An interview with a particle physicist and priest

by blue in green

Food for thought from a prominent physicist who decided to become an Anglican priest, giving him unique perspective on the relationship between faith and science. John Polkinghorne won the Templeton Prize, given for outstanding contribution in matters of religion and science, in 2002. The whole interview is here.

He describes both science and religion as means of searching for the truth, but in fundamentally different (and both essential) ways:

“Science is looking at the world as an object — as an “it”—which you can pull apart and do with what you want…You can do the same experiment over and over again until you feel sure you understand what is going on…But there are great swaths of human encounter with reality where you meet reality not just as an object but where there is a personal dimension. Unlike with the scientific experiment, no personal experience is ever going to be exactly repeated…the encounter between persons, even more the encounter with the personal reality of God, has to be based on trusting and not on testing.”

He describes a unique and important aspect of humility that comes from belief in God:

“The fundamental mistake, I think, is to believe that we are somehow beings who can do it on our own. The fundamental mistake is for creatures to think they are the creators. Doing it my way is not, I think, the recipe for a good and fulfilling life. I think we need the grace of God to help us; we are not fated to be independent in that sense. God wishes us to act freely and to embrace divine mercy freely. But God knows that we need His grace and humility in order to do that. So humility is concerned first of all with recognizing our status.”

He also addresses the futility of applying scientific standards of “proof” to religion:

“Proof, cast-iron proof, is pretty limited and not actually a very interesting category of things…What we need, I think, is beliefs that are sufficiently well-motivated for us to feel that we can commit our lives to them…”