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An Afternoon with John Polkinghorne

Published: August 23, 2011

In the Sep/Oct 2011 issue of the Post, Dean Nelson—who directs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego—profiles physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne in the article “God vs. Science.” In the following televised segment sponsored by The Biologos Foundation, Polkinghorne shares a brief lecture and then appears in a one-on-one interview with Nelson. Nelson’s book, Quantum Leap: How John Polkinghorne found God in Science and Religion, written with Karl Giberson, will be released in Fall 2011 by Lion Hudson.

You can learn more at The Biologos Foundation: http://biologos.org/blog/an-afternoon-with-john-polkinghorne

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  • Israel Argueta

    All of you can’t handle the truth, so full of yourselves, but this’ what the good book says: For it is written; “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? I Cor. 1:19-20 Go ahead laugh about it!!

  • Barrie Gilbert

    Mark Hines’ comments do not provide any deep insights into the nature of God. The numerology argument is not “mathematics” but a strange and special sort of arithimetic. In reading through his first link, one might quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer number of numbers, evidently written by an arcanist with an ax of some strange sort to grind. The “numbers argument” doesn’t add up… so to speak.

    My own view is much simpler; even naive, if you like. It’s rooted in physics – a field in which serious mathematics is indispensible. Looking out into the deep recesses of the cosmos are you not overwhelmed by its powerful grandeur? The Second Law of Thermodynamics requires that heat energy can only pass from a hot body to a cooler one. Many parts of the universe exhibit temperatures in the millions of degrees Celsius. If that “Law” is correct (and it has never been proven otherwise) it must follow that “something more energetic” must be driving the cosmos. Indeed, it must surely be a flaw of the Big Bang theory that all of the energy present in the universe we observe today must have had a Source: it surely must have “come from somewhere”.

    One reasonable conclusion (although not based on the contents of any religious book) is that there is Something greater than everything we observe. To try to describe that Something clearly lies beyond the domain of Science. One is not at liberty to ask: “So who created that One?”. Such questioning leads immediately to a string of insoluble infinite regressions and is futule. Science works well in the experimental domain, and is serviceable in the purely theoretical arena; but is has nothing to do with matters prior to the beginning of the universe.

    Anyway, what in the world makes us think that with a litre or so of mushy grey matter we are equipped to “understand” the Cosmos and the sub-Quantum?
    What does it mean to “understand God”? It’s certainly not a numbers game.


  • Mark Hines

    There is scientific, logical, mathematical, solid evidence not just for God, but for a specific God: the Holy Trinity. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. See this math evidence at: http://www.palmoni.net/gematria.htm

    One would have to be in denial and/or insane to reject math evidence. The reason math evidence is so solid is that there are formal proofs for math. To think that these gematria patterns (at http://www.palmoni.net/gematria.htm) are coincidence is insane. This is like thinking that one can routinely walk into a casino and hit half a dozen royal flushes in a row, something that has never been done in any casino. The statistical probabilities are beyond remote.

    Mark Hines M.A.

  • Barrie Gilbert

    Regarding the comment by Carruth, it appears that he is falling into a trap of his own making. Peer review is needed in science because as humans we are prone to oversights, errors, bias and even mendacity in our scientific publications. I speak as a reviewer who has found all these on numerous occasions. Religion is not a branch of science; accordingly, such rules should be irrelevant in the domain of theological epistemology.

    That said, it is very apparent that historical religious writings are littered with examples of all these very weaknesses. Erroneous beliefs are just as common in this domain as they are in modern theoretical physics, the field that occupied Polkinghorne’s early life, and to which he made numerous valuable contributions based on his keen insights into the nature of matter, as a committed truth-seeker.

    I suspect he would agree that the early adherents to the belief set which later became Christianity, in writing down their best understanding of the history of its founder and the various lessons that had found their way into circulation, the sum of which much later would become known as the New Testament, were prone to error. As for the pre-Christian writers, whose works became the so-called Old Testament, they too must of necessity have made numerous errors arising from misinterpretation of the facts, as they witnessed them or proposed them; and they often succumbed to exaggeration.

    These are the kind of faults found in science, even today. The cold-fusion claims of Fleischmann and Pons in 1989 might provide a suitable example; new claims about this idea continue to arise. As another case of wobbly science, just his week CERN has published a report that suggests that neutrinos may be able to travel faster than light. that would be a huge event, if true. This sort of science bears a close resemblance to the kind of epistemology practiced by the truth-seeking, error-prone writers of the Bible: it is tentative, and awaits proof.

    In a precisely parallel way, the writings found in the Bible await confirmation, whatever the topic in question. Meanwhile, we are left with our magnificent (though error-prone) brains to make sense of it all. The more open-minded thinkers are willing to agree that Science is limited in its ability to answer every puzzling question, and many believe that the concept of a Creator, with a purpose for mankind, is not nearly as bizarre as some of the tenets of modern cosmology and quantum matter. Read them. They frequently drift into pure philosophy.

    Barrie Gilbert, IEEE Life Fellow, Member National Academy, etc.

  • Bill Carruth

    The Rev. Polkinghorne is a good man, a good scientist and a credit to his Roman collar. However, I’m at a loss to understand his theological position. Given the absolute that all Christian theology is based on the alleged ‘Holy Bible” – a book whose authors are unknown to this day, I doubt if scientist Polkinghorne would do his field research in scientific papers, tomes, extracts – whichever – if he didn’t know who the author[s] were, their credentials in the science community and their level of research. My guess? He wouldn’t bother with such unknowns.