This page links to the videos of the Q&A for the Launch Event at the Royal Society.  We hope to add transcripts in due course.

Richard Swinburne FBA

Thank you very much for the book, with 85% of which I am in full agreement. But may I take up one of the points that worries me, and that is that you both advocate the notion of our identity as being constituted by an information system, a software, and therefore our resurrection at the last day will consist in the instantiation of this software in some new body. The trouble with this, the traditional objection to this, is that of course God could instantiate all our memories and character and so on in a new body , but He could do it in 100 new bodies and which one of them would be me? The mere fact of some future person having my memories and character is not enough to guarantee that person being me.

Now you may say, God wouldn’t be so silly as to do such a thing. Well in that case, the consequence is my surviving by death will be a consequence of God not doing something to create another person, and it’s very odd to suppose that my surviving my death will depend on what God does to a body that won’t be mine. How can what happens to somebody else make a difference to whether I survive my death of not. So I do find this a very implausible theory of what my survival consists in.

The only alternative for the theist in my view, indeed the only philosophical alternative in my view, is indeed the view held by about 1% of the philosophical community, viz substance dualism. If you wanted to know the whole history of the world, and you were shown as it were a film in advance, you would see all the bodies there were, and if the film was a very good film, it would show you all the memories and characters there were, but you still wouldn’t know which person is you, which indicates that there is a lot more to being you than mere memory and character.

John Polkinghorne: First of all let me say that I don’t for a minute think that human beings are computers made of meat, the software analogy, the hardware analogy, it’s useful but inadequate. We’re striving, those of us who are dual aspect monists rather than dualists, we’re striving to find some way of articulating that and we’re waving our hands, as Thomas Nagel said we’re indulging in pre-Socratic failings around of things we don’t fully understand, but it does seem to me that this is a better way to wave your hands than what is to me the implausible notion that we are really apprentice angels trapped in the fleshly husk of a body.

I do think it’s a foolish thing to say “what stops God creating 100 copies of me” – what stops God doing that is that God is consistent and sensible, and doesn’t play the foolish game of creating many, many, clones. And I think the person who is resurrected and re-embodied in this way, has my memories and my character (as far as we can understand these things) is me, unequivocally.

Geoffrey Raisman FRS

I’m only a simple scientist, but I get the impression that many of you on the platform believe in the existence of God, and know, or have a sense of, what is the character of God, for example He is good, benevolent and so on.

Why do you believe in God and why do you think you know what he is like?

Nicholas Beale: that’s a rather enormous question, and I’m tempted to say, “read the book”.

If we had to give a one word answer, it would be Jesus. We see in the life of Jesus something remarkably transparent and compelling, and if you’re prepared to accept, at least as an hypothesis, Christianity – I’m not trying to convince you that Christianity is true- I’d love to be able to do that – but my more modest goal is to convince you that it is reasonable. And if you start from that hypothesis, if you will, then a lot of strange things about the world seem to make a lot of sense. But I think to give an exhaustive list of all the reasons why we might want to believe in God would take us a very long time, quite of lot of it is discussed in the book in some depth, and there are plenty of references.

John Polkinghorne: I think the order of the world and its fruitful history suggests there might be a divine mind and purpose behind it. That doesn’t tell us what God is like: if we are going to learn more about God, God will have to make God’s nature known in some way. And I do believe the strange, mysterious, exciting, and I think true, Christian belief that God has acted he most accessible way to make the divine nature known through living a human life in Jesus Christ. That would take a long time to justify, and in this book and others I try to do my little bit.

Geoffrey Raisman: So you think only Christian belief points to the existence of God?

John Polkinghorne: No certainly not, of course not.

Eric Priest: I think the old idea that you can try and prove God is not popular these days. I myself don’t think there are any knock-down proofs of God, and as a scientist, I often ask myself: is this theory – I can’t prove that a theory is correct, as an explanation for the physical world, I can disprove it if there are facts that contradict it, but what I can say is, I can ask the question whether that theory is consistent with my experience of the physical world. And in the same way, as a Christian, it seems to me that, for me personally, the existence of God is consistent with my experience, my experience as a person, my experience in the community and so on. And I wouldn’t want to go beyond that.

As to whether I believe in the Christian God or the God of Islam, or the God of the Jews, that was a question that was asked at one of our public lectures. We actually had a Muslim come along and talk about Islam and Science, and what I’ve been doing with each of the lecturers is to take them into the local high school, and often they get the best questions actually from the schoolchildren. And one of the questions was “how do you know that Islam is better than Christianity” And his reply was : “ I don’t. I happen to be a Muslim, but we’re sister religions, we all believe in the same God, we’re on a mountain, we’re climbing up a mountain along different paths, and I think we’ll probably meet at the top”.

“a refreshing contrast to the polemic and misinformation that have characterized much of the writing in this area” William Phillips

“Richly nuanced responses … simply a fantastic resource” Francis Collins

“Wonderfully accessible, informative and authoritative.” Alister McGrath

“an important contribution” Martin Nowak

“this matters to every man and every woman” Onora O’Neill

“of universal interest. Many readers will welcome this accessible format” Publishers Weekly

“antidote to Richard Dawkins … intriguing … a thought-provoking work” Library Journal

“deals eloquently with many of the issues…in the science-religion debate.” Times H. E.

“commendably clear…those who would most benefit from reading it are… atheists who believe that the religious are manifestly irrational” FT.

“remarkably even-handed …lucid explanations … a valuable lesson” Physics World

“rich…digestible..intriguing” Church Times

“evokes the shimmering beauty of a stained glass window … will repay rereading and rereading” Living Church.

One Erratum has been found in Appendix A – see here.

The new Polkinghorne Q&A website is now here.