John Polkinghorne has an interesting new book out Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, which I highly recommend even if I’ve only read the first chapter. Mr Polkinghorne has had a distinguished career in theoretical physics involved in the development of the Standard Model, and is now retired from that and has subsequently been ordained as a Anglican priest and has been thinking theology. His view is that Theology and Science, especially Physics are not opponents, but more like cousins. In his words:

The basic reason is simply that science and theology are both concerned with the search for truth. In consequence, they complement each other rather than contrast each other. Of course, the two disciplines focus on different dimensions of truth, but they share a common conviction that there is truth to be sought. Although in both kinds of enquiry this truth will never be grasped totally and exhaustively, it can be approximated to in an intellectually satisfying manner that deserves the adjective ‘versimilitundinous’, even if it does not qualify to be described in an absolute sense as complete.


… The thesis of underlying turth-seeking connection between science and theology appeals strongly to someone like myself, who spent half a lifetime working as a theoretical physicist and then, feeling that I had done my little bit for science, was ordained to the Anglican priesthood and so began a serious, if necessarily amateur, engagement with theology. I do not discern a sharp rational discontinuity between these two halves of my adult life. Rather, I believe that both ahve been concerned with searching for truth through the pursuit of well-motivated beliefs, carefully evaluated.

[note: emphasis mine]

Mr Polkinghorne notes that this stands in contrast to the post-modernist currents which hold that there is no truth to be sought, that truths are constructed things. And I for one, applaud that.

This book attempts to trace in detail 5 events in Physics and Chrsitian theology and seeks to find parallels and to compare and contrast them. These are:

  1. A moment of enforced radical revision — for Physics, the photo-electric effect and the emergence of Quantum physics, for theology the realization that Jesus was God.
  2. A period of unresolved confusion — for Physics again, the period of 1900 to 1925 had held a growing number of experiments which had no resolution in the theory of the day. Again, for theology the period in the first centuries after Jesus as they attempted to formulate ways of talking about it.
  3. A new synthesis — 1925-1926 when Heisenberg and Schroedinger came up with a way to explain what was being seen and the Creedal periods of the 4th and 5th century when the Patristic fathers resolved the tensions between Jewish, Greek, and Christian ways of seeing the world and truth.
  4. Continued wrestling with unresolved issues — The measurement problem in Physics and understanding the divine, e.g., terms which are unclear “begetting” and “procession”.
  5. And deeper implications — the theories that resolve the problems (see above) have further implications which deepen our understaning of a wide variety of other matters.

This short book will as I mentioned investigate and explore similarities and differences of these matters in more depth. I look forward to reading on … and I encourage y’all to do so too.

For further reading of how science finds its meaning and its method of enquiry Mr Polkinghorne suggests this book: Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post- Critical Philosophy by Michael Polyani.

Filed under: Book ReviewsBooksChristianityMark O.ReligionScience

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