Saturday, March 27, 2010

God and John Polkinghorne

The physicist turned priest is a welcome voice of rationality in a subject dominated by the extreme and second-rate thinking of the creationists and the Dawkins-ists.

A general approach:

A belief in God offers a way of making sense of the broadest possible band of human experience, of uniting in a single account the rich and many-layered encounter that we have with the way things are (p 24).

The metaphysical net offered by science is insufficient to explain the whole range of human encounter. So: The impersonal is not to be preferred to the personal, the objective to the subjective, the quantifiable to the symbolic, the repeatable to the unique. All are part of the one world of our experience (p24).

Some strange, deep things about the fabric of the universe that are beautifully explained by a theistic faith, and much less elegantly explained by atheism:

1. Rational beauty: why is it that in fundamental physics, pure maths, developed or discovered with no eye on the universe, turns out to describe the universe beautifully? Why is it that the physicist's pursuit of the elegant has repeatedly uncovered truth? Why is the universe (to the eye of the physicist) so rational, so beautiful?

2. Finely tuned fruitfulness. This is the so-called anthropic argument. The constants of nature (gravitation, speed of light, strong and weak nuclear forces and on and on) more or less have to have the value they have. Change any of them in a tiny way, and you produce a sterile cosmos. Why then do we live in this finely-tuned universe that produces life? Is it because there are a near-infinite number of universes, so that at least one works properly?

Or is it because the cosmos is like those equations that are set in Maths exams -- carefully selected out of an infinite set of possible exam questions to suit that author's higher purpose.

3.A value-laden world. 'From the practice of science to the acknowledgment of moral duty, on to aesthetic delight and religious experience, we live in a world which is the carrier of value at all levels of our meeting with it'


'all these truly human experiences are at the centre of our encounter with reality and are not to be dismissed as epiphenomenal froth on the surface of a universe whose true nature is impersonal and lifeless' (p 19) (he claims).

4. The mystery of hope. We have a 'deep intuition of hope' that instinctively looks to meaning beyond our lives, life after death, hope of a new day and a new universe. Christian faith explains this; there may be other explanations too, but Christian faith is a compelling one.