Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Critical Realism in Postmodernism

Dr. Carl Schultz.

While postmodernism is often assessed relative to its impact within a discipline, it also has significant ramifications for interdisciplinary study. Perhaps this is not better illustrated than in the relationship between science and religion.
Religion essentially found the Enlightenment to be hostile, being forced to cope with its rational demands. Postmodernism has freed religion from such rational restraints, or at least has provided such a possibility. Has postmodernity’s epistemological tendency toward perspectivalism facilitated conversation with other disciplines such as science?
Science thrived with rational thought but now struggles with postmodernism’s insistence on socially, temporally, and spatially situated knowledge. Additional charges directed at science insist that its data are theory-laden, that they are characterized by sexist distortions and perversions, and that they are a source of power over people, rationalized by appeals to the myth of objectivity. Such claims have put science on the defensive.
So in one sense postmodernism has leveled the playing field between these disciplines. The move from absolutism to relativism has impacted both disciplines, giving both, in a sense, equal seating at the table of dialogue!
But the question remains: Is any fruitful interdisciplinary dialogue between postmodern philosophy of science and postmodern religion possible or does the pluralism and localization of postmodern discourse place theologians and scientists into “near-complete epistemological incommensurability”? (VanHuyssteen)
In a seminal approach in 1966 Ian Barbour constructed a bridge between science and religion which he labeled “critical realism.” Like classical realism, critical realism calls for truth to correspond to reality, with the key criterion of truth being the agreement between theory and data. Such an approach has been widely adopted in conversations between these disciplines.
Postmodernism, with its emphasis on cognitive pluralism, thoroughly challenges critical realism which, nevertheless, continues to bear much of the traffic between these disciplines.
The crucial role played by postmodernism here is in challenging foundationalism, which asserts that there is an indubitable foundation for all of knowledge either in each discipline or between them. What is needed is a non-foundationalist epistemology which could lead to interdisciplinary knowledge. Is such possible? This paper will explore the possibility of a postfoundationalist form of rationality to facilitate dialogue between science and religion.


Dr. Carl Schultz  (United States)
Professor of Old Testament
Religion and Philosophy Department
Houghton College

  • Postmodernism
  • Critical realism
  • Foundationalism
  • Epistemology
  • Perspectivalism

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)