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The Faith of a Physicist (Theology & the Sciences Series) Paperback – February 1, 1996
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As an Anglican priest and a theoretical physicist, John Polkinghorne writes for critical thinkers, specifically those who find it difficult to embrace religious belief but cannot reject it entirely. Polkinghorne considers most theologians to be "top-down thinkers"--that is, they begin with faith and subsequently search for evidence of truth. As a scientist, Polkinghorne considers himself to be a "bottom-up thinker" by beginning with tangible evidence to arrive at definitive conclusions. Polkinghorne asks of every Christian belief, "What is the evidence that makes you think this might be true?" His entire treatise is based on the Nicene Creed, which he feels provides a sensible theological outline for religious belief. Moving through the creed, Polkinghorne discusses the nature of humanity, knowledge of God, the act of creation, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and Trinitarian theology. He looks at each topic in light of contemporary scientific understanding and shows how traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs are as relevant today as they were when the Nicene Creed was written in the fourth century. With its complex terms and theories, this book will most likely not appeal to the average reader, but it is a relevant addition to scientific and theological collections. Patty O'Connell --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"The Faith of a Physicistworks on two levels. On one level it is a straight-forward work of Christian apologetics. On another level it is a meditation on the relationship between science and religion. As a work of apologetics, Polkinghorne's book is a tour de force. It is a thoughtful and thorough defense of the Christian faith.... When Polkinghorne moves from apologetic argument to applying insights derived from physics to theology, his book loses none of its power and in fact becomes even more intellectually engaging."--The Boston Book Review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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I am wondering if this isn't maybe a textbook that they use for classes at University or something? And graduate classes at that. That would maybe explain the overly difficult, almost punishment-like writing style of this book. I have heard the phrase "not a light read" used before, but in the case of this tome, I think it would be more like "a difficult read even for PhDs in philosophy or theosophy - for anyone else, fuhgedaboutit!"
It was interesting to me, particularly in the parts that dealt with epistemology and science, but it is probably a bit too dense both in style and substance for the casual reader. The reader needs some background in philosophy, theology, and science (esp. physics) before reading this book. (If, for instance, you've never heard of Alfred North Whitehead, the Q source in NT scholarship, or quarks, I'd wager this book is not for you.) It took me a while to get through.
Also, Polkinghorne does not have a high view of the Bible (e.g., he accepts the conclusions of modernism that the gospels are an admixture of truth and fiction), so don't buy this book expecting a theologically conservative take on things.
However, it only takes a short while to appreciate that what he packs into one of those sentences captures a meaning that others spread over several pages. The Faith of a Physicist covers a lot of ground and requires significant reflection to derive full value, but it is nothing short of brilliant in explaining concepts that are often misrepresented by both sides of the naturalism versus faith debate. "We cannot begin by forming independently a theory of how God is knowable and then seek to test it out or indeed to actualize it and fill it with material content. How God can be known must be determined from first to last by the way in which He actually is known ... God is known because he has chosen to make himself known, through gracious disclosure. This revelatory action does not take the form of a mysterious conveyance of incontestable propositional knowledge; rather, it is mediated through events and people which have the character of a particular transparency to the divine presence and to intimations of a lasting hope." "Religious experience is not illusory human projection, but encounter with divine reality ... Atheists are not stupid, but they explain less ... Although atheism might seem simpler conceptually, it treats beauty and morals and worship as some form of cultural or social brute facts, which accords ill with the seriousness with which those experiences touch us as persons."
Polkinghorne takes a very different position on divine providence from the classical view of a Spiegel, while stopping short of entirely open theism. "The act of creation involves divine acceptance of the risk of the existence of the other, and there is a consequent kenosis of God's omnipotence. This curtailment of divine power is, of course, through self-limitation on his part and not through any intrinsic resistance in the creature." Of the deist position that God created but has not remained active in the world, Polkinghorne says: "There seem to be two motives for being willing to settle for so minimal a view of divine agency. One is a feeling that modern science will permit us nothing more. I hope I have already shown that to be a mistaken opinion. The other, and much the more significant, reason is the desire to solve the problem of theodicy by absolving God from any possibility of responsibility for specific happenings. A God of the 'one great act' is not a God who can be blamed for the Holocaust. Yet he is also not the God who raised Jesus from the dead ... our account of divine agency will have to be adequate both to the fact of evil and to the fact of hope."
With these short extracts from the book I have tried to give a representative sample of how the author expresses himself. Accurate, humble, deeply reflective and balanced, his style is rewarding for one who finds it worth the study. For those deterred by his exceptionally broad vocabulary and preference for long but tightly-packed sentences over a more simplistic style, there are other apologists who would probably prove more digestible. But for the unique wisdom of one who grasps the most complex of scientific concepts and is able to reconcile them with his Christian faith (to the confusion of his fellow countryman and grudging admirer Richard Dawkins) I cannot think of anyone who compares.