One World - The Interaction of Science and Theology
Polkinghorne (John)
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  1. This is the first of three books dealing with the relation between science and religion by this author, formerly a professor of theoretical physics at Cambridge University but now an Anglican priest, ordained in 1982. John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, aims to show that science supports the notion of God rather than contradicts it. These three books (this one, with "Polkinghorne (John) - Science and Creation - The Search for Understanding", and "Polkinghorne (John) - Science and Providence - God's Interaction with the World") sit together as a trilogy, but Polkinghorne has written about two dozen books in all about the interaction of science and theology.
  2. Chapter 1, The Post-Enlightenment World gives a brief (5-page) philosophical commentary on some scientific discoveries over the last 500 years.
  3. Chapter 2, The Nature of Science, discusses scientific truth, Kuhn's concept of the scientific paradigm, Popper's unique view of science, the significance of the quantum world in relation to the Newtonian view, and Gödel's theorem. Polkinghorne notes the importance of an individual's beliefs, even for scientists, in the interpretation of data: ‘In order scientifically to interrogate the world we have to do so from a point of view'.
  4. This statement also takes account of the importance of tradition in science as much as in religion - a point made in Chapter 3, The Nature of Theology. Here, Polkinghorne first takes issue with Paul C.W. Davies's statement that ‘religion is founded on dogma and received wisdom which purports to represent immutable truth'. Refreshingly, Polkinghorne says: ‘Theology, like science, is corrigible. There is nothing immutable in its pronouncements.' He shares the view of St. Anselm regarding theology as 'faith seeking understanding' and draws on A.N. Whitehead for support in drawing parallels between science and religion. He regards the universality of religious experiences as evidence that they tell us something meaningful about the world - a view which, he claims, Paul Davies does not share. Much of the remainder of this chapter is given over to the significance of the Bible for Christians.
  5. Chapter 4, The Nature of the Physical World, takes us through some of the perplexing ideas of quantum physics while in Chapter 5 we are back again to Points of Interaction between science and religion with the assertion of ‘the faithfulness of God . . . in the regular laws of nature [and] the sustaining power of God maintaining the world in existence and achieving his purposes through its development.' In Polkinghorne's view, the order and beauty of the natural world elaborated in Chapter 4 validate these assertions concerning the role of God, which provides the foundation of natural theology. As the ground for his discussion of natural theology Polkinghorne takes Paul Davies's ‘there is more to the world than meets the eye' and thence ‘science offers a surer path to God than religion' contrasted with the nihilism of Jacques Monod and Steven Weinberg who claim that the universe is meaningless and futile. In his quest for truth Polkinghorne is happy to discount biblical interpretations of scientific issues; so here he discusses Creation, miracles and the afterlife2.
  6. There is some interesting philosophy in this book for anyone interested in the science and religion interface. The book concludes with a few pages of reference Notes, a short Glossary of mainly scientific terms (and a few philosophical and theological) and an Index.

In-Page Footnotes ("Polkinghorne (John) - One World - The Interaction of Science and Theology")

Footnote 1: Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

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