Freedom, Necessity, and the Love of God: Schleiermacher on Creation
When theologians tell the story of modern theology, Friedrich Schleiermacher is almost always cast as the villain. He is customarily portrayed as a sort of arch-accommodationist, a theologian who all-too-willingly revises Christian commitments so as to render them acceptable by the lights of science. As it happens, however, the customary portrayal of Schleiermacher is wrong, and his actual approach to science turns out to be much more robustly theological—and, I think, more interesting—than is usually recognized. In this chapter I argue that Schleiermacher defends a distinctively theological diagnosis of characteristically modern, science-induced anxieties about the possibility of freedom in a mechanistic world governed by the laws of nature. I conclude by arguing that there are several interesting insights we might glean from Schleiermacher’s approach, the most important of which is (what I would term) his practical doctrine of creation, that is, his emphasis on the sort of practices and dispositions one would have to cultivate such that one could treat the world—including oneself—as God’s good creation. This approach, in turn, opens up a different way of thinking about the practice of natural science, a way that, at least to my unscientific ears, sounds promising.