POSTMODERN PARADIGM THINKING ENTERS OUR

                                  CAFETERIA OF DIVERGENT CHRISTOLOGIES

 

Elizabeth A. Johnson in her book, She Who Is (NY: Crossroads, 1992), p. 6), states “There is no timeless speech about God in the Jewish or Christian tradition. Rather, words about God are cultural creatures entwined with the mores and adventures of the faith community that use them as the culture shifts, as does the search for God.”

 

The new paradigm thinking in science includes the following five criteria as stated by F. Capra’s book, New Paradigm Thinking in Science. The first two refer to our view of nature, the other three to our epistemology. The old scientific paradigm may be called Cartesian, Newtonian, or Baconian, since its main characteristics were formulated by Descartes, Newton and Bacon.

 

1. Shift from the Part to the Whole: In the Old paradigm it was believed that in any complex system the dynamics of the whole could be understood from the properties of the parts. In the New, the relationship between the parts and the whole is reversed. The properties of the parts can be understood only from the dynamics of the whole. Ultimately, there are no parts at all. What we call a part is merely a pattern in an inseparable web of relationships.

 

2. Shift from Structure to Process: In the Old, it was thought that there were fundamental structures, and then there were forces and mechanisms through which these interacted, thus giving rise to processes. In the New, every structure is seen as the manifestation of an underlying process. The entire web of relationships is intrinsically dynamic.

 

3. Shift from Objective Science to “Epistemic Science’: In the Old, scientific descriptions were believed to be objective, i.e., independent of the human observer and the process of knowledge. In the New, it is believed that epistemology, the understanding of the process of knowledge, is to be included explicitly in the description of natural phenomena. (At this point there is no consensus about what the proper epistemology is, but there is an emerging consensus that epistemology will have to be an integral part of every scientific theory).

 

4. Shift from Building to Network as Metaphor of Knowledge: The metaphor of knowledge as building--fundamental laws, fundamental principles, basic building blocks, etc., has been used in Western science and philosophy for thousands of years. During paradigm shifts it was felt that the foundations of knowledge were crumbling. In the New, this metaphor is being replaced by that of the network. As we perceive reality as a network of relationships, our descriptions, too, form an interconnected network representing the observed phenomena. In such a network there will be neither hierarchies nor foundations.

 

5. Shift from Truth to Approximate Descriptions: The Cartesian paradigm was based on the belief that scientific knowledge could be achieved in absolute certainty. In the New, it is recognized that all concepts, theories, and findings are approximate. Science can never provide any complete and definitive understanding of reality. Scientists do not deal with truth; they deal with limited descriptions of reality.

James D. Strauss