Application of Black Swan to Theology

Here are two theological blogs grooving on the “skeptical empiricism” championed in The Black Swan.

via The Presbeterian Polis: Theory-based or Experienced based

“Does this mean that all theology is wrong-headed. No. It simply
means that theoretical systems are idealistic human creations that seek
to create a coherent perspective based on a selection of ideas from
Scripture and the history of the church.

“If you look at the conflicts that afflict us, at the heart of them
are claims of truth that start as an idea in search of scriptural
justification and end up as a tyranny upon unsuspecting people.

“If all this seems far fetched, I encourage you to read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan where
he addresses this topic in a very different context.  I’m convinced
that he is right.  His perspective is a great challenge to all those
for whom the church is some idealized image derived from the Scripture.
The reality is life is messy, and it is far more dependent upon God’s
grace and our daily receptivity of it than any preacher can imagine or
express.  And I would not have it any other way.”

And Pastor Rod asked: “So what do you
think? Do you see similar danger in overly rigid theological systems?
Do you epistemological arrogance as a more serious problem than
epistemological humility?”

Good question. My problem with Theology (and other theories and beliefs that are not supported with data and experiential knowledge) is that it starts from grand abstract assertions (i.e. existence of God) and then looks for logical proofs as confirmations of axioms. It’s exclusively a top-down approach. Historically,  “applications” of skewed theological constructs (i.e. the Holy Trinity, purgatory, proofs of God) dumbed down the masses, justified holy wars, all the while deifying the powerful bishops and kings.

In short, Theology falls for the traps of confirmation bias, silent evidence, narrative fallacy and ludic fallacy.

But Theology is not all bad. It’s good exercise as far as philosophy and logic go. Similar to philosophy, it could generate insights into the mystery of one’s existence. The problem is when these insights are conflated, used as conceptual social models and believed (and taught) as literal “truths.” Theology, without practice and empiricism, is only storytelling. Some are good stories that teach us wisdom. But most are just pure bunk. Most theologians and priests are simply too arrogant to utter the phrase, “I don’t know.” They replace it with “only God knows” and gullible people fall for it.

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Comment (1)

  1. “My problem with Theology is that it starts from grand abstract assertions (i.e. existence of God) and then looks for logical proofs as confirmations of axioms. It’s exclusively a top-down approach.”

    Well put. Another way to look at it is that it seldom examines its own most fundamental assumptions, like the existence of God. A little strange to elaborate a whole “ology” when the object of study isn’t known to exist!

    But I also agree it isn’t all bad by any means. My favorite theologians stick close to lived experience rather than going out on long metaphysical limbs and thereby can have real wisdom to offer.

    Sunday, March 9, 2008 at 8:24 am #