Science and Theology: An IntroductionScience and Theology: An Introduction
John Polkinghorne

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(PUBFortress)In the burgeoning interaction between science and religion Polkinghorne is a leading light. A classy overview of all pertinent issues (e.g., creation, the nature of knowledge, human identity, and divine agency), this book features well-crafted summaries of the latest scientific thinking. 144 pages, softcover.
     

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From the introduction:
In recent years, many courses on science and religion have been inaugurated in colleges and universities, often encouraged and supported by grants from the John Templeton Foundation. The last thirty years have seen a great deal of scholarly writing in this academic area, so there have been many texts to which such courses could make reference. However, in my view, there has not been a textbook available. By that I mean a single book that attempts the humble but useful task of surveying the whole intellectual scene in an even-handed manner, recording as clearly as possible the variety of issues under discussion, explaining the possible treatments they can receive, and surveying the opinions of those writers who have made significant contributions to the field.

The invitation to be a visiting professor and to give a course on science and theology at General Theological Seminary, New York, gave me the opportunity to attempt such an exercise in the classroom and that experience encouraged me to write the present volume. I offer it as a potential textbook in the rapidly growing area of science and religion studies.

The work is organized in a spiral fashion, starting with general considerations and then progressing inward to deal with more specific questions. The first chapter discusses the nature of science and the nature of theology, drawing certain methodological and epistemological comparisons between them and indicating possible modes of interaction between the two disciplines. It also considers two critical incidents (Galileo, Darwin) in the history of that interaction. The second chapter gives an account, in terms accessible to the non-specialist, of those aspects of the contemporary scientific understanding of the universe and its history that are of relevance to wider metaphysical discussion.

Chapter 3 is concerned with what may be said about one of the most important meeting points of scientific and theological insight: the nature of the human person. Issues of reductionism and holism, dualist or monist views of human nature, and the relationship between mind and brain, are all on the agenda. In our present stage of knowledge, no universally agreed conclusions can be stated, but the varying approaches on offer are described and evaluated.
The fourth chapter is concerned with the nature of God as it is understood in the broad Western tradition. An issue of great importance is the assessment of a revived and revised natural theology that makes appeal to the given laws and circumstances of the cosmos, as discerned by science, and asks what metaquestions may arise, pointing beyond the narrowly scientific account alone. The result is a natural theology that aims to complement, rather then conflict with, scientific insight. The discussion then broadens to include consideration of a theology of nature, creation, and the implications of a world found to be the carrier of value. The arguments of this chapter are as consistent with deism as they are with theism, but Chapter 5 moves on in a specifically theistic direction by asking the question of how one could conceive of particular divine actions taking place in the orderly universe described by science. No topic has been of greater concern in the writings of the science and religion community in recent years than this one. The various approaches that have been made are described and the chapter includes a careful discussion of the possible relevance of quantum theory and chaos theory to an understanding of agency, both human and divine. Attention is also given to the difficult but essential topic of theodicy, facing the critical issues for religious belief that arise from the widespread prevalence of moral and physical evil in God's supposedly good creation.

The focus of the discourse narrows in Chapter 6 to a consideration of topics central to Christian belief. The approach of the chapter is by way of 'bottom-up thinking' (seeking to move from evidence to understanding in the quest for motivated belief), so that it constitutes a sketch of how someone with the habits of thought congenial to the scientific mind approaches Christian theological issues. These include belief in the resurrection of Christ, in the Trinity, and in a destiny beyond death.

The discussion opens out again in Chapter 7 to include a brief account of various ways in which the different world faith traditions might be understood to relate to each other, bearing in mind the perplexities that arise from their very different claims about the nature of the sacred. The suggestion is made that considering the traditions' relationships to scientific knowledge may provide a creative meeting point for mutual encounter.
In Chapter 8, some discussion is given of the ethical issues that arise from scientific discoveries. The brief treatment given aims at highlighting matters of principle rather than attempting detailed analyses and case studies, which would require another volume for their adequate discussion. The book concludes with a select but quite extensive and annotated bibliography, laid out in such a way as to help students to pursue particular points through further reading.

I have sought to give a balanced account of the many issues currently under discussion in the lively exchange across the intellectual frontier between science and theology. In fact, in the attempt to maintain a certain degree of impartiality, I have adopted the somewhat eerie practice of referring to myself in the third person on those occasions when I make specific references to my own ideas. Each chapter is written in a self-contained fashion, so that it should easily be possible to use the book for a course that did not aim to cover all the material here presented. For example, if it was not intended to give attention to specifically Christian issues, Chapter 6 could be omitted without doing violence to the rest of the text.

I regard the question of how the insights of science and the insights of religion can both be taken seriously, with intellectual integrity and openness, as being among the most important issues on the contemporary agenda. I offer this book as a contribution to the discussion of that great question.