View by:







G. Summary of Critical Realism and Open Issues

First to recap: Over the past four decades, the predominant school of thought among scholars in theology and science, particularly of those coming from a liberal theological perspective, has been critical realism. The term stood for a ‘packaged deal’ whose elements were brought together from a variety of various philosophical contexts.Note: Murphy argues that the term "critical realism" is strictly an epistemic theory defending a correspondence theory of truth and should not be used for the entire set of elements described...They include : 1) the ubiquitous role and complex epistemic structure of metaphor in all language (against literalism and expressivism); 2) a Hempelian hypothetico-deductive methodology embedded in a contextualist/explanatory and historicist/competitive framework (against positivism, empiricism and instrumentalism); 3) a hierarchy of disciplines with both constraints and autonomy (against epistemic reductionism); 4) a commitment to referentiality, whether of individual terms or of entire theories (against some aspects of the sociology of knowledge), and with it a theory of truth combining correspondence, coherence, and pragmatism; and yet 5) a genuine division over metaphysical issues, whose most representative alternatives are emergent monism versus panexperientialism. Each of these elements, of course, raised complex issues that were highly debated. Still there was sufficient agreement for these elements to form what can be called the ‘consensus view’ in theology and science since the 1960's. For these scholars, critical realism was seen as providing the crucial ‘bridge’ between theology and science, making possible real dialogue and growing interaction.

During this period, however, each of these elements has come under criticism. Some scholars working in theology and science have stressed the difficulties facing a realist interpretation of specific scientific theories, such as quantum mechanics,Robert John Russell, "Quantum Physics in Philosophical and Theological Perspective," in Physics, Philosophy, and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding, ed. Robert J. Russell, William R....as well as key theological terms, such as the concept of God.Wim Drees writes: "If claims about methodological parallels between science and theology are not merely claims about parallels, but are assumed to allow cross-traffic, then those elements that guarantee...Some have acknowledged the diversity of realist positions taken by philosophersPeacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age, 12. See Leplin, Scientific Realism.as well as the continuing challenge to realism by the sociology of knowledgeBloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery. See Peacocke, Intimations of reality, 19-22. for helpful references and counterarguments.Some have given increased attention to the diversity of models of rationality and their relative appropriateness for ‘science and religion’Mikael Stenmark, Rationality in Science, Religion, and Everyday Life: A Critical Evaluation of Four Models of Rationality (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995).and the importance of differences, as well as similarities, between theology and science from the standpoint of pragmatism.In 1994, Wesley J. Wildman picked up the theme of ‘similarities and differences’ and developed it in crisp detail, focusing mainly on the practice of science and theology. Drawing on the pragmatist...Some have moved to a non-foundationalist (and in this specific sense a post-modernist) epistemology, either keeping correspondence and referentialityClayton, Explanation.or shifting to a pragmatic theory of truth.Murphy, Beyond liberalism and fundamentalism.Some working with an all-embracing philosophical system, such as Whiteadian metaphysics, have developed a broad set of theological positions in light of scienceBarbour, Religion and Science; Charles and John B. Cobb Birch, Jr., The Liberation of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); << - Not Found>> Haught, Science & Religion; David... while others who make more limited use of metaphysics have developed equally broad theological arguments.Polkinghorne, The faith of a physicist.Other positions have emerged at increasing distances from the ‘consensus view’. For some, a post-modernist view offers an attractive approach, drawing on Continental and / or Anglo-American sources, and for growing numbers, feminist critiques of science are crucial.See Part III A, B below.Some have abandoned realism as a whole while still finding elements of the preceeding still helpful in relating science and religion.Drees, Religion, Science and Naturalism, esp. Ch. 5.

On balance, though, critical realism continues to be defended and deployed widely in theology and science, and it continues to be presupposed by both most working scientists, by many theologians, and in much of the public discourse about both science and religion. On balance I believe it to be of enduring importance, both for its crucial role in the historical developments of the past decades and as a point of departure for future research. Whatever directions are taken in the future, it constitutes the key methodological contribution that the ‘first generation’ gave to make discourse regarding theology and science possible today.

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions CD-ROM Preview...
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.