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Quantum Leap: How John Polkinghorne Found God in Science and Religion Paperback – September 1, 2011
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"I cannot think of a more trustworthy guide than John Polkinghorne, who holds up both ends of the science/faith debate." Philip Yancey, author, Disappointment with God
"The revealing story of an influential Christian and brilliant physicist whose life trajectory has been astonishingly unexpected. Written with sensitivity and clarity, this extraordinary spiritual biography illuminates one of the leading figures in our contemporary science-and-religion dialogue." Dr. Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and author, God's Universe
"An interesting and perceptive study of the life of a great and thoughtful person, who emphasized the relation between science and religion." Charles Townes, winner, Nobel Prize for Physics, and professor of physics, University of California
"With Quantum Leap, the authors open doorways for the reader to engage in a real and sophisticated thought on meaningful life-and-death topics." —The [San Diego, CA] North County Times
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H W Shipps
In Chapter 1 (Intellectual Suicide), the authors describe the New Atheists' case via the writings of Stephen Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and E. O. Wilson, intermingled with Polkinghorne's responses.
Chapter 2 (Room for Reality) describes his youth, education, and career as a theoretical particle physicist and his decision to switch to theology at age 49.
Chapter 3 (Droplets of Grace) covers prayer and Polkinghorne's prayer life, largely in the context of the illness and death of his wife of 51 years. It including a discussion of whether prayer can change things.
Chapter 4 (Regime change) tells of his experiences and feelings as the vicar of the only church in a small village near Canterbury and his attitude toward being able to celebrate the Eucharist. This chapter also covers miracles and the topic of science and the resurrection. Polkinghorne argues that scientists hold on to perplexing paradoxes all the time (particle vs. wave nature of light, quantum physics) and argues that "We live in a subtle world and both science and theology need to be subtle in their accounts of it."
Chapter 5 (Here and There) includes a discussion of the Anthropic Principle and what it shows and what it doesn't show.
Chapter 6 (Law and order) deals with medical ethic issues that Polkinghorne helped the UK to address. It also touches on the problems resulting from taking the Bible too literalistically versus accepting an evolving understanding of the Scriptures.
Chapter 7 (Life after Life) deals with what constitutes human identity, particularly that which continues after physical death and mentions his personal opinion that "God's offer of love and mercy is withdrawn at death. We still have a free will after death. We're still human beings."
Chapter 8 (In Particular) includes a very nice discussion of the possible role of science in interfaith dialogue by beginning with how each faith understands how the discoveries of modern science relate to their traditional theological understandings. It also includes speculation about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe and its implications.
The book leads up to Polkinghorne's three conclusions regarding the grand questions that religions ponder:
1. Belief in God is rational. Such a belief might be incorrect, but it is not a delusion.
2. No real conflict exists between science and Christianity, though there are unanswered questions about how they relate.
3. Most objects in the universe are not just machines set in motion after the Big Bang and running on their own. We live in a world of true becoming, where the future is not just an inevitable consequence of the past.
Overall, this book is an enjoyable, easy-to-read introduction to or refresher on Polkinghorne. The six pages of end notes include references to many of his books for anyone who wishes to further pursue his take on science and religion. Unfortunately, the publisher's word processor left something to be desired: lines of words are run together frequently. Hopefully that can be fixed in future printings.
CITATION: Nelson, D. and Giberson (2011). Quantum leap: how John Polkinghorne found God in science and religion. Oxford, UK and Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.
Reviewer: Dr William P. Palmer.
This is a book about the life and religious views of John Polkinghorne based on many interviews by Dean Nelson and Karl Giberson with Polkinghorne between 2007 and 2010 in a variety of different places. The reader is given no idea of what was said in particular interview on a particular occasion, but the interviews are compacted to represent Polkinghorne’s religious views together with some of his scientific work and parts of his life story and family history. On occasions Polkinghorne’s actual words are quoted, but the book is constructed to give a simple and interesting story. As a boy, Polkinghorne was interested in and exceptionally gifted at mathematics. He became a professor of Mathematical physics at Cambridge, was elected to the Royal Society in 1974, after participating in the research that led to the theory of the quark. In 1979 at the age of 47, he gave up his physics career to become an Anglican priest. He became Vicar of Blean in 1984, ministering there until 1986, when he accepted a position as Dean of the Chapel at Trinity College, Cambridge.
The majority of the book consists of his religious views, which are gentle, moderate and well-expressed. He has been in public debate with atheist physicist and friend, Steve Wienberg. He is gently critical of today’s prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Peter Atkins and Stephen Hawking, but attempts not to become involved in the rough and tumble of public debate.
The chapters of the book are as follows:
Chapter One: Intellectual Suicide
Chapter Two: Room for Reality
Chapter Three: Droplets of Grace
Chapter Four: Regime Change
Chapter Five: Here and There
Chapter Six: Law and Order
Chapter Seven: Life after Life
Chapter Eight: In Particular
The book contains a lot of information about the science-religion debate and attempts balance in as far as this is possible. The references/ notes at the end of the book are sketchy and there is no index. On p.123-124 and elsewhere there are many lines without spaces between words, so the quality of printing could be improved, and there are no illustrations apart from the cover.
However it is a worthwhile and thoughtful book.