Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dean R. Fowler

Second Advisor

Robert Masson

Third Advisor

T. Michael McNulty

Fourth Advisor

Ronald J. Feenstra

Fifth Advisor

Matthew L. Lamb


The thesis explored in this dissertation is that the pluralistic state of contemporary Christian theology is due in large part to a process of transformation in the conceptual structure of Western culture which began in the 15th century with the cosmological speculations Nicolaus Copernicus and continues in the present. The inquiry is interdisciplinary in character and involves three elements. First, recent histories of science are surveyed to display the major shifts of cosmological perspective which have occurred in the West since the beginning of the 16th century: namely, the Copernican/Newtonian shift and the evolutionary shift (including not only the work of Darwin but also that associated with the development of relativity and quantum physics). Second, there is a consideration of the philosophical responses to these shifts as seen primarily in the works of Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant for the first and in the works of Stephen Toulmin, Michael Polanyi, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Alfred North Whitehead in the case of the second. The contrast between these sets of responses comprises a distinction between a conception of the world in general, abstract, static, spatial, logical, objective and dualistic categories and one in particular, concrete, dynamic, temporal, historical, relational, and holistic categories. The former is identified as modern and critical and the latter is post-modern and post-critical. Third, the impact of this shift is explored as it can be found in the works of four contemporary Christian theologians: Thomas Torrance, Karl Rahner, David Tracy and John Cobb. All four acknowledge that a significant cultural shift has taken place and that Christian theology must take account of it. They differ, however, in the manner in which each appropriates that shift. The dissertation concludes with a consideration of ongoing issues for Christian theology in relation to the cultural shift to a post-modern and post-critical perspective. In particular, attention is given to the relationship between theology and philosophy, the need for a theology of nature, questions for theological anthropology and the issue of Christian finality.



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