Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review: Faith, Science, and Understanding

(Nice Escher-inspired cover, by the way...)

John Polkinghorne was a scientist who helped discover the quark, and then he became a full-time Anglican priest. Needless to say, he puzzles Richard Dawkins. He is probably the best example of starting from science and moving to theology in how he thinks as well as how he lives. The "problem of measurement" and chaos/complexity theory provide his starting material, and then he thinks about what these say about God and how God acts. This leads him to the verge of "open theology," which sounds disturbingly unorthodox, but on everything else he's very orthodox, so that leads me to want to mull over his open theology a little more.

This particular book is a grab-bag of responses to others, follow-ups to previously pubilshed lectures, a miscellany like R.E.M.'s Dead Letter Office or the 77's Sticks and Stones. And just like those albums, this book stands on its own and may even be a favorite. There's a chapter titled "Design in Biology" which is succinct, probably a little too much so, but my favorite part of the book. Then there's some long exposition on different theories of time, which was too detailed to follow but not detailed enough to learn from for this non-physicist. In any case, enough of Polkinghorne's thinking shows up that, if you're willing to sacrifice coherency, this may actually be a good place to start reading him, especially if you have an interest in education (the first two chapters argue that theology has a place in the modern university and automatically hooked me, though I realize it may not do so for everyone).

I'll definitely be reading more Polkinghorne as I gear up to write the upcoming lecture (ten months of preparation suddenly seems very short ...)

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