In America, one of the recurring controversies over the place of religion in public life has to do with the teaching of evolution in public schools. The extremes are defined by those people who reject any explanation for life other than a materialistic, “scientific” one and those who reject any explanation other than a literal interpretation of Genesis. But those are not the only possible positions. One could accept evolution as a fact demonstrated by the fossil evidence, but still believe in a divine Creator who, somehow, in ways humans do not understand, guides the process. This position would not be “unscientific,” because science, understood as empirically-verifiable knowledge, does not deal in metaphysics.
Sir John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist, theologian, and Anglican priest, and winner of the 2002 Templeton Prize, addresses evolution and other issues in his new book, Science and Religion in Quest of Truth (Yale University Press 2011). A description follows. — MLM
John Polkinghorne, an international figure known both for his contributions to the field of theoretical elementary particle physics and for his work as a theologian, has over the years filled a bookshelf with writings devoted to specific topics in science and religion. In this new book, he undertakes for the first time a survey of all the major issues at the intersection of science and religion, concentrating on what he considers the essential insights for each. Clearly and without assuming prior knowledge, he addresses causality, cosmology, evolution, consciousness, natural theology, divine providence, revelation, and scripture. Each chapter also provides references to his other books in which more detailed treatments of specific issues can be found.
For those who are new to what Polkinghorne calls “one of the most significant interdisciplinary interactions of our time,” this volume serves as an excellent introduction. For readers already familiar with John Polkinghorne’s books, this latest is a welcome reminder of the breadth of his thought and the subtlety of his approach in the quest for truthful understanding.