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The Ongoing Debate on Critical Realism and Theology

Nancey Murphy claims strong parallels between science and theology as rational explorations, working from the description of science developed by Imre Lakatos.Lakatos, I, ‘Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes’ in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science,...But she rejects critical realism in theology, on the grounds that it makes too great a claim as to our knowledge of elements of reality beyond our ordinary human ways of knowing.Murphy, Nancey, Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990) p197. See God, Humanity and the Cosmos pp77-83 for an outline of Lakatos’ scheme and an evaluation...

Wentzel Van Huyssteen, however, takes issue with Murphy, claiming in effect that we can make inferences to the best explanation even in matters close to the core beliefs of theism.Van Huyssteen, J W, Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 1997) pp48-51Roger Trigg dismisses critical realism as no more than ‘a vague umbrella concept.’Trigg, Roger, Rationality and Religion (Oxford; Blackwell, 1998) p86

So critical realism, as a way of thinking about the claims of either science and theology, or science alone, is a position towards which many in the field are drawn. Its philosophical usefulness remains a matter of keen debate. For another recent analysis see McGrath (1998).McGrath, Alister, The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998) Ch.4

We can understand more about the similarities and differences between claims to realism in science and in theology by looking at the role played by model and metaphor in these two rationalities. Click on the role of model and metaphor to explore this.

Or go to consonances between science and religion.

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

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