> On Fri, 10 Aug 2001 21:48:35 +0100 "iain.strachan2"
> <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
> > Polkinghorne has published 113 papers on mathematical physics, and
> > is a
> > Fellow of the Royal Society - one of the highest scientific honours
> > in the
> > UK. I think he is entitled to his amazement. If you are as
> > intimately
> > acquainted with Polkinghorne's subject as he is, perhaps that would
> > qualify
> > you to dismiss him as casually as you seem to do.
> > Iain.
> Am I to gather that ad hominem has become a valid argument?
I should like to apologise to the group what what appeared to be an "ad
hominem" attack. The particular passage by Polkinghorne, whom I knew at
Cambridge, is one I have always regarded as one of the most profound and
intelligent comments on the relationship between science and religion, and I
was irked to see it dismissed in that manner. However, I should not have
responded as sharply as I did.
However, on re-reading the chapter of Polkinghorne's, I find it to contain
many interesting insights, and here reproduce it in full, in the hope that
it will be of interest and relevance to the concerns of the group. The book
I took it from is called "The Particle Play" and was a layman's account of
particle physics and the ultimate constituents of matter, as understood in
1979, when the book was written. I do not know much about Polkinghorne's
theology - from what I remember, he was more inclined towards the "liberal"
theology than to evangelicalism. He was very much friends with the dean of
Chapel , Bishop John A.T. Robinson, who was no stranger to controversy,
being dubbed an "atheist bishop" after the publication of his book "Honest
to God". It is clear from the passage that Polkinghorne is, in any case, not
a fundamentalist. (See the last paragraph).
Here is the chapter in question, which was the final chapter in the book,
I am not a habitual reader of popular books on science but when I do puruse
one I am from time to time irritated by the _obiter dicter_ in which its
author indulges. The subject is frequently religion, the tone inimical, but
I do not think that my vexation is simply the pique of a Christian believer
at hearing his faith disparaged. It seems to me that the comments are often
shallow, sometimes ignorant, and their presence in the text which is
otherwise an authoritative exposition of a highly successful activity gives
them an apparent weight which they do not in fact possess. The answer
clearly is not counter-propaganda of the same kind [IGDS - a piece of
advice I should have heeded when phrasing the above response!] I have tried
in writing this book to stick strictly to its theme and not give the reader
the benefit of my views on wider issues. However, as a reward for my
scrupulosity I am permitting myself the indulgence of these parting few
There are two things I would like to say. One is that, of course, there are
many puzzles which relate to that North-West frontier of knowledge that can
roughly be called the 'science and religion' borderline. To most of these
we are not at present in a position to give answers. For example, it is an
interesting question whether biology is physics writ large, in the sense in
which chemistry is certainly physics writ large. In principle (though
scarcely in practice), all chemical facts are deducible from physical first
principles. Even more in principle, is the same true of biological systems
or are they of a scale which introduces something new, not discernible in a
catalogue of the separate parts? It seems to me that some biologists say
one thing and some the other and that this means that we do not really know
the answer. Even more fascinating, how is our experience of consciousness
related to the physical events occurring in our brains? (It is curious to
note that some people believe that consciousness is fundamental to the
interpretation of quantum mechanics, which if it were so might cut quite a
few Gordian knots. But the question is still very far from settled.)
These sorts of questions are of the highest interest but it is not helpful
to suppose we know the answers to them before in fact we do so. In a period
of enforced agnosticism about the answers to these questions, it seems to me
important to hold fast to primary experience and not to subject it to a
procrustean over-simplification in search of premature understanding. That
is a waiting attitude which science itself encourages. The physicists of
the early years of this century would not have made progress by denying of
discarding the wave-like or the particle-like aspects of the photon. It was
necessary to hold to both, in dialectical tension, for many years before
quantum field theory dissolved the apparent paradox. So in our life as
persons, I believe we must hold fast to the insights of science, and to our
experiences of beauty, choice (however circumscribed) and moral
responsibility. And to the that list I would want to add the worship of God
and the knowledge of his grace in Jesus Christ.
This second thing I want to say a brief word about is whether I detect any
consonance between the world view of Christianity and the world view of
science. In fact I do, but I do not suppose that I can prove it for you,
any more than someone else could disprove it. We are in an area of
discourse where such knock-down arguments are not available to anyone. I
can only share an insight which comes to me.
I am very struck by the fact, first mentioned in Chapter 1 and continually
illustrated by all that followed, that mathematics, which essentially is the
abstract free creation of the human mind, repeatedly provides the
indispensible clue to the understanding of the physical world. This
happening is so common a process that most of the time we take it for
granted. At root it creates the _possibility_ of science, of our
understanding the workings of the world. It seems to me a remarkable fact.
I believe - I cannot prove it - that it is one aspect, perhaps rather a
small one really, of the logos doctrine of Christianity. Israel developed
an idea of the Word of God who was his agent in the creation of the world.
The prologue to St. John's gospel not only makes the astonishing
identification of that Word with Jesus of Nazareth, but also says that the
Word is the true light that lightens every man. The use of mathematics to
comprehend the universe shows a relation between the workings of our minds
and the structure of the world. I believe that this is one aspect of what
the writer of the Fourth Gospel is telling us.
In the creation myth of Genesis, Adam is given lordship over nature in the
naming of the animals. The pursuit of science is an aspect of the _imago
dei_. Therefore it does not seem to me strange that these words which I
have written while Professor of Mathematical Physics in the University of
Cambridge will be published when I am an ordinand studying for the Anglican
priesthood at Westcott House.
Hope the above is found to be stimulating and thought provoking.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Aug 13 2001 - 14:27:43 EDT