John Polkinghorne –Can a Scientist Pray?

Augustine Pamplany CST

John Polkinghorne was a particle physicist in Cambridge. He was knighted by the British Queen for his scientific accomplishments. However he resigned his professorship at Cambridge and became an Anglican Priest. After rendering services as a parish priest for several years, he returned to his academic career and is still making immense contribution to the field of science and religion.

His resignation from Cambridge, he says, was not to repudiate science, but to seek the wider truth of religion. He has a basic in the unity of knowledge. “I’m a very passionate believer in the unity of knowledge. There is one world of reality – one world of our experience that we’re seeking to describe.” His move to religion from science, he says, provided him with a binocular vision. As he says, when he “turned his collar around” he only intensified his search for truth.

According to Polkinghorne, “the question of the existence of God is the single most important question we face about the nature of reality.” He is fond of Anthony Kenny who said, “After all, if there is no God, then God is incalculably the greatest single creation of the human imagination.” He thinks that the concept of God is not exclusively a matter of logic and science. Even in physics there is incoherence and incompleteness. Even a skilled undergraduate is able to see incoherence in quantum physics. Gödel’s incompleteness theorems caution us: “If we cannot prove the consistency of arithmetic it seems a bit much to hope that God’s existence is easier to deal with.” Thus God is “ontologically necessary, but not logically necessary.” Rationally, theism makes more sense of the world, and of human experience, than does atheism.”

He was asked in an interview, can a scientist pray? He replied: “Can a scientist pray is a question, of course, that one asks oneself, and I am a scientist, and I do pray. And we’ve always known, I think, as surely as we know anything, that we’re not automations, that we have powers of choice. It seems to me that it is perfectly consistent, logically coherent that God can act within the openness of that physical world as well. And I think that in such a world, a scientist can pray.”

He is an exponent of the wonder of the universe as articulated by the findings of science. “If the experience of science teaches anything, it is that the world is very strange and surprising. The many revolutions in science have certainly shown that.” He believes that evolution has a clear design and purpose. As a physicist he underscores the quantum view that “the world is not simply objective; somehow it is something more subtle than that. In some sense it is veiled from us, but it has a structure that we can understand.”

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