Beyond the dichotomy: a critical examination of critical realism
Klaasse, Sander Benjamin
Methodological issues lie at the heart of the current science-theology exchange and it has been in particular the concept of critical realism that has been widely adopted as providing the rationale for an enriching dialogue between science and theology. Introduced by Ian G. Barbour and further developed by, among others, Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne, critical realism has become the default position for many within the field of science and religion and it has made possible the developments of the past six decades in this field. Despite its prominent position, an in-depth and critical examination of critical realism from philosophical perspectives is currently lacking in the science and theology literature. Aware of this need, the aim of this project is twofold. First, this research intends to define and clarify what is actually meant with critical realism. In doing so, I introduce the notion of ‘family resemblance’ as a helpful metaphor for understanding the many nuances of various critical realisms in science-theology scholarship. Furthermore, a taxonomy of the various philosophical and methodological commitments is offered, which forms the backbone of subsequent chapters (Chapter 2 on metaphysics, Chapter 3 on epistemology, Chapter 4 on semantics, and Chapters 5, 6, and 7 on methodology). Second, this study aims to reveal certain weaknesses in the rationale underpinning and informing the critical realist stance. Hefner’s critical diagnosis of critical realism runs as a leitmotif through this doctoral thesis: This now widely used term, ‘critical realism’, is beginning to appear in the writings of several authors in a somewhat doctrinaire sense, as if it were an established theory of explanation, when in fact it is a suggestive hypothesis that is struggling for credibility in the marketplace of ideas (Hefner, 1985: 32). In addition to various chapter-specific challenges, we will turn to Hefner’s diagnosis in particular in Chapter 8. Here I introduce Pelikan’s distinction between ‘apologetics’ and ‘presupposition’ as a helpful way to understand the aims of critical realism and to show that critical realism is indeed a suggestive hypothesis. Furthermore, with the chapter-specific weaknesses and two more general criticisms, I hope to argue that critical realism should be understood as mostly a suggestive hypothesis that has become critical for those who take a positive stance towards the epistemological capabilities of theology and a critical stance for those considering science as the only valid way of acquiring knowledge.