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Quarks, Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science And Religion Paperback – September 1, 2006
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This book touches on subjects such as evolution, the Strong Anthropic Principle, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, the role of prayer, the free will argument, and the Gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection. Polkinghorne offers a brief summary of the major issues, then explains why he believes there are credible reasons to believe in God. He explores how the indeterminacy in natural systems allows room for human freedom, as well as subtle influences by a Divine Hand. He also faces challenges to theism, such as the problem of evil, unanswered prayers and the alleged conflict between science and religion. He acknowledges the thorniness of the issues, outlines the points of controversy, then shows why he maintains his faith despite, or in some cases because of, the uncertainties of life.
A number of things especially delighted me. First, he openly acknowledges that evolution really did occur, although like me he believes that the question of what drives it is far from settled. He affirms his belief in a Deity who experiences the flow of time, a controversial position which nonetheless has numerous advantages over the traditional conception of God. He also dispenses with the approach to the Bible employed by fundamentalists, by recognizing that the scriptures are comprised of widely varying writing styles. He points out that they contain examples of drama, poetry, hyperbole and other literary devices that often sacrifice "literal" truth in order to communicate a symbolic or spiritual message. In so doing he sets himself apart from the likes of Norman Geisler and Josh McDowell, who try to turn the Bible into a scientific textbook or a formal historical account.
Overall I recommend this book for those new to apologetics. For parties desiring further study, Polkinghorne lists more advanced works in the appendix. The seasoned student would do well to consult those volumes rather than this one, unless they need a review of basic concepts.
The most compelling chapters for general readership are the first four in which Polkinghorne shows the wiggle room for divinity apparently built into the universe from the moment of its inception. Meanwhile, he avoids the "watchmaker" casting of God. I found myself having to do a great deal of tangential reading (e.g. on "quantum entanglement") since he moves so quickly. This is a very short book at 118 pages.
The last chapters are more interesting to a Christian as Polkinghorne argues his particular brand of Christianity (allegorical/mythic use of "miracle" in much of the biblical literature, "animated beings" as opposed to "spirit-body" ontology), and ends up being pretty much a description of his personal faith which isn't entirely orthodox, but has the benefit of being arguable and somewhat defensible.
It's certainly worth checking out if the struggle between science and religion is something that interests you, if for no other reason than all of the main lines pro and con are briefly laid out.
In the introduction, the author writes, "As someone who's both a scientist and an Anglican priest, I've been concerned with trying to understand how the scientific and religious views of the world relate to each other. Do we have to choose between them or are they, instead, complementary understandings that, seen together, give us a fuller picture than either on their own would provide."
Polkinghorne's answers aren't completely satisfactory to me, but he does ask some penetrating questions and offers some well considered explainations. The book is well written and will make you stop and think.