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Judging the Fit Between Data and Reality

Any realist view - in science or theology - any view which holds that our theories in some way connect with the-way-things-really-are, and especially a critical realism (see critical realism in science and religion), must develop criteria for judging the fit between the data generated within the theory, on the one hand, and reality on the other.

Although it is unclear how we could be sure whether we had arrived at the best fit between scientific data and reality, the following criteria are widely agreed to constitute pointers to such a fit. They are:

  • the comprehensiveness of the theory in taking account of all known data deemed relevant;

  • the consistency of the theory - being devoid of internal contradictions;

  • the compactness of the theory - its economy in not doing ‘with more what can be done with fewer’ a principle known as Ockham’s razor.

These three can be seen as interrelated aspects of a ‘coherence-based’ approach to the assessment of truth.See God, Humanity and the Cosmos, p81 (note) and pp84-88A fourth criterion should be added - that of whether a theory possesses a quality of ‘comeliness’ - ‘elegance’ would be a better word though it doesn’t begin with ‘c’! Scientists are often influenced by a sense of the neatness and elegance of a particular formulation.See Derkse, Will, On Simplicity and Elegance: An Essay in Intellectual History (Delft: Eburon, 1993)

See also applying critical realism to theology.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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