John Polkinghorne Q & A 

If you have a theological/scientific question for John* you can EMail to nb [at] sciteb[dot] com (put this way as an anti-spam) with Q4JCP in the header.    If the question looks suitable, I'll give my preliminary response and then fax the question and the preliminary response to John, who will probably in due course add some comments. When he says (as he sometimes does) nothing to add to this excellent response (or words to that effect) my preliminary response is upgraded to response, otherwise his comment is added. Questions and responses are posted on this website.  They may also find their way into a book or books by me and John.  My preliminary responses are done quite quickly and outside normal working hours, so occasionally they are too intemperate - mea culpa but please don't attribute my errors to John!    Please note that John is unable to review unpublished MSS for their authors. The Questions & Answers so far (6 Jan 2008, 183 to date) are given below: the newest ones are in this box:

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Minor technicality: due to the quirks of the British honors system John, being a CofE Priest, is not "Sir John" even though he has a knighthood.

NB John regets that he can not review unpublished papers or book

How can there be any meaningful interplay between physics and religion? It is said that the universe was written in the language of mathematics, yet the bible is a mere collection of words. Therefore how can there be any meaningful interplay between physics and religion?
Preliminary Response: Both Mathematics and The Bible are – at one level – collections of symbols. But some symbols, if correctly interpreted, give a deep understanding of reality (eg e= mc2).
All religions seek to provide insights into the deepest levels of reality, so it is almost inevitable that there will be some interplay between the truths of physics and the truths of religion.  But equally, they are addressing very different domains of discourse – religion necessarily involves persons and the relations between them, whereas physics seeks to be impersonal.  Therefore the direct interplay will be sporadic. In John’s book Quantum Physics and Theology – an Unexpected Kinship he explores some of the remarkable parallels: deep reality often turns out to be very different from what common sense would suggest. The Trinity and wave-particle duality both seem “impossible” but end up being the only coherent way to account for all the relevant data in their respective fields.
John adds: Mathematics and words are both means for expressing concepts.  In thinking about how science and the Bible relate, it will be the conceptual level that is important.  I believe they have a complementary relationship.

The God Part of the Brain? I just read your book, "The Way the World Is."  I found it to be an outstanding treatment of how science and religion an compliment each other. I know you have written books more recently and I look forward to reading them. 
  Are you aware of a book by Matthew Alper, "The God Part of the Brain"?  In his search for God he found answers in the scientific work done by Newberg and L'Aquila, "Why God Won't Go Away."  They were two neurosurgeons who discovered that during prayer, meditation, and spiritual experiences, a specific part of the brain in involved. 
   I think your beliefs would complement theirs to answer a lot of theological and historical question.

Preliminary Response:  Thank you for your appreciative email which I will pass to John. I don’t know if he is aware of “The God Part of the Brain” – I am not.  
  There is a lot of research on the way in which different parts of the brain interact with mental processes, but is almost never turns out to be as simple as “an X part of the brain”  because even if one region of the brain is heavily implicated many other regions are involved as well, and the overall behavior of the brain is almost certainly a function of “global” patterns which are not at all well understood.  The “Premise” of the book that “For every physical characteristic that is universal to a species, there must exist some gene or set of genes responsible for the emergence of that particular trait.” doesn’t inspire enormous confidence: all human beings are less than 1km tall and this is not because of genetics.  It’s also pretty clear that belief in God is not a physical characteristic.  It must be true that certain brain functions are involved in belief in God (as indeed they are in belief in other minds or ability to do mathematics) and it may well be true that some people are genetically more likely to believe in God/other minds /do maths than others.  This has very little to do with whether the belief in God/other minds is true.  
  From what I can see on the web, Apler is a self-educated screenwriter and his book has been described as “a loopy riff on [Evolutionary Biology]’s standard explanation of religion” so I’m not very optimistic about its intellectual quality.

John adds:  I'm glad you found The Way the World Is helpful. You might try Quarks, Chaos and Christianity next. I do not know the book by Alper that you mention, though I do know something about the work of Newberg and d'Aquili. It is interesting but limited.  We are embodied beings and all our activity has a bodily component.  When I do physics, a part of my brain lights up; when I meditate on God another part of my brian lights up. This is not at all surprising and, in itself, it implies nothing very significant about science or religion. 

How can mind  function unless it is physical: maybe made of Dark Matter
1. How can mind invisibly function in the visible physical realm, unless it is also physical?
2. Is it possible that some aspects of Dark Matter might account for this – there could be DarkChemistry, DarkBiology, and even DarkHomoSapiens?
Preliminary Response: To respond to (2) first: since no-one knows what Dark Matter is, almost anything is possible.  But Dark Matter is subject to gravity – that’s how we deduce that it is there.  Therefore any abnormal increase in the density of Dark Matter (such as would be associated with a putative DarkHomoSapiens) would presumably have measurable gravitational effects.  This rules out many obvious ways in which there might be a DarkHomoSapiens. And the whole area is so speculative that it is scientifically impossible to address meaningfully.
(1) is indeed a difficult problem, and the basic answer is “nobody knows”.  However the fact that nobody knows how something happens doesn’t imply that it doesn’t happen: if it did Science, as we know it, would be impossible*.   The proposition:
  (P1) that “anything that interacts with something physical must be physical”
is clearly a metaphysical position for which there can be no scientific evidence – unless it is used as a definition of  the term “physical” which is admittedly tricky to define, but would then make the assertion vacuous.   However there are serious problems with (P1). To mention just a few:
a. It is clear that mathematical constructs (like Fermat’s Last Theorem) are not physical, but many theorems have consequences in the physical world
b. It also seems clear that propositions (like  F.L.T. or P1 above) exist, and although they can be represented in the physical world, their existence is not conditional on any particular representation.  The whole of logical thought depends on the fact that there can be many different representations of the same proposition or idea, so it’s pretty clear that ideas are not physical.  Yet it is also clear that ideas influence behaviour, and that the physical world can influence ideas.
c. Insofar as we know anything, we know that we have a mind and that our mind can influence our behaviour, although the existence of other minds, like the existence of God, can not be “scientifically proven”.  Minds have ideas, and  it’s pretty clear that Minds are not, in themselves, physical. Of course our mind is closely bound up with our brain, but the very fact that we can use such language shows that the mind and the brain are not logically identical. If it were true that (for example) “your mind is completely determined by your brain” this would be an empirical fact.  But it seems logically impossible to devise an experiment that could demonstrate this.
d. Lucas’s Theorem (due to John Lucas) proves that, if some human minds are capable, in principle, with the aid of a sufficiently powerful computer, of understanding a Gödel Proposition in any deterministic logical system, then at least those minds cannot be completely modeled by any deterministic logical system.  This provides strong evidence that minds are not logically determined by their brains.
  John (Polkinghorne) uses the phrase “active information” and points out that modern science strongly suggests that the behaviour of complex systems is under-determined by normal physical laws.  He also advocates “dual-aspect monism” under which object have both physical and mental aspects.  There are hints from the work of leading evolutionary scientists like Simon Conway-Morris and Martin Nowak that the processes of evolution (in the broadest sense) have a role in intermediating between “active information” and “physical stuff”. It seems likely that these questions will be better understood in 20 years – although it seems very unlikely that we will ever fully understand the relationship of the mind and the body.
* This was actually a big issue at the dawn of modern “Natural Philosophy”.  Locke famously wrote that he "suspect[ed] that natural philosophy is not capable of being made a science" – words that many people today would find incomprehensible.
John adds: Dark matter is important cosmologically but I do not believe that it helps us understand the nature of mind (after all, it is matter and it is invoked to understand the nature of galaxies).

Divine Interaction - an objection Having reading some of John's work about his theory of divine interaction with the world, I understand his theory to be more or less the following (an admittedly brutal summarization): taking critical scientific realism as a starting point, one moves on to hold the epistemology and ontology are very close, if not exactly the same. Thus, when one encounters epistemologically unpredictable systems a la Prigogine, he can suspect them to be ontologically indeterminate and thus a possible point of divine interaction.
   However, the theory hinges drastically on the equation of epistemology and ontology and its application to these types of systems. I believe Arthur Peacocke once asserted (either in a book or video interview) that although the systems in question are epistemologically indeterminate, they are still ontologically determinate and thus not fit for locating a divine-world interaction point (he went on to espouse his theory of top-down causation on analogy with the mind-body relation). Indeed, it seems to me that Polkinghorne's theory is vulnerable to these types of assertions that epistemologically indeterminate does not equal ontologically indeterminate, and I am wondering how either you or Dr. Polkinghorne respond to them?
Preliminary Response: John takes the critical realist view that “epistemology models ontology”.  It is always possible that a system could be epistemologically indeterminate and ontologically determinate, but it is very hard to see how one could get adequate evidence that this was the case.  Remember that is part of John’s worldview is Dual-aspect monism and the view that things in the universe behave like machines in wholly predictable ways only when you have set up experiments very carefully to ensure that they do so (and even then there is always the rider “except in exceptional circumstances”.  However carefully the experiments in SLAC are set up, they won’t behave well in an earthquake.  Having in my 20s & 30s been a computer scientist and been involved in actually trying to make electronics behave like a machine, I always think the idea that “everything in the universe is a machine” is rather ludicrous.
   Asynchonous analogue systems are always going to have indeterminacy.  Consider an And-gate which will give an output of 1 if input A and input B are 1 and 0 otherwise.  Suppose A goes from 0 to 1 at t=0 and from 1 to 0 at t =x. Suppose that B goes from 0 to 1 at t=y. A simple continuity argument shows that there will be a critical interval of values of y (y1-y2 say, probably somewhere near x) whereby if y<y1 the gate will output 1 and if y>y2 the gate will output 0 but within this interval it is uncertain what the gate will output (at least within a defined time period). Similar arguments apply to the amplitudes of the signals. If the system is sufficiently complex (far below the complexity of the brain say) then there will be situations where the effects of such uncertainties, however tiny, will grow exponentially. 
  Peacocke was of course a biochemist so didn’t have to grapple with these issues at first hand.
John adds: Physics by itself is not sufficient to determine the nature of causality (the fact that there are deterministic and non-deterministic interpretations of quantum theory makes the point) but it requires also an act of metaphysical decision, which has to be defended for metaphysical reasons.  I choose the realist option of aligning epistemology and ontology, not least because it affords the best metaphysical option to accommodate adequately both human agency and divine agency.  It is important to recognise that the idea of top-down causality is not unproblematic and its plausibility requires and analysis of caustal structure to ensure that there is a genuine openness to allow its operation in addition to bottom-up effects.

Stenger and Hitchens I was wondering if you have read two books: God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, by Victor J. Stenger. And the second: God is not Great: The case against Religion by Christopher Hitchens. I would like to know what you think of these books. Has Prof. John Polkinghorne read them? Could you let me know and tell me what he thinks? Has God been discredited in these books? Are they persuasive?
Preliminary Response: No, but I have seen Stenger’s presentation on his website and I have heard Hitchens speak on the topic.  Stenger and C Hitchens both seem to generate a lot more heat than light. 
Hitchens doesn’t even pretend to be a scientist or a philosopher. Stinger did some marginally useful scientific work but his claims are far too dogmatic. As for his suggestion that Anthropic Fine tuning is a non-problem because of his simplistic program MonkeyGod that purports to simulate universes and “show” that anthropic universes are commonplace, I know of no serious cosmologist who takes this seriously. Martin Rees’s “Just Six Numbers” is a good guide to the real science.
John adds: I have read several of the books expressing the current outburst of militant atheism, but not the two you mention.  My impression is that they are polemical rather than presenting reasoned arguments of a truth-seeking kind, and that they largely depend upon attacking caricature distortions of religious belief.

Maurice Wiles I have just been reading the essay on divine Action by JCP in the book 'Religion and science', published in 1996.  I realise that this is not very recent, but still felt impelled to write this.
In the essay he is very dismissive of the view of Maurice Wiles (which I strongly share) that God creates and sustains the world and that that is all we need to say - God's action in the world is both prior and constantly present in everything that is.
JCP dismisses this as a "detached and indifferent a deity".  But there is no reason whatsoever for thus categorising the God in whom Wiles ande I believe.  She is not only our creator, he is a close and caring presence, sharing our struggles in the world he has made .  The only adequate theology of evil is one that recognises that in some ultimate (and obviously difficult) it is a part of God's world and that it will be finally transformed.
This understanding of God in no way dodges theodicy: God is ultimately responsible for the Holcaust, for children suffering, for all pain and distress. 
On petionary prayer he seems to want to have his cake and eat it. We can do it - but it is really "your will be done", as indeed I believe.
At least in that essay JCP seems unable to move outside traditional Christian ideas.  Does he really think that using the simplistic language of "God who raised Jesus from the dead" is still possible – he must know complicated and difficult such a statement is.
It may be that there are parts of tghe site where this is all dealt with.  If so, I shall  be delighted to be pointed to them.
Preliminary Response I don't have a copy of that essay to hand, and I have not read Wiles*.  However John does comment on Wiles in some other books.
  We of course agree that "God creates and sustains the world", but this does not mean that we are compelled to Deism.  The Christian God clearly interacts with Creation in specific and decisive ways, most importantly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  John suggests that Wiles's deistic account arises from a feeling that the integrity of modern science would otherwise be breached, and that the modern understanding that the Universe is not merely mechanical makes this stance un-necessary.
  On prayer, the question is not whether it should end "thy will be done" but whether God actually listens to His creatures and considers their wishes and requests.  As Jesus pointed out, a loving God does not ignore the pleas of those He loves. Deists may think otherwise of course.
  The question is surely not whether someone is "able to move outside traditional Christian ideas" but whether there are sufficiently compelling reasons to reject, modify or re-interpret the clear teaching of the church on certain topics.  On evolution for example it was immediately apparent to many Christian theologians (though not all) that this was not incompatible with Christian teaching even though it meant that parts of the Bible could no longer be read in their apparent "literal" senses.  John's views on omnipotence and omniscience differ importantly from the traditional teachings on these topics.  But in many other cases, the retreats and compromises that seemed necessary to liberal theologians in the 60s and 70s can now be seen to be wholly un-necessary, and indeed leading to a sub-Christian account of various key issues.
  There have always been difficulties about the Resurrection - Paul and his contemporaries knew perfectly well that people didn't normally return from the dead (although of course Resurrection doesn't mean resuscitation) - but if you can't use language like "God who raised Jesus from the dead" it is hard to understand in what real sense you are a Christian theologian.  And since modern science shows us a world in which over 90% of the universe seems to be made of "Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy" of whose constituents we have no idea, it is blindingly clear that there is far more to reality than the tiny fraction (partially) understood by science.
* Nor did I realise until I looked him up that his son is the brilliant mathematician who proved Fermat's Last Theorem.
John adds: I knew Maurice Wiles and respected him as a Christian thinker, but I think he was mistaken in taking a 'single action' view of God's creative act. We use personal language about God (Father not Force) however stretched it must be, precisely because we believe that God does particular things in particular circumstances as part of a divine particular care for particular creatures.  The many issues you raise, such as the resurrection, demand a careful and detailed response.  If you want mine, you will have to read at least a book or two, for example by Gifford Lectures "Science and Christian Belief" (in N America, "The Faith of a Physicist")

Randomness and Creation I am a Christian professor on an American campus. I am continually hearing that the fact that the sub-atomic world is random and this fact denies a God as creator. My question is, “what effect would a structured or organized sub-atomic world have had on creation.” As water has unique properties that are necessary, is it possible that a random sub-atomic world is what makes creation possible?
Preliminary Response: First of all, the word “random” is somewhat slippery and hard to define.  In the context of Quantum Mechanics (QM), we can take it as meaning “there is no physical way to predict with certainty the outcome of an observation (where the effects of QM are appreciable)”  This of course does not say that there may not be other, non-scientific factors at work in influencing the actual outcomes.  So it is perfectly possible that God might “fix” the outcomes of these uncertain observations in such a way as to conform with the overall probabilities given by the laws of physics.  However the idea that God tinkers with reality to hide the true nature of the world seems highly implausible, and both John and I are much more inclined to believe that the indeterminacy of the fundamental physical laws reflects a deep fact about the nature of the Universe: that God has created it with real freedom inherent in the deepest level of creation.  This seems to be part of God’s answer to the seemingly insoluble problem of “how can an omnipotent creator create a universe in which beings are free to choose to love Him and each other”.
It’s worth raising a couple of warning flags here: although the observations from measurements are probabilistic the Dirac Equation, which governs how the wavefunctions evolve over time, is deterministic. This is one of the factors that leads to the notorious “measurement problem” of QM to which there is no agreed philosophical or scientific answer (Roger Penrose for example has a conjecture that it involves gravity).  John and I (and most working scientists) favour the “Copenhagen Interpretation” which essentially accepts that, in some undefined way, a “measurement” is a fundamental operation which forces the wavefunction to choose which state it falls into. However the “many worlds” interpretation, which suggests that there are an unbounded number of other universes in which the measurements just come out differently, has a growing minority of adherents – and seems to appeal particularly (though by no means exclusively!) to atheists and admirers of science fiction.  The implications for such ideas as moral responsibility are mind-boggling.
To focus on your specific question: great scientists like Newton and Maxwell had no difficulty in combining a deep Christian faith with the idea that the fundamental equations of nature that they were elucidating were deterministic. However if the Laws of Physics were really fully deterministic then it is very hard to see how true freewill could exist  though again many philosophers argue for a “compatabilist” view that freewill and determinism can go together, but this is not very compelling and seems to us to be motivated by a desire to evade the dilemma that physicalism denies freewill.  However the “randomness” ,or more precisely “uncertainty”, that seems to be at the heart of the physical world does make it clearer how true freedom and freewill could emerge.  This is especially true if you combine the uncertainty at very small scales with the effects of chaotic dynamics which can magnify the effects of very very small changes as complex systems develop over time.
John adds: Modern science has come to recognise that the processes that can give rise to genuine novelty have to be ‘at the edge of chaos’ where order and disorder, chance and necessity, creatively interlace.  Otherwise things are either too rigid for anything really new to happen, or too haphazard for novelty to be able to persist.  The intrinsic unpredictablities of quantum mechanics and chaos theory can be seen theologically as gifts of a Creator whose creation is both orderly and open in this way

Quantum Vacuum and Zero Energy I have noticed on several forums and discussions, including some of the Q/A, that there is talk ot the universe emerging from a "quantum vacuum". Some persons will say that though it consists of energy, the energy is actually zero because the negative and positive balances out. Is this true and isn’t it simpler to say that the quantum vacuum is itself a result of the big-bang? thanks.
Preliminary Response: At the present state of knowledge, any statements about “before the big bang” are inevitably conjectural and/or metaphysical.  It is certainly interesting that, on current formulations, the positive and negative energies seem to balance out arithmetically, though given the great uncertainty of the nature and identity of the Dark Energy and Dark Matter that seem to be the major components of the Universe, that cannot be regarded as a totally robust finding.  However the Quantum Vacuum is not “nothing” but an incredibly rich structure, teeming with possibilities and energy (William Blake would have loved it).
It’s a bit more natural to talk about a Quantum Vacuum existing before Big Bang than vice-versa, but in the topsy-turvy world of cosmology, especially with the rococo speculations of String Theory, almost any language crops up somewhere in the discourse.  And it’s almost all highly speculative.

Something from nothing, and the Anthropic Principle How can we say that in the beginning there was nothing and then there was something when there was nothing from wich the something could come out from? It seems impossible for the big bang to happen without the aid of God. There was not even the the potential for the beig bang before it was said to be made actual; it is simply a logically impossible supposition, that something can explode out of nothing.
 Second, are you aware of the arguments of the anthropic principle? Do you think that Dawkins defeates it in the God Delusion? What do you make of what he says, and what is exactly the force of the anthropic principle, could you elaborate?
Preliminary response:    There are certainly grave difficulties for Atheists in the Big Bang, which is one reason why it was resisted for so long.  They tend to reply that you have to assume something - why not that (or the Laws of Nature/ the Quantum Vacuum/ an infinite series of Big Bangs etc..)  The Anthropic principle is a big topic which John (and I) have explored extensively.  Dawkins certainly doesn't defeat it in TGD, indeed one recalls the comment of John Barrow: “You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a scientist.”
We've just posted some comments on ID on the Q&A pages.

What about intelligent design? Has John's thinking evolved from such thinking or is his thinking different all together?
Preliminary Response: The basic problem with ID is that God is never spoken of as a “designer” in the Bible: He is Creator and Father and a Father does not “design” his children.
It seems that Evolution is one of the principles, like Gravity, which God has used to create the Universe: there is no more a conflict between Evolution and Creation than between Gravity and Creation.
John adds: ID also makes a scientific claim of identifying molecular biological systems of irreducable complexity, but I do not believe it has made its case.  It is not enough to consider a single system in isolation, since evolution works in an improvisatory way, coopting what has been useful for one purpose to help acheive another.  ID also seems tacitly to make the theological mistake that God, who is the creator and sustainer of nature, would not be conetent to work through natural processes, which are as much expressions of the divine will as anything else.

Entropy: I have a question for the Rev Polkinghorne about entropy.
I have two starting premises: (so that you can tell me if these are in error!)
1.  According to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, a closed system tends towards disorder.
2.  Observation reveals a universe of beauty, pattern, complexity and order, particularly in the natural world, where pattern appears to emerge at every level.  (actually I'm wondering if this is true. There is certainly chaos as well... but perhaps it's fair to say that even chaotic systems tend towards pattern and order.. although is this just about reducing energy?)
  I've been interested in these ideas in considering the 'warfare theodicy' proposed by many (most? all?) open theists.  I guess you would describe yourself as an open theist? (or something similar)  Do you believe in a world at war? Are there aspects of the universe that support these 'warfare' ideas? (as I believe quantum mechanics appears to support openness)  I've been interested in what it means to live in a 'fallen world' - in a world which at the physical level is not how it was intended.  But yet a world in which God is always at work revealing himself and working out his purposes.
  For example, the two effects I've described above appear to battle against each other.  The 2nd Law tells us that disorder should increase, but yet order and pattern emerge everywhere.  It sounds like a cosmic battle in some ways, although I realise this a simplistic way of understanding both aspects. As I understand it, the physical universe runs in a way that means that everything eventually runs down and everything is reduced to disorder and randomness, (however, I understand that there's nothing 'spooky' or arbitrary about the Laws of Thermodynamics, they just describe how energy works).  But it is amazing that the universe is beautiful and bright and that animals and plants tend towards order and complexity. Why do these appear?
  I'm not primarily interested in making an argument from design, etc.  My main interest is in the idea of a world at war, and what that could mean in the physical universe. 
  I wondered if you had any insights on these things.  I studied physics only to undergrad level and clearly my scientific understanding and description is very clumsy.  Have you written about these ideas in any of your books?
Preliminary Response:  I'm not familiar with "warfare theodicy" and a quick google leaves me little the wiser. Although cosmic warfare is certainly a fairly important theme in the Bible, it is hard to see it as much help in theodicy.  To answer "Why does God allow evil and suffering" with "because there is Cosmic Warfare with the Powers of Evil."  doesn't seem to get very far unless there is a good answer to: "why does God allow the Powers of Evil to wage Cosmic Warfare" – which John and I find "deeply puzzling". It is in fact tempting to see "the Powers of Evil" as emergent properties of the evil caused by mis-applied human freewill, although this is highly speculative.
  There are some puzzles about the 2nd law, but the standard answer to how living systems can increase order is that they increase order locally at the expense of greater disorder (technically, higher entropy) globally.  So for example plants take the very low entropy of photons from the sun and turn it into low entropy life and high entropy gasses.  We are only beginning to understand how higher order "emergent" properties come into being (Stuart Kaufmann did some pioneering work on this, there is fascinating work under way by Martin Nowak about how evolutionary dynamics leads, under suitable conditions, to cooperation and order, and Denis Noble has been developing the philosophical implications of systems biology) and there is little doubt that a deeper understanding of what John has called "active information" is one of the key challenges of the 21st Century.
John adds: Modern science has come to recognise that regimes in which truly novel consequences can emerge are always "at the edge of chaos", that is: their circumstances are such that order and disorder, chance and necessity, interlace.  Hence there is an inescapable shadow side to great fruitfulness.
The idea of Satan, or the Devil. While I realize many thoughtful Christians (like C.S. Lewis) believed in demons and the devil, and it's in Scripture, the concept has become difficult for me to swallow. The "red guy with a pitchfork" is a poor conceptualization, I know, but so is the idea that all human actions of "evil" on this planet are somehow the end-products of his or his invisible minions' tempations.  Any thoughts on a solid, modern understanding (not medieval or Dante-esque) of who the devil is would be helpful (why I feel the need for clarification on this matter is anyone's guess).
Preliminary Response: It's very hard to know what to think about Satan, Demons and Angels.  The Bible says little about them.  Angels seem to be spiritual beings who worship God but are occasionally sent to be His messengers on earth.  The Biblical picture of Satan (which means "the Accuser" in Hebrew) seems to vary: in the prologue to Job (Job BTW is, roughly, a Play and not intended to be "factual", but it is one of the most profound books in the Bible) he's a kind of rogue courtier but Jesus talks about him as the fundamental quasi-personal influence behind much of the evil in the world.
  When Jesus says, to Peter "Get behind me, Satan, for you do not judge according to God's ways, but men's" (Mark 8:33 & par) he is not suggesting that Peter is "possessed" by the Devil or that Peter is not making these very prudent suggestions for his Master's safety of his own free will. He seems to be saying that Peter is unwittingly falling in with Satan's designs.  So describing Satan as the ultimate "force" behind the sin in the world does not mean that humans are absolved of their responsibilities. But the Bible is clear that there is a cosmic struggle going on and not just a human one.
  It's tempting to use the language of Chaos Theory here and make the analogy between Satan and a "Strange Attractor" which is a dynamical path (of non-integer dimension) that is not necessarily actually reached by other dynamical paths in the system but whose existence and characteristics influence the behaviours of the dynamical paths that come near it.
John adds: All I would add to Nicholas's helpful response is that when one considers a terrible event like the Holocaust, there are of course human factors at work (the wills of wicked men, the social sin of unquestioning obedience to the state, ordinary people's compromises and cowardice), but the weight of evil involved is so great that I myself cannot rule out the influence of some form of evil spiritual power at work.  Where such a power came from and why it is allowed to operate are, of course, very perplexing questions.
What about James Lovelock's ultra-frightening new prediction on the effects global warming will have on the human population within the next 60-some years. As I'm sure you know by now, he has predicted that upwards of 6 billion people will perish by the end of the century and what's left will be trying to stay alive near the north and south poles. Your opinion on these warnings and how, as Christians, we should feel about it would be much appreciated.
Response: the "Revenge of Gaia" predictions appear to be scaremongering, although it is very hard to be certain of anything long-term.  It is very clear that climate change is a serious problem, and that radical solutions will be required, some involving social changes and some involving large-scale applications of technology.  For example, Lovelock has also proposed a very interesting approach to helping "global cooling" with wave-operated pumps. Christians should be engaged in these issues, without succumbing to the Neo-Paganism that elevates the Environment into a Godess.  Anything that poses serious risks to the lives of millions, or billions, needs to be taken seriously as part of our duty to be stewards of God's world.

Samaritans: I read your article, "The Truth In Religion," which appeared in the TLS and I would like to comment on a side issue that you mentioned in it.  You wrote: "When it [Dawkin's book] asserts that Jesus’ call to love our neighbour referred only to relations between Jews (despite this claim being in clear contradiction to the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan), the only support quoted for this highly questionable statement is a book written by an anaesthesiologist."
  Perhaps you might consider reconsidering you reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan?  In his book, History of the Samaritans (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1992), Nathan Schur writes:  "The process of drawing apart [of Samaritans from Jews] was certainly a very gradual one…In spite of some nasty name calling from both sides and some violent action on part of the Hasmonean rulers, the responsible Jewish halakhic authorities continued to regard the Samaritans from certain points of view still as Jews till late into the second century AD…Jews still joined the Samaritans in one of their last uprisings against the Byzantine government in 556 AD.  Thus the process of estrangement was a very slow one, spread over many centuries and completed only a millennium after it had started."
  In my own article, Samaritans, Jews and Philosophers.  Expository Times 113:5: 152-6 (2002), I wrote: "A Jewish writer would never mention a Samaritan as an example of a gentile or generic human being.  It is true Jews and Samaritans had their differences and conflicts.  So did the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of biblical Israel.  The relationship of Jews and Samaritans to each other was quite dissimilar to that holding between Palestinians and Israelis.  A better (yet still obviously imperfect) historical analogy might be to the relationship between Anglicans and the Church of Rome. 
If Jesus had intended to overthrow the particularity of Leviticus, he made a poor choice in speaking of a 'Good Samaritan'.  If only Jesus had spoken of a good Greek or idolater!  Then it would be reasonable to speculate that he meant, in this particular story, to call for a universal ethic of love."
  If you would like, I can email a copy of my complete article to you. I should mention that more generally speaking, I am in agreement with your criticisms of Dawkins & co.
John says: I’m interested in your scholarly comments on the Samaritans.  However I think that Jesus’s choice of a Samaritan in the parable implies that he would have been seen as in less than a brotherly relationship to the Jews. As to the contra Dawkins point, the admonitions in the Torah to care for the stranger seem enough to make the point that he is wrong to assert that there is no real concern for non-Jews.

Embryonic stem-cell research. I am only newly acquainted with Dr. Polkinghorne, having heard him speak today at Belmont University in Nashville TN.  He was brilliant (stardust!) and I am filled with wonder.  After the lecture he allowed a few questions.  One had to do with the morality of embryonic stem cell research.  Dr. Polkinghorne answered by discussing at what point an embryo becomes a human person (at 14 days I think).  I would like to ask how the love principle – that God created a universe which allows beings to be and make themselves – would address this issue.  If the potential for human life exists in the embryo before 14 days, should love allow it to become?  I look forward to further exploring your website and reading his books.
  Thank you for your good work,
John says: The embryo is human life from the start, and deserves high moral respect because of that, but I do not think that initially it has the absolute ethical status of personhood.

Apparent wastefulness of natural selection Does the apparent wastefulness of natural selection go some way to discrediting the idea that God is loving and merciful?  How can a God of life allow a creation to develop where so many species die in, often, horrific and protracted suffering?   I appreciate the idea that life was given the freedom to "make itself" but still the developmental process that leads to sentiency seems nonsensically brutal.
Response: Well “species” don’t suffer. Clearly some higher animals do, although we must avoid the “pathetic fallacy” of attributing human feeling to non-humans.
  The problem of pain – even when we eliminate the doubtful cases - is a real and serious one.  But no-one has ever suggested a better way than Natural Selection to allow life to “make itself” indeed some suggest that it is the only possible way.

Vastness of the universe Does the sheer vastness of the universe make the inference of God based on fine-tuning less compelling?  Couldn't one argue that God wasted a lot of space (no pun intended) in order to create life?
Response: The size of the universe is essentially a function of its age.  And we need enough time to create 2nd generation stars, and then for life to evolve. So c14bn years seems about right.  In many respects there is no real difference between 14,000 years, 14m years and 14bn years: they are all immense to us, and all equally comprehensible to God.
The fine tuning is of course about the fundamental constants of nature, which (as far as we know) are the same throughout the universe.

Experiment as basis for post-Aristotelian philosophy The Wikipedia article about you includes this sentence, with reference to your philosophical outlook: "Because scientific experiments work very hard to eliminate extraneous influences, he believes that they are thus highly atypical of what goes on in nature."
My question is:  Would you agree that at about the time of the Reformation, the synthesis with Aristotelian thought which had previously been achieved by the Christian church through the work of, e.g. Thomas Aquinas, was disrupted, not only with respect to the old Aristotelian certainties’ (the sky wheels around the earth, bodies fall under gravity at a constant velocity etc.) but also with respect to the Aristotelian theory of knowledge, i.e. “when from many notions gained by experience, one universal judgement about similar objects is produced” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book 1 Chapter 1, translation in Ackrill 1987)  Isn’t the epistemological basis for the empiricism of Locke and later Hume just this ‘atypical’ probing by experimenters, from Bacon and Galileo onwards? And isn’t it most likely that the scepticism of Hume, and later Kant and twentieth century positivism (which I think we both dislike), a response, not to anything in the new philosophy which necessarily replaced Aristotle, but to the severe pressure put on it by a society which includes religious believers who insist on retaining ideas (e.g. that mind can exist independently of brain) for which there is no objective evidence?
Preliminary Response: I don't want to get drawn into Aristotle and Locke.  But I don't think there has ever been severe pressure put on science by religious believers - until Darwin almost all the great scientists were religious believers and it's really only in the 20thC that this has not been the case - although of course there are many great 20th and 21st C scientists who are religious believers as well.
It is obviously self-refuting to hold that "you should only believe in ideas for which you have objective evidence" and it is clearly logically possible for the mind to exist independently of the brain (otherwise AI would be impossible by defintion) - the actual relationship between human brains and the minds associated with them is certainly intimate and certainly un-clear.
John adds: I agree that science considers a particular kind of experience (impersonal) encountered usually in special circumstances (experiments).  If you want to know what I think about epistemology you could read Ch 2 of Science and Christian Belief (SPCK) aka The Faith of a Physicist, and for my assessment of the acheivements of physical science, ch.2 of Exploring Reality (SPCK)

Mandel experiment In your opinion, does the Mandel experiment carried out at the University of Rochester, in which the mere threat of obtaining information about which way the photon went, favour either of the two alternative explanations of the collapse of the wave packet, ie the apparatus itself causing the collapse, or the possibility of our being able to track the photon's path?
john says: My personal view is that the Mandel experiment illustrates the counterintuitive character of quantum theory but it does not require commitment to a particular interpretation.

What can people believe and still be Christians? I have read some of the questions and answers on this site and found them rather disappointing. You seem to be trying to reconcile the differences between science and religion by concentrating on what scientists and religious believe. I think this approach misses the point. Both scientists and religious believe astounding, wonderful and counterintuitive things. There really is no conflict here. Where the huge gulf lies is in the reasons for belief.
  Leaving aside such esoterica as string theory, scientists require evidence whilst religious sometimes seem to make a virtue of believing the unlikely in spite of the evidence. This is where the true difference lies and it is a very profound one.
 Speaking for myself I find the scientific viewpoint immensely more satisfying. If I want a sense of the numinous I would rather get it by contemplating the implications of quantum entanglement than by thinking about angels. My sense of wonder is only increased by the fact that I could go to any suitably equipped lab and see the Aspect experiment performed whereas I doubt you could show me an angel. (I suppose this analogy is not exact, you could show me some phenomenon for which you thought the most likely explanation was angels. I would probably be forced to disagree with you)
 What I did find interesting about the site is that it made me realise that I don’t actually know what Christians do believe. You yourself seem to have some quite traditionalist beliefs about judgement and salvation and yet you have a sophisticated understanding of evolution and believe it to be true. I have never met a Christian who actually understood evolution before and I suspect your position (and even more so that of John) is an unusual one.
 So I finally come to my question. What can a person believe and still belong to the set of Christians. Is the Rev.Ian Paisley a Christian? Is the Pope? Is your unbelieving Bishop Spong? There is clearly a very wide set of beliefs encompassed here! Much wider than you would find for example in a group of people who called themselves “Zoologists” or “Physicists”
 I suspect you are going to say something along the lines of a Christian must believe the Nicene Creed. I am afraid that much as I would like to I do not. I understand what it means, I learned it in childhood and I now consciously and of my own free will reject it. The flames await. How does this sit with your conscience?
Preliminary Response: The issue is not "what must a Christian believe" but "in whom must a Christian believe".  Christian faith is not belief in a set of abstract propositions but faith in a living God. Christians must believe and trust in Jesus Christ.  Now if you believe and trust in someone you will generally believe what they say and do what they ask: it is therefore very hard to see how someone who does not believe that the resurrection actually happened (say) could really be a Christian.  Historically, as you say, people have tried to delimit the range of theologically acceptable beliefs by the Nicene Creed, but the truth is that only God knows whether someone really believes and trusts in Jesus.
  Clearly all human beings are misguided to some extent, and in my personal view probably Spong is more misguided than Rev Ian Paisley who is more misguided than the Pope (even Catholics BTW don't say that the Pope is infallable always). It is not my business to draw dividing lines - except to say that unquestionably the Pope is a Christian, and I know of no reason to doubt that Ian Paisley is.  You can of course be a Christian and a very mistaken theologian.  Almost all mainstream Christians in Europe accept evolution as we accept gravity - of course we don't accept that evolution implies atheism a la Dawkins any more than we accept that Newtonian Mechanics implies atheism a la Laplace.  Of the founders of modern evolutionary theory, Mendel, Fisher and Dobzhansky were all Christians and today at least three of the world's most important contriubtors in this area: Simon Conway-Morris, Francis Collins and Martin Nowak are quite visible Christians.
  It is a fundamental category mistake to contrast "Scientists" and "religious" - you might as well contrast "Scientists" and "women".  It may be true in some cultures that scientists are much less likely to be adherents  to organised religions than the general population, but that's rather beside the point: they have historically been much more likely to be female.
  Christians don't contemplate Angels much - we do contemplate God a lot. Quantum entanglement is, from our perspective, a bit like a beautiful lake - wonderful indeed, but even more wonderful if you also can contemplate the sea and understand the relationship between them.
John adds: I believe that religious faith is as much concerned with truth sought through motivated belief as is science. though the kind of motivations appropriate are necessarily different in character in the two cases. Religious motivations are more akin to the sort of motivations that lead us to trust our friends, that is they are attained through trusting rather than testing. If you want to see a fairly detailed exposition for my reasons for accepting Christian belief you might read Science and Christian Belief (in N.America entitled The Faith of a Physicist)

Moses and Genesis What do you make of this verse? John 5. Jesus said:
46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote about me. 47 But if you don't believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"
Moses is credited with writing Genesis.
Surely if we regard his writings in Genesis 1-11 as mere myths or allegories then we're not respecting the Word? Genesis 1-11 is foundational to the whole Bible. Christianity is fact based, not myth based... isn't it?
Preliminary response: Two points which I hope clarify things:
a. (minor point) the concept of authorship was not the same in NT times as it is now.  When Jesus says (or suggests) that Moses wrote Genesis he is not asserting that Moses personally wrote every word - we know that there was a whole process of editing and authorship which builds on Moses and it is quite clear that Moses is not the "author" of Exodus etc.. because he is in the 3rd person (unlike Isaiah). It is a bit more like a standard textbook (say Copinger and Skone James on Copyright).
b. (major point) we are not saying that eg Genesis 1 is a "mere myth" - we are saying the Genesis 1 is using symbolic language of a particular kind to express deep truths which cannot be expressed better any other way.  If I write down f = ma (let alone any more complex equation) I am expressing a deep truth using symbolic language of  a particular kind, and to understand what I am saying you need to understand the meaning, in this context, of the symbols involved.  If someone said that I was asserting that "fry" meant the same as "mary" I would explain that they had misunderstood the way in which I was using these symbols.  And if this person retorted that I was saying that  f = ma was merely symbolic I might gently point out that all language is symbolic, the question is what kind of symbols and in what context should they be understood.
 To say that Genesis 1-11 is true does not mean that "if someone had pointed a hidden video camera at the situations and persons described, what this camera would have recorded is identical to what a rather literal-minded 20th century reader would have expected."  The Bible is much more like a portrait than a photograph (clearly the concept of a photo simply didn't exist in Biblical times) and what good portraits do is to portray the inner reality of a character: they often differ markedly from what a photograph would show of the scene, but this does not make them a less true portrait than a photo would be.

Conflict between science and religion We want to address the conflict between science and religion. Recent books have heightened the do we maintain the integrity of both systems of thought? And do these systems have to remain separate towering institutions with a feeble bridge between them, or can we hope to have an intellectually honest theology that integrates both?
Preliminary response:  There isn't a conflict betwen science and religion (at least the Christian religion) and there never has been - indeed on the contrary almost all the pioneers of modern science were  Christians or Jews and this is far from accidental.
There is, of course, a conflict between Atheism and religion, and one type of Athesm, having abandoned Materialism (which collapsed under its own contradictons) now adopts Physicalism and tries to use the prestige of Science to bolster this arguably self-contradictory worldview.

Limited omniscience? I am a Christian and a middle school science teacher. It is a humble credential, but nevertheless one which encourages my interest in John's writings; to date I have read Exploring Reality and found that I was blessed by it.
 I wonder if you could briefly explain why you find it necessary that God should limit his omniscience in order that we have free will? I know that it is addressed in the book I mentioned, and I suppose I could reread that part and try to digest it, but as it didn't quite take the first time, I thought I would seek an authoritative audience for my own musings, such as they are.
  Thinking of time as a dimension, I imagine it unfolded, from God's perspective, in an instant at the moment of creation. I don't really feel an awe for deep time anymore than I do for the vastness of the universe, because it occurs to me that each only appears enormous because of our limitations (i.e.- the cat seems small to us but large to the flea). We are experiencing only the present moment, and similarly only the part of the universe near us, which our senses can perceive. But God sees it all at once, no? Even with our own limits, we can scan a small room in an instant, but we may choose to focus on something of microscopic proportions instead, using appropriate equipment. The latter, for me, is a picture of God's interest in us, as demonstrated by the stories in the bible, and our personal testimonies. The caveat is that we cannot completely focus on the room and the microscope slide at the same time, because of both our experience of time as being linear and having one direction, and the limits of our senses. We must first observe one, then the other, with the previous moment seeming to have escaped us. Conversely, God has no such limit!
  So I picture that God has moment to moment interaction with us His creation, and yet it is all unfolded before Him at once, just as, uniquely, he can view and consider the micro and macroscopic simultaneously. So long as, as necessitated by our natures, we have the opportunity to respond to Him, or choose not to, in what is for us the present and only "in-play" moment, I don't see why His unlimited omniscience would violate free will, or His covenant with us.
Preliminary Response: What I think we can say clearly is that if it is necessary for God to limit His omniscience in order that we might have freewill then He will have done so.
The basic problem is whether time is inherently linear or branching. If it is "fixed" whether or not Al will marry Bet on 1 July 2010 then Al and Bet have no choice in the matter and therefore, on most natural interpretations of free will, no free will about it. There are philosophers who try to argue that freewill is compatible with determinism but I don't find their arguments at all convincing.
It would seem that from a "God's eye view" future events must be "fixed" because even if no human knows what will happen God does.  But this only works if we interpret Omniscience and meaning "knowing everything that can be known" rather than "able to know anything that can be known if you choose to do so" and indeed the 2nd definition is the only one compatible with God's omnipotence.  Indeed we now understand in basic physics that the very act of observing something necessarily changes the outcome.
Of course nobody really knows how time appears to God, and it may well be that these speculations are hilariously misconcieved from God's point of view.  All we can know for certain is that the reality will be more wonderful and infused with love than our conception, and that God, having laboured mightily so that we can be free to choose to love, will not have carelessly undermined the whole enterprise.
John adds: My argument is not that God's not knowing the future is essential to guarantee free will, but that a world that can contain freely choosing beings must be open to the future so that it is a world of true becoming. The argument then is that God will know that world truly, ie according to its actual nature, that is in its actual becomingness. The consequence is a divine choice to engage with time and not know the detail of the future. This seems to me very much the way the Bible speaks about God's chosen relationship with creatures. Nevertheless these matters are contentious and our understanding limited. The view of God knowing the whole of temporal history 'all at once', which you sketch, has had many supporters, including Augustine and Aquinas, so you are in good company.

Incarnation and Evolution. 1) The incarnation is the observable term of the activity of God acting as One. Could this not be compared to the activity of light which travels as a wave, yet registers as particles? (Although, I wonder, if the particles reveal in the wave function of light anything comparable to the properties of the Trinity). 
2) Accepting that matter can evolve into self-conscious beings, and excluding a thoroughgoing determinism on the one hand, and the separation of grace and nature on the other, can we not say that the potential for selfconsciousness inherent in matter is its spiritual component?
Preliminary Response
: 1) Yes up to a point, but God acts all the time in His Creation - the Incarnation is in some respects an intensification or crystallisation of His normal actions in the Person of His Son.  Indeed as many people have noted, the Signs/Miracles of Jesus are often things that God always does, but intensified and speeded up.
2) Yes up to a point, but John's position is (I think) that "matter" and "consciousness" are two aspects of a single underlying reality (he calls this Dual-Aspect Monism) It's not quite that matter evolves into consciousness, rather more that beings evolve, composed (materially) of matter but with a set of hyper-complex organisations so that eventually these beings have consciousness. After all it is not the matter in our bodies that is conscious.

Creation, Evolution and Evil I have read The God of Hope and the End of the World, which I found very inspiring. I’m trying to come to terms with changing from being a Creationist to an Evolutionist, but I have one thing I just can’t understand. If God is good, how can God put a world into being that is not perfectly Good. I always understood Evil as the result of free will, but if evolution is true, then there was evil before free will. I’ve seen similar questions on this forum, but they don’t really answer my question. I heard about the Irenean theodicy (but haven’t read about it) which suggest all Evil in the world will be ‘transformed’ into eternal Good for all creation. I think John agrees with this theodicy, but I have difficulties praising a God who allowed evil into this world (although I can see that if God is Perfect and eternal, everything/everybody who is not God is not perfect and not infinite, until being ‘unified’ with God). Believing that all evil will once disappear forverer, does however, in my opinion, not release God of his responsibility for allowing evil into this world in the first place. As I look at it now, evil in a darwinist world suggest a dualistic God, who created both good and evil, and is hence both good and evil. That would not leave much room for the Christian God. I hope you can shed some light on this.
Preliminary Response Thank you for your question and comments.  Of course we believe in Creation - Evolution is like Gravity, it is part of how God creates the world, allowing his creatures the freedom to come into being to learn to choose to love Him.
 The Problem of Evil is a serious one, and I'm not sure that it makes much difference whether one is "Creationist" or not.  We cannot "solve" it in this simple note but perhaps a few thoughts help:
  1. We know God loves us and we know there is Evil in the world. He must have a good enough reason for allowing this, but there is no reason why we should know what it is (see Job, Plantinga etc..). So the following suggestions by no means exhaust all the possibilities.
  2. Much of the Evil is directly or indirectly the result of human sin - ie falling short of the Glory of God. In addition to the obvious ways in which this is true (Murder etc..) biological death was apparently in the world long before Adam and Eve, but death can only be Evil if there are morally conscious beings.  And perhaps to someone in perfect loving union with God would not feel the pain of separation nearly as much as we do.  This is not to deny the terrible reality of death, but to affirm that it is not final.
  3. The Evil which is not the result of human sin seems to be the result of the workings out of the natural laws of physics (eg earthquakes) and biology (eg viruses).  It may well be logically necessary to have such laws in order that beings can emerge who are free to choose to love.  And surely a universe without freely given love but without pain would be worse than one with both.  The New Creation at the "end of time" is possible only and precisely because the people in it have lived through the present creation and have freely chosen the path of love.
  4. We know that God doesn't merely allow suffering as a passive spectator, but suffered himself on the Cross. He carries our sorrows, and redeems them.
  5. I don't really think that the Irenean Theodicy you mention is enough - it is indeed true that "the sufferings of the present time are not worthy of being compared with the Glory that shall be revealed" but that's not the whole truth. There must be a sense in which these sufferings are necessary, and perhaps points 1-4 give some hints about this.  But "now we see through a glass, darkly".
I hope this helps and will see what John has to add.
John adds: My thinking on the perplexing problem of evil is very much along the line's of Nicholas's reply. There is a chapter on evil in my Exploring Reality (SPCK/Yale) which you might care to look at

The Resurrection - a Prank? I have read John Polkinghorne's defence of the authenticity of the resurrection in his book "Exploring Reality" and I must say that I find it very unconvincing. He says that Jesus died a dishonourable death and that one would have expected that to be the end of it but today we have all heard of Jesus. John Polkinghorne believes that this could only be the result of something momentous, ie the resurrection. This doesn't follow. All that was necessary was for the disciples to believe that Jesus was resurrected not for him actually to be resurrected.
  The first point is the empty tomb. John Polkinghorne says that there are two possible explanations: either Jesus was resurrected, or the disciples took the body. The latter can't be true in his view because men don't die for what they know to be a lie. I would agree with that but John Polkinghorne has presented us with a false dichotomy. On the one hand is the idea of a resurrection, on the other is the idea of a conspiracy by the disciples. A third possibility is that a single person, a follower of Jesus or even a prankster, might have taken the body and then not told anyone about it. John Polkinghorne seems to think that for the body to be removed, the disciples must have got together and decided among themselves to take the body and perpertrate a deception. That wasn't necessary. One person, acting alone, could have taken the body and as far as everyone else would have been concerned the body had disappeared inexplicably.
  At first this would just have been a mystery but it would have been the perfect seed for future developments. Reports of "sightings" of Jesus would now follow and the idea would grow that perhaps he had come back to life. The absolutely crucial point is that the earliest account in the Bible, in Mark, simply reports that the tomb was empty and does not mention any sightings. Reports of sightings come later. It could be argued that the sightings were so convincing that no one could doubt that Jesus had returned from the dead. This isn't the impression that I get. The sightings sound vague and incoherent; rather like modern day sightings of ghosts and UFOs. Of course, those people who claim to have seen ghosts and UFOs seem utterly convinced and I'm sure the disciples were equally convinced. And that's how it started.
Preliminary Response: I’m sorry I can’t find my copy of Exploring Reality at present so I can’t respond on the specific argument John makes.  Clearly, as with any other historical phenomenon, there are an enormous number of conceivable explanations. Jesus could have been abducted by aliens.  However I think you need to explain not merely the fact that the tomb was empty but the fact that the disciples were so utterly convinced that Jesus had risen again, and that they had seen him, and this utterly bizarre idea didn’t simply die out but, despite severe persecution, eventually became the mainstream view of the western world and is still held by c 2bn people.
  Given that the tomb was empty and the body could not be found (which must be so because neither the Romans nor the Jews could produce Jesus’s body, which would have stopped Christianity in its tracks) there are clearly 4 possibilities:
1.      God removed the body – as per the Resurrection.
2.      The disciples removed the body.
3.      Jesus was not really dead and removed himself – some kind of resuscitation.
4.      Some unknown 3rd party removed the body.

We agree that 2 is deeply implausible. The main problem with 3 is that Jesus would have then been deliberately deceiving the disciples in such a way as to lead to their deaths.  So we are left with (4).  But there are grave difficulties:
  1. This does not at all explain the fact that the Disciples were utterly convinced that they had seen, walked, talked and eaten with the Risen Jesus. No-one was remotely expecting anything like the Resurrection (so the idea that it might have been dreamed up as an “explanation” of the empty tomb is fanciful – the disciples would have inferred, as indeed Mary of Madgalene did, that someone had taken the body away).  The idea that the resurrection is a later Christian belief is simply wrong: look at 1 Corinthians 15 which was written some time around AD54 – Mark (probably written in the 60s) doesn’t mention the resurrection appearances because everyone knew about them, but not everyone knew about the life of Jesus before the Resurrection.
  2. Grave-robbing was not unknown but deeply counter-cultural. No pious Jew would do it.  What was the supposed motive for this action?
  3. Anyone who had removed the body could have earned themselves an enormous reward from the Jewish and/or Roman authorities by producing it – it would have stopped Christianity in its tracks.
  4. There seems a vast disproportion between cause and effect.  The emergence of Christianity is by any standards one of the pivotal events in world history.  It is not inconceivable that it was caused by a prank that misfired.  But can you think of any other remotely comparable examples of major historical events caused by pranks?
Of course if you already know for certain on other grounds that God does not exist then (4) is your best shot: the result is highly unlikely but unlikely things sometimes happen.  But I’m sure you can see why anyone who gives a high prior probability to the existence of God will consider (1) far more plausible.
Response from questioner: Thank you for your considered reply.You say that if I assume that God doesn't exist then I will automatically rule out the possibility of the resurrection. Actually I don't assume that He doesn't exit; I just believe that He doesn't intervene. John Polkinghorne has written eloquently about the order and regularity of the universe as a reflection of God's nature. I would regard a miracle as an ugly violation of this order and regularity. You could say that I am prejudiced against the possibility of miracles but I don't think my attitude would be very different from yours. If you heard a report of a dead man coming back to life in a small village in Africa or China, for example, I think your first response would be to assume that it was very unlikely to be true. The fact that you believe in the possibilty of miracles wouldn't alter this.
  You are sceptical of the idea that a third party might have taken Jesus's body from the tomb, saying that would be deeply counter-cultural. I agree that it seems a very perverse thing to do but people do do perverse things. What are the chances of someone removing a body from a tomb? Very small. What are the chances that, if a body is missing from a tomb, then the reason why it is missing, is that someone has taken it, given that the alternative is that the body came back to life? Quite high I would say. If some deranged person took the body then it's unlikely that he would come forward just to refute Christian claims. I don't know why you say that he could have come forward and received an enormous reward. As John Polkinghorne says in "Exploring Reality" Christianity was quite a small sect to begin with. I don't think the authorities would have been too interested in refuting it at that early stage. And remember that the body would have quickly decomposed, so if it was going to be brought forward it would have had to be done quickly.
  The real question then is about the authenticity of the resurrection sightings. Could people really have come to believe so passionately that Jesus was risen if the sightings had just been delusions? And could two billion people believe it today if was based on a delusion? The answer to the second question is that it makes no difference whether the resurrection was real or not. Let's assume it was real. Suppose that the risen Christ appeared to a small group of people whose job was then to go out and convince the world. How would they do this? I find this difficult to understand because I find the creating of any new religion hard to understand. How can a small group of people convince millions of their beliefs? It has happened plenty of times. It happened with the founding of Islam which we both consider to be false. All we can say is that the convincing of vast numbers of people is no guarantee of truth.
  So what about the original resurrection sightings? You say the idea that the resurrection was dreamed up as an explanation for the empty tomb is fanciful. I don't imagine that they encountered the empty tomb and immediately thought that Jesus had come back to life. The empty tomb simply allowed the process to begin that would lead to a belief in the resurrection. Remember that the vast majority at least of Jesus's followers were illiterate. They didn't have the knowledge that we take for granted. They believed that epilepsy was the result of demonic possession. They would have been incapable of explaining unusual experiences in terms of hallucinations or neurological malfunctions. They lived in world of spirits and magic. I have to say as well that the idea of the resurrection occurring as a mistake is less fanciful than the claim that when Jesus died on the cross there was an earthquake, graves were opened and the bodies of saints got up and started walking about.
John adds: “I think the single prankster is not credible.
The earliest written testimony to the appearances is 1 Corinthians 15. When Paul says he told them “what he himself had received” I think that is clearly a reference to conversations immediately following his Damascus Road conversion, which takes things back to within 2-3 years of the crucifixion. It is puzzling that the manuscript tradition of Mark does not give an account of the appearance in Galilee, twice foretold in the Gospel (14.28, 16.7) but he must have believed it happened.”
and I add:  I don’t want to get into long correspondence, but I’d offer three observations:
  1. There are major differences between the rise of Islam and that of Christianity. There are perfectly reasonable secular explanations for why a conquering warlord who also claims to have divine revelation should attract loads of followers, and why his successors who were also conquering warlords should have extended their territories. Most Islamic countries (with the important exception of Indonesia) became Islamic by conquest.  By contrast it is very hard to see a credible secular explanation of how Christianity could have spread in the first 3-4 centuries, and in the many important historical and contemporary cases where it was not spread by conquest (eg England, Germany, Russia, China, South Korea).
  2. How did the disciples convince people? By the power of the Holy Spirit.  As you say, it’s jolly hard to see how they could have done it any other way. They didn’t have swords, armies, only truth.  Look at what Pliny found.
  3. The fundamental problem is that what people consider “likely” is conditioned by their background assumptions and worldviews. Given Christianity the likelihood of the resurrection experiences of the disciples etc… is 100%. Given Deism or Materialism/Physicalism it is not 0%, because there are always alternative conceivable explanations (time-travelers or aliens could have abducted the body and planted false memories in the disciples) but to my knowledge no-one has ever suggested an explanation for these facts that is based on any evidence whatsoever. Is there any example of a prankster causing such a major historical event?  Is there any example of a comparable “mass delusion”?  What it boils down to is that, if the likelihood of these experiences is say 0.01% given Deism then if your prior probabilities of Christianity and Deism/Physicalism  are 1% and 99% then your posterior probabilities after considering this evidence should be reversed (ie 99% Christianity 1% Deism/Physicalism)

Theistic Evolution and Christian Ethics. For some time now, I have been keeping up with the various arguments that attempt to reconcile evolution with Christianity. While there are powerful existing arguments dealing with it strictly on a scientific level, I'm left feeling rather concerned over certain ethical implications. One person that comes to mind was the social Darwinist Herbert Spencer, whose ideas are undoubtedly antithetical to Christian morality. Should Christians simply accept evolution as science but refrain from becoming social Darwinists? Can a Christian who accepts evolution still take Christian living as seriously as the early church did? Does it put restraints on traditional Christian ethics, such as caring for the poor, sick etc..?

Preliminary Response Indeed Spencer's "Survival of the Fittest" and other bogus attempts to make a secular religion out of Evolution should be resisted. Darwin himself was dead against them as well. It is only the scientific aspects of evoultionary theory that should be embraced.  Remember that people like Laplace (and others far less distinguished) tried to do the same with Newtonian Mechanics - and no-one now thinks that Gravity is incompatible with Christianity
John adds: I agree with Nicholas's very good and short reply. I might add: True altruism exceeds kin altruism. Darwinian thinking on its own is ethically inadequate, as Richard Dawkins acknowledges on the last page of The Selfish Gene

Time and Eternity As a scientist and a Christian, I have always found the relationship of eternity to the finite but unbounded spacetime of our universe to be very confusing.  If the eternal time that God inhabits carries on along some sort of linear path like our time appears to (i.e there is a “before” and an “after” in heaven, which would appear to be the case from reading Revelation), then surely it is impossible for an infinite amount of this time to have passed prior to the beginning of our universe?  Is this something to do with our perception of time?
  Could it be that the time of our universe sits in relation to all of eternity like a finite line superimposed onto an infinite axis?  If so, does God sit at all points on this infinite axis at the same time?  If so, then surely he must know every single instant of our spacetime at the same time, much like someone looking at a sheet of paper with an entire story written on it.  If God created this sheet of paper, then how can the characters in the story be said to have a mind of their own?
 I could do with some help with unboggling my mind!
Preliminary Response: The relationship between our perception of time and God’s is necessarily obscure to us.  The old idea that God must be Eternal and hence not perceive time at all has been superseded by the realization that it is more Biblical to see a Personal God truly engaged with other creatures in a way that respects their freedom to choose.  However before the creation of the Universe there were no clocks so the concept of “an infinite time before” creation does not really apply.  Any loving creation of Others entails a kenosis whereby the Creator limits his inherent powers to allow the Others freedom. It may be that God has created a Universe in which whether a specific event occurs at a specific time in the future is un-knowable even by him.  It may equally be that God has created in Universe in which He could observe future events if he wanted to (which would cause the indeterminacy of the future event to collapse into determinacy) but that He chooses not to in order to give His creatures freedom.  Both of these possibilities show how God’s Creation does not entail a lack of freedom on our part.
John adds: You might find it helpful to look at Ch 6 of Exploring Reality. I think it is important to recognise that divine eternity is a special state of timelessness and not just an endless form of temporal existence.

Reconciling Evolution and Christianity I am pleased to see that a distinguished scientist like John Polkinghorne is also a Christian. I am deeply concerned at the high proportion of atheists in science/due to science as I feel this fuels the idea that one must "choose" or commit intellectual suicide in order to be a Christian and believe in the Bible, Jesus and God. I am a postgraduate mathematician and a Christian and those two subjects coincide perfectly well!
  However there is one subject where I feel it almost impossible to reconcile the Bible with science: Genesis 1 to 11 with the Theory of Evolution.
  I understand that John seems to entertain both. I wonder how he manages to do this. Surely this presents huge doctrinal difficulties if we reject the Genesis account, or take it as allegory, in favour of the Theory of Evolution as the definitive description of reailty and history. If man evolved, and was not created, then we're just another animal and not necessarily created in the image of God. There are huge philosophical consequences if man has evolved rather than created, not least the death and destruction in the world prior to original sin. I find that the evolution theory is a faith destroyer for many people who might otherwise be Christians. Not just the problems in Genesis 3, but also Noah's flood which science doesn't entertain, as with the account of the tower of Babel which would explain the origination of different languages and how & why humans dispersed all over the world. Then if one accepts human evolution, which suggests humans have been around for 200,000 years, then how can one reconcile this with human history only being up to 10,000 years ago at the same time as agriculture started in the middle east... 190,000 years of no history or agriculture? And only 7bn people in the world after 200,000 years of existance? It seems absurd to me.
   How does John reconcile these things? I feel forced to choose and I do choose God's revelation in Genesis rather than the evolutionists view of pre-history (if there is such a thing). I admit I'm inspired by the arguments of creationist ministries such as Answers in Genesis. I understand many are nervous of endorsing such ministries, but don't they have a point?
Preliminary Response: There is no conflict between Creation and the science of Evolution, any more than Creation and astrophysics.  The Bible says God made the stars - it is not interested in the scientific details of quantum physics etc...   God creates through the operation of His faithful principles which we partially discern in scientific laws.  One of the reasons for this seems to be that we are then able to gain a deeper understanding of His creation, and to be His "fellow-workers".
  Now in reading the Bible we have to understand what God is trying to tell us at each point, and what kind of writing we are reading.  It is obvious that the Bible does not intend us to take all the details of the creation account literally, because the details are different in Genesis 1 and Genesis 3.  If I say f=ma I don't mean that "fry" means the same as "mary".  As you know as a mathematician, in order to communicate anything deep you need to use appropriate symbols: this does not make what you say "symbolic" in the sense of "untrue" but in order to understand what is being said you always need to understand what the terms used mean.
  Of course the Theory of Evolution is no more a definitive description of reality than the Theory of Gravity.  Just as ideas about gravity have advanced and changed considerably since Galilleo, so ideas about Evolution continue to advance. In particular it is clear that there is a lot more going on than the simplistic and rather dogmatic views of classical neo-Darwinism might suggest. In particular the fact that evolution uses "random" processes doesn't mean that the results are random or that God is incapable of directing the outcomes: indeed it looks as if it is precisely the fact that the outcomes are under-determined at the physical level that allows God to nudge the processes without breaking His own laws.
  To touch breifly on your other points:
  1. Original Sin is spiritual not biological.  When we make moral choices that turn us away from loving union with God the biological facts of pain and death have different spiritual implications.
  2. It seems unlikely that Noah's Flood is meant to be taken entirely literally. But science now shows that there have been a number of catastrophic flood events (incl the Med and the Black Sea) and "the whole earth" in Hebrew doesn't need to mean the whole planet.
  3. Presumably if humans had lived together in a perfect loving community loving God and Neighbour then we would all speak one language.  But at some point, falling away from this (due to arrogance and greed) led humans to become dispersed. That is what Babel is about.
  4. I don't think the other problems are at all serious. Technological progress is somewhat exponential and cumulative - and although we take things like writing and agriculture for granted now they are pretty amazing innovations that depend on a great deal.  As for the population - until recently this was limited by "Mathusian" processes.
John adds: If God is the God of love, his creation cannot just be a puppet theatre in which the divine Puppet-master pulls every string. There will be the gift of some due form of independence to creatures to be themselves and to 'make themselves'.  The evolutionary exploration of Gog-given potentiality seems to me to fit in well with this understanding.  You might find it useful to take a look at Theology and Science.

Security of the Believer I suppose my question has to do with the security of the believer (if it exists).  Having grown up in a Christian church (I'm 24 now), I've never at any point doubted that God was real and that Christ is who he said he is.  However, over the past few months I've found myself desperately trying not to "walk away" from the faith I once thought was so unshakable.  Most of my questions that have led me to doubt Christianity have involved the following:  Evolution/Anthropology, the historicity of the Bible, eschatology, and the idea of the miraculous.  I've read several books on the matter including Exploring Reality and The God of Hope.  These and other books have given me a substantial rational basis for Christianity, however, I still feel this deep sense of fear and longing as though an old friend has just died.  Maybe you can help.
  1. During my search, I've learned of several people with Christian backgrounds who are now skeptics.  It does not appear that these people wanted to leave their faith, and it doesn't seem like they are particularly happy for having done so.  Will God be merciful towards them?  Will God be merciful towards me even in my doubt?
  2. It seems like theism is the most rational position of all.  It seems ridiculous that we would be here contemplating ourselves for no reason and despite many, many odds.  However, even as John acknowledged,"it is a big step from general theism to Christological belief".  How exactly do you take that step?  And furthermore, how do I pursue a real relationship with Christ when I am not even sure I believe in him anymore?
  3. To you, do the claims in the the NT ever just seem too hard to believe?  Sometimes it really just does seem like a made up story with little more weight than any other religious legend.  Do you recommend any other books on this subject?

Being rather new to asking strangers about quite serious and personal issues, I apologize if my questions lack cohesion or I seem desperate (though i am)

Preliminary Response: Thank you for your questions. Questioning your faith is a natural and inevitable part of the spiritual journey.  CS Lewis is good on this in the Screwtape Letters. You can come through this with a deeper faith, a deeper understanding, and a better appreciation of the diffculties of non-believers that will make you a more effective witness for the Gospel.
  1. God is merciful and infinitely loving, and forgives all who truly repent.  Jesus is clear that “seek and you will find”.  God also knows the truth about us and our motivations, and sometimes “intellectual doubts” are a cover for something else (it is, for example, very difficult to live by Christian standards of sexual morality is today’s society).  These lapses are of course also forgivable, but it’s worth being realistic about what the issues really are.  It’s also worth remembering that there are several people who were atheists who are now Christians – indeed the traffic after the age of 30 tends to be the other way round.
  2. Well it is a big step but I think completely rational. If an Ultimate Loving Creator exists then it seems very unlikely that He would not be concerned with His creation and wish to communicate with us.  Obviously He is not incompetent, so His communication will have been broadly successful. Therefore either Christianity is true and Islam, where it differs from it, is a distortion or vice versa.  Put that way, it doesn’t seem a difficult decision.  Especially since most Muslims live in cultures where the penalty for Apostasy is Death and where people of other religions are subject to sometimes murderous persecution.  We maintain a relationship with Christ by loving commitments to His commandments – this is not a matter of emotion but of the will.
  3. We mustn’t make the mistake of taking the NT as a set of literal “claims”. The Gospels are portraits not photographs.  A good portrait does not reproduce every pixel that a camera would show, but shows the essence of a character and situation.  Focus on the person and character of Jesus: He is the Way, the Truth and the Light, who is lifted up so that he can draw all men and women to him.  There are lots of great books: hard to know what to recommend without knowing what you have read already.  Screwtape and The Great Divorce are very good, if you haven’t read those.  Alister McGrath has also written a lot at a more academic level. Tom Wright is wonderful
John adds: Very few people are given the gift of a totally un-troubled faith.  Most of us have to struggle with doubts and difficulties from time to time. It is a well-documented fact of the spiritual life that the 'desert periods' (when God seems far away) are often recognized subsequently as times of spiritual growth. I am sure that God honours honest questioning in the search for truth.  I believe that the rational arguments for Christian belief are very strong and a sufficient warrant for commitment to the cause of Christ. I tried to set some of the relevant considerations in my Gifford Lectures, Science and Christian Belief.
May God bless you in your search for truth.

Dopamine Explains Religion May I suggest a possible evolutionary foundation for religion and superstition?
  I widely read that evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists get confused by the enigma that religion poses. They often cite "fitness costs" such as burial goods, celibacy and other forms of resource allocation that do not give back in practical ways. As a leading academic paper on the subject concludes, "...these costs are not outweighed by any obvious benefits". In other words, religious people offer their time, money and resources into a system that does not provide an obvious adaptive advantage. Except in one way: satisfaction from a necessary delusion. That means dopamine activation. Dopamine is our evolved natural reward. To feel ascendant through reward dopamine means to feel more assertive, confident and even dominant over obstacles. May I remind you that all of animal life is reward-based - from yeast to humans. We are dopamine machines. It even explains consciousness. Most professors and researchers who examine the issue of consciousness rely of the principle of neural rewards to explain its evolution. The smoking gun for the evolution of religion is that it rewards believers. And nature rewards adaptive behavior for a reason. ...{the question continues for about 3 paras}
Nicholas' Response I'm sorry - this is hopelessly confused and simplistic. Biology is far, far more complex than this. The idea that "we are dopamine machines" is simply drivel: dopamine is one of many thousands of chemicals that are known to play important roles in neuro-chemsitry but the brain is the most complex system known to man and is very poorly understood. The one thing that is absoultely clear is that simplistic explanations are either completely wrong or at best first approximations in a system of essentially unbounded complexity.
   And even if your simplistic equation of Dopamine with Neural Reward were correct, to say "people believe in religion because it gives them a neural reward" really doesn't explain anything if you also believe that we are in some sense "programmed" to respond to neural rewards - because on that hypothesis the only reason people believe in anything is neural rewards.  Nor is there any evolutionary advantage per se to getting dopamine highs - evolutionary advantage is about producing more surviving longterm descendants and successful religions seem to encourage this. Those who, like Dawkins, have 3 wives but only one child are evolutionary failures compared with people who have one wife and three children, and it is hardly suprising that people who base their lives and worldviews on a religion which emphasises longterm love are more likely to be successful parents, on average, than atheists.
   To the extent that religion is a social and economic phenomenon it needs social and economic explanations: these higher order systems are far too complex, and the relations between them and "lower order" systems like psychology, neurology and molecular biology are far too complex and ill-understood, for simplistic explanations based on chemistry to be of any value, I'm afraid.  Pop scientists who tell evolutionary just-so stories are totally misleading in this respect.  Sorry.

Stanley Jaki and Godel What is your opinion of Stanley Jaki's work?  Specifically, do you agree with his invocation of Godel's incompleteness therom as an argument against the possibility of developing a TOE that is "necessarily" true, and not only "contingently" true?  Is he correct?  Hawking, as I understand it, even admitted that Godel's work will complicate the consistency of a unified theory, did he not?  If Godel's work does through a wrench into the works, why hasn't the physics community caught on to this?  Why, after his many walks with Godel in Princeton, did it not thwart Einstein's efforts to find a GUT? 
  What other areas of Jaki's opus do you admire or find lacking?
Preliminary Response: A GUT isn't really a "theory of everything" in the sense of predicting everything.  Godel certainly shows that there are limits to mathematical and scientific knowledge even within the domains in which you would expect them to apply.  But no wise philosopher claims that science can fully explain everything.
  I haven't read Jaki and John doesn't discuss him much - I'll see what John has to add
John adds: Godel's theorem shows us that truth can never be totally caught in any purely logical system - a useful lesson I think.  Stanley Jaki is very learned and interesting to read. I thin that Christian belief in creation was an influence on the birth of modern science in 20th century Europe but I do not go as far as Jaki's claim that this belief, then and now, is indispensible to a fruitful science.

Electrical Engineers As an electronics engineer I consider it a compliment that John Polkinghorne wrote: "Electrical engineers are notorious for their wild ideas."
I wrote that down a long time ago and it is from page 1 of one of his books. But not the ones I do have; in 'Science and Creation' he expresses it as: "Some of my most persistent wrong-headed correspondents have been electrical engineers."
So please give me the correct reference because I want to use it, giving its correct origin.
John replies: I remember making the remark (somewhat toungue in cheek) but I am embarrassed that I cannot now remember or find where I wrote it. Sorry.

Taking Genesis Literally Would you and Dr. Polkinghorne please consider this “quantum” alternative to your position that Genesis 1 and 2 are not to be taken literally?
In The Universe in a Nutshell Stephen Hawking wrote that “…the universe must have every possible history, each with its own probability.  There must be a history of the universe in which Belize won every gold medal at the Olympic Games, though maybe the probability is low. The idea that the universe has multiple histories may sound like science fiction, but it is now accepted as science fact.”
Underlying Hawking’s statement is the theory that the “Big Bang” was a quantum event which would have resulted in a quantum superposition of all possible universes until “something” collapsed our real universe into existence.  Indeed, in Nutshell, Hawking posed a question directed to that very issue: ““What picks out the particular universe that we live in from the set of all possible universes?”
Bohr, Wheeler, Paul Davies and a variety of other physicists have theorized that the participation of a conscious observer is required to fashion reality in our universe.  In Quantum Evolution, Johnjoe McFadden noted that Wheeler’s delayed choice interpretation of the quantum theory allowed for the possibility that observation by a conscious observers could retroactively create one real history for a quantum particle out of all possible histories while the particle was in superposition.  McFadden extended that interpretation to its logical conclusion and wrote:
“Wheeler suggests that the presence of observers imparts a ‘tangible “reality” to the universe, not only now but back to the beginning, by a kind of backward-acting wave function collapse.  In this scenario, the universe existed in an undetermined ghost state until the first conscious being opened its eyes to collapse the wave function for the entire universe and bring into being its entire history, including the geological and fossil recording its own evolution.”
My questions are these:  What if Adam was the first conscious observer?  Isn’t that exactly what Genesis 1 and 2, if read carefully as one story, actually suggest?  Genesis 1 describes the actual history of our universe in exactly the sequence discovered by science—plants, animals, man, or so argues physicist/rabbi Gerald Schroeder.  [I have written that alternate translations of the Hebrew in Genesis 1 actually describe a very detailed sequence of what science has discovered about the beginning of the universe—“water" can also mean "violence" or "transitory things” for example] But in Genesis 2, the sequence is exactly the opposite.  Man is created before any animals or plants have appeared on the earth [earth can also mean “original creation” in Hebrew].  That is exactly what you would expect to see described if the first conscious being to observe the universe was Adam because that observation would have collapsed the "real" history of our 13 billion year old universe out of a superposition of all possible histories of the universe while it was in superposition.  And that first “observation” could have occurred 6,000 years ago.  There is much scriptural support for this position in the Bible, as well as a scriptural description of special relativity that predicts a 13 billion year old universe and resolves the six day creation "problem" but it would take me too much space to write more here.  Any reaction?
Preliminary Response: This is ingenious but I think mistaken.  Firstly it is clear that Adam and Eve are the first morally conscious human beings.  But consciousness must have come into being before moral consciousness (the one presupposes the other).  Whatever Hawking or anyone else says we simply don’t know the correct solution of the measurement problem, and whether the Many Worlds interpretation is right, let alone whether the “many histories” idea is correct.  But even if we assume that Adam and Eve collapsed the wavefunction of the Universe, they would still have perceived the history that was implicit in the collapse – ie in their worldline the plants would have happened first and then the animals.  Furthermore there is very strong archaeological evidence that there were religiously conscious human beings a good 20,000 years BC and any common ancestor of Hom Sap has to be a lot older than 4004BC.
  It’s really important to understand what kind of thing the Bible is saying at any point. For example, we had a sermon on Ezekiel tonight, speaking about heart of stone and heart of flesh.  It’s simply impossible to understand what God is saying here if you try to take it literally!
John adds: I very much agree with what Nick has said. It's important to recognise how speculative and uncertain all notions of quantum cosmology are at present.  Also I do not warm to Wheeler's participatory ideas, not least because it seems to me that measurement involves simply irreversible macroscopic registration, of whatever kinds there may be, and does not specifically need to involve consciousness.

Quantum Consciousness I had a question for Rev. Polkinghorne.  Recently, I have read in a magazine and on the internet about Stuart Hameroff and Robert Penrose’s Theory of Quantum Consciousness.  As I am sure you aware they have constructed a theory in which human consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects in microtubes, which they dubbed Orch-OR (orchestrated object reduction).  Others, including Max Tegmark have been critical of this theory.  I would very much like to know what Rev. Polkinghorne thinks of this theory and the criticism it has received.  It would seem to me that if this theory is correct, it would provide support for proof of the human soul as being something separate from our physical bodies.
Preliminary Response: I think it is much more likely that there is some connection between quantum gravity and wavefunction collapse than that it has anything to do with microtubules.  The point which seems to be missed in much of these discussions is that the brain is a hyper-complex analogue system which is subject to chaotic dynamics.  This has a number of implications. 
But the question of the relationship between soul and body doesn’t hinge on anything about QM. Your Soul is your innermost being.  Therefore it is of the character of “software” rather than “hardware.”  Here is an analogy – imagine that there is a complex video game.  It will contain various modules of software. There might be an Operating System, there might be various rendering engines and all kinds of useful “utility software” which enables the game to be played.  But there will also be some software which describes the specifics of the characters in the game. You could imagine that this was organised in a number of layers – appearance, muscles etc..  Of course these characters in a Video Game are only simulations, but if they were real people the software would have to have an enormous number of layers (probably infinite BTW because of Godel’s theorem) and at some point (we don’t know where but God does) the depth of these layers would be describing the person’s innermost being.  It’s a bit like music but the problem with the “CD” analogy that I have sometimes used is that a CD essentially only has one “layer” which is the digitization of the sound: it’s much more like the score as opposed to the sound waves that the performers make, and even more like the essence of the music.
John adds: I share Nick's view about the brain (far and away the most complex system we know about) and consciousness is a problem that will not yeild to any single simple solution, even one thought of by someone as clever as Roger Penrose. The causal structure of the world is rich, complex and only partially understood, see my Exploring Reality (SPCK/Yale).

Eschatology and Restoration I'm running a seminar on Eschatology and Restoration, a topic of great interest to me, and I came across this article from JCP; ­ John Polkinghorne, Eschatology, in The End of the World and the Ends of God, Trinity Press, 2000 (p40);
  He talked about an idea that would mean there is no 'soul-sleep', nor a bodiless existence, waiting for the new heavens and earth.
  Basically, he was proposing that when we die, we all arrive at the new creation simultaneously, as "the 'clock' of the world to come need not be be synchronised with the clocks of the old creation."
  It was noted as a tentative hypothesis. I was wondering whether JCP had had any further thoughts on this, whether this idea had developed, or been dismissed?
Preliminary Response: As far as I know John still considers this the most probable hypothesis - but of course any attempt to fathom these mysteries is inevitably speculative.  All we KNOW is that God loves us and has promised to raise us up at the Last Day
John adds: I still think "immediate" resurrection is an idea worth contemplating. For more discussion, see my The God of Hope and the End of the World (SPCK/Yale)

Preparing to be a Scientist-Theologian I am a high school senior and am approaching the time when I'll need to decide what educational and career paths to follow. One of the several options I'm considering is (to borrow from quantum mechanics) a "scientist-theologian duality," since I am fascinated by probing into ultimate reality and feel that intellectual and scientific rigor and respectability is somewhat lacking as of recently (as evidenced by the ridiculous creation-evolution debate and general philosophical oblivion) in the church in the U.S. (where I live). What would be your (or Rev Dr. Polkinghorne's) educational and career recommendations for someone who is interested in making contributions to science and/or theology in the continued pursuit for an understanding of reality?
 Thank you for taking valuable time to respond to my question,
  PS I would like to thank Rev Dr. Polkinghorne for his work (I have read The Faith of a Physicist , am reading Belief in God in an Age of Science and plan to read much more) as it has shown the true nature of theology as that of a continuous process of discovery rather than making sure people believe fabricated doctrines. His work has shown me the vast intellectual and scientific rigor that can be held by a Christian and has provided me a firm defense against the intellectual and atheistic onslaught against our faith.
  PPS. One of your responses to a Q&A entitled The God Delusion said "[it would be] great to get a proper debate between John and Dawkins" - before I came to your website I was thinking the same thing - it would be great for such a qualified and leading individual such as Rev Dr. Polkinghorne to take on probably the most notorious enemy of Christianity and religion in general... but regardless of whether it happens or not his work has been most edifying and I will doubtlessly benefit more from his past and future work.
Preliminary Response: You are absolutely right about there being One World (to use a the title of one of John’s books) in which the truths of theology and science are deeply connected.  I would urge you to focus on science as an academic study, and build your theological understanding by prayer, bible study, church involvement, discussion and reading - Simon Conway Morris, Denis Alexander and Alistair McGrath would also be authors to read at some stage. This is partly because science is more easily taught than theology, partly because the further you go in science the more credibility you will have in science/theology debates, and partly because theology as taught in universities can be a rather faith-destroying experience.
  I don’t give up hope of a Dawkins/Polkinghorne debate although so far we haven’t been able to arrange one.

Experiment and String Theory I gathered from your talk that you feel that, while particle physics has been led in the past by experiment, string theory has deviated strongly from this position, to the detriment of modern physics. I’m pretty sure Dad {a physicist} shared this position (more a gauge theorist than a string theory proponent), but I myself am slightly puzzled by much of the recent debate on the subject (Smolin, Woit etc)
1.    Has it not often occurred in the past that, in the interplay between theory and experiment, theory can lead experiment? I had understood that the development of GR was in large part driven by Einstein’s wish to generalize the equivalence of inertial frames to include accelerating frames etc. Similarly, I thought the search for W and Z bosons was driven by the gauge theory of the e-w interaction*
2.    Since string theory, like super-symmetry, springs from the well of gauge theory, surely physicists are simply trying to follow where the mathematics leads them. It is fortuitous that some SUSY particles may be detectable at LHC energies and a pity that there is no prospect of observing strings in such experiments! But should we demand of nature that she conveniently reveals herself to our probing? To my mind, this does not make the string model any less valid * it simply makes it very hard to know which version to choose (I see the plethora of models as a triumph of the generality of mathematics, rather than a limitation of the theory). After all, for many years scientists ignored the atomic hypothesis, thinking it could never be tested. What if it couldn’t?
3.    I’m particularly puzzled by Hawking’s bet that ‘no new physics’ will be forthcoming at the LHC . Surely the search for the top quark has taught us to be patient, and have confidence in our theories. Even if SUSY is wrong, one imagines something even more surprising might turn up. I would have thought it will be much more surprising if nothing turns up, but there’s a lot we experimentalists don’t understood!
P.S. Just ordered 'Rochester Roundabout' for my students, its amazing how few books there are that tell the story of particle physics
Response: Of course sometimes throey triggers off experiment to mutual advantage, but with string theory there is no feasible experimental test on the horizon.  Theorists should certainly let the maths guide them, but not be overconfident it can carry them greatly in advance of what is known experimentally. I certainly hope for new physics at the LHC, with, as I said, SUSY the greatest forseeable hope.

Creation in which creatures could make themselves Krista Tippett, quoted Rev. Polkinghorne on her NPR radio program, Speaking of Faith,  words to the effect "God created earth to create it self".
I can't find the original quote any place. I'd like to use the remark with attribution.
Response: The novelist and clergyman Charles Kingsley said, within a year or two of the publication of the Origin, that Darwin had shown us that God had done something cleverer than making a ready-made workd, by bringing into being a creation  in which creatures 'could make themselves'

Hominid Evolution Firstly, do you believe that humans have a higher status than other animals, and, if so, how is this arrived at through the process of evolution.
Also, what is the role of God once he has set the world and self-replication in motion.
Response: To see how I approach some of the questions of hominid evolution, you could read Ch 3 of my Exploring Reality (SPCK/Yale)

Eschatology Besides Jesus' resurrection, on what basis does Rev. Polkinghorne's develop his eschatology and general views about the world to come?  While I agree with authors like Rev. Polkinghorne and Bishop Wright that one can have a well motivated, rational belief in Jesus' resurrection based on current historical knowledge, I have to admit that I often wonder whether a reliable, defensible theory about Heaven/the End time can be deduced from speculation surrounding an event that may (or may not) have happened over 2,000 years ago.  I greatly admire Rev. Polkinghorne's use of "dual aspect monism" to describe human nature and the nature of the soul, and agree that it is reasonable to believe, if one accepts the existence of a benificent creator who would let nothing of value go to waste, that our "information bearing patterns" can be replicated in a new world.  Yet what circumstantial evidence, besides Jesus rising from the dead, do we have that suggests this might happen?  Personally, I am reluctant to put my confidence in pseudoscientific claims of paranormal activity...
Response: To pursue mythoughts about eschatology you should read The God of Hope and the End of the World (SPCK/Yale)

Creation Good?I am puzzled by the fact that the Bible describes the process of creation, saying that at the end of this process God saw that everything was good.  This was before the point at which Adam (mankind) sinned.  However, there seems to be every indication of evil in the animal kingdom that pre-dates the fall eg animals preying on each other, killing each other viciously etc.  Can you explain this - not so much in terms of any link between man's fall and the fall of creation, but rather from the point of view that the Bible gives no indication of evil having entered the creation at an earlier date.
Also, Genesis 1 v 30 seems to indicate that when God first created animals they were vegetarian but this does not fit with our knowledge.
Response: To say that God saw that it was good does not mean that there was nothing in creation that could conceivably cause pain and distress - any more than to say that a symphony is harmonious means that there are no dissonances.   And we should not read Genesis as a treatise on biology or physics - the two accounts of the creation differ in detail which shows that we are not expected to take the details literally (Though to be fair the Bible doesn't says that animals were not carniverous, merely that God gives them green plants for food).
   It's worth remarking though that animals can't be said to kill viciously unless they have moral responsibilities: the fact that the way they kill would be vicious if a human did it is somewhat misleading in that respect.  However animals can certainly be said to suffer, and suffering and death were biological processes that predate human moral consciousness.  I think the point though, is that if humans are in perfect loving communication with God suffering and death can be transcended, whereas as soon as we cut ourselves from God by our sin our ability to transcend these is greatly impaired.  Which is what I think the Bible means at that point.
  John adds: you might look at Ch 8 of Exploring Reality for some more thoughts by John

God in the multiverse? Suppose hypothetically, the multiverse theory were proven true, despite the fact that many of these ideas are considered highly speculative at this present time.
Would it cause you to examine your faith and theological ideas? Do you think there's still the possiblity of God's existence in multiple universes?
Preliminary Response: Of course God created every universe in the (hypothectical) multiverse - indeed it is clearly true that if God exists in one universe in the multiverse He exists in all of them (which is in a sense a version of the Ontological Argument, esp as per Plantinga). And the possibility of God (or anything else) existing is higher in a multiverse than in a Universe. However it is certainly true that, if the Multiverse speculation turns out to be correct, the odds against "anthropic fine tuning" are reduced.  Whether there is any practical or philosophical difference between (say) one in 1023 and one in 1013 (assuming there were 1010 universes in the Multiverse) is unclear.

Teleportation I have a scientific question I would like to ask you if I may? I know this is very highly speculative, but is it possible that a machine may be invented that could 'transport' matter from one point to another by taking it apart and re-assembling it, such as the kind of thing that science-fiction writers are so fond of? I personally am highly sceptical of such an idea, particularly as regard to it's use on living beings as surely a living creature would not be able to survive such a 'transportation.'
I would very much like to know your opinion on this!
Preliminary Response; It is already possible to "teleport" particles in a certain sense, and it may well become possible to do so with larger scale objects.  But fundamental properties of Quantum Physics (as presently understood) mean that you can never know the state of a large complex object with subtle interconnections with anything like enough precision to recreate an exact copy at the other end, so the chances of transporting thinking brains in this way without their fundamental destruction would seem to be zero.  Bacteria might conceivably work though.
I'll see what John has to add.

Humans, Evolution and Tom Wright I would very much like to become a Physicist, in fact I will begin my studies soon, and am also very much interested in theology, my favourite theologian is NT Wright, his work has had tremendous effects on my views of God and the world. I read somewhere on the page that you Nicholas and also John are great admirers of his, but to what extent would you agree with his theology? And conversely do you know what he thinks of Johns worldview? I am aware that the questions are vague, I am sorry for that.
   But one thing I am really struggling with is the question of Evolution and Creation. First of all I would say, I hold on to Jesus being God incarnate, being crucified in accordance with scripture, and him being raised from the dead, I firmly believe that. And then I would add that the questions of both the origin of the World and also of the End are to some degree something I do not have to know, I can trust in the sovereignty of God, and leave it up to him how he created the world. But then there is all the evidence for Evolution (is there really? I hear so many different opinions, and do not feel in a position to judge about that), so that I am starting to think whether I would want to integrate this into my worldview so to speak, which would of course have important consequences.
  But there are some points where I do not see how I could reconcile the concept of Evolution with my faith:
  1. First of all the picture of humans on offer, if there is a continuity from animal to human, how is it then reasonable to even speak of humans, and without a clear theology that takes into account the biblical view of humanness as being significantly different from animals, I do not see how Christianity can work. Or put differently: what makes humans not just be a well developed animal?
  2.  If evolution occured in the past, will it not continue? And will there not in a distant future be a further evolution of a human, that is so different, that we humans as of now might be to them as primates are to us now? And would it not be strange that God would become incarnate in a particular stage of human Evolution, because it is a biblical belief that Jesus after resurrection has not gone back to simply be God as before in a sense, but is now the true and fully human being that God intended all along and at the same time of course God. I hope I could articulate my questions understandably even though I am aware of the fact that I do not probably use the right terminology, since I know little about these matters.
  3. One last thing: I once read that the human eye shows some kind of deficiency - I think something in relation to a nerve or so- which if true would turn out to be some kind of mistake of construction so to speak of humans, in other words this might amount to a disproof of a creator, since a creator would have not made a serious mistake of construction (If we are in a position to pass a verdict on that)
Lastly, English is not my first language so I am sorry for unclarities due to this. And thank you for the work you are doing.
Preliminary Response:  
Thank you for your email. Tom and John served together on the Doctrine Commission - I like and admire them both and I'm not aware of any disagreements between them - indeed they seem to quote each other with approval.
 Re Evolution and Creation: it seems clear that Evolution is to Biology roughly what Gravity is to Physics.  No-one now thinks that the laws of gravitiation mean that God did not create the stars and the planets, it is simply that He chose to create them through the application of faithful principles and to create us so that we can (at least partially) understand them.  Indeed it is one of the deep anthropic coincidences that we have minds that can understand the quantum transitions in distant stars.
 It seems that Evolution is an incredibly simple and elegant solution by God to an otherwise insuperable problem: how can an Omnipotent God create beings who are truly free to decide whether to love Him or not. It also has the huge advantage of making biology intelligible so that we can learn about eg Genetics in other organisms and see the essential continuities, at a biological level.
 Now to your questions:
  1. We can be as sure of evolution as we are of Gravity.  Our detailed understandings will undoubtedly change, and it may well be that there are other things going on as well. Neo-Darwinism is a bit like Newtonian Mechnanics in this respect, and we haven't yet got to Faraday or Maxwell or Einstein, or Dirac.  Complex systems change fundamentally as they get more complex, and new properties emerge that simply were not there before.  There is no contradiction is saying that our genes are largely similar to a Chimpanzee, or even a Fruit-fly, and in saying that humans have properties that Chimps and Fruit-flies do not.  The Bible explains it by saying that we are "created in God's image".  One aspect of this is that we can do physics, philosophy, theology and biology which other animals manifestly can't.  And the first aspect of this is that we can choose to make truly moral decisions.
  2. Evolution clearly is continuting. However it seems unlikely that we will stop being human. God had to choose some moment to be incarnated, and it will make no real difference whether this is 2,000 years before the present or 20,000 years.
  3. Yes the optic nerve issue is yet another reason to consider it more likely that God chose to create us through evolution rather than designing us "from scratch".  There are many other reasons. But it is a fundamental point of Christian theology that we are not "perfect" in this life, so evidence of "imperfection" in human bodies is not very good evidence that God did not create us, unless it was God's intention that we should be created perfect, which it clearly was not.
I hope this all helps a bit and will see what John has to add.

Simulation Theory- I've heard recently of the idea that some people speculate that we could be living in a simulated reality, though I've also read that many in the area of Quantum Mechanics disagree with this idea for a multitude of reasons.
What your thoughts as both a physicist and theologian?
Preliminary Response From a physical and Philosophical POV it's far from clear what such a speculation would mean.
From a theological POV it is clear that God's relationships with us are genuine and not simulated.

The God Delusion (2)I have read some of your books (including The Particle Play, and Quarks, Chaos and Christianity), and I am highly impressed by them.  Your books on science are rigorous and yet entertaining, and your books on the compatibility of science and faith are no less so. I was wondering if you were going to write a book in response to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  There have been some books written in response to these (which I admit I havent read), but as an FRS and a Reverend in the Church of England, I think you would be the ideal person to debunk this totally one-sided, deceptive, unfair rant.  I fear that if no-one with sufficient clout stands up to this man, there will be many people who will be led astray.
Preliminary Response;
John has many calls on his time and Alister McGrath has already written and published a book in response to Dawkins.  Many reviewers of the God Delusion have pointed out most of its problems, though I agree it would be good if John had the time to review it and great to get a proper debate between John and Dawkins
John adds: I'm glad you have nejoyed some of my books. I agree that The God Delusion is a disappointing rant, devoid of real argument. I would have liked to have reviewed it but was not asked to do so. Alister McGrath has already done an excellent job of responding in his little book The Dawkins Delusion?
PS -
John Cornwell also produced a fine response to The God Delusion called Darwin's Angel and John did  review this for the TLS.
Jesus foretelling Peter's Denial During the reading of the passage of the Palm Sunday service, Jesus says to Peter, "You will deny me three times before the cock crows." Then this happened.
 So Jesus/God knew the future. However, Dr. Polkinghorne states that God doesn't necesarily know the unformed future (and that this isn't an imperfection in God.)
 I was just wondering how he explains that, or resolves those two points.
Preliminary Response: The fact that God sometimes knows what is going to happen in the future does not mean that He always does. After all even we can foretell the future accurately sometimes.
John adds:
Many theologians, myself included, believe that God has a dipolar nature (that is, possessing both eternal and temporal dimensions of the divine being). Of course God has 'always' existed (eternal), but as an act of love God graciously condescended to engage truly with the time of the creation he had brought into being (temporal).
Supplementary question: Well then, perhaps this is deeper than I had originally intended, but why would he only know some parts, and what is intrinsically different about the parts of the future which he knows?
  If we foretell the future, saying something like "The sun will rise tomorrow," I think that is a different statement than something like "John Smith will do X tomorrow." If in fact John is free to do as he wishes, how would we be able to accurately predict this? The sun is like the clock work, always doing the same thing, but when you throw the human element of free will and choice, it complicates matters. He may not do X, there is too much uncertainty it seems, that we could ever predict something so accurately as Jesus did.
  Does that make sense?
Nicholas's Response: If you know someone very well and are very wise then you can often predict their short-term behaviour very accurately.  I don't think this takes away (eg) Peter's freewill. If my daughter played Kasparov at chess I can predict that she will lose, without any diminution of her freewill.
Big Bang & String Theory Before you point this out, I have read the multiple questions about string theory. But I am particularly interested in the idea of big-bangs created by colliding membranes in the 11th dimension. What is your thoughts on this? Couldn't something like this explain the antrophic coincidences?
  Also, do you think that Big-bang is the stopping place, and then just say that God created the universe from nothing with the Big-bang? I am asking because there has been, are, and is going to be good models for "activity" before the Big-bang. Inflationary models, vacuum models, oscillating models. I am aware that all of these faces huge problems, but I was just giving examples. I think that one day we will have a good and coherent explanation of the beginning of the universe. Though it can't be proven in any way, it is still a factor.
  The reason for bringing this up, is that the whole picture look more and more atheistic as further away you go. With away, I mean for example a kind of multiverse model. Yes, God could have created a multiverse for us. Somehow, this gives me more confidence in atheism than in theism.
  I hope you understood my points and I am asking you to ask if there were something I didn't say clearly enough.
  Then, I have to thank you for this excellent... "service" shall we say. Many of the questions (and answers) which is on the site has actually been quite helpful, although most of them doesn't go in to much detail.
Preliminary Response Well if you are allowed highly speculative theories with 11 dimensions you can "explain" almost any given set of observations, certainly something that, in Martin Rees's words, is about "just six numbers".
It's certainly logically possible that a well-supported theory might come up that reduces the number of anthropic coincidences, and it is even conceivable, though highly unlikely, that a well-supported theory would emerge which had no fundamental dimensionless constants or (slightly less unlikely) which allowed the emergence of intelligent free life without any "fine tuning". However atheism offers no explanation of a great many facts about the universe and about human experience, and two which would be relevant to the physics are:
  1. Why any set of equations should describe the universe at all? The reason modern science emerged in Christian Europe (and not in other much richer societies) was precisely that Christians were inspired to believe that the universe could be understood as God's creation.  The universe could be largely random.
  2. Why this particular set of equations should describe the universe?
To respond specifically re Big Bang - we don't know what, if anything, will turn out to be the successor to Big Bang (devised BTW by a Christian Priest).  Our faith in God does not depend on Big Bang.  However it borders on the hilarious that atheists now have to cling to desperate hopes that "something might turn up" in science to avoid the embarassments of an anthropic universe - imagine what someone like Dawkins would say if Christians adopted the same stance. Even if the speculations about multiverses turn out to be well-founded there are excellent reasons to believe in the loving ultimate creator God - not least those that have nothing to do with physics.
  I hope this is some help - I'll see what John has to add
John adds: Like most physicists of my generation I am sceptical of the ability of string theorists to second-guess nature 16 orders of magnitude beyond our actual experience. The lessons of history are against this. The important point theologically is that Creation is not about how things began (Who lit the touch paper for the Big Bang) but why things exist (what 'breathes fire into the equations' to give them a universe to describe, in Hawking's words).

Prayer, Common Descent, Newton and Einstein Five questions:
  1. When, and if possible by whom, was the first prayer uttered?
  2. If God didn't exist would it be neccessary to create Him?
  3. Are all humans descendant from one group of primates from Africa which then expanded from that area to the rest of the world, or could the same divergance of evolution have happened at a similar time at the other side of the world? My fact s on that one might be a bit wobbly.
  4. I was reading a book called 'How to Get into the Bible'. About the parting of the Red Sea it talks about how the Hebrew word for Red Sea can also mean Sea of Reeds and that a hot wind may have blown over a marsh and allowed Moses and Co. to cross safely while the pharoah would have drowned in the mud. Does God operate within the Laws of Physics? Obviously there is still a whole lot yet to discover about physics, and I'm thinking He could do stuff outside the laws he created, but its like why created the universe in six days when He could use a physically (by our current understanding) possible method that just takes longer.
  5. For lack of a less encompassing word, who was 'better' out of Newton and Einstein?
Nicholas's Response: Quick answers:
  1. Presumably by the first truly morally-aware humans, who are named (by long convention) Adam and Eve
  2. Obviously it is impossible to create God!
  3. The evidence for this is very strong indeed.
  4. This explanation seems quite plausible. It seems reasonable to believe that God does not violate His own laws when He is able to achieve what He wants by subtle interactions within His laws.  It is clear that "six days" in the creation account does not mean "six days as perceived by human beings".  But time from God's Point of View is obviously very different from time from ours - indeed one Physicist has suggested that the time dilation of Relativity can be used to reconcile these chronologies
  5. They were clearly of the highest stature and it is impossible to say which was "greater".
Hope this all helps a bit!

Carrier and Stenger Points Dear John/Nicholas,  I was wondering if you could take the time to briefly go through a blog post made by Richard Carrier discussing the ontology of time and discussing various ways Quantum Mechanics can be deterministic. As John got first-rate knowledge on the subject, I thought he would be the perfect person to address.
Nicholas's Response: John hasn't got time (alas) to read through screeds of nonsense like Carrier's. I barely have.  I have posted this comment on his blog: All this rather confused posting boils down to is: to make the maths simple(r) RT assumes that the future is fixed. Therefore the future is fixed. But we know that RT does not represent the definitive model of reality - it is inconsistent with QM and no-one knows how to reconcile them. Read a real philosopher like Mary Midgley or a real scientist like John Polkinghorne. All this stuff shows is that "a little learning is a dangerous thing"
Follow-up Question: One more thing. Victor J. Stenger has reviewed John's Belief in God in the Age of Science here. Would be nice to hear John's thoughts on this.
Nicholas's Response: On a quick skim, much of this review is a fairly reasonable though PoV summary of the book. However there are two points worth quickly discussing:
  1. Stenger says: "Prigogine has shown that it is possible to enlarge the class of solutions of certain equations in statistical mechanics to contain ones that cannot be reduced to sums of localized particle trajectories. This is presumed to leave the door open for holistic, top-down causality. However, no evidence has been found to support this notion. All that evidence continues to be consistent with bottom-up causality tempered by chance." This is a fundamental confusion. If minds exist then there is clear evidence that minds act on matter and this must presumably be by top-down causality.  It is possible that Stenger denies the existence of minds - after all as Plantinga famously argues the reasons for believing in God are of much the same strength as those for believing in other Minds.  The problem is that you cannot really be a rational functioning human being and really disbelieve in other minds.
  2. Stenger says: "Theologians and scientists each seek understanding. But theologians rely on the mythical tales and subjective human experiences that emanate from the insignificant point in spacetime that encloses human history. Scientists, by contrast, view a range of space from inside atomic nuclei to the farthest quasar, and a range of time from a tiny fraction of a second after the big bang to the present. They see a universe more vast and with far more potential for development than has ever been imagined in any scripture or mystical trance."  This confuses what people look at and where they look from, and confuses size with significance.  The actual vantage point of scientists is from a much smaller subset of spacetime than that of theologians. And theologians view Eternity, of which the Universe is an infinitessimal fraction. Furthermore in practice scientists each look at a tiny piece of the whole of the "scientific" domain in any depth.
Hope this helps, no time to do more

Freewill and Evil My question relates to the problem of evil. A common response is that free-will must allow the possibility of choosing that which is evil, otherwise we are mere puppets. This doesn't seem to answer the problem from my point of view.
  It seems that our free-will chooses that which is in accordance with our nature. If God gave to man a nature that delighted in the good, i.e in accordance with Gods will, then man would choose with his free will to do that which was pleasing to his nature and therefore pleasing to God. Instead of this we seem to have been given by God, according to Christianity, a nature that at times takes pleasure in doing that which God finds displeasing through the actions of our free will. It seems that God then judges man for the failure of the defective nature that he gave to man.
  I would appreciate if you could show me the error in my thinking.
Preliminary Response: The point about freewill is that it is free.  Although the impulse to do good is (in fact) very strong in humanity, God has given us a nature in which it is not always overwhelming because otherwise we would not be free.
  However although our free choices to act in ways which separate us from God (ie our sins) do indeed lead to judgement (because God is just) He has, at infinte cost, made it possible for every one of us to be redeemed from these failures to love through the perfect love of His son.  So the incarnation is the remedy for our fallenness - which is what the Fathers of the Church meant by saying that Christ is the "second Adam"
John adds: Philsophers have debated whether it is a consistent possibility that beings could be created who always freely agree to do good. Nicholas and I agree with the majority that this is not a coherent possibility. See John Hick Evil and the God of Love p 113-119
Where are the Aliens  Am I naive or could it be just a matter of disposition that I'm utterly convinced, AFTER the fact of faith in response to God's grace, that the greatest scientific miracle and empirical though unprovable proof of God's utter panentheistic sovereign self-existence, unprovable because the observation is a negative, i.e. so far, is Shklovskii's recognising of the outstanding miracle of Fermi's paradox.
 I find JCP beguilingly good in defending theistic materialism, or is it materialistic theism?  His faith in the informationally impossible emergence of any thing above a lower level of complexity by incalcuable orders of magnitude (didn't old PAM Dirac say that, in effect; why is there ANY thing?): physics from nothing, chemistry from physics (JCP's beautiful description of the missing resonance in carbon shaking Professor Sir Fred Hoyle's atheistic faith), biology - life from chemistry and consciousness then self-awareness from life is impressive.  Way beyond what I could possibly believe.  These unimaginably great emergences are only theorizable by inductive materialism.  But let us assume they ARE inate in God created matter and energy.
 Then they are common place.  Average.  Strongly uniformitarian.  As soon as the average Earth was cool enough, there was averagely evolving average life.
 So, where are the aliens?
Preliminary Response: It seems to me that the question "why don't we observe aliens?" has 4 possible answers:
  1. They have never existed. This could either be because the evolution of intelligent life is far less probable that most people currently suppose, or because we just happen to be the first such species (which would explain why God chose to be incarnate here).
  2. They have died out. It's pretty clear that advanced civilizations and species are not immortal. Once Nuclear Weapons have been made the probability of extinction becomes quite high.
  3. They have not come within range. The universe is quite a big place, and aliens may simply not have come close enough to be detectable.
  4. They have come within range, but we cannot see them. Their technology might be so advanced that we cannot detect them.  After all they could well be milliennia ahead of us technologically.
There is of course the 5th possibility: that at least some reports of angels, ghosts, alien abductions, UFOs are genuine encounters with Aliens.

Kalam Cosmological  argument I am currently reading debate (book) between William Lane Craig and  Sinnett-Armstrong. Craig is of course up with his Kalam Cosmological  argument (Do you think that is valid by the way? Do you have any objections  to it as a physicist?). It is on the first premise "Everything that begins  to exist has a cause" that Sinnett-Armstrong is saying something which I  need clarification on. He is saying that one intrepretation of Quantum  Physics says that particles CAN infact come out of nothing. I think it was  called the "Copenhagen" interpretation and this was appearantly favorised by  the majority of scientists today. What can you tell me about this? Is it  possible that the universe popped out of nothing because of quantum  mechanics allowing things to begin to exist without a cause?
Response Arguments for the existence of God may be persuasive but like all philosophical arguments that try to infer deep reality from observation they can never be conclusive: one can always dispute the premises.  It is certainly possible to formulate the Kalam Cosmological Argument so that it is formally valid (ie the conclusions do follow from the premises) and it probably does show that either the Universe was caused by an Ultimate Creator or there is an infinite regress of causes or the Universe is ultimately un-caused.
  It’s true that current versions of Quantum Theory allow for the spontaneous emergence of particles from the Quantum Vacuum. But the Quantum Vacuum is not “nothing” in any sensible philosophical sense, it seems in some sense to be a field of infinte energy that pervades the whole universe (you have to do some tricky maths to cancel out the infinities to do sensible calculations). 
  However since it is known that only 4% of the matter and energy in the Universe is made of what we understand as matter, and most of the universe seems, on current understandings, to be “dark matter” and “dark energy” about which we know nearly nothing, and no-one knows how to reconcile Quantum Mechanics with General Relativity (the much-hyped String Theory looks increasingly like a dead-end) it is unwise to assume that current understandings of cosmology represent the last word.
  I’ll see what John has to add. John said he had nothing to add to this reply

Rigidity and Evidence surrounding Christ I was at John's talk at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, yesterday, which argued the more satisfying nature of theism than atheism. I'd like to register some comments on the issue, to which I'd love some feedback. I don't have a personal God, but I don't deny the possibility of a theistic first cause (I think it unlikely though: this and my view on the Bible are what make me comfortable with being classed as an atheist). I think there are many now with a much less rigid (dare I say reductive?) metaphsyic than either side of this argument (yours or Dawkins') allow. My problem is not with theism itself, but with what seems to me to be an enormous and usually inadequately explained/analysed leap from theism to scriptural religion.
  As a historian here in Cambridge (recently appointed to a Fellowship) who has spent a good deal of time on the first three centuries AD I know better than most how flimsy the evidence surrounding Christ actually is (in fact it was this enquiry that led to the corrosion of my Anglican faith some years ago). I think this page and John's work in general (fascinating, readable and often insightful as it is) seriously underestimates the problematic nature of the gospels in their historical context. To me it is where it interacts primarily with history rather than with science that New Testament Christianity has a tendency to be unsatisfying - after all I'm not qualified to judge on the science. What I'm really trying to do with this email is to suggest that this debate really needs to be conducted in less black and white terms. I think I'm typical of many 'atheists' in being perfectly comfortable with the idea that I know virtually nothing of first causes and being unwilling to park myself in any camp (as they stand), but being an atheist in that I find it difficult to believe that Archbishops, Rabbis (or Richard Dawkins) are in possession of any more genuine, reliable, knowledge on this matter - effectively, then, I do - for the moment - reject the Gods of the Abrahmic religions. Knowing the history of the Bible's construction I find it phenomanally difficult to believe that it can be treated as much more authoratative than other ancient texts. I think the point on which John disagrees with the 'silent majority' among atheists is not so much cosmogony, but Christology. You argue that those who do not find the evidence for Christ persuasive are deliberately ignoring the evidence. I'd suggest (though I wouldn't usually put it in such bald terms) that those who do find the evidence for Christ convincing are allowing themselves to be led - perhaps by years of conditioning - into misreading the evidence, treating it in a way they wouldn't treat other material from the time, without sensitivity for its context - this isn't the open and shut case that you present it as at all.
  I usually refuse to be drawn into debates concerning religion; partly because I find attacks on other people's beliefs distasteful, partly because I think that Christians are as driven by reason as anyone else, and partly because I don't like being boxed with the reductive views of Dawkins (which many Christians seem to find all too tempting when anyone expresses non-belief). However, I am increasingly put off by the tendency among writers I greatly respect, including John and Eamon Duffy, to make value judgements concerning beliefs, implying that by refusing to follow the religion of their parents atheists are just being deliberately rebellious and are living somehow less fulfilling lives. Christians make the fully justified complaint that writers such as Dawkins are stereotyping them according to the beliefs of their most extreme practitioners, but I think that Christians are doing this in a way that is still more pernicious, arguing that those without belief are actually less able to effect moral judgement or even aesthetically appreciate literature or music. As a married, fully functioning member of society with a rich and active involvement in the arts I cannot help but resent the view that without religion my life is somehow sterile.
  It seems to me to have become increasingly the case that those in the middle ground (the many people who haven't yet rejected all options but one outright) are less and less willing to engage with these issues largely because of such stark value judgements. The sooner these individuals can be involved, the sooner (I think) this will begin to look less like an argument between entrenched and exclusive viewpoints and more like a genuine debate in which ideas are fruitfully discussed, which can only be a good thing. I don't think we'll get Dawkins moderating his treatment of his 'opposition' - so deep into his rant he now is - so I'd really love to see people like you and Eamon who value their attachment to making this a reasonable debate moderate their judgements somewhat, resisting the temptation to dimiss without serious discussion (or even demonize) views alternative from their own, and seeing that secular communities can still be rich and culturally productive. As I say, your comments would be much appreciated.
Preliminary Response: First I’m puzzled by the idea that John has a reductive metaphysic. What has he reduced to what?
   Secondly, my impression (albeit as a non-historian, but is anything of the following incorrect?) is that:
  1. The New Testament has far better textual evidence than any other book from antiquity, with at least 10x as many manuscripts and quotations than anything else.  How many MS of De Bello Gallico are there for example? Therefore, although there are certainly some questions of minute detail, we know more about what the NT authors wrote than any other authors from the period.
  2. Jesus is probably the best-attested non-royal personage in ancient history.  We have far more evidence about Jesus than about Socrates for example (for whom as I recall the only sources are Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes, and the latter two are by no means in accord with Plato’s view) and I wonder how he compares with Plato, Aristotle or even Cicero?
  3. There is therefore no reasonable historical doubt about Jesus’s historical existence or about the fact that he was a Jewish religious teacher and wonder-worker executed by the Romans and that his followers claimed very soon afterwards that he rose from the dead and is in fact the Son of God. Nor can there be any doubt that murderous persecutions from both the Jewish and Roman authorities failed to stamp out this extraordinary belief which eventually took over the Roman Empire, transformed world history, and is now held by over 1bn people.
This extraordinary phenomenon requires explanation and there seem to be two possibilities:
  1. That the account given by his followers is basically true, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.  In which case the idea that the Bible is in some sense divinely inspired and that the accounts provided of him by his followers are broadly accurate, makes perfect sense.
  2. That the account is basically false, and that billions of people over 2000 years have fallen for the biggest con-trick in history.  It seems to me that there are some very serious objections to this idea. For example: there are no examples of similar successful con-tricks; who were the perpetrators and what were their motives? Given that the Roman and Jewish authorities were actively trying to suppress this cult, why were the falsehoods not exposed (for example it is very clear that Jesus’ tomb must have been empty because producing Jesus’s body would have stopped all this resurrection talk in its tracks).  There is also the methodological objection that the moment you allow “con-trick explanations” you can in principle explain away any historical event, however well attested.  Caesar was not assassinated, Hannibal never crossed the Alps. 
Of course if you have irrefutable evidence on other grounds that (1) is not true then you are reduced to (2), but from a historical point of view the evidence is strongly in favour of (1). This seems to me to be the “big picture” in which the specific items of evidence about Jesus need to fit.  There is also the wider point that, if God exists, it is reasonable to believe that God wishes to communicate with humanity and is not incompetent, so there is a strong a priori case for suspecting that one of the major religions will be basically true.  I think it is common ground between most western commentators (including Dawkins even) that is we had to follow one widespread theistic religion it would be some form of Christianity – Dawkins suggests that he’d be an Anglican.
  Sadly I wasn’t at the discussion on the 7th but I do know that John is very committed to dialogue and moderation. I agree with your concerns about Dawkins, but I really don’t see that John can be put in the same category.  I’ll see what John has to add.
John adds I am entirely in favour of open, temperate and responsible debate. I thought my words on Wednesday evening were a contribution to just such a discussion If they did not seem so to you, I am both puzzled and regretful. I certainly do not hold a number of the views you attribute to me (e.g. that 'those who do not find the evidence for Christ persausive are deliberately ignoring the evidence' - the word I strongly object to is 'deliberately'). Frankly, your account of my opinions contains some of the caricature you accuse me of in relation to atheists. I agree that it is a big step from general theism to Christological belief, as in fact I acknowledged on Wednesday, explaining that on that occasion I only had the time to address the general issues. I do not agree that the evidence about Jesus is 'flimsy' and I certainly want to assess it carefully, including making use of the historical insights of people like N.T.Wright and Jimmie Dunne. If you want to see how I actually approach these issues you could look at ch. 4 of Exploring Reality (SPCK, 2005), or chs 5-7 of Science and Christian Belief (SPCK, 1996).
Note there's been a fair amount of e-correspondence between me and the questioner since. The key points that emerge are:

Evolutionary Psychology Hello. I was wondering if you could please go into more detail on the idea  of evolutionary psychology, or at least direct me to some readings regarding  the topic. I am troubled by the idea that basically all that makes us human  can be explained through our evolutionary process. Examples of this would be  our own sense of morality, the idea of God and some even claim our own free  will. This is a field that I know basically nothing about, so whenever I  hear a new hypothesis put forward by some atheist affiliated with these  ideas (I am thinking primarily of Daniel Dennett), then I assume that he  must have some basis for such a belief. Any reply would help; I would just  like to hear your response. Thank you
Preliminary Response: Clearly evolution has shaped the way we have developed - it is part of God's creation like gravity. However the fact that one can tell an "evolutionary just-so story" to "explain" the emergence of any trait or behaviour does not mean that evolution provides a complete explanation or "explains away" anything.
  The easiest proof is that one can give a "plausible" account through evolutionary psychology (and it's half-brother the "theory of memes") of how belief in evolutionary psychology ("or memes") developed. So if such accounts "explain away" the things they cover, then they explain away themselves.
  I don't have any references I can recommend - it's not my field. I'll see what John can add.

Euthyphro dilemmaHaving read some, but by no means all of John's work, I wonder if he touches at all on the Euthyphro dilemma at all.
The dilemma ( simply stated forces us to accept that God is either:
(a) The very source of all morality (in which case we are forced to concede that good and evil are simply arbitrary things that God chooses to condone and condemn respectively) or
(b) That morality exists on a more fundamental level than God (in which case we are forced to concede that God is not the source of all morality and that, presumably, there are certain things he cannot do i.e. those things that have been defined to be evil without reference to God)
Is this a problem for Christians? Or is this simply a false dilemma in that there are more than two possible options and we have just been presented with two that suit the argument?
Preliminary Response: As far as I can see, From a philosophical point of view Christianity is the claim ("Jesus is Lord") that the Ultimate Creator (God) has the essential nature of Jesus (UC= J if you like symbols)- from which it follows easily that God's essential nature is loving ("God is Love") and hence that it is part of God's essential nature that His commands will be for our ultimate good. This is therefore not a dilemma for Christianity, although it is for abstract theism.

The God Delusion I'm not sure if I am writing at the best time for you, but I have a question about a recent book published by the writer Richard Dawkins called 'The God delusion'. Are you aware, or informed of it? If so, do you have any opinions about it? I havent read it myself, but from reviews it seems to heavily discredit the idea of a personal God. A God of what is traditionally believed by religious people. I read (in the reviews) that his opinions are that God is a irrational (within science) concept, and that God is a very immoral idea. Especially the God of the Jewish Bible. Being a Scientist and a religious believer, I would be appreciated if you could share your views with me. I am not a religious believer myself, but believe in God. However I wouldnt quite call myself a Deist either.
Preliminary Response:Dawkins has been ranting about God for many years, has never taken the trouble to understand the concepts and is a bit of a sad case.  Prof Alastair McGrath has debunked his nonsense in his book Dawkins’ God.  Interestingly in The God Delusion Dawkins refers to the book but does not engage with it at all.  I will not buy his books on principle.
  Of course God is not an Object on which one can do experiments – God inevitably transcends science.  It is easy to say that an idea is absurd when you don’t understand it.  But since we have no idea what constitutes the Dark Matter and Dark Energy that seem to make up over 90% of the Universe, the idea that “nothing can be true unless it is well-understood scientifically) is ludicrous. And the idea that “you should not believe anything unless it can be scientifically proven” is self-refuting. However if a Loving Ultimate Creator exists then God cannot be less than personal: one of the many reasons the doctrine of the Trinity makes so much sense is that it shows how God can be both Personal and more than Personal.
It is certainly true that you can find bits of the Old Testament which apparently advocate totally immoral behaviour. I do not know how my Jewish friends deal with this. But for Christians all scripture must be understood in the light of Christ, and we know that the “bloodthirsty” bits are not to be taken “literally”.
I hope this is some use – I’ll see what John has to add.
John adds: I have read The God Delusion  and I am afraid that Nicholas is right and it is simply an atheistic rant - a very disappointing book. Much of it is taken up with stories about religious people who have done terrible things or said foolish things. Of course, this has happened. but there is no honest recognition in the book of the many occasions on which religious people have done good deeds, of compassion, peacemaking and artistic creativity, or said wise and insightful things. Nor is there adequate recognition that many non-religious people have also done terrible things or said foolish things.
PS The enquirer asked me to elaborate on 'the idea that “you should not believe anything unless it can be scientifically proven” is self-refuting.'  It cannot be scientifically proven, so if it were true, you shouldn’t believe it.  Furthermore, Godel’s Theorem shows that even in pure mathematics there are things that are true but cannot be proven

Responses to philosophical statements I have recently begun to read your works on science and theology. Before asking my question, I need to make a few initial remarks: After receiving a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 19XX, I served as a university professor for 31 years, retiring in 20XX. Around 19XX (when I was 40 years old), I began to experience short episodes of unexplainable joy that escalated over the years into what may be best described as short periods of ecstasy. Prior to these experiences, I was an atheist.  At the time these experiences began, I also started to hear a voice within me providing answers to questions regarding God and existence that I had been asking myself. This culminated during one morning in May of 20XX when I wrote down a collection of statements involving answers I had been given to the questions that I had been asking. The statements are given below, and my question to you is what is your response to this given your vast knowledge in science and theology.  In particular, do the following statements appear to be the truth, and if so, how do they relate to what is already known?
Thank you for considering this. For simplicity my preliminary responses are in blue. I prefixed my remarks with May I offer a few, inadequate, initial comments
(1) Existence consists of the physical domain and the nonphysical domain.
(2) The physical domain includes the universe in which humans and other life forms exist.
(3) The nonphysical domain consists of the Kingdom of God and the outlying regions.
(4) The nonphysical domain is more concrete than the physical domain, not the other way around.  (1,2,3,4,9,10,11,12,13,14) John’s view is that there is ultimately one world, and therefore would be hesitant about making a sharp distinction between a physical domain and a non-physical domain.  And Jesus (the only person who has ever lived who knew) teaches us to pray that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
(5) All of existence arises from the Lord God.
(6) The purpose of existence is to experience existence; the purpose of life is to experience life.  We think that the purpose of life is to have the chance to experience the love and life of God, rather than simply to experience existence.
(7) The purpose of the universe is to provide a home for the development and sustenance of life.
(8) There is life, and in particular intelligent life, on a multitude of planets circling stars located in galaxies throughout the universe. It certainly seems possible that there is intelligent life on other planets, but there are some quite powerful arguments against this as well – we just don’t know.
(9) Humans possess a body that is part of the physical domain and a soul that is part of the non-physical domain.
(10) The soul originates in the nonphysical domain, co-exists with the body during the lifetime of the body, and then returns to the nonphysical domain upon death of the body.
(11) In the physical domain, nothing can be known about what anything actually is; we can only know something about how things work.
(12) For example, we cannot know exactly what matter is, although we can give names to the components of matter.
(13) However, we can (and do) know something about the properties and functionality of matter.
(14) The physical domain was designed to operate on its own.
(15) Hence, the evolution of the universe does not require intervention by God, but nevertheless there is intervention on a selective basis.
(16) The Kingdom of God is structured with the House of God located at the Central Point.
(17) Encircling the Central Point is the Inner Circle of God where a multitude of beings exists within the presence of God.
(18) Entry into the Inner Circle is based on a measure of goodness and love for God.
(19) The Light of God permeates the Inner Circle and beyond, extending far out to a boundary that marks the beginning of the outlying regions.
(20) A multitude of souls exists between the Inner Circle and the boundary with the outer regions.
(21) These souls are bathed in the Light of God, but they do not exist within His presence.
(22) The outlying regions are completely devoid of the Light of God; there is only the artificial light of fire that is generated by the beings who rule that domain.
(23) The souls in the outlying regions are at the mercy of the beings that rule there. (16-23) There are many pictures of ‘heaven’ rather like this and I’m sure they are quite helpful in many ways. But we must remember that the reality of God’s love transcends any pictures or images that we can make of it. As St Paul says, now we see obscurely through a very imperfect mirror.  We also need to remember that the Christian doctrine is Resurrection, not just “going to heaven”
(24) This complete separation from God is a result of rejecting Him and not making any effort to seek redemption.
(25) Committing sin or having prejudice against others is a form of rejecting God. I don’t think that “having prejudice” is an equivalent alternative to “committing sin”.  Prejudices are part of human nature, as is sexual desire and appetite – it is sinful to act on them inappropriately.
(26) The goal of every being should be to exist within the presence of God; that is, to be in the Inner Circle of God.
(27) Those who are in the Inner Circle of God find His magnificence to be overwhelming. We must be careful to avoid Gnositcism with terms like “the inner circle of God”  It is perhaps better to speak of a journey with God and towards God: the earliest term for “Christianity” was “the way
(28) Saying that one believes in God is saying very little. If it is just an intellectual assent to a proposition – but to “believe and trust in Him” is saying a great deal
(29) Loving the Lord God with all your heart and soul should be the basis for one’s relationship with Him. and your neighbour as yourself!
John Adds: Your list is too long for detailed comment. I very much agree with the short comments that Nicholas has made If you want to know what I think about human destiny and the life to come, you could look at The God of Hope and the End of the World (Yale). I am sure your spiritual experiences have been of real significance for you. Different people tread different pilgrim paths, but I believe the final goal for all of us will be to arrive at knowledge of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ

Grave Robbing In Science and Christian Belief (1994) you comment on St.Matthew's account of the watch set on the tomb with: "I consider this to be a patently fabricated tale from a Christian source, concocted precisely to rebut the canard that the disciples had been grave-robbing."   What are your reasons for reaching this conclusion? John replies: "in view of the known demoralisation of the disciples after Jesus's arrest and the privacy with which he had spoken to them beforehand about his trust in God's vindication, I very much doubt whether the authorities would have been worried enough to set a guard. I may be wrong about this of course, and I would not want to impose my view on others.  I did, however, feel that honesty required me to make this point.  Generally speaking I am persuaded that the gospels are substantially historically reliable." For what little it's worth, I (Nicholas) don't find John's argument very persuasive at this point, and in any case what I think he means is "I consider this likely to be a fabricated tale from a Christian source..."

Freewill and Neurology If we admit that our thoughts are dependent on the neural substrate, then how can we possibly say that they determine what we ultimately do?  How can we say that it is not the random fluctuation of neurons?  Appeals to Quantum indeterminancy to defend free will fall flat, since quantum level behavior really doesn't add up enough to affect higher level actions of neurons - neurons are just too big!  Even if they did work, it's chance, not some independent agent, that determines their behavior. 
  But the same is true for the behavior of neurons!  what is acting on them but other bodily forces?  The problem really comes full circle when we realize that we can't hold insane people responsible for their actions.  We forgive them because neurologically, they didn't have the substrate to enable them to conceive of different alternatives before acting.  Thus, they can't be held responsible. 
  but then can we by extension hold ourselves responsible?  we depend on a neural substrate just as much as they do, but ours, we claim, is "normally functioning".  But normal functioning is just the neural substrate behaving in a different way.  Why would the causal relationship change at this level??? it wouldn't!! Therefore, no free will!
  Of course, what happens to reason then? It falls apart.  Even the atheist can't say that his beliefs were rationally formed, because his reasoning is really nothing but neurons fluttering around in his head. all our arguments, hopes, dreams, loves, are constructed on ideas that were passed on to us throughexperiences.  and so, experience is all that there is left, which is purely random and relative.  so, no truth at all then, i suppose.  the relativists are right.  the materialists are right.  and this is when i start to get depressed. 
  so much for ethics: nobody can be held responsible for anything.  (anarchists will delight in this.  i just get scared)
  so much for the theological excuses for evolution, that the loving god allowed creatures the freedom to choose whether to love god or not.  The excuse just doesn't work if theres not free will, and neuroscience is clearly stating now that there isn't!- though 15 billion years of chance, chaos, and extinction events made this excuse rather weak in the first place!  How COULD there be free will?  if we are dependent at all on physical realities that obey physical laws? 
  Of couse, then what of morality? punishment? maintaining order?  justice then becomes nothing more but a necessity for survival. by extension then, the sociobiologists were really right about morality emerging only because of the survival value of cooperation.  sure, you might say that love FEELS like it is more, but then this is just an exaptive trait of something that was only adaptive at another point, just like playing the violin with my hands only happens because they used to be useful for getting food.
  Free will was really the last hope for me, as it was the linchpin holding together the contemporary systematic theology.  now i think i have to give it up.  and with that, any hope for jesus, the god of theism, life after death, justice, and hope for the future.  The only thing that really might keep people from suicide this point is a kind of Camus appeal to heroism, which is fairly tenuous.
Preliminary Response: the basic point is simple: the world is not clock-like (where things happen mechanistically) but cloud-like (where the behaviour of almost all systems is under-determined by energetic considerations)  Thus the fact that a higher-order system is composed of lower-order systems does not mean that the lower-order systems determine or replace the level of explanation of the higher-order system.
  In clock-like systems (ie "Machines") then in principle it seems that the lower-order explanation makes the higher order explanation obsolete - at least 'in theory' because this is patently untrue in practice (you cannot begin to understand the behaviour of a complex piece of software in terms of holes and electrons in silicon - indeed the detailed behaviour of the silicon is simply irrelevant to the software which will run 'just the same' on a completely different hardware implementation). However if you are dealing with cloud-like systems (ie pretty much any natural system, including certainly the human mind and brain) it is not even possible in principle to fully explain the higher-order system in terms of the lower-order ones.
  The fallacy lies in the words "dependent on".  We can admit that thoughts are dependent on the neural substrate in the sense that, without it (or something equivalent) we presumably cannot think, but this does not mean "dependent on" in the sense of "determined by".
  Certainly, the disciplines of thinking about this kind of causality (what John calls "active information") are very new compared to the reductionist thinking that dominated much of science.  But the fact that something is not scientifically well-understood does not mean that it does not exist.  Superconductivity was an excellent example: dark matter and dark energy are clear contemporary examples.
  And actually it is impossible to construct a valid argument that thought does not determine behaviour at least some of the time - because that is a necessary pre-requisite for there to be any valid arguments.
John adds: A deterministic neuroscience, if it were true, would indeed subvert its own conclusions. Thst in itself justifies the strongest suspicion of such claims. For a concice account of my view, see Ch 3 of Science and Theology

Speculation in Science: We see so much speculation in science today with models ranging from our world being a creation of an alien civilisation, to the multiverse. Is this the result of us knowing how the universe began and how something came from nothing ( or so it is claimed), as we have reached an epoch in science, is that why all these speculative theories are coming about?  
By the way Nicholas are you a PhD student of Brother John?
Preliminary Response Well we don’t even know what the Dark Matter and Dark Energy are. I think we have so much speculation partly because there has been so little progress. String/M Theory may be “not even wrong” but where is the better idea?
  I was a student of John’s as an undergraduate, but no PhD.
John adds; Together with many scientists of my generation, I deplore the rather recklessly speculative mood that seems present in much contemporary physics.

Disputes within the Anglican Church? Was just wondering what your thoughts were on the current disputes within the Anglican Church?
Preliminary Response; I don’t want to get drawn into controversies like this and I suspect John does not either. I am a great admirer of Tom Wright and I think John is as well. God moves in mysterious ways, and wisdom and truth will prevail in the end – with how much pain and grief remains to be seen, but it probably won’t be worse than Athanasius!
John adds: I too do not want to be drawn into this controversy.  Christians are bound to disagree on some matters.  When they do they have to seek both generosity and integrity in dealing with it.

Where are our departed loved ones? Your books have helped me enormously on my faith journey as like you I have been blessed with a revelation of  life after death and have often wondered, that if there is a far better life to come, why did`nt God get it right first time round.  The God of Hope helped a lot with that.   But my question now is, when our  loved ones die ( and I am so sorry to read about your wife) where do suppose they  are right now ? do we have to wait until the Day of resurrection or do you think we can talk to them and pray with them now as time isn`t an issue ?? and do you think they know what`s going on here ? and can we be of any help to them, or they to us ??I`m so sorry if it`s too soon for you to address this question but perhaps it`s clearer than ever to you now.
God bless you and thank you for your wonderful ministry.
Preliminary Response: Just as life in the womb is a necessary prelude to independent life on this earth, it seems that life on this earth is a necessary prelude for us to have the loving union with God that He wants.  This seems to be because we can only love if this love is freely given with real freewill, and this is only possible in the kind of universe (with free processes and with God’s presence veiled) that we inhabit.  
  The relationship between God’s view of time and ours is very unclear to us, and probably will always be so.  Perhaps the least misleading way of putting it is that those who die in Christ are with God (“the souls of the righteous [which means those who are right with God, not of course those who do good works!] are in the hand of God”) but we are all looking forward to the glorious Resurrection at the ‘end of time’.  It may well be that our subjective experience will be that we “asleep in Christ” and then we wake up on that great Day.
  It seems to me that we can pray for the dead and to some extent talk to them, though too much might be unhealthy.  We cannot know in what sense, if any, they can see and hear what we do, though we all I think have strong intuitions sometimes that there is some such knowledge.  They can of course inspire us: we can’t help them in any way except through prayer and of course only God knows how and to what extent this “works”.  We do know that He loves our departed loved-ones even more that we do and did – dying sinless in agony on the Cross so that they may have eternal and loving union with Him.
  I hope this helps a bit and will see what John has to add.
John adds: I’m glad you found The God of Hope helpful. For me the key concept for us in relation to the departed is that they are in Christ in a similar, but distinct, way to that in which we are in Christ, and so in Him we have unity and prayerful contact that is real, but hard to specify in detail.

The guard on the tomb - fabricated? In  Science and Christian Belief (1994) when you discuss St.Matthew's account of the watch set on the tomb you say (Chapter 6, page 117)  "I consider this to be a patently fabricated tale from a Christian source, concocted precisely to rebut the canard that the disciples had been grave-robbing." I'd be interested in hearing from you your reasons for reaching this conclusion.
Response:  "in view of the known demoralisation of the disciples after Jesus's arrest and the privacy with which he had spoken to them beforehand about his trust in God's vindication, I very much doubt whether the authorities would have been worried enough to set a guard. I may be wrong about this of course, and I would not want to impose my view on others.  I did, however, feel that honesty required me to make this point.  Generally speaking I am persuaded that the gospels are substantially historically reliable."
Nicholas adds: for what little it's worth (not much!) I don't find
John's argument very persuasive at this point, and in any case what I think he means is "I consider this likely to be a fabricated tale from a Christian source..."

Quantum Computing & Physics Disproving Thank you for your website.  I always feel afraid that physics is on the verge of disproving everything I put my faith in, and yet I'm not very math or science-smart and so can't evaluate it for myself.  Sometimes reading about physics (e.g. Brian Greene's Fabric of the Cosmos, which finally helped me understand quantum physics a little, and I do mean a little) puts me more in awe of God, but it also seems to wear away at my sense of his imminence and personhood.  Anyway, I wanted to know if you could say something about quantum computing--I can't make heads or tails of it. If it works, does it really prove the existence of other worlds, since "calculations" would be performed in those other worlds?  And does it really matter if there are other worlds--I mean, even if only a tiny corner of everything is fine-tuned for man, isn't that still pretty extraordinary (like a womb being fine-tuned for a growing human)? 

Preliminary Response: The experiments on Quantum Computing are very encouraging although engineering practical large-scale quantum computers will be difficult. They depend on perfectly normal Quantum Theory and don't change the philosophical issues at all as far as I can see. If you believe in a 'many worlds' interpretation of Quantum Mechanics then you might say that the calculations are taking place in many worlds, but that is a contentious viewpoint that is not at all required by the physics.  

More generally, physics can't "disprove" theology (or vice versa) the domains are too different. Physics can't even disprove biology. This is not to say that there are different truths, there is only "One World" but in order to begin to study a set of phenomena you have to look at them from an appropriate point of view.
To a non-scientist Science seems like a load of answers but to scientists Science is far more a load of questions with some techniques for trying to address them.  The fact that there is no detailed physical (or biological etc..) explanation for something means only that - it does not mean that the phenomenon in question does not occur.  Superconductivity was observed in 1913 and a reasonable explanation was only found in the 1960s. 
I hope this helps a bit and I'll see what John has to add.

John adds: Quantum computing certainly does not have to take place in 'other worlds'; this-world devices will suffice. For quantum ideas you might want to read my Quantum Theory: A very short introduction.

I have just started reading "Exploring Reality" and have some questions right off the bat.
1. Hasn't EPR been recently tested and proven experimentally to be in line with QM predictions rather than Einstein's?
2. Didn't Von Neumann prove (although perhaps flawed) that the "hidden variable" theory was not possible?
3. Didn't Bell's work fail to prove the validity of Bohm's "hidden variable" views?
I am interetsed in JCP's views. My own background is that I have a BSc from Xxx University. I have an MA in Philosophy of Science. While I try to keep up with physics I may have missed the latest developments.
Another last question. My impression is that QM WORKS, and that because of this, many phyicists don't worry about the philosophical implications and just use it.
Preliminary Response  1. Yes I believe all the experiments confirm entaglement.
2,3 No I don't think so, I think Bell showed that these views are  possible - though most physicists reject them.
Yes you are right about most physicists.  But of course that doesn't  make the issues unimportant.  The very cutting edge philosophical work is being done by Jeremy Butterfield (now at Cambridge).  I don't necessarily agree with or fully understand Jeremy's work - but he's certainly a world-class thinker in this area.
John adds: John adds:  John Bell showed the error in Von Neumann's work and his celebrated inequalities enabled experimentalists to show that there is no local realist account of quantum physics.

Could you please expand on your comments regarding genetic algorithms and randomness?  Genetic Algorithms use (pseudo) random variation and (artificical analogues of) natural selection to optimise some desirable qualities of a complex object.  Although the means is random the end is definitely not.

Most compelling argument for God's existence Thank you so much for your website.  I am teaching some issues in  apologetics in my Sunday School class at church - and your site has  been very useful.  My question is: Bertrand Russell was once asked how he would explain his unbelief if  he died and met God.  Russell said he would reply, "you didn't give enough evidence."  Do you think Russell has a case, or do you believe  God has made the evidence for His existence self-evident?  If God is  self-evident, what do you think are the most compelling self-evident arguments for His existence?
Preliminary response: In a word: Jesus.
To amplify a little (but how inadequately!) - there can be no reasonable doubt that Jesus existed and his enormous effect on human history is pretty well inexplicable on a secular reading of His life.  Reading the accounts in the Gospels we are clearly presented with a real person whose character, at the deepest level, speaks out to us today. Truly this is the Son of God.
John adds: I particularly like your one word response (I did the amplification afterwards)

How does God interact? I would like to begin by thanking you for this great website, which was the primary reason for my conversion to evolutionary theism and a much richer understanding of God and interpretations of The Bible.
    I have numerous questions, but really two main concerns with which I can't easily find the answers. The first involves the stories in the OT of people living for hundreds of years. How is this supposed to be taken? Is it just a story? Is it meant to be taken literally? Is it biologically possible? It seems quite specific, but it's possible that I'm missing the point. An athiest will believe The Bible is the fabrication of man, but it certainly seems like a strange thing to make up. It's not a major concern, but any light shed would be helpful.
   My second question is a little less black and white and involves God's use of evolution as a creation method. I understand and accept why he would do this, but I don't understand how. Does God act directly through evolution, or simply conceive the process and allow it to happen? Was God aware that it would culminate in human beings and if so, how would this affect the idea of God and limited Omniscience? Or does limited Omniscience only apply to man after  he became self aware and capable of good/evil?
Of course we'll never know the exact ins and outs of how, but I value your input.
     I appreciate if John is not available to respond and many condolences for the loss of his wife. Any answers you could give however would help greatly.
Preliminary response: It's hard to know what to make of these stories of people living to a great age.  In the past the standard line was I think that these ages were more symbolic than literal.  On the other hand we now have a body of research which claims that ageing is not quite the natural inevitable process that we have been led to believe. But these claims may be marketing hype.  At present it still looks as if the numbers are not to be taken literally, but I guess we are less certain than we once were about what is, or is not, "biologically possible"
    Of course we can never know the details of how God interacts with His creation.  What we do know is that He interacts like a loving father, respecting the autonomy of his children but always working for their ultimate good.  It seems probable that His interventions are minimised as far as possible, and are consistent with the underlying faithful laws of nature that He has ordained (which are of course not identical with the laws that we currently think we have discovered, which are only approximations "through a glass, darkly").  We also know that the Deist picture of a God who winds up the clockwork and then goes away is profoundly non-Christian. It is reasonable to guess that He nudges events from time to time, but probably almost always in such a way that the outcomes, however improbable, are not impossible.  It however seems likely that the Resurrection is a genuine phase change where the laws of the New Creation burst in on the old.  However since we don't know what makes up 97% of the Universe, it is important to be humble and realistic about the limits of our understanding!
    I hope this helps a bit and will see what John has to add.
John adds: I think the vast ages attributed to some ancients were the way in which writers of that time expressed wisdom and significance. In other words, here as sometimes elsewhere biblical numbers are, I believe, symbolic rather than just literal.  On evolution, I bleieve God interacts with the unfolding history of creation but also, because of divine love, allows creatures to be themselves and to 'make themselves'. Of course, sometimes God does something radically new, as in the resurrection of Christ, which is the seed event from which the new creation has begun to grow out of the old creation.

Beyond Adam and Eve? Does the Bible offer any explanation about how the human race progressed beyond the sons of Adam and Eve? Who did they in turn marry? Were women were created for them from scratch? How did they procreate, if this is known? Did Adam and Eve have unknown daughters with whom incest occured? If Cain was killed by Abel (or visa/versa), was they progress of the human race left only to one son? You get the idea. Simply, does the bible speak to what happened after Adam and Eve?
Response: It seems pretty clear from the Bible that Adam and Eve were the first truly morally conscious hominids but that there were other males and females around (eg Gen 4:14) from whom Cain's wife and the wives of the descendants of Adam would have come.

How many times are we judged to be deemed worthy of admission to heaven? We often believe recently departed individuals are admitted to heaven based on past good lives - or, at least we and their families certainly hope so. Yet we are also encouraged to believe that when Christ returns to earth, He (with perhaps God's help) will determine who gets into heaven. "He will judge the quick and the dead." Does this mean those previously admitted will be judged again for a second admission? Or, does it mean the recently departed are waiting for the second coming to be judged in the future just as anyone else?
Response: We are of course never worthy of eternal life, this is the free gift from God to those who believe and trust in Jesus.  The Biblical picture is not of people "dying and going to heaven" but "dying and being resurrected on the Last Day" God's view of time is not ours

If random selection is the driving mechanism of evolution, then how is man special?  Why would G-d endow a being that randomly appeared with religion? Also, if one accepts the thesitic evolutionary account of Haugh, how does one then later account for divine intervention in  man's affair?
Response: as the computer scientists who use genetic algorithms have demonstrated clearly, the use of randomness in an algorithm does not mean that the outcome will be random.

Please be clearer Dr. Polkinghorne, before i offer any criticism, please allow me to thank you for your mission and efforts in trying to do something i have wished years for someone to attempt  in an intellectually sound way;  the bringing together of science and religion, and in particular science and christianity. i applaud your efforts, your intelligence and you motives.
   i confess i am am not all that familiar with you or your work, which appears quite vast. i have, in fact only read part of "The God of Hope and the End of the World". The part that I've read, however (only the first third or so, so far) has inspired this response (which i hope makes it's way to your eyes). First, as I said already, thank you. You express thoughts I have had in some form or another for years. I am not a writer, nor a particularly credible source to be writing such things, but I think and see as much as the next person. But two things strike me so far. The first is the density of your writing. This may just be a matter of taste but I believe your style is over-wrought and difficult to follow. It is true that complicated ideas sometimes require complicated language. In this case, however, I believe many of your ideas could be expressed much more simply resulting in a wider accessibility to your ideas by the general public. As a parallel to this, I believe the overly intellectual tone of your writing, while perhaps appealing to the more scientifically minded reader (but not necessarily so - it is a stereotypical thought to believe so) does not do justice to the holistic nature of the God you describe; one who is not only the creator of the universe of galaxies and quarks, but of love as well. Your writing lacks a human touch. I am so sorry to be so blunt, but it is only because I care.
   The other point I would like to make may be a little harder for me to articulate. I'll try. When you talk about systems, you seem surprised at patterns that appear seemingly magically out of your perceived probability of randomness. I dispute that this is remarkable. It is only systems that are not well understood (yet) that seem to produce magical results. A computer would likely seem nothing less than divine to my ancestors, for example. In my own mind, we do not need to search far for what is truly magical - there is the one fact that everyone seems to sidestep - perhaps because there is no clear answer, nothing really to say about it except "yes". The fact that we are all here, the things you describe, this text on the screen the air you are breathing the chemical reactions in your brain as you read this, my mother, your desk... they exist. That is all. It cannot be explained. Everything else, all arguments pointing to something mysterious, something not yet discovered, something science has overlooked or cannot explain may well be explained one day. Your books, and all books on the topic may be regarded as quaint and naive one day. But there will be no answer to the WHY, only to all the billions of HOWs. Science studies how God works.  I would like to reiterate my admiration for your efforts in communicating that to people. However, just as my own thought to you, I wanted to say that in the end, I'm not sure it matters much. As much as I myself give much thought to such things, it will all ultimately come down to a faith of some sort, a faith that won't be won through argument I'm afraid. Only through grace, whatever that may be. One day we might know how God works, we learn more everyday, but I don't know that we can learn on our own - ever - why.
    That's all. I hope you receive my thoughts in the kindest manner.
Preliminary Response Thank you for this.  It is fair to say that God of Hope was written for academics at Princeton and many of John's other books are more accessible.  Also the particular field in which he works - the interaction of Science and Religion - probably needs to be written in a way that will appeal to scientists who are not, sadly, big on references to love in their academic discourse!
   John agrees that the fact that we and anything else exists is in itself remarkable, but in addition it turns out that, if the known laws of physics or their constants were even slightly different no form of life could exist anywhere in the universe, which was quite unexpected and is also remarkable.  Furthermore the ways in which deep order arises apparently spontaneously from chaotic systems is also very surprising - it is becoming understood  a bit better and the idea that John suggests that 'active information' is a causal principle seems to have increasing merit.
John adds: "I write concisely partly becasue that's how scientists write. I try to be accessible but I have to give enough detail to support the intellectual respectability of what I say. Try Quarks, Chaos and Christianity (SPCK) - quite a chatty book"
Atheist's objections I counter some of your ideas as written on your website concerning the CH4 documentary by Richard Dorking. (sic.)
You say... "By far the biggest examples of intolerance, violence and destruction in human history are those wrought by the militant atheism, underpinned by bogus science, of the type that Dawkins espouses. Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot."
   You seems to have invented a new movement called "millitant atheism" to make his point. Yet, Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot have little in common, except they were murderous dictators. If you are suggesting that their horrific activities were somehow inspired about by their lack of belief in a God, why not suggest they were also motivated by all the other things they didn't believe in, like Father Christmas or faries?
By that logic, if only Hitler had believed in faries, there would have been no Holocaust. Absurd.
   You seem to be suggesting that atheism is some kind of idealogical belief which would inspire people to act in its name. In fact, it is merely not    believing something.
   Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot were inspired people to crueltly by inspiring belief not lack of belief. In Hitler's case, his belief was that the Germanic peoples belonged to a race which was superior to other races. He also saw himself as the God-figure of his people, leading them to glory and mastery of the planet.
   You ask... "Does he [Stephen Weinberg] think all the Nazis who rounded up his relatives in concentration camps were religious?"
Nazism was a religious-like ideology, based on a fantasy the Nazis wanted to believe about themselves, just like Christians and Christianity. They may not have believed in a God in exactly the way Christians do, but they certainly viewed Hitler as a mythical, God-like figure-head of their ideology.
   You claim... "Atheism turns people into animals, and the results are clear from the rivers of blood of the 20th Century."
What a sweeping statement, backed up by no evidence whatsoever. As I said, atheism is a lack of belief in a God or afterlife. I doubt you'll find many historians (if any) who will place the blame for either world war on a lack of belief. Those conflicts were created by complicated political and idealogical reasons, which you might learn by picking up a history book. Also, are you suggesting the First World War was conducted by atheists? This is clearly flase. Britain, France, Russia, Austria and Germany were at that time Christian states, yet they led their people into one of the most inhumane, sickening, brutal and bloody conflicts of all time.
   I am an atheist. I am also a pacifist. My family are all atheists. But there are no "rivers of blood" at my house. We love and care for each other deeply. Your claims that non-believers are animals would be insulting if your ideas weren't so flimsy.
   Care to comment?
Preliminary Response   Firstly, at an empirical level, these 4 regimes must represent a good 85% of the atheist regimes (weighted by number of citizens) in recorded history (the atheist phase of the French Revolution may well account for another 2-3% which was about as bloodthirsty).  Atheist regimes are actually quite rare, representing say 20% of the regimes (weighted by citizens) in recorded history. The only theist regime I can think of which practised/allowed mass murder of its citizens on a comparable relative scale was in Rwanda (representing say 0.1% of regimes).  So at an empirical level, the association between atheist regimes and mass murder is very strong - far worse than smoking and cancer.  Of course your argument about Father Christmas is bogus, because no regime, whether atheist or not, has been led by people who believe in Father Christmas.
   But what is the mechanism?  Well Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot all claimed to be Marxists and Marxism  "the science of history" was the essential underpinning ideology that allowed them to perpetrate their massive crimes.  The essence of Marxism is dialectical materialism and a denial of the existence of God - indeed Marxism was specifically developed as an anti-Christian philosophy.  Hitler's Nazi-ism was admittedly far more confused than Marxism, a sort of anti-Marxism  which was based on the popularised Darwinism of Haekel (the Dawkins of his day) and picked up the widely-held German view that "survival of the fittest" was a scientific and moral principle (and that, of course, the Germans were the fittest!).  But more fundamentally, if you don't believe in God it is very hard to believe in a morality that will constrain you when you have an enormous amount of power.  Christian leaders, however powerful, know that they are "under God" and that they do not have ultimate power, but are themselves under judgement.  Atheists, manifestly, do not.  An absence of constraints on the abuse of power leads, understandably, to an abuse of power.
   Incidentally, these 'darwinian' views were very common in German intellectual an military circles in the early 1900s, and very widely held by the German General Staff.  It was this that shocked  Vernon Kellogg, a Stanford professor who was posted to the headquarters of the German general staff During the period of American neutrality in World War I and was shocked to find German military leaders, sometimes with the Kaiser present, supporting the war with an "evolutionary rationale." They did so with "a particularly crude form of natural selection, defined as inexorable, bloody battle." - his subsequent book Headquarters Nights helped bring the US into the war.
   I obviously don't suggest that all atheists are immoral - many smokers do not die of cancer.  But atheism and power is an exceptionally dangerous mixture.
   I'm glad to learn that you don't consider humans to be animals - most atheists do.  And that view does lead to the rivers of blood of the 20th C - not in all cases but in enough to cause massive concern, and over 100M deaths.
John adds: Of course there are ethical atheists.  I certainly respect them and wish to work with them where it's appropriate.  However false ideologies do not only correspond to erroneous beliefs.  They can also lead to terrible actions. The Church has not been free from this kind of error (crusades, inquisition), but the twentieth century atheist regimes are truly frightful examples. I would not express myself quite as uninhibitedly as Nicholas does, but the point remains one that has to be taken into honest consideration.

Evolutionary Just-so Stories I have been looking through the science sections of a few major book stores with the hope of finding some actual science. Instead I find a multitude of books on Darwin and the scientific explanation of religion and why we believe. I had to look at the sign above the section to see if I accidentally wandered into the philosophy section instead. I was looking through a few books on the evolution of religion and basically they say that we are religious because of our genes and evolution. Religion helped us survive (helped us not be nervous in certain situations and made us stay away from dangerous places). Basically we believe religion because the molecules in our head tell us to...but only if we have the genes to code for them of course. What about this idea that science can explain religion through genetics/evolution (which means that god and morals evolved to serve our survival puropses)? It seems like they are using the idea that there is no god to figure out what questions to ask and what arguments to use...but how does that work exactly? Can the assumptions you use to base an argument or hypothesis on be used as the conclusion? Can you use arguments that assume that God doesn't exist to show that God doesn't exist? An example would be God doesn't exist so therefore the only explanation we have for religion is that religion evolved because it has some kind of survival value. Therefore since religion evolved (and we made up God) for our survival, that means that God doesn't exist. Is this logical? My final question is how much of this is really science and how much is really a personal philosophy that has made its way into science? What are the arguments against the idea that God is a creation of evolution?
Thanks for your website and your great work!
Preliminary Response Thank you for your question.
There are two problems with these kind of evolutionary "explanations"
  1. They tend to be 'just so stories'.  If something happens biologically then it must, by defintion, have some survival value, so you can say it happend because of the survival value.  But if the opposite happens, you just say the opposite had survival value too. Historically atheists have claimed that religion was bad for you, but now in order to explain it they have to say it is good for you!
  2. They obviously don't "explain away" something like religion.  This is most obviously true because the very belief in evolutionary explanations must by hypothesis have a survival value, so if evolutionary "explanations" of beliefs rendered them invalid then by that "argument" the belief in evolutionary explanations must itself be invalid.
Now when you are comparing worldviews (such as Christianity vs Evolutionary Naturalism - henceforth C vs EN) you can't usually make deductions between them, but what you can do is take some observed features of the world and ask how likely each is under C or EN.  Some facts about the world (such as anthropic fine-tuning) are very awkward for EN, and others, such as the levels of evil and suffering, are awkward for C. A fact that is mildly awkward for EN is widespread religious belief and it has to be explained in the way you suggest, but this is not proof of EN merely proof that EN is not, in this respect, inconsistent.  My own view is that the evidence for C is "almost overwhelming" in the sense that it is not irrational to deny C and hold EN, just as it is not irrational to believe that a coin which alternates strictly between Heads and Tales for several hundred tosses is 'random' - it's logically possible just very unilkely.  And indeed since it is an essential feature of C that God leaves us with a choice on whether to believe in Him or not, that is exactly what we would expect.
   I think one really serious challenge for EN is that there is a lot of evidence that C has biological survival value compared to EN, and it is very hard to see how human minds, which according to EN are purely the product of evolution and therefore cannot have faculties unless these faculties confer selective advantage, can have the faculty to disbelieve something which gives selective advantage to believe (call this "Disadvantageous Disbelief" or DD). It is hard to see how DD can have survival value, yet this is what holders of EN claim to have in rejecting C.
  Deep waters - I hope this helps.
John adds: There may be evolutionary and social factors that have contributed to the immense success of modern science, but the principal reason is that it has achieved contact with the reality of the physical world. I think that a similar kind of possibility must be accorded to religion: that it arises from actual contact with the sacred reality of God.  What's sauce for the scientific goose should be sauce for the religious gander.

Atheists and Hell Sorry to bother you again. I have a two part question that is rather vexing for me. The first one has to do with The Garden of Eden and The Fall. Atheists often argue that we fell due to God's alleged incompetence/irresponsibility. For example, I saw this on a message board earlier:
"The idea that a god could send one of his children to hell for not believing in him certainly places anger in the lap of the religious folks who buy into such a doctrine, IMO. As I've stated numerous times before, I find the belief that a god would place a burden of sin on the entrie population because two people in a garden were fooled by an entity who was created by said god with the intention of fooling those people simply ludicrous. Keep Snake Boy out of the garden, and don't let him fool those simple-minded folks in the first place, and you have no problem, and no 'sin' that you need to place on the rest of the kids from there on out. How come I can figure out such an easy plan, but the god of the Bible can't? While we're at it, don't put that tree in there with them, either. If I had something that I didn't want my kids touching, I wouldn't lock it in the room my kids are staying in, and then put a trickster in there to talk them into playing with it. It's called parenting skills, something I think this god is lacking."
   To be honest, I don't know how to answer this. I mean, I know this is not what went on - like yourselves I don't take the creation story in Genesis as being meant to be more of an "abridged" narrative of early human history rather than a literal account so a lot of this stuff is symbolism (but this is getting irrelevant) - but I don't really know how to word it. It seems as if this atheist would have a point (God forgive me) but...I don't know could you please help me?
   The second part of my question has to do with Hell. Most atheists have the "frying pan torture chamber" image of Hell which is easily dispelled so I don't really need help there. Basically, it's the equally common charge that it's unfair for God to send people to Hell just because they find belief in Him to be illogical/irrational/intellectually deficient in some way and are, thus, unable to do so. Part of the response to the "injustice of Hell" argument is what C.S. Lewis formulated in The Problem of Pain and The Great Divorce, mainly that God doesn't "send" anyone to Hell. People send themselves there, as the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft says, the theme-song of Hell is the Frank Sinatra song "I Did It My Way." I really believe that, and this seems to be the biblical answer as well. The problem is, you really can't say this to an atheist and come away unscathed (perhaps in some cases quite literally). They will become quite irrate and rant about ad hominems, genetic fallacies, etc. and say atheists can't reject Someone they don't believe in in the first place. At which time they'll proceed to call you their favorite new curse words "judgmental fundamentalist" because you accuse them of knowing God exists but rejecting Him anyway. Something I think is entirely true but...again could you help me out in formulating some kind of response to their "can't reject Someone you don't believe in in the first place" rebuttal?
Preliminary Response Well this 'Eden' business is a ludicrous misrepresentation, as you know.  The snake is symbolic - of the deep reality that if people have freewill then they can choose between good and evil, and will in fact choose evil.  If God did not allow us freewill, we would be incapable of love.  Parents precisely allow children to grow and make mistakes so that they can learn.
As for the Hell business, it seems to me that this is one thing Atheists and Christians could agree on. Ask an Atheist whether (s)he believes that (s)he will live eternally in perfect loving union with God, Father Son and Holy Spirit (which is what is meant by Eternal Life) and (s)he will presumably say no.  So what are they complaining about :-).  Hell is simply the opposite of Eternal Life. We do not have a right to Eternal Life, it is a gift from God only available to those who want to and are able to receive it.  To those who do not, it would indeed be torment. Love is the positive, non-Love/rejection is the negative. If Atheists cannot love, then they have 'rejected' by default, it is not an act but a non-act
Does this help at all?
Supplementary Question I worded some of my comments wrong in my initial message looking back on it. I meant to say, "Like yourselves I'm a theistic evolutionist so I don't take Genesis literally, I classify it as a 'myth' (though not in the popular sense of that word)..." Anyway, onto the main point.
   I know this person was putting the worst possible spin on the Genesis story (no surprises when dealing with internet atheists) and your comments were very helpful. It's just that, I'm something of a "new convert" to theistic evolution and I'm trying to develope a complete and satisfying interpretation of Genesis in light of evolution. This is something that has proven to be more difficult than I originally thought it would be. Does evolution render things like Eden and the Fall as unhistorical? I know this has to do with the original question I asked you but this is somewhat different. One of Christianity's central tenets is that we are fallen and marred creatures in need of redemption (of course you know this) so how do we maintain this doctrine in light of this "allegorical" interpretation of Genesis?
   Regarding the Hell bit. I see what you're saying. It's just that, whenever the question of Hell comes up in atheist-Christian debate/argument, the dialogue goes something like this:
ATHEIST: Hell is unjust because of...XYZ.
CHRISTIAN: A. Hell is not literally fire & worms, etc. B. People only end up in Hell because they'd rather be their own gods rather than repent, accept God's forgiveness, and follow His will. In other words, they choose it.
ATHEIST: That's ridiculous, atheists dont reject God they just don't think He exists! You make it seem like atheists really know God exists but reject Him because they'd rather party their whole life and spend eternity in Hell!
    I'm just trying to figure out what a good response to that last atheist objection would be. Since, in the case of anti-Christian atheists, that is the truth (as you know)! The problem is we can't really say this without incurring the atheist's scorn and allowing him to dismiss you as "fanatical" and ending the dialogue. Does that help clarify where I'm coming from?
Preliminary Response to Supplementary  I think the honest answer is that almost all atheists, at least in the US and the UK, are atheists because they actively choose to reject  the almost overwhelming evidence for God and Christ.  If we just take four main lines of argument:
a. The existence of the Universe
b. Anthropic fine-tuning
c. The existence of objective morality
d. The life and witness of Christ and His Resurrection
   In each case choosing to disbelieve them is an act of will and faith, whereby the atheist chooses not to believe a hypothesis which explains all the facts well, merely hoping that there might be another explanation or saying that there is none - which is manifestly not the case, but the atheist just chooses not to accept it. (Some atheists try to deny (c) but this leads them into a major intellectual and moral mess.)  So the truth is that the atheists you are talking to have indeed deliberately rejected God.
   Whether it is always wise to say this pastorally is another matter.
   Tempted to make up a parable of a man whose long-lost great uncle Sam leaves him $1M in his will, but the man refuses to believe in the great uncle, whom he has never met (family could have been deceiving him, documents could be forged, attorney could be bogus, everyone knows that Uncle Sam is a figure of speech) and therefore refuses to go to the Attorney's office to sign for the gift, and it is given to others.  Hardly unfair I think.
John adds: In creation God holds in being a word in which the divine love has given to creatures the freedom to be themselves. The Adam and Eve story is a powerful myth {John, like you, is not using 'myth' in the popular meaning of the word as meaning 'untrue story'} expressing the insight that humanity has abused the gift by turning away from the Creator who is the one true ground of all human flourishing.  The tragedy of Hell is that its inhabitants have chosen to be there - the gates are locked on the inside to keep God out, rather than on the outside to keep them in.

More about fine tuning I have an urgent question from myself and a friend after reading John's book "beyond science"
Many say that the universe is finely tuned, it is based upon precise constants, such that if it was to change by a "certain amount" then the universe won't exist, but some argue that this is subjective, they say that this is proof that the universe is based upon random constants, this is because it is NOT the case that the if the universe changes by "ANY" amount that the universe will not exist, only by a certain amount, but again, not any change,
Hence they say that this is a sign to say that the universe was an accident, in your book "beyond science" you do detail how there are lesser constants then the cosmological one, whereby if it was to change by a certain amount things would not exist but again, not any amount.
Am I right in thinking that it may be the case that you scientists will find the universe more precisely tuned then previously thought of ? such that if the constants where changed by any amount the universe with life would not exist?
It seems as though the universe is not finely tuned according to those arguments. I'm really shocked by this recent thought,
Preliminary Response Sorry it has taken ages to respond to this - I was away and then very busy.
Like all the arguments for the existence of God (and indeed most arguments for the existence of anything) the Fine Tuning Argument is persuasive rather than analytic - in other words it is not impossible that life and the universe is some unexplained accident, it just seems very improbable.
No-one knows the correct theory of quantum gravity (many people think that some version of 'Brane' theory, which is a generalisation of string theory, may do the trick but no-one knows) but on the basis of what is currently understood there are a number of apparently fundamental constants (such as the amount of matter/energy in the universe, the ratio of the mass of the electron to the mass of the proton etc.. - Prof Martin Rees's book about this is called 'Just Six Numbers') which as far as anyone knows could in principle take almost any value except that if the values were even slightly different from what they are at present, there are strong reasons to believe that intelligent life could not exist in the universe (ie be 'Anthropic')
There are essentially only four possibilities:
  1. This Fine Tuning is highly unlikely in a random possible universe, but God has ensured in His loving wisdom that it is so, so that we can come into being.
  2. This Fine Tuning is highly unlikely in a random possible universe, but luckily the one that exists is Anthropic
  3. This Fine Tuning is highly unlikely in a random possible universe, but there are such a vast number of other Universes that it is not unlikely that at least one of them is Anthropic.
  4. There are as yet undiscovered reasons why this Fine Tuning is not highly unlikely in a random possible universe.
   It's fair to say that pretty well all atheists with a scientific background who have seriously considered the matter are driven to (3), explicitly to avoid (1) and with very little other scientific motivation. (2) is just too much of a cop-out and even if the laws of physics turn out to have different fundamental constants it seems very likely to most people that the same kind of anthropic fine-tuning will apply.  If the string/brane theorists are on the right lines, and we are in a 12-or-more-dimensional space-time and not a 4-dimensional one, the chances are that there will be extra constants that are mysteriously fine-tuned, not fewer.
John adds: Fine-tuning is an undisputed scientific fact of our universe (The most exact number relates to the cosmological constant - a kind of anti-gravity - which is, and has to be, less than 10-120 of what would otherwise be its expected value)  I think Nicholas's four points put clearly and accurately what are the possible metascientific responses to these remarkable facts.

Problems from a Libertarian Atheist  An atheist on a discussion board I sometimes frequent posted a 'Challenge to Christian Apologists' and I'm wondering if you can help me refute this guy's argument. It's not all that long and it's available here.
Preliminary Response:  There are about 16 different arguments presented on that site! I really can't deal with all of them.
   The basic fact is that not everything in the Bible is intended to be 'taken literally'.  This is obvious from the 'contradictions' that arise if you were to try to take it literally.  The ancient Jews were much cleverer than most of us at noticing contradictions - so they knew perfectly well that the Bible has to be read on many different levels, and so have Christians throughout the ages.
   Now it's obvious from Genesis 1 that this rib story is not meant to be 'taken literally', because we have already been given an account of creation in which male and female were created together.  What then does this rib business mean?  Well first of all, the word for 'rib' (tzehlag) also means 'side'  so what the Bible is really saying here is that men and women are two sides of the one unity which is humanity.  Remember God (elohim, plural!) says "let us create man in our own image - male and female created he them" - and we can understand this in the context of the Trinity, where the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is even more intimate than the union of man and wife.  Obviously this is not about DNA!  Indeed we now understand something of how God created humankind 'from the dust of the earth' and it's a very wonderful and interesting story, involving the laws of physics, chemistry and biology.  But these details are not what the Bible is about: the Bible is about relationships between God and humanity.  Of course "defender" won't be impressed by this, but he needs to take the general point that you don't refute someone's position by refuting something that they are not saying. If he were serious he'd allow Christians to define what they understand the Bible to say on this, and then try to refute that!
   It is clear that the serpent is here a representative of the Devil.  The Devil would presumably have caused Eve to hallucinate - less trouble than wiring the serpent for sound, though that is perfectly possible as well.  Clearly the serpent didn't know what he was doing! 
   NB: I am not saying that the Bible has got it wrong. Any telling of a story leaves out certain details - no-one could tell these stories better with greater accuracy and similar economy and symbolic reference.
   A Cambridge Prof has come up with some reasonably plausible mechanisms for the Egypt miracles.  We don't know if they are correct - but it certainly shows they are not impossible.
   On the resurrection, there are of course instances of people who appeared to die but have not - however this is not what happened to Jesus.  We don't know the details of course, but God clearly transformed his old body into a Resurrection Body which is not subject to normal physical laws (possibly using a super-symmetrical transformation of the matter into the Dark Matter which seems to make up most of the Universe).  If God perfectly remembers you and if your personality is about the patterns of connection and waves in the brain then God could, of course, recreate this 'software' on a different hardware - and it would be 'you' IF and ONLY IF you had freely given your will to God for Him to do this (otherwise it'd be a clone).  Of course if God does not exist then true resurrection is impossible - so what?  We knew that anyway.
  I've also posted this on Lib Def's site - we'll see what he has to say.

Dawkins' Channel 4 Programmes  I recently watched two by one-hour programmes on BBC TV entitled "The Root of All Evil" by Richard Dorking which I found very interesting.   Not being a well educated man myself I would have liked very much to hear someone like JCP giving his views on these programmes and perhaps having a similar programme himself where we could hear his side of the argument.  I have downloaded a ten page document from the web site of Dr. Victor Zammit (never heard of him before) that is highly critical of Dr. Dorking's views but I have known of Dr. Blenkinghorne for many years now and indeed have read some of his books.   I would therefore welcome his views on Richard Dorking and his TV programme.  {signed by X X "an octogenerian"  I have not changed what he sent although of course it was a Channel 4, Dawkins, Polkinghorne.  Someone born before 1925 using the Internet to such good effect is to be admired}
Preliminary Response: Thank you for your email.  You might want to put this to Channel 4 
   I didn't see Dawkins's programme but we are familiar with his views.  The fact is that although most scientists don't believe in God at present a significant minority do and almost all scientist accept that science alone cannot settle the question.  There are only about 3 media scientists, none of the first rank, who peddle the "Science proves atheism" view, of which Dawkins is the most prominent. Going by the summary
  1. He says that "Science... must continuously test its own concepts and claims. Faith, by definition, defies evidence: it is untested and unshakeable, and is therefore in direct contradiction with science."  But, as Prof McGrath has pointed out in his brilliant demolition of Dawkin's 3rd rate philosophy Dawkins' God, the 'definition' of Faith that Dawkins uses is one which no mainstream Christian theologian holds.  If Dawkins were a scientist he would test his claim that "Faith, by definition, defies evidence"  He does not - his is wrong, and actually deliberately misleads since he knows from McGrath book that he is wrong.
  2. He says "religions preach morality, peace and hope, in fact... they bring intolerance, violence and destruction"  By far the biggest examples of intolerance, violence and destruction in human history are those wrought by the militant atheism, underpinned by bogus science, of the type that Dawkins espouses. Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot.  Religions might not bring perfection, but Atheisms have 100 times worse track record.  Interesting that when Dawkins wants to smear christians he says that he feels that a Christian gathering resembles a Nurenberg rally ... ie evolutionary atheism!
  3. The Lourdes thing is grossly misleading!  There have been 'only' 33 certifiably miraculous cures that have no medical or scientific explanation. But millions feel better and indeed the evidence that religious faith improves health, enhances lifespan and reproductive success (ie more grandchildren) is overwhelming and incontrovertable.
  4. Dawkins says region is 'poisonous' but scientifically it is good for people's survival.  This poses a serious philosophical problem for Dawkins who claims that all our mental faculties are the result of evolution.  He says it is a 'virus' but gives no evidence, only selective anecdotes, that it is harmful. He seems to think that Judaism is a particularly bad virus - a view which is intellectual ancestors in Germany and Russia shared, and acted upon! And if there are movies in the US which 'demonise' abortion and homosexuality there are many many more that enthusiastically promote such practices. Are these 'viruses' too?
  5. How an otherwise intellgent man like Stephen Weinberg can say that without religion, 'you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.' is beyond me.  Does he think all the Nazis who rounded up his relatives in concentration camps were religious??
  6. "kindness and generosity are innate in human beings, as they are in other social animals."  True, so are the capacities for murder, rape, and extreme cruelty. Look at the way chimanzees behave, killing eachother and each others babies.  Religion, especially Christianity, provides a basis for millions to live and work together in love, forgiveness, honesty and cooperation.  Atheism turns people into animals, and the results are clear from the rivers of blood of the 20th Century.

Stenger's missionary atheism In researching for a book I am writing (from a Christian viewpoint) of certain esoteric practices, I have noted a worrying increase in activity from zealous “missionary” atheists of eminent scientific standing. Among their ranks is physicist and astronomer Professor Victor J. Stenger. ...who has a number of forthcoming publications:
- The Comprehensible Cosmos (forthcoming July 2006)
- God: The Failed Hypothesis (forthcoming 2007)
  I am not a scientist, though I have read a great deal ...including most of John Polkinghorne’s books about the interface of science and religion.  As a ‘partially informed’ non-scientist it seems to me though that the conclusions postulated by Prof. Stenger (in advance of publication) do not follow from the offered scientific arguments. His general standing will no doubt, though, carry weight.
  Amongst other things, Prof. Stenger seems to discount entirely the philosophical rationale for belief offered by Prof. Richard Swinburne (whom he quotes) and takes a very particularist view of certain aspects of science. He even shoots at his erstwhile co-conspirator Antony Flew for modifying (albeit weakly) his viewpoints about the existence of a creator.
  I appreciate that Professor Polkinghorne cannot take upon himself the weight of all arguments for God-centred science - but his standing is such to offer a better chance than others ...who could only counter with unhelpful yah-boo arguments likely to polarise opinion - as with (e.g.) opponents of Richard Dawkins. Shouting from the extremities of opinion with inadequately supported arguments cannot help either God or humanity.
  I beg, please pass this to John Polkinghorne or in default anyone else able to offer rational scientific weight to counter any mis-information.
Preliminary Response  Thanks for your email. I've glanced at Prof Stenger's presentation which summarises his book and I must say it looks pitiful.  For example he says, correctly, that "if God exists he should be the source of our morals and values".  He then claims that:
   His idea that mystical or religious experiences should lead to empirically testable knowledge is again rather laughable.  That is not what religious revelations are about - and no-one claims they are. There are excellent reasons to do with freewill why God does not do this.
  He also has a big non-argument that "If humanity is so special, why so much wasted matter in the universe"?  Since it takes about 12bn yrs for humanity to evolve the Universe has to be c12bn light years in size, and to achieve the critical densities that are necessary you need about the matter that we have. He completely fails to engage with the anthropic fine tuning that even impresses atheist astronomers like Martin Rees - most cosmologists accept that the only reasonable alternative to Anthropic Fine Tuning is a vast plethora of multiverses: he seems to be stuck badly in the past and unwilling to engage with the facts.
   He then suggests that the Bible makes scientific claims like "the earth is flat".  (Well, Ps 93v2 says in the Prayer Book "He has made the round world, so sure that it cannot be moved" - but sadly this seems to be a mistranslation, and modern translations don't say "round"!)  The fact is that the Bible is not a scientific treatise, and it says nothing about whether the world is flat or round.  In OT times people probably assumed it was flat, by NT times it was known to be round. (Erastothenes (276-194 BC) famously made a reasonable estimate of its circumference.)
   His assertion that there is no evidence for the life and death of Jesus is absurd, and to say that "physical and historical evidence" "rules it out" is again pitiful.  I'm not an expert on the 1st Temple but I very much doubt his assertions about this: as for archeological evidence of Exodus this is a moot point, but the fact is that Archeology can rarely prove a negative - the fact that you can't find something doesn't mean it doesn't exist!
   Again his "argument" "Evil exists, therefore God does not exist" is pitiful.  Thedoicy is non-trivial but he needs at least to engage with it.  No mainstream religion has ever claimed that Evil does not exist.
   Finally the idea that the laws of nature arose from nothing is plain silly - only by a gross abuse of language can a "quantum fluctuation" be considered nothing - and it can only exist because of pre-existing physical laws!
   The fact is that there are philosophical difficulies for both Christian theism and Atheism, it is a balance of probablities and anyone who can say that it is proven beyond reasonable doubt is simply ignorant or deceitful.
   Hope this helps a bit.
John adds I do not know of Stenger's writings, but it seems to me that he makes a naive account of religion into a straw man to be demolished by appeal to (actually limited) scientific authority.  Serious atheists must have the honesty to engage with the serious arguments of religious believers.  As Nick says, the assertion that there is no evidence for the life and death of Jesus is just ridiculous.

The Bible & Divine Intervention I agree with John Polkinghorne about the nature of the creation stories in Genesis: surely, these narratives disclose foundational truths in the manner of, say, poetry, or song. My question, however, concerns the dividing line biblical apologists draw between the first eleven chapters of Genesis and the supposedly historical accounts from Abraham onwards, including the Gospel traditions regarding Jesus. Many of the Biblical stories are replete with delightful puns and allusions, yet they are embedded in texts that purport to be chronicles of Israel’s history. Or they have the character of folk-tales – I am thinking specifically of the episode that occurs in the opening chapter of 2Kings, in which God twice dispatches the enemies of the prophet Elijah with heaven-sent fires (it makes me think of the ‘third time lucky’ motif one finds in so many fairytales). If we do not have to take this story literally, why should we attach any more credence to Elijah’s appearance in the stories of Jesus’ Transfiguration? Again, if we convert the Transfiguration into some kind of elaborate metaphor, why should we not feel compelled to do the same to the Resurrection? Where, in relation to the Bible, does story end and history begin, and how can we tell the difference? Christian theology might demand that God intervene in history but that’s not the same thing as saying that He did.
Preliminary Response It's not as simple as this. You have to ask, of each part of the Bible, what kind of writing this is and what is God trying to tell us through it. This is not a matter of 'poetry' vs 'literal truth': we use notational conventions in science as well, for example, when I write f=ma I don't mean to imply that the word "fry" means the same as the word "mary", and talk about the 'big bang' does not imply cymbals and sound waves!
  We cannot dismiss the first 11 Chapters of Genesis as myths even though many of the exact details are not the point, as is clear from the fact that there are two creation stories in Genesis which differ as to the details - God is saying "don't be hung up on the details, these are not important, understand what I am trying to tell you about the fundamental truths about the relationships between God, Humanity and Creation" This incidentially is why Darwin's theories were never rejected by the mainstream churches on theolgical grounds - indeed he was buired in Westminster Abbey and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were on the committee for his funeral memorial.
  Equally Kings and Chronicles present somewhat different perspectives on the events they cover, and although they represent remarkable historiography for their time, we need to read the scriptures in the light of Christ. I suppose it is not inconceivable scientifically that something happened to the first 2 companies but theologically it seems mightily implausible. And these books were written hundreds of years after the events they describe.
  However, when we come to the Gospels we are dealing with serious attempts by eye-witnesses or people with direct access to them to tell the truth as it happened. The idea of the Resurrection as an elaborate metaphor, for example, arose in the 19th Century with people like Hegel and Strauss. But it's a nonsense: Jesus died and yet the tomb was empty (otherwise the Jewish and Roman authorities could have produced the body and nailed all this subversive talk of resurrection stone dead). So perhaps the disciples stole the body and fabricated the resurrection stories? Why would anyone give their lives for something they knew to be a lie?
  It's not just Christian theology that implies that God can, and does, intervene in history. If God, a Loving Ultimate Creator, exists at all then He must interact with the creatures He loves from time to time. Of course, if you assume a-priori that God does not exist, then it follows that God does not intervene in history - but there are very serious difficulties for Atheism as a world-view which is why it has always been rather marginal and seems to be decining heavily after its brief and disasterous flowering in the 20th Century led to the worst regimes and human disasters in the whole of recorded history.
John adds: The Bible is not a book but a library, with many different kinds of writing, interweaving story and history.  Myth is a word easily misunderstood. It does not mean a fairy story, but truth so deep that only story can convey it.  See my  Science and the Trinity Ch 2 for more on scripture.

Genetic Determinism and Evolution I have no problem accepting evolution as an explanation of how we as creatures came to be (i.e. how we 'got our bodies') but if you accept that, do things like genetic determinism necessarily follow? What do you make of the Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson who writes: 
  " species, ours included, possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by its own genetic history (i.e., evolution)....we have no particular place to go. The species lacks any goal external to its own biological nature" (On Human Nature, 2-3).
  He also claims that scientific materialism will one day overcome traditional religions and even secular humanism. Now, I can't accept this reductionistic theory of morality which would have us believe that all our notions of virtue and goodness are really just remnants of evolutionary processes or 'herd instinct' meant for our survival as a species and any sense of value we place in them is merely illusary. And that all our behavior is completely determined by our genes so free will is also an illusion. Surely, biological evolution is a scientific fact but it only explains how we came to be, one need not base his entire worldview upon it as Wilson clearly does right? What do you or John make of all this. Thank you so much for your time, patience, and wisdom.
Preliminary Response: No, 'genetic determinism' is a nonsense.  Even Dawkins accepts that genes only act statistically - ie they don't "program" you in any real sense.   It's worth remembering that evolution is like gravity - it's a pervasive organising principle but not the whole story.
   Wilson is entitled to his opinion, but to the extent that "purpose" is meant in a metaphysical, philosophical, or theological sense he is making a statement which is not susceptible to scientific investigation, and is beyond his competence.  As for his predictions of the triumph of scientific materialism, people have been saying such things since at least the 1790s.  But over 200 years of experience of secuar triumphalism shows is:
  1. Secular triumphalist regimes have been the biggest disasters and mass-murderers is history (Mao, Stalin, Hitler etc.. Hitler's was built on scientific evolutionary notions taken directly from Wilson & Dawkin's predecessors Spencer and Haeckel - disowned by Darwin himself)
  2. The demise of religion never seems to happen.  Even in the UK, which has a very secular culture in the commentariat, 72% of people in the Census said they were Christian.
  3. In biological and evolutionary terms, religion (esp. Christianity) is good for you.  Compared with secularists, Christians are happier, healthier and have more grandchildren. All over the world, secular societies are committing demographic suicide. 
So Wilson is peddling his wishful thinking, unsupported by any real evidence - indeed the evidence seems to point the other way.
John adds: The distinct personalities of identical twins show that absolute gentic determinism is untrue. The intricate structure of the individual brain is not completely genetically specified, but develops in response to experience.

 LISA Satellite and Multiverses The LISA satellite will be sent into space.  It is said that it will either prove or disprove the multiverse theory, the satallite will even take pictures of the creation event?! ( or its claimed) I heard from a documentary by michio kaku
   1. Even IF we do get some indication from that satellite that other universes exist, OR something outside "our" universe exists, that it will still bring us no closer to knowing what that universe is like i.e wether those universes contain life like ours, or wether those universes have different laws, or wether there is a finite amount or infinite amount of those universes etc?
   2. Could it be that the multiverse is genuinely untestable? I ask this because michio kaku says that the creation event will be seen
Preliminary Response First of all, don't forget that LISA is only in concept phase, and that launch is slated for 2014. So it's premature to say much with confidence about the results of the LISA experiment at this stage!
   IF our current understanding of gravity is approximately correct then LISA ought to be able to detect rather strong gravitational waves such as those from (the hypothesised) Massive Black Holes as well as some of the binary star systems.  LISA should also give us more insights into the mysterious 'Dark Matter' and 'Dark Energy' that are thought to make up over 90% of the observable universe.  However LISA will still fall short (by many orders of magnitude) of detecting the so-called "holy grail'" of cosmology, the stochastic background of gravitational waves produced during the hypothesised inflation of the early universe.
   Some of the multiverse theories offer testable predictions about the distribution of matter and gravity in this universe, and the LISA observations might therefore 'falsify' some of these and strengthen others.  But people who want to believe in multiverses will probably be able to tweak their models to be consistent with almost any set of observations - and it is also pretty certain that anyone who wants to believe in 'Fine Tuning' will be able to fine-tune their models accordingly.  As far as I can see, the basic problem in cosmology is that theories are at present very much under-determined by observation: cosmologists are notoriously 'often in error but seldom in doubt'.
   Given any particular multiverse theory we can, of course, say something about the other universes that would exist under this theory, since by definition they will also be obeying the (hypothesised) 'laws of physics'  But anything we say will have to be treated with caution, since we cannot know whether these laws are correct or merely useful  approximations (like Newton's Laws)
   Kaku - like many cosmologists, is very excited about M-Theory which is an 11 (or 12) dimensional generalisation of string theory.  The string theory community has been 'on the verge of a breakthrough' for about 20 years but, although I don't understand the details at all, it all feels rather contrived. All that can be said with certainty is that it might lead to a better physical theory, it might not, and until the dust settles any philosophical conclusions based on it are highly speculative.  Hype to sell books and get grants may be pragmatically useful, but it isn't real science - real science deals in un-certainties at the cutting edge.
   There are certainly some multiverse theories that yeild some predicions that are testable in principle. But remember that this really only allows for falsification not verification.
John adds: like many physicists of my generation, I am very sceptical about multiple universes. Arguments from superstrings depend on believing that theorists can correctly second guess nature 16 orders of magnitude beyond anything we know experimentally.

More on Adam and Eve First of all I would like to thank you for putting together such a wonderful and informative sight and John for all of his remarkable work in science and theology. I haven't actually read any of John's books but after visiting this sight I immediately placed Belief in God in an Age of Science on my Wish List and hope to read it very soon. It was, in fact, this website which really helped assuage my fears of biological evolution and eased me into it in such a tranquil manner that I cannot thank you enough.
   My question, finally, has been asked several times on your Q&A section but, surely out of my own failure to understand what was said, I haven't really been satisfied by the answers and I have become a little confused. It has to do with the whole Adam & Eve/Original Sin problem and how to integrate that with evolutionary theory. I guess what I'm confused about is regarding what that first questioner brought up about original sin being genetic and your response that original sin is largely societal. Isn't it that every individual person has become corrupted through their own choices? I'm with you in that I don't believe that we're responsible for Adam & Eve's sin, we're responsible for our own, but their sin or Original Sin is what let sin into the world and everyone after them has become corrupted by it through their own free choice. Am I right in this?
   Secondly, regarding the second poster who had trouble with St. Augustine's view of original sin and making room for Adam & Eve in the historical timeline of human beings. Through no fault of your own I just didn't understand your response. Do you agree with me when I say that Adam & Eve be the first actual human beings (or symbols of a group of the first ones as John interprets it - a rather fascinating idea and I'd like to know more about this as well, perhaps another time though) who possessed all the cognitive and moral/spiritual faculties necessary for knowing God, who evolved as you say 100,000 or so years ago and lived in harmony with God in the beatific Garden of Eden for an unknown amount of time and, through their own free will, rejected God for the idolization of the self resulting in the catastrophic Fall? I guess I'm asking if what I'm going to call 'pre-Fall man' was in a higher spiritual/moral and maybe even ontological 'state' I guess than we currently are? Also, would I be right in responding to this questioners assertions that what we always thought was 'sin-nature' is really just 'animal-nature' left over from evolution and that is what we need saving from with what I remember reading from one of C.S. Lewis' books (though I'm sure he was quoting someone else), mainly that we are not merely imperfect people who need growth but we are rebels who need to lay down our arms? Isn't that what we need saving from? We were once in harmony with God but have since thrown it away and have become marred in corrupted in the process, and this is what Christ came to redeem us from and to restore that harmony with God that we once had.
   Please forgive me for all my questions and please don't take them as criticisms, I really do appreciate your sight and all of the good work John has done in both his scientific and theological career. Thank you for your time. God bless you.
Preliminary Response It seems clear to me at a scientific/logical level that the first time we sin we become corrupted by our own sin - not by the sin of any of our ancestors.  However at a metaphysical level it is all one sin, and at a psychological level it is much easier to sin if other people are doing it.
    It's worth remembering that adam in Hebrew means 'man' and is not really a proper name. Ish is another Hebrew word for 'man' (used for the 1st time in Gen 2:23) and isha means woman, thus the stories about Adam and Eve are meant to be somewhat generic.  Adam is clearly the first true man, not biologically (there were clearly others of the same species) but spritiually ie capable of being in communion with God and rejecting His commands.
    I don't think pre-Fall Man is in a higher state than we are because what Jesus has done is more than restoring us to a pre-fall condition: He has made it possible for us to become adopted sons of God. However pre-Fall Man is in a higher state than un-redeemed Man - so is a little child, as Jesus makes clear.
Supplementary Thank you very much for your response. I understand much clearer now and I thank you. However, I just have one more question if you don't mind. In regards to the Fall of Man, how do we answer the whole, "It's not our fault for falling since God created us fatally flawed from the start so it's really His fault for making us so imperfect" charge that atheists commonly make?
Response If God had made us so we were incapable of sin. He would have made us without freewill, but then we would have been incapable of love.  He creates, amazingly, a universe in which we are free to choose to love - that inevitably means that we are free to choose to sin.  He deals with the sin, on the cross, and the potential for love is infinite.
Further Supplementary  Thank you for your response but perhaps I should rephrase my question. Sometimes atheists will level a dilemma (most definitely a false dilemma, I'm just wondering how to answer it) regarding the Fall that goes something like this:
 1. Man was originally created perfect before the Fall.
 2. But if something is perfect nothing imperfect can come from it (i.e. if man were perfect then he couldn't have been tempted to sin).
 3. Therefore, the Fall of Man doctrine is false.
   Obviously the argument is a straw man, since the first premise is false and no one who is really informed about theology holds that position. But if you point this out to the atheist they will counter with something like this:
 4. If man was not originally perfect then he must have been imperfect.
 5. If man was imperfect from the start then he can't be held responsible for acting imperfectly.
 6. Therefore it is really God's fault for our imperfection and the Fall of Man doctrine is false.
 I know this argument is equally fallacious but I don't know exactly how to refute it. Would I be right in saying that man was originally neither 'perfect' or 'flawed' but somewhere in between? Man originally possessed some kind of neutrality in which they were totally free to perform one of either two options: a.) choosing God and becoming truly perfect, or b.) rejecting God resulting in our current situation? Thanks for all your help so far Nicholas, I truly can't thank you enough.
Response The notion of something being 'perfect' is highly elusive! If it means (P1) 'could not be significantly improved of its kind' then clearly (2) is false (a P1-perfect Atomic Bomb could lead to a very imperfect City).  And I think we are committed to the first man being P1-Perfect because otherwise God would have been a bungler who could have done a better job of creation. Of course if 'perfect' means (P2) a being none of whose actions or properties fall short in any respect from the ideal then the only P2-perfect man who has ever lived is Jesus Christ.
  So I think the answer is that a P1-perfect Man has Freewill and thus by definition is morally responsible for his or her actions.  God is responsible for the fact that we have Freewill but this is not a fault, but an essential feature of our design (and indeed the design of the universe) since without Freewill there can be no true love.
  So on P1-perfect (1) and (5) are false, and on P2-perfect (2) is false - hence neither argument works.
  If your interlocutor has another definition of perfect (P3?) then it should be relatively easy to see where his/her argument breaks down.
John adds: on the Fall etc.. see my Reason and Reality Ch 8.

Limbo and Purgatory With the recent rejection of the concept of limbo by the Catholic Church, our discussion group is wondering about the authenticity of Purgatory.  While it is reasonable (and there is ample evidence that the Judeo-Christian tradition accepts  this) to think that most who die while not deserving of eternal punishment are not quite ready for heaven, the exact nature of such an intermediate state/place seems vague.  For example, how can a spiritual entity such as a soul be bothered by fire?  I seem to recall that John recently published the findings of a group that dealt with the after life and had some interesting things to say about Purgatory.  Could you or John put a concise statement of of this on the web?
Preliminary Response John co-authored a report of the CofE called The Mystery of Salvation and this is the paragraph which mentions purgatory (p196-7)
    Since heaven is a participation in the life of God, only those fitted to share that life may fully enter into it. Heaven is a communion of saints, a communion of those made holy by the work of the Spirit in the response of faith.  Sanctification, grwoth in holiness, is the condition of heaven. And there is no holiness without God's grace because only God can make holy. Yet such holiness requires our human response; it is not the product of mechanistic determinism, but a fruit of our love freely given, won from us by God's transforming love for us.  Those Christians who have wanted to speak of 'purgatory' have by this language wanted to sterss that God's love and mercy reaches out to fit for heaven those who staill at their dying need to grow in that holiness which is the very condition of communion with God.  Those who have resisted the language of purgatory have done so because they believe that God usues death itself as the instrument to complete the necessary toask of dealing with sin which, up to that point, still distorts the life of all Christians. This view claims support from texts such as Romans 6.7: 'Whoever has died is freed from sin.'
    As far as 'fire' and so forth goes, that language has always been  metaphorical. I don't think any serious theologian from any tradition has ever thought that the souls in purgatory have bodies.  However if we were truly confronted with the reality of our sins and of the holiness of God we might well want our sins to be 'purified by fire' and the sensation might not be less painful - after all pain is perceived in the mind.  As CS Lewis puts it somewhere, if we are invited to God's banquet wearing filthy stinking rags we might well want to get clean clothes, even if they are not strictly 'necessary'.
John adds: on purgatory, see my God of Hope and the End of the World, Ch 11

Implications of a hypothetical Meteor Strike on Jesus I care very much about science and religion.  (Christianity is my native faith, and I am very devout though also rather heterodox.)
    I tend to strongly favor strict evolutionary theory over all forms of creationism, for example.  I also tend to think of miracles - if there are miracles at all - as restricted to humanly-mediated healings, and discount other miracle stories as mythical or folkloric, etc.
    However, I have a problem.  A very simple thought-experiment -- a bit of counterfactual history -- seems to put in grave doubt my basic assumptions,  assumptions I believe I share with most people who care deeply about both science and religion.
    It is embarrassingly simple.  Suppose that a destructive event, an asteroid strike for instance, were to occur at a very "inopportune" time for the unfolding of salvation history.  Suppose this event occurred during the life of Jesus but before His ministry.  (It can be located elsewhere, but for Christians this is a good place to put the event).  Suppose that this event either destroyes all human life, or destroys all human life in Judea, or indeed, it is sufficient for a Christian to imagine a very localized event affecting the person of  Jesus.
    Such an event at precisely such a moment poses special problems that it would not cause earlier or later.  For instance, I am reconciled to the idea that life on earth (or human life) might have never arisen due to such an event; or having, arisen, might have been so terminated, in prehistory.  God plainly appears to permit such lamentable events both very large and very small -- it is integral to the very structure of this universe that such events can and will occur, on all scales. This can be reconciled to Chrstianity.  
    Likewise, as a Christian, I am reconciled, though to a lesser degree, to the notion that such an event might have occurred at any point after Jesus' career.  I strongly prefer to think of humanity as having a destiny and of the modern world as being part of that destiny, but this is not a particularly biblical view.  Such an event in the years after Christ would, I guess, be an acceptable biblical End of the World.
    No, the problem is precisely with a hypothetical event that makes nonsense of *all* our special claims about the Jewish and Christian traditions.  Imagine, to give another example,  a Judea-destroying asteroid occurring after the Babylonian exile and before Alexander.  This is scientifically entirely possible!  And yet what remains of the very idea of salvation history, what remains of the prophets, in the light of such counterfactual history?  It seems to mock them, and mock them devastatingly.
    I believe that this modest thought-experiment,  of such a humble garden-variety sort that anyone who has seen a Hollywood disaster movie can easily grasp it, casts grave doubt on the ways we, as people who are committed to both science and religion, adjudicate their respective claims.  Either God can and when necessary will act to protect His grand project of salvation history -- giving us the sort of large-scale miracle that is at odds with our scientific sense of things -- or, if He does not, the very idea of salvation history is irretrievably left in tatters.
    My apologies for posing my question at such length!  I pose it to the two of you because I trust that you will not respond glibly.
Preliminary Response Arguments from counterfactuals are rather dangerous, but I think the essence of your problem is that, having decided in advance for philosophical reasons that God does not intervene in nature, you can hypothesise 'random' natural events that could have frustrated God's decisive intervention through Jesus Christ.  But the essence of Christianity is that God has intervened in nature through the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus.  And I think the Christian answer to your question is that if there had been such a meteorite, God would have deflected it, though I would add that He would probably have done so by means of an infinitessimal adjustment a long time before the event (indeed the moon and Jupiter both act to greatly reduce the incidence of meteor strikes on earth).
    Of course we don't understand precisely how God interacts with nature, but we know from our own experience that persons do interact with nature and since we don't even understand how human persons do it's a bit much to expect to understand how God does.  We do know that practically all systems in nature are subjet to chaotic dynamics - cloud-like rather than clock-like and also subject to quantum fluctuations, so at a physical level the world is radically non-deterministic and does not exclude other causal principles.  John talks suggestively about "active information" and suggests that in 100 years time these issues may be a lot better understood.  After all chaotic dynamics itself is a relatively new area and is much better understood now than 30 years ago.  Remember that real science is about what is imperfectly understood and un-known: the idea that science deals in solved questions is quite mistaken.
John adds: In the life of Jesus, God's providential care ensured that its purpose was not frustrated (eg the warning about Herod), but part of that purpose was that the Son of God should in due course share to the uttermost the human experiences of suffering and death, thereby bringing about our redemption from their bondage.

Equations for Gravity Has anyone developed equations to measure the force of gravity on a cosmic scale, since it is a non-localized force?  If so, has it weakened as the universe has expanded?
Preliminary Response Although the Eistein equation is a differential equation - and thus 'local' its solutions are global and thus it does allow us to address gravity on a cosmic scale.  The Cosmological Constant appears to be non-zero so the Universe is expanding faster than would be predicted by 'classical' gravity thus you could say "gravity is weakening" but that's not strictly accurate. There's a good discussion of General Relativity at

Clarifying speculative chemistry In the response to the question entitled "Miracles - Water into Wine" you commented on the reaction:
H2O + 2H2C -> C2H6O
Whereas for H2C to form if there was H and C present it would simply form CH4 (Methane) from what I can make of it.
  You mention sugars which the commonly occuring sugar (sucrose) is C12H22O11
    This would coincide with the carbonated theory although it would be hydrogenated as the bubbles would be H2 not CO2 as it would go by this reaction:
H2O+2CH4 -> CH3CH2OH+2H2
(You may wish to generalise the formula for ethanol to C2H6O at the loss of accuracy).
    All the earthenware jugs would have needed then for the CH4 to occur in this instance would have been the them to have been used for emptying the chamber pots of the better off. Alternatively the ingredients for the clay could contain something that could biodegrade and form CH4 during the decomposition (e.g. hay or straw) as most organic materials produce this.

Preliminary Response Thank you. There's no doubt that this reaction, although perhaps possible in principle, is most unlikely. Come to that, so is the evolution of the eye! My point is simply that it is not impossible.

Importance of Proofs of God's Existence If a proof of God's existence can be done, then how important is it?  Hopefully this is just a rhetorical question.
  This proof meets scientific standards such as being falsifiable, as stipulated by the late Stephen Jay Gould and documented by Karl Popper. Within it are precisely defined the points that are provable and when faith begins.  With this proof, the most ardent evolutionist will have to agree that evolution is an unrealistic theory.  Why?  Because this is strictly on based on facts, and truth, that lead where they will lead.
Preliminary Response We need to be clear though that the scientific  Evolution is like Gravity - it clearly happens and is an important biological Law of Nature. However just as Gravity in no way disproves the idea that God created the Universe, but merely gives some important insights into how God created the Universe, so scientific Evolution is not at all incompatible with Christianity.  Of course if people like Dawkins make an Idol out of Evolution, and suggest that it not only is an important law of Biology but Explains Everything then this is not only profoundly un-Christian but also profoundly un-scientific.  That idea doesn't need disporving but de-bunking!
    Outside Mathematics proofs can only be persuasive, never utterly conclusive.  After all God does not force us to believe, He wants faith.
John adds: We have come to see that proff is a category of limited application (even in mathematics, as Godel showed).  What we need is well motivated belief, and I believe Christian faith can claim that. A useful philosopher here is Michael Polanyi.

Conscience What is conscience exactly? Is it that little voice inside of us, that gut feeling that guides us in choosing which course of action to take? Is it a little voice outside of us like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio? Is it a little of both or is it neither? I know it's more than simply a gut feeling.
Preliminary Response I think the 'exactly' is beyond the wit of man - or even of woman.
    Just as Soul is our deepest self so Conscience is our deepest understanding of what is right and wrong. It may sometimes feel a bit like a 'third party' but it isn't, although no doubt God can communicate with our Conscience just as He can communicate with other aspects of our minds.
    Of course exactly how our minds relate to our brains and bodies is very poorly understood, so it's too much to hope that conscience can be precisely understood. Though I think there are some suggestive PET images about parts of the brain that are associated with moral inhibitions, which are clearly related to, though not identical with, conscience.
John adds: it is hard to understand, and even harder to deny, our deep inner experiences such as conscience. I see its 'voice' as part of the frontier of exchange between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit.

How is Fine Tuning Regarded I'd like to ask John for some comments regarding the so-called fine-tuning of the universe, and how this is regarded my scientists generally.
As a theist (and a non-scientist) I'm a little puzzled as to how much weight, from both a theological and scientific point of view, one should give this data. In a number of places in JPs books there seems to be an insistence that there are only two real possibilities regarding the data; either some kind of God has created the universe, with intelligent life written into the design; or else there are multiple universes, where a world like ours is almost inevitable. At the same time, JP advises caution, saying there are no knock-down arguments, etc.
I'm puzzled by the fact that so few scientists and philosophers of science seem to feel driven to believe one or the other of these options. Maybe John could say a few words about why he thinks this is; is it intellectual dishonesty that keeps scientists from picking one of these alternatives, or are there good scientific/philosophical reasons for not choosing? If I'm correct in my feeling that most do not opt for one or the other, how is this data seen generally amongst scientists? Are there really no other plausable alternatives? (Even other theologians, eg Arthur Peacock, who you would think would be overjoyed at such powerful evidence for God, seem very cautious about accepting the fine-tuning at face -value. Is this degree of caution a good thing?)
Preliminary Response I think that amongst scientists who think about cosmology there is now pretty wide agreement that the fine tuning is too spooky to be a coincidence so, if they are atheistic, there has to be a multiverse in which our anthropic region is just one of many. See eg Sir Martin Rees (of course that doesn't make it almost inevitable, you can chose an infinity of numbers and never get pi) I think this is one of the strong factors that converted Anthony Flew to theism.  My suspicion is that most of the older school science/religion/philosophy people aren't properly aware of the exquisite fine-tuning - after all most of the thinking on determinism and logic is pre-Godelian.
   The main reason for caution is that since noone really knows what a correct theory of quantum gravity will look like (branes are suspiciously epicyclic) noone can be sure that the correct theory, when found, won't make the fine-tuning much less improbable.  This doesn't, of course, undercut the case for God - if indeed He has created the Universe with laws so ingenious that intelligent life is pretty well inevitable, without having to fine-tune the initial conditions so exquisitely, then the heavens will still be declaring the glory of God - but this is not the reason we believe, it's merely one important reason why theism fits the data much better than atheism.
John adds: no competent scientist denies that if the laws of nature were just a little bit different in our universe, carbon-based life would never have been possible.  Surely such a remarkable fact calls for an explanation. If one declines the insight of the universe as a creation endowed with potency, the rather desperate expedient of invoking an immense array of unobservable worlds seems the only other recourse.

Superdeterminism and Logic Sorry to bother you again, but I have a really troubling question about multiverse logic that I was wondering if I could ask, please.  In Tegmark and Lewis' multiverse models, the thinking appears to be that since it's logical that the universe could have been made differently, all logical universes exist. 

  However, isn't it also logical to assume that different forms of logic could exist also?  And if so, isn't it logical to assume that the form of logic selected would necessarily have to be complete and consistent, "breathing fire" into itself, subsuming all other forms of logic, and thus ensuring that the universe could NOT have been constructed any other way?  I'm afraid of the idea of a logic that could both bootstrap itself into existence and be the only way reality is constructed, as it would seem to leave precious little role for God.  I realize that atheists have had this potential arrow in their quiver for a long time, so I was wondering if there's any plausible Christian reply.  Thanks so much for your help, and God bless!! <:)
Preliminary Response Well if all logically possible universes exist in the multiverse then since it is clearly logically possible for God to exist, it follows that God does exist. And of course if God exists in one universe then by definition (the ultimate creator) He must exist in all universes. However it's a nonsense to suggest that the logic 'breathes fire' into itself. It is a physical postulate, not a logical necessity, that any given logically possible universe actually exists. Hope this helps.
Supplementary Thanks much for your reply; I really appreciate it. <:)  So logic -- even in a superdeterminist form which for the sake of argument ignores Goedel's incompleteness theorem and is both consistent and complete -- still cannot compel the universe to exist?  I would have thought that it would give one correct physical theory and state that the universe described by it MUST exist -- but I'm also in way over my head, metaphysically speaking. <:)  Thanks again for your time, and God bless you for the ministry that you and Rev. Polkinghorne do.
Response Any logical system has Axioms and Rules of inference and given these Axioms and Rules certain things follow, logically.  So if it is an Axiom in a particular logical system L that "any logically possible universe must exist physically (in the multiverse)" then within the logical system L you could say that the multi/universe MUST exist.  But there must be some reason, which cannot be within L, why L should apply and not some other logical system L'
     Also no logical system can 'ignore' Godel's theorem - unless it is not rich enough to contain elementary arithmetic it cannot be both complete and consistent.  This is a fundamental limitation on logical systems and really puts the kaibosh on any ideas that we are inevitable products of some impersonal logic.

Intelligent Design Right now there is a federal trial under way in Dover, Pa., USA, over a school policy requiring teachers to explain to students about "Intelligent Design" before teaching evolution. as a scientist and as a Christian wha do you think about "Intelligent Design" being taught in science classes?
Preliminary Response: Evolution clearly happens and there is very strong genetic evidence for the evolutionary connection of most animals including man.  However because evolution is a mechanism based on 'randomness' it is fundamentally non-deterministic and thus it is quite possible for other processes to be at work as well, alongside evolutionary ones.  Also it is quite impossible to calculate the likelihoods of evolutionary outcomes of any complexity, so it is impossible to know the likelihood of the observed evolutionary outcomes.  If a toss of 4 coins comes down with 1 heads and the rest tails you have no strong reason to suppose that there is anything else happening than randomness: if a toss of 4,000 coins comes down with 1 heads and the rest tails it is not, of course, impossible that this has happened by chance but you'd certainly be more inclined to look for additional factors - even more so with 4 million coins.  This would still be true if you had a trillion trillion samples of 4 million to choose from - the likelihood of this event with a fair coin is 2^-4M or roughly 10^-1.2M

Similarly, the idea proposed by some ID advocates that certain biological systems couldn't possibly have evolved is almost certainly wrong. But it is quite reasonable to point out that many biological systems are of such complexity that the likelihood of 'random' evolution with natural selection being the whole story of their emergence seems small and is certainly inscrutable. In some ways we can compare evolution to gravity and Dawin to Gallileo (not Newton, because Newton worked out an amazingly accurate quantitative theory of gravity).  Gravity is an extremely important physical force, but it is not the only physical force. Indeed one of the reasons that leading physicists of the 19th Century were so cautious about Darwinism was that, on the basis of what was then known of the physical forces of nature, the sun could not be old enough to allow time for evolution to have occurred.  It was only when Einstein's corrections to Newton's theory of gravity uncovered the possibility of massive energy release in nuclear transformations that the source of the Sun's energy was understood.

To summarise:

  1. Evolution undoubtedly occurs and there is a huge amount of evidence (not least the astonishing similiarities of our geonmes) that Man and apes have common evolutionary precursors.
  2. This does not contradict the Bible which says that "God formed man from the dust of the earth" anymore than astro-physics contradicts the Bible when it says that God also made the stars.  Evolution and astrophysics give an insight into the scientific details of how God did these things (which are not what the Bible is about) whereas the Bible gives insights into the (much more important) ethical and spiritual relalities (remember that people used to worship stars and planets).
  3. A belief in Evolution does not imply Atheism, although of course it is almost impossible to be an Atheist without beliving in Evolution.
  4. The idea that Evolution Explains Everything is at best unproven and at worst bunk.
  5. It is perfectly reasonable to teach in schools that there are serious scientists who doubt the adequacy and completeness of evolutionary explanations, because even if something could have happened at random the likelihood is almost certainly very low and currently inscrutable.

John adds:

  1. Evolutionary insight is certainly vcorrect in its assertion that life had a long history, starting very simple and becoming increasingly complex. Natural selection has been a significant factor in that fruitful history, but it is far from clear scientifically that it is the whole story. There may be natural tendencies in matter spontaneously to generate certain types of complex structure that are biologically accessible and functionally effective (Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe).  The history of life seems to have converged many times on certain types of solutions (Simon Conway-Morris, Life's Solution). The religious believer will see these factors as signs of the inherent potentiality with which the Creator has endowed creation.
  2. The ID people make a scientific assertion when they claim that at the molecular level there are systems that are irreducably complex (Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box), ie they could not develop gradually since they are composed of parts all of which have to be in place but which separately confer no advantage.  If true, this would be a major scientific discovery, as well as posing a deep problem for Darwinian orthodoxy, but I do not think that the ID people have so far succeeded in the very difficult task of actually demonstrating such irreducable complexity.
  3. Theologically I do not think it is a critical matter whether the ID claims are correct or not, for God, who is the ordainer and sustainer of nature, acts as much through natural processes as in any other way.

Limited Omniscience + Other faiths  I agree with much of what Dr. Polkinghorne has to say about the emerging creation in God in his book, Science and the Trinity.  However, I part ways with him when he characterizes God as having "chosen to possess only a current omniscience" and who "does not know all that will eventually become knowable" (S&T p 108).
Since I believe that God created the Universe (I include in the Universe Space-Time and the additional dimensions that may exist, if the String Theorists turn out to be correct.), I don't see how God could be bound, constrained, or limited to that Universe.  To expand just a bit on my thinking about God, I regard the Creator, in some sense, as "outside" our Space-Time.  In that sense, it appears to me that the Creator fully comprehends All, including all the presently undetermined.  In my view, God also continually upholds the total of Creation by the Word of Power.  Thus, in some sense, God is intimately "inside" our Space-Time.  For me, the problem is that my brain is too small to really comprehend these concepts.
I would much appreciate hearing Dr. Polkinghorne's comments concerning the thought that the Creator may not be constrained to Space-Time.  If that is correct, what are the implications for what God knows?
As a Christian, I appreciate the opportunity to hear Dr. Polkinghorne's exposition from the Trinitarian perspective, and I understand that S&T was deliberately limited to presenting those concepts.  However, while I was reading, I wondered how Dr. Polkinghorne thinks about non-Christians.  What place do Atheists, Moslems, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus etc. occupy in God's Universe?
Preliminary Response: It is not that the Universe binds God, but that God, in an act of love, choses to limit His omniscience.  To use a weak analogy, suppose you have a pair of spectacles that allows you to see through clothing, it would not be a loving act to use those in normal life.  If the concept of limiting one's omniscience is coherent (which I think it clearly is) then say that God cannot limit His omniscience is to say that He is not omnipotent.
God loves non-Christians - they are created in His image and Jesus came to save us all.  It's clear that some non-Christians are saved, and that God will save as many as He can.  This makes John something very close to being a universalist.  I observe that if there is a probabilty p>0 that someone will miss out on eternal loving union with God - an infinite good - through not truly embracing the Good News then it doesn't matter what the value of p is, it is still infinitely important that they do so. And p must be >0 because otherwise salvation is compusory, and not an act of love.

John Adds: the preliminary replies are very helpful, and suggests you might want to look at Ch 10 of Science and Christian Belief or Ch 7 of Science and Theology

Spiritual Realm (+ Adam & Eve) In the evangelical tradition, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the spiritual realm; that is, that Ephesians 6:12 battle against the powers of darkness. We're taught that there is a literal Heaven and Hell, that there are real angels and demons, and that there is a real Devil (especially made apparent during Christ's 40 days in the wilderness). I've read much of John's discourse regarding his thoughts on the afterlife (a divine memory of personality culminating in eventual resurrection, dual-aspect monism, etc.), but I haven't really seen him comment on these matters relating to the spirit realm. Do you or John not believe these to be literal places/beings, or is it simply that it doesn't bring much to the arena of scientific/theological discussion, and thus doesn't warrant attention? (+ there was an inital remark about whether Adam & Eve existed)
Preliminary Response : Demons and the Devil clearly exist, and they are clearly spiritual beings rather than physical. Exactly how and in what mode they exist is something of which we know pretty well nothing, and about which speculation seems pointless.
Heaven and Hell clearly exist, and they are clearly spiritual states rather than physical places.  In The Mystery of Salvation which John co-authored with other members of the Doctrine Commission of the CofE they state (p199) "Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and absolutely that the only end is total non-being... If God has created us with the freedom to choose, then thgose who make such a final choice choose against the only source of life, and they have their reward.  Whether there be any who do so choose, only God knows."
What I would add to this is that this final choice of separation from God is objectively worse, from the PoV of the 'damned' than being roased on fires etc.. and the traditional images of Hell. Ultimate loving communion with God is an infinite good, so being deprived of this is an infinte loss.  The image Jesus repeatedly uses of ending up onto the municipal rubbish heap outside Jerusalem (Gehenna) "where the fire is not quenched" and where there is "wailing and gnashing of teeth" is (of course!) absolutely right and a far better description of what is really at stake than foolish stoical talk about "going into the night"  The choice of ultimate rejection of God is like chosing to be an abortion rather than to be born into a life far more wonderful and abundant than anything we can now imagine.
PS It is highly probable that Adam and Eve existed - there must have been an initial fully morally conscious Man and Woman (resp.) it is seems extremely probable that they were a couple and that they were also the first to sin.  It is clear from the Bible that there were other members of the species around, but presumably these were not yet morally conscious enough to be capable of sin.  Also Darwin and Evolution should not be confused with the ultra-Darwinists (like Dawkins and Haeckel) who hijack(ed) good science to make ill-digested cod-theology.
John Adds: What I think about Heaven and Hell is set out at some length in The God of Hope and the End of the World (Yale/SPCK). For an imaginative picture of these matters, see CS Lewis's The Great Divorce.
When one considers an evil event such as the holocaust, one can see human and societal factors that helped to bring it about, but there is such a weight of evil involved that I think we would be unwise to dismiss the possibility of evil spiritual forces also being at work (demons and the devil). Why and how they exist and are allowed to operate is, of course, a deep and perplexing question.  What I think we can affirm is that the ultimate victory lies with God and Christ.
On Adam and Eve I am less confident than Nicholas that they were identifiable unique historical beings. I see them as symbolising humanity after the almost unimaginable, but certain, event of the mergence of self-conscious, God-conscious beings that occurred with our hominid ancestors.
Nicholas Adds: So John & I agree that they existed, but he points out that they might be sets of people (symbolised by an individual member of each - quite standard in Hebrew) rather than single individuals.

Physical Immortality: Hello, I was interested in your thoughts on MIT professor Ray Kurzweil's recent prophecy that physical human immortality is only twenty years away due to our ability to map the genome and download "patches" as though our physiology was some kind of video game. This sounds, of course, like quackery but is such a thing remotely possible, even in the distant future? What would be the theological implications? What would be the sociological implications? Also, this all sounds vaguely like the Christian prophecy of Nikolai Federov who advanced the idea of a "common task", suggesting that as civilization progressed we could, through science, come to control the evolutionary process. At that time, because colonization of the solar system would be possible, we would eventually be obligated to phase out the desire to procreate and replace it with the inclination to raise the dead, which would supposedly also be possible at some point due to advancements in gene tracing. Federov believed that to succumb to physical death was an insult to our potential as humans and that our respect for all life required us to restore the dead to life. I know that the Orthodox believe in an eventual fusion of man's capabilities and God's kingdom which would then render all questions of theism or atheism moot. What are your thoughts on this?

Response: Even if we eliminated 'dying of old age/cancer/heart attack etc...' we would still not make people immortal - murder, suicide,  accidents and residual disease would eventually kill people.  Furthermore, all these wild claims about the therapeutic value of mapping the genome seem to be grossly overblown, at least on the timescale of a couple of decades.  It is now clear that the genome tells us far less about how the human body works than was at first supposed and that the expression of genes into physiololgy is enormously complex and very poorly understood. Indeed it is not entirely clear that the concept of a 'gene' is correct - there is suspiciously too much "junk DNA" and it is possible that different genes overlap in the DNA. It is also completely clear that the idea that DNA = an individual is utter rubbish. Identical twins have the same DNA and yet are quite different people.  There are also other mechanisms to heredity than DNA transfer - eg your immune system and probably other learning in utero not to mention the other ways in which you learn from parents and siblings.
Having said all that, it is certainly conceivable that at some stage in the 21st C technologies will exist that will allow organs to be re-grown (perhaps from bone marrow stem cells) or repaired (maybe by nano-bots??) so that sufficiently rich people could prolong their 'natural' lives very considerably - almost to the level of the OT Patrarchs (wouldn't it be amusing if it turned out that these lifetimes in the Bible were correct and that modern man had simply got corrupt genes?)
You ask about theological implications: first order I'm not sure that there are any.  After all, as noted, the Bible pre-supposes that some humans lived for centuries anyway.  It would hopefully further undermine the 'culture of death' and make "euthanasia" look pretty silly, but thologically everyone, from the strongest and richest to the weakest and poorest, is made in God's Image and someone of infinite value, for whom God was prepared to die in agony.
You ask about coming to control the evolutionary process. Well humans (and others) have been doing this through sexual selection for a long time! This mechanism, known to Darwin but strangely underplayed by the (mostly male) formulators of neo-Darwinism, has certainly been a major force in human evolution for a considerable time and is probably now the dominant one in the developed world.  Germ line genetic therapy and in-utero screening are certainly worrying developments and could take this further - but I hope the ethical line against it will hold.  Most parents want some mystery about their children.  I can see no reason to phase out the desire to procreate, especially if colonisation of other worlds becomes possible.  That is also part of the 'culture of death'.
Raising the dead to life genetically is a nonsense - even if someone was born today genetically identical to Napoleon there is no chance that they would replicate his deeds or his entire personality.

Chaotic Inflation I'm writing because I have one caveat to accepting the teleological argument as presented by Rev. Polkinghorne.  Although I'll grant that most multiverse ideas have a strong odor of implausibility about them, the continuing popularity of Andrei Linde's theory of chaotic inflation as a multiverse generator has made me unable to fully embrace teleology as embodied in the physical laws.  Is chaotic inflation falsifiable, first of all?  Second, I've read and will allow that there are certain physical laws (such as GRT, Pauli exclusion, etc., which may be subsumed under string theory), that MUST be in place for Linde's universe generator to function.  However, doesn't this bring us back to the question of whether the laws' existence describes the universe or vice versa, or whether they are mutually existent and supporting?  If either of the latter two options are true, it would seem that the universe generator is the product of necessity, and the multitude of universes it creates are the product of chance.  (One could make the weak anthropic principle argument that the laws of our own universe are deterministic too, but in this case the coincidences seem too extreme to attribute to any force other than God.)  Thanks so much for your time, and God bless! :)

Nicholas' Preliminary Response I'm not an expert on Chaotic Inflation - or indeed Cosmology, but here goes.
Firsly, one must remember that cosmologists are "often in error but never in doubt" - I think that's unfair to Linde BTW because he understands that his theories are speculative and provisional.  There clearly seems to be something in the Inflation idea but it all feels a bit like Physics at the turn of the 19th/20th C: until we understand how QM and Gravity fit together everything is up in the air and when we do we'll probably find that the maths that seems to work (like the Lorenz Transformations) actually works for very different reasons from that now supposed.

The argument for the endless succession of chaotically inflating universes with a fractal character seems to boil down to this:

However CI probably implies that most Universes also create a very large number of 'daughter' Universes so if CI is true we probably live in a multiverse composed of a potentially infinite number of Universes which are probably largely causally independent of each other post-creation and essentially un-knowable.  The problems with CI seem to be that:

  1. It's all based on very speculative physics.  True, you can make it fit the spectrum of the Cosmic Background Radiation and known Matter pretty well but there are enough degrees of freedom in the model to make this only moderately impressive.
  2. Positing a potentially infinite number of essentially un-knowable Universes would get you out of any awkward empirical fact, so in the absence of really convincing evidence for them (by definition rather tricky!) one should be very reluctant to believe in them.
  3. Even if CI were correct it would still not explain the existence of the Multiverse nor the remarkable physical principles which allowed it to happen.

Now to try to address your questions:

  1. Is CI falsifiable?  Probably. Clearly particular versions could be if for example they got the distribution of CBR and known Matter wrong.  It will be even harder to get this right if/when we figure out what the Dark Matter/Energy really is.  However there are probably enough degrees of freedom in the CI idea that it would take a long time - with enough epicycles anything is fixable.  Linde and others have proposed experimentally trying to create a Universe in the lab and if this is ever tried (serious ethical problems, and what if they are wrong and it did swallow up this Universe) then this would clearly be a test of the theory - if one could observe the result of course!
  2. Unless you go as far as the idea (which I think Tegmark suggests) that all logicall possible universes exist (in which case of course God exists!) then the existence of the Uni/Multi-verse will be a consequence of the instantiation of physical systems which obey certain laws - they will not be instantiated by Necessity (even though they may hold in all regions in the Uni/Multiverse) and presumably the actual path of the U/M-verse will be subject to what we call chance.

CI is no more of a challenge to faith than Evolution - it's possible that God has chosen to work in this way. But it's interesting that the best scientific thinking at present is that either God specially created the Universe or there are a potentially infinite number of unknowable alternative Universes. I know which makes more sense to me!

John is away so won't be able to comment on this for a while. I hope it is of some use.

Redemption for All 2 I have a follow-up on Redemption for All:If you believe that the offer of redemption is still available to those who fail to repent and follow Christ before they die, how do you interpret the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)? It seems clear that the rich man in this parable wishes he had repented before it was "too late"; the story tells of a "great chasm" between heaven and hell, which can never be crossed.
Response Redemption for all does not mean that it doesn't matter when you repent - it may well be that people reach states when they are past repentance, and anyway living live with Christ is an inestimable good in itself.  If you meet the love of your life when you are in your 20s it matters, a lot, if you don't marry her and follow a chain of doomed relationships, even if you end up marrying her in your 60s. (Indeed one reason is that you don't have children, and the joy of helping someone else come to faith, or strenthening theirs, is also considerable!)  Repentance has to be genuine - a robber who steals £1,000 and gives it back for a £2,000 reward has not repented - so I doubt whether someone who 'repented' just becasue they were now suffering torment would actually have re-oriented their will enough.
We've also got to be careful not to read more in to this parable than is there.  It's clearly got some elements of metaphorical language - we don't really believe that we will all be in Abraham's "bosom".  Nor does it say that the chasm can never be crossed, merely that "those who wish to go across (diabaino- same word as in "come to Macedonia and help us", also used in Heb 11:29 of crossing the Red Sea) nor from there to us can cross over (diaperwsin - also used in Acts 21:2, Matt 9:1 14:34, Mark 5:21, 6:53 so it has connotations of going on a boat).  Of course Jesus descended into Hell and preached to the dead and gave salvation to many there (cf  Matthew 27:52-53).
Ultimately we are compelled to affirm both that (a) the choice is real and urgent and matters deeply and that (b) God's love is infinite and his mercy is everlasting, so God will save all that He can.

Predestination i am doing a study on God and a free universe how can it be free when paul himself speaks of predestination (romans 8 v 29+30), and i noticed in one of his books jcp talks of destiny and predestination? please help as i have rather ground to a halt over this question.
Nicholas's Preliminary Response: Paul rarely speaks of predestination, and what he means is that it is God's intention from the beginning of time that we should be saved through Jesus, and that it is God who calls, justifies and glorifies.  Paul is not taking a scientific or philosophical position on whether the future is pre-determined (and BTW if he had one, we would not be obliged to follow it).  Paul often speaks of Love, and it is central to his theology and indeed the theology of the New Testament.
One of the major advances in Theology and Philosophy over the last 50 years is a deeper understanding of the connection between love and freedom. Alongside this we are able to glimpse the sheer brilliance of God's Creation in solving an impossible problem: how can an omniopotent and omniscient God create beings that are genuinely free to chose to love. The answer seems to be by creating a universe which has JUST the right balance between lawfulness and randomness to allow freewill beings to evolve.
I hope this helps - and I'll see what John has to add
John adds:
Nothing much to add to Nicholas's excellent reply, except perhaps the following: William James liked to speak of the Creator as a Chess Grand Master engaged in a game with club player opponents.  The Grand Master will win the game, whatever moves the players freely make. In other words we can believe that God will bring about his purposed ends, by contingent means.

Binitarianism In Faith in the Living God- a Dialogue written by you together with Professor Michael Welker... I’ve found one word is very hard to understand, namely, “binitarians”(p71). I beg you to give me a clear explanation of it. John says: Binitarians are those who do not regard the Holy Spirit as a divine Person and so take a dual view of God and Father and Son only

Hasn't science proved that the laws of nature prevent the changing of wine from water?
 Not really!  Wine is essentially alcohol and water and sugars, all made from H2O and CO2. Of course under normal conditions this requires biological catalysts and takes a long time, but when the Son of God is present on earth these are not normal conditions: and what God does every day through the agency of His creatures (vines and yeasts) it seems that on this occasion He did quickly. I [Nicholas] also remember speculating that He might have caused some of the Oxygen atoms to turn into Carbon ( H2O + 2 H2C = C2H6O - interestingly the reaction O -> C + alpha is the main source of energy for Carbon Cycle stars, although in this case the temperatures are 15MK and the isotope is O-15 not O-16) and that the alpha particles that would then have been emitted is a reason why Jesus told people to stand back and why he used stone vessels. It also leads to the in-principle testable prediction that it was white wine, possibly lightly carbonated - Champagne indeed!

Of course all these details are wild speculation - we cannot possibly know how Jesus did it, but at least we do know that it is not impossible! I'll see what John has to add.
John adds: The idea that some miracles are accelerated natural processes is at least as old as Augustine, who said that what takes months in the vineyard happens immediately at the Lord's command.  Nicholas has produced an ingenious modern version of thinking about water into wine in this way. I am much more reserved about this approach, not least because the central Christian miracle of Christ's resurrection (the event on which in my view the Christian faith pivots) cannot be understood in this way.
Nicholas adds : For those not used to the gentle English style, I think this means John really doesn't agree with this approach!  I would add that there is an interesting "theopic prediction" that comes from my 'explanation' which is that O -> C + α can occur at room temperature in aqueous phase. It would be very interesting to find out whether this was true - I bet no-one has looked and if anyone does and finds it a Nobel awaits!  I'd also add that the relationship between matter and consciousness is very poorly understood - we sort of know that concsiousness emerges from organised matter and that it in turn organises matter to its purposes.  It is possible therefore that the Resurrection is at the deepest level, part of the structure of the Universe and therefore not a violation of the laws of nature so much as a divine intensification of them. This is not, of course, to deny that it is a miracle.

Was the Tsunami an Act of God?
Nicholas's preliminary response:The Tsunami is, in a very obvious way, the working out of physical laws - the same ones that cause the beautiful seas and mountains and seem to be exquisitely fine-tuned to produce intelligent life.
The magnitude of the human catastrophe is very much a function of human action, specifically:
a. Neglecting to have a Tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean - an inexpensive measure (a few $M) that would have saved almost all the lives in Sri Lanka and India and probably most of them in Thailand - although apparently the Thai earthquake monitoring service suspected there might be a Tsunami and decided not to issue a warning because it would damage tourism.
b. The prolonged civil war with Islamist separatists in Aceh which has prevented effective infrastructure and undermined govenrmental systems, thus, in all probability, greatly increasing the death toll.

John adds: this is something I wrote for our Parish Magazine, based on a few words with which I prefaced my sermon on 2 John:
Great natural disasters, like that which we have seen in the Indian Ocean, trouble all of us and perplex religious believers as they wrestle with the question of God's role in these matters. It would be foolish to suppose that there is some simple formula that could, in a few sentences, remove all our difficulties, but there are two thoughts that may be of some help as we think and pray and give in response to what has happened:

One reason why the tsunami occurred is that we do not live in a magic world, but in a creation that has been given the gift of reliable and regular laws of nature by its Creator. The great fertility of life in all its forms depends on that gift.  But it also has its inescapable shadow side.  A world of evolving fruitfulness canno help also being a world with malformations and ragged edges as part of it.  The fact that there are tectonic plates has enabled mineral resources to well up from within the Earth, replenishing over many millions of years the chemical richness of its surface.  The raw material for endless generations of life became available in this way.  Yet if there are tectonic plates, they will also occasionally slip, producing earthquakes and the huge ocean swells that accompany them. You cannot have one without the other.  We all tend to think that if we had been in charge of creation we would have kept all the nice things and discarded all the bad ones. The more we learn scientifically how the world works, the more clearly we see that this is just not possible, for fruitfulness and destructiveness, order and chaos, are inextricably intertwined.
The second thought is a specifically Christian insight into God's relationship to suffering.  Our God is not just as compassionate spectator of events, looking down in pity from the safety of heaven, but we believe that, in the cross of Christ, God himself - living a human life in Jesus - has truly been a fellow-sharer of the anguish of the world.  Where is God in the suffering of creation? The Christian answer is that God is a participant alongside us in the strangeness and bitterness of events.  I believe that this insight meets the problem of suffering at the most profound level possible.
I hope that these thoughts may be of some use as we prayerfully wrestle with our perplexities about the devastation left by the tsunami.

Are thoughts material? Are thoughts material and does it matter.?
I viewed a recent discussion on the topic of whether our thoughts are material. The two main responses were, from the Christian that the process was but the thought wasn’t. The generally held atheist view was that all processes and outcomes were material and that there is no other element to it and saying that all those involved in neuroscience would agree. I understand that this is obviously a huge topic but I was wondering what your thoughts were on the issue and what the implications are for the Christian if our thoughts are wholly material.
Preliminary response: Thoughts cannot be any more material than software - and if two persons can have the same thought in different places then the thoughts can hardly be material! Furthermore, because brains are hypercomplex systems and truly subject to chaotic dynamics, they are non-deterministic at a physical level and thus ripe for being subject to causation from 'active information'
John Adds: I agree with Nick's response.  Of course, thinking is an activity which has a material substrate, but I beleive that the relationship of mind and brain is best understood in terms of the view of dual-aspect monism, linking the material and the mental to form a complementary relationship, rather than through a fallacious attempt to reduce the mental to the material.

Creation - only in the past? Thanks for answering some questions for me a couple of years ago and giving me some very helpful leads to follow. I'm amongst a lot of Creationists again, and I feel very sad that they are not open to some of the wonderful insights of 'kenotic' interpretations of Creation. As with evolution, Creationists (Young Earth ones, anyway) have a very convincing argument that the Bible only ever talks of Creation in the past tense (as opposed to providence and sustenance). Are there any obvious Biblical answers to this, or is it just going to be a blind alley to follow? I am trying to write down some of my answers to Creationism, because it's being taught so widely round here, but my arguments are only 'valid' if they can be demonstrated from the Bible--it's quite a challenge.... I'd love to know if you could help me.
Preliminary Response The Christian doctrine of Creation has always been that it is a continuing and not merely an historical event.  Christians are not Deists.  Specific biblical references to God creating (present or future tense) include Ps 51:10, 104:30, Is 4:5, 48:7, 65:17-18, Jer 31:22, Amos 4:13.  It's also relevant that tenses in Hebrew don't work the same way as tenses in English or Greek, but I'm no expert on this.

String Theory I am currently attending a class titled Science and Theology.  John Polkinghorne is the author for all the books that we are using for this class.  I am working on a paper that begins with a religious concept and then applies the scientific explanation.  I have chosen to base my paper on life after death, and the ressurection of chist.  I intend to apply the String Theory as explanation via 10 dimentions and the basics to the theory.  I would appreciate if you are able to supply me with any information regarding John Polkinghorne's opinion on this matter.  Thank you.
Preliminary Response Remember that String Theory is still very speculative. So anything you said would have to be on the lines of "if this speculative theory were correct, then it is conceivable that this could have been a phyisical mechanism involved"  Remember that, according to latest estimates we don't even know what most of the matter in the Universe consists of (only abouy 3% seems to be made of Protons, Neutrons and Electrons).

Cancer You said in your St.Edmunds Lecture (2002)  'The same cellular processes that have driven the fruitful history of evolution through genetic mutation, must necessarily allow other cells to mutate and become malignant. The anguishing fact that there is cancer in creation is not gratuitous, something that a more compassionate or competent Creator could easily have remedied.' Could  God not have guided evolution so that we have bodies which attempt to kill off cells which mutate and become malignant?
Preliminary Response Well He has /we do - there is a wonderful and elaborate immune system whose mysteries we are only just beginning to fathom, (see eg - but the immune system is not  infalliable, and we develop cancer and other diseases when the immune  response is insufficient to prevent the disease.  I think the fundamental reason the immune system is not infalliable is that it is built with stochastic processes and also that if the immune responses are too strong then (a) you get auto-immune diseases and (b) the energy used is excessive. John's fundamental point - that it is the same molecular processes - of course remains.

Causality and Q Smith  In a conference on atheism Quentin Smith said the following about how there is no room for God as our universe was bound to happen by chance:
"But the more important point is this: not only is there no evidence for the theist's case, there's evidence against it. The claim that the beginning of our universe has a cause conflicts with current scientific theory. The scientific theory is called the wave function of the universe. It has been developed in the past ten years or so by Stephen Hawking, Andre Vilenkin, Alex Linde, and many others. Their theory is that there is a scientific law of nature called the Wave Function of the Universe that implies that it is highly probable that a universe with our characteristics will come into existence without a cause. Hawking's theory is based on assigning numbers to all possible universes. All of the numbers cancel out except for a universe with features our universe possesses. For example, contains intelligent organisms such as humans. This remaining universe has a certain probability very high -- near to a hundred percent -- of coming into existence uncaused.

Hawking's theory is confirmed by observational evidence. This theory predicts our universe has evenly-distributed matter on a large scale, which would be on scales of super-clusters of galaxies. It predicts that the expansion rate of our universe -- our universe has been expanding ever since -- would be almost exactly between the rate of the universe expanding forever and the rate where it expands and then collapses. It also predicts the very early area of rapid expansion near the beginning of the universe called inflation. Hawking's theory exactly predicted what the COBE satellite discovered about the irregularities of the background radiation in the universe. So a scientific theory that is confirmed by observational evidence tells us that the universe began without being caused. So if you want to be a rational person and accepts the results of rational inquiry into nature, then we must accept the fact that God did not cause the universe to exist. The universe exists because of this wave-function law.

Now Stephen Hawking's theory dissolves any worries about how the universe could begin to exist uncaused. He supposes that there is a timeless space, a four-dimensional hypersphere, near the beginning of the universe. It is smaller than the nucleus of an atom. It is smaller than 10^-33 centimeters in radius. Since it was timeless, it no more needs a cause than the timeless god of theism. This timeless hypersphere is connected to our expanding universe. Our universe begins smaller than an atom and explodes in a Big Bang and here we are today in a universe that is still expanding. Is it nonetheless possible that God could have caused this universe? No. For the wave function of the universe implies there is a 95% probability that the universe came into existence uncaused. If God created the universe, he would contradict this scientific law in two ways. First, the scientific law says that the universe would come into existence because of its natural, mathematical properties, not because of any supernatural forces. Second, the scientific law says the probability is only 95% that the universe would come into existence. But if God created the universe, the probability would be 100% that it would come into existence because God is all-powerful. If God wills the universe to come into existence, his will is guaranteed to be 100% effective."

Please can you shed some light on the situation as to what is going on.

Preliminary Response Quentin Smith is either totally bamboozling or being bamboozled.

1. These ideas of Hawking are highly speculative. They are not 'current scientific theory' but 'current speculation by some scientists' and certainly not a 'scientific Law'. Cosmologists are notoriously 'often in error but seldom in doubt'.

2. Clearly any theory which says “the Universe will come into being because of X with exactly the characteristics that we now observe” will be 'confirmed by the observational evidence' in the sense that it will be consistent with that evidence, but that does not give any empirical backing to X. You need to predict major new facts that cannot be better explained.

3. His last statements about probabilities are hopelessly confused. If you have two rival theories, H1 and H2, and one gives a probability of 95% to an X and the other 100% then the only way you can tell them apart is to have some instances of X not happening. If Q Smith has observed some instances of the Universe not coming into existence then he is remarkable indeed!

4. Even if it were the case that the ultimate Laws of Physics were such that an Anthropic universe was highly likely to come into existence this would still not answer the question of why the laws of Physics had that particular form. The only coherent answer to that question – as opposed to a refusal to answer it with a 'well it's just so' – is that an Ultimate Creator created the universe with these laws.

John adds: "I think point 4 is the chief point - the others are replies to what seem very rash speculations"

I have now read quite an interesting very recent article by Q Smith at here in which he concedes the case against 'well it's just so': "I reject standard or traditional atheism and side with theism on this issue. A theory that includes an explanatory hypothesis about some observational evidence e, such as spacetime’s beginning to exist, is ceteris paribus epistemically preferable to any theory of the observational evidence e that does not include such an explanatory hypothesis. No atheist has ever provided a proof that the existence of spacetime is a brute fact and, consequently, standard atheism remains, in this respect, an unjustified hypothesis."  but tries to argue that "There exists a metaphysically necessary, essentially uncaused, timeless, and independent (“a se”) point that, if spacetime begins to exist, is the transcendent cause of spacetime’s beginning to exist." is a better explanation than God.  There is, as you would expect, a considerable amount of philosophical slight-of-hand involved in this!  There is also the bizzare 'argument' that God would not have created order out of chaos - he seems to think that God's creation began with the Garden of Eden.  How anyone with such apparent basic ignorance of what the montheistic religions actually teach can be taken seriously when they comment on God is one of the mysteries of late 20thC secular thinking.  But to retreat so clearly from the nonsense stated by many atheists means that he is, perhaps, "not far from the Kingdom of God"

Jesus, Moses and Genesis As a Christian, as well as an oncologist with a heavily-loaded science background and a great desire for understanding, I have few comments as well as a couple of questions and I will try to be as concise as possible.

      There are several weaknesses in the theory of cosmic evolution, regardless of the name which is attached to it. I'm sure these questions have been posed previously to John, and in my opinion, neither cosmic nor macro-evolution can possibly subscribe to the scientific method. I think most scientists know that to be a true statement. The last tenured chemistry professor I discussed this with tried to suggest computer simulations as verification of the theories 'if this or that is first in place'. The key word there being 'if'.
      But from a creationist's standpoint, I think it all boils down to a few core questions. Firstly, as a Christian, do either of you accept Jesus Christ as complete 'truth'? If so, in John 5:47, Jesus says: "But if ye believe not his (Moses') writings, how shall ye believe my words?"
      As Moses was the major author of the pentateuch, as received from God Himself, how do you come to the conclusion that Genesis (which is truth, according to Jesus Christ, as He was present with God the Father 'in the beginning') and the Biblical account of creation can allow for a 'marriage' of some sort with evolutionists? The two never even meet at the altar.
      Genesis 1:27 clearly states that we (Adam and Eve initially) were created in the image of God. Not the beasts of the field. There is a clear distinction. Yes, everything created on the canvas of the universe is a reflection of grand artistry, but only mankind is created in the image of God. So, how could man have evolved from other animal types, even back from the 'primordial ooze', without losing this distinction? What's more, were there other Adams and other Eves?
     What was Jesus really saying in John 5:47?

Reply The fact that there are two creation accounts in Genesis which differ in in-essential details shows precisely that the in-essential details are not to be taken literally. This is no doubt why God caused there to be two such accounts (Jews were of course very aware of such issues, see eg the story of Daniel and the false witnesses in the Apocrypha). The Bible says that "God created man in his own image" and "formed man out of the dust of the earth". Science, not Theology, addresses the question of how, scientifically, this formation took place.

At present the evidence that God chose to do this through the physical processes of 'evolution' is very strong. Not only is there the obvious evidence about the physical similarities of organisms, the astonishing genetic similarities between Hom. Sap. and eg Drosophila Melanogaster strongly suggest that God uses this amazingly powerful principle in much of the work of His creation, just as eg He uses gravity and other elegant physical laws.  By making the universe full of beautify scientific laws not only does He give us futher insight into His faithfulness (remember how Maxwell had Psalm 111:2 engraved over the Cavendish Labs) but He makes it possible for us to be His co-creators and to be free to chose to love Him.

Of course those who say Evolution when they mean Atheistic Evolution as a metaphysical principle (beings evolve without God) rather than a scientific one (beings evolve) are simply equivocating.  But as Stephen J Gould pointed out, the science of Evolution does not entail Atheistic Evolution, and is at least equally compatible, as all true science is, with Christianity. Remember how desparately atheists tried to avoide the Big Bang because it sounded too like creation?  However, as Al Plantinga points out, if Atheistic Evolution were the whole story, then human reason could only have evolved to give survival value rather than truth, and consequently Atheistic Evolution acts as a 'defeater' to its own rationality.

It seems that God formed humans from some pre-humans by endowing them (male and female) with a human Spirit (the 'breath of life' also means 'spirit of life' - the words are the same in Hebrew and Greek) and this is not at all incompatible with Genesis - not only does it fill in many details that (of course) Genesis leaves out, it also explains where the other people in Genesis 4 come from.

John 5:47 is of course talking about Moses's testimony about Jesus and has no direct relevance to the theory of Evolution.

John kindly described this draft response as 'admirable' "the only point I would add would be that AR Wallace made the Plantinga point about rationality and evolutionary necessity already in the 19th Century"

Multiple Universes I have followed the debate on multiple universes on your website with great interest.  I, too, subscribe to the view that this theory (and its sister, string theory) smacks rather of desperation and amounts more to a philosophy than a science.  But then again, one gets used to science 'fiction' being present as science fact to support the latest atheistic fad.

However, I do find the concept of multiple universes an interesting one, and one which might resolve the apparent conflict between an omniscient God and human free-will. There has always been a tendency for this conflict to end up with pre-destination and a new group of 'elect'.  If on the other hand we were to consider that God is omniscient in the sense that He knows all outcomes from every action, but not omniscient in that He knows which of various choices a human being will actually pick at any point.  In that scenario, the concept of multiple universes is really just a description of the mind of God, which must hold all outcomes at all times.  To that extent they 'exist', but not in any physical form.  I would be interested in your thoughts on this, probably heretical, view.

Preliminary Response John (and I) think that just as God limits His omnipotence to allow us freewill and autonomy, He also limits His omniscience for similar reasons.  If you don't take this view then you are led into a 'many worlds' interpretation of QM - which is a kind of multiple universes although not quite because the 'mainstream' multiple universe view seems to be that these universese are not causally connected - and all kinds of difficulties about a faithful God acting in History.

Logically the mind of God must be capable of holding everything that can be known, but it is clearly logically possible (and, we would suggest, theologically necessary) for God to chose not to know something.

Resurrection and Mental Illness You write in The Tablet 'If we matter to God now, as we certainly do, then we shall matter to God for ever..... We can take with all due seriousness all that science can tell us about ourselves and this world and still believe that God will remember the patterns that we are and will recreate them when we are resurrected into the life of the world to come.'

Does a person with autism or schizophrenia matter to God?  If a person has autism or schizophrenia, is that part of the pattern that that person is?

Response Yes (such people do matter to God)  And to the extent that these are "illnesses" surely God will heal them - but if there are some elements of the conditions which enhance their personalities then no doubt God will strike the right balance.  Of course we cannot hope to know the details, but most forms of restoration into a new and better mode of being (eg pictures, films, recordings) have similar issues around them. 

A medical Student Asks  I am a 4th year medical student and consider myself very intellectual (multiple awards and papers etc) yet I have always found a faith in God.  I never saw  science and religion conflicting (perhaps this is due to the generation I have come from--I am only 27) so science/evolution/the big bang have always been  part of my scientific lexicon.  However there are times when I doubt my faith and I was wondering if you could help by answering some of the quesitons I have below--

1) Why did God only reveal himself directly (through miracles/his son) in the  biblical age and not the modern age.  Surely if God wanted all of us to know him he would not have just revealed himself to a specific age of man.  Why then  become reculsive and elusive after an age of revealing.  If the answer is b/c of free will then what of the free will of those who were privy to any of the number of the biblical stories, did they have the free will to choose to worship.  Basically I am asking--doesn't the sudden disappearnece of his direct influence in our lives argue for the bible as allegory rather than history?

2) I sometimes worry that I only believe because I want to think there is meaning to my being here, or that I have such a love of life and of my fiance that I could not fathom the concept of being erased from existence one day.  How am I to be sure/how are any of us to be sure that we are not just taking our most basic fears and assinging hope to where there is none.  That in order to make this chaotic transient existence we have not developed (artifically) purpose/longevity/everlasting life where there is none. 

3) If any of us in the modern age had not been brought up by families with a faithful tradition would we have come to God on our own.  In other words--if there had been no Bible--no oral/written tradition--how many of us would come to believe in a supreme being in an age of scientific explanations?

4)  Are there many other people out there like John Polkinghorne.  I do not mean physicists who have become clergy (as I am sure this is the exception rather than the rule).  What I mean is are there still faithful scientists who see that their faith and relgion are nto in conflict.  Recent polls indicate that 40% of American scientists believe--but that number drops when the label of preeminant scientist is attached to less than 10% (and I believe this number is lower overall if one looks into non-american scientists).  How is faith to endure when scientists have becoem the clergy of the 21st century?  Are there people liek John who can make this a reality or is this the last gasp in a dying tradition?

Preliminary Reply 1) God's incarnation can only have happened once in human history.  Indeed the 'window of opportunity' between the re-building of the Temple and its destruction was rather small. By definition the majority of humans can not be contemporaries of Jesus's earthly life, so Christianity has to be something that is accessible to all.  And God's influence has to be indirect for freewill - after all Jesus never forced people to believe.

2) Certainly Christianity makes sense of aspects of life that otherwise appear meaningless - but the same is true of any other good explanation.  And whatever we think of our theories and ideas, there is the fact of Jesus, whose love and towering personality and teaching by word and deed resonates throughout the ages.

3) If there had been no Christian faith in a Loving Ultimate Creator who reveals His purposes and creates us in His image, there would not be any scientific explanations: pretty well all the great pioneers of science were devout Christians.  However it is surely true that the initiative of communication between God and humankind has to come from God - and the Good News is indeed that it has come from God.  Without Christ there would be no Christians, but then without the Sun (and a lot of anthropic fine tuning) there would be no intelligent life on Earth.  We must, and should, start from the evidence that is available.

4) Yes. Simon Conway-Morris FRS (paleontologist), Rev Bernard Silverman FRS (statistician), Dennis Alexander (biologist) spring immediately to mind and there are many others.  I recall correspondening with the authors of that 'pre-eminent scientists' study and I don't think it's very good data.  Part of this will be that the older generation of pre-eminent scientists swallowed the 'science-vs-religion' nonsense that people like you rightly reject.

But I also think that the cultural power of Scientists is in significant decline since about 1970 - it is widely understood that science does not have all the answers. Faith will endure because it is true, and by God's grace the truth will always triumph above cultural trends.

John Adds
1) God continues to reveal the divine will and purposes through the working of the Holy Sprit (cf John 16:12-14)

2) Another way of expressing what you say would be Augustine's insight that our hearts are truly restless till they find their rest in God. Purified desires points us in the right direction.

4) it is surely the power of scientism that has been declining.

Additional Question  Assuming there was some way to disprove the fine tuning of the universe.  Say brane theory pans out, or there is some scientific way (I know I am speaking in extremes) of proving the multiple universe theory.  Would this change how you felt/believed about God?

Nicholas's Response Well of course good support for brane theory would not disprove fine-tuning, and unless the extreme multiverse theories of David Lewis (every logically possible universe exists - in which case of course God exists in some universes and hence in all) are correct, there would still be the question of why the laws of physics have this particular form given that other forms would not be conducive to life.

But most people have believed in God without knowing about anthropic fine-tuning, and if that argument were shown to be much less forceful than it now appears it would make apologetic to scientists a little harder, but not alter faith. Although it would slightly reduce the wow-factor, rather as if we found that the stars were in fact largely an optical illusion.
   Remember that cosmologists are "often in error but never in doubt". To base faith on cosmology is to rest it on very insecure foundations - to illustrate it with the glory of the universe, and to challenge those who profess to put their faith in the ephemeral theories of scientists, is a different matter.
   Hope this helps a bit more.

The faith of an Atheist? Why is Russell's assertion that 'The universe is just there and that's it' and always was, not an acceptable idea. Why can't things be simply having effects on what was already there in the first place - matter? Is Kant wholly wrong when he observed that nature has a secret art that enables it to organize itself out of chaos? Again with regard to Kant, is our deus absconditus merely an ideal of our own power of reason - a thought omnipotence? I feel it to be more likely that it is a human trait to posit the idea of God and to indoctrinate the young about that idea. It seems to me to be impossible, as Ayer said, to say either that there is or there is not a God - therefore it would be a matter of mere faith completely [or mistaken reasoning], but what reason might one have to have faith in one thing and not another. Does the atheist therefore have similar faith that there is no God?

Preliminary Response a. There are philosophical worries about whether the notion of a contingently self-existing entity is coherent. But leaving these to one side, let's allow that H0:"The Universe just is" and H1: "There is a Loving Ultimate Creator" are both 'acceptable ideas'. Pretty well all the physical evidence at present favours H1. The likelihood of a big bang and of the extraordinary Anthropic Fine Tuning that we observe is infinitessimal under H0 and close to 1 under H1. Of course Russell was ignorant of all this, and indeed a major reason why Big Bang was resisted so long was that it was just a bit too like Genesis 1.
b. Compare eg H8:"The species just are" and H9:"Species evolve from one another". They are both, in some sense 'acceptable ideas' but the available evidence strongly favours H9
c. Christians don't believe in a deus absconditus - that is indeed an idol and highly implausible.

Brights Hello, I am writing a little piece on the "rise of the brights" for a small coffee house newspaper in San Diego called the Espresso. I am trying to determine how serious this "movement" is and what implications might result if more people "come out" into the open with their assertion that "I am also a bright"; I am someone who does not believe in "ghosts, elves, or the Easter Bunny--or God." (to quote Dennett from the NYTimes). I am currently reading Belief in God in an Age of Science where Polkinhorne notes that the works of Dennett and Dawkins are more of a problem for the secularists than the Christian Church. I think I see what he means, but I wonder if he could elaborate on that point specifically, and in relation to this "bright" movement. In particular, is the name "bright" simply arrogant and snobby or is it a legitimate title replacing all the negatives terms used hitherto, e.g., non-believer, Godless, Atheist, etc.? Furthermore, if its just a name change, is there any reason to make such a fuss?

Preliminary Response What I think John means is that Dawkins and Dennett exhibit "facile triumphalism" rather than the Christian Church. They continually make sweeping assertions which are un-supported by the scientific or historical evidence. There is something fundamentally dishonest about "ghosts, elves, or the Easter Bunny -- or God" The arguments for the existence of God are in a completely different league from those for ghosts or elves, you might as well say you don't believe in phrenology, phlogiston -- protons. Nothing-buttery is not merely foolish and simplistic, it is self-refuting, and indeed there are very interesting arguments (due to Al Plantinga) about the self refutation of evolutionary naturalism. People who believe in evolution and not God have always wanted to dominate those whom they consider inferior and been happy to use misleading propaganda to achieve thier ends (on their view, why not?: the entire creed of the Nazis was "survival of the fittest" Nicholas chris kramer wrote:

Can we see truth? I am a young adult novelist, and I like to lace my tales with something for young pliable minds to consider, though the story always exceeds the theology. A common theme is the examination of perception and how it helps/hinders our pursuit of what is ultimately true. I have noticed Scott, Polanyi and Dr. Polkinghorne mentioning Freud, but not in any depth on the subject of which I'm most intruged, that is, Freud's theory that we see all through the tinted glass of perception. I feel he carries this concept to extremes by implying that our "wish faculties," if I may, will always exceed our desire to see truth clearly and will annihilate it. I just would like to hear Dr. Polkinghorne or yourself rescue us from this dilemma of perception in our quest for pure "knowing," less relative to sciences than to theology and psychology. Carol Plum-Ucci

Preliminary Response St Paul knew, even better than Freud, that our perceptions of truth can be distorted by our hopes, fears and earthly beliefs. John, as you know, espouses the approach of 'Critical Realism' which suggests that we can get progressively more accurate understandings "Scientists are mapmakers of the physical world. No map tells us all that could be concievably be told" (Faith Science and Understanding Ch 5) John refers quite rightly to "the masters of suspicion ... like Marx and Freud who claimed to reveal that human thought has its origin not in the ostensible objects of its engagement, but in the hidden motivations of class or sex" (Scientists as Theologians p2) and contrasts this with the manifest success of Critical Realism in scientific matters. In summary, the fact that our perceptions are imperfect does not mean that they are always wrong, merely that we have to adopt "the frame of mind where I may firmly hold to what I believe to be true, even though I know that it might conceivably be false" (Faith Science and Understanding p34 quoting Polyani Personal Knowledge p214) but recognising that even for very good explanations "there may be a significant element of modelling, at least in the way in which the express their insights in everyday language" (Faith Science and Understanding p 84)

John adds All human knowing involves perception from a particular point of view, which will offer opportunities for insight but be bounded by its inherent limitations. I certainly do not think that this implies that we are unable to get beyond misleading tricks of perspactive, but it does mean that we have to be careful. Nicholas quoted Michael Polyani (a very helful writer on this subject) who emphasises that science is precarious (it does not trade in unquestionable proof) but also reliable (it affords us verismilitudinous knowldge). One place where you could find my take on tis is Chapter 2 of Beyond Science (CUP). I would extend this critical realism to theology also (see Belief in God in an Age of Science (Yale UP) Chs 2 and 5).

The Elect I have held to the belief in an elect for the twenty-five years since my conversion to Christianity. But I find it terrifying and weighty, a judgment we seem to bear more heavily the more we cast it upon others. I am rather sick of the weight of it (so, yes, in that sense this question comes from my Freudian wish to annihilate it :)), and Newbigin was the first to stun me with the suggestions of a misinterpretation of the Pauline gospels and, conversely, salvation of all. My question: Christ speaks of eternal punishment, and regardless of whether he was using metaphor or speaking literally, the implication of some sense of awfulness succeeding death in certain cases is difficult to deny. What do you and Dr. Polkinghorne have to say about Christ's own words, perhaps most nauseating in tale of Lazarus and the rich man?

Preliminary Response John is pretty close to being a universalist. There is rather a good Doctrie Commission Report The Mystery of Salvation which John helped write which grapples with these issues.My own take, for what little it's worth, is this - What do we know? "God so loved the world" and He wants all humanity to be redeemed and through Jesus offers salvation as a free gift to everyone. But He has given us freewill so that we have the power to choose, He will not force us to accept His love - He is not a rapist. It is pretty clear that God will save everyone whom he can - no-one will be excluded because God did not want them. But there is a paradox: the choice - loving union with God - yes or no - is of supreme importance. Compared with this no earthly loss even comes close - burning in fire, weeping, gnashing of teeth are pale approximations to the seriousness of the issue. They are clearly 'picture language' but this does not mean that the reality is less, but greater than words can adequately express.
So what are we to make of Dives and Lazarus? (Luke 16:19-31, sadly not discussed in The Mystery!) Well it's partly a story against the idea that riches are God's blessing and poverty God's curse. It's also noteworthy that there are 6 brothers + Lazarus who the Rich Man wants sent to his brothers (so the resurrection will make 7 [perfect] what "Moses and the prophets" points to) Abraham never says that no-one will believe, merely that some will not, partly because they have already hardened their hearts and not listened to God's Word. As for "the great gulf fixed" we know that Jesus "descended into Hell" and that He was strong enough to break the power of death (see eg Matthew 27:52-53).
What we must never do, of course, is look down on "them" as the "non-elect" since it is God's will that we should do everything we can to encourage others to accept the gift of salvation, and even St Paul was not prepared to take his own salvation for granted.

John adds All human knowing involves perception from a particular point of view, which will offer opportunities for insight but be bounded by its inherent limitations. I certainly do not think that this implies that we are unable to get beyond misleading tricks of perspective, but it does mean that we have to be careful. Nicholas quoted Michael Polanyi (a very helful writer on this subject) who emphasises that science is precarious (it does not trade in unquestionable proof) but also reliable (it affords us verismilitudinous knowledge). One place where you could find my take on this is Chapter 2 of Beyond Science (CUP). I would extend this critical realism to theology also (see Belief in God in an Age of Science (Yale UP) Chs 2 and 5). I am sure that God is not less merciful than we are inclined to be.
I do not think everyone's eternal destiny is fixed at death - think of those whose geographical or historical situation prevented their hearing the gospel, of those whose response has been crippled by experiences like child abuse. Yet wittingly to turn from Christ in this life is spiritually very dangerous and I think that is what the stern NT language about judgement is principally intended to convey. For a more detailed discussion see The God of Hope and the End of the World (Yale UP) esp. ch 11.

Created in the Image of God? I have read with interest the website of John Polkinghorne and I am deeply appreciative of his thoughts on integrating science and religion. If it were possible, I would like to know some of his thoughts on what he thinks Genesis 1:26-27 means, especially in trying to understand what it means for humankind to be created in the image of God. I am a graduate student at XX University in XX Texas. I also pastor the XX Church in XX Texas. We are studying the account of Creation for one of our graduate seminars and I am writing a paper on Genesis 1:26-27. I'm just curious at what some of Dr. Polkinghorne's thoughts would be.

Preliminary Response I'm finding it quite hard to spot explicit references to this in John's books. Let me give my preliminary answer to the underlying question - but John may well offer a rather different point of view. First of all, nothing we can say can exhaust the richness of scripture. The language of Genesis was inspired and speaks of things which are 'too deep for words'. Being made in god's image clearly does not mean we are like God in every respect, but that in very important respects we are an ikon of God. I think the main threads are:
a. We are persons, capable of true love (and hence endowed with free will and living in a universe with 'free processes' - reasonably but not totally predictable)
b. We are capable of moral choices
c. We are intrinsically part of a loving community. The fact that the Trinity was present at Creation adds an extra dimension to 'let us make ... male and female created He them'
d. We are intrinsically valuable in God's eyes (see John's comment below)
e. We are creative - indeed called to be co-creators
f. We are capable, by God's grace and redemption, of perfect union with God - indeed Jesus is "the (perfect) image of the invisible God"
I hope this helps and I'll see what John adds.

John's Comments Nick, thanks for your message about imago dei and your very helpful reply. Just a few more thoughts one might add:
Debate about the meaning of the "image of God" has gone on for centuries in the Christian community. Nicholas is right that it is very rich, multifaceted concept. Other components include:
g. Science's power to fathom the deep structure of the Universe, which I believe to be a pale reflection of our being in the Creator' image
h. The granting of 'dominion', understood in the sense of a caring shepherd-king rather than an exploitative despot and perhaps also linked with the custom in the ancient world for absent kings to erect statuary images of themselves to recall their authority exercised through local vice-regents.
I think one of the most important meanings is Nicholas' d (valuable in God's eyes) which liberates us from taking too functional a view of God's gift (rationality etc..). The fundamental worth of the gravely handicapped surely derives from the fact that they too are bearers of the divine image.

Better without belief in God? Delight fills my soul as I read the "Divine Action" interview with Dr. Polkinghorne and Lyndon Harris. As Chaplain at a boarding school, I am continually challenged by the questions of students (and staff) who represent a variety of religions - and of course, agnostics and atheists. A question has arisen which comes from a mathematician who not only questions the existence of God (god / godde) but denies such existence, believes that religion is simply 'tribalism' and postulates that the world would be better off without it in any form. I welcome your comments ... especially if they can be in the realm of a universal understanding of the Divine Being rather than Christocentric. Thank you! Be well and be blessed.

Preliminary Response This widely held view was tried in the 20th Century. Societies covering a very large fraction of the world's population were established where religious instruction was forbidden or strongly discouraged, and the politics was conducted according to exclusively secular principles, founded on the laws of evolution (in one case) and economics (in the other cases). On balance, the experience of these societies leads the rational person to conclude that perhaps these 'experiments' was not encouraging for your friends views. I am referring of course to Hitler's Germany, Stalins USSR, Mao's China and Pol Pot's Cambodia.

Do you (or John) pray? If so, why? Is it, for example, for praise, thanksgiving, forgiveness, redemption, change? If your prayers are a request for change (e.g. an end to war or famine, a cure for an illness, help with exams, etc.), I have trouble understanding the reasoning behind such requests in light of your statement that "God choses to limit His omniscience as well as His omnipotence". Do you believe that He limits His omniscience/omnipotence only partially, in which case some requests (but very few) may get answered; or do you believe He limits these powers totally, in which case prayer specifically for change, although very common, would be pointless (apart, perhaps, from the solace of the person saying the prayers)?

Preliminary Response We do both pray including intercessory prayers: this follows the example of Jesus and always they are implicitly qualified with "nevertheless, not my will, buy thy will be done" I don't quite know what it would mean for God to limit His power totally - I guess it would be a deist conception whose cohernece I rather doubt, certainly not the God of the Bible. God limits Himself out of love and to the extent that love requires: of course we don't understand the details of this but the principle seems clear.. Chapter 6 of John's book Science and Providence gives a very good discussion of these issues.

Multiverse and Understanding of God The theoretical physicist Max Tegmark has written some stimulating papers on the idea that the implications of quantum mechanics and also the assumption that space is infinite both lead to a view of creation as a multiverse, in which all possibilities are realised. What does this imply for our understanding of God and indeed for arguments about His existence? Presumably if all logical possibilities are realised then at least one cosmos exists in which God either comes into being or is present from 'the beginning'. And if there is an infinite array of universes, in whatever sense we understand this, then an infinite number will 'contain' God. However, presumably the same argument would lead to the reality of an infinite number of universes that do /not/ ... Multiverse ideas seem to be gaining ground, so what has the theological response been?

Preliminary Response: We don't find the arguments for multiverses particularly persuasive, but clearly if God (Ultimate Creator) exists in any possible world then God exists in all possible worlds, so if Tegmark's ideas were correct they would imply that God exists. Thus those who propose enough universes to avoid a "neo-Design" argument must be careful not to have enough to be caught by this "neo-Ontological" argument.

God Evolving I'd be interested in John's and your views on Jack Miles' provocative book Christ - A Crisis in the Life of God. Miles' analysis of the Gospels is explicitly a 'literary' one treating the Bible as an art-work rather than as history or theology, but his thesis could be considered as a possibility for our 'objective' understanding of God and Christ. The argument, briefly, is that God evolves and changes His mind - from being the Lord of Hosts to becoming the Lamb, renouncing His violent interventions in the world and instead seeking to redeem humanity and also Himself (as the creator of a world in which evil, violence and rivalry flourish).
One way of looking at this is that God has three modes - an eternal and unchanging one as sustainer of all that is and can be; an evolutionary one as creator of this particular world in which He sees humans evolve; and a participative one, changing from the God of the Old Testament to the God of the New. Olaf Stapledon has a similar perspective in his remarkable non-Christian theological novel Star Maker.
Can God be lonely? No - but a Perfect Being without a Creation cannot know what it is like to be imperfect and a Creator. The world makes sense as God's project - perhaps one of an infinite array - in which He explores what He in his lone perfection cannot know...

Preliminary Answer I don't know the book - but from a Christian perspective it is clear that our understanding of God has changed - but not God Himself. Indeed philosophically it is hard to see how ultimate reality could fundamentally change. Christians also understand that God is three Persons and therefore could never be lonely - but the infinite dance of Love that is the Trinity invites us to join the dance of love, and it is this that is Eternal Life - the Life of the quality that is lived by God.

God outside Time I am a lifelong Catholic, and have recently encountered an agnostic whose questions are particularly difficult for me to answer. Having challenged me to find a Christian physicist, he also wants me to account for how humans can have free will and have a God that is omniscient at the same time. His argument is that if God knows what we will do before we do it, then our free will is gone because God cannot be wrong. I've tried using time arguments, but his argument is that if God exists outside of time, He does not exist. I would love to have some kind of solid scientific and religious information to present to him, so if you could help me out, I would really appreciate it!

Preliminary Response I'm really sorry this has taken so long to answer. There are many Christian physicists and other scientists. There is some quite useful stuff now on the Q&A John thinks that God in love limits His omniscience so that we can have true freewill. Of course other theologians point out that watching someone doing something is not the same as focing them to do it. As for the "if God exists outside of time, He does not exist" this is clearly wrong. The relationship of a Creator to His creation is a bit like that of a playwright and his plays. Shakespeare exists outside The Tempest - and does do even if he happens to be playing the part of (say) Prospero in the production. I hope this helps a bit.

Related Question I read your short reply about the question someone asked regarding God existing outside of time. I have a related question which is puzzling me. If God (and heaven) exist out of time then from God's perspective everything has already happened - he doesn't see things progressing linearly as we do; he see's everything at once. Therefore, from God's perspective I am already dead and either in heaven or in hell. If heaven and hell are also outside of time then there can be no causal link between their realm and our time-based one. Therefore, I must exist in heaven or in hell; but I don't. Why?

Preliminary Response I think there are three points here:
1. God, in love, choses to limit His omniscience as well as His omnipotence. In order to give us the freedom to learn to love, we are given the freedom to act, and chose.
2. God can exist outside time but still experience progression - indeed if (as we strongly suspect) that is fundamental to being a Person then there could be a series (T*) in God's experiences into which the time t we experience on Earth maps in an order-preserving way. In particular John has suggested that the mapping between earthly time and God's time could well be such that, whenever we die, our resurrections happen at the same moment at the end of (t) time. Provided the t->T* mapping is order-preserving then there can be a causal link.
3. In physics and morality the act of observing is an act. Even if Superman has 'x-ray eyes' so that he can look right though Lois Lane's clothes, if he loves her he will choose not to look. 

If you have any comments feel free to send them to me at .  You might also want to check out the Star Course. and the debate on science and the existence of God between me and Prof. Colin Howson.

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