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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

John Polkinghorne Lectures on S&R

"Theology in the Context of Science," a five-part lecture series with the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, begins today and runs through the next two weeks at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Here's a detailed descriptions of his lectures, which will later be published and available through the university's book store:

Contextual Theology: The aim of the series is to develop theology in the specific context of science, in a manner concerned not only with specific problematic issues (evolution, big bang, etc.), but also with the style and orientation of an intellectual perspective. This requires an openness to surprising new concepts, coupled with a demand for evidential support for such concepts. A critical realist stance together with the technique of “bottom-up” thinking will also be necessary in the move from evidential experience to theological understanding.

Discourse: Scientists do not ask “Is it reasonable?”, for the world has often proved stranger than prior thought would have supposed, but rather, “What makes you think that might be the case?” The thought of Michael Polanyi, with its emphasis on the importance of commitment and of intellectual daring in the quest for scientific understanding, can be readily extended beyond science to embrace the search for religious truth. These ideas will be illustrated through a consideration of the perplexing question of the nature of time.

Persons: Science approaches reality in an impersonal mode, bracketing out questions of meaning and value from its discourse. Nevertheless, the contemporary scientific imagination is being extended by the discovery of the astonishing powers of spontaneous self-organization possessed by complex systems, encouraging a metascientific evaluation of science’s remarkable achievements. This development offers the prospect of a concept of “holistic information” playing as fundamental a role in science as that played by constituent exchanges of energy. The relevance of this to the understanding of psychosomatic personhood will be explored.

Consonance: The differing descriptions of science and theology about the nature of reality must bear some complementary relationship to each other. There must, therefore, be a degree of mutual consonance in what they have to say on certain matters. This is illustrated in considerations of how physical cosmology relates to a doctrine of creation; how science’s account of the causal nexus of the world relates to claims of divine providential action; and how the deep-seated inter-relationality of the physical world, evident in such phenomena as quantum entanglement, might be viewed in the light of Trinitarian theology.

Motivated Belief: Theology trades in motivated belief as much as science does, though the kinds of beliefs, and consequently the kinds of appropriate motivation, are different in the two cases. This claim is supported by considering how a bottom-up thinker can defend Christian theological belief. Some discussion is also given of how one may seek to understand the varying insights of the world faith traditions into the nature of sacred reality.