April 27, 2004

Reverend Speaks On Science and Theology

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Rev. John Polkinghorne gave a lecture last night entitled “The Interaction of Science and Theology,” speaking from his unique perspective as both a respected physicist and a theologian in the Anglican Church.

Prof. Robert Fay, chemistry, one of the sponsors of the lecture suggested that Polkinghorne’s unique position between science and religion allowed him to “serve as a bridge between the two disciplines.”

Polkinghorne said his double experiences allow him to possess a dual vision of the world.

“I work to have binocular vision. That is, to be two eyed in possessing the eye of science and the eye of religion,” he said. He began the discussion by warning the audience to avoid the two extremes of fundamentalism: religious fundamentalism and scientific fundamentalism.

“The notion that science has its own domain, and religion has its own domain is a mistake,” he said.

According to Polkinghorne, one of the principles that bind these two dual visions of the world is that they are concerned with the search for truth, but he warned that our understanding is limited. “We shall never find the whole truth of the universe or the intimate reality of God,” he said.

He focused the majority of his lecture on discussing aspects that describe our world through both scientific and religious explanations.

These aspects included that it is “possible to understand the world, that the world has a deeper meaning, the world is deeply related in structure, we are agents in the world — that we have freedom of action, there is a moral dimension to our world, and finally that we live in a world subject to mortality.”

In his discussion, Polkinghorne touched upon these topics in addition to those of evolution, stem-cells, morality and quantum theory. He followed his speech with thirty minutes of audience questions.

He spoke to a diverse crowd of students and faculty and most agreed that his thoughts were very well articulated and balanced. “He presented a very balanced and well thought-out analysis,” said Nate Smith ’06.

“The way in which he integrated his depth of science with the complexities of religion was very interesting,” said Prof. Scott McDougal, philosophy.

The lecture was sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, the American Scientific Affiliation, Cornell United Religious Work and Chesterton House, a local center for Christian studies.

Polkinghorne taught mathematical physics, specifically theoretical elementary particle physics, at the University of Cambridge,

England from 1968 to 1979. After resigning his professorship he entered the Church of England to rise to become fellow, dean and finally chaplain at Trinity Hall at Cambridge.

He is a member of the Royal Society, one of the foremost scientific communities in England. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 1997 for his work.

He has also authored over fifteen books on the topic of science and religion.

Archived article by Michael Margolis
Sun Senior Writer