Third Reflection

We began with the aim of developing a theology based on, and harmonious with, current scientific knowledge. We went outside the bounds of science only in our assumption of monism (which we used to define God, a central entity in any theology) and our working hypothesis that a human may directly experience God. We call our theology SaNT theology.

So what can we say about SaNT theology? What virtues and shortcomings does it possess? How does it compare with other theologies?

SaNT theology (we hope) surpasses other theologies in its single-minded devotion to truth, in consciously grounding itself in our best current knowledge of the world, and in its rejection of wishful thinking and emotional-motivated dogma. We consider these traits virtues.

SaNT theology claims no divine, unchangeable revelation or dogma. It therefore has the freedom to adapt itself to a changing world and grow as we discover new knowledge, traits that we regard as virtues. But those traits imply it does not embody eternal, unchangeable truths, and may sometimes need to modify or jettison old views, which some people may regard as a shortcoming.

SaNT theology regards humanity as but one of innumerable life forms in the universe. It does not grant humanity a special status, or posit some wonderful destiny for the individual, and it even denies the existence of an unchanging personal identity. In short, it paints an uncongenial theological landscape that does not conform to our wishes or our needs, and, moreover, makes no effort to do so. These traits many, perhaps most, people could regard as a shortcoming, even a fatal shortcoming.

Prehistory humanity sometimes found itself in an uncongenial physical landscape, threatened by food shortages and extremes of weather, wild animals and other tribes. It could imagine a paradise, where such threats didn't exist. But only by frankly facing the threats and squarely facing the real world did it eventually construct the world we live in, a world tuned for human survival and comfort.

Can we do something similar with SaNT theology? No, because we cannot change reality. But we might with SaNT religion. We elaborate.

Earlier we defined natural theology and described two types: unbiased and biased. But we didn't define theology itself or describe how it differs from religion. We'll do that now: we regard theology as the study of ultimate reality. Theology addresses the questions "what ultimately exists" and "what do we know about it?" (The questions reduce to "what do we know about God?" for a theology that assumes God's existence.) Of course, the sciences investigate reality, too; nuclear physics and cosmology, perhaps, come closest to studying ultimate reality. But theology (for us) explicitly takes ultimate reality as its field of study. Thus in our discussion of science as natural theology we discussed the ultimate ground of existence, the ultimate origin of this universe, etc.

How does religion differ from theology? We regard religion as addressing how the ultimately real impacts the human condition. In other words, religion begins with theological statements and answers the question "so what?" Thus, religion addresses questions such as "how should the ultimately real impact my life?" and "how may I live my life in harmony with it? as well as questions of morality and ethics.

So we did theology when we discussed the history of the universe since the big bang, but when we mentioned the "pinnacle of creation" view of humanity we mentioned not a theological but a religious doctrine. Similarly, when we concluded that "the universe would not miss us if we and the Earth somehow vanished" we drew out implications of reality for humanity, and thus made a statement of religion, not theology.

Thus, we cannot modify theology to conform to our needs and desires because we cannot change ontological reality. But perhaps we can adapt to that reality just as we adapted to our physical environment.

Of course, the huge complexity of the human condition makes it unlikely that any book or series of books, by one author or a team of authors, could comprehensively address all the implications of the ultimately real to the human condition. We can do little more than offer a few thoughts, a few tentative ideas.

So, we reach the end of Science as Natural Theology. We hope in the future to write a book of thoughts on the subject of SaNT religion, a book with a title something like First Steps toward a SaNT Religion. Of course, anyone who digests the material in this book might write an equally valid, or even superior book.