Original Research - Special Collection: A.G.van Aarde Festschrift

‘Epistemology models ontology’− In gesprek met John Polkinghorne

Johan Buitendag
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 67, No 1 | a897 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v67i1.897 | © 2011 Johan Buitendag | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 June 2010 | Published: 11 April 2011

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Johan Buitendag, Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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The famous premise of John Polkinghorne, ‘epistemology models ontology’, has been assessed in this article. It is interpreted that its logic is based on a linear trajectory of knowledge → being. Polkinghorne places much emphasis on the fact that he pursues a ‘bottom-up’ approach, that is, an inductive way of going about with reality. He opts for a ‘critical realist’ view of reality that leads him to interpret indeterminacy (Heisenberg) as a sign of actual ontological openness to the future and not primarily as an epistemological deficit. He applies subsequently the doctrine of the Trinity as a hermeneutical tool to understand reality. The author argues that Polkinghorne is inconsistent in this venture and that he should consider a multidimensional approach, where epistemology and ontology model each other mutually, that is, knowledge ↔ being. In order to acknowledge the stratification of reality and the pluriformity of epistemologies, it is suggested that a rather ‘constructive-realist’ approach would serve better the theology of Polkinghorne; this is a shift from epistemology to hermeneutics.


Polkinghorne; epistemology; ontology; trinity; hermeneutics


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