Theology and Science – Part 1
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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Theology & Science (Part 1)
This blog series will cover my final exam for my recent Theology & Science class. Here is the first question and part one of my answer.
Write an essay explaining (A) what hermeneutics is about, (B) what hermeneutics has to do with theology and science, and (C) why hermeneutics was important for the topic of this course (give examples).
A) I have borrowed my definition of hermeneutics from Grant R. Osbourne in his work, The Hermeneutical Spiral (pg. 5) as the art and science of interpretation. I like both sides of this definition. Hermeneutics is about precision in communication and this is where the science comes in. There are rules to be followed in interpretation. Not just anything will go. “I love dogs.” cannot be interpreted as “The weather is cold today.” There may be a range of interpretation but there remains the ability to go outside of the range to a place where the interpretation is wrong. For example, when a communicator wants to exaggerate and intends to use hyperbole, it should only be interpreted as such. If the intention is to go over the top to make a point, the interpreter is obligated to read (not necessarily just text) the communication as hyperbole.
However, there is a certain art to hermeneutics, as well. Typically we don’t have the time to clarify every intention, and often we don’t have the communicator present to ask for clarification. But, original intention has to be at least a part of our hermeneutic. Some people recognize figures of speech more easily than others. This is also where the art comes in. The kind of art I’m thinking about here isn’t some sort of “born to do art, gifted directly by God” kind. Becoming someone who excels at art takes practice, even from those it comes most naturally to. Hermeneutics also takes practice. The good news is that we do hermeneutics every day. We’re constantly interpreting communication. However, those who get really good at it tend to be those who reflect on it and study it.
Reynhout has used a slightly different definition which serves to enhance the one I typically use. He says that interpretation is “the dialectical process of understanding through explanation” (Reynhout, xv). Reynhout’s focus figure, Paul Ricoeur, agrees with the idea that all interpretations are not equal (Reynhout, 73). The fact that there are arguments about the correct interpretation shows they are not all equal. If hermeneutics was only a science or only an art, then the case could be made that all interpretations are equal. But that is not the case. For him, we go back and forth in a dialectical way from understanding and explanation. I liken this to Kierkegaard’s idea of going back and forth from epistemology to hermeneutics.
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