Newman: Why Some Scientists dismiss Theology

In Discourse 9 of his Idea of a University Newman continues expounding on the antagonism of science towards theology: “Niebuhr may revolutionize history, Lavoisier chemistry, Newton astronomy; but God Himself is the author as well as the subject of theology. When Truth can change, its Revelation can change; when human reason can outreason the Omniscient, then may it supersede His work.” For scientists the starting points of any research are material things perceived by the senses, and the method they use is the experimental method. Mathemathics is an exception which they allow, but they are suspicious of any research not based on experiments.

He comments: “”Metaphysics” they even use as a by-word of reproach; and Ethics they admit only on condition that it gives up conscience as its scientific ground, and bases itself on tangible utility: but as to Theology, they cannot deal with it, they cannot master it, and so they simply outlaw it and ignore it.”

According to Newman, some scientists think that Catholicism constrains the intellect and lays limits on what it can do or say. And since the Protestant communities are close at their doors they are influenced by their manner of studying truths. They take Scripture as a collection of data to which the process of induction is applied to reach religious conclusions. For them articles of faith are “probable conclusions” which are tentative until better conclusions are reached.

Next Newman explains that the Natural Theology which Physical scientists can perceives speaks only of the power, wisdom and goodness of material creation and animals. It cannot speak of the moral evil introduced into the world after its creation nor of the economy of redemption and God’s mercy. Lord Bacon himself makes it clear that Sacred Theology must arise from what God has spoken rather than from the light of nature or the dictates of reason. The Anglican Bishop Butler showed the perfect harmony between Revelation and the teaching of the natural world, but in Newman’s scientific age (and in our own), Natural Theology is tantamount to a Unitarian creed, a rejection of mystery and skepticism of miracles.

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