Can a Scientist Pray?

April 1993By John Warwick Montgomery

The Rev. John Warwick Montgomery, a Lutheran, is a practicing barrister and Reader/Professor-elect in Law and Hu­man Rights at Luton College in England.

The term "apologetics" classically desig­nated one of the three main branches of sys­tematic theology, the others being dogmatics and ethics. Today, however, there is not a theological seminary in the world (to my knowledge) that gives the same stress to apologetics as it does to dogmatics or ethics -- unless one thinks of certain liberal schools of theology where the three fields are equalized by placing no significant stress on any of them. One is hard put to think of Christian writers of the caliber of C.S. Lewis who are currently defending the faith with both an ability to communicate to a non-specialized audience and the respect of their peers for the quality of their scholarship. The dearth of serious Christian apologists is particularly un­fortunate in our era of increasing secularism: Where are the apologists when we need them most?

A ray of hope is provided by the work of John Polkinghorne. Formerly a professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge University, he took Anglican orders and spent a number of years as priest of a little, out-of-the-way par­ish. During that time he wrote several highly significant books dealing with the interrelations of science and Christian faith. Recently he was appointed President of Queens' College, Cambridge -- attesting to the respect in which he is held by his academic peers. His books include The Way the World Is (1983), One World (1986), Science and Creation (1988), Science and Providence (1989), and Reason and Reality (1991) -- all published by S.P.C.K. in England -- and he regularly fulfills prestigious lecture com­mitments in the British Isles. Since Polkinghorne is not yet well known on the other side of the Atlantic, it is worthwhile to give a taste of his approach -- if only to whet one's appe­tite for more.

On October 20, 1992, Polkinghorne ad­dressed the Royal Society of Arts on the sub­ject "Can a Scientist Pray?" As a fellow of the Society, I attended. Particularly illuminating was the reaction of the audience, which, drawn together by purely secular interest in arts, science, and technology, hung on his ev­ery word -- an atypical response for a Society whose historical luminaries are not theologians but secular saints like Benjamin Franklin.

Polkinghorne began by blasting the me­chanical universe of 18th-century deism, ob­serving that its "clockmaker" image of God and its deterministic model of the world are hopelessly outmoded. Both quantum physics and Einsteinian relativity contradict the mechanistic universe. Today's field of "chaotic dynamics" has shown that "almost all of the everyday physical world is so exquisitely sensi­tive that the smallest disturbance produces quite uncontrollable and unpredictable conse­quences." The result, of course, is an open rather than a closed (Newtonian) universe -- and an open universe is one which has room for answered prayer.

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Thanks, Mr. Montgomery, for pointing out Prof. Polkinghorne. I'm already on the Amazon.com page looking to see what he's written.

As for modern-day apologists, where would you place BC's Peter Kreeft? He has become one of my real go-to philosophers, from his scathing dismissal of "he or she" in a footnote to "Socratic Logic" to his latest wonderful and challenging "An Ocean Full of Angels."

That said, I'm really looking forward to reading Polkinghorne.
Posted by: NickPalmer3
August 22, 2011 12:20 PM EDT
PS Could you please post your thoughts on a Polkinghorne reading list for the uninitiated? Posted by: NickPalmer3
August 22, 2011 12:23 PM EDT
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