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Quantum Leap, Part 1: Which Side Are You On?

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September 2, 2011 Tags: Lives of Faith
Quantum Leap, Part 1: Which Side Are You On?

Today's entry was written by Dean Nelson and Karl Giberson. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

The following is an except from Quantum Leap: How John Polkinghorne Found God in Science and Religion, a portrait of influential physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne.

In the film Nacho Libre, Jack Black plays a preposterous worker in a Mexican orphanage with a secret life as an incompetent professional wrestler. There is a scene where Black and his scrawny wrestling partner assess their competition – two vicious-looking men in the opposite corner. It appears to Black that his life as a wrestler will end immediately in serious injury. He says to his partner, in a horrible Spanish accent, “Pray to the Lord for strength.”

His partner immediately replies, in only a slightly better accent, “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science.”

While that bit of dialogue appears in a comedy film, it echoes statements made in serious conversations throughout the world. Conventional wisdom seems to say that one either believes in God, or one believes in science. There is no third option.

We don’t believe that at all, and neither does the deep thinker we profile in this book. We hope you won’t either, when you are finished reading. Much has been written about faith and science – the history of supposedly major conflicts and minor harmonies between the two; the rational and irrational accounts from people who read just one of the two books set before us – the Bible and the Book of Nature; the condemnation and condescension of one group toward the other. There is a lot of diatribe, but not much dialogue.

We illuminate this issue by writing about John Polkinghorne. We chose this strategy because it involves a story. What we offer is not a conventional biography of John Polkinghorne. We didn’t read his correspondence, interview his family members, students and colleagues, search data bases for public and private records. Instead, we wrote the story of John Polkinghorne, probably the most significant voice in this generation’s conversation about science and religion. But we also unfold some bigger issues. How do we know Truth? How does a leading scientist think about the more mysterious aspects of faith -- prayer, miracles, life after death, resurrection? How should people of faith approach science, especially when new scientific discoveries appear to contradict their religious beliefs? To get at those questions, we tell the story of John Polkinghorne.

We conducted many interviews with Polkinghorne. Wherever the book shows a quote from him without an endnote, it came from a personal interview. The interviews occurred from 2007-2010 in the following locations: Quincy, Massachusetts; a monastery in Venice, Italy; the President’s Lodge at Queens’ College (while the president was away) in Cambridge, England; the chapels at Trinity College, Queens’ College, Trinity Hall and Westcott Seminary – all in Cambridge; the parlor of Queens’ College; the Senior Combination Room at Queens’ College, under both his own portrait and that of the Queen; the study in his home in Cambridge; the sitting room in his home; walking from the vicarage to his old parish church in Blean, England; in his car to and from Blean; at the Good Shepherd Church in Cambridge; and in pubs throughout Cambridge.

As if to cosmically underscore the need for this book, when we approached Passport Control at London’s Heathrow Airport for a final series of interviews with Polkinghorne, the officer asked why we were coming to England.

“For a conference at Oxford,” we said.

“What’s the conference about?” he said.

“God and Physics,” we said.

“God and Physics, eh?” He paused and looked at us. “Which side are you on?”


Those interested in reading more from John Polkinghorne should view the BioLogos sponsored video, "An Afternoon with John Polkinghorne," which can be found here.

Dean Nelson directs the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. His book, Quantum Leap: How John Polkinghorne found God in Science and Religion, written with Karl Giberson, will be released in 2011 by Lion-Hudson Press of Oxford. His book God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World, was published by Brazos Press in 2009.
Dr. Karl Giberson is a physicist, scholar, and author specializing in the creation-evolution debate. He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson has written or co-written ten books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. He is currently a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.

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beaglelady - #64435

September 2nd 2011

Dean Nelson also had an article about Polkinghorne in the Saturday Evening Post:

Stephen Mapes - #64445

September 2nd 2011

That he does, Beaglelady! There was also one in USA Today, which we will be reposting on the blog in the coming week.

beaglelady - #64447

September 2nd 2011

I got to meet John Polkinghorne. In addition to being brilliant and accomplished, he is personable and humble—a wonderful human being!

Merv - #64461

September 2nd 2011

“Much has been written about faith and science – the history of
supposedly major conflicts and minor harmonies between the two; the
rational and irrational accounts from people who read just one of the
two books set before us – the Bible and the Book of Nature; the
condemnation and condescension of one group toward the other. There is a
lot of diatribe, but not much dialogue.”

“One group toward the other”?  The wording here slips into the same polarization that we are rightly being warned against.  There may be some scientists who deliberately plant themselves on one side of this -an atheistic side - who disregard anything that carries an overt label of religious faith.  But there are no - and never have been - Christians, scientifically minded or otherwise, that cleanly disregard the book of nature.  So for most of us there isn’t so much dialogue between different people as there is dialogue within ourselves.  (Should we call this “dialogue”? —as if my right eye needs to converse with my left eye.)  The most die-hard fundamentalist (despite his claims to the contrary) is informed by the book of nature by much that he assimilates into his understanding of God’s world and Word.  His rejection of selected natural understandings can never obviate the fact that he has already let the bulk of his own experience shape his view of nearly everything, including theology.  What other lens exists by which to connect with humanity?  Why does the Bible use imagery of nature to instruct us?   The struggle has always been there long before any evolutionary thought was ever on the scene.  Perhaps atheists can accurately claim to reject all theology.  But I would dispute any religious person’s claim that they represent some opposite equivalent that is informed only by “pure” theology.  Show me your “pure” theology, and I will show you a system of thought that has grown and matured under the influence of both faith AND experience—both gifts from God.

glsi - #64506

September 6th 2011

It’s the same old false dichotomy pitting one side against the other.  I suppose the authors here feel they have the happy middle and best-of-both-worlds. 

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