I've spent some time lately thinking about the differences between theology and the scientific process. In particular, I've been questioning why my views on theology have changed considerably over the years. While evangelism is religion's marketing department, principled theology seems much closer to the rigor and discipline of scientific inquiry. At least on the surface, beliefs are evaluated with a lot more ruthlessness than one experiences in a casual gathering of like-minded religious believers.
I often complain that people have no stomach for nuance and complexity when looking at economics, or technology, or politics, or international relations, or history, or any number of different important subjects. Why, then, do I read something like this discussion and feel like I'm listening to an argument about Superman fighting Batman? If explaining global warming requires complex and counter-intuitive twists and turns, why shouldn't the nature of sin and divine providence?
The kind of scientific complexity that I'm talking about comes from a simple source. You compare your theory to observable reality, and see if it measures up. In particular, you see if your theory can be used to make accurate predictions about how things will work in the future. The willingness to change the theory when it doesn't measure up to reality is really at the heart of the process. As Isaac Asimov once said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but rather 'hmm... that's funny...'"
Theology -- and I'm using this loosely, by admission -- is about carefully refining something that can only be tested against itself. Inside of the Christian tradition, there's plenty of discussion about whether particular beliefs measure up to what's written in the Bible, or whether they fit with the rest of Church tradition, or whether they are internally consistent. But there is no external point of comparison, no lighthouse that exists outside the ocean of theory. Like the twists and turns of a long-running TV show's canon, the complexity that emerges in theology is there simply to keep it internally consistent.
It's perfectly possible that I'm changing the rules as I go, inventing a post-hoc rationale for dismissing the complexities of Christian theology while nodding thoughtfully at ideas I like. After a lot of consideration, though, I think that the difference is a genuine one.