A gentle discourse, very thoughtful and very English, on the relationship between physics and theology.
Physicist Polkinghorne (Belief in God in an Age of Science, 1998, etc.) attempts here to lay the groundwork for a theology that engages 21st-century science. In his view, the advent of quantum physics and chaos theory has provided theologians with an opportunity to develop a “bottom up” theology that takes into account scientific descriptions of the natural world while remaining true to Christian beliefs and intuitions. Taking modern (or post-modern) physics as a given, he argues that it does not necessarily lead to a reductionist, atheist, or deist world view, but could instead support metascientific and metaphysical choices that are sympathetic to Christian theology. Most compellingly, he suggests that the organizational principles evident in chaotic and complex systems may be evidence of a kind of “active information,” perhaps operative at the quantum level, that could be used to solve intractable theological dilemmas such as the possibility of special providence and the nature of God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Central to his thought in this regard is the idea of kenosis, the voluntary giving up of control by God, both at the Creation and through the death and resurrection of Christ. Kenosis, Polkinghorne avers, allows one to make sense of a world that is “free” to develop on its own according to scientific principles, yet is controlled by an omnipresent and all-powerful creator. These theses derive from the author’s work in not just one but two obscure fields (theoretical physics and Christian theology), and it is unclear that all of his arguments will prove immediately intelligible to the uninitiated. But he writes in the soothing tones of a Christmastime special on the BBC World Service, and one rarely gets the impression that one has to do too much theoretical heavy lifting, whatever the reality of the matter.
Worthwhile and intelligent: Polkinghorne has the courage and the ambition to stroll onto a field where most would fear to tread.