Theological critical realism

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In theology, the term critical realism is employed by a community of scientists turned theologians. They are influenced by the scientist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi. Polanyi's ideas were taken up enthusiastically by T. F. Torrance whose work in this area has influenced many theologians calling themselves critical realists. This community includes John Polkinghorne, Ian Barbour, and Arthur Peacocke. The aim of the group is to show that the language of science and Christian theology are similar, forming a starting point for a dialogue between the two. Alister McGrath and Wentzel van Huyssteen (the latter of Princeton Theological Seminary) are recent contributors to this strand. N.T. Wright, New Testament scholar and retired Bishop of Durham (Anglican) also writes on this topic:

… I propose a form of critical realism. This is a way of describing the process of "knowing" that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence "realism"), while fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence "critical"). (The New Testament and the People of God, p. 35)

N.T. Wright's fellow biblical scholar—James Dunn—encountered the thought of Bernard Lonergan as mediated through Ben F. Meyer. Much of North American critical realism—later used in the service of theology—has its source in the thought of Lonergan rather than Polanyi.

Further reading[edit]

  • Losch, A., 2009. "On the Origins of Critical Realism". Theology & Science vol. 7 no.1, 85-106
  • Losch, A., 2016. "Wright's Version of Critical Realism". in God and the Faithfulness of Paul: A Critical Examination of the Pauline Theology of N.T. Wright. Edited by Christoph Heilig, Jay-Thomas Hewitt, and Michael F. Bird. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament II., Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2016, 101-114 (see also Wright's critical reaction 718-719 in the same book)
  • McGrath, A. E., 2001, A Scientific Theology, (London, T&T Clark)
  • Meyer, B. 1989 "Critical Realism and the New Testament", (San Jose, Pickwick Publications)
  • Page, J. 2003 'Critical Realism and the Theological Science of Wolfhart Pannenberg: Exploring the Commonalities'. Bridges: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, Theology, History and Science 10(1/2):pp. 71–84 <>.
  • Polkinghorne, J, 1991, Reason and Reality: The Relationship between science and theology, (London, SPCK)
  • Polkinghorne, J., and Oord, T.J., 2010, * The Polkinghorne Reader] : Science, Faith, and the Search for Meaning (SPCK and Templeton Foundation Press) ISBN 1-59947-315-1 and ISBN 978-0-281-06053-5