"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Monday, April 28, 2008

John Polkinghorne - "Faith, Science & Understanding" Chapter 1

I figured that since I haven't had time for any of my own writings these days I'd conduct a little experiment. Just two days ago I added the 18th book to my "in progress" list. (I know, I really must stop doing that.) Anyway, I've decided to try my hand a journaling on each chapter. It seems like such a practice could go a long way towards something resembling retention. Then I thought to myself, "what better way to keep myself from lazy journaling than submitting it for public review!" Now if my "in progress" list is any indication, I can't guarantee that I'll remained disciplined in this new venture. Even so, I figured it was worth a shot. That said...

Chapter 1 - Theology in the University
In chapter 1 Polkinghorne makes two basic arguments. First he argues for the rightful place of theology in the university. Secondly he argues for a second-order role of theology as theological metaphysics. Theological metaphysics, in Polkinghorne's opinion, is the only place one might expect to come to a "theory of everything." Such a theory would be far more "…all encompassing and intellectually satisfying than any Grand Unified Theory of particle physics could ever be." (25)

Polkinghorne's argument for theology's rightful place in the university begins with two assertions. First, there is the value of knowledge for its own sake, and secondly, he holds to the fundamental unity of all knowledge. From these two assertions his argument proceeds: 1. The University's primary focus ought to be the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. He feels that those who view the university as a means of pragmatically serving the human race are mistaking a desirable outcome for the purpose itself. 2. There is an essential unity to all knowledge. Therefore, any particular bit of knowledge ought to meaningfully connect with the universal complex of knowledge in general. 3. Religious experience is ubiquitous throughout humanity, which leads to his conclusion: The study of theology as an area of human knowledge deserves a rightful place at the table of scholarship.

Polkinghorne then argues for a second-order application of theology, for to speak of God is to speak of the one from whom the whole of reality flows and thus ought rightfully envelop the whole of human knowledge and understanding. He goes on to argue that when faced with the layered nature of reality, it is irresponsible to let one level swallow up the other. To do so is to commit what A.N. Whitehead calls "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness." (11) Such an approach does not do justice to the whole of our lived experience.

An example of just such a move is witnessed when one comes to grips with what the cosmologists claim regarding the inevitable end to which our universe is progressing. The Universe is winding down to either collapse or chaos. If we let this physical reality swallow up the meaning experienced in love, joy and morality we are forced into either complete despair, or a sort of "heroic atheism." (25) Instead, Polkinghorne argues that the physical reality considered here ought not swallow up the rest of our human experience. Rather, since all knowledge is one, a more satisfying conclusion is available to us. We do not experience life as strictly physical realities. There is love, there is reason, there is beauty, there is morality, there is personality. Taken together, these attributes point towards a reality that is not reducible to mere particle physics, or the second law of thermodynamics. With Polkinghorne, I would agree that a personal God is a more satisfying explanation for the whole of human experience and knowledge than the sort of impersonal power that Hume, Russell and others argue for.

Quote to ponder: "[We must] refrain from reaching easy but worthless conclusions by exalting the objective over the subjective, the repeatable over the unique, the impersonal over the personal." (24)

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

A couple of videos from TED

"I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."
- J. B. S. Haldane

Richard Dawkins: The universe is queerer than we can suppose:

Brian Greene: The universe on a string:

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Thursday, April 24, 2008


Not sure whether non-UKers can access this, but BBC Radio 4's 'In Our Time' series covered materialism earlier and it's a pretty interesting listen, covering both the history and implications of the position.

"If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them, and that custom, respect and tyranny support them."

It’s provocative stuff even today and certainly was in 1770 when published by Baron D’Holbach in his book The System of Nature. The baron’s boldness was underpinned by Materialism, a philosophical idea so dangerous that every copy of the book was condemned to be burnt. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, materialism dominates much of our understanding of the world today.

But what does materialism really mean, how has it developed over time and can we still have free will if we are living in a materialist world?


Anthony Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London

Caroline Warman, Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford

Anthony O’Hear, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buckingham

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I think I like John Wesley

"For, how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love! We may die without the knowledge of many truths, and yet be carried to Abraham’s bosom. But, what if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angles."

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A bit of light relief