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June 6 John Polkinghorne - Science & Religion

Today we remember how in 1982 and travel to where the theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne was ordained an Anglican priest in Cambridge UK. He would become a world-renowned authority in the field of science and religion. Publishing multiple books in this area, his influence was recognised when he was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for his contributions to research at the interface between science and religion.


The Templeton prize was originally awarded to people working in the field of religion (Mother Teresa was the first winner), but in the 1980s the scope broadened to include people working at the intersection of science and religion Sir John Templeton was an American-born British investor, banker, fund manager, and philanthropist. A pioneer of emerging market investing in the 1960s, Money magazine named him "arguably the greatest global stock picker of the century". Templeton was a committed Christian, he was a lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church and a trustee on the board of Princeton Theological Seminary, the largest Presbyterian seminary. The monetary value of his prize is adjusted so that it exceeds that of the Nobel Prizes; Templeton felt, according to The Economist, that "spirituality was ignored" in the Nobel Prizes. Currently it is £1.1 m.

John Polkinghorne was awarded the prize in 2002. In its citation, the Temptation foundation explained that Polkinghorne's treatment of theology as a natural science has invigorated the search for interface between science and religion and made him a leading figure in this emerging field. Polkinghorne had resigned a prestigious position as Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge in 1979 to pursue theological studies, becoming a priest in 1982. Since then, his extensive writings and lectures had, resulted in a modern and compelling, new exploration of Christianity. His approach to the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy — including the Trinity, Christ’s resurrection after death, and God’s creation of the universe —brought him international recognition as a unique voice His books focus on core issues such as the nature of science, the physical world, human nature, love, theology, creation, providence, prayer and miracle, time, evil, Jesus, the resurrection, the Trinity, eschatology, and world faiths.

Polkinghorne said in an interview that he believes his move from science to religion has given him binocular vision, dual aspect monism he called it, though he understands that it has aroused the kind of suspicion "that might follow the claim to be a vegetarian butcher." A consistent theme of his work was that science and religion addressed aspects of the same reality arguing that there are five points of comparison between the ways in which science and theology pursue truth: moments of enforced radical revision, a period of unresolved confusion, new synthesis and understanding, continued wrestling with unresolved problems, deeper implications. Critical of mechanistic explanations of the world that Richard Dawkins favoured he said that most of nature is cloud-like rather than clock-like. Considering that "the question of the existence of God is the single most important question we face about the nature of reality" However he was cautious about our powers to assess coherence," However he argued that the atheist's "plain assertion of the world's existence" is a "grossly impoverished view of reality… theism explains more than a reductionist atheism can ever address."

The intelligibility of the universe was mysterious and could not be explained with contemporary evolutionary theory. To understand the subatomic world and general relativity goes far beyond anything of relevance to survival fitness. The mystery deepens when one recognises the proven fruitfulness of mathematical beauty as a guide to successful theory choice. The anthropic fine tuning of the universe: He quotes with approval Freeman Dyson, who said "the more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming" He expressed nuance and caution with using the term creationist - Polkinghorne argued in The Times that "As a Christian believer I am, of course, a creationist in the proper sense of the term, for I believe that the mind and the purpose of a divine Creator lie behind the fruitful history and remarkable order of the universe which science explores. But I am certainly not a creationist in that curious North American sense, which implies interpreting Genesis 1 in a flat-footed literal way and supposing that evolution is wrong


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