York Courses 2012 £5 ISBN 9-990-00055-7 65 min CD
There are few figures who embody reasonable Christian believing of the stature of priest scientist John Polkinghorne. In this CD his thinking and believing is drawn out in an hour’s interview with John Young of York Courses fame. It makes for pause and rewind listening as there are many nuggets to savour, though a full transcript can be purchased.
I liked his clarification of Richard Dawkins ‘scientism’, that is, idolatrous belief in science having an answer to everything. Is music adequately defined as sound waves vibrating my ear drum? The author shows science involves faith as much as religion and that both work in response to evidence – not – as Dawkins has religion – against the evidence.
John Polkinghorne sees faith as leap into the light and not the dark. Faith is more than intellectual curiosity. You stake your life on it and so engage with One who stands both for and against you. His thinking would disarm scientists ‘wistful and wary’ of religion – wistful for the meaning and depth it offers but wary of having to believe impossible things. In particular his treatment of the resurrection is disarming of cynicism. He commends the humble question ‘what makes you think this (the resurrection) might be the case?’ I valued his emphasis on the common theme of it not being easy to recognise the risen Christ, which would surely be absent had the Gospels been made up. Why, he asks, has Christianity survived, when its Founder did not die in respected old age with followers geared to hand on his teaching, as in other religions?
In the discussion on God as creator Polkinghorne emphasises God is creator now as then, holding us in being as we, unlike God, do not possess being in itself. He calls it lazy thinking to hold the world has always existed, professing it remarkable in itself there should be something rather than nothing. The leap of faith to reach God is like the leap of imagination Einstein admitted as essential to his discovering relativity. The excitement and enthusiasm of the scientist is geared to expecting to find the unexpected. How amazed 19th century scientists would be to know of the wave-particle duality of electromagnetic radiation! You sense the affinity of inspiration between scientist and Christian so denied by ‘the new atheists’.
What about suffering? In a fascinating section of the recording Polkinghorne builds from Darwin, noting first that the father of evolution allegedly lost his faith not through his research but through the loss of his daughter. Darwin’s colleague Kingsley saw evolution revealing God as cleverer than ever seen before in his giving us potentiality to make ourselves. This potentiality, linked to genetic mutation producing new forms of life, has ‘ragged edges’ eg cancer and ‘blind alleys’. An interesting thought on earthquakes – without tectonic plates life would be denied the invigoration of the minerals inside the earth, even if the plates move at a cost to life itself.
The conversation ends with the author’s testimony to how God has proved real to him in suffering and bereavement giving him such hope that his doubts mostly centre on Christianity’s being too good to be true. His attempts to turn elsewhere have been frustrated by the magnetism of Christ who again and again draws out his faith commitment. That commitment shines forth in this tape, alongside his huge intellect, and we should be grateful to John Young’s framing and drawing out this valuable CD.
The Revd Dr John F Twisleton Rector of St Giles, Horsted Keynes 9th February 2013