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Reason and Reality: Relationship Between Science and Theology Paperback – 28 Mar 1991


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  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing (28 Mar. 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281044872
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281044870
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.4 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,283,844 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Polkinghorne impresses with a rare combination of theological sensitivity and technical grasp of the scientific and metascientific issues involved.' --Publisher's Weekly

Perhaps the core achievement of the book is its demonstration of how both science and theology, despite postmodernist skepticism to the contrary, are fundamentally rational in character. Substantial and significant. --Christian Marketplace --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Polkinghorne is past President and now Fellow of Queens' College Cambridge. Former Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, he is a priest and Canon Theologian of Liverpool Cathedral. He won the Templeton Prize for Science and Religion in 2002, and is the author of many books, including Quantum Physics and Theology, his autobiography, From Physicist to Priest, and Theology in the Context of Science, all published by SPCK. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. H. A. Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER on 19 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
Reason and Reality: The relationship between science and theology, by John Polkinghorne, SPCK, 1991, 128 ff.

The compatibility of science and religion, 4
By Howard Jones

This volume is not intended specifically to be a part of the trilogy on science and religion by John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, that began with One World, though it is a continuation of the same theme - that the findings of science do more to support the notion of God than contradict it. This was precisely the intention of the early 17th century `natural philosophers' like Newton when they established the laws of the universe - to reveal the beauty and intricacies of God's handiwork in Creation. Polkinghorne sees a similarity between science and theology in that both `have to speak of entities which are not directly observable.' This book of eight quite self-contained essays is based largely on a series of lectures that the author was invited to give.

We open with a philosophical discussion on the nature of Rational Inquiry. I would disagree with the author's (and Torrance's) view that there is any meaningful comparison between discovery in science and revelation in theology: the former involves reproducible sensory observation and reason, the latter, imagination. Only when we get down to the level of quarks, gluons and strings and comparable unobservables do we enrol the use of imagination in science, and even there the reasoning is subject to verification by others. This is not so with revelation.

Chapter 2 on Rational Discourse pursues this theme of the veracity of revelation by a discussion of models and theories in science and religion, and Chapter 3 on The Nature of Physical Reality continues the theme, and includes mathematical models.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. DOUGLAS VINE VOICE on 18 April 2011
Format: Paperback
Science and theology get a masterly mix here by a foremost authority. "Reason and Reality" brings together essays where Polkinghorne pursues width and depth in academic and high level reading. Natural philosophy, rational enquiry, reason and rationale alongside rich questions abounding in this chewy read! It closes with thorough reference notes, a further detailed bibliography and detailed indexing, complete this work. The result is a convincing, deeply satisfying interpretation of the nature and scope of human knowledge, the extent and limits of science, and the rightful place of theology of what Polkinghorne calls science's "cousin under the skin."

Perhaps the core achievement of the book is its demonstration of how both science and theology, despite postmodernist skepticism to the contrary, are fundamentally rational in character. Substantial and significant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. D. P. Jay on 21 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback
How can religion and science be enemies when they are on the same side?: Both theology and science have to speak of entities which are not directly observable. In consequence, both must be prepared to make use of model and metaphor.

Both talk in symbols: Theology, because of the difficulty of its task, is unlikely to achieve more than a collection of viable models, usable with discretion. Mathematics is the natural language of physical science; symbol, because of its poetic openness of meaning, proves to be the natural language of theology.

So fundamentalists who talk of scripture as the final revelation are unaware of new meanings from the Holy Spirit who is to lead us into all truth: the Bible continues to play a normative role in Christian thinking. Is there not a great contrast between the openness of science to new ideas and the enslavement of theology to the entail of Scripture?

Both scientist and theologian bare committed to the quest for truth: The scientist commits himself to belief in the rationality of the world in order to discover ' what form that rationality takes. His success should encourage others to similar boldness. One might put it in theological terms by saying that the image of God is not so defaced in humanity that we are unable to attain a verisimilitudinous grasp of reality.

Both search in community. There is danger in the lone believer: One sees how dangerous this is. A homicidal maniac hears the voice of God telling him to go out and kill prostitutes. That is why religion is not what one does with one's solitariness, why it can only be pursued within a community and following a tradition, with the correctives they apply to private judgement.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. Edwina Parker on 23 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
I bought this book as a present and understand that the recipient was totally engrossed from cover to cover! He has requested any other titles by the same author on the same subject! Praise indeed!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Detailed explorations of the science/faith relationship 15 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
John Polkinghorne is perhaps the world's foremost authority on the relationship between science and theology. "Reason and Reality" brings together essays in which he pursues more deeply themes touched on in his earlier works. As such, the book, while generally accessible, is at a somewhat more advanced level than most of his other, more popular works. However, the extra intellectual effort required is well worth it, as the essays in this volume "tie up the loose ends." The result is a convincing, deeply satisfying interpretation of the nature and scope of human knowledge, the extent and limits of science, and the proper place of theology as what Polkinghorne calls science's "cousin under the skin." Perhaps the major achievement of the book is its demonstration of how both science and theology, despite postmodernist skepticism to the contrary, are fundamentally rational in character. The book is therefore both significant and highly timely.
finding truth in community 21 Nov. 2013
By Mr. D. P. Jay - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
How can religion and science be enemies when they are on the same side?: Both theology and science have to speak of entities which are not directly observable. In consequence, both must be prepared to make use of model and metaphor.

Both talk in symbols: Theology, because of the difficulty of its task, is unlikely to achieve more than a collection of viable models, usable with discretion. Mathematics is the natural language of physical science; symbol, because of its poetic openness of meaning, proves to be the natural language of theology.

So fundamentalists who talk of scripture as the final revelation are unaware of new meanings from the Holy Spirit who is to lead us into all truth: the Bible continues to play a normative role in Christian thinking. Is there not a great contrast between the openness of science to new ideas and the enslavement of theology to the entail of Scripture?

Both scientist and theologian bare committed to the quest for truth: The scientist commits himself to belief in the rationality of the world in order to discover ' what form that rationality takes. His success should encourage others to similar boldness. One might put it in theological terms by saying that the image of God is not so defaced in humanity that we are unable to attain a verisimilitudinous grasp of reality.

Both search in community. There is danger in the lone believer: One sees how dangerous this is. A homicidal maniac hears the voice of God telling him to go out and kill prostitutes. That is why religion is not what one does with one's solitariness, why it can only be pursued within a community and following a tradition, with the correctives they apply to private judgement. We need always to take account of what has been experienced and understood by other people and other ages, before we conclude that here we stand and can do no other. 'Test everything; hold fast to what is good' (1 Thessalonians 5.21).

Some scientists are as ignorant of theology as are some Christians: A conservative biblicism has often proved attractive to scientists, particularly in their student days. They are familiar with the notion of the textbook, that reliable source of information in which one can look up the answer to one's queries. Much painful labour can be avoided in that way, and there is a certain attraction in the feeling that God should have provided just such a textbook to help us with our religious search. Those who go on to postgraduate scientific study learn that even in the physical world our explorations do not always lead us to cut-and-dried answers

We do no justice to scripture if we don’t realize its internal inconsistencies: When Genesis reached its canonical form, the redactor did not feel it necessary to conflate or reconcile these stories, as if they had been literal accounts which must be squared with each other. That in itself tells us something of how they are to be used. We read them as powerful symbolic stories (myths) conveying the idea of a total dependence of the creation upon its Creator and (most astonishing of all) the sevenfold reiterated message that all is 'good'. Science, in making untenable a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2 (itself a tendency originating in late medieval and reformation times), has liberated these chapters to play their proper and powerful role in Christian thought.
Another contribution to the science and theology debate 15 Aug. 2012
By Dr. H. A. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This volume is not intended specifically to be a part of the trilogy on science and religion by John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, that began with One World, though it is a continuation of the same theme - that the findings of science do more to support the notion of God than contradict it. This was precisely the intention of the early 17th century `natural philosophers' like Newton when they established the laws of the universe - to reveal the beauty and intricacies of God's handiwork in Creation. Polkinghorne sees a similarity between science and theology in that both `have to speak of entities which are not directly observable.' This book of eight quite self-contained essays is based largely on a series of lectures that the author was invited to give.

Polkinghorne trained as a quantum physicist but has since taken holy orders. The book open with a philosophical discussion about the nature of Rational Inquiry. I would disagree with the author's (and Torrance's) view that there is any meaningful comparison between discovery in science and revelation in theology: the former involves reproducible sensory observation and reason, the latter, imagination. Only when we get down to the level of quarks, gluons and strings and comparable unobservables do we enrol the use of imagination in science, and even there the reasoning is subject to verification by others. This is not so with revelation.

Chapter 2 on Rational Discourse pursues this theme of the veracity of revelation by a discussion of models and theories in science and religion, and Chapter 3 on The Nature of Physical Reality continues the theme, and includes mathematical models. There is an interesting discussion here on determinism and randomness in Nature, following the theme of Jacques Monod's Chance and Necessity. Chapter 4 on Reason and Revelation stretches the science/theology comparison by maintaining that faith is needed too by the scientist - faith that there is a pattern in the universe to be discovered. Surprisingly, the Oxford chemist Peter Atkins is described as a fideist - faith presumably in the scientific method, as Atkins is known to be a passionate atheist and detractor of religion. Martin Gardner's view of religious belief as `unsupported by logic or science' is also criticised. Chapter 5 suggests that The Use of Scripture is as metaphor, as opposed to the literality demanded by fundamentalists. Chapter 6, Cross-Traffic, continues the science and theology comparison while Chapter 7 gives us the current scientific world-view in Quantum Questions. Chapter 8 on The Fall deals with what Polkinghorne describes as the most difficult piece of theology to reconcile with science.

This is a fascinating book, more challenging than its predecessors. It ends with reference Notes, a further reading Bibliography and an Index.

Howard Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God
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