This month we will discuss some of the ideas found in Science and Providence by John Polkinghorne in which he combines a rich appreciation of the results of modern science with a detailed theological affirmation that God acts within the world’s history. An introductory essay on this book may be found at the ISSR site www.issrlibrary.org. You need not have read this book in order to participate freely in the discussions that will arise as a result of the presentation of the author’s viewpoints. Your insights and questions will be welcome.
John Polkinghorne knows this territory well. He is a prominent and leading voice explaining the relationship between science and religion. He was professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge in England. Then later in his life he became and Anglican priest. He was knighted in 1997 and in 2002 received the Templeton Prize, awarded for exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.
How might we understand particular divine action within the world described by the natural sciences? John Polkinghorne’s strategy is to argue that the natural order is not in fact a closed deterministic structure, but rather is open to God’s purposive engagement. There are processes in nature that display a combination of lawfulness and flexibility that would make it possible for God to affect the course of events without disrupting the reliable structure of the created order.
Two areas of contemporary physics lend themselves to such an interpretation: ‘quantum mechanics’, at the lowest levels in the organization of matter/energy, and ‘chaos theory’ explicating the complex chaotic behavior of some dynamic systems such as weather, war, epidemics, paradoxical evolutionary relationships. In as much as unpredictability suggests a deep cosmological and ontological openness, he makes use of these ideas to suggest that God might enact particular providential purposes in the world by influencing the development of these highly sensitive dynamic systems.
To establish consilience with natural science, Polkinghorne discusses a series of central topics in theology including providence, miracles, natural and moral evil, prayer, temporality, incarnation and sacrament, and redemptive hope. In particular, the problem of evil presents difficult issues for any theology that affirms God’s action in the world.
Our monthly meeting aims to facilitate the ongoing dialogue between the disciplines of science and religion, one of the most important current areas of debate in terms of understanding the nature of humanity. You may come to just listen or to freely participate in our conversation.
Please join our gathering for the forum ‘Science and Religion in Conversation,’ to be held on Tuesday afternoon, December 1st at 3 PM in Hackney Library.