Pursuing a perspective that he calls the mutuality model, Padgett highlights the contributions that both religion and science make to a full understanding of the world and our place in it. He argues convincingly that the natural sciences and theology, even though they have their own domain as disciplines, can rationally influence each other without giving up their distinctive methods.
The book explores the nature of informal reason and worldviews, the character of theology as a spiritual and academic discipline, and the question of what counts as natural science. Along the way, Padgett discusses such topics as thermodynamics, time, resurrection, and the historical Jesus to illustrate his powerful mutuality model.
The author organizes his inquiry around the Nicene Creed, an early statement that continues to summarize Christian beliefs. He applies to each of its tenets the question, "What is the evidence that makes you think this might be true?" The evidence Polkinghorne weighs includes the Hebrew and Christian scriptures--their historical contexts and the possible motivations for their having been written--scientific theories, and human self-consciousness as revealed in literary, philosophical, and psychological works.
He begins with the words, "We believe," and presents understandings of the nature of humanity, showing, for example, that Cartesian theory, evolution, and natural selection do not tell the entire story of what humans are about, especially in light of many sources that attest to our spirituality. Moving through the Creed, Polkinghorne considers the concept of divinity and God as creator in discussions that cover the Theory of Everything, the Big Bang Theory, and the possibility of divine presence within reality so that God is not simply an outside observer. Chapters on Jesus analyze the different ways events are described in the Gospels and the way motivation for belief is conveyed--for example, how do these writings explain why a young man killed in public disgrace could inspire a following, when other major world religious leaders lived to become highly revered elders in their communities?
"Faith seeking understanding" is, according to Polkinghorne, like the scientific quest. Both are journeys of intellectual discovery in which those who survey experience from an initially chosen point of view must be open to correction in the light of further experience. "Religion," he writes, "has long known that ultimately every human image of God proves to be an inadequate idol." The Faith of a Physicist, based on the prestigious 1993 Gifford Lectures, delivers a powerful message to scientists and theologians, theists and atheists alike.
Originally published in 1994.
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