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Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship Paperback – February 19, 2008
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With his characteristic precision, Polkinghorne sets out the difference between scientific and other types of inquiry: [the natural sciences] "enjoy possession of the secret weapon of experiment, the ability to put matters to the test, if necessary through repeated investigation of essentially the same set of impersonal circumstances. This enables science thoroughly to investigate a physical regime defined by a definite scale ... and to make an accurate map of it. ... By way of contrast, in all forms of subjective experience - whether aesthetic enjoyment, acts of moral decision, loving human relationships, or the transpersonal encounter with the sacred reality of God - events are unique and unrepeatable, and their valid interpretation depends ultimately upon a trusting acceptance rather than a testing analysis."
Polkinghorne uses a technique he calls "comparative heuristics" - basically the comparison of similarly constructed models as opposed to direct analogies. This enables the rationale to be evaluated regardless of the validity of a priori assumptions; thus Polkinghorne is able to address such a controversial topic as "miracles" without partisanship. "It does not make theological sense to suppose that God is a kind of show-off celestial conjurer, capriciously using divine power today to do something God did not think of doing yesterday and won't be bothered to do tomorrow. There must be a deep underlying consistency in divine action, but that requirement does not condemn the deity never to do anything radically new and unexpected." While miracles are the bête noir of science, the same could be said of materialist dogma to a believer; the author gently illustrates this by reference to the way that novel thinking by Maxwell, Born and Schrödinger contributed to an innovative understanding of the "potentialities present in the unpicturable quantum state associated with the electron."
I commend this book to any scientist who thinks his discipline incompatible with theology and any believer who is interested in learning how the latest developments in physics fit alongside spirituality. My only reservation is that Polkinghorne's combination of wisdom with humility is addictive - a reader will be unable to stop at this book.
This short little book is not the easiest read, but it is certainly manageable for anyone who has a basic familiarity with theology or science so long as they are willing to read slowly and carefully. The book juxtaposes two systems of inquiry designed to lead to a truthful description of reality. That theology is a discipline with rigorous controls and review and rules for inquiry seems to surprise many materialists, but it is a fact.
I have spent some time here at amazon and in the world dialoging with those who hold a materialistic view of the universe, and I am shocked at the level of disdain given to the disciplines of philosophy and theology. As the author of this book points out, the word "theological" is often used pejoratively to denote an unexamined or untested bias or belief. I too take umbrage with this usage, and I find myself wondering if the decline of traditional liberal education in the West marks the end of literate and competent discourse and debate in our society.
I am impressed by this book's economy, even while I was challenged by some of the vocabulary and concepts. I was relatively unfamiliar with the history of quantum physics, and I found this book very edifying as a result. The sections on Christology, the historicity of the resurrection, and the parallels between scientific and theological inquiry were concise, challenging, and largely convincing.
One point the author could have hit a little harder, in my opinion, is the history and philosophy of science, and why scientific inquiry of a high level is largely a product of Western Civilization. A belief in a God of love and reason who cannot, by His nature, be a deceiver, led Western man to engage in scientific inquiry, because their God was not capricious and made creation in a way that was understandable and knowable. When the University was founded in the Middle Ages, natural philosophy as a discipline was a natural outgrowth of this belief about God's nature, and is what led to the development of modern scientific method.
The author does point this out, but briefly, and a history of scientific inquiry in those early universities is far more rich than the author has time to allow for in this short book. However I think inclusion of the history of science during the middle ages and the Church's role in essentially inventing the university would have strengthened the author's thesis.
Still, this was a very powerful book, well reasoned and well argued. I could not recommend it more highly.