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3. Non-Foundational (Holist) Epistemology

Some scholars in theology and science, while accepting the preceding arguments for an epistemic hierarchy of disciplines, reject the foundationalist assumption that often accompanies it. Foundationalism is one of the central characteristics of the modern period. It is the assumption that, like the foundations of a building, undeniable facts (following Humean empiricism) or ‘clear and distinct ideas’ (following Cartesian idealism) provide an indubitable foundation for all of knowledge in each discipline; from them all other epistemic claims within a discipline, or even between them, must be deduced or justified.Foundationalism can be traced at least as far back as Descartes, and the search for an indubitable ground has dominated most of theology since the Enlightenment. Murphy argues that conservatives and liberals...

In its place, Murphy, for example, adopts W. V. O. Quine’s non-foundationalist or holist approach. Here systems of knowledge are pictured more like a web or net than a building, with each level in the hierarchy of disciplines forming its own web. Core theories that characterize each discipline lie at the center of the web; they are indirectly connected to the edge of the web and its ties to the appropriate facts and experiences. As before, both constraint and emergence operate between the disciplines.Murphy, Beyond liberalism and fundamentalism, Ch. 6. See also Nancey Murphy, "Postmodern Apologetics, or Why Theologians must Pay Attention to Science," in Religion and Science: History, Method,...

Contributed by: Dr. Robert Russell

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