"Paths from Science towards God" Arthur Peacocke.
Dr. Arthur Peacocke is a distinguished scientist who converted to Christianity and became an Anglican clergyman. His writings therefore have considerable interest for those of us who wish to protect our Christian beliefs in the current culture. His first chapter summarizes the way in which Christians have met the challenge of the surrounding cultures for the last two thousand years and concludes that in our time: "there is no easy route from reflection on the natural world unveiled by the sciences to any account of the nature and attributes of God." He proceeds to dismiss the irrationality of postmodernism and suggests instead that Bishop Butler's "probability as the guide to life" is an appropriate starting point for modern people in making sense of our world through "inference to the best explanation" (IBE)that will produce a "public truth which is both communicable and convincing". He will have no truck with biblical fundamentalism,pointing out that the bible was formed in continuous dialogue with present and past and must continue to guide us in the same spirit with the help of the best modern biblical criticism. Looking at the world then in all its diversity, IBE suggests that there is a self-existent ground of being of unfathomable richness, supremely and unsurpassably rational; omniscient; omnipotent, omnipresent and eternal and at least personal or supra-personal.This seems to amount to a claim that , for those with eyes to see,a knowledge of God is pretty natural if one looks at the world as science reveals it to us today; a position taken by not a few theologians and theologian/scientists such as Mascall, Lonergan, Stanley Jaki,Keith Ward John Polkinghorne and others. The author will later refer to the anthropic principle as supporting the view that the evolution of the universe can quite readily be seen as having a purpose and even a divine purpose behind it. He even tries to soften the mystery of evil in the world, pointing out that suffering may have creative power when imbued with love and that "nature red in tooth and claw" is a caricature of the picture in which creatures co-create new life. The personal character of God's interaction with the world is used to defend the claims of mystics and the various traditions that embody experience of God. Peacocke claims convincingly, I think, that his inferences about God, if taken together, are cumulative in their effect and make a more convincing case than any of the rival explanations, especially that of atheism. My traditional christian teeth began to grate a bit when Dr. Peacocke came to treat of time. He opts for a process theology explanation of a changing, suffering God whose omniscience is limited to a probable knowledge of indeterminate events such as those posited by quantum theory or human free choice , even though , if I understand him correctly the probability is 1 and therefore pretty certain anyway. Again the interconnectedness of all things and the immanence of God , penetrating all things rules out the possibility of miracles in the normally accepted sense, so that omnipotence also seems limited , though here too there is the suggestion that a "whole-part" view leaves God the possibility of intervening in accordance with a higher viewpoint that includes the laws of science but sees beyond them , so that God does not seem to be imprisoned within the laws of his own creation. I am more at home with the traditional distinction between God's actions within and those outside Himself which leaves a suffering Christ and a creation which mirrors the tripersonal, infinitely perfect unchanging God, leaving the mystery there. The statement that sin is a consequence of our very possession of self consciousness left me wondering about the free choice of the first humans who committed moral evil. If their choice was simply a consequence of being self-conscious, how was it a moral choice? Dr Peacocke then suggests a number of traditional christian beliefs and practices that "educated but theologically uninformed people today "find difficult to swallow. He includes the virginal birth of Jesus, the resurrection of the body and various images of the liturgy and sacraments. It has to be said that there are many educated and theologically informed people who swallow these things quite readily, including scientists and theologians. I suspect that many ordinary traditional christians such as myself believe through an act of piety, relying on the action of the Spirit within us,( so ably defended by Dr. Peacocke in this book) and that the reasonings of natural theology both old and new simply strengthen us against sceptics and remove blockages to belief while causing us to thing a little more deeply about the things o of God. I found much in the later chapters that were inspiring, the world as sacrament, the revelation of the three-personed God the humility of the writer's tone. I am sure that Canon Peacocke would be delighted that the overall impression of his book on at least one reader has been to put me on my knees in worship. I couldn't go along with everything in the book, but what a splendid read. I have to rate it very highly: five stars.