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

| By Dean Nelson

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


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.


About the Author

Dean Nelson

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.


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