by Prof Antony Hewish FRS (Nobel Laureate, Physics, 1974)

Cambridge academic eyebrows were raised in 1979 when the distinguished quantum physicist Professor John Polkinghorne resigned from his chair in order to start training as an Anglican priest. Since then he has become well known for a series of books on science and religion. Although not personally on line, his ideas have generated worldwide interest and discussion on the Internet through a Web site set up and managed by Nicholas Beale, his one-time mathematical student at Trinity College and long-standing friend and colleague. Nicholas Beale has an outstanding reputation as a management consultant with particular expertise in information technology and was elected Freeman of the City of London in 1996. He is well known for his staunch support of Christianity.

Between them, John and Nicholas have responded to the many questions and issues raised on the Web site, and their different backgrounds and perspectives combine to generate a powerful dialogue covering most aspects of contemporary faith that are of serious concern to those who seek answers to the eternal questions of what it means to be human and the purpose of our existence.

Our culture these days seems to have little room for the sacred. It is widely thought that religion is out of date and irrelevant and has no place in our scientific age; that faith is superstitious nonsense that should have been left behind in kindergarten. John Polkinghorne, on the other hand, argues that science and religion are not in conflict—they are, in fact, complementary, and both are vital for the deepest understanding of our place in the universe. I share this view, along with many other scientists, and believe that physics, perhaps the most materialistic of the pure sciences, actually conditions our thinking in such a way as to help us to be more, rather than less, receptive towards religious mysteries. If rational common sense can be a bad guide to scientific truth, how much more so might it be towards religion? For example, the simplest piece of matter, a hydrogen atom, cannot be accurately described without including the effects caused by the cloud of virtual particles with which it is surrounded. There is no such thing as truly empty space. Quantum theory predicts that even a perfect vacuum is filled with a multitude of particles that flash into and out of existence much too rapidly to be caught by any detector. Yet their existence modifies the motion of electrons orbiting protons in a calculable way that has been verified by direct observation. The ghostly presence of virtual particles defies rational common sense and is non-intuitive for those unacquainted with physics. When the most elementary physical things behave this way, we should be prepared to accept religious mysteries such as the existence of God and that God became Man around two thousand years ago.

Tony Hewish

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Introduction 1
1. Leading Questions5
1. Science and Religion5
2. Human Nature9
3. The Existence of God11
4. Creation and Evolution15
5. Evil and Suffering16
6. Divine Action17
7. Jesus Christ20
8. Final Destiny22
9. Atheism25
2. The Concept and Existence of God 27
10. Can God’s Existence Be Proved?27
11. Is God a Delusion? 28
12. How Can God Inhabit Eternity?32
13. Does God Know Everything? 33
14. Is Everything Divinely Predestined? 35
15. Is God the Source of All Morality? 36
16. What about the Trinity?37
3. The Universe40
17. How Did the Universe Begin? 40
18. How Can Something Come from Nothing? 41
19. Isn’t Everything Random? 42
20. What is the Anthropic Principle? 45
21. Have Anthropic Arguments been Refuted?47
22. Why Is the Universe so Big?52
23. Will Everything, Eventually, be Explained by Science? 52
24. Is a Unified Theory of Everything Possible?53
4. Evolution56
25. Is Evolution Fact or Theory? 56
26. What about Intelligent Design?58
27. Can the Mind Be Explained by Evolution? 60
28. Isn’t Evolution Unethical? 62
29. Why is Evolution so Wasteful? 63
5. Evil65
30. Where Does Evil Come From? 65
31. Who or What Is “the Devil”? 67
32. Why Is There Cancer? 68
33. Is Original Sin a result of Nature or Nurture?69
34. Why Do People Choose Evil? 70
35. Does Religion Inspire Evil Acts? 71
6. Human Being73
36. Who Were Adam and Eve?73
37. What Does It Mean to Be Created “in the Image of God”? 73
38. When Does an Embryo Become a Person?75
39. Do We Have Souls? 76
40. What Is Conscience? 79
41. Does Human Life Have a Purpose? 80
42. Do Humans Matter More than Animals?82
7. Religion85
43. Is Atheism a Form of Faith? 85
43. Is Atheism a Form of Faith? 85
44. Can We See Truth? 86
45. Which Stories in the Bible Are True?87
46. How Does the Death of Jesus Save the World?90
47. Why Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead?90
48. How Much Do You Need to Believe to Be a Christian? 91
49. What Place Do Non-Christians Have in God’s Universe? 92
50. Will Sinners Suffer Eternal Punishment? 94
51. What’s the Point of Praying? 96
8. Conclusion98
Appendix A: Anthropic Fine-Tuning101
Four Possibilities104
What about Inflation?105
Multiverse and its variants107
Cosmological Natural Selection?109
A Complex and Improbable God?114
Postscript on improbability118
Appendix B: Brain and Consciousness121
Matter and Information121
Informational Entities are First-Class Citizens123
Active Information127
Clocks and Clouds129
Is the Brain Deterministic?131
The Fallacy of Mind/Brian Identification138
Linking Brains and Morality139
What has Randomness to do with Free Will?140
Appendix C: Evolution142
Evolution and the Beginning142
Evolution and Religious Belief145
Chance and Necessity146
Making a Secular Religion out of Evolution148
Common Genes and Emergent Behavior149
First Instances of Emergent Properties151
Genetic Determinism and Reductionism153
Evolutionary Benefits of Religion156
Evolution and Cooperation157
Select Bibliography182
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“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.