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B. Post-Modern Challenges to Science and to Theology and Science

We briefly discussed a non-foundationalist approach to theology and science which draws from Anglo-American sources (Part I:F-3 above). We have also discussed in more detail process theology in relation to science. Both of these approaches, though they differ in very significant ways, can be seen as forms the more general term, ‘post-modernism’. Following the publicationJean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979 (1997)). of J. F. Lyotard’s widely-read book, The Postmodern Condition in 1979, some scholars have explored the significance of this more general form of postmodernism for theology and science.For a Teachers’ File on postmodernism see William Grassie, "Postmodernism: What One Needs to Know," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 32.1(March 1997).

Wentzel van HuyssteenJ. Wentzel Van Huyssteen, Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997), see especially Part 3; see also J. Wentzel Van Huyssteen, "Does the Postfoundationalist...has provided a very clear summary of the ‘postmodern challenge’ to theology and science. He starts with Lyotard’s pivotal distinction between narrative and scientific knowledge and his claim that local narratives can give to scientific knowledge a legitimation that is now lost to the latter’s claim of providing a grand metanarrative. He describes the spectrum of distinctions within postmodernism and their relevance to science, including some attempts at a narrative reconstruction of science and a pragmatic interpretation of truth. Given the impact of postmodernism in theology, van Huyssteen raises a crucial question: “Is any meaningful dialogue between postmodern philosophy of science and postmodern theology possible, or does the pluralism and localization of postmodern discourse throw theologians, philosophers, and scientists ... into near-complete epistemological incommensurability?”Van Huyssteen, Essays in postfoundationalist theology, 276.

Although a detailed response to this question has yet to be given, van Huyssteen provides a “first step” by understanding postmodern thought as “part of the modern, and not only modern thought coming to its end.”Van Huyssteen, Essays in postfoundationalist theology, 278. The crucial role played by postmodernism is in challenging foundationalism. But what is really needed is a non-foundationalist epistemology which would yield true interdisciplinary knowledge. According to Van Huyssteen, the sciences of cosmology and evolutionary biology can provide just the resources for such knowledge without themselves necessarily becoming new ideological metanarratives. “Evolutionary epistemology...reveals the biological roots of all human rationality” and offers us the basis of a postfoundationalist form of rationality.J. Wentzel Van Huyssteen, Duet or Duel? Theology and Science in a Postmodern World (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998).

Niels Gregersen supports the search for a new basis for fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue between theology and science in the context of postmodern cognitive pluralism. Drawing on Nicholas Rescher’s pragmaticist coherence theory, Gregersen argues that coherence serves as a critical norm in all forms of knowledge. Historically, scientific data, theories, metaphors and worldviews have been appropriated by, and have radically shaped, Christian theology, and a ‘contextual coherence theory’ has played a central role here. Moreover, it provides a via media between critical realism, which postmodernism thoroughly challenges, and radical pluralism, where conversation across disciplines ceases. Finally, a coherence theory is holist while avoiding the challenges he directed to Nancey Murphy’s methodology.Niels Henrik Gregersen, "A Contextual-Coherence Theory for the Theology-Science Dialogue," in Retinking Theology and Science: Six Models for the Current Dialogue, ed. Niels Henrik and J. Wentzel...

In closing this altogether too brief section, it should be noted that in a recent article, James Moore analyzes the writings of John Polkinghorne, from a Christian perspective, and Norbert Samuelson, from a Jewish perspective, as representing yet another form of post-modernism in science and religion.James F. Moore, "How Religious Tradition Survives in the World of Science: John Polkinghorne and Norbert Samuelson," Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 32.1(March 1997).

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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