This is a reissue of the book first written in 1983-85 and originally published in 1986. In the preface, Dr. Polkinghorne adds a 21st century perspective to what has become, over the years, a genuine classic. The book is one member of a trilogy, the others being SCIENCE AND CREATION (1988, 2006) and SCIENCE AND PROVIDENCE (1989, 2005). Every ASA member ought to have these three volumes in his or her personal library. I find myself reading them over and over, for the author has the unique gift of presenting deep thought on few pages in a most entertaining way.
John C. Polkinghorne was a Cambridge professor of mathematical physics when, in the early 1980s, he resigned to study for the Anglican priesthood. In his new career, he eventually rose to become president of Queens' College and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his service to science, religion, learning and medical ethics. He also received the 2002 Templeton Prize.
There are seven chapters to this gem, each building on those preceding: (1) The Post-Enlightenment World, (2), (3) and (4) The Nature of Science, Theology, The Physical World, (5) Points of Interaction, (6) Levels of Description, and (7) One World. His overall thesis is that both science and religion attempt to tease out "reality" but each with a different perspective. He explores in depth (how can he do so well in a scant 166 pages?) creation, miracles, a future life and in so doing argues that scientific reductionism is a bad idea and natural theology a good one. He describes himself as a "critical realist," claiming that this philosophy can be said of both science and theology; that it provides a base for mutual interaction between the two. He writes that his thinking structure is "bottom up," ". . . seeking to move from motivating experience to attained understanding in a way that is natural for a scientist . . . ." (Preface, page xii). He believes wholeheartedly in the unity of all knowledge; this book is based on this claim.
There are two words, not very much used, that Sir John is fond of, and these may illustrate well his critical realist approach. The first is "corrigible." As understanding progresses and this is true of both science and theology, our theories must be corrigible, else we stagnate. This, he sees, is the great fault of the young earth creationists, as well as some scientists who make truth claims about certain theories. The second is "verisimilitude." Polkinghorne claims that "truth" cannot be our necessary goal. "In fact, we shall have to be content with the more modest claim of verisimilitude. Our understanding of the physical world will never be total, but it can become progressively more accurate." (page 22).
I usually give my books away when I realize I will likely never read or reference them again. This book will never be among that set.
I cannot recommend it highly enough.
John W. Burgeson, Mancos, Colorado. Sent to PSCF 3-15-2007