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Beyond ‘The Warfare of Science with Theology’: George Tyrrell’s Plea for Epistemic Humility

JONATHAN W. CHAPPELL
S & CB 30 (1)
April 2018

Abstract

The Catholic Modernist theologian and scholar, George Tyrrell (1861–1909), may be characterised as a Thomist who sought to relate theology constructively to the issues of the day. While his engagement with historical criticism has been well studied, his response to the challenge of science, and particularly of evolution, has been neglected. This article seeks to address this neglect. Having outlined his intellectual context, it explores his cautiously affirmative approach to the idea of evolution, and shows that he was just as opposed to scientific reductionism as he was to the ethical reductionism of liberal Protestantism and to the absolutising of Thomism by his neo-scholastic contemporaries. The rationale for his position is shown to be his neo-Kantian conviction that science and theology are both fallible human endeavours which operate within clear epistemological constraints. A humble recognition of these limits, he believed, could help us move beyond the conflict between science and theology that was apparent in his day.

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