Dr. John Polkinghorne: On Faith and Science

For those of us interested in the integration of faith and science, it is advisable to either learn a second language or find a bilingual guide who is competent in interpreting and understanding both cultures. Finding bilingual guides has always been challenging. But our guest in this hour is eminently qualified to write on both theology and science. He is past president and now fellow of Queens’ College in Cambridge. He worked for years as a theoretical elementary particle physicist, then was professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge before resigning to train for ministry in the Church of England. He is the author of The Faith of the Physicist, Belief in God in an Age of Science, and more recently, Faith, Science and Understanding. And we welcome Dr. John Polkinghorne.

Q. It’s wonderful to have you with us.
A. It’s very good to be here.

Q. Your work consists of integrating two of your great passions, science and
Faith. And I thought it would be interesting to find out, kind of from a personal standpoint, how each of these emerged in your own life. I mean, at what point in your life did science emerge as a passion?
A. Well, science emerged as a passion, I suppose, when I went to university. I went to Cambridge to study mathematics, and during my undergraduate time I got interested in the fact that you could use mathematics to understand the physical world. And so when I came to do a Ph.D., I did it in theoretical physics. And that led me onto my career in-in that area. I enjoyed doing all that very much, but after about 25 years of it I felt I had done my bit for science and I would try and do something else.

Q. Now, the home in which you were raised and the-the early education, was it immediately apparent that you were interested in the physical world and in-in understanding things from a scientific perspective?
A. Well, I suppose I had the curiosity that young boys tend to have. I also grew up in a Christian home, so I can’t remember a time when religion wasn’t a part of my life. I’ve always been part of the worshipping and believing community.

Q. Was there a point in your¢â‚¬¦ As you were engaging in your scientific passion, were there points early on where you began to see some of the gaps that so many others see in-in science and faith or were you pretty early on doing integrative work?
A. I think I was¢â‚¬¦ I’ve never really faced a sort of crisis. I’ve never felt an either/or situation that I had to choose either my science or my religious belief. Of course, there are puzzles about how the two relate to each other, and I tried to think about those during my science days. And, of course, I’ve thought a great deal more about them since then. But I’ve never faced a crisis situation in that sense.

Q. What kind of theological environment were you raised in that would allow you that latitude? Because one of the points that you’ve-you’ve made in your work is that there are views of theology that are prescriptive and that are-that-that have very little flexibility, very little adaptability. And you obviously were raised in some sort of intellectual environment that gave you a more embracing theology.
A. Yes. Well, I was raised in a sort of middle-of-the-road Church of England environment, I suppose. The Church of England has-has always liked to be on agreeable terms with culture. It doesn’t want to just be subservient to culture, it wants to be able to criticize culture when necessary, but it wants also to benefit from the insights that general human understanding can provide. So I suppose it’s, in that sense, it was an encouraging setting to explore how religious truth relates to other forms of truth.

Q. Now, one of the points that you made in Faith, Science and Understanding is that the desire to harmonize and relate science and faith is a-is a particular British fascination. The British have always been interested in that in the academic environment.
A. That’s right, they have. The British are-are sort of pragmatic people. They like to try and fit things together in ways that work. They don’t come with great schemes in their minds already, so they perhaps find it easier to adjust to changing intellectual circumstances than those who come out of a more fixed tradition.

Q. When we think about the-the obstacles that-that some scientists feel in approaching issues of faith and many theologians feel in approaching issues of science and look at-at what is sometimes seen as this great chasm and gap much of your work has been in identifying some of the building blocks that can show the relationship between the two.
A. Right.

Q. And if we started looking at the-some of the building blocks from the scientific vantage point, one of the starting points would be scientists needing to accept that theology has a place at the table.
A. Right.

Q. And you argue this from the-the notion of a shared quest for intelligibility, and we live in a cosmos not in a chaos. Expand on why a scientist should believe that theology has a place at the academic table and in the intellectual arena and, ultimately, in-in-in the pursuit of truth itself.
A. Well, I think all scientists are imbued with a thirst for understanding. They want to make sense of-of the world in which we live. And, of course, science helps us to a very significant extent to do that. But not every question that we want to ask is a scientific question and, therefore, not every question we want to ask will have a scientific answer. For example, scientists are very struck with the beautiful order of the world, the fruitfulness of-of-of world history, that universe that started as just a ball of energy 15 billion years ago now is the-the home of saints and mathematicians. It’s a very fruitful history. Now, science explains some of the process of that but it doesn’t explain where the beautiful laws of nature come from. The experience of wonder is very characteristic of scientific experience, and that wonder at the rational beauty of the world, I think, points us beyond science. Do we say, that’s just our luck? Science, of course, doesn’t explain the laws of nature themselves, but they have this character that seems to suggest, to me anyway, that there is a mind, a capital M, Mind, behind the wonderful order of the world.

Q. In addition to the order of the world you talk about morality and ethics.
A. Yes.

Q. And how this is also a pursuit that scientists recognize falls outside of their purview but is important to them.
A. Yes, it seems to me extremely significant that the physical world in which we are obviously inhabitants is also the carrier of value. That we have beauty in the world, we also have moral knowledge. It seems to me I know, as certainly as I know anything, as certainly as I know any scientific thing, that torturing children is wrong. And you have to ask, where does that knowledge come from? How does it come about that this physical world that’s made up of quarks and gluons and electrons is also the arena of moral choice. Religion explains that. Because just as it sees God’s mind behind the scientifically discerned order of the world, it sees God’s will and purpose behind our ethical intuitions. So it ties things together for me. It’s a sort of Grand Unified Theory which scientists like the idea of in a way that’s satisfying to me.

Q. You talk a lot about theology as an integrating discipline.
A. That’s right.

Q. And a lot of scientists recoil at that notion. They-they certainly don’t want to see theology as an equal pursuit, they don’t want to see science as subservient to theology and-and so they-they tend to be uncomfortable with the notion of theology as the integrator. Is that accurate or not?
A. Well, yes. I think you’re describing an attitude that you certainly find in the scientific community. I think it’s a mistaken attitude. It would be a mistake for theology to think that it can tell science what to think on its own ground. We have every reason to suppose that scientifically askable questions will receive scientifically stateable answers. But we need to look beyond that. So the integrative part of theology is not telling science what to do, but setting science within an even broader and more profound setting of understanding.

Q. We’ll-we’ll get to next the whole issue of-of learning to understand how things are known. And the importance of that in understanding the differences between theology and science.We’ll be back with more of Dr. John Polkinghorne. His book is Faith,
Science and Understanding. It’s published by Yale University Press. We’ll be right back.
A. Yes.

Q. Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. For many of us understanding the relationship between scientific pursuit and faith is a-is a personal interest. For our guest this evening, Dr. John Polkinghorne, it is a professional pursuit as well as a personal passion. He’s done some very significant work in this area having authored The Faith of the Physicist, Belief in God in an Age of Science, and more recently Faith, Science and Understanding. We’ve been talking about, from the scientific community, one of the building blocks to building a bridge between science and faith would be the scientific community’s willingness to accept theology’s place at the table, and even its role as an integrating discipline. You get into, in the book Faith, Science and Understanding, you make the comment, “There is no universal epistemology.”
A. Yes.

Q. And-and you start talking about the multi-layered character of reality
A. Right.

Q. ¢€œand the fact that there are different ways of knowing
A. Right.

Q. ¢€œdifferent aspects of truth.
A. Yes.

Q. Expand on what you mean by that and why it is so important in this bridging
Of faith and science.
A. Well, I think it is important. I mean, science is really trying to know the world in an objective way, treating reality as an “it,” as an object. And that means it’s something that you can kick around and pull apart and find out what it’s made of. And that gives science its secret weapon which is, of course, the experimental method. Now, we know that there are other encounters with reality where we get to know things in a different way. We get to know each other in a different way. There, testing has to give way to trusting. If I’m always setting little traps to see if you’re my friend, I destroy the possibility of friendship between us. So that’s a different way of knowing, which is adapted not to the impersonal world that science describes, but to the personal world of human encounter. And, of course, the transpersonal world of encounter with the Divine reality requires yet another way of knowing, which involves worship and awe and obedience. And I think it’s very important that to recognize that we-we don’t meet reality in a single way. We have to conform ourselves to what it is we’re trying to encounter and to understand.

Q. You-you illustrate this within the scientific community by pointing out
quantum physics and
A. That’s right.

Q. ¢€œthe theory of relativity being two of the most significant scientific discoveries in the twentieth century and yet they themselves are approached differently, understood differently.
A. Right. Yes. I mean, the physical world of everyday experience, which science of course does study, is clear and reliable. The quantum world, of course, is cloudy and fitful and you have to know it in a different way. If you insist on trying to know what’s happening inside atoms to the last detail, you’ll fail. Heisenberg won’t let you do that. And it will just be a pointless mistake to try for that kind of knowledge. You have to accept a different, more veiled encounter with physical reality.

Q. Now, one of the very interesting building blocks, I think, is a way of describing within this dialogue is the importance of understanding personhood.
A. Right.

Q. And-and how scientific process, almost by definition, certainly by practice
A. Uh-huh.

Q. is trying to eliminate the-the notion of the-the person as-as part of the process, whereas personality and, personhood, I’m sorry, is really kind of an essential element of all human life and all inquiry of truth.
A. Yes, it’s an essential element, actually, of doing science. You’re right in saying that science doesn’t try to describe its own material in personal terms. That’s the restriction that it imposes upon itself and which isn’t able to be very successful. Science is successful simply because it doesn’t try and explain everything. But scientists themselves are persons. They have to make judgments about is this a good scientific theory? An experimentalist has to make a judgment, am I really measuring what I want to measure or is there something else going on that’s contaminating the evidence I’m accumulating? These are acts that you don’t read in a book, you have to¢â‚¬¦ They come from personal judgment and experience. So science, scientists are persons even if science itself is impersonal.

Q. When we think about-about the-the understanding most scientists have of revelation–
A. Right.

Q. –It is a huge stumbling block for them. They-they look at revelation with a certain set of understandings of what that would mean, and it is, by definition, outside their realm of acceptability. And you would argue rightly so, based on the way they understand revelation, you try to give them a different perspective on revelation.
A. That-that’s right. I-I think there’s a tremendous misapprehension in many scientist’s mind. They think the revelation is some sort of unquestionable authority. If you shut your eyes, grit your teeth, believe six impossible things before breakfast, because you’re told that’s what you’ve got to do.

Q. Yeah.
A. Now, they don’t want to do that, nor do I. I don’t want to commit intellectual suicide. And I’m trying to persuade my scientific friends that I have motivations for my religious beliefs just as I have motivations for my scientific beliefs. Revelation, I think, is the account of those particular events and people in whom the divine presence has been most clearly revealed and-and discerned. They are like critical experiments, so to speak. Or critical observations perhaps would be a better way of putting it. So I see, for example, the Bible in a sense, as being the laboratory notebook of the spirit in the way that a scientist notes down the results of his or her experiments in the laboratory.

Q. Hm. So now this, of course, leads us into a discussion of-of how theology has to understand itself.
A. Right.

Q. Because if scientists have to accept certain things about theology, theology has to accept certain things about science and about its own practice.
A. Absolutely.

Q. And it strikes me that-that one of them is this-this very understanding of what the work of theology is.
A. Yes.

Q. And what the nature of-of revelation is. If-if-if theologians are unwilling to meet scientific, the scientific community in an agreeable way in their definition and practice of-of the term revelation, this-this becomes one of those gaps that is unbridgeable.
A. Yes, I think that’s right. I mean, I think that theologians have to recognize that they are interpreting experience often, of course, not their own experience, but the experience that’s reported to them as a Christian theologian, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central experience around which my-my theological understanding turns. That has to be looked at carefully. The evidence has to be assessed and then responded to. And that seems to me as a process that is not all that different from the way in which scientists analyze experimental results.

Q. When you talk about the death, burial, and resurrection you’re talking about miracles. Miracles are also a huge gap for many scientists. They view it as an unlikely intervention or punctuated equilibrium of the miraculous into an otherwise orderly natural world.
A. Yes. I think they don’t realize that there is actually a theological problem about miracles. The only thing that’s theologically incredible about miracles is that they are acts of the divine showing off. That God says, I’ll show them today, and does something that God didn’t think about doing yesterday and won’t be bothered to do tomorrow. So you have to understand miracles not as being divine sort of acts of showing off but as deeper aspects of the divine consistency. That’s why, for example, in the gospel of St. John, miracles are described as signs. They’re sort of windows into a deeper level of reality. And-and we have to make sense of them in that sort of way. They aren’t just funny tricks.

Q. But that, of course, raises questions for the scientist on-on the nature of God’s relationship with the natural order and with processes
A. Right, right.

Q. ¢€œthat have been set in motion.
A. That’ right. And the first thing we have to say is that God ordains nature, and the laws of nature are themselves an expression of God’s will. I think that the reliability of the laws of nature is a reflection of God’s faithfulness. Therefore, God doesn’t just tear up the laws of nature, that would be for God to act against God, which wouldn’t make sense at all, but I think the laws of nature are not so tightly drawn that there isn’t room within the oaken grain of nature both for us to act in the world and for God to act in the world. I also believe that God sometimes does entirely new things in entirely new circumstances, which is how I understand the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Q. Well, this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Dr. John Polkinghorne. His most recent book is Faith, Science and Understanding. He has also written The Faith of the Physicist, and Belief in God in an Age of Science. He worked for years as a theoretical elementary particle physicist, was professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge, before leaving to train for ministry in the Church of England, and has done significant work in understanding the integration of faith and science. We’ve been talking about the barrier and the gap that often exists between science and faith and some of what the scientific community has to wrestle with in bridging that gap. And we’re talking a bit about what the theological side of the equation has to understand in order to bridge to science. One of the-one of the dimensions of your argument has to do with divine self-limitation.
A. Right.

Q. As a theological principle.
A. Right.

Q. That-that has importance both in theology and the scientific community.
A. Yes, yes.

Q. What is divine self-limitation and how does it work itself out?
A. I think it’s an extremely important idea which, in the twentieth century,
became pretty dominant in many forms of theological thinking. And it’s this: That when God brings into being a creation, because God is a God of love, God allows creatures to be themselves, indeed to make themselves. That’s how we might theologically understand an evolving universe. So that the creation is not God’s divine puppet theater in which God pulls every string, but God allows creatures to be themselves. And that means, of course, that not everything that happens in the world will be in accordance with God’s will. I don’t think that God wills the act of a murderer. But, of course, God allows, because God has given free will to human beings, God allows murders to happen. I also actually think that God does not will the incidence of a cancer, but God allows that to happen in a world in which malignancy is an unavoidable possibility.

Q. When we-when we accept the divine self-limitation it enters into the world of
philosophical inquiry about cause and God as-as a cause among the causes.
A. Right.

Q. Talk about why that is important.
A. It’s important to me because it-it is the sort of relationship, I think, that love, a
loving God would have with creatures, to share with them rather than to dominate them. I think that God interacts with the world but does not overrule it. And-and that seems to me important. And, as I say, does then explain the-what is the greatest, always helps with, he doesn’t exactly abolish it, the deepest theological problem, which is the problem of the existence of evil and suffering in the world. Those things I think are contrary to God’s world but are allowed to happen because God is not just the cosmic tyrant who-who is in charge of absolutely everything.

Q. Why is it that we have reached an impasse in the scientific community and the
theological community? We’ve-we’ve been talking about a number of the dynamics of it, but if you had to say, this is what’s at the heart of it and this is what is essential to bridge it, what would you say?
A. Well, I’m not sure we have reached an impasse. I mean, there’s quite a brisk conversation going on. I think the difficulty is that the scientists are wary of religion. I mean, a great many scientists, I think, can see that science by itself is not enough. Music is more than vibrations in the air, there must be more to say about the world. But they are wary of religion because they think it is based upon unquestioning authority. They don’t want to commit intellectual suicide. And I think that theology has to be a bit more up front in-in-in exhibiting that it’s-it doesn’t have all the answers put up its sleeve, but it, too, is in the search for truth.

Q. The nature of faith, you know, I’ve-I’ve had conversations with scientists who will talk about scientific inquiry bringing them a certain level of-of certainty whereas the¢â‚¬¦ And they’ll¢â‚¬¦ Often times you’ll talk to people who-who are wanting to understand the relationship between theology and-and science and they essentially have two completely, two different operating hypotheses that they never bring together. You know, as a scientist I operate this way. In the world of faith I take things, you know, this way by faith. But they don’t ever link the two.
A. Yes, I’m-I’m-I feel regretful about that. I-I try and hold the two together as far as I can myself. I want to be, so to speak two-eyed, looking through my science eye and my religious eye at the same time. Science does involve some degree of faith, some degree of commitment. For example, the world makes sense and-and that our understandings of it are not misleading us. Of course sometimes we have to correct them. One of the big differences between scientific faith in that sense and religious faith in another sense is, of course, that religious faith involves commitment of the whole person. I mean, I believe in quarks and gluons very strongly, actually, but it doesn’t affect my life in any very critical way. I can’t be a Christian without it affecting my life in all sorts of ways. So there is a sort of moral demand in-in religious belief as well as an intellectual demand, which does make it, of course, more costly, more challenging, and in the end more worthwhile.

Q. Yeah. I want to get back to that point, though, because it goes back to something we mentioned earlier that a lot of scientists are afraid of theology because they view it as you-you just essentially said that you can have a scientific belief that doesn’t affect all of your life
A. Right.

Q. ¢€œbut you can’t have a theological assumption of the lordship, let’s say, or the
existence of God without that essentially affecting all of your life
A. That’ right.

Q. ¢€œwhich-which again comes back to the scientist saying, if I allow the notion of
God
A. Yeah.

Q. ¢€œas a-as a sovereign authority over all, that is
A. Yes.

Q. ¢€œmy science has to come under the authority of theology, of God, and-and-and
even under theology, and this is-there’s great fear in that notion.
A. Well, I would agree that science comes under the authority of God, but not under the authority of theology as such. It comes under the authority of the God of truth because it is an aspect of truth. And theology is concerned with other aspects of truth. And together, it seems to me, science and theology are both under the judgement of the God of truth. And it grieves me if religious believing people are not open to receiving that sort of truth that science can give them as well as the truth¢â‚¬¦

Q. It’s one of my great frustrations within the American community when you look at the way Christians are viewing the issues of science because essentially you’ll have all these-these new discoveries coming out in the scientific community and there is a whole-there’s a whole movement and organization set up to debunk everything that science is bringing out, to squeeze it within a six-day literal creation, young earth and so forth, and it-and it just continues to drive this wedge between scientific inquiry and what I view as just marvelous revelations.
A. Yes.

Q. I-I read the New York Times science section and I get excited when I read¢â‚¬¦Or today I opened the New York Times and it talks about this ancient Peruvian civilization, and I get excited by what was happening.
A. Yes, yes.

Q. I don’t feel threatened by it, I don’t feel like somehow¢â‚¬¦ But-but within American Christianity, and you and I were talking earlier that this isn’t so in Britain, there is this-this placing all scientific discovery under a prescriptive view of-of Biblical revelation that essentially, I mean, first of all, I can’t accept it as a person who is a believer.
A. Yeah.

Q. And-and if you take it even a step further, a scientist who isn’t, I mean, it’s
obvious why, in this intellectual environment, they would view that the path of theology is untenable.
A. Absolutely. And it grieves me, too, to see it. And it grieves me because, for example, if you treat the first chapters of Genesis as a sort of divinely dictated blow-by-blow account of the physical process of the world, given most of all save us the trouble of doing science, you actually miss the point of what those chapters are about. They aren’t about science, they’re about theology. Their message is-is nothing exists except through the will of God. God said, let there be, and that’s the important message. And if you’re arguing about six days and so on, you-you’re missing the point of the scripture quite apart from throwing away a lot of potential scientific insight. And we’ll be back with some more of Dr. John Polkinghorne. His most recent book is Faith, Science and Understanding. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back.

Q. Well, this is Dick Staub back with you, having an interesting conversation with Dr. John Polkinghorne. You can spend more time with him by picking up a copy of his book, Faith, Science and Understanding, or The Faith of the Physicist, or Belief in God in an Age of Science. There have been in your book, Faith, Science and Understanding, talks about Michael Denton, Behe, and others, and some kind of interesting developments within the biological community around the notion of intelligent design.
A. Right.

Q. I mean, how significant is this within the world of science?
A. Well, I think there are-there are two-two levels there. One thing is the so-called anthropic principle, which tells us that the laws of nature have to be very precisely what they actually are for the possibility of carbon-based life, people like you and me, to be on the cosmic agenda at all. That’s a very striking discovery, and that’s something on which all scientists would agree, that if the laws of nuclear physics weren’t what they are carbon wouldn’t be made inside of stars–we’re all made of the ashes of dead stars–and we wouldn’t be here. There’d be no carbon-based life because there’d be no carbon. Scientists would agree about that. And then you have to ask the question, what does that-what’s the significance of that? And I would say, the significance is that we live in a universe that was intended by its creator to be pregnant with life from the beginning. But there’s a second line of argument, which is the intelligent design argument in biology, which says that some small biological systems that are extremely important in life are irreducibly complex. They have a number of components to them all of which are necessary to be in place before anything of value happens. And if that’s the case, of course, that would be very hard to understand in a purely naturalistic evolutionary story. Now then, Michael Behe raises this in his book, Darwin’s Black Box. Now that’s a very interesting question. But I think the jury is out at the moment on the scientific assessment of this. These processes are not too well understood. There’s a great deal of more work to be done. Different scientists will disagree in that area whether irreducible complexity has been demonstrated or not so I’m much more cautious about that second line of argument. I have to sort of wait because I’m only a physicist and I can’t judge biological arguments in detail. But I have very much a cautious wait and see in relation to that.

Q. But your view would be that the scientific community should be more open to inquiring, into exploring these views, whereas in, you know, you hear of Stephen Gould or many people within the American scientific community, they’re very reactionary to anything that is suggesting that the-the-the current operating hypothesis is-is-is inaccurate or unacceptable.
A. Absolutely. Yes, I’m afraid the-the sort of evolutionary argument, particularly as it goes on in North America, is a clash of two fundamentalisms. There’s a creationist fundamentalism, but there’s equally the neo-Darwinist fundamentalism which says we absolutely know every necessary idea in the story of the evolution of life. And that seems to me scientific overkill. It’s a very complicated process. We only have partial evidence of it, and I would certainly scientifically think it was sensible to be open to further sources of understanding.

Q. What do you think is at the heart of that-that-that scientific fundamentalism? You use a phrase, “motivated beliefs.”
A. Yes.

Q. There-there is an intensity of belief within that evolutionary fundamentalism that easily rivals the religious fundamentalism.
A. Well, absolutely.

Q. What is it?
A. Well, it-it’s the sort of metaphysical agenda. It’s the agenda of naturalism. It’s the agenda of people who do not want there to be a divine reality, do not want there to be a transcendental dimension to life.

Q. Ultimately, do you believe that-that God and the notion of-of-of a God is a presupposition or does it grow out of the evidence? In other words, would a scientist be able to take the-the belief in God as something other than just a matter of faith and presupposition?
A. I don’t think it’s simply a matter of faith and presupposition. I don’t think it’s simply a matter of reading it out of the evidence because the evidence is too ambiguous for that. I find it the most comprehensive, most satisfying way of reading the evidence and making sense of our experience, not during our scientific experience of the wonderful order and fruitfulness of the world but our experiences of-of-of moral imperative, of beauty, religious experiences, of encounter. It makes sense of the whole show. Now, I can’t force people to take all those levels of experience as seriously as I do, but I think they are taking an impoverished view of the world if they discard some of them.

Q. We-we live in a world of-of academic specialization.
A. Yes.

Q. You know, your theologian and your scientist–
A. Right.

Q. ¢€œare not speaking the same language at all. And then we live in a world of-of relatively uneducated, uninformed lay people on both subjects of theology and science.
A. Right.

Q. One of the interesting kind of, near the end of your book you talk about
Wolfhart Pannenberg
A. Yes.

Q. ¢€œand-and as a theologian becoming enamored with some of the ideas of Frank
Tipler, who I happened to interview a few years ago. And-and Frank Tipler is a scientist who has some really, really unorthodox views
A. He certainly has.

Q. ¢€œwithin the scientific community.
A. Yes.

Q. So you’ve got a theologian trying to do science and a scientist trying to do theology, and in both cases that path is-is fraught with peril. And in an age of specialization, what is the likelihood that these two disciplines, any two disciplines for that matter, but these two which we view as so important, can actually be bridged? And who are the bridgers? And how is it going to happen?
A. Well, I think that-I think it’s very important that-that we do bridge them. The
modern tendency in the academic world is to learn more and more about less and less. And that-that’s a, there’s value in that, but only up to a point. We have to have a-a broader and a deeper-deeper view. We can only do it by, first of all, sticking our necks out a little bit. If we want to see further, we have to stick our necks out. And that means moving into, talking about areas which we are not completely expert in. I mean, I’m-I’m a pretty expert theoretical physicist, a less expert theologian, though I’m seriously interested in theology. And then we have to help each other. We have to talk to each other. The theologians have to talk to the scientists. Both have to talk to the philosophers. And we have to do that in a way that’s charitable, not trying to score points off the people who aren’t expert in our discipline. And open-ended and open-minded in relation to the search for truth. It’s painful, it’s difficult, and it’s extremely worthwhile.

Q. And what about the mere mortal sitting on the sidelines, really not-not expert
in either?
A. Well, this is a conversation, I think, which raises issues that are of concern to
everybody. And-and one of the things I like to try and do in my writing–I write at different levels and I sometimes write at what I hope is a fairly popular level simply because I like to share these ideas–I like to share scientific ideas with people. I like to try and share theological ideas with people. Again, we have to help each other. And perhaps the sort of conversation we’re having now is a small gesture in that direction.

Q. Well, but it seems to me, and this may be a totally incorrect assumption, that-
that people within the faith community would be more naturally motivated to try to bridge this gap than people within the scientific community would be because people in the faith community should understand that if, in fact, God is the God of all creation and that science is-is trying to understand that creation, we should have an appreciation for that discipline. Whereas, within the scientific community because of fears and many reasons that we’ve sketched out briefly here, they-they have kind of an in-built fear and-and, you know, and why would they be motivated to overcome that fear?
A. Yes. Well, I think both the faith community and the scientific community are,
in principle, and to some degree in practice truth-seeking communities and, therefore, they both should be anxious to engage in this. But equally each of them has a sort of slightly embattled feel and-and slightly defensive elements. And that’s very sad to see that happening. I-I think people just have to learn that there-there are risks but there are also enrichments in-in trying to pursue this conversation. I’m glad that I’m both a physicist and a priest and-and, though I’m puzzled by how those aspects of me fit together, I want to hold them in dialogue with each other.

Q. Hm. Mystery.
A. Yeah.

Q. Folks, you can spend more time with Dr. John Polkinghorne by picking up
a copy of The Faith of the Physicist, Belief in God in an Age of Science, or more recently Faith, Science and Understanding. Dr. Polkinghorne, of course, is a world-class scholar having achieved doctoral degrees in both physics and theology and doing about as good as anybody of helping us bridge that gap between faith and science. And he’s truly a bright light among-among those in the scientific community who also are concerned about faith, and those in the faith community who are concerned about bridging to science. Thank you so much for being with us.
A. I thank you.

Posted in DS Interview, Staublog in October 1, 2001 by | No Comments »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

31 − 26 =

More from Staublog