Wednesday, 2 May 2007

John Polkinghorn - Southampton University - Christians in Science - 9th May 2007

From Dorset Humanists forum.

If anyone is interested, John Polkinghorn - a notorious religious zealot - will be giving a talk in Southampton University as part of the Christians in Science group there.

The talk is part of a series and is well attended. If you intend to go you should plan to get there early because the hall fills up fast. Most of the people who go to the talks are Christians and agree with the speaker so they don't ask any good questions.

I intend to go the his lecture.

Thanks Daniel for drawing my attention to it.

Sir John Polkinghorne:

..He describes his view of the world as Critical Realism and believes strongly that there is One World, with science and religion both addressing aspects of the same reality.

Trying their best to collide, Dr. Gould's nonoverlapping magisteria (science and religion) seemed farther apart than ever, two great ships passing in the night, pointed in opposite directions.

Because scientific experiments work very hard to eliminate extraneous influences, he believes that they are thus highly atypical of what goes on in nature. He suggests that the mechanistic explanations of the world which have continued from Laplace to Richard Dawkins should be replaced by an understanding that most of nature is cloud-like rather than clock-like.

I need to do research on what is meant by "cloud-like rather than clock-like"

On the existence of God

He addresses the questions of "Does the concept of God make sense? If so, do we have reason for believing in such a thing?"

He suggests that God is the ultimate answer to Liebniz's great question "why is there something rather than nothing?" The atheist's "plain assertion of the world's existence" is a "grossly impoverished view of reality," he says, arguing that "theism explains more than a reductionist atheism can ever address."

Theism view of the existence of the Universe is impoverished compared to the science of Cosmology.

He "does not assert that God's existence can be demonstrated in a logically coercive way (any more than God's non-existence can) but that theism makes more sense of the world, and of human experience, than does atheism.

Theism does not make more sense of the world compared to science.

* The anthropic fine tuning of the universe: He quotes with approval Freeman Dyson, who said "the more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming" and suggests there is a wide consensus amongst physicists that either there are a very large number of other universes in the Multiverse or that "there is just one universe which is the way it is in its anthropic fruitfulness because it is the expression of the purposive design of a Creator, who has endowed it with the finely tuned potentialty for life.

I would argue for the Multiverse. The anthropic principle: our universe is just right for us but their may be billions of other universes that are devoid of matter. Paul Davies discusses this subject in "The Goldilocks Enigma (why the Universe is just right for life")

* A wider humane reality: He considers that theism offers a more persuasive account of ethical and aesthetic perceptions. He argues that it is difficult to accommodate the idea that "we have real moral knowledge" and that "statements such as 'torturing children is wrong' are more than "simply social conventions of the societies within which they are uttered" within an atheistic or naturalistic world view. He also believes such a world view finds it hard to explain how "Something of lasting significance is glimpsed in the beauty of the natural world and the beauty of the fruits of human creativity."

Science offers best explanations for the beauty of the natural world. Philosophy can give more coherent ethics than theism.

Richard Dawkins said of Polkinghorne that he is one of a number of "good scientists who are sincerely religious", but says "I remain baffled ... by their belief in the details of the Christian religion."

Dawkins also says about Polkinghorne: "

On freewill and free process

Polkinghorne regards the problem of evil as the most serious intellectual objection to the existence of God. He believes that "The well-known free will defence in relation to moral evil asserts that a world with a possibility of sinful people is better than one with perfectly programmed machines. The tale of human evil is such that one cannot make that assertion without a quiver, but I believe that it is true nevertheless. I have added to it the free-process defence, that a world allowed to make itself is better than a puppet theatre with a Cosmic Tyrant. I think that these two defences are opposite sides of the same coin, that our nature is inextricably linked with that of the physical world which has given us birth."

On kinship between Science and Religion

It is a consistent theme of Polkinghorne's work that when he "turned his collar around" he did not stop seeking for truth. Many of his books explore the analogies between the truth-seeking enterprises of science and religion, with a unifying philosophical outlook of Critical realism. He believes that the philosopher of science who has most helpfully struck the balance between the "critical" and "realism" aspects of this is Michael Polanyi.

He suggests that there is a cousinly relationship between the ways in which science and theology each pursue truth within the proper domains of their interpreted experienceand drawing on his experience of the development of Quantum physics suggests that, in both disciplines, there are five points of cousinly relationship between these two great human struggles with the surprising and counterintuitive character of our encounter with reality:

1. Moments of enforced radical revision
2. A period of unresolved confusion
3. New synthesis and understanding
4. Continued wrestling with unresolved problems
5. Deeper implications

Review by Prof
Simon Blackburn of Sir John Polkinghorn books

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