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The Faith of a Physicist (Theology & the Sciences Series)
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on April 7, 1999
For those of us layman raised to revere religion as factual and non-optional but shaken by our realization that the foundation of our religious convictions are based on non-provable claims, Polkinghorne's "The Faith of a Physicist" is a detailed journey into the body of thought, which leads towards or away from faith. Embodied within the pages of this scholarly, richly referenced document, are vivid descriptions of the pivotal points of religion that must be accepted to believe in the Christian God. Polkinghorne does not hide the issues that strain faith but illuminates them beyond the imagination of the average layman while sharing his personal beliefs and understandings. Entangled within this treatise on faith is a strong argument that faith in God need not be abandoned by those who embrace today's theoretical physics. Too many, too big words make this a difficult read for the undergraduate and the context usually does not illuminate the meaning..(have your dictionary ready.)
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on June 15, 2000
Polkinghorne's method of exploration is simply to look at the world as a scientist and interpret it as a theologian. In The Faith of a Physicist we get the opportunity to explore with him as he does this. He asks many of the same questions and struggles with the same issues that I do, basic questions that run through the heads of people who think seriously about the world. Fundamentalists may well discard his theological conclusions, but those with an open mind will appreciate his attempt to stay true to orthodox Christian belief while exploring its interaction with modern science.
This book is dense and not one that I would recommend for speed reading (believe me, I tried when I needed to read it for class). It takes time to digest and to ponder Polkinghorne's thought processes and conclusions. In addition, I found the first two chapters to be more difficult reading than the rest of the book (perhaps I was just tired when I read them), so don't let them stop you from finishing the book. The rest of the book is great.
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on November 9, 2000
For a volume that contains less than 200 pages, this book is certainly rich with interesting ideas. Furthermore, the author has mulled them over until they came to intellectual ripeness. Within an outline drawn from the Apostles' Creed, Polkinghome gives his view of the anthropic principle, the relation of body to mind, the nature of God, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and other subjects, in a thoughtful manner. He strikes a good balance between authority and personal opinion. He refers frequently and in humility to what well-known thinkers on all sides of the questions at hand have said (he has obviously done his homework), but is confident, bold, and smart enough to pick his own path across the fields of fact. He argues, at one point, that "The titles assigned to Jesus play the role that models do in scientific investigation." In other words, the New Testament does not appear as a mass of dogmas artificially superimposed upon stories of Jesus' life. Rather, terms like "Son of God" show the early Christians groping for a way of coming to grips with remarkable facts. That is the kind of "bottoms up" approach Polkinghome appreciates.
I have three caveats. First, Polkinghome slips into theological jargon too often. Second, his idea that we do not have souls, but that at some point in the future, God will make copies of us from His perfect knowledge, not from the same bits of matter though, seemed weak to me. I mean, presumably God could do the same now -- there could be copies of us running around on other planets. But what does that have to do with you or I or the promises of Scripture?
Third, what Polkinghome primarily seems to give here is a cautious explanation of his faith, rather than a strong argument for it. His initial caution lends his ultimate conclusions about the resurrection of Jesus, for example, a great deal of weight. But while agnostics and atheists who make this book their token foray into Christian apologetics could do worse, they should be aware that the author is passing over some very strong areas of evidence for Christianity. Please do not put the book down saying, "Well, I survived that; I guess I'm safe." I suggest you also consider the psychological truths G. K. Chesterton discusses in Everlasting Man, the history Don Richardson relates in Eternity in Their Hearts, and the many testimonies of modern Christians on how God answers prayer. (Miracles are the most "bottoms-up" kind of evidence for God.) You might also find my new book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, worth a read, especially if the question Polkinghome raised about spiritual alternatives to the Christian faith is of interest.
d.marshall@sun.ac.jp
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on December 14, 1999
I agree that the materialist, the atheist and the strict fundamentalist will find much to dispute about this book. The latter being said, Polkinghorne is actually far more orthodox in his theology than many modern academic theologians. For believing Christians who are uncomfortable rejecting either orthodox science or orthodox Christianity, this book provides many fascinating insights. If you need to believe that God does not exist or that he created the world in six 24-hour days, you won't be happy with this book. A final caveat. The reading is challenging. However, Polkinghorne provides a short glossary of scientific and theological terms. This book is more accessible to the general reader than his most recent work "Belief in God in an Age of Science."
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on February 23, 1999
Be prepared for some serious challenges to your mind in reading this book. The author is both a physicist and an Anglican priest who explains his view of the relationship between science and religion and the role of faith. He does not argue that science proves that God is real but argues strongly that scientific understanding of the universe leaves ample room for a God who intercedes in the Universe, controls it and will bring a good end. Rigorously reasonable, it is sure to offend doctrinaire persons from atheists to fundamentalists but presents a good framework for people seeking to reconcile the claims of science and religion.
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on September 12, 2005
Polkinghorne is brilliant: he is way out in front as a scientist with his mastery at the leading edge of quantum mechanics. He is a very well read theologian. He brings both of these qualifications to bear in the explanation and support of his strong convictions about our need for a lively faith in a benevolent Creator God. This book has launched me into a journey through his other books; a journey that has all the flavor of a treasure hunt.
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on December 11, 1998
The President of Queen's, Cambridge is to be commended for this masterful and unique attempt to reconcile the Apostle's creed with his scientific background. A tour de force in science, philosophy and theology indeed.
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on November 5, 1997
An interesting piece but no more than an apologists attempt to reconcile two fields that have no common ground. Polkinghorne attemts to treat the metaphysical as though it had more substance or basis than the legends, myths and superstitions upon which it is based. The fact that he has some background grounded in science, unfortunately, lends unwarranted credence to his work. At some point the myth followers will have to accept that the universe as revealed by science is not compatible with their myths.
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