Computational Theology – made up name!

Reading this eWeek article on Sun’s desire to support dynamic languages better on the JVM (via lambda) I was struck by the following sentence:

Gilad Bracha, a computational theologist at Sun delivered a presentation called “Dynamically Typed Languages on the Java Platform” at the Lang.NET 2006 Symposium here on August 1, and said Sun plans to broaden its support for dynamic or scripting languages.

Exqueeze me? Computational Theologist?

Perhaps, I mused, this had something to do with computing The Nine Billions Names of God (not something I’d use Java for, I think). Or maybe some other scripture-related buffoonery such as finding predictions of Lady Diana’s death in Moby Dick… So I googled for it.

Nope, turns out it’s something Gilad Bracha made up because the task of interpreting natural language specifications of languages and virtual machines reminded him of Talmudic scripture interpretation.

Oh, how I laughed. It is, from one point of view, a beautifully subversive move on Brachca’s part – perhaps a first step in decoupling the word theology from anything to do with God or gods, which is bound to annoy existing theologians and is thus worthwhile. Also, I can completely see what he means in that most natural language specifications I’ve seen are full of ambiguities, irreconcilable contradictions, and just bad thinking. I leave the reader to close the loop on this analogy.

On the other hand, I’m cautious about welcoming the use of the word, and its associations, anywhere near computer science. If science and reason free us from having to use religious dogma to explain the world, and if mathematics is the language of science, and if computer science is simply one form of mathematics – all of which I believe – then religious tools and terminology are a poor fit to the domain, if you ask me.

By the way, I’m not saying in the previous paragraph that I believe science makes religion completely unnecessary, or proves it to be hogwash. I don’t believe that for one moment – although some people do, and you can say what you like about science being their religion. I believe the rational worldview and the religious one are two orthogonal ways of looking at the world. Anything we can explain or deduce with science, religion has nothing to say about; for me, religion lives in the gaps between the theorems, in the undecidable propositions, in the time between the end of this universe and the start of the next, in the unknowable, in the sublime.

One Response to “Computational Theology – made up name!”

  1. August 5th, 2006 | 3:36 pm

    Great, now I’m going to have to waste a couple of hours reading this list of ologies and prefixing them with “Computational ” to see if they have any mileage. Ho hum.