How and why

Science and Religion in the Twenty-first Century (edited by Manning and Byrne) is a book of the Boyle lectures on science and religion, featuring such luminaries as Jurgen Moltmann and Keith Ward. John Polkinghorne (below) provides a kind of summing up of the arguments in his piece on dialogue between science and religion.

polkinghorne

Polkinghorne (whose own books are good-humoured explorations of the wonder of the universe) roams across the issues, first suggesting that Stephen Jay Gould’s idea about “non-overlapping magisteria” – one a question of “how” and one of “why” – is not quite right, as the pronouncements of science and religion have to agree, and in this sense they do overlap. He goes on to talk about the anthropic principle and the fact that the universe seems fine-tuned for life, and the fact that the multiverse idea is a kind of metaphysical question also (there doesn’t seem to be any convincing theory yet as to how we can investigate the idea – not that proof of a multiverse kills God off any more than a large timescale for the history of the universe does). I am not entirely sure about the anthropic principle, it seems too close to trying to prove the existence of God, something which, as Polkinghorne rightly argues, has traditionally been felt through lived experience, rather than proven through experiment.

Most pleasing is to see Polkinghorne gently nudging us away from the idea that we are embodied souls – i.e. the platonic idea that when we die our souls – our true selves – float off to heaven. Whatever one thinks about this, and as Tom Wright has recently insisted, this picture is a distortion of Christian belief, which has always affirmed the resurrection of the body, which in itself brings up some intriguing questions, some of which Polkinghorne touches on.

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