Saturday, November 8, 2008

definition: critical realism

from the Encyclopedia of Religion and Science:

The term critical realism was introduced into the dialogue between science and theology in 1966 by Ian Barbour. Barbour used the term to cover both scientific realism and a theological realism that takes seriously the cognitive claims of religion, that is, religion's claims to convey knowledge of a mind-independent divine reality. Subsequently Barbour pointed to the cognitive role of metaphors, models, and paradigms in scientific as well as religious language. His ideas were later assimilated and elaborated by Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, and others. Actually, critical realism has been the dominant epistemology in the dialogue between science and theology for several decades. However, since the 1990s the transfer of critical realism from science to theology has increasingly been disputed, mainly on the ground that it does not, or does not sufficiently, do justice to the specific nature of theology.


On closer inspection, critical realism as a view of scientific and theological knowledge comprises three theses:

  1. Metaphysical realism, which holds that there exists a mind-independent reality. In scientific realism this reality is the material world; in theological realism this reality is the material world and also, primarily, God.
  2. Semantic realism, which holds that science and theology contain propositions, that is statements capable of being true or false in the sense of correspondence to the reality to which they refer. In scientific realism the focus is on propositions about unobservable entities; in theological realism the focus is on propositions about God.
  3. Epistemic realism, which holds that it is possible to put forward propositions that are approximately true, that some propositions actually are approximately true, and that belief in their approximate truth can be justified. In scientific realism this applies primarily to theories and theoretical propositions about unobservable entities; in theology it applies to propositions and theories about God.