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Book Review

John Polkinghorne
Traffic in Truth

Exchanges between Science and Theology
ISBN 1-85311-360-3
Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2000, £4.99

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed January 2002; © Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2001

The Borderlands series of books, co-published with the Society of the Sacred Cross, 'aims to widen our perspectives and encourage us to greater adventure on our spiritual journeys.' This particular book sets out to explore the borderland between those two ancient protagonists - science and theology. In this little book (56 pp.) the scientist and priest, John Polkinghorne uses the metaphor of a borderland or 'frontier' to explore the interaction between these two areas of knowledge.

Firstly, the book explores the metaphor itself, discussing the various pictures the word 'frontier' can evoke, from that of a battlefield between two conflicting viewpoints to that of a place where a mutually beneficial exchange may take place.

The book then explores what Science-land and Theology-land each have to say about the Universe in which we find ourselves.

Scientific insights explored include the  mysteries of evolutionary 'fine-tuning' and the apparently 'anthropic' nature of our Universe. Theories which mark the 'death' of the purely mechanistic view of science - Quantum and Chaos -  are explored, as well as cosmologists ideas about the future of our expanding Universe.

Theological insights explored include the curious 'intelligibility' of our Universe, linking again with the Anthropic Principle of some scientists. The recurring themes, common to all kinds of religious experience, are explored, along with theology's claim to provide an ultimate hope beyond death for ourselves and our Universe.

These two sections provide excellent insights into the work being conducted on each side of the frontier. The authors clear perspectives on both science and theology and careful choice of topics allow the book to serve as a highly recommended introduction to theologians to the current work of scientists and vice versa. The book takes as refreshingly balanced view of these two areas, attacking many of the common stereotypes of the study of science as a purely factual activity and of theology as merely a collection of unsupported views.

The author then identifies some key ideas which reflect the 'common cause' of these two spheres of knowledge. This is illustrated with areas of theology that have relevance to scientists and of science of significance to theologians. By presenting both science and theology as equally valid 'ways of knowing',  this book arrives at a perspective which is valuable to inhabitants on either side of the border.

A compelling case is made for the idea that reason and revelation are both important  ways of knowing about our Universe - that some understandings and insights can be gained through the application of reason whereas others are only accessible by means of revelation. Thus, science and theology are seen as complementary ways of searching for the fundamental truth about our Universe.

Julien King

Head of Science, Helena Romanes School

Great Dunmow

 

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