Where God meets physics

This article is reproduced from the University of Cambridge – the original can be found here.
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Eminent thinker and commentator Revd Dr John Polkinghorne, Fellow of the Royal Society, will be giving a public talk – titled A Destiny Beyond Death – tomorrow lunchtime at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. It is part of a series organised by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. Here he gives an overview of his understanding of the relationship between what are generally considered to be two opposing schools of thought.


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Science and religion are two of the most powerful influences in contemporary society. Some see them as competing alternatives but, as someone who is both a former Cambridge science professor and an Anglican priest, I want to take them with equal seriousness. I am proud that Cambridge was the first university in the UK to endow a post in theology and science: the Starbridge Lectureship is held by Dr Fraser Watts.

The possibility of fruitful interaction between science and religion arises from the fact that both are concerned with the search for truthful understanding, to be attained through motivated beliefs. Of course, this is a philosophically contested claim, but my scientific experience encourages me to adopt the stance of ‘critical realism’ in relation for the insights of both science and religion. The term ‘realism’ signifies the belief that we can gain actual insight into the nature of reality, while the description ‘critical’ signals that this knowledge is never complete or absolutely certain, though sufficiently well supported by evidence to make commitment to it a rational act.

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Faith is a part of life

In my last post, I wrote about what “faith” means in a Christian context. It’s a complex and multi-faceted term, but it is important to appreciate that faith is not just an aspect of Christianity. It is a part of life.

Theologian Tyron Inbody wrote the following:

“…faith is a dimension of the human existence as such. There can be no human life without the presence of faith. The opposite of faith is not doubt but nihilism – the loss of order, meaning and purpose in life… The scientist cannot operate apart from faith – faith in the dependability of nature, the orderliness and intelligibility of the universe, the unity of nature and the harmony of its laws. Social life is impossible apart from faith. We cannot exist without elemental trust in each other. If you doubt this, consider what one terrorist attack can do to undermine our confidence in the social order. And we act as if this social order is to some degree moral. We assume and affirm that there are things we ought to do and things we ought not to do. Although we may not agree on which things are which, we act with moral demands that are binding. These beliefs point to the fact that we cannot exist as humans apart from faith. They are justified not because they are demonstrable but because we cannot live without them. They constitute a primordial faith.” (The faith of the Christian church: an introduction to theology)

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More specifically, science depends on faith.

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