An Afternoon With John Polkinghorne (RJS)

In this post today I would like to point to a video featuring Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne. Dr. Polkinghorne was a very successful scientist, an expert and creative theoretical physicist involved in the discovery of quarks. He was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University before he resigned to study for the priesthood. He has since been a parish priest, Dean of the Chapel at Trinity Hall Cambridge and President of Queen’s College, Cambridge. After retirement he continues to write, think, and lecture about the interface between science and faith. I’ve read and commented on a couple of his books - Quarks, Chaos & Christianity and Belief in God in an Age of Science. I hope to read, and perhaps comment on, more of his work.

In this video of a lecture and interview at Point Loma Nazarene University Dr. Polkinghorne discussed the relationship between science and religion.

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Polkinghorne covers a number of topics in his lecture – but the general thread of the first portion is a discussion of the questions asked by science, the questions asked by religion, and the gifts that each give to the other.

Is it sufficient to attribute some kinds of “pain and suffering” to the way God created the world for his good purpose?  Does this cause a problem in our understanding of God or does it shape our understanding of God?

And on a slightly different note,

Does the beauty of creation – including music, art, and mathematics – point you toward God?

A paraphrase of some of his discussion follows, but the entire lecture is worth listening to.

According to Polkinghorne science and religion are both concerned with truth, but they are asking different questions about the world. Science is asking a single question about how things happen. But there are many other questions science does not address; questions of meaning, value, and purpose. The distinction can be categorized as the distinction between how and why. Science asks how questions, religion asks why questions. This is something of a broad brush, without all of the necessary nuance. But it is, he feels, a useful distinction.

We don’t have to choose between how and why. The insights of science and religion complement each other. They address a different level of our experience of reality. Science is objective and considers the world as an “it.” But there is another realm of contact in relationship – our encounter and relationship with reality. One that science cannot effectively address. The answers a science-only approach yields are inherently unsatisfactory. A religion-only approach gives a global “how” (God did it) but doesn’t really address, and doesn’t need to address, the detailed questions of how.

The answers to the how and why questions are consonant – friends, but in dialog. One doesn’t trump the other.  Science can’t be enough – an objective “how” answer is not enough. Music, for example, can be described scientifically as a neural response to the impact of sound waves on the eardrum – this is an objective how answer. Of course, this scientific description hardly exhausts the mystery of music … there is so much more to the sequence of sounds in time as they are perceived.

The gift from science to religion – science tells us about the character of the world in which we live, and the history of the universe. This is a revelation of God’s creation. Not all truth will come through science, but some does.  In particular, the insights arising from an understanding of evolution should be viewed as gifts in our understanding of God’s creation. A deist spectator God is a God that fills a scientific gap – the theist God creates for a purpose, a mission, and a relationship. His ways are good even if we don’t always understand – and this includes the ability of creation to flower through change and growth.

About 18 minute into the video Polkinghorne uses the example of  evolution and cancer to suggest how science might give an important insight into God’s creation and plan. This seems counter intuitive, but is worth thinking about. The fact that somatic cells can mutate is a necessary consequence of a creation where the realm of diversity is explored through evolutionary mechanism, mutations and selection. We think we could do it better – throw out the nasty things and keep the nice things. But the more science teaches us about the way things actually work the better we understand God’s creation and realize that the good and the bad in this sense are necessarily intertwined.

Religion gives a gift to science – not by answering scientific questions, as a rival to science – but by assessing scientific insights in a broader context. One such question are “why is science possible?” Our depth of understanding of science goes far beyond what is necessary for survival of an organism. Mathematics provides the key that unlocks our understanding of creation.  There is an aesthetic pleasure – a beauty -  in the mathematics that describes the universe. This is a beauty that rivals the aesthetic pleasure and beauty of music and art. “Ugly” equations and theories are not effective – they don’t have deep explanatory power. There is a deep satisfying aesthetic beauty to the theory of the universe.

Polkinghorne suggests that it is intellectually lazy to simply stop with “that is the way it is.” The common origin in the mind of the creator provides a ground for understanding the beauty of creation. Science is possible because the word is a creation and we are creatures made in the image of the creator. Mathematics comes alongside music, art, and other expressions of beauty and meaning to point us toward God.

There are some interesting ideas here, worth discussion. One that strikes me in particular is the notion of a creation free to grow and develop, and this will mean some presence of pain and suffering – from cancer to tsunamis to birth defects to trees that topple and hill. No human sin involved. This strikes home after having attended a funeral in early January of a woman a few years younger than I am who died of cancer, leaving a husband and four children, and knowing others who have struggled with cancer, both successfully and unsuccessfully. Is it sufficient to say that this is the way the world was created?

Polkinghorne’s discussion of beauty in the theoretical, mathematical explanation of the world is also worth some discussion. I agree with him here, there is a beauty and a depth to the coherence of all creation that rivals music and art in its aesthetic power. It is overwhelming at times and makes science fun. I am not pursuing science for practical empirical benefit, but for the depth of understanding provided. So two questions:

Is it sufficient to attribute some kinds of “pain and suffering” to the way God created the world for his good purpose?  Does this cause a problem in our understanding of God or does it shape our understanding of God?

And on a slightly different note,

Does the beauty of creation – including music, art, and mathematics – point you toward God?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Tim

    “Polkinghorne suggests that it is intellectually lazy to simply stop with “that is the way it is.”

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think that scientists, with respect to why math strikes us as “beautiful” say, “that is the way it is.” I think they say, “we don’t know.” They know math strikes mathematicians as beautiful, but no one really knows why.

    Now Polkinghorne takes the perceived beauty underlying math as a “pointer” to God, much as I take the perceived beauty underlying nature as a “pointer” to God. But by no means would I accuse scientists who look at nature and don’t infer God “intellectually lazy.” Rather, I would expect scientists to say something like, “we have some hypothesis that attempt to explain why humans perceive some aspects of beauty in nature, but as it stands currently we just don’t have a complete or verifiable answer.” So I would expect them to say something similar with respect to mathematics.

    So with respect to Polkinghorne’s accusation, scientists essentially saying “we don’t know” isn’t “intellectually lazy” and I don’t think scientists ever “stop” looking when they acknowledge they don’t know something. What I would say is that someone who leverages their considerable prestige to demean scientists who disagree with him of being “intellectually lazy”, with respect to the argument at least, really ought to turn the lens around and see if he instead is guilty of being an “intellectual bully,” with respect to the argument at least.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    “Ugly” equations and theories are not effective – they don’t have deep explanatory power. There is a deep satisfying aesthetic beauty to the theory of the universe.

    Does Polkinghorne address the apparent exceptions?

    “Quantum Mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which, unfortunately, appears to be correct.” – Steven Weinberg

    “You don’t understand quantum mechanics, you just get used to it.” – Richard Feynman

  • rjs

    Tim,

    I don’t think you understand Polkinghorne’s comment or the kind of “beauty” in the mathematics that he is pointing to as an indicator. You simply react to any perceived slight.

    There is a deep and underlying symmetry and order. It seems uncanny. A book like Stephen Barr’s Modern Physics and Ancient Faith brings some of this out. It i truly profound. The mathematics is beautiful – and the mathematics that describe reality is beautiful – because the underlying reality is so profoundly beautiful.

    As scientists we don’t stop looking when we don’t know how, and we shouldn’t stop looking when we don’t know why. But the why, ultimately, if science is the only answer to the only meaningful question, is simply “that’s the way it is.” Inherently unsatisfactory – I agree with Polkinghorne here.

  • rjs

    Ray,

    I teach quantum mechanics – I work in areas related to this, although I am certainly no Nobel Laureate (as Weinberg, Feynman and Dirac are).

    Quantum mechanics is uncannily beautiful and profound – but it rocked perceptions about the way the world “should” be. I don’t know where you got your quote – but I rather expect that Weinberg does see beauty in the order of the universe, and even in quantum mechanics. It ain’t an ugly equation. Polkinghorne’s quote about ugly equations comes from Paul Dirac, one of the leading lights in the development of quantum theory, especially the mathematical development.

    From Feynman, you don’t understand quantum mechanics because it challenges all “natural” intuition – but “get used to” is more a matter of stretching your mind to truly understand the subject and the nature of reality.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Is it sufficient to attribute some kinds of “pain and suffering” to the way God created the world for his good purpose? Does this cause a problem in our understanding of God or does it shape our understanding of God?

    I believe most pain is a good thing, not a bad thing. Generally speaking, we have developed pain as a device to help us steer clear of things the have gross negative effect on us. For example, when we touch something hot we feel pain because it is damaging to us. So, is it really pain that we are talking about in this conversation or is it the damaging effects that we wish to eliminate?

    Is we want to eliminate suffering would we not simply knock everyone off at some pre-defined point in their lives while they are pretty much pain free or suffering free? Again, is the point of the question the pain and suffering or is it the existence of the agents of pain and suffering?

    Isn’t the problem with leprosy primarily one of people not having pain and they damage themselves? Leprosy is a lack of pain?

    I don’t think we can make the statement of pain=bad=suffering=bad. They do have a purpose.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    BTW, I don’t know if he covered that in the video, i can’t watch it today

  • Sage the Fool

    Why should the universe be under any obligation to “satisfy” you? You may feel unsatisfied by scientific explanations alone, but your feelings, wishes, desires, do not make anything more or less likely to exist.

  • Tim

    RJS,

    If you think I’m faulting Polkinghorne for using the beauty, “deep symmetry”, and order underlying mathematics as a “pointer” to infering God, you are mistaken. I’m not faulting Polkinghorne for that, and frankly I’m not informed enough in the field to have an opinion one way or the other. I myself use the beauty implicity in nature to infer God, so why not mathematics? So I’m not at odds with Polkinghorne over this.

    But what I do fault him for is asserting that scientists who don’t make a similar inference are somehow acting “intellectually lazy.” I am faulting him for reframing an honest “we don’t know” into a just-so “that’s the way it is.” I don’t think that’s fair to scientists at all. In fact, such reframing of scientists’ positions into straw men “just-so” proclamations and then demeaning them for it as “intellectually lazy” isn’t just bullyish, it is dishonest/misleading.

    I also don’t think it’s fair to dismiss my standing up for populations that seem to continually come under assault here at Jesus Creed as simply being reactive. Rather I think you should recognize that on some issues we have different perspectives and different interests. There are those at Jesus Creed who seem to stand up for Evangelicals against what they perceive as misrepresentations or unfair criticisms, and I don’t recall ever suggesting that they were being “simply reactive.” So I guess what I’m saying is I’d like you to extend some respect on that.

  • rjs

    Tim,

    When Polkinghorne makes such a comment it is as an insider and an expert, not as an outsider poking without understanding.

    We – more to the point, I, – poke at the problems of evangelicalism quite often on this blog — as an insider. I critique aspects of evangelical thinking and call it “intellectually lazy.” Frankly much of it is and this is a real problem. Polkinghorne has little good to say about some corners of Christendom … more than “intellectually lazy.”

    On the other hand as a scientist I will also not hold back from a comment on specific views within the scientific community being “intellectually lazy.” Why should Polkinghorne? Again – this is a critique and a conversation. We don’t move forwards otherwise.

    I think you have a reactionary response because your defense mechanism is highly selective. Step back and take a bigger view. There are serious flaws in many approaches – and we are seeking truth insofar as we are able.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    On being intellectually lazy, I do believe there is an element of personal style, but the comment is *intellectually* lazy, not just plain lazy. As an example, when there are issues and problems in companies one way of getting to the bottom of it to figure out a root cause is to ask why a multiple number of times. I often suggest 5 times. So if the car broke, you say why? and it broke because it stopped running, why?, because the gas ran out, why?, because the gauge was not working, etc.

    So not pursuing that line of thought is indeed *intellectually* lazy. Many people are not towers of intellectual power so they have not developed intellectual stamina, and that may be their excuse. But the people Polkinghorne are referring to are people who know how to think, so I agree, it can be laziness.

    To be honest, I also think there is more than a little self serving behavior in not asking the questions for a couple different reasons. One is that they feel religion and science are groups at odds with each other and they mask their ingroup loyalty with intellectual laziness. Another could be that they are afraid of what they may find out, again masking that with intellectual laziness. In the end, being accused of intellectual laziness is a pretty polite accusation for the behaviors. imo, of course.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Quantum mechanics is uncannily beautiful and profound – but it rocked perceptions about the way the world “should” be.

    Well, it was regarded as ugly at first, for that very reason. C.f. Einstein’s famous “dice” comment.

    It used to be that Euclidean geometry was ‘obviously’ how the universe worked, and those weird offshoots like hyperbolic and elliptical geometry were ‘monstrous’ and ‘repugnant’. After Einstein, it appears the universe actually works by hyperbolic geometry. And now that’s beautiful.

    It seems to me that the aesthetic appreciation has varied enough that it can’t be used as a reliable pointer…

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    DRT –

    One is that they feel religion and science are groups at odds with each other and they mask their ingroup loyalty with intellectual laziness. Another could be that they are afraid of what they may find out, again masking that with intellectual laziness.

    Does not thinking that the current data is sufficient to make a decision count as “intellectual laziness”?

  • Linda

    Do you believe that God cursed mankind when Adam ate the forbidden fruit? If you do, then explain how can you believe mankind was already cursed before it was cursed.

  • rjs

    Ray,

    Quantum mechanics rocked Einstein’s view because it rocked his understanding of causality. He was, like the rest of us, human. The unreasonable beauty here is something different … the equations are simple and elegant and work – whether they match our prior physical intuition and expectation or not.

    It is not a hodge-podge of complex unrelated phenomena and explanations.

    We all think and wrestle with the implications – this doesn’t make it ugly.

  • Linda

    The Bible says the pain and suffering is a result of the curse that God put on mankind and the world when Adam disobeyed God.

    The pain and suffering should warn us that we are not right with God, that God will judge us one day. So it was good and gracious of God to curse mankind with pain and suffering in that it serves as a warning that we will be judged for our actions.

    If would be wrong for God to not curse Adam and let mankind think everything was just okay with God, then have Him finally judge us all without any tangible warnings.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Linda #15

    A strict literal reading of the Bible says pain existed before the curse of the fall:

    Gen 3:16

    16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly INCREASE your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. …” NIV

    There isn’t a transition from no pain to pain, but from pain to greater pain.

  • Linda

    Michael K.,

    This excerpt from an article “Was there pain before the Fall?” by Bodie Hodge from http://www.answersingenesis.org shows that there was no pain befor the Fall, since “from nothing to something is obviously an increase”:

    Let’s evaluate these two types of pain with regards to pre-Fall times. When dealing with mental anguish, such is brought on by the suffering or death of a child. But in a pre-Fall world with no death or its associated aspect of suffering (Romans 5:12), this pain would have been non-existent. So, an increase (where death and suffering entered the creation) wouldn’t necessarily mean that this pain previously existed, but its mere entrance into the world made for an increase. From nothing to something is obviously an increase.

    With regards to physical pain as in childbearing, a similar reading can be applied. Increased pain doesn’t necessarily mean pain before.

    Consider what physical pain is. With your hand, you can touch a surface that is warm and you can detect the warm surface. There is no pain involved, merely sensation. However, if the surface temperature increases, at some point the sensation turns to pain.

    In the same way, if I were to put my hand between two objects that merely rested against my hand, then I would have sensation. But if the objects began to “sandwich” my hand and continued to squeeze together, there would become a point where it is no longer mere sensation but pain.

    Increased physical pain doesn’t mean there was pain before, but merely sensations that were useful. So, pain wasn’t a part of the original creation, but sensation—the sense of touch—was.

  • Linda

    Michael,

    Also the phrase “with pain you will give birth to children” implies that prior to the curse there would have been no pain in childbirth. This phrase makes no sense if there was pain in childbirth prior to the curse.

  • rjs

    Linda,

    From nothing to something is clearly an increase, no question. But – the movement here is not from nothing to something, not even according to a literal reading of the text.

    More than this, your example of pressure and sensation without pain makes the point. It is precisely because we consider what pain is that we, or I, realize that the YEC view of the biblical creation is rather strange. The sensation becomes pain from an overload – even before The Fall. Sensation and pain are two points on the same continuum. Unless we imagine world with absolutely no connection to our world – a falling rock or a stubbed toe would cause a sensory response characterized as pain.

    Now, I have no clue what the new creation – the age to come – will be like. There may be a complete break, or something else we don’t understand, but the biblical picture of the original creation is not such an other-worldly ideal.

  • Linda

    RJS – a literal reading Genesis 3:16 does have to mean there was pain in childbearing prior to the Fall, you agreed that from nothing to something means to increase.

    Also coupled with the phrase “with pain you will give birth to children” means there was no pain prior to the curse. This phrase does not make sense if there was pain prior to the Fall.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    In John Walton’s commentary on Genesis, he notes that the first mention of pain in 3:16 is a different word then the second. He also says that, despite NIV translation, the first word is talking about pain in conception, not child birth. The first word for pain is used more along the lines of anguish and anxiety. The message is one of increased anxiety and pain (certainly emotional and possibly physical) from beginning to end of the birth process. The second refers to physical pain. Taken to together, the whole experience from conception to birth (“soup to nuts,” as Walton says) will be fraught with peril and pain.

    But here is the issue. The passage does not say that childbirth was once peaceful and will now be perilous. It is says “I will greatly increase …” The language is one of amplification of something that is already present, not institution of something that previously was not present. There would be no anxiety associated with childbirth if there were not already some reason expect pain would be part of the process.

    From a clinical mathematical equation standpoint, yes, something added to nothing is an increase in that object. But from a linguistic standpoint we do not say “I will increase” something unless there is already a base amount present on which to add. Otherwise we just say I going to transfer you from one state (being without) to another (having the object.) … I will give you pain, not I will increase your pain.

    Genesis 3:16 presumes suffering before the fall.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    Michael W. Kruse,

    It ain’t necessarily so. The word translated as “increase” in some versions and “multiply” in others is rabah, which means to be become many or to make many. It does not necessarily mean that there was some before but now there are many (or much). It could also mean that there was none before but now there is much (or many).

    It is fine for you to have an interpretation, but to press it as the only valid one is a different matter. I think you have merely imposed your own view of pain before the fall where the Scriptures have not stated or implied such.

  • Daniel

    Rjs, I am not sure why you are even discussing the idea of pain in the Fall at all. Don’t you believe Adam and Eve are not real individuals? Not trying to be snarky but I thought, based on all of your writings at this blog, that you rejected the literalistic interpretation of Gen 1-11.

  • rjs

    Daniel,

    I brought up Polkinghorne’s point about cancer because he was discussing the fact that the genetic process that causes cancer is really no different than the process that causes evolution.

    He suggests that when we think about God’s good creation and the light that our scientific understanding sheds on creation we see that many things that seemed out of place (cancer and earthquakes for example) are a necessary part of the world.

    This is something a bit different than “taking Genesis literally” and I thought it was worth some discussion.

  • Daniel

    OK, no harm intended. It is an interesting conversation here.

  • JohnMc

    DRT,

    You said: “I believe most pain is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

    While pain can serve a purpose, usually a pointer of something else bad, but it is not good. Suffering, a separate concept, involving unremitting pain, is always bad. With respect to either, it is sometimes possible to eventually derive a good outcome. But that does not change the character of pain and especially suffering as negative experiences.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    If cancer and earthquakes are a necessary part of the world, does that mean that they will be part of the world even after King Jesus returns?

    Paul tells us that creation groans, waiting for the revealing of the sons of God, when it will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).

    Will cancer and earthquakes still be necessary in the world even after creation has been delivered from bondage?

    If not, should we suppose that they were necessary for the world before the fall?

    To say that this is the way things are now does not mean that this is the way they were before the fall or will be after the redemption.

  • stephen

    Pain serves an important purpose. In many cases, it provides waring of danger. Some people are born without the ability to feel pain, a condition called congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, or CIPA, which has devastating consequences.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congenital_insensitivity_to_pain_with_anhidrosis

    So pain does provide a good. Without the ability to feel pain, our lives would probably be very short.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    JohnMc@26,

    I am with you. Suffering is a different concept that has different solutions.

    I definitely feel that suffering is a concept that we need to deal with quite separately from pain. I have some experience with Buddhist thought and feel the idea of recognizing and assuaging suffering is a central tenant of the human experience.

    So we have to embrace the issue of Genesis instituting suffering or not. I can make the argument that Adam and Eve were subjected to suffering at the hands of the serpent before the fall, and feel that is a more compelling argument than the rather meaningless argument as to whether there was pain before the fall.

    The religions will get there.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    JohnMc, I have to take exception to some of what you said.

    One of the other concepts that I would like to see in the west is a more contingent basis for things. For example, pain is not good or bad, it is contingent on the circumstance and recipient. Many of the emotions are like that. Neither good nor bad but situationally dependent.

    In the bible God’s wrath could be in that category. If God is wrathful does it mean he is bad? Well, in my modern day definition I would say yes, he is bad. But I think my definition of wrathful may be different from those of the biblical authors.

    Pain is not good or bad. Period. Suffering is bad, period.

  • JohnMc

    DRT,

    I agree that pain is a symptom of deeper issues, and that pain in such circumstances can be a blessing. However, pain is, in the end, still painful, and often without secondary benefit. Then it becomes mere suffering.

    John

  • JohnMc

    DRT,

    I have a somewhat different view of Genesis. I cannot accept that it describes the invention or imposition of the penalty of either pain or death. Death, and its precursor pain, were existent in the world from the beginning of creation, before humans came on the scene. Death is a natural and critical component in the structure of life on earth. All animal life feeds on the death of other life. Death is a nutrient of future growth and development. We all grow old and die, making way for future generations.

    I don’t mean to be bleak here. I just accept that death is a part of nature, designed into life on earth by our Creator as an elegant solution to a large number of problems, and so too, bringing with it very special problems for us as we experience it in one capacity or another.

    Metaphorically speaking, perhaps the Garden story with its tree of life and its vegetarian occupants, reflects a desire for a life without death, and without the need to consume other animals – an improvement on the divine design. A far fetched dream. Without the Garden and without the tree of life, humanity has to look elsewhere for life everlasting: i.e., to its children and its future generations – and thus the pain of child-bearing. So too we feed on the death of other animals. With the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are invited into a new kind of life everlasting, and we can abandoned the myth of the Garden for a hope of something far more substantial.

    I cannot accept the notion that death is a product of a “Fall” from grace, but instead I see it as a part of the gift of life – the “pain” if you will, that brings with it the benefit of life.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    RJS –

    The unreasonable beauty here is something different … the equations are simple and elegant and work – whether they match our prior physical intuition and expectation or not.

    I’ll grant ‘simple’ and ‘work’, for the most part. My point is they’re only considered ‘beautiful’ after the fact. Heliocentrism was ugly – particularly when ellipses became necessary instead of ‘perfect’ circles. Plenty of people find evolution repugnant even today. Continental drift was an offensive idea for a long time. A whole passel of cranks still loathe Relativity.

    If we found that the Higgs Boson actually has little cockroach wings, eventually someone will find that beautiful, it seems.

  • EricG

    I’ve experienced severe pain from cancer — severe to the point at times I could not even think (luckily treatment has reduced it). So I have to strongly disagree with DRT. Pain is decidedly bad. And there are plenty of others in our world who have had pain far more than I have, who would say the same thing.

    As for Polkinhorne’s explanation related to cancer, I’m sorry to say it falls flat with me. One of the reasons is the one Jeff Doles (#27) gives (although I disagree with Jeff’s conclusion; the evidence strongly convinces me that evolution is true). God in his omnipotence could have created a world with no pain or suffering; indeed we are promised that it will not exist when Christ returns.

    I can’t say I know what the answer is, but the best explanation for suffering that I have heard is that it is necessary for humans to learn and experience love — the sort of love Christ demonstrated, in his pain and suffering, for us. Sounds strange at first, but if you think about it, our experience of love would be very different it we never faced significant adversity. As someone with stage IV cancer, I can say there is some truth to this.

    As for the beauty of mathematics, Ray, I have to add that a majority of mathematicians do see a sort of Platonic beauty to it. I think your argument is a very difficult one to make. Even the atheist mathematicians are always talking about its pure beauty and unreasonable effectiveness.

  • Tim

    RJS (9),

    “When Polkinghorne makes such a comment it is as an insider and an expert, not as an outsider poking without understanding.”

    Ah, the argument from authority. Out of curiosity, do you consider it might be just the slightest possibility that there is a selection bias here at Jesus Creed in terms of which “authority figures” are featured? Perhaps not strictly evangelical, as there is certainly a “big tent” and “let’s learn from fellow Christians across all walks of life as fellow travelers” attitude in this board that is certainly commendable. But a selection bias against the atheists/secular humanists perhaps? You know, the group that has no small representation among scientists? They seem to be the least popular around here.

    Not to say of course that you don’t post content from atheists/secular humanists. I recall noting on more than one occasion that you do. However, it seems more often than not the purpose of featuring an atheist here at Jesus Creed seems to be for the explicit purpose of poking fun at their argument or highlighting their statements as exemplars of the sort of things you don’t like or don’t agree with in the secular community. Such as the “A Very Religious Atheist indeed” that proved fodder for many a Jesus Creed poster’s laughs or shaking of the head.

    So why not post content from Steven Weinberg on mathematical beauty? He’s certainly written about it. Could be perhaps that Polkinghorne’s conclusions self-select their way into this board while Steven Weinberg’s don’t so much? I mean, unless Steven Weinberg was to say something that struck you as something so ridiculous or obviously wrong/misinformed that could hold it up as a pinata and let the everyone here at Jesus Creed take a good whack at it, it seems that this sort of content doesn’t get posted too often.

    So I suggest leaving the arguments from authority aside. The “insiders” that are deferred to here almost always have at least a partially sympathetic view relating to upholding some important belief in the Jesus Creed community.

    “We – more to the point, I, – poke at the problems of evangelicalism quite often on this blog — as an insider.”

    “as a scientist I will also not hold back from a comment on specific views within the scientific community being “intellectually lazy.” Why should Polkinghorne?”

    Well, clearly he shouldn’t RJS if the scientists are actually being intellectually lazy. I in no way see that this point has been anywhere substantiated.

    Let me ask you a question. On elaborating why mathematics is beautiful, you explained that there is deep symmetry and order in it. Great. So why is deep symmetry and order beautiful? Do you have an answer? Is it, “because God made it that way?” Would that be any more of an “intellectually lazy” answer than “I don’t know”? Perhaps we find deep symmetry beautiful because nature is permeated with symmetry in many areas. Perhaps we find order beautiful for much the same reason. Perhaps the same for patterns. And a sense of “fit” and “completeness.” All characteristics found in no small supply within mathematics. Or perhaps by leveraging mathematics to architect, build, design, etc. throughout the millenia of human civilization, we started to gain a cultural appreciation for these qualities. Perhaps we find mathematics beautiful as our use of mathematics is part of our historical DNA? Or perhaps it is some combination of the two. Or something else entirely. I don’t for a second buy that scientists have no curiosity here. That they have simply said “that is the way it is”, then shut the door on any future inquiry. Sorry. I just don’t buy it. But if Polkinghorne has convincingly demonstrated where and how they’ve done this, then perhaps you can post it RJS. I’d like to see it. And I don’t mean one scientist held up as somehow representative of the whole. I would like to see where Polkinghorne’s argument that implicitly criticizes the secular scientific community as a whole on this point has merit.

    As far as selectively offering criticism, I would note that there are no shortage of defenders here at Jesus Creed to take up the cause of the Christian, but very few who will take up the cause of the atheist. I have posted on Jerry Coyne’s blog in that past criticizing some of his obnoxious and largely misinformed criticisms of religion, only to be hammered by his largely atheistic groupies. Why? Because there were few on his board that would take up the cause of the religious – particularly the Christians. I have also defended the Christian community among my friends and those on my wife’s side of the family when something they criticize (usually fundamentalist) Christians for things that I know aren’t fair reflections on their beliefs or character. So I’m not one-sided here RJS, though I freely admit I’m swimming against the current here at Jesus Creed. But I hardly think that’s a justifiable reason to try to dismiss what I say as being merely “reactive.”

    Again – this is a critique and a conversation. We don’t move forwards otherwise.

    I think you have a reactionary response because your defense mechanism is highly selective. Step back and take a bigger view. There are serious flaws in many approaches – and we are seeking truth insofar as we are able.

  • Tim

    *Copy Paste Error

    Please disregard the last two copy-pasted paragraphs of RJS’s post #9 – they should have been deleted:

    “Again – this is a critique and a conversation. We don’t move forwards otherwise.

    I think you have a reactionary response because your defense mechanism is highly selective. Step back and take a bigger view. There are serious flaws in many approaches – and we are seeking truth insofar as we are able.”

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    EricG, I could read no further than your lament of your bout with cancer. Make no mistake about it, I believe that pain can be a major part of suffering and frequently is a major part of suffering. I do not, under any circumstance, disagree with you that you found pain to be suffering.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, you are welcome to find stuff that we could post. No problem at this end. We make decisions about what is blogged here, but I’m open to all sorts of approaches.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I again feel compelled to repeat because it is a concept that is not well established in the western world. There are a range of emotions and experience that are neither good nor bad but are contingent on the surroundings and the specific conditions. In the case of our bible, Wrath and Jealousy are but two of these states that are not bad or good. Likewise pain is neither good or bad, but dependent on the context.

    These states can be afflictive or non-afflictive depending on what we experience. Our dualism tends to want to label everything as good or bad. But that is not the reality.

  • Tim

    Scot (38),

    Thank you for the offer. As we are discussing Polkinghorne on this thread, it might be worthwhile to point out that he had a debate with Steven Weinberg in 2001.

    The reference for the written transcription of the debate is:

    An Exchange between Steven Weinberg and John Polkinghorne Polkinghorne, John; Weinberg, Steven; Gingerich, Owen , Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 950, Number 1, p.183-190, (2001)

    However, the same content is available for public viewing online here: http://www.counterbalance.org/cq-jpsw/index-frame.html

    This might be a little long to post in its entirety here at Jesus Creed, but I have every confidence you or RJS could extract from this text quotes and discussion points that would lead to a worthwhile and nuanced discussion.

  • http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Thanks, RJS, for this post, and all your posts here. Yes, and yes–at least to beauty in various spheres pointing me to God.

    I kind of struggle with trying to understand the theological construct of “fall of man” in view of evolution. I know this is off topic here. But it does seem to me to be along the lines of missed potentiality. Along with the destruction that choices against the Creator brings in its wake.

    But this creation was with a view to new creation. We know scientifically that at least our part of nature is destined to perish, and perhaps the whole of it. Is that all there is? Of course science can’t answer that question, but the revelation of God in Jesus does. No. All is destined for new creation in Jesus. And yet there seems to be a tie in in some way between the old and the new. The old is indeed very good at the end of its inception. The new somehow is a fulfillment of what the old pointed to, one might surmise.

    At any rate, thanks again, RJS. Hope many more are to come.

  • Tim

    …and in what looks to be the individual presentations given prior to the exchange between Dr. Polkinghorne and Dr. Weinberg:

    Dr. Polkinghorne:

    http://www.counterbalance.org/cq-polk/index-frame.html

    Dr. Weinberg:

    http://www.counterbalance.org/cq-wein/index-frame.html

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Jeff #22

    “It could also mean that there was none before but now there is much (or many).”

    The word is used all through Genesis. Point me to passages where this is the case (rabah, Stong’s 7235). I’m not aware of any that carry this meaning. The KJV overwhelming translates it “multiply.” Anything multiplied by zero is zero. Here are some samples:

    Gen 1:22
    22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply (rabah) and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
    NRSV

    Gen 1:28

    28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply (rabah), and fill the earth and subdue it
    NRSV

    Gen 7:18
    18 The waters swelled and increased (rabah) greatly on the earth …
    NRSV

    Gen 16:10
    10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply (rabah) your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.”
    NRSV

    Gen 47:27-28

    27 Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; and they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied (rabah) exceedingly.
    NRSV

    I can post dozens more.

    I’m being insistent because I know of no evidence elsewhere for the way you want to use the word. A variety of scholars who I’ve read who know Hebrew say this is the case. Everyone is indeed entitled to their opinion but opinions rooted in evidence and scholarship carry greater weight. Can you please point me to some OT passages that use the word as you say?

    I think the only reason for assuming that the 3:16 is not talking about the multiplication of something that is already present is because of a prior assumption that the something couldn’t have already existed … namely pain.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    Michael, whether one takes Genesis 3:16 as the introduction of pain or the increase of already existing pain is a matter of what one brings to the text (eisegesis). I merely point out that the text does not actually say either way, since the word rabah can be used in either case. We can both line up scholars and either side and let them duke it out, which says to me that one cannot be hard and fast about it.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #44 Jeff

    “Michael, whether one takes Genesis 3:16 as the introduction of pain or the increase of already existing pain is a matter of what one brings to the text (eisegesis).”

    Not if the language precludes one option or the other.

    “I merely point out that the text does not actually say either way, since the word rabah can be used in either case.”

    You ignored everything I wrote in #43. You are asserting that rabah can be used either way. I want evidence of this. (And in all honesty, I could be wrong. But the evidence I see contradicts your claim.)

    Personally, I don’t believe Genesis 1-11 is reporter-on-the-scene history. The stories and genealogies unfold theological and historical truths. They are not “historical accounts” in the modern sense. But if we are to enter the world of the Genesis 3 narrative and understand it from inside the story, then we need to resist importation of assumptions and be true to what it says.

  • http://www.thefaithlog.com Jeff Doles

    From 1 to 100 represents an increase. But it is also true that from ZERO to a hundred is also considered increase. Rabah means to make much, or to make great. It does not assume that there was necessarily anything to begin with.

    God says to animals and the people He created, “Be fruitful an rabah.” But we have already been informed about their prior creation and their existence, so rabah, in this case, is about something that happens to have already existed. But the use of the word rabah itself does not require preexistence of what will be much or great.

    Likewise, with the promise to Hagar to rabah her offspring (through Ishmael). We have already been informed by the context about the preexistence of Hagar and Ishmael. But the meaning of rabah does not assume the preexisence of what will be much or many or great.

    The waters were “rabahed” or made great upon the earth. But again, we have already been informed of their existence prior to this. It is the context, not the use of rabah, that indicates preexistence.

    Again, when Israel settled in Egypt and became rabah, we have already been well-informed about his preexistence. But that does not mean that rabah requires or assumes the preexistence of what will be much or many or great.

    Now, in Genesis 3:16, the rabah of pain does not necessarily mean that there must have been pain prior to that and that now there will be more. Indeed, there is no indication before 3:16 that any pain existed. And the use of rabah does not require that. The point of rabah there is simply that there would be much pain, or great pain, in childbirth.

    Whether Genesis 1-11 is reporter-on-the-scene history is beside the point here. And indeed we must resist the importation of assumptions and be true to what the text says. That is why I say to you, about your insistence that the use of rabah in regard to pain must imply the preexistence of pain, is that it is merely an assumption you have imported and imposed upon the text.

    Genesis 3:16 does neither implies that pain was already in existence, nor does it imply that pain was not already in existence.

  • Linda

    Michael,

    You believe there was pain before the Fall because the word “increase” is used in Genesis 3:16, yet you have not responded to my point that the end of Genesis 3:16, reads as “with pain you will give birth to children” and this does not make sense for God to say this to Eve if there was already pain in childbirth.

    Are you going to address this?

    Linda

  • scotmcknight

    Text does not say “begin to have pain” but “exacerbate pain” as if pain already existed. Pain is the object as if it is an existing known reality.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    Linda #47

    I addressed your question in #21 without explicitly referencing you.

    The first part of the verse uses a word for “pain” that is not used to reference physical pain (according to Walton) but rather deals with the anxiety of the whole birth process from conception to birth.

    So let’s stop their for a moment. The implication is that the women will already experience some level of anxiety about the birth process. Why? She fears something could happen to the baby, her, or both. Apparently there is enough familiarity with pain to be anxious about it. The passage says that this anxiety will be greatly increased/multiplied/exacerbated. THEN it says “in pain you shall bring forth children.” She should feel anxious because it certainly will be painful.

    We can’t parse “… in pain you shall bring forth children, …” off from the rest of the sentence. According to Walton, the first clause is referencing conception and the second clause is referencing birth. Like the phrase “heaven and earth” euphemistically means “everything,” this sentence is being inclusive of the whole birth process “from soup to nuts” (quoting Walton). The whole birth process is going to be a much greater ordeal. It does not say that there was NO painful ordeal and now there will be.

  • rjs

    EricG,#34

    Thanks for your comment and perspective here.

    Part of the reason I posted this was because I found Polkinghorne’s example of cancer lacking – from your experience, from the experiences of others I know or have known.

    As you say, God in his omnipotence could have created a world with no pain or suffering, no evil or opportunity for evil – but he didn’t. And there is no real answer as to why. “It had to be this way” answers, and Polkinghorne’s seems a variant on this, fall flat because they leave no hope for the future or the “age to come.”


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