Is theology a science?

The nature of the scientific enterprise in the scientific theology of Thomas Forsyth Torrance and the anarchic epistemology of Paul Feyerabend


When Barth and Scholz clashed over the scientific status of theology, Barth drew the conclusion that if natural science was to be drawn up in such positivistic terms, theology had much to lose and little to gain by engagement with it. A generation later Barth's translator and pupil Thomas Torrance maintained that science had changed enough to make an engagement more fruitful. In works such as Theological Science, Torrance sketched out the contours of such and engagement. However at the same time the anarchic philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend, in books such as Against Method, sought to deconstruct any notion of 'science' as ultimately the protection of vested interests. This book analyses whether Torrance's notion of science can withstand this newer post-modern threat.

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David Munchin, Ph.D. (2009) in Theology, Heythrop College, London University is an Anglican priest and Rector the of Welwyn Team ministry in the Diocese of St. Albans. After studying mathematics at Imperial College London, he read theology at Oxford and London Universities.
If you were to take two eminent scholars – an Austrian born philosopher and a Scottish theologian – and put them in a room to debate the nature of science, you might get a glimpse into the riches to be found in David Munchin’s fascinating book. We are taken directly to the heart of some of the most important debates of the twentieth century, as Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Torrance critique each other’s ideas. The book makes a significant contribution to the continuing debate about philosophy, theology and science. - Rt Rev’d Dr Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans.

A fresh look at a neglected historical question. Thomas Torrance’s ambition that theology should be a ‘science’ has been much discussed, but David Munchin detects a potential exposed flank. Torrance expended much effort in defending Systematic Theology against the charges of a positivist view of science; but how will he fare under the anarchic attacks of Paul Feyerabend, who famously found science itself problematic when it comes to its much-vaunted claims for objectivity and rationality? In a time when advocates of science are once more challenging religious belief and theological claims, the insights of Munchin’s book are topical, insightful, and challenging. - Prof Gwen Griffith-Dickson, King's College University of London.

Anyone interested in the question, can Christian theology contribute to the search for truth in our post-modern context?, needs to read this book. Placing Thomas Torrance and Paul Feyerabend in critical dialogue over the question, Is theology a science?, David Munchin creates an insightful work that takes the reader on an ever expanding journey into the big questions of life. By examining the work of these two philosophers of science, Munchin continues the ongoing exploration of the relationship between theology and natural science. This book presents a clear argument that Torrance’s approach (even with its weaknesses) enables theology to engage sharply and critically with the current philosophical and scientific trends that attempt to sideline theological discourse in the search for truth. The book is a specialist tome that is at times a challenging read, but it is just as often elegant and compelling. - The Revd Canon Dr Dennis Stamps, University of Chichester.

This is a carefully argued text that helpfully sets into relief the few similarities and many differences between the thinking of Feyerabend and Torrance. [...] This is a book that certainly will stimulate readers to think more rigorously about science and theology today. - Paul D. Molnar, St John's University, Queens, NY, USA.

Preface ... ix
Acknowledgements ... xi

Chapter One Introduction: Context and history ... 1
Contextual background on the scientific status of theology until Torrance ... 9
Barth and natural science ... 13

Chapter Two Introducing the dialogue partners: Torrance and Feyerabend ... 18
Thomas Forsyth Torrance ... 18
Paul Feyerabend ... 20
Feyerabend as critical friend to Torrance ... 36

Chapter Three Torrance: theology co-habiting with natural science ... 50
The theory of general relativity ... 54
Quantum physics ... 60
Gödel’s theorem ... 66
Conclusion ... 70

Chapter Four Torrance’s Proposal – A new objectivity ... 75
A new objectivity ... 75
Similarities and Diff erences ... 84
Conclusion ... 113

Chapter Five Feyerabend’s Challenge – ‘Knowledge without Foundations’ ... 116
Theory and observation: counter-inductivism, theoretical pluralism and the rejection of empirical cumulativism ... 117
The incommensurability thesis ... 138
Against Method and Farewell to Reason ... 143
Destination relativism ... 146
Voluntarism ... 148

Chapter Six Two excurses ... 153
Hermeneutics and science ... 153
Realism ... 186

Chapter Seven Coherence and Language ... 205
Epistemic coherence and correspondence ... 205
Religious and scientifi c language ... 209
Coherence in theology and Scripture – witnesses to a single truth? ... 213

Chapter Eight From foundations to spirals ... 220
Enlightenment foundationalism and reductionism ... 220
Progressive foundationalism and ordered strata ... 225
Fluid axioms ... 227
Evident to the senses – the wrong foundations ... 234
Spirals and iterations – the search for a new metaphor of knowledge ... 255
Conclusion ... 261

Conclusion ... 263

Bibliography ... 283
Index ... 295
Undergraduates and post-graduates in theology or philosophy, particularly those with an interest in the relationship between theology and the philosophy of science, and the work of Thomas Torrance or Paul Feyerabend.
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