Faith, Science & Understanding

Notes by me on the book by John Polkinghorne, published in 2000

p. xii - In the course of an open search for understanding, the personal and subjective elements of human experience must be accorded equal weight with the impersonal and objective aspects which constitute science’s self-limited domain of enquiry.

p. 6 Distinguish between understanding and explanation, a lesser attainment. QM at the level of explanation and prediction is wildly successful. Yet, we do not understand it.

p. 7 Do not make common sense the measure of everything. There is not one single simple way in which we can know everything; there is no universal epistemology. We must meet reality on its on terms. This applies to QM - it also applies to theology.

p. 11. The fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Limit the field of view - err on what you perceive. Central question - the significance of personhood.

p. 16. The universe is composed of fields and particles - it is also the carrier of beauty and the arena of moral decisions. These are within the domain of personal experience; they are also autonomous, not derivable from the material. Reductionists argue otherwise; they are wrong. Flat wrong.

p. 24. In forming our account of reality we should be open to all aspects of our encounter with it.

p. 43. Xtian theology should be understood as a bottom-up response to religious experience… .

p. 52. Revelation bears analogy with the role played by observations and experiments in science.

p. 64 For me, the Bible is neither an inerrant account of prepositional truth nor a compendium of timeless symbols, but a historically conditioned account of certain significant encounters and experiences.

p. 79. The idea that science succeeds in giving an increasingly verisimilitudinous account of what the physical world is like is the fundamental belief of virtually all its practitioners. This is called “critical realism.” Scientists are mapmakers. No map tells all but a faithful map represents attributes to a certain scale.

p. 90. Barbour & Peacocke identify themselves as panentheists. Also Phillip Clayton and Charles Hartshorne. Polkinghorne does not see that term as useful in describing present reality; it might describe eschatological destiny. ???

p. 97. Despite confident reductionist claims, consciousness is presently both an undeniable experience and also an irreducible mystery.

p. 97. Dual aspect monism. Three kinds of entity:

1. Wholly material. Stones
.2. Partly material, partly spiritual. Humans
3. Wholly spiritual.

p. 131. Four metascientific accounts of the nature of time:

1. A trick of human psychological experience

a. Metascience. Counterintuitive. Distinction of past/future an illusion. How to accommodate human experience is problematical.
b. Metaphysics. Human experience argument held to be of little force. Block universe. Determinism.
c. Theology. God knows whole history timelessly. Endorses b. above.

2. Time is a secondary construction. Not fundamental.

a. Metascience. Quantum gravity speculations. A variety of differing parallel cosmic histories.
b. Metaphysics. ???
c. Theology. Universe is God’s multi-screen experiment. Fatal to Xtianity.

3. The evolution of time is a closed process. Clockwork universe.

a. Metascience. David Bohm account of QM. Deterministic universe.
b. Metaphysics. LaPlace hypothesis brought up to date.
c. Theology. Total divine causality. Deism.

4. The evolution of time is an open process.

a. Metascience. Intrinsic unpredictability, both in QM and in Chaos theory.
b. Metaphysics. Holistic laws of nature - rise of complexity. The future is not “up there” waiting for us - we play a part in shaping it. It is contingent on our executed intentions; our decisions placed into actions.
c. Theology. Allows a scope for both human and divine action. God’s action I not demonstrable, though it may be discernable by the eye of faith. Free will.


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