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Science and Creation: The search for understanding, by John Polkinghorne, SPCK, 1988, 128 ff.

The compatibility of science and religion, 2
By Howard Jones

This volume, the second of a trilogy, begins where its predecessor, One World, left off - with natural theology. The author was formerly a professor of theoretical physics at Cambridge University but, since 1982, has been an Anglican priest. John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, admits quite honestly `I certainly cannot pretend to write as a professional theologian, but only as a scientist deeply interested in the understanding of religion.' As a scientist of considerably lower stature myself but also with an interest and some training in philosophy, to this extent I share a background with the author. The author says that `Theology cannot just be left to the theologians' because too often they ignore totally the findings of science and write as if their scriptures presented truth about the natural world. The remainder of this short book suggests how science can be used to provide evidence for the existence of the God of western religion.

Chapter 2, Insightful Inquiry, suggests how science and theology share the common objective
of gaining `a coherent and satisfying understanding of the world in which we live.' Polkinghorne suggests that the anthropic principle, as well as the fortuitous values of the natural constants in the universe pointed out by Paul Davies, form part of the evidence of a beneficent God. Chapter 3 on Order and Disorder expands on this theme. Rather than the meaningless interpretation of Nature given by Jacques Monod's "Chance and Necessity", Polkinghorne says that the potentiality inherent in the properties of matter `is so remarkable as to constitute an insight of design present in the structure of the world.'

Chapter 4 on Creation and Creator takes us back to theology and Genesis. Refreshingly, in Chapter 5 on The Nature of Reality Polkinghorne adopts the stance that his interpretation of the world as a physicist and as a priest must be consistent. So many religious fundamentalists are happy to use their cars and telephones and undergo surgery, trusting in the validity of science and technology, but insist on rejecting scientific criticism of the Genesis story of Creation. Chapter 6 on Theological Science is an excellent discussion of the consistencies and conflicts between science and theology.

This is a good introduction to the science and religion debate. It concludes with several pages of reference Notes, a Bibliography of further reading, and an Index.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK

One World: Interaction of Science and Theology
Science and Providence: God's Interaction with the World
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on 18 November 2013
John Polkinghorne was (and is) a top physicist and he was ordained midlife and served a curacy in this city.

Although he is very orthodox, he isn't fundamentalist when it comes to creation, seven days and all that.

Just as Islam teaches that Allah reveals himself through two books: the Holy Quran and the book of science, so this author is one of those who: believe in the unity of knowledge and who consequently think that theology must take account of all that we know about the world in the course of its inquiry.

We need to share that mystery that many scientists have already grasped: There has grown up a widespread feeling, especially among those who study fundamental physics, that there is more to the world than meets the eye. Science seems to throw up questions which point beyond itself and transcend its power to answer..... It is because we come to know God in His transcendental Majesty and Truth, and know Him to be greater than we can ever conceive or express, that we acknowledge the limitation and relativity of all our forms of thought and speech about Him. Theological knowledge is thus profoundly relative because it is relative to the Absolute.

Theology is not merely a secular subject, though I was indoctrinated to believe so: Worship and prayer is the context in which theology has to be practised; the academic departments of religious studies in our universities are like schools of science unfurnished with laboratories.

Otherwise, all our ideas about God are idolatrous. There are always prophets who challenge ideas that come from our seeking wish-fulfilment.

He cautions those who look at modern science and say that God is somewhere behind everything - one day scientists will fund whatever it is and that will mean that God is squeezed out: The God of the Gaps is dead and with him has died the old-style natural theology of Paley and the Bridgewater Treatises. No theologian need weep for them, for the God of the Gaps, hovering at the periphery of the known world, was far from being someone of whom it could be said that 'all understand that this is God'. He was proposed as a sort of demiurge, a cause among the other competing causes of the world. When Aquinas spoke of God as 'first cause' he did not consider him thus as a jostling participant among the many efficient causes of the cosmic process. Rather, he is the ground of all that is in the world and not to be identified with any part of its process. He is the author and producer of the play, not a particularly striking actor upon the stage.

He doesn't accept the multiple universes theory of some: Some have been prompted to speculation that there might be a great variety of universes on offer, so to speak. If that were so .......then we appear in the one we do because it just happened to have the fine tuning permitting us to do so. This notion can be tricked out in various pseudo-scientific ways!' but, since we have the experience of one universe only, we have scientific motivation to speak of that alone and all that goes beyond it is, in the strictest sense, metaphysical. An alternative metaphysical idea of coherence and economy would be that there is just one world which is the way it is because it is the creation of a Creator who wills it to be capable of evolving beings who can come to know him.

Do we see order because we are looking for it and avoid any evidence to the contrary?: but it is your mind, not God's . . . We are understandably liable to see certain characteristics in the objects we perceive because these objects have indeed been shaped by our minds; hence we imagine that the world in and of itself operates according to certain differential equations, that it is built on well-defined quantitative relationships, and is governed by purpose. A natural illusion, but an illusion all the same. It is hard to exaggerate how implausible such a view is. It assumes a strange plasticity in experience which we can mould to our reason-seeking will. The feel of scientific inquiry into the world is entirely different. The phenomena encountered often prove extremely sur¬prising and contrary to our intuition. They resist our attempts to bend them to our prior expectation.

The chance, the dice-playing of God, God's playfulness, is that makes all sorts of potential possible: When I read Monod's book I was greatly excited by the scientific picture it presented. Instead of seeing chance as an indication of the purposelessness and futility of the world, I was deeply moved by the thought of the astonishing fruitfulness it revealed inherent in the laws of atomic physics...the fact that they have such remarkable consequences as you and me speaks of the amazing potentiality contained in their structure. From this point of view the action of chance is to explore and realise that inherent fruitfulness.

God takes risks, supremely, of course, in the Incarnation - whether or not there was some plan, anything could have happened because humans have free will: We are called by God to share with him in the vulnerability of his act of creation because only by such acceptance can the One who acts by the lure of love rather than by the force of magic accomplish in us and in his whole world his purpose of good.

So there can be miracles, because creation isn't fixed. There is always the potential for something new.

The author is nowhere more orthodox than in his Christology: An evolutionary view of Jesus as the 'new emergent' in creation fails that test, for what hope could such a figure provide for us who have not emerged? A similar difficulty confronts inspirational views of Christology," which see the special character of Jesus as resulting from his being filled with a unique measure of the divine Spirit, a quantitative rather than a qualitative difference from other prophets and men of God. I personally do not perceive any view of Jesus' person which is capable of coping with these salvia claims about him, which does not seek to wrestle with two difficult and deeply mysterious assertions of orthodox Christian theology: the doctrine of the incarnation (that the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in Christ provides a unique meeting point between God and men through which divine saving power is made available to men - the divine assumption of total humanity to bring about its total redemption); the doctrine of the Body of Christ (which proclaims human solidarity in Christ, so that through that union the life of God is made available to all mankind). Of course, these are counter-intuitive notions which we have the greatest difficulty in grasping. Anyone whose habits of thought have been formed by the practice of science will recognize, if not always welcome, that the complex strangeness of the world can lead us into regimes which in their true nature run counter to the intuitions of everyday life. If science does nothing else it ought to liberate us from an undue tyranny of common sense.
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on 4 December 2013
I bought this book to help my daughter with her Pre U philosophy course. Although I have a reasonable grasp of this subject and the different views I feel JCP has made this very difficult to read. Extensive use of unnecessary big words when simple ones would do. To be fair I am only halfway through but that is because it is a chore to pick it up, this should not be the case.
Read in conjunction with other authors for a balanced view.
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