheists and free thinkers like myself? Or is it because of something else? Do you feel the knowledge you gained in attaining your degree has no relevance?

  78. #78 Gobaskof
    October 1, 2007

    Higgs- if you have a theology degree then you can write a book and no one will be able to say that you have no knowledge of theology! They will be nearly out of ways to refute you!

  79. #79 Sven DiMilo
    October 1, 2007

    As an undergrad I fancied myself an intellectual, so took several courses in Philosophy; read Aristotle, Berkeley, Hume, Spinoza, Sartre, all those guys. I decided it was all a bunch of crap (psychology too) and majored in Zoology because I knew damn well animals were real.

    When I was in grad school I played in a band with a guy who was working on a real Ph.D., i.e. in philosophy (he was an excellent jazz pianist). I asked him what you have to do to write a dissertation in philosophy, like, think for a while, then write? He pretty much said yeah. I asked him what he was thinking about. He said something like “I’m considering whether it is in any sense rational to act morally.” I said “Want to play a blues?”

    Another time he told me (but later disavowed the view) that philosophy could be seen as a search for the intersection of Language and Truth. That almost made sense at the time.

    But theology? nah.

  80. #80 Higgs Boson
    October 1, 2007

    Dahan,

    It isn’t really one thing, exactly. I just feel like it was an opportunity I’ll never get back. I was the first person in my family to go to college. We were a textbook fundamentalist Christian home and my interest in science was, shall we say, discouraged. Long story short I chose to go to BJU and major in Bible. I even spent a few years after graduation preaching in local churches in western PA.

    Luckily, my interest in science could not be denied, and I drifted away from religion. My interest in Creationism and Evolution led me to talk.origins and Richard Dawkins books, etc.

    Now when someone asks me if I went to college, I find myself bracing for the inevitable “What did you study?”

    Like I said, embarrassing.

    Anyway, sorry for the wordy response.

  81. #81 Caledonian
    October 1, 2007

    Similarly, it took over 27 years from the beginnings of relativity in Michael’s & Morley’s experiment 1887 until general relativity was confirmed 1919.

    I thought Einstein denied that the Mitchelson-Morley experiment had any influence on him, and in fact hadn’t even heard of it until ater he’d formulated the theory.

    There was a whole lot of data and theoretical work that (subtly) implied relativity – technically, it’s inherent in Maxwell’s equations describing electromagnetic waves.

  82. #82 Dahan
    October 1, 2007

    Higgs,

    No, that’s cool. I was just really curious. I’ve got a similar background bible-wise. I queried mainly because I have a MFA and often people equate that with me being an idiot who buys into all the postmodernist bullshit. I too sometimes find myself defending my degree, and sometimes I ask myself why. Knowledge is knowledge. What I do with it is what matters.

  83. #83 JakeR
    October 1, 2007

    PZ:

    “You don’t see colleges retaining their astrology and alchemy departments”

    For eight years they’ve been teaching astrology at Kepler College, an unaccredited institution in Lynnwood, Washington, near Seattle. See http://www.kepler.edu/main/

  84. #84 Marcus Ranum
    October 1, 2007

    Who accredits universities? Going after the accreditation status of universities that teach ridiculous nonsense seems like a good ‘wedge’ strategy.

  85. #85 Caledonian
    October 1, 2007

    Who accredits universities? Going after the accreditation status of universities that teach ridiculous nonsense seems like a good ‘wedge’ strategy.

    Which is why I expect such boards to be primary targets of Creationists and similar morons.

    Of course, it may not be necessary for them, considering the kinds of nonsense that are already taught at accredited universities.

  86. #86 Bob
    October 1, 2007

    from: http://www.theology.edu/theology/theology.htm
    “Dogmatic theology refers to those elements of theological truth which are absolutely certain. It will avoid controversial fields of study and will concentrate on those points about which the church throughout history has held to unswervingly, such the virgin birth, the resurrection, the Trinity, and the like”

    for tiny values of “absolutely certain”, I guess. (wow, this is just nutty).

  87. #87 Burt Humburg
    October 1, 2007

    Isn’t Dawkins’ argument against society and not presidents of universities?

    I mean, given that there is theology (open eyes, look around, there it is) and given that there are certain standards to which theologians are supposedly held (it is possible to judge a good theology from a bad one, although not by as bright-a-line measures as natural sciences; internal consistency, willingness to engage troubling facts, etc.), isn’t Dawkins’ argument a bit misplaced? Arguing that we shouldn’t be teaching theology in college reads to me like arguing that we shouldn’t have classes on how to manage 3rd party healthcare insurance companies: yeah, I suppose atheists (or people with consciences, in the sense of healthcare) would consider it nice to not have to deal with the muck, but given that we do have to deal with it, there is obviously a role for teaching it.

    It’s an interesting argument – one of those that jolts you a bit. But he’s aiming at the wrong target. Don’t make the theologians justify why they’re at universities; make society justify why they need theologians, and leave the theologians alone.

    My $1/50.

    BCH

  88. #88 tourettist
    October 1, 2007

    Another imaginary academic field is Peace Studies.

    ::ducks barrage of brickbats::

  89. #89 Kuhlmancanadensis
    October 1, 2007

    Actually, I have always suspected that Organic Chemistry may well be imaginary.
    Or maybe I just wished it.

    I agree.

  90. #90 TheBrummell
    October 1, 2007

    British universities have been busily closing chemistry departments in the past few years

    Wait… WHAT??!!?? How did this slip by? Why has there not been much public wailing and gnashing of teeth?? Britain, WTF?

  91. #91 Timothy
    October 1, 2007

    I don’t know about getting rid of theology departments, PZ. I’ve met a few hardcore atheists who were religious nuts until they went to university to study theology…

    PS When’s your daily insult for a theist calendar coming out? I’d like to pre-order a few copies.

  92. #92 Marcus Ranum
    October 1, 2007

    Arguing that we shouldn’t be teaching theology in college reads to me like arguing that we shouldn’t have classes on how to manage 3rd party healthcare insurance companies

    I think healthcare insurance companies actually exist – which makes them somewhat more worth studying.

    Theology is more like xeno-medicine. You could sit around and argue about how to splint a broken fzzznr’tt’s greeeb, or whether or not alien anal probers were after basal cells — but it’s kind of pointless to study something where everything is open to challenge because none of it is known to exist. I wonder what the final exams are like!! Do they grade you based on how well you “reason” about fictions? That’d be like the physics department having a graduate-level class on Star Trek Physics and flunking students if they didn’t know the molecular structure of dilithium crystals.

    How can you meaningfully give a doctorate about something that’s wholly bunk?

    …Although if they start offering class-work in how to conduct an inquisition I am so there.

  93. #93 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    Wasn’t it a theology professor who coined the phrase “They need a slap in their fat fundie faces”? That alone would be reason to keep a few departments intact.

  94. #94 Great White Wonder
    October 1, 2007

    Someday we will wonder: where have all the bullshit artists gone?

    Then we’ll wish we hadn’t been so hasty.

  95. #95 Patrick Quigley
    October 1, 2007

    I think healthcare insurance companies actually exist – which makes them somewhat more worth studying.

    Yes, but their inner workings are as ineffable as those of any deity.

  96. #96 Greg
    October 1, 2007

    Dahan, thanks for the clarification. In a way I do see your point. I myself have an interdisciplinary degree (cognitive science). I suppose ultimately it comes down to exactly what kind of “theology” is being studied. (Hopefully not dogmatic.) And to parrot what another poster said, I too have known several extremely religious people to come out of theology programs as atheists.

  97. #97 MartB
    October 1, 2007

    The question you need to face is that, with theology departments, you know what is going on and what they are doing, and where they are.

    You have already had the experience of having ‘theologians’ – DI and all those places, pretending at science. You want more fanatic anti-science types let loose in science departments and causing havoc?

    At least knowing where the enemy is, is an advantage. Otherwise they get right into science departments with their ‘alternative voice’, with funding and claims for an ‘equal hearing’. Departments do listen when there is the crackle of greenbacks in the background.

    Loosing theology may make science more difficult to do. And don’t forget that theology departments do produce a good number of atheists as well.

  98. #98 Chris Hallquist
    October 1, 2007

    I’m all for abolishing theology departments, but I wouldn’t say anyone with a theology degree should be embarrassed about it. As Dawkins said, there are some damn good scholars in theology departments. There may be a lot of flakes in there, but the same is true of literature departments and communications *cough Nisbet* departments.

  99. #99 John C. Randolph
    October 1, 2007

    Whether any school has a superstition department is a matter for that school’s administration, students, and supporters to decide. If I ever found a school, it will not have one, but I won’t put any effort into convincing any institution to give up theirs.

    -jcr

  100. #100 Eamon Knight
    October 2, 2007

    I’d say that most reputable American universities don’t have “Theology” departments. Usually it is called “Religious Studies” or something similar to that.

    Can’t speak to American schools but the reputable Canadian university where I did my undergrad has both a Religious Studies department and a Theological College. While there’s obviously a fair bit of crossover, the basic distinction is that RS teaches and researches about religion as a human activity (a worthwhile discipline, whether or not you believe in religion), while theological schools train people for ministry in a church.

    (And to preempt possible snark from certain quarters: Moran’s school has eight theological colleges ;-).

  101. #101 Bob O'H
    October 2, 2007

    You don’t see colleges retaining their astrology and alchemy departments, …

    But you do (well, except in the UK). They just re-branded themselves.

    Bob

  102. #102 Brian
    October 2, 2007

    Ah… it reminds me of the days when I did websites for people. I had one gentleman ask me to do a site for a book he had written. In the copy he provided was a reference to his study of eschatology (I had to look it up). A quick reading of the first page of his book described how Jeebus had “Saved” him and made him the man he was. I gave the fool his money back. I figured if he had been saved and had done his theological studies and still had ended up selling suits at a department store, he needed the cash more than he needed a web site.

  103. #103 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    October 2, 2007

    Caledonian:

    Yes, Einsteins motivations were different. He wanted to answer what an observer would see as invariant and especially describe light. But my intent was to describe the area from the first result that the theory later had to explain.

    We can look at EM vs special relativity two ways. Light speed is derivable from free space constants (free space permittivity and permeability), and it is not so subtle to go Einstein’s route once we accept these theoretical and observational facts of constance and take the consequences of them. Rather it was evidently hard to envision.

    And when we have relativity we can formulate EM in a covariant form, at which time we see that electrical and magnetic fields are different aspects of a combined four-vector EM potential. Then we derive the Lorentz force incorporating the magnetic field as a low-velocity relativistic effect of moving charges.

    The reasons that we don’t think of magnetic fields as a relativistic effect visible at every day speeds is that we are used to think of it as a separate force, and that it is easy to describe it so. Here we could say that the result was hidden. But again perhaps not so subtle considering its in-your-face consequences. :-)

  104. #104 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    October 2, 2007

    Caledonian:

    Yes, Einsteins motivations were different. He wanted to answer what an observer would see as invariant and especially describe light. But my intent was to describe the area from the first result that the theory later had to explain.

    We can look at EM vs special relativity two ways. Light speed is derivable from free space constants (free space permittivity and permeability), and it is not so subtle to go Einstein’s route once we accept these theoretical and observational facts of constance and take the consequences of them. Rather it was evidently hard to envision.

    And when we have relativity we can formulate EM in a covariant form, at which time we see that electrical and magnetic fields are different aspects of a combined four-vector EM potential. Then we derive the Lorentz force incorporating the magnetic field as a low-velocity relativistic effect of moving charges.

    The reasons that we don’t think of magnetic fields as a relativistic effect visible at every day speeds is that we are used to think of it as a separate force, and that it is easy to describe it so. Here we could say that the result was hidden. But again perhaps not so subtle considering its in-your-face consequences. :-)

  105. #105 Martin07
    October 2, 2007

    “Theology” boils down to literary criticism of ecclesiastical texts. As such it could be well-served in existing departments of language, literature, rhetoric, philosophy, and so on.

  106. #106 Steven Carr
    October 2, 2007

    But if we get rid of theology departments , we will no longer be able to laugh at the rubbish produced in Harvard.

    http://www.hds.harvard.edu/news/bulletin_mag/articles/35-23_coakley.html

  107. #107 liberal atheist
    October 2, 2007

    I four won agree with PZ and Ricard Dawkens!!!! I onely wish we coud half are own cuntry were evryone was as smart as us!!! Theologie is so stewped its jest like math witch is alsow a bunch of maid up logisticle stuff!!!

  108. #108 Steven Carr
    October 2, 2007

    Many German universities have TWO theology departments – a Catholic one, and a Protestant one.

    Presumably each gives the other an F in theology exams.

  109. #109 Azkyroth
    October 2, 2007

    1) Wait, the word filter forbids the word “incest” (which describes a concept with both biological and legal implications) but lets him use “cuntry”? Dude, who programmed this thing? O.o

    2) A troll with intelligence enough to display a rudimentary level of irony. Never saw that coming…

  110. #110 DuWayne
    October 2, 2007

    I don’t think I’ve actually met anyone who has come out of the theology department of a secular university, with their faith intact. Granted, I don’t know all that many of them, but I daresay it’s probably pretty common. The one that I know fairly well, said that he was pretty certain that most of the instructors in the department, were either atheists or (more commonly) agnostics.

    I also recall a segment on NPR a few years ago, with a gent who actually did research on the bible, as a theology undergrad. I don’t recall the guys name or the school (I was working, as I usually am when I listen to the radio), but he said that he started out as a strong believer and a creationist. By the time he left the program, he was a deist. He explained that the research consisted of studying various copies of manuscripts that were copied by different monks, different orders and differing time periods. The money quote that I remember was something like, “Evolution made a lot more sense, after seeing how the bible evolved.” Probably not his exact words, but that was the sentiment.

    Not that this is a good argument for keeping theology departments around, but I do find it fascinating.

  111. #111 G. Tingey
    October 2, 2007

    #82 …
    “Peace Studies” are just war studies reversed…….

    You cannot have peace if someone is determined to pick a fight.
    You can often get peace, if an apparently-inevitable war can be headed off, because of intermediaton, or the realisation that mistakes have been made.

    Peace/War studies fields overlap a lot.

  112. #112 John Morales
    October 2, 2007

    DuWayne (#102),

    …The one that I know fairly well, said that he was pretty certain that most of the instructors in the theology department, were either atheists or (more commonly) agnostics.

    Shhhhhhh.

  113. #113 John Morales
    October 2, 2007

    Whoops, forgot the brackets on theology. I redacted the quote for clarity.

  114. #114 Moenen
    October 2, 2007

    I would like to see a department of Experimental Theology….

  115. #115 Rupert
    October 2, 2007

    The proper study of man is man, and while religion is a major force in the world you’d better darn well study it. Teach the controversy! Theology is an extremely dangerous game – it can threaten the safety of your country just as nastily as nuclear physics. It’s best to know about it.

    But I do think that only atheists should be allowed to become theologians.

  116. #116 Russell Blackford
    October 2, 2007

    I’d love to have a theology degree from a proper theology department that looks at the history, philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, etc., of religion in a rigorous, scholarly way. I can’t imagine why anyone would be ashamed of having a theology degree per se – it’s a cool degree to have, especially for an atheist. I think the real point is that theology departments should not be mere seminaries … or if they insist on remaining so they should not be affiliated with universities. Unfortunately, there is some evidence that the particular halls at Oxford that Dawkins was criticising are, indeed, acting like glorified seminaries.

  117. #117 DrFrank
    October 2, 2007

    I four won agree with PZ and Ricard Dawkens!!!! I onely wish we coud half are own cuntry were evryone was as smart as us!!! Theologie is so stewped its jest like math witch is alsow a bunch of maid up logisticle stuff!!!
    May I express my amazement that Oscar Wilde saw fit to temporarily come back from the dead to rebut Dawkins’ argument.

  118. #118 bcpmoon
    October 2, 2007

    In Germany/Austria there is a discussion about introducing faculties for Islam besides the catholic/protestant. The reasoning (as mentioned in some comments already) is: To be a teacher for religion in school (you have to take courses in religion or opt out and take philosophy) you have to study theology on a university, which is state-owned or controlled, this way it is ensured that the public has some control about the education of the future teachers. Up til now there is no Religion, flavour islam, in schools and nobody wants to introduce courses with, say, saudi teachers, so you would need islamic faculties under the current system. Or you would have to abandon religious courses in school as well. Which would be better.

  119. #119 Russell Blackford
    October 2, 2007

    This is the danger of course. Universities should not contain seminaries, or anything analogous for Islam. But there’s currently a lot of pressure for them to do exactly that as part of the campaign to train moderate imams. I see the motivation, but I also see yet another move to undermine universities. Mind you, maybe it’s too late. We already have Catholic universities, fundamentalist Christian universities, and Poseidon knows what else. And we also have universities that contain police academies and every other possible kind of vocational training.

  120. #120 Zib
    October 2, 2007

    Blake @ #26: great post.

  121. #121 cc
    October 2, 2007

    In Sweden theology departments are non-religious and as far as I know only studies religions from the outside and does not involve themselves in any supernatural. So these days it is more of a synonym of “religion science” than what it used to mean. However a do believe there might be a handful of christian schools that has college status that uses the word in its old meaning, not sure though.

    So I was pretty surprised when I read this thread and found out that it was not like that everywhere.

  122. #122 Marcus Ranum
    October 2, 2007

    I’d love to have a theology degree from a proper theology department that looks at the history, philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, etc., of religion in a rigorous, scholarly way.

    Oh, you mean “anthropology”?

  123. #123 Marcus Ranum
    October 2, 2007

    I’d love to have a theology degree from a proper theology department that looks at the history, philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, etc., of religion in a rigorous, scholarly way.

    Oh, you mean “anthropology”?

  124. #124 Sven DiMilo
    October 2, 2007

    Steven (#98):
    Thanks a lot for that link [/sarcasm], from which I extract the following nugget of delicious nuttery for the amusement of others:

    As such, God is both “within” the process and “without” it. To put this in richly trinitarian terms: God, the Holy Spirit, is the perpetual invitation and lure of the creation to return to its source in the Father, yet never without the full–and suffering–implications of incarnate Sonship. Once we see the possibility of understanding the contingency of precultural evolution in this way, we need not–as so much science and religion “dialogue” has done in recent years–declare the evolutionary process as necessarily “deistically” distanced in some sense from God.2 Rather, I propose in contrast that God is “kenotically” infused (not by divine loss or withdrawal, but by effusive pouring out) into every causal joint of the creative process, yet precisely without overt derangement of apparent “randomness.”

    See? I wish we had Comic Sans tags…

  125. #125 Bunjo
    October 2, 2007

    What you really want is Science Departments in churches/temples/mosques/sacred glades (arguably the Vatican already does this).

    Where else are you likely to weights suspended by infinitely thin string over frictionless pulleys? Or where you could raise the dead and ask them questions about the experience? Or drive out devils into a bunch of pigs and then experiment on them?

    Of course if the Virtuous Lab experiments failed, you could just ask the omniscient Himself/Herself/Itself/Themselves for the answer…

  126. #126 irichc
    October 2, 2007

    There are very few atheist philosophers in the history of Western thought, and most of them are mediocre. I guess this is a good reason for keeping theology.

  127. #127 Bob
    October 2, 2007

    British universities have been busily closing chemistry departments in the past few years

    Wait… WHAT??!!?? How did this slip by? Why has there not been much public wailing and gnashing of teeth?? Britain, WTF?

    Hasn’t chemistry as a field of research mostly been subsumed under physics (where IMO it belongs)? Maintaining it as its own discipline is effectively keeping around a vestige of alchemy.

    Nothing against the chemists (I was one for a few semesters), but if their great unanswered questions are squarely in the field of physics, should we lament the passing of their departments? Or does Britain not see the need for teaching chemistry?

  128. #128 Russell Blackford
    October 2, 2007

    Not really, Marcus. Anthropologists are usually very constrained in what they are prepared to study. No anthropologist, for example, is going to consider whether or not the beliefs of some tribe are actually correct. They adopt a kind of professional relativism about such things.

    However, it’s becoming clear that there are various things that “theology” can mean in modern circumstances. What we’ve been told it means in Sweden is not what it evidently means in Oxford.

    I think that Dawkins has raised a good issue about how the history, sociology, psychologyy, philosophy, etc. of religion should be taught, in the sense of whether they should be scattered through a university or taught in something that could be called a department of religious studies or even a department of theology. The main thing is that they should not be taught at university level unless the attitude taken to them is secular and critical.

    But the trouble is, we seem to have reached a point, at least where I live, where big universities routinely do deals to gobble up things like police academies. I can see it being very difficult to argue that it’s okay for a university to train police officers but not to train priests and imams. I hope that Oxford is better placed to argue for a purer model of what a university is supposed to be.

  129. #129 MartinM
    October 2, 2007

    There are very few atheist philosophers in the history of Western thought, and most of them are mediocre. I guess this is a good reason for keeping theology.

    Even if there were no good atheist philosophers at all, that would be an argument against banning theists from studying philosophy, which no one has actually proposed doing. It wouldn’t say a damn thing about theology, which is not actually a fancy word for theists doing philosophy.

  130. #130 irichc
    October 2, 2007

    So, Martin, can you tell me the difference between theology and theistic philosophy?

  131. #131 "Q" the Enchanter
    October 2, 2007

    A lot of commenters here are unnecessarily confounding theology with philosophy of religion. There is some overlap, and there aren’t any orthodox descriptions, but I think it’s fair to say that by and large theology presupposes the existence of God, and purports to study his nature, whereas philosophy of religion is a threshold inquiry into whether God exists, and into the meaning and coherence of religious concepts generally, using the standard philosophical machinery (metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, moral philosophy, logic, etc.). On this reading of things, an atheist philosopher of religion isn’t a contradiction in terms, whereas (at least arguably) an atheist theologian would be. By way of example, Quentin Smith and Robin LePoidevin are two atheist philosophers of religion.

  132. #132 MartinM
    October 2, 2007

    So, Martin, can you tell me the difference between theology and theistic philosophy?

    Irrelevant, since neither term is synonymous with ‘philosophy done by theists.’

  133. #133 Rocky
    October 2, 2007

    Right. And we should also get rid of all sociology, psychology, economics and every other department that involves various aspects of human behavior. Are you people really this dense? Honestly. You behave towards religion the way homophobes behave towards gay men. Which leaves one thinking you’re trying to deal with some repressed phobias. I recommend you find a good therapist rather than bashing religion.

  134. #134 Russell Blackford
    October 2, 2007

    There are plenty of atheist philosophers of religion around. I have JJC Smart, Graham Oppy, and Nick Trakakis just in my own department. As for atheist philosophers in general … the comment that there haven’t been many good ones is obviously a joke.

  135. #135 irichc
    October 2, 2007

    Looks like being a theist philosopher is as “irrelevant” as being a gay philosopher. A matter of taste. Then, theism has nothing to do with philosophy. Am I following you here?

    By the way, I think I’ve seen this “A” before:

    http://www.avierecords.com/

  136. #136 Matt K
    October 2, 2007

    My school had an ‘Alchemy and Magic’ class. It was a very interesting class that I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course, I didn’t walk away from it with the idea that I could curse people or create a love potion… after all, I never could get the wand motions right and some of those ingredients are pricey…
    - Matt K

  137. #137 Tulse
    October 2, 2007

    I wish we had Comic Sans tags…

    You could use the formatting that PZ has set up, by surrounding the appropriate text in the “creationist” span tag — like this:

    <span class=”creationist”>the “creationist” span tag</span>

    which nicely gives statements like

    I propose in contrast that God is “kenotically” infused (not by divine loss or withdrawal, but by effusive pouring out) into every causal joint of the creative process, yet precisely without overt derangement of apparent “randomness.”

    the dignity it deserves.

  138. #138 Tulse
    October 2, 2007

    Or then again not — it appears that the posting engine eats custom span tags. Alas.

  139. #139 SteveM
    October 2, 2007

    Right. And we should also get rid of all sociology, psychology, economics and every other department that involves various aspects of human behavior. Are you people really this dense?

    You are completely missing the point. The Theology that Dawkins and Myers advocate abolishing is not the study of an aspect of human behavior. It is the study of God himself. Exactly how do you study God apart from it being an aspect of human behavior? And as such, doesn’t it therefore fall under the subject of psychology, anthropology, ethics, etc.? Study of the Bible is properly an aspect of literature and history, not the study of “the word of God” since there is no evidence of it being anything but the work of man.

  140. #140 Gray Lensman
    October 2, 2007

    I live a few blocks from The Iliff School of Theology which is part of the University of Denver. Here is a list of “abouts” from their web site.
    About Iliff

    * Iliff was founded in 1892 to ensure the academic integrity of clergy in the Western United States.
    * Iliff is one of thirteen United Methodist seminaries in the United States.
    * The Iliff students, faculty, and staff come from a diversity of faith traditions.
    * Average enrollment is between 300 and 350 students; approximately 60% are women, and 40% are men. Class sizes range from 5 to 50 students.
    * Iliff offers four Masters degree programs, a Doctor of Ministry program, and a joint Ph.D. program with the University of Denver.
    * Iliff faculty members are on the vanguard of many professional organizations, including the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Pastoral Counseling and the American Academy of Homiletics.
    * The Bacon Education Center houses the Ira J. Taylor Library which contains more than 205,800 volumes.
    * The Iliff campus adjoins that of the University of Denver in lovely University Park, just minutes from downtown Denver.
    * The Veterans of Hope Project, a multifaceted educational initiative on religion, culture and participatory democracy, produces educational materials, workshops and programming designed to support reconciliation, nonviolence and an appreciation of indigenous folk wisdom for contemporary times.

  141. #141 Jon H
    October 2, 2007

    Patrick wrote: “Yes, but their inner workings are as ineffable as those of any deity.”

    Surely they’re more of a demonic power?

  142. #142 CalGeorge
    October 2, 2007

    How about converting them into Departments of Atheology?

    A·the·ol·o·gy (th?-?l’?-j?)
    n., pl. -gies.
    1. The study of the nature of fantasy Gods and religious bullshit; rational inquiry into religious bullshit.
    2. A system or school of opinions concerning God intoxication and religious bullshit: Protestant atheology; Jewish atheology.
    3. A course of specialized religious bullshit study.

  143. #143 SEF
    October 2, 2007

    it appears that the posting engine eats custom span tags.

    But not all tags.

  144. #144 Rey Fox
    October 2, 2007

    Right. And we should also get rid of all sociology, psychology, economics and every other department that involves various aspects of human behavior.

    You don’t read much, do you?

    Dawkins:
    “history, linguistics, literature, ecclesiastical art and music, archaeology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, iconology…These academics would be welcomed into appropriate departments elsewhere in the university.”

    Myers:
    “and history, philosophy, literature, etc., all have considerably more respectability.”

    You behave towards religion the way homophobes behave towards gay men.

    Note the crucial difference between hostility towards an idea (or a system of ideas) and hostility towards people.

    I recommend you find a good therapist rather than bashing religion.

    But bashing religion is our therapy.

  145. #145 WuffenCuckoo
    October 2, 2007

    Realistically, there is no hope of eliminating divinity schools. However, if it were mandated that every divinity school had to have a Professor of Pure and Applied Scepticism, and that taking his/her courses was a prerequisite for getting a degree, most would wither on the vine within a few years.

  146. #146 David Marjanovi?
    October 2, 2007

    But bashing religion is our therapy.

    LOL! You get a Molly nomination!

    And when I’m already commenting, I’ll test if the span tag really gets deleted:

    bla bla bla bla bla

  147. #147 David Marjanovi?
    October 2, 2007

    But bashing religion is our therapy.

    LOL! You get a Molly nomination!

    And when I’m already commenting, I’ll test if the span tag really gets deleted:

    bla bla bla bla bla

  148. #148 David Marjanovi?
    October 2, 2007

    Of course it doesn’t when it’s incomplete…

    bla bla bla bla bla

  149. #149 David Marjanovi?
    October 2, 2007

    Of course it doesn’t when it’s incomplete…

    bla bla bla bla bla

  150. #150 Bill Dauphin
    October 2, 2007

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, so forgive me if I’m repeating someone else’s point, but this question brought me up short:

    Do artists, musicians, and literature folks pretend to make claims about reality?

    Well, of course they do! But they’re making interpretive, synthetic “claims” about the reality they observe around them, not prescriptive claims based on a “reality” nobody can observe. So…

    Do they pretend to know things they don’t know?

    …no, not really. Artists (a term that includes “musicians and literature folks”) interpret the human condition, which undeniably exists, and the academics in these areas study the arts, which equally undeniably exist; theologians study the nature of God, who arguably does not exist and whose existence in any case cannot be demonstrated.

    When somebody can establish that neither literature itself nor its subjects exist, then I’ll support dissolution of Literature departments; until then, comparisons between Literature and Theology departments miss the point: It’s not about the worthiness of a field of study; it’s about whether there’s anything there to study in the first place.

  151. #151 David Marjanovi?
    October 2, 2007

    Oh. It gets deleted. Even when it’s incomplete.

    Too bad.

  152. #152 David Marjanovi?
    October 2, 2007

    Oh. It gets deleted. Even when it’s incomplete.

    Too bad.

  153. #153 irichc
    October 2, 2007

    “history, linguistics, literature, ecclesiastical art and music, archaeology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, iconology…These academics would be welcomed into appropriate departments elsewhere in the university.”

    Dawkins is assuming that the objects of this alleged sciences are knowable, but I don’t think so. On history: Can we know the past or is rather something subject to opinion, just as the debate between theists and atheists is? On anthropology: Can we know “the man” or we are only able to project our prejudices to an imaginary archetype? On art: Is it something different from natural creations? Etc.

    Note the crucial difference between hostility towards an idea (or a system of ideas) and hostility towards people.

    Being gay -and not just homosexual- is a matter of ideology. So, it involves ideas.

  154. #154 thalarctos
    October 2, 2007

    A troll with intelligence enough to display a rudimentary level of irony. Never saw that coming…

    Easy enough: the comments section of Pharyngula is a specialized niche, with concomitant selection pressures, and the trolls are simply evolving.

  155. #155 irichc
    October 2, 2007

    When somebody can establish that neither literature itself nor its subjects exist, then I’ll support dissolution of Literature departments; until then, comparisons between Literature and Theology departments miss the point: It’s not about the worthiness of a field of study; it’s about whether there’s anything there to study in the first place.

    If language and mathematics “exist”, then God exists too as a logical or cultural product that deserves to be studied.

  156. #156 Great White Wonder
    October 2, 2007

    God exists too as a logical or cultural product

    You mean “waste product.”

  157. #157 irichc
    October 2, 2007

    I wouldn’t call Saint Augustine or Leibniz a waste.

  158. #158 Bill Dauphin
    October 2, 2007

    irichc:

    If language and mathematics “exist”, then God exists too as a logical or cultural product that deserves to be studied.

    AFAIK, nobody in this thread has argued against studying God as a “cultural product,” but your comment is an example of the sort of conflation that seems to be persisting in this thread. Several folks have pointed out that there’s a difference between studying the human phenomenon of religious belief (which clearly exists… that “cultural product” you mention) and studying the nature of God (who probably doesn’t exist, except as the previously mentioned “cultural product”?). The former study is meaningful as a subdiscipline of anthropology, literature, history, philosophy, etc., even presuming God does not exist, but the latter is meaningless in that case.

    I presume nobody here believes Zeus exists, and that all of us would condemn a university that had an entire department devoted to studying the nature and mind of Zeus… but that doesn’t mean any of us objects to teaching Greek mythology as part of human history and culture. I don’t know why it should be, but this distinction has proved somewhat slippery so far in this thread.

    Being gay -and not just homosexual- is a matter of ideology.

    Hmmm… in my English language (as someone else said), “gay” and “homosexual” are essentially synonymous in common usage, but I think I understand the distinction you’re trying to get at: The notion of a system of ideas and beliefs that are common (and particular) to homosexuals, as opposed to the simple fact of homosexuality itself. I’m not sure I agree that there’s a “gay ideology” (sounds dangerously close to the notion of a “homosexual agenda” that right-wingers pound on about), but if we stipulate your distinction for the sake of argument, it’s vaguely similar to the distinct you don’t seem able to make between theology and the study of cultural religion.

  159. #159 Middle.Professor
    October 2, 2007

    Sarah Coakley is the author of the elegantly argued and beautifully lucid “God and Evolution: A New Solution” (link above). I was surprised to find this on her web page…

    From 2005 to 2008 she [Sarah Coakley] is co-directing (with Martin Nowak, Center of Evolutionary Dynamics) a new $2 million research project (“The Theology of Cooperation”) on theology, evolutionary biology, and game theory, also funded by the Templeton Foundation.

  160. #160 Owlmirror
    October 2, 2007

    (Re: the “creationist” class tag)

    Hm. Isn’t it a subclass of the blockquote (<blockquote class=”creationist”>)? Let’s see what this does:

    If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? There might be evidence for MICRO-evolution, but there’s no evidence for MACRO-evolution. Specified complexity and irreducible complexity means that species are created only by the Almighty GOD! If mammals evolved from fish, why are there still fish? Since dogs don’t give birth to cats, evolution must be false. How can random chance have made all of these wonderful animals that God put here for our enjoyment? How can random chance have made something as complex and wonderful as an eye? IF YOU DOUBT THAT GOD MADE ADAM, WHY ARE THERE PYGMIES+DWARFS? You’re going to burn for all eternity in hellfire, athiest, but I’ll pray for you anyway.

    And I think you get gumbys for free.

  161. #161 Owlmirror
    October 2, 2007

    Bugger.

  162. #162 SEF
    October 2, 2007

    Another test (using p) … and i

    Getting back to the topic of silly degrees: unfortunately, far from disbanding theology departments, the UK (under the malign Labour leadership) has been starting up lots of new silly subjects (such as homeopathy) and disposing of science places at universities – while persuading more (and more unsuitable) students to go to more locations (many of them pseudo-universities which used to be polytechnics) and incur massive debts instead of getting apprenticeships and getting paid to learn.

  163. #163 Owlmirror
    October 2, 2007

    OK, so does this work:

    If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? There might be evidence for MICRO-evolution, but there’s no evidence for MACRO-evolution. Specified complexity and irreducible complexity means that species are created only by the Almighty GOD! If mammals evolved from fish, why are there still fish? Since dogs don’t give birth to cats, evolution must be false. How can random chance have made all of these wonderful animals that God put here for our enjoyment? How can random chance have made something as complex and wonderful as an eye? IF YOU DOUBT THAT GOD MADE ADAM, WHY ARE THERE PYGMIES+DWARFS? You’re going to burn for all eternity in hellfire, athiest, but I’ll pray for you anyway.

    And there are NO transitional fossils!!!1!!eleven!

  164. #164 Owlmirror
    October 2, 2007

    Conclusion: We might not have class, but we sure do have style.

    Heh.

  165. #165 Sven DiMilo
    October 2, 2007

    Nicely done! Gonna share the secret with the rest of us? Pleeeeze?

  166. #166 Owlmirror
    October 2, 2007

    Secret? There is no secret. This is HTML; it’s all visible. You just have to know where to look. In this case, in the custom stylesheet for pharyngula. And then it’s just copy-and-paste.

    <blockquote style=’background: url(http://pharyngula.org/images/creationist_idiot.gif) 0 0 no-repeat; font-family: “Comic Sans MS”;’>

    Yes, it’s longer and uglier than a simple class would be. But scienceblogs says: “YOU NO CAN HAS CLASS.
    class<-Not yours.”

  167. #167 Tulse
    October 2, 2007

    It’s bizarre to me that SciBlogs would filter out custom classes, but allow arbitrary CSS styles in their comments. What the heck is the point?

  168. #168 Sven DiMilo
    October 2, 2007

    Ah. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?
    (A: because I don’t know from html…I’m pretty proud of myself when I italicize something, and that comment above was my very first successful use of the blockquote tag.
    But I do know about some other stuff! Really!)

  169. #169 octopod
    October 2, 2007

    I wouldn’t call Saint Augustine or Leibniz a waste.

    Leibniz? No, but he was wasting his time for sure on the theology stuff. Saint Augustine? Are you kidding? A guy with a brain like that could have turned out something incredibly interesting if he’d devoted his life to exploring the implications of something that, y’know, actually existed in any meaningful sense. Totally a waste.

  170. #170 irichc
    October 2, 2007

    Bill, theology is a part of philosophy since Plato developed it. But in the next centuries its study spread so much that nowadays we could state that philosophy had a second birth, and it was a theological one. Thus, in XVIIth century philosophers polemized on the nature of the soul, free will or the existence of miracles. By studying them we are already studying theology.

  171. #171 Adam Kotsko
    October 2, 2007

    This post is idiocy.

  172. #172 Bill Dauphin
    October 2, 2007

    Thus, in XVIIth century philosophers polemized on the nature of the soul, free will or the existence of miracles. By studying them we are already studying theology.

    No, by studying them we are studying XVIIth century philosophers. By your logic, every student of Newtonian mechanics is a student of alchemy, since Newton was an ardent alchemist.

    I’m not particularly hung up on the terminology you use, but I maintain there’s a real difference between studying what people think/say/write/sing/do about God and studying God. If we start from the premise that people exist and God does not, we can only conclude that the former study is useful and the latter is not. QED.

  173. #173 Azkyroth
    October 2, 2007

    There are very few atheist philosophers in the history of Western thought, and most of them are mediocre. I guess this is a good reason for keeping theology.

    1) there are more than you think; 2) some of them are actually quite good; 3) you may have noticed that the majority of good philosophers prior to scientific discoveries really discrediting the cosmological argument have, in most ages, been deits, and 4) you don’t suppose the fact that you haven’t heard of more atheist philosophers and been told that they were good might have been related to society’s millenia-old habit of burning admitted atheists’ writings, and often the atheists themselves?

  174. #174 Azkyroth
    October 2, 2007

    Right. And we should also get rid of all sociology, psychology, economics and every other department that involves various aspects of human behavior.

    If theologists would admit that they’re only studying human behavior, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  175. #175 liberal atheist
    October 2, 2007

    Akzyroth is write!!! Criscofashists berned voletair, diderowe and Hughm at the steak for being atheists!!! They where so smart their my hearoes!!!

  176. #176 Azkyroth
    October 2, 2007

    All of whom were deist-variants, so far as I’m aware. Additionally, the fact that the bloodthirsty theocrats missed an atheist here and there does not imply that they made no effort to eradicate atheism.

  177. #177 SEK
    October 2, 2007

    “Idiocy” may be too strong a word, but it’s certainly disingenuous. As I responded to Adam’s complaint elsewhere:

    I think PZ’s confusing the issue here: in the US, religious studies departments at public universities shouldn’t be an issue, and theology departments at private universities shouldn’t be either. I may be confusing my categories, and if so, feel free to correct me: theology’s studied in religious studies programs and practiced in divinity schools, right? That seems right to me: I wouldn’t want someone to set up a yeshiva in a public university, since it’s not the government’s responsibility to make more rabbis. But it’s perfectly sensible to have people study the work and thought of people trained at yeshivot in public institutions, since it’s of public concern.

    The problem is that there’s a Church of England. With an official church, the claim that state shouldn’t train people to serve in the official, state-sanctioned church is disingenuous. The study of and training in theology should take place under the same roof. The same doesn’t apply to American universities, however.

  178. #178 octopod
    October 2, 2007

    Dude, are you saying Hume was no good? Them’s fightin’ words!

  179. #179 dzd
    October 2, 2007

    Personally, I’d like to see Calvinball endorsed as a sport by the NCAA.

  180. #180 Paul Crowley
    October 2, 2007

    If you’re curious, as I was, about what theologists really do all day, here’s a free sample issue of a theological journal from a respectable publisher:

    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/toc/ijst/9/1

  181. #181 Ferin
    October 2, 2007

    Seems like a silly idea to me. Religion, whether you like it or not, is a big part of human culture. Theology departments study not only the doctrine and faith of religion, but it’s history, it’s influence on events, and the people involved in it. Tossing aside such studies would be a terrible waste.

  182. #182 cureholder
    October 2, 2007

    After earning an undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees in Political Science and teaching it for several years, I came to the same conclusion about that so-called “discipline.” Political Science departments everywhere could be abolished, as everything they do is simply a poor imitation of history, economics, pre-law, psychology, sociology and civics.

    I also have an undergraduate degree in biblical studies, and “amen” (so to speak) to the idea of abolishing theology departments. If you want to expound on fantastical tales of mythical worlds and get paid for it, become a children’s book author or something.

  183. #183 Azkyroth
    October 2, 2007

    Theology departments study not only the doctrine and faith of religion, but it’s history, it’s influence on events, and the people involved in it. Tossing aside such studies would be a terrible waste.

    -Ferin

    *sigh* from the original article…

    Of course, university departments of theology house many excellent scholars of history, linguistics, literature, ecclesiastical art and music, archaeology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, iconology, and other worthwhile and important subjects. These academics would be welcomed into appropriate departments elsewhere in the university.

    -Richard Dawkins

    So many of you seem to have missed this point. Would it really kill you to actually READ the things you’re responding to? (And if so, why not get it over with and be in heaven that much sooner?)

  184. #184 Don Smith, FCD
    October 3, 2007

    Thanks, PZ! That gave me a great laugh!

    I had never considered it before but that does make perfect sense.

  185. #185 irichc
    October 3, 2007

    I maintain there’s a real difference between studying what people think/say/write/sing/do about God and studying God.

    For us God is nothing but what people express about him. There is no concept beyong language, and there is no language beyond society. Therefore, we don’t have to study God by himself: it’s enough if we know how reason approachs God. Every science has a method and a specific terminology that deals with its particular object.

  186. #186 irichc
    October 3, 2007

    All of whom were deist-variants, so far as I’m aware. Additionally, the fact that the bloodthirsty theocrats missed an atheist here and there does not imply that they made no effort to eradicate atheism.

    Can you give me the names of the atheist philosophers burned by Christian States? Or maybe they were burned in secret? If I’m not wrong, there are only three well-known cases of philosophers killed with this method (or similar ones) in the modern age: Servet, Giordano Bruno and Vanini. Any of them was an atheist.

  187. #187 irichc
    October 3, 2007

    And their writings remain, by the way.

  188. #188 Ichthyic
    October 4, 2007

    I recommend you find a good therapist rather than bashing religion.

    actually, a good therapist would ask a theist how they are dealing with their cognitive dissonance.

    the atheist would be entirely boring to a good therapist.

  189. #189 Fatpie42@yahoo.com
    October 4, 2007

    I took a degree in philosophy and, because I wanted to study the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche (to my mind, one of the greatest atheistic writers) and his contemporaries, I found it necessary to take a masters in Philosophical Theology (in the Theology department). My own philosophy department had very little interest in continental thinkers.

    However, it wasn’t only continental thought I was interested in. I was interested in studying the way that religious thought has developed so that in some cases the distinction between and atheist and theist feels somewhat blurred. For my dissertation I was introduced to a variety of odd characters such as Don Cupitt (Non-realist and founder of ‘the sea of faith’ movement), Thomas Altizer (Christian Atheist), D.Z. Phillips (Welsh Christian Philosopher of Religion who considers life after death and miracles to be superstitious), Rudolf Bultmann (New Testament scholar, pioneer in Hermeneutics- the study of issues of interpretation, who considers much of the New Testament to be ‘mythological’), and Grace Jantzen (Feminist Theologian).

    I’m not sure that your average philosophy department would cater for the studies I was looking into. Your average philosopher (in my university at least) would either have considered the issue unworthy of attention, or deeply uncomfortable. It is in a theology department where matters like these are dealt with properly.

  190. #190 Arnosium Upinarum
    October 5, 2007

    irichc, #174 says, “For us God is nothing but what people express about him. There is no concept beyong language, and there is no language beyond society. Therefore, we don’t have to study God by himself: it’s enough if we know how reason approachs God.” [sic]

    Hey, that just about says it all, doesn’t it?

    So, let’s see if we’ve got all of this straight:

    You “KNOW” how “REASON” may be applied to an object concept totally defined by heresay expressions of “LANGUAGE” which “THEREFORE” absolves you of having to demonstrate the existence of the object ITSELF, BECAUSE you “KNOW” how “REASON APPROACHES” said conceptual object defined by EXPRESSIONS of LANGUAGE….

    etc.

    By gollygosh, but you’re a deep one. I am circularly over-awed. Truly.

    No, wait. Ahhhh…NOW I get it! It actually all makes some perverse sense now: believers who don’t get it can claim that non-believers don’t get it and STILL get the superior feeling that they’re groking what non-believers can’t. You know, that its ungrokable.

    Every believer content with not getting it may all nod knowingly now. Hey, how could we tell that you knew that you didn’t know, or didn’t know what you knew, or didn’t know what you don’t know, or knew all along that we didn’t know…and so on? The level of humility is obviously quite advanced. Maybe even approaching god-like. One must reassess this…

    NAH. Its all just old news to us grokingly-impaired types. I guess we just happen to suffer from an inability to assimilate blinding expressions of conceptualized divinity. I sure hope I’ve gotten the LANGUAGE right.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.