Original Research - Special Collection: Wentzel van Huyssteen

Knowledge, science and rationality: In discussion with Wentzel van Huyssteen’s earlier work

Anton A. van Niekerk
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 42, No 2 | a2306 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v42i2.2306 | © 2021 Anton A. van Niekerk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 May 2021 | Published: 18 August 2021

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Anton A. van Niekerk, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

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The background of this research study is the ongoing debate since the late 1980s about the question of the rationality and scientific status of theology. Wentzel van Huyssteen’s seminal book Teologie as Kritiese Geloofsverantwoording has, in South Africa and abroad (after he moved to Princeton Theological Seminary), became a standard text of reference in this debate. As the book appeared, the author of this chapter has been in numerous debates with Van Huyssteen about this book. Whilst certain aspects of the book cannot but be applauded, Van Niekerk has serious questions about aspects of Van Huyssteen’s work that he raises in this chapter. The method used for writing this text is conceptual analysis; no empirical study needs to be performed for this kind of contribution. The main conclusions are as follows: 1. there are notable similarities between scientific knowledge and systematic theology. 2. It is not self-evident that in case of tension between notions of rationality operative in science and theology, it is theology that necessarily has to make serious adjustments. 3. Science does not have a monopoly over the understanding and utilisation of the idea of rationality. 4. Science is not the only correlate of truly trustworthy and reliable knowledge of reality. 5. All knowledge (including science) correlates with a variety of human interests. 6. The notion of rationality can and often does attain a meaning specifically related to the interest-directed forms of knowledge. 7. The meaning of the notion of rationality must be broadened in a way that makes it more universally applicable in all reliable terrains of knowledge. 8. The significance of philosophical hermeneutics for our understanding of a broadened notion of rationality ought to be better explored.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: The contextual perspective of this article is the demonstration that the debate about the rationality of theology is well advanced, although far from conclusively resolved. A quite influential perspective in this debate – that of Wentzel van Huyssteen – is analysed and submitted to stringent critique. An alternative perspective is developed that deserves to be taken seriously in this debate.


science; rationality; theology; paradigm; philosophy; metaphors; Habermas


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