This is the seventh in a series of volumes by John Polkinghorne, President of Queen's College, Cambridge. Dr. Polkinghorne is a former Cambridge Professor of Mathematical Physics, a Fellow of the Royal Society and, recently, an Anglican priest.
This book is an overview of his first six books, all of which deal with some aspect of how the religious and scientific world views relate to one another. Reviews on three of these have appeared recently in PERSPECTIVES. Walt Hearne looked at FAITH OF A PHYSICIST in December, 1995, Richard Bube reviewed REASON AND REALITY in June 1993, and Daniel Wray analyzed THE WAY THE WORLD IS in March, 1993.
In 1896, A. D. White's THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE AND THEOLOGY IN CHRISTENDOM presented the case for antipathy between these world views; Polkinghorne's thesis, splendidly expounded, is an account of the "friendship" between them, which he believes to be the truer assessment. In a manner reminiscent of C. S. Lewis, Polkinghorne writes both clearly and concisely on issues of substance. He sees both science and religion to be "searches for truth." From page 97 . . . "The central religious question is the question of truth. Of course, religion can sustain us in life, or at the approach of death, but it can only do so if it is about the way things really are."
The science/religion relationship is explored in eight short chapters. In chapter 1, FACT OR OPINION?, he explains how, in science, experiment and theory, fact and interpretation, are always intertwined, and that matters of judgement must be considered. As he develops this theme into religious matters, he finds interesting differences (pg 13):
"Religious knowledge is much more demanding than scientific knowledge. While it requires scrupulous attention to matters of truth, it also calls for the response of commitment to the truth discovered."
"Nearly all that makes life worth living slips through the wide meshes of the scientific net."
Subsequent chapters address questions of clues to God's existence, to His ways of creation (page 46),
"He did not create a magic world because he is not a magician"problems of reductionism (page 52),
"A few H2O molecules by themselves are not wet"issues of miracles and resurrection, and questions of how a scientist can "believe." This last topic is, perhaps, the most important. Certainly, the popular image of a scientist in today's secularized world does not include a Christian faith relationship! For example, Margaret Wertheim asserts in her otherwise well written book PYTHAGORAS' TROUSERS (Random House, 1995), page 7, that "today most physicists no longer maintain formal ties with any religion . . . ." I don't know that to be a fact; Wertheim does not cite documentation, but I remember thinking this must be so when I was a young Carnegie Tech physics student in 1949. Counteracting this impression (thankfully) were the writings of a science popularizer of that day, Sir Arthur Eddington, a Quaker, who found science and religion compatible.
John Polkinghorne continues this tradition. His writings are heartily recommended. This is an excellent book to slip in the hands of your young loved one as he/she sets off for a college education in the sciences!
Reviewed by John W. (Burgy) Burgeson e-mail -- BURGY@www.burgy.50megs.com
Published in PERSPECTIVES, the quarterly journal of the ASA, in Volume 48, #3, September 1996.
ASA's web site is www.ASA3.ORG
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