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Belief in God in an Age of Science (The Terry Lectures Series) Paperback – November 10, 1999
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Belief in God in an Age of Science, by the renowned theoretical physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne (a fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge), collects a series of lectures exploring the compatibility of science and theology. Polkinghorne's most interesting argument is that the two disciplines, which he calls "intellectual cousins," exhibit "a common concern with the attainment of understanding through the search for motivated belief." He describes this common concern by comparing the scientific investigation into the nature of light that led to the quantum theory with the theological investigation of the nature of Christ's being that led to the Chalcedonian Creed. Polkinghorne's prose is lucid throughout, and his broadminded rigor persuades readers that "if reality is generously and adequately construed, then knowledge will be seen to be one; if rationality is generously and adequately construed, then science and theology will be seen as partners in a common quest for understanding." --Michael Joseph Gross
"If you read one book on science and religion, this should be it."
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Since Galileo, the Church has been frantically retreating from its claims about nature and about natural theology. Today theology finds itself in the corner and Polkinghorne builds his last line defense on arguments such as the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" in physics, the Anthropic Principle and the physicists' subjective search for beautiful theory. These arguments, even though brilliantly constructed, will not convince anybody who is not convinced already, and are, I think, wrong.
Polkinghorne, being a scientist, is too respectful of science for my taste. I would have enjoyed a more aggressive stand, showing, for example, that human agency, not to mention human consciousness, is difficult to reconcile with the scientific view. Also, he devotes exactly one phrase on the spooky phenomenon of uniform mystical experience that cuts through time and religious denominations. He plays by the rules of science and insists on the losing proposition that theology is rational and therefore should be as convincing and taken as seriously as science. Polkinghorne puts a lot of emphasis on the "unity of knowledge" and tries to unify science and theology and to show that these are aspects of the same search for truth. A better strategy would be to have theology engulf science and explain that science forms only a small (not even a very relevant part) of knowledge. After all, how we should manage our spouse and kids, how to understand pain and failure in life, are matters outside of science and much more relevant to our well-being and to our understanding of the world and its meaning. For literally everybody, this kind of knowledge is more important than scientific knowledge. To a religious person God is everything and knowledge starts with God and passes through layers before reaching at its most basic level knowledge about the physical world.
On the whole, this is a very worthwhile book that is filled with ideas and references to other books. I have not read much on this subject but this book probably shows how far rational theology can go which is not very far - a sobering and important conclusion.
I still gave this book such a high mark since it was practically flawless as far as logic is concerned. Trying to look skeptically, I had a hard time arguing against his points. Any person predisposed towards a strong rationalist/metaphysical naturalist viewpoint probably will still encounter stumbling blocks when Polkinghorne discusses Christian theology. What anyone from that viewpoint will not be able to do is disprove his points, or even call them implausible.
The sections that weren't replete with philosophical jargon were actually pretty accessible, and I thought the writing was wonderful. If you're looking for a book that will help your spiritual mind make peace with your thinking mind, READ THIS. Just make sure to know your philosophy of science beforehand.
I think this book picks up where E.O. Wilson's *Consilience* leaves off. Polkinghorne faces squarely both the strengths and the difficulties/drawbacks of empircal science and religion (specifically Christian theism, although much is of general interest) and shows that each discipline gains from understanding the complementary interests and value of the other.
I can truly say that this book has enriched my thinking.
Cannot recommend this highly enough.
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John Polkinghorne is, or was, a theoretical physicist of distinction.Read more