John Pokinghorne Questions and Answers - overflow page

This overflow page was created on 20 March 2001 and updated 9 Jan 2006 because there were so many questions on the main JCP Q&A page

Omniscience Hello, I recently read a review of your lectures at the University of Oregon. The review was written from a Christian perspective and the main criticism was that you did not believe God is omniscient, is not truly in control, etc. I am wondering why you do not believe this? Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle applies to human beings, certainly, but if God can create the universe, are you not in awe of Him and of his amazing power? I believe God is far greater than we can even imagine. Yes, suffering does occur but Romans 8:28 says that all things happen for the good of those who love God. As one of the most highly regarded scientist-theologians of today, I urge you to depend first and foremost on the infallibility of Scripture and of God, to seek Him with all your heart. In the first and second chapters of 1 Corinthians, it says that the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom. Nothing we can ever deduce or induct from scientific reasoning or logic will ever come close to God's knowledge, nor will these take the place of faith (Hebrews 11:1). I thank you for all the work you have done, especially relating to the Anthropic Principle, which has helped me a lot. I am very sorry if I misunderstood the comments about your lecture; please forgive me if I am misled. With much respect,

Preliminary Reply It never says in the Bible that God is omniscient - it does say that God is Love. In His love, God has created a universe in which we are given the privelege of freedom so that we can do things which we have chosen and He has not. When our choices go aginst his will then we sin and are in need of redemption - and it is this dynamic of love and redemption that it as the heart of the Gospel. The best way we can find of talking about this is to say that God, in love, limits His omniscience and omnipotence. Naturally He would be able to un-limit it if He chose, just as He would be able to destroy the Universe. Of course John is in awe of God's amazing power - but even more of His amazing Love.

Romans 8:28 can be translated in many ways:

The word for works together is sun-ergei and a sun-ergos is a 'fellow-worker' and the REB is probably the better translation. Which is very much in line with what John is saying. (though the Greek is a little odd and could be read either way)

Why doesn't God just stop creation?A catechism of the Presbyterian church defines God as "infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth." While one might quibble with portions of this definition it would seem to be at least roughly in keeping with historic Christianity. From the real or mythic time of Cain and Abel until the present, man has behaved in an exploitative, brutal, not infrequently lethal fashion toward his fellow man. Indeed the 20th century was one which in which this human predilection for violence, coupled with "improved" technological means, produced what for us humans was incalculable human misery and death. Furthermore, entirely aside from organized, state sponsored etc. violence, vast numbers of human being, during all times, suffer substantially, as a visit to a pediatric oncology ward or even a nursing home demonstrates. I suppose that some may look on the acute miseries of humans as being inconsequential, or as somehow entirely beneficial. I, for one, find such an assessment wrongheaded and perverse. If God, from all eternity, knew that humans would make the bad choices that we humans make, would experience the suffering that humans do experience, why didn't He simply "pull the plug" on his creation plan? Given our understanding of God, it is hardly conceivable that God didn't know what was in the offing. But assuming that we can come up with some way of explaining to ourselves that He didn't know, He surely knows now. And since He knows, and since He is wise and holy and good and just and loving, why doesn't He call a halt to all of this right now? The above comments don't grow out of hostility to Christianity but rather out of perplexity, perplexity and an awareness that no few numbers of people in this world find the miseries of the human condition on the one hand and the assertion that God loves human kind on the other to constitute an offensive and preposterous irrationality.

Preliminary Answer The problems of evil and suffering are not to be ignored, but it seems pretty clear that the value of the eternal love and bliss into which God calls us is infinite and that the pain of suffering here is finite (see Romans 8). We cannot fully understand God's reasons for allowing the level of suffering that he does: after all as Al Plantinga says "I look inside my tent: I don't see a St Bernard: then it is probable that there is no St Bernard in my tent...[but if] I look in my tent and don't see any noseeums (very small midges with a bite out of all proportion to their size) [then] it is not particularly probable that there are no noseeums in my tent" We can begin to see that much suffering is due to the freewill of humans which is an essential logical prerequisite for love, and much of the rest is due to the 'free processes' which seem to be an essential feature of a fruitful universe. We can also see that suffering often, although by no means always, leads to good results. For the rest, it is a question of faith. But faith is an essential part of any loving relationship. I'll see what John has to add.

Redemption for All? I had the privilege of attending the lecture given by Professor Polkinghorne at Canterbury this evening and afterwards asked him whether he thought god had sent Jesus to redeem the Jews or create Christendom - he replied he was sent to redeem everyone and referred me to St Paul who wrestled with this problem - could you give me the actual reference in the Bible? Can any theory be advanced why God felt it necessary at this time to send Jesus to earth and secondly if God recognises everyone and creates a life hereafter does this mean everyone ie of whatever denomination or non-believer?

Preliminary Reply This is treated with great depth in The Mystery of Salvation which John co-wrote. 2Cor5:11-21 is a good start but there are plenty of other passages in Paul and elsehwhere, not least Jn3:16-17. John adds: also 1 Cor 15:22

Why did God create Mankind? I've been reading Belief in God in an Age of Science. Mr. Polinghorne's arguments are encouraging to me. His discourse offers a logical explanation for the existence of God, but it doesn't offer much in the realm of "why". I noticed one "why" question (Why is there God?) on the Polkinghorne website, and I believe I understand the response posted. The question or the response doesn't, however, fully address another "why" as in, "Why did God create mankind?" except to say that, "we have a deep intuition that there is a point". A quick internet search will return hundreds (if not thousands) of hits that ask this same question of a variety of theological scholars. Although I haven't read every response, it seems that the best anyone can come up with is something like, "God wanted to share his love" or, "God created us to glorify him" or even, "God was lonely". Every one of those responses suggest to me that God is in need of something or lacking in some way which doesn't seem possible if one believes that God is "self existent" as you say. I don't mean to sound petulant, and maybe I'm missing something, but it seems that knowledgeable people such as yourselves and other scholars would be able to suggest more intellectually satisfying possibilities. To me, and judging from the number of other people asking it, this question is of deep concern. Do you have any further thoughts regarding the question, "Why did God create mankind?".

Preliminary Reply: Obviously this is a bit speculative - only God knows God's deep purposes. But I think we can say something useful:
a. God is obviously not 'lonely' because we (Christians) know that God is a perfect unity of three persons joined in perfect love.
b. It is in the nature of perfect love to desire to share this love with others and to be creative. It is therefore easy to see why a loving utlimate being would chose to be a creator and to create beings that were free to learn to chose to love.
"Self existent" simply means not dependent on anything/anyone else for existence. It is logically possible for a self-existent being to be lonely, I just don't think it applies to God.
John says: Complete agreement.

Supplimentary Question: Thank you and John for replying. I have trouble with the word “desire”, or any transitive verb like it as in your response b. “It is in the nature of perfect love to desire to share this love with others and to be creative.” Desire implies want. In fact, in my Webster’s the two words are interchangeable. Further, “want” implies a deficiency of some sort. If God is perfect (maybe I used the term "self existent" incorrectly), why would he need, want, desire, hope for, etc., anything? Or, are you saying that it's possible that God is not perfect? Nicholas' Reply: I think this is a slight confusion. To say "I desire the best for my children" does not imply that I lack anything - or that my children do. If God were an abstract concept then maybe one could be content with the (allegedly) "greek" idea of perfection as being essentially static. But we know that God is far more like a Person than a thing (indeed God is Triune) and for a Person or persons, being static is not perfection but death. Love, like God, is infinite and capable of infinite growth. Suppose, for example, that in Heaven Bach (or Mozart if you prefer) has become a Perfect Composer. This would not mean that he had stopped composing, but that he was continuing to compose new and wonderful works - each of surpassing beauty. Does this help/make sense at all? Response: Yes, I believe I understand your position. Thank you for taking the time.

Metaphors "Due to the limitations of our anatomy our comprehension of the universe is curtailed. Is it not so that our only recourse is to address the unknowable through metaphors such as science, religion, philosophy, music and so on and that we choose our metaphor according to our particular sensibility?"

Preliminary Response Our limitations are of course more than anatomical! Science, Religion, Philosopy and Music all give different glimpses into the deep truths of the one world which is God's creation. They all use symbols and often metaphors but I think they do a little more than that. When we say, for example, Jesus is the Son of God we are not making a metaphorical statement: His is the real Sonship of which the biological fact of descent is, in some sense, a metaphor. After all, comparing the case of a father who deeply loves a son who is (possibly unknown to him) not in fact his biological descendant with a father who happens to have a son of whom he is unaware we can see that the biological aspect of son-ship is not the most fundamental. It can also be a fine line between deepening our knowledge of trasnscendent reality through the routes that are most accessible to us and trying to tame ultimate truth in the ways that we find most comfortable. Ideally we get a judicious mixture of what we chose and what is best for us. John Adds: The only thing I would wish to add: at the heart of Christianity is the mysterious and exciting idea that God has acted to make the divine natur most accessibly known in human terms through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the true icon of God. If you want to see why I believe this to be true you might look at my Science and Christian Belief (SPCK - US version here)

Bock Universe I'm reading Julian Barbour's The End of Time what do you think of this? Preliminary Response Dont know it but from what I read on the web it looks pretty un-impressive. There is a long history of trying to deny the existence of time but although it makes the maths easier in some ways it fails to correspond to reality. The best book I know on time is "A treatise on Time and Space" by John Lucas. He rightly begins with "time is more fundamental than space". John's comment I do not believe in the block universe as I think our experience of the flow of time is much more fundamental than any abstract arguments to the contrary. You might like to look at the debate about this written by Chris Ishram and myself in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, ed. RJ Russell at al (UK)

Jesus and the Fig Tree (an attempt to summarise the question of a somewhat confusing e-correspondence) "You say that, on the basis of the Biblical evidence, Jesus is 'perfect God and perfect Man' and yet there are passages such as Mark 11:12-14 which show Jesus acting in a very imperfect way. How do you reconcile this with intellectual rigour as practiced by eg Scientists? Preliminary Answer In any deep encounter with reality - whether in science or religion - there will always be puzzling aspects. The issue is to make sense of the data as a whole, and in particular to consider competing 'theories' in the light of the relevant data. Against the Fig tree passage one can test both "perfect god and perfect man" (PGPM) and "silly petulant annoyed miracle-worker" (SPAM) and superficially this may be the one bit of the NT where SPAM seems plausible. But it is quite clear from the way Mark reports it (and only slightly less clear from Matthew) that this is an enacted parable about the meaning of what he is doing with the temple - a crucial incident that will lead to his crucifixion. It makes you think, and helps you see PGPM more clearly.
Supplementary Preliminary Answer Actually, now that I have read Tom Wright's wonderful Jesus and the Victory of God I can see the point of the fig tree.  This was a regular symbol of Israel and by cursing it when he finds that there is no fruit when he passes, Jesus is making an enacted parable/symbolic act to show what the real situation of the reaction of the Jewish authorities was.  It is not at all an arbitrary incident, it's just that we don't in the 21stC automatically get the point.  It's rather as though someone did something to a Red Rose/Elephant in a political context in the UK/US - everyone now would know that this referred to the Labour/Repubican parties (respectively) but a reader in 2,000 years time might well be puzzled unless they took the time to understand what these symbols meant.

Believing bits of the Bible I have always believed in evolution and that the earth is 5 billion years old. If one accepts that the Bible is not always literally/factually true, then is it a worthwhile discussion to decide which parts are likely true or should it be left to each reader to decide for himself/herself? Presumably, it is OK not to believe that the Red Sea literally parted and then returned to drown the pursuing Egyptians or that the great flood literally killed all humans and animals except those in Noah's Ark. But what about the life of Jesus? Can one not believe in the (biological) virgin birth or that Jesus physically came back to life after three days and still be a Christian?

Preliminary Reply On each Bible passage, the key question is "what meaning does God want us to take from this?" and it is clear from the 2 accounts of creation in Genesis, that conflict on details, that often the details don't mattter. So the question is not quite "which parts are true". God wants us to understand that he delivers his people - exactly how he did it at the times of Exodus and Noah is not so important (I have seen some quite plausible, though admittedly speculative, explanations of why the waters could have parted enough for people to walk over but chariots got bogged down and then the waters came back - and "whole Earth" can mean "whole known inhabited parts").
When we come to matters which are in the Creeds then it seems clear that anyone who does not yet fully believe the creeds has not yet fully bought into the credal aspects of the Christian faith. (Whether they are a Christian or not is another matter). The Virgin Birth is not about God not liking sex but about emphasising that the incarnation is, from the beginning, a divine act. Of course it is biologically unlikely but not impossible - and since Mary was around for many years after Jesus died it is absurd to suppose that the stories in Luke would have been believed in the early Church is she had contradicted them. As for the 'physical' resurrection, it is clear that Jesus' physical body had disappeared (otherwise the authorities could have killed Christianty stone-dead by producing the corpse) and the only issue is whether the disciples faked it or whether God made it happen. It is hard to see how someone who believed the former could be a Christian.

John adds: When we read the Bible we have to work out what we are reading. For example poetry is very different from prose, though both convey truths of different kinds. Gen 1 and 2 are not about the scientific truth of the detail of how things happened but about the theological truth that everything that exists does so because of God's will that creation should be meaningful and fruitful. When Jesus was raised from the dead, it wasn't like someone being resuscitated, coming back to life in order eventually to die again. He was resurrected into a new kind of glorified life that will never end. Christians beleive that it is God's will that we too should share in that new life after our deaths.

Playing God (asked as follow-on to above)When reading one of Rev. Polkinghorne lectures, I come away with the view that miracles and "supernatural" acts obey the same natural laws but the natural elements come together in a certain state (which he calls the new regime) that is very rare in our everyday experience. Is he saying then that the divine aspect of the act is the elements coming together to make the phenomenon possible? Given that understanding, in theory, we should be able to perform the same "miracles" provided that we can arrange the natural elements the same way. In other words, we should try to understand the natural laws behind virgin birth and resurrection and possibly duplicate them if they are deemed beneficial. Afterall, that's what we have done by developing drugs to cure diseases, an act that would have been interpreted as miracles in the past. Then the question is Is there anything wrong with trying to play God?

Preliminary Reply The bodily presence of the Son of God is clearly a condition that cannot be replicated in a laboratory :-). Nor do we know enough about what a resurrection body is like to begin to try to replicate one. But in IVF we already practice a crude form of Virgin Birth, and clearly for God it would not be necessary to remove eggs from Mary, fertilise them in vitro and re-implant them: the same result could be achieved by causing one sperm cell with the right genetic sequence to fertlise one of her eggs in utero. It's not difficult to imagine advances in nanotechnology that would bring us closer to being able to do this. And we already have technologies that allow us to resusscitate people who have 'died', though of course this is not the same as Jesus' resurrection.
To turn to your specific question: it is clearly wrong to "play God" in the sense of presuming to take decisions or actions that can only properly be taken by God alone: it is not wrong to use our God-given gifts of understanding to do things that God wants us to do (such as curing the sick). Of course sometimes it is not easy to be sure of the difference - but then that's life (esp. moral life) - it's sometimes really complex.

Evolution and Christianity I play the organ at the local church, and devote much time and thought to helping some wonderful people worship. I regard the teachings of Jesus as the best advice ever given on how to live. However, to my great sadness, I cannot really share in the congregation's worship (except as a form of therapy which focuses attention on caring for others) because I see Christianity and Evolution as being in profound conflict on many issues, of which I name but three.

1. When one looks at the evolution of life on Earth -- at its long early period of `stagnation', at life's near extinctions, at the 150 million years in which dinosaurs dominated everything -- it is impossible to believe that Earth was always intended as the home of Man.

2. When one looks into the future to a time when, in its own death throes, the Sun destroys the Earth and leaves this beautiful planet a burnt-out hulk, Point 1 takes on even greater force.

3. Let me assume for the moment that I have a `soul' in the precise sense that (in some way which I do not need to understand) I can survive my physical death. Now trace back through evolution to the first of my ancestors to possess a soul in this sense. That ancestor with a soul was born of parents neither of whom had one. This reductio ad absurdum convinces me that I have no soul.

You say on your Web site that "Logically there is no contradiction between science and Christianity - it's only rabid atheists like Dawkins who pretend there is". It seems to me that Evolution continues to provide a much more serious challenge to Christianity than does anything else in Science. If it is the case that Christianity can answer Points 1,2 and 3, then I, and many others of the would-be faithful, would be deeply grateful to know how.

preliminary response 1. Even non-believers, like Sir Martin Rees FRS, the Astronomer Royal accept that there is an astonishing ammount of 'Anthropic Fine-Tuning' in the Universe. It is exactly as though the fundamental constants of nature have been chosen to have the precise values they need to allow the evolution of intelligent life. The only alternative he sees to admitting the existence of "a beneficent Creator, who formed the universe with the specific intention of producing us ... [a view] now espoused by eminent scientist-theologians such as John Polkinghorne" is to posit an infinite "multiverse" of which our universe is just one 'atom' (see Just Six Numbers pp149-150). There are also a number of special features of the Earth which are particularly suitable for development of intelligent life (the book Rare Earth summarises many of them). We are the right distance from the right type of star, protected by Jupiter from too many asteroid impacts, in a near-circular orbit. So far, it looks very like a specially-prepared home.

Now to the particular problems you mention. No-one understands evolutionary biology well enough to do the necessary caclulations convincingly, but it does seem clear that the evolution of intelligent life on an earth-like planet needs a few billion years. Complex life-forms need the right ecological niches and the early single-celled forms that existed for the first few billion years could do nothing much more than "prepare the ground" and also of course prepare the atmosphere and get the Oxygen levels up to the right sort of level for highly energetic land-based creatures. This is conceptually no more problematic than the few billion years required for the first generation stars to form and explode into supernovae so that the heavy elements could come into being. We know from the Psalms that "a thousand ages in Thy sight is like an evening gone" and scientist will also tell you that long timescales are not intrinsically significant: you merely adjust your units according to the pheonomenon you are studying. Although latest research suggests that some of the mass-extinction events are in fact artefacts in our data there really seems to have been a mass extinction when the Dinosaurs died out and at that time the Mammals were ready eventually to take over. We don't know why the dionsaurs existed but I suspect that there were good reasons why the mammals arrived when they did, and that the Dinosaurs, like the cyanobacteria, were preparing the ground in some important way.

Consider for example the organ on which you play. A 'scientific' account of its origins could talk about the billions of years in which the metals of which the pipes are now composed lay in the earth in the form of ore, the processes of smelting and casting and machining, the biological history of the trees from which the wood was hewn, the physical processes of manufacture, and the fact that it will probably only be in use for 100 years or so, during which time it may be played no more than 3-5 hours a week. None of these facts, considered rationally, makes it impossible to believe that the organ was intended to play church music. Indeed, whilst not denying any of these scientific facts, we can point to many other aspects of the Organ which seem only to make sense on the hypothesis that it was intended to play church music. It is of course logically possible that these are all meaningless coincidences, and that the Organ has been thrown together by accident in such a way that just happens to look as though it is designed to play music, just as you might pick up a reed and find that there were holes which allowed it to be played as a flute. I also don't think that, rationally it makes any difference whether it is made from trees 100 years old or a newly-minted plastic.

2. Christianity has always been an Escatological religion - and the fact that the Earth would be consumed by fire at some time in the future would not have been news to St Paul. The Earth was always intended as the birthplace of Humankind but our destiny is Eternal Life - ie the quality of life within the Trinity, which takes us beyond this transitory planet and even this transitory Universe. John's latest book (The God of Hope and the End of the World) discusses such issues with a wealth of insights far better than I can offer here. Subsequent quotes are from this book.

3. Logically the paradox you quote is only a problem if "having a human soul" is a property that is preserved under inheritance. But the whole point of evolution is that new properties can, and do arise. Given that humans have evolved there must have been a first human whose parents were merely hominoid. Conventionally the first male and female humans are called Adam and Eve. They had human souls, their ancestors did not. In what sense gorillas, chimps, dolphins, mice etc.. have souls is a debatable point (Aquinas thought that vegetables had vegetable souls) but it is pretty clear that they don't have human souls.

John - in common I think with most contemporary Christian theologians - does not think that even human souls are intrinsically immortal. "Whatever the human soul may be, it is surely what expresses and carries the continuity of living personhood" (p105) It seems that this "carrier of continuity is the immensely complex 'information-bearing pattern' in which [the] matter [in our bodies] is organised. This pattern is not static" (p105-6). In this way of understanding it there is no intrinsic immortality of the soul. "Death is a real end. However it need not be the ultimate end.... It is a perfectly coherent hope that the pattern that is a human being could be held in the divine memory after that person's death ... It is a further coherent hope, and one for which the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the foretate and guarantee, that God in the escahtological future will re-embody this multitude of preserved information-bearing patterns in some new environment of God's choosing." (p107-8). I do hope this helps, and I'll see what John can add. N

John adds:You have mentioned The God of Hope. You might also wnat to look at Arthur Peacocke's God and the New Biology for biological evolution, or even The Work of Love - a set of essays which I editied that seeks to undrstand God's creative action in allowing creatures to make themselves.

Dawkins & Dennett In your book "Belief in God in an Age of Science" you quote Dawkins and Dennett. Do you feel (personally) that these two men are compotent in their respective fields of study? I admire both men, as well as you, and I would hate to think I was recieving information from them that was contrary to real science. I understand that there theological/metaphysical beliefs are mixed in with their science, but if you take that out, would you have a compotent view of science or, in Dennetts case, consciousness. What do you think of Teilhard's work? I read an online interview in "Cross Currents" a while back that stated you admire Teilhard, do you still feel this way? My friend has a lot of respect for Teilhard and talks of him as he is the reason that he has not abandoned Christianity. In your opinion, is he that great? I own some of his books,and I would hate to feel that I wasted money buying them, is there anything to learn from him that is not misleading to a young and manipulative mind?

Nicholas' Preliminary Answer Dawkins is a Prof of public understanding of science and is very good at explaining a pretty mainstream view of evolutionary biology, although it is remarkably non-numerate and taken to extreme - he seems to think that Evolution explains everything. He does mix this in with aggressively atheistic metaphysics in a very unfortunate way. Also his "selfish gene" metaphor has probably done a lot to fuel the irrational fear of GM foods (not that all such fears are necessarily irrational, but some are) and he fans the flames of a daft genetic determinism that permeates the semi-educated.

Dennett is also a talented communicator with some interesting ideas - more original that Dawkins, but is also guilty of grossly over-claiming. In Beyond Science John comments "despite the ambitious title...[Consciousness Explained] nowhere adequately addresses the issue of self-awareness...I am not unsympathetic to trying to use computer analogies to get some extremely modest and primitive insight into the problem...what I am opposed to is the claim that what in fact is only a preliminary exercies of very limited scope is the total solution to the problem. People such as Dennett seem to suppose that all one needs to do is to add a few simple standard computational theory and all is solved. That seems to be like saying in 1900 that all one had to do to cope with the problems of atomic physics was to add Max Plank's notion of packets of energy to Newtonian Mechanics and all would be solved. Insightful though Plank's discovery was, the true explanation of atomic physics required a revolutionary transformation of our ideas of the nature of the physical world... It would surely be surprising if the comprehension of consciousness did not call for at least an equal upheaval in our understanding of reality."

Teilhard was in many ways admirable (although there are suggestions that he was involved in the Plitdown Man forgery) but I don't think the details of his ideas really stack up.

Creation Accounts 1) How does the narration of God's creation in the Bible support/refute the present understanding of the evolution of man? What are the concepts presented in the Bible and of the researches today that benefit/hinder each other's description and explanation of how we all came into being?
2) What are the "historical" bases (i.e. the early traditions) for such an understanding of God's creation? Why did the early Christians believe in that narration to be true? What are their solid bases (i.e. aside from faith) for that (e.g. findings perhaps, etc.)? Did science also play a role for the formation of Genesis 1?

Preliminary Answer Here are my preliminary answers - we'll see what John has to add. You might also wish to consult his books.
1. We need to clear that a biologist and the Bible are answering very different questions about "how man came to be". It is quite clear from Genesis that the details of times and sequence are not to be taken literally. When Genesis says God formed man out of the dust of the earth and Biology fills in many of the fascinating scientific details of how (evolution, biochemistry, anatomy etc.. playing their role) they are not in conflict, any more that the Biology is in conflict with the Physics that underpins it. The Bible is principally about relationships with God which by definition are beyond the realm of Biology.
2. We don't really know how the creation stories of Genesis came into their final form. It is thought that Genesis was compiled in its final fom after the exile, based on ancient sources dating from the 10th C BC. These were themselves distillations of deep reflection and the inspired sifting of tales, and echos, though is importantly different from, other ancient creation accounts. Christians belive, of course, that God is at work in the process of drawing scripture together, and that the texts that are given us are 'inspired' (although there is of course some divergence about exactly what that means). The mainline Christian position has always been that the Bible tells the truth about how we should relate to God, but is not a scientific treatise.

Start of Singularity As I understand the theory, preceding the big bang was a singularity, defined as infinitesimally small, with no time, infinite mass, and space infinitely curved. If so, what got the bang started? Is there any scientific theory describing a natural cause? It would seem to me that by definition a singularity would continue forever. Indeed, "forever" is the wrong term, because there would be no time. Yet nothing we can conceive of would have started the bang. Is there any sense to what I'm saying?

Nicholas Preliminary Answer We know that the curently-understood laws of physics break down just before the 'singularity' and there are plenty of theories - all rather speculative - as to what happens. There are even attempts to suggest that there is no singularity if you extend into 'imaginary' time (ie time with coordinates which are 'complex numbers' rather than just 'real numbers'). It also seems clear that quantum effects would be very significant at this time, and therefore 'random' fluctuations would allow the 'big bang' to occur 'spontaneously'. Ultimately, though, there must surely be a fundamental cause of the existence of the physical laws and initial conditions - a cause which transcends physics. "in the beginning, God" makes ultimate sense - the offered alternatives are far less convincing. I'll see what John has to add to this.

John comments I have nothing to add to your judicous response.

Suffering My question involves (yet again) the problem of suffering. I find the "free will defense" and your "free process defense" intellectually admissable, but pastorally unsatisfying - even, dare I say it, horrifying.
I am a Lutheran pastor who is, I am afraid, in danger of losing the faith. I am grateful that you cite those 2 defenses while saying "one cannot make [these] assertion[s] without a quiver" (p. 14, Belief in God in An Age of Science) and so I am bold to ask for more.
(Aside re: free will defense: If we were "automata" - well, would we care? Presumably the machine is not conscious of its lack of freedom. Freedom matters to conscious beings; awareness and freedom must be born together. That is, however, but a minor quibble.)
My greatest concern is with the image of God that emerges from our intellectual efforts. I am sickened by the image that so many of my parishioners carry with them, and that I carry as well! - the omnipotent Potentate ignoring the cries of the tortured. Christ on the cross ("my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") is not comforting: so God incarnate suffers, too? So more suffering is added to the pot. I generally like Moltmann but the quote you use ("Even Auschwitz is taken up into the grief of the Father, the surrender of the Son, and the power of the Spirit", p. 44 Belief in God...) is perplexing. The problem is not God's suffering, but our suffering. So Auschwitz is "taken up"? So? I want to know - what is 'brought down'?
It is not enough for God to "be there in the darkness" (p. 44, ibid); what is God doing?
I have read your various accounts of God's action in the world - again, I am grateful for your thoughts - but if those accounts are to take hold they must be matched with narrative. The "story" (not that it is untrue, but that it has plot and characters) of Christ's death is indeed a more satisfying response to the "deep existential challenge" (p. 43, ibid) of suffering than dogmatic statements. But I am at a loss - what is the story of the resurrected Christ in Auschwitz?
I will admit that providence works in secret - I would like to think of God working might and main - with God's heart in God's mouth - with anguish and yearning to prevent as much suffering as possible - and yet this work may not be proven to be of God. The hidden God, the Deus Absconditas (as Luther said) works without our recognition.
But why bother with God at all, then? If God's actions are indiscernable - let God work quietly away, and humans work (not so quietly) away, on parallel but distinct paths (one could ask, of course, if parallel lines do eventually meet, still).
Presumably we look to the sacraments (outward and visible signs), the body of Christ (the Spirit active within), and to the promised faithfulness of God in prayer.
Yet I find the value of those gifts pale next to the depth of suffering. What is the eucharist next to the incestuous torture of an 8 year old? What is the body of Christ when so many "Christians" fail to act to prevent Auschwitz? The vagarities of prayer seem to be an insulting response to the needs of a family of an 11 month old with leukemia.
I am afraid I will be leaving the church - not because I can't believe, but because it seems pointless to do so.
Too often the practices of the church seem like a handful of sand thrown in rage - a pitiful and inconsequential gesture in the face of evil.
I suppose what I am asking from you is for more narrative, more story; to make the dry theological bones live; to more fully connect your beautiful and simple theory with the guts and grime of church and life.
I am sorry this is so long, but I wanted to be precise. Any comments, advice, reading suggestions, sermons etc. would be most appreciated. I know you are probably deluged with letters, but I'm rather at the end of my rope. (Is it possible to find a copy of your talk, "Can a Physicist pray?") I'm basically looking for anything to piece a shattered faith together.

Nicholas' Preliminary Response I do feel wholly inadequate - as a lay person - to answer your questions/comments.
What I think we can know is that either life is wholly pointless or that God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (capitalised because of course God is genderless). We obviously don't see things from God's point of view, and even if we did we could never prove that the suffering we observe is really compatible with a Loving Ulitimate Creator, but we can certainly see enough to get a glimpse of why there are no easy answers - and why free will and free process, with all their downsides, are fundamentally necessary to the possibly of learning to chose to love. It is also far from clear that a world without suffering would be preferable to one with the possibility of alleviating, and learning from, suffering. But philisophy never cured toothache - let alone the worse diseases and evils that you mentioned.
To address the points you raised directly:
If we were automata - would we care? No - and surely that is the point. We would not care, we would not love. It is love that matters - freedom is a pre-condition. re omnipotence, the point is that God limits His omnipotence to give us free will and the universe free process. A loving parent does not correct all their child's mistakes. God's redemption is ultimate, not just a kingdom of this world.
What is the eucharist next to the incestuous torture of an 8 year old? Surely the Eucharist and all it implies - repentence, prayer, participation in the life, death and resurrection of Christ - is the only thing that is remotely adequate to the suffering of this broken/fallen world.
What is the body of Christ when so many "Christians" fail to act to prevent Auschwitz? Well it was Christians who defeated Hitler and ended it.
The vagarities of prayer seem to be an insulting response to the needs of a family of an 11 month old with leukemia. Surely prayer plus the best that medicine can provide is the only effective response. Much more effective than either on their own BTW.
I fear that these comments may not help. All our rational concerns are to some extent waves on the deeper spiritual oceans. A retreat would perhaps be more helpful than an email, but sadly an email is all I can do. I'll see what John has to add to this - he will be much wiser than I.

John's Response Thank you for the email message that has been passed to me. The questions that you ask are deep and perplexing and I cannot pretend to have the wisdom to know how to answer them properly. There are just two things I would like to say.
One is that I acknowledge that cool intellectual discussion, though not, I think, valueless, is nevertheless unable to get to the real heart of the matter. You say that thoughts must be matched with narrative. That is right and, for me, the enacted story of the cross of Christ, understood as God's true acceptance of participation in the suffering of the world, is the narrative that affects me most and helps me most in wrestling with these profound difficulties. Of course if that story just ended with the cry of dereliction, it would seem to sombre to carry hope, but there is also the resurrection, even if between the Friday and the Sunday there is the silent grave of Holy Saturday. That leads me to my second point.
The life of this strange and bitter world is not the only story we have. I do not want to evoke a pie-in-the-sky theodicy that tries to appeal to the life to come in order to persuade us to forget the sufferings of this world. But those sufferings would be intolerably more bleak than they are if they were the whole of reality. I am sure you know the argument between Ivan and Alyosha Karamzov in Dostoyevsky's novel. Ivan's story of the child wantonly torn to pieces by the general's hounds is a truly terrible tale, but it seems to me that it would be even more ghastly if the lad had not hope of a life beyond death. I have tried to discuss this aspect of things in a recent book The God of Hope and the End of the World.
I realise that these remarks are likely to be of very limited help. I pray for you and I do beg you to hold on to your faith and hope if you can, in the perplexing darkness in which you find yourself.

Gospel Healings The Gospels recorded several events when Jesus healed blind, paralysed people miracally. My problem is not on the authenticity of miracle healing, but on the possibility of immediate recovery. Medical reports show that even if a blind person has his sight function again, he cannot know what the light and color means. He needs a very long time to know which colors refer to which object. Similarly, even if a paralysed patient has his legs function again, he'll need a considerable amount of time to learn how to control the muscle and keep balance. Someone said the gospels are not real stories. I am really in doubt.

Preliminary Response: two possible explanations of your difficulty spring to mind. The first is that the people healed were in an atypical condition: for example the optic nerve etc.. may have been functioning but the patient was unaware of his vision. The second possibility is that God may have caused the muscles/neurons to re-generate and re-programme as well as the immediate obstacle to walking/sight to be removed. Note that in the healing miracles God is doing things quickly that He often does, but slowly: they are not conjoring tricks but signs of God's presence, concentrated in Jesus to an un-precedented degree. And as John points out in Science & Theology (p92-3) "Theology can borrow from science the concept of a regime, a domain of experience charaterised in some intrinsically significant way. It is a familiar fact that a change of regime can produce dramatic changes in behaviour, as in the transition in metals from the conucting state to the superconducting state, resulting in the total vanishing of electrical resistance...The laws of nature do not change at these transition points but their consequences do dramatically...Miracles are not to be interpreted as divine acts against the laws of nature...but as more profound revelations of the character of the divine relationship to creation". John says "nothing to add to [this] judicious reply"

Creationsim v Darwinism I would love to learn more about his views on creationism v. Darwinism, as we are often asked to consult with state officials on the proper curriculum for middle and high school students.

Preliminary Response Scientific Darwinism is completely compatible with the Christian understanding of Creation - and indeed it is clear from the fact that the 2 creation stories in Genesis differ in detail that the precise details are not meant to be taken literally. Of course some people falsely claim that scientific Darwinism implies a metaphysical 'Darwinism' (Darwinolatory) which says that there is Nothing But natural selection (driven by 'blind, meaningless' chance) - and others falsely claim that the Bible is a kind of scientific textbook, thereby sadly giving credence to the Darwinolatrists. Dennis Alexander is v good on this in Rebuilding the Matrix. John says "nothing to add to [this] judicious reply"

Hartle-Hawking & Tegmark I have a question about the Hartle-Hawking equation and the work of Max Tegmark (all possible worlds exist). In both cases, it seems to me (not knowing the subjects or the mathematics in depth) that the equations used are interesting feats of mathematical "self-indulgence". What I mean is that neither, it seems to me, has an experimental basis nor does either give rise to experimental predictions that can be tested. It seems that each is designed to be a bit of cleverness to prove a point -- in the case of Hawking that you can have a universe without a "beginning" and for Tegmark that you could have quantum laws such that "every possible universe exists". To me these seem only more sophisticated versions of the proof that all books have the same author. Is this an accurate account of these equations or is it uncharitable? Are there other examples of what you might consider essentially tendentious models or equations in physics/cosmology?

Preliminary ResponseThis is really beyond my expertise. But as far as I can see: a. The Hartle-Hawking proposal is designed to get round some problems in the Open Inflation models of the universe - mainly that the Initial Conditions are fine-tuned and "subject to the unusal handwaving". The idea is that, if space has a certain topology (S3) and given some assumptions about the laws of physics, you can (allegedly) define the initial conditions by means of a Feynman Path Integral with some assumptions about the lower limit of the Integral. (see here for source material if you are interested). If you then insert the fact that we are in an anthropic universe to get the probabilities right, you seem to get (with a set of rather heroic approximations) a power spectrum for the Cosmic Background Raditaion which is in the right ballpark. This proposal seems interesting but there are significant difficulties and it is all pretty speculative. It is (of course) an abuse of language to suggest that this proposal does away with the boundary conditions or with anthropic fine-tuning. But it's not just Mathematical Legerdemain either - it's as testable as most theories of basic cosmology.
As far as I can see thinking has moved on to "Branes" and away from H-H. This is partly because Branes are currently the most promising route to a Unified Theory and partly because (see here) the H-H proposals suffer from a number of technical problems (Real time is important, the initial state of the H-H universe is not well-defined and the model tends to favour an empty Universe - without applying the Anthropic Principle). But as Turok says "Daring is called for .. Disasters are instructive" and these highly speculative flights of fancy are not in any sense scientific results, just work in progress.
Tegmark's proposal that all possible worlds exist is, of course, interesting because it implies the existence of God. But his actual work is not by any means content free - although it is of course highly speculative. His v interesting paper submitted to Phys Rev D Jan 22 2001 proposes a programme of trying to account for the data by not assuming that the Einstein Field Equations hold. As an illustration, a model-independent analysis of 92 type Ia supernovae demonstrates that the curve giving the expansion history has the wrong shape to be explained without some form of dark energy or modi ed gravity. We discuss how upcoming lensing, galaxy clustering, cosmic microwave background and Ly forest observations can be combined to carry though this program, and forecast the accuracy that the proposed SNAP satellite can attain.
He also says (quite fairly from what I understand): "Modern cosmology is in a somewhat equivocal state of affairs. The good news is that a recent avalanche of high-quality data are well fit by an emerging "standard model" whose roughly ten free parameters are being constrained with increasing precision. The bad news is that this emerging model is more complicated than anticipated. There is not one kind of dark matter, but three: ...Moreover, problems involving small-scale clustering have triggered increasingly complicated models for the dark matter... This perceived profusion of bells and whistles has caused unease among some cosmologists and prompted concern that these complicated dark matter flavors constitute a modern form of epicycles."

Creation/evolution I am very interested in the Creation-evolution debate. If anything I prefer the evolution side and I find frustratingly that so much of the arguing seems to be over interpretation of evidence. I have been talking to a ceationist who says that the oxygen content of pre-Cambrian rocks in Lewis and in Greenland shows that there could at most only have been 10,000 years or so when there was no photo-synthesis on Earth. I know it's not a physics or maths problem, but I would like to know if it is one you have come across and have any thoughts on. I find it extremely difficult to find people who are really knowledgeable on both sides of the 'argument' (which seems very easily to sink into a slanging match anyway).

Preliminary Response: I don't think there is any substance in this "oxygen content" business. Probably the world's leading expert on pre-cambrian in Greenland in Simon Conway Morris, a highly intelligent Christian and Prof of Evolutionary Paleo-biology at Cambridge. If there were any such evidence to refute evolution he would know about it. There isn't.
I haven't been able to locate the source of this suggestion. There is a paper that looks pretty credible here though I am not an expert in this area. As all sensible people know, scientific Evolution is completely compatible with Christianity: so is Gravity, Relativlty (and the rest of Physics, Chemistry and Biology for that matter). People have made metaphysical claims based on alleged extrapolation of the results of science and falsely suggested that these are established by the science. Certainly metaphysical Evolutionism (Darwinolatory) is not compatible with Christianity - nor is the idolatory of money or sex (remember how Freud used to be regarded with even more awe that Darwin?). To be fair, Darwin and Huxley were always crystal clear about this. They were agnostics and evolutionist scientists, but had close colleagues who were Christians and evolutionists. So does Stephen Jay Gould - whose Rocks of Ages is pretty helpful (although I don't think John would go all the way with the Non-Overlapping Magisterium ("NOMA") principle Gould advocates, except as a first approximation).

PS I have now finished Rocks of Ages. It starts well - suggesting a "NOMA" principle, that Science should not dictate to Religion or vice-versa but that their Magisteria (domains of applicability) are of equal status, don't overlap, but " every fractal scale of self-similarity" (p65). But at the end he seems to go off the rails. He appears to argue that, because there are "hundreds of millions [of species] that have graced the history of our planet ... Homo Sapiens ranks as...a wildly improbably evolutionary event, not the nub of universal purpose" (pp202-206). But under NOMA such facts as the number of species cannot logically dictate the validity of a religious hypothesis. He also completely misunderstands the kinds of argument that Physicist Theologians are advocating. He dismisses Stannard's analogies between wave/particle duality and God/Man as a claim that "the status of Jesus...must be factually true" (p216) and the Anthropic Principle with "if the laws of nature were just a tad different...some other configuraton...would then exist, and the universe would present just as interesting a construction... So what." (p219) He sounds here like an old-fashioned biologist who is not very numerate: ironic since modern genetics and taxonomy leans heavily on statistical approaches. The point of the Anthropic fine-tuning argument is that tiny changes in the fundamental constants would produce a pretty sterile universe. This provides (in statistical terms) strong support for the likelihood of an 'hypothesis' that intelligent life is an intended consequence of the initial conditions rather than an accidental by-product.

Follow-up question I've found the answer to my first question, about Creation, very helpful, and encouraging. I've been doing more research, because of the 'Creation Science workshops' our local children will be having. I would be very interested, if you or perhaps even other readers have come across the latest direction their thoughts are taking. It is based on the work of H. Ohmoto of Pennsylvania State University, about the fact that paleosols contain so much oxygen (or iron affected by it), that there must have been more 02 in the early atmosphere than was thought. I cannot find what Ohmoto's conclusions are--but the Creationist interpretation is that it proves earth never had a reducing life could not have started the way scientists no evolution. This sounds very simple, but that is what our children are going to be taught in the summer. I have been finding it very frustrating but am very re-assured and encouraged to find that I am not alone. Look forward to hearing, and I'm glad I found the site.

Follow-up response Ohomoto seems to be a good scientist, and if you look here you will see that his conclusion is "These data are inconsistent with the conventional model of chemical and biological evolution, but they are consistent with a model postulating the development of globally oxygenated and sulfate-rich oceans and of the emergence of SRB, cyanobacteria and methanotrophs prior to 3.5 Ga."
No-one with the slightest knowledge of biology can doubt that evolution is a major principle in the development of life on earth, and that all living creatures are releated genetically (apart from anything else, genomes of different creatures are amazingly similar. Striking illustration - a paper in this week's Nature sheds light on mood control in manic depression through the interaction of drugs on Slime Mold!). Clearly the details of how this works are still poorly understood - and were not at all understood by Darwin who knew nothing of genetics. However this does not and can not mean that God is not at work as Creator, through Evolution and all the other physical laws. No-one now seriously believes that evolution determines what happens - there is too much chance involved.

reincarnation Hi, For as long as I can remember I have been searching for meaning. I had a pretty standard upbringing, Christian but not really practicing. My sister's family is a strongly Christan one, and a fine example of a family practicing Christian values. Although from time to time I have read some of the bible I would hardly call myself well-versed in the detail. I have read many books about "life the universe and all that" and I am quite convinced that there is more to life than the mundane material life of the senses. Just what more there is, and what form it takes, is another matter altogether. I must ponder this for some period every other day ! Just one example of my musings is the following. I believe one of the tenets of Christian belief is that there is no reincarnation, that this life is all the time we have to prove our suitability for the "life ever lasting". If everybody lived for the same length of time and had the same opportunities for doing good (or evil) then we could all be judged fairly on our performance. This, of course, is not the case, and it seems to me that a "ticket to heaven" could be more readily obtained by a new-born infant dying, sin-free, soon after birth, rather than living to a ripe old age with the possibilty of accumulating significant sinful baggage. Apparently our life on earth is to allow us to learn about love and to how to be "good" spirits. If we only get one crack at it but the circumstances vary so widely (sin-free infant dying at birth versus wizened-oldie sinner) then it doesn't seem to me a very fair and equitable system. I think reincarnation logically has to be part of the paradigm. What do you think ?

Preliminary Response It'd be very unfair if we were doing the judging, but God knows all the 'mitigating circumstances' and can fully take them into account. One big problem with re-incarnation is that it justifies appalling treatment of other people on the grounds that the reason they are an "untouchable" or (often) a woman is that they had "bad karma". Jesus is clear that life is immensely serious and God offers the free gift of eternal life - ie life in union with God - to all.

How the resurrection happened (Dr Henry Pang (medical) Australian Catholic University Australia) How did a dead body move out of a sealed tomb? How did a dead body with bloody wounds walk and speak to others? Given no astronaut nor any space device with cameras in space, has yet reported any life like activity in space beyond the outer reaches of the solar system, where did the person who is said to ascend go? Since there were no reports of Saturn rockets 2000 years ago, how did this person having regained life, ascend into the upper skys? My approach to these issues is to apply hyperspace theory, particularly cosmology and higher dimensions theory. I do not suggest proof. I do provide interessting descriptions of the transition from dead to life applying higher dimensions theory. Many extraordinary events can be explained when dimensions higher than the 4D of our universe are applied. If the ascended person had access to a black hole/wormhole system within our Milky Way, it is relatively easy to suggest travel between universes, which would conveniently account for that ascended person vanishing from our earthly view. If the ascended person has access to astronomical energies as equated by Einstein as e = mc2, it would not be at all surprising for ascending person to proceed wherever without Saturn rockets. In short, I think hyperspace theory is suitable for considering aspects of resurrection needed by non-believers if they are to take any interest in our religion.

Preliminary Response We don't know the physics of Christ's resurrection - and we almost certainly never will. By definition this is a unique event in a unique regime and thus not subject to experiment. Our current understanding of physics is far from complete, for example it seems that most of the matter in the Universe is "dark matter" and we don't know what this is composed of - nor do we really understand the mysterious observer/observation distinction that lies at the heart of Quantum Mechanics. But based on what little we do know we now understand that the notion of 'confinement' is not as simple as "you're in and you can't get out" so it is never strictly true to say that an object 'tunelling' through a barrier is 'impossible', merely highly unlikely. With apologies to Schrodinger, it is tempting to suggest that, in a sealed tomb, the system goes into a linear superposition of two 'entangled' states psi|dead + psi|resurrected and God does an observation which forces the system into psi|resurrected. But this is enormously speculative, and not really saying anything very much except it is not impossible. (Remember that superconductivity was "impossible" for over 50 years after it was discovered, and High Temperature Superconductivity is still poorly understood.) As for the Ascension - it is clear that heaven is not "up" in any physical sense: it is a state of perfect union with God and thus not localised in the universe. If Jesus did rise into the air, as seems probable, this was an enacted parable. The use of higher dimensions seems quite fasionable at the moment (in 'brane theory') and it is quite possible that the next version of physics will involve additional dimensions, but at present this is all speculative.

The Flood Is there any evidence of the global flood which Noah and his family survived?

Nicholas' Response approved by John It is known that the Black Sea was once dry land and was flooded by the sea coming through the Hellespont. This may well be the flood that is referred to in the Noah story. Of course this flood did not cover the whole planet but may well have covered the whole inhabited area known to the storyteller (which is another reading of the word translated as 'earth').
It seems clear that the details of the Noah story, like most of the details in the early part of Genesis are there to convey the spiritual essence of the situation rather than to give what a robot might have seen. It is now clearer than ever that all animal life on this planet is in an important sense entrusted to our care by God and is fragile and subject to the risk of mass extinctions - either from natural causes or human failure to obey God's word or a combination of both. This is conveyed much more truthfully by the language of the Bible than by the measured tones in which Archeologists would tend to relate the events that may have originally given rise to the text.

Pain and Death? I am currently a student at L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, and have engaged myself in a study involving the relationship between science and religion. My study focuses specifically on the question of natural evil which arises in an evolutionary model of creation. I am interested in how scholars such as yourself address the apparent contradiction involved in this issue: simply put, if the physical pain and death from which humans suffer is of the same nature as that from which animals suffer, then it would have presumably existed before humans, i.e., pre-fall, and therefore have been part of God's 'good' creation; and yet, the Bible indicates that God intends to redeem the faithful from it, thus justifying it's 'evil' label. I am aware that there is a plethora of literature available on the subject, including much of your own authorship, so I considered it worthwhile to consult one of the most highly respected scholars in this field for direction as to which of your own publications, or any others, you feel would be most helpful in addressing this issue. I myself am a former Christian trained in anthropology, and am very respectful of and am seriously considering the beliefs of those such as yourself. Yours sincerely, Brad Thames

Nicholas' Preliminary Reply: Although there are clearly continuities at the neurological level between human pain and animal pain, there are also fundamental differences between human and animal consciousness. There is no evil in feeling un-conscious pain. Equally, in this world, the ability to feel pain is fundamental to survival - this in this world a reasonable level of pain is part of God's good creation. Similar comments apply to death, with the important addition that death is the essential gateway to Eternal Life. But in the new creation we don't need to feel pain, and we don't need to die to enter Eternal Life. To use a weak analogy - living entirely on milk is very good for a new baby, and very bad for a middle-aged man. To 'redeem' a grown man from drinking nothing but milk does not negate the fact that milk is good - for a baby.

Follow-up (quote - questioner's comment - Nicholas' response).. There is no evil in feeling un-conscious pain. By unconscious pain, I assume you mean non-emotional pain, the pain that would result from touching a hot stove for instance. No - I mean pain that is not consciously perceived, eg while under anaesthetic. However, the Bible seems to indicate that this type of pain resulted at least in part from the fall: e.g., "Your pains in childbirth will multiply" (Gen 3:16) speaks of a physical, bodily pain, one which is of the same nature as the hot-stove pain in that it results from the corruptability of our body, yet evidently was not part of God's original 'good' creation since he imposed it after the fall. Yet this pain is inherent from the physical characterisics of a woman's body. Are we then forced to believe that God in effect altered the genetic structure of a woman in order to cause greater pain?
It is well known that the effect of pain on people is a function of their state of mind. Soliders in battle can suffer appalling wounds and scarecely notice them (clear evolutionary value in this) and there is a lot of evidence that people with deep religious commitment can bear pain with enormous fortitude. So it may be that at least one aspect of this is that, once people have lost their total trust in God, all forms of biological pain are far more painful mentally.
Also, are we then unjustified to expect that in the future redeemed world there is still the absense of pain? If pain is not an evil, then there is no need to be redeemed from it, and therefore this expectation would in fact be unjustifiable it seems. Yet my reading of scripture does not seem to allow for the existance of the excruciating pain we all have experienced at one time or another. Are we then forced to draw some arbitrary line between that which is justifiable pain from which there is no need for redemption, and that which has resulted from evil?
I think we can distinguish between (a) biological pain, (b) tolerable pain and (c) intolerable pain. For example, I am training for the Marathon at the moment and distance running can be quite painful - but I tolerate, and to some extent embrace, the pain because of the greater good of achievement, fitness, cameraderie etc.. Now the only form of pain that I think we can say is evil is (c) and it is this that we are redeemed from.
Equally, in this world, the ability to feel pain is fundamental to survival - this in this world a reasonable level of pain is part of God's good creation. Again, judging between what level is resonable and what level is not seems arbitrary, since it all results from the corruptability of our bodies and the existance of fixed natural laws in the universe.
Similar comments apply to death, with the important addition that death is the essential gateway to Eternal Life. But in the new creation we don't need to feel pain, and we don't need to die to enter Eternal Life
. This seems to imply that from the beginning of creation God intended this world to be only temporary, that he originally intended all to die and enter into another existance. This requires the belief that death, in and of itself, is not evil. Again, I don't find that to be consistant with what scripture says about death. Likewise, there is no need to believe in an acutal, bodily resurrection, since if was not Christ's physical death which was evil, then his physical resurrection was unnecessary for the 'victory over death'. This sort of theology is quite problamatic for the Christian.
Well clearly biological death predates the first fully conscious humans (designated as Adam and Eve) so biological death in this world is part of God's good creation. Indeed without it evolution is pretty difficult, and so is resurrection. So I think God always intended us to graduate from this world to the next, just as we graduate from the womb to the earth. (I'd love to write a dialogue between a sceptical and a beliving twin about life after birth). It is of course quite possible that sinless humans might have been bodily assumed into heaven - the stories of Elijah and Enoch seem to suggest this and this is what the doctrine of the Assumption seems to be about - but I'm very unsure about this. Whether Jesus' physical resurrection was "necessary" is speculative - the fact of His physical resurrection is, to my mind, abundantly clear. (After all, if His body was in the tomb then the authorities could have produced it and killed Christianity stone dead, and if His disciples removed it then they would not have believed in it so feircely).
To use a weak analogy - living entirely on milk is very good for a new baby, and very bad for a middle-aged man. To 'redeem' a grown man from drinking nothing but milk does not negate the fact that milk is good - for a baby. There is certainly nothing unnatural about a baby growing up to be a man, so the need to redeem would be perfectly in accord with a harmonous world. Yet sin certainly is unnatural, and by it's very definition is a disharmony in God's created order. The implications that follow from a belief that God created man with an inherent need for redemption (as opposed to sustination) certainly would be nothing a Christian would like to admit to--God redeeming us from himself?
The possibility of sin is inherent in the existence of freewill which is essential for love. We could, in theory, never have sinned, but the whole plan of redemption was inherent in God's creation - which is why it is "very good"
As for your question--why am I a former Christian, of course I could (and have) written pages describing all the factors that led to this, so my answer here will be a bit simplistic. I also should mention that I have not blatently rejected Christianity in favor of another world view. Rather, at present I find myself simply unable to bring myself to an honest and comfortable acceptance of the truths of Christianity. The main contributions to this has been reflection on the significant problems with Christian theology (some of the primary ones I'm sure you can figure out), in which I find very little coherence (a solution to one problem leads to a problem in another area, for instance); Any deep true understanding of the world tends to have paradoxes - consider Quantum Theory and Relativity. I don't think Christian theology is any worse than that. a rejection of the uniqueness of Christianity in the area of religious experience, based on the untrustworthiness of my own alleged experiences in the past, the similarities with the experiences of practitioners of other religion, and the similarity with non-religious experiences, and thus a rejection of the claim that religious experiences confirms the truths of Christianity and the existance of God; Well no supporting evidence can be conclusive, but the fact that some religious experiences are mistaken does not prove that they all are. and an exposure from science and anthropology to the possibilities (however improbable) of human behaviour, religion, and the universe itself as having evolved naturalistically.
Any comments on anthropic fine-tuning?
As I mentioned, I don't find the alternative world-view (naturalism) to be compelling enough to embrace without a thorough search for the trustworthiness of Christianity, in which I am still engaged. I recognize that human reason has limits, and the implications of a naturalistic world-view, which is in large part the reason I haven't yet embraced it. I also am turning to obviously brilliant minds such as Polkinghorne who I can assume have considered the problems I find, and yet are still able to accept Christianity. I suppose, to sum up, my approach to Christinity in the past has led me to disbelief, and so now I am trying to find an approach that can lead to belief.

John's Response (John had seen the questioner's remarks above but my replies in italics were inserted afterwards and John has not seen them) The problems you raise are serious and not ones that can adequately be responded to in a few lines. I hope therefore you will not mind my referring you to some of my books where I say what I can at some length. On evil generally, see ch 5 of Science and Providence, on the Fall see pp63-5 of Science and Theology for life of the new creation and its relation to the present world, see ch 9 of Science and Christian Belief. Part of the mystery of evil and suffering is not that they exist at all but the scale on which they exist. The central Christian insight is that in the cross of Christ we see God sharing to the full in the travail of creation, truly a 'fellow sufferer who understands'.

Why are you an Anglican? I am a lifelong Anglican, and I have often said that I can't imagine myself being otherwise. So I was disconcerted recently when I was asked why I was an Anglican. It's such a part of me that I rarely consider the why of it. But I began to think: Why Anglican? Why not Roman Catholic like my husband, or Methodist like my best friend, and so on?
I have always enjoyed reading your books, particularly The Faith of a Physicist, and I hoped that you would not mind my asking you the same question: Why are you an Anglican? If you have time to reply, I would be very grateful to hear from you.
P.S. I am particularly interested in the question of time as it relates to God, and whether our perceptions of time are merely subjective or actually objective. Do you think you will ever write a book on this?

Nicholas' Preliminary Response Well I'll try and give my preliminary answer but 'cos this is rather personal John's may be totally different or he may not answer at all.
I was born an Anglican (as I believe John was) and thus one would need a good reason to change. However I do think that Anglicans have historically been right about most major issues (eg Catholic + Reformed, Worship in a tongue understood of the people, communion in both kinds, reason+scripture+tradition) and indeed until about 1980 there were enough serious objections to RC positions on these matters to make me very glad indeed not to be an RC - they have now largely converged on where we historically stood but they still have the serious baggage of infallability and Vatican Control, and some particularly unsavoury historical episodes. There is also no doubt in my mind that Queen Elizabeth I was a divinely inspired leader and that much of the best of the 'western' democratic tradition is due to her long-term influence. So at least at that point in history and God wanted the Anglican 'side' to win - and we did.
Admittedly since c.1980 the Anglicans have become an enormously broad church, some of whose bishops (Spong springs to mind) have been a disgrace to the faith in the doctrines they preach. But, just as any test will have false negatives and false positives, so a Church will either have members who should not be there or exclude people who should. Generally speaking, Anglicans err on the side of inclusion, RCs of exclusion. It is clear to me which side Jesus 'erred' on.
Finally, the Anglican Communion seems to me to be a microcosm of the whole Church of God - a unity in which Catholics, Evangelicals, Liberals, Traditionalists, Modernists and many others rub along together despite our disagreements.

re your PS - John'srecent co-edited book The End of the World and the Ends of God addresses topics related to this - you might want to check it out.
I hope this is some help - I'll see what John has to say.

Universalism (NC) In the chapter entitled 'Evil' in 'Science And Providence', the statement is made that the only satisfactory conclusion to the problem of evil is if eventually everything is well. Am I right to presume that this is a statement made in support of Universalism?

Nicholas' Preliminary Response John further amplifies his position in Science and Christian Belief [=Faith of a Physicist in the US]. (p171) "I cannot believe that God will ever foreclose on His loving offer of mercy, but equally I do not believe He will override the human freedom to refuse. If there is a hell, its doors, as the preachers say, are locked on the inside. Those who are there are there by choice." He refers with approval to CS Lewis's wonderful allegory on the subject, The Great Divorce.

Universal Salvation According to your Q and A section, your position of the apocatastisis is roughly that given by C.S. Lewis in "The Great Divorce." I wonder how that can satisfy someone who believes in the love, wisdom and power of God?
I like "The Great Divorce", but feel Lewis was a bit dishonest in putting into the mouth of George MacDonald sentiments which were close to the opposite of those he espoused. MacDonald did not believe God would fail with any at the last. Nor did his friend, F.D. Maurice, whose work I assume you know. Though Maurice was loath to come out with a theory of universal salvation, he wrote in a letter, "I cannot believe that He will fail with any at last; if the work was in any other hands it might be wasted; but His will must surely be done, however long it may be resisted."
Of course, many Christians have espoused universalism, from Origen down to Jurgen Moltmann in today's theological world. I mention Maurice because he was such a careful thinker and such a dedicated, honest man.
If God is really love, if he really has infinite wisdom, it is hard to imagine that his yes will not be stronger than men's nos. I need not tell you how some of the hardest hearts have been made so by circumstances beyond their control or how much the pressures of our world weigh on us all. In both "The Great Divorce" and "The Screwtape Letters", salvation seems to hang by a thread. But surely this is not so if God is greater than "the Devil"?
My faith, as I stated in my first question, is so weak as not to be worthy of the name. Still, the only God I could believe in would never give one of us up. What do you say?

Nicholas' Preliminary Response - with John's comments in purple I don't think God gives up on any one of us but He has to give us the option of rejecting Him, otherwise we are back into the realm of compulsory salvation. By the way, I don't think it is quite fair of you to criticise Lewis for have MacDonald think things in Heaven that he did not think on earth. Dante clearly does the same to Virgil. Anyone who thinks (s)he will not get some theological suprises in Heaven is in for a very big suprise when (s)he gets there. St Paul knew better.
God wills all to be saved but no one will be carried willy nilly into the kingdom of Heaven against his or her will.
PS apocatastisis threw me - it's not in Webster's online but my SOED gives "apocatastasis" (rare) as "restoration, re-establishment."
this was used by Origen and others in the sense of salvation for all (even the Devil!)

Response Sure, I will be glad of any futher comments from either you or Dr. Polkinghorne and I will wait for the same. I would like to clarify a couple of points first, however. Either I did not make my email on universal salvation clear enough, or you did not read it carefully enough, or both. Nowhere do I say I believe in compulsory salvation. What I would expect is that if there is an infinitely wise and loving God, he would find a way to draw to himself the whole creation. And, yes, if there is a heaven, there will surely be many surprises there--as you say. What if one if them is that, indeed, God has found a way to redeem each creature and that "hell", after all, is empty. Then the intimations St. Paul had about the eager longing and waiting of the whole groaning creation will have be answered gloriously.
that is possible. If its doors are locked, they are locked from the inside

Animal Suffering I am confused in reading some of your answers in the Q and A section of your web site. I am an agnostic, who has longed to believe in the God called by William Law an "infinite fathomless depth of never-ceasing love" but who, because of the suffering I see about me, have been unable to so believe. Perhaps there is some "sin" involved in this unbelief on my part, I do not know, still I find myself in deep doubt. I am confused because in at least one of your books, you say that you do not believe in eternal life for animals, but in the Q and A section referred to above, you speak of the redemption of the whole creation. The suffering of animals, which is terrible, is one of the major reasons why I find it so difficult to believe in a God of love. We humans have caused a great deal of our own suffering (and certainly that of the animals), but these sentient, vulnerable creatures have obviously simply done what their instincts prompt them to do. Will you please comment?

Nicholas' Preliminary Response - with John's comments in purple Only God understands the different kinds of consciousness and awareness that the different animal species have. From our perspective it seems that there is pretty much a continuity with animals like Great Apes, Elephants and Dolphins having a great deal more than, say Nematode Worms and fruit-flies, and then a discontinuity with Homo Sapiens having enormously more. (Even on the most optimistic assessment the most highly trained chimp has a vocabulary of a few hundred words, and there is a lot of evidence that they do not have any concept of basic causality - see eg "Basic Physics for Chimps" [sorry I meant Folk Physics for Apes]). Clearly God will redeem as much of creation as can be redeemed and if some animals are part of that then this would be wonderful - but it may well be that animals are fundamentally part of this world and do not have the strange 'amphibious' properties of humans.
Animal suffering is also difficult to evaluate because we must respect the nature of the animals and not anthropomorphise or Disney-fy them. To the extent that response to pain is merely an adaptive response of the nervous system, pain is not an evil - it only becomes an evil when it is felt consciously and not transcended. So Russell's famous gibe about the cruely of wasps who lay their eggs in Aphids is certainly misconceived. Higher animals almost certainly also have the kind of pain supressor mechanisms that make eg soldiers in battle able to receive terrible wounds without greatly noticing them, so much of the suffering of hunted animals may be mitigated in that kind of way.
Nevertheless, some animals do suffer at least some of the time, and the main reason for this is that this world of 'free processes' is essential to allow the emergence of beings who can freely choose to love. This is the whole wonderful purpose of creation, transcending the limitations of matter to eternal glory. And God does not look on the evil and suffering that are the inevitable by-products in the way a chemist would on a chemical reaction - He takes all the evil and suffering there ever was upon Himself and redeems it on the Cross. This is not a Disney cartoon but, truly, the greatest story ever told.
I find it difficult to believe that there will be no animals in the new creation or that every bacteria that ever lived will be there too. There must be some middle course that God, in His divine wisdom, will choose.

Reply from questioner I appreciate, very much, your taking the time and effort to give a thoughtful and detailed answer to my question on animal suffering. If, however, my "emergence as a being who can freely love" must be purchased at the expense of the unredeemed suffering of any, I would prefer, like Dostoyevski's Ivan, to respectfully return my ticket.

Response Thank you for your speedy response. I don't think you need to return the ticket just yet. On the Cross Jesus takes on Himself, and redeems, all the sin and suffering and evil there ever was and ever will be: there is no unredeemed suffering in the universe. The only creatures of God's present creation that will not be redeemed in the new creation are:
(a) those which by their nature are incapable of participating in it - we don't know exactly where this dividing line comes and it is quite possible that higher animals might be included but equally it is possible that they are not, and we must respect their true natures.
(b) those that by their deliberate choice have finally rejected God's offer - because otherwise the gifts of freewill and love are illusions. We can hope and pray that this set will be very small, but you cannot 'return your ticket' if the world is such that salvation is compusory. Again, let's wait to see what John adds to these responses before we go any further.
There is a necessary cost of freedom. What would be repellent would be suffering that is gratuitous, unnecessary if the Creator took more trouble. I do not believe that is the case.

Question (DP): I am a seminary student. I am currently in the process of writing a paper on the issue of theistic evolution. I am intrigued with the idea that God is creating the Universe through the process of evolution. I have sufficient scientific evidence, but I do have one question. Where does Adam come into the picture as being the first human? Please respond as soon as possible as my paper is due next month. I sincerely appreciate your knowledge and time. By the way, I just finished reading your book entitled Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion. I enjoyed it thoroughly! I just picked up The Way the World Is and The Faith of a Physicist. I look forward to beginning. Thank you and God bless!

Nicholas' preliminary response: From the beginning we can see that God’s loving act of creation has involved the Universe developing according to its God-given nature which we perceive as scientific laws.  The two accounts in Genesis make this clear, whilst their divergence on points of detail makes it equally clear that they are not to be taken as a literal account of the precise order and timing of events.  As far as we can understand, and our understanding is inevitably very limited, He has done this because:
(a) it is the most beautiful way and
(b) it provides His children with real freedom, so that we can freely choose to love.
The processes by which living systems progressively emerge, which we call Evolution, are just one example of this.

As for Adam and Eve, there must clearly have been a point in this process where the first fully human being emerged, with the freewill and responsibility to be able to chose, in a morally responsible way, between Good and Evil (tE), and there must logically have been a time before He/She/They made the wrong choice (tF).  It seems only too plausible that the time between tE and tF was well within the lifetime of a human being, and highly plausible, but rather wonderful in a way (see  Paradise Lost [esp end of Ch 8]) that once the first wrong choice had been made, other humans would participate in this wrong choice.  Thus not only does the story about the Fall in Genesis express the deepest truths about the human condition, there is no reason to doubt its veracity, even though the details are clearly not meant to be ‘taken literally’ any more than the details of the Creation accounts to which they belong.  This is not, of course, to suggest that the details in the Bible are there to deceive or that the accounts would be ‘better’ without them: the details provided, whilst almost certainly ‘symbolic’ allow the deep realities to be communicated in a realm where only symbols can speak.

John's Comment: Your reply was excellent. You might just possibly suggest he looked at what I have written about the Fall in Science and Theology pp63-65

Question (DS) I have read your little book 'The Quantum World' with great interest and fascination. To write about such a mind-boggling  subject so lucidly is a wonderful gift.
 I would now like to delve a little deeper into the formalities of  the subject via an accessible account in a textbook. Would you be kind enough to recommend one or two well-written (perhaps fairly recent) texts of an introductory nature of the type that physics/maths undergraduates might use?
 I do have a mathematics degree (which obviously included  complex analysis & vector spaces) but I have not studied Hilbert spaces nor have I done any quantum mechanics before.

John's Answer:  Of the writing of introductory books on QM there is no end.  I am not up to date with the most recent offerings but one that is not too old and which looks satisfactory is Introduction to Quantum Mechanics (quite expensive I'm afraid)
 A hardy classic is Quantum Mechanics by Schiff {NB but this is only in Hardback in the US}
Nicholas Beale Adds: Both of these books are very expensive.  You might also want to try this one by Linus Pauling et al. I'll try to ask John about it.

Question (LD) In a recent re-reading of Dr. Polkinghorne's "Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity" I was impressed by the parallels between his description of
the soul, the "real me" as a 'pattern' and his discussion of the "randomness within a patterned structure" of chaos theory.  I wonder if he has ever considered the structure of our lives as a "strange attractor" within which 'we live and move and have our being', with a reasonable degree of choice and randomness as 'maneuvering room'? Is it possible to consider the variation that occurs at conversion as a subtle, 'top-down' adjustment of the pattern, with a new motivation toward righteousness rather than sin?
John's Answer: You are thinking along lines that I find congenial but, of course, strange attractors are only an analogy to the much greater complexity involved in human beings.

Question (WMcC) BBC2 TV have just transmitted a fascinating 50 minute "Horizon" programme about Saul Perlmutter's work on supernovae, that suggests an ever expanding model of the Universe.  The Programme stated that his more recent data on the most distant supernovae ever observed confirmed the previous findings.
 I am not a mathematician but I understand that something must balance the equation. The programme ended by suggesting that matter and antimatter momentarily popping in and out of the relative vacuum of space, could account for the additional energy which is expanding the universe at an increasing rate.
  Perhaps I have not fully understood this aspect of the programme but I found  this explanation rather unconvincing. I would very much appreciate your comment
on this.
John's Answer: The assessment of the supernovae work on the rate of expansion of the universe is controversial, but many astronomers seem to accept it.  There is the possibility that the expansion is being driven by a new antigravity force, that is very weak but has some effects over large distances.  Thoughts about the origin of this force are very speculative. Overall, my judgment is that we should wait and see before going overboard about all this.

Question (Rev Canon Tony Capon) I am puzzled at the absence in the literature I have read of any reference to the origin of the existence and properties of light. Even if one goes back to those ten-to-the-minus numbers of the first second of the universe the properties and significance of light are always assumed - e.g. in period of inflation communication between different parts of universe is governed by the speed of light. While every other value is supposedly arbitrary if one goes back far enough towards t=0, light and its speed seem to be the one constant. It is never included in the "coincidences" that lead to the anthropic principle.
(a)  Why does light exist?
(b)  Is the speed of light assumed to be constant in any other universes, should such exist?
(c)  What would be the consequences if the speed of light were half what it is, or ten times what it is?
(d)  Has any critical work been done on these questions?
(e)  When the writer of Genesis 1 speaks of the existence of light as God's first creative act, is this a coincidence or a stroke of genius on the part of the writer?!
Nicholas' Preliminary Response: I have passed your query on to John.  For what little it’s worth, here are my shots at answers:
a.  At the most basic level (scientifically) because the laws of nature allow for energy traveling along geodesics with zero rest mass (etc..) If you then have a ‘big bang’ lots of energy will get transmitted in this way. Theologically: because God said "let there be light" as part of His plan for us to come into being as persons free to choose to love.
b.  Any Universe with the same basic equations would have the speed of light (c) constant (but see below)
c.  In order to measure speed you need a way of relating distance to time.  Nowadays this is done by c.  So it’s not clear what is meant by ‘the speed of light being half what it is’.  We’d probably describe that as eg ‘Humans being able to move twice as fast’.  The consequences of humans being able to move a speeds close to that of light are amusingly explored in Mr Tompkins.
d.  There have been recent speculations that the speed of light might be decreasing, but it’s far from clear what that would mean.  It’s much more comfortable to say that the rate of expansion of the universe might be accelerating (possibly due to a non-zero Cosmological constant, although this is still far from certain).  At a Philosophical level, John Lucas explored some of the basic ideas behind this in A Treatise on Time and Space.
e.  All scripture is inspired by God, but the details of the two creation accounts in Genesis were clearly never meant to be taken literally (they contradict eachother).
John's Supplementary Points
a. Light is an aspect of electromagnetism and without Electromagnetism matter would not hold together.
b. I am not sure I warm to other universes but if there are such, their c will set their velocity scale.
c. It would have to be very much less if beings of our scale were to be aware of it in any everyday way.
d. People have thought a lot about issues of time, which is related through relativity theory.
e. It was a good choice, but many civilisations have been very interested in light in one way or another.

Question (ES) Dear Sir John Polkinghorne
        I have an interest in theology and science. The October 1998 issue of Theology Today is particularly appreciated in furthering that interest. Thank you for your article “Natural Science, Temporality, and Divine Action.” It is especially helpful.
        You describe how to form a “cluster of consonant ideas” by abstracting a metascientific view that can be subsequently incorporated into a wider metaphysical scheme and later correlating it with a consonant theological understanding. At the end you describe a theological consonance where God is temporally engaged with creation but not with a knowledge embracing a future that is open and not yet actualized.
        I have an unpublished paper that suggests how divine-given distinctiveness and interrelationship manifest at the most fundamental level of particles and forces and can explain a divine presence and purpose--without total omniscience-- underlying creation. I would like someone to critically evaluate the basis of this paper. Since your paper concerns this area, an evaluation of my paper by you would be greatly appreciated. I can send a copy of this paper and if you find no interest in it after cursory examination, I will accept that.
        My request is to send a copy of the paper for your evaluation. Please let me know by EMail if you have an interest in this request.
Answer  John gets so many requests of this nature that he has had to make a policy of declining them all, and cannot make an exception even in your distinguished case.

Question (AM)
I saw your site that invited questions and tonight I feel a bit answer short  so I thought I would write. The truth I imagine this may be to vague for an answer but maybe just writing will help. I am a Jew who for 15 years has followed Jesus or tried to anyway. Always my struggle is faith itself. I seem to have a mind that can not see past the reductionary atheism arguments from folks like Dawkins and others. I have read so many apologetic works I am tired. Most days I am fine and hope and faith are alive but some nights I can see how all this could logically be just an incredible accident. Even in wonders of the world there seems just enough chaos to leave room to believe there is noone there. Add those possibilities to the problem of evil and suddenly my faith seems to faint.  I have children and a world of humans around me that have so many needs.  Instead of throwing my self into their lives at times like these I must use limited strength to just hold on to faith.  I swear this is no matter of the will. I desperately wish for the meaning I have found to be real.  (I know how contradictory that sounds) Some days I feel like Thomas "Let us go to Jerusalem and die with Him".  I will never quit for only HE has the words of eternal life, at least I can see there is no where else to go. Any way I guess the silly question is what do you do when you have lived with a God for 15 years but you still can not see Him when reason and science come knocking. I have read books til I am sick. I guess I wanted to talk.
I heard John was brilliant. Too bad most brilliant folks are so busy.
This note sounds dreadfully melodramatic. I am not like that in "real" life. Oh well.

Nicholas' Preliminary Response: I have forwarded your EMail to John and I hope he will be able to reply (but I think he’s away for a bit - he’s speaking at the AAAS conference on Science & Religion) . For what little it’s worth, can I offer you my comments as a fellow-pilgrim?
Periods of doubt and tiredness are a vital part of the spiritual journey.  CS Lewis is very good on this in the Screwtape Letters, and at a deeper level this is what St John of the Cross is talking about. "Let us go to Jerusalem and die with Him" is a wonderful example to us all.
Of course there are hugely compelling arguments against Dawkins’ reductionism – apart from anything else his science is deeply flawed – but it is clearly conceivable that there is no God - it’s just terribly unlikely.  God has created the Universe that way so that we have freewill about whether we believe in Him or not.  But I understand that you don’t need yet more apologetics at the moment!
A site I find helpful for Christian discussion is

Question (AM):
This question is really one of my longest plagues. I believe the earth is old so the Fall is no help here.
How does JP deal with the problem of pain? I saw him quoted as saying evolution helps with the problem as here God makes a world that can build itself. For me I would love to see the beauty in evolution but see to often the pain. It builds on death and extinction. Someone today  was telling me of a young lion cub shaking in fear as the pride was taken over by a different male. The male ripped apart any young not carrying his genetic material. I am told this natural infanticide is part of the system. How can this be wonderful or even good?
Nicholas' Preliminary Response: (quotes are from Science & Theology esp. pp93-95).  Clearly if there were no pain then there could be no growth and learning. Yet the weight of  suffering seems often to exceed what can be borne.  There are three main elements to John's view on this.
a. Freewill it is better for creation to contain freely choosing persons, however disastrous some of their choices may be, than to be populated with perfectly programmed automata.
b. Free Process A world allowed to make itself through evolutionary exploration of its potentiality is a better world than one produced ready-made by divine fiat.(mainly because it allows beings with true freewill to emerge)
c. God's involvement God is not just a spectator on the suffering that is a necessary price to pay for the 'glory that shall be revealed'. He has taken on Himself in Christ all the sin and pain and evil there ever was, and transforms it into His free gift of Eternal Life.
{d}As for these various vignettes of 'nature red in tooth and claw' I think we need to treat them with a pinch of salt. Other animals certainly don't feel suffering and pain in the way that humans do (they don't have the neuroanatomy to so do).  This particular incident sounds very implausible (all the cubs would 'carry his genetic material' - lions share at least 99% of their genomes).   Groups that wantonly kill their young clearly will not survive against groups that preserve them.  There is much suffering and evil in this world (eg Kosovo) but what is wonderful and good is that ultimately Good triumphs over Evil and always will do so.
Supplementary Question (following Nicholas' Preliminary Reposonse) AM.
a. But our will already has some limits. ( I cannot fly or heal the paralyzed). Why not put more barriers in to reduce some of the horror?
b. This is a vast statement that I should like to believe. I should like to see it layed out in detail. I think off the top my struggle here is really buying that a God like ours can be reconciled with classic Darwinian process. The waste, the seeming chance mutations it all seems so hit and miss. An engineer using these methods seems to have some lack of knowledge; but God is already in the future so why the dead ends of creation. Some one must paint me a convincing picture of the beauty in this sort of process.
c. I get you here but before the fall God called this world good. We know from "science" that death and disease was here. So what do we do with that. BTW
I was very interested in your response on the Fall in the Question and Answer page. {c1} How do you view scripture if not literal? Where does truth end and fancy begin? Where did man begin and animal end?
{d}Would it matter to you if it were accurate? I can easily research it and paint a more complete picture. No doubt I gave it a harsh spin but not by much. It is the type of thing that seems to keep me from embracing the ideas of JP above and Lewis in Problem of Pain. The only ideas I have heard from others are:
1) the pain in the animal kingdom is illusion - this I doubt especially in the higher levels; elephants, primates.....
2) the pain is a tool of creation almost a good - this is emotionally hard to swallow plus this sort of reasoning always seems to me like that eastern "you should see the divine side of cruelty" slop. However I am open to change here.
3) its all from the fall - scientifically problematic as well as theologically; the serpent was in the garden
4) Satan was part of the building plan and God does not break His covenants so the devil tinkered with the soup. I almost can buy this one but does it infringe on God's character? I think this is Lewis's idea in a poorly worded sentence.
What do you think? I know I am writing poorly, I have to leave soon. Hope you can follow this slop. It is better in my mind but you can't see that can you :) :)
Hey thanks again for bothering with this.
Nicholas' 2nd Preliminary Response
a. Ingenuity, creativity and freewill are always going to be dangerous gifts.  God already has done an awful lot to reduce evil and suffering, and we certainly can't see the picture from His point of view clearly enough to suggest that He could have done more.
b. There are many levels to this, but the one that impresses me most is the sheer intellectual beauty of God's solution to an apparently impossible challenge: how can an Omnipotent Creator create autonomous persons who are free to choose to love and believe in Him?  If He had used any other method we would either have been automata or have been effectively forced to believe in Him.  (It's not clear how real the 'waste' is in evolution or how many 'dead ends' there really are.  Gould is wrong about the Burgess Shale for example)
c. "good" does not mean "perfect". It seems to me that Adam and Eve as animals were always subject to physical death and disease - it is spiritual death and disease that they acquire after the Fall.
{c1}Understanding what God wants us to understand from the Bible has always required the inspiration of the Holy Spirit - terms like 'literal' don't help. (For my view see here.)
{d} Animal pain is real but it is an illusion to think that they experience it in the same way that we do.  The main reason that it is wrong for us to be cruel to animals is that it is wrong for us to inflict pain unnecessarily.  Cruelty to animals by animals seems to me to have no moral significance, unless, like dog-fighting, it is set up by humans.
John's comments.  I have nothing to add to this [other than what is in my books].

Question (LT)What resources can you recommend to me regarding the question of eternal punishment for those rejecting Christ, the possible opportunity for salvation after death, the possibility of annihilation of the lost, and praying for the dead?
  Additionally, what resources could you recommend to me regarding the Anglican understanding of the nature of the Eucharist and the symbolism of the various
parts of traditional Anglican worship?
 And finally, is there a place where I can send a personal letter?
Nicholas' Preliminary Response: John is co-author of The Mystery of Salvation which addresses the topics in your first sentence. The whole Anglican understanding is a very wide topic, as is the whole of Anglican liturgy!  But in Science and Christian Belief (pp 158-9) John discusses some of his own understanding of the Eucharist in the following terms: A bottom up thinker will want to ask what is the anchorage in experience which leads the Church to speak of itself not only in historical terms, but in terms which look beyond history. The answer must be in its participation in the Eucharist...From the first the Eucharist has had this character of 'already but not yet'...It is both the commemoration of Calvary and the anticipation of the heavenly banquet of the Kingdom of God...the real presence of Christ in the sacrament was experienced for centuries before divisive debates about its mode and nature began to perplex the Christian some manner the bread and wine are an integral part of the whole Eucharistic action in a way neither detachably magical nor dispensably symbolic.

Question (LT)How can an evangelical believer best counter the arguments of the "creation scientists"?
Nicholas' Preliminary Response: Perhaps by gently pointing out that:
a. Evolution is like gravity - one of the mechanisms which God seems to have used in creating the Universe.  It does not diminish God's Creator role in any way, and by suggesting that it does they are playing into the hands of the mendacious Ultra-Darwinists like Dawkins.
b. God makes it quite clear in Genesis that he is not giving us a literal account of the exact order and mechanism of Creation by giving us two creation accounts which differ in detail.

Question (GDB) I'm a second semester Rel Studies major and have just finished The Faith of a Physicist (2xs, slowly).
  1.  Does God know what salvation is going to look like?
  2.  It left me wanting to know more about Mr. P's thoughts on prayer, prayer life, mysticism, etc.
Nicholas' Preliminary Response: As to (1) - surely yes, but of course we don't know in detail.  All we know, and all we need to know, is that by God's grace we are drawn into His Eternal life, the glorious dance of life and love which is the Trinity.  For more, you might look at The Mystery of Salvation which John co-authored.
There is some discussion of (2) in Serious Talk.  He says: I think...we are doing two things when we pray:
 a. My picture of how the future comes about is that we have some room for maneuver in its formation and that God has reserved to himself some room for providential maneuver also. I suggest that, when we pray, we are offering our room for maneuver to be taken by God and used by him together with his room for maneuver, to the greatest possible effect.  Because I believe that there is interconnectivity in things (holism again), I believe that this alignment can have consequences for third parties also...a metaphor I often use is that of laser light.  What gives laser light its unusual effectiveness is that it is...coherent...I believe that divine and human coherence in prayer is genuinely instrumental...
b. I owe the understanding of the second thing we are doing when we pray to ...John Lucas.  ...when we pray we are called upon to commit ourselves to what we really want; in other words, to assign value...When the blind man comes to Jesus ...(Mark 10:46-52) the Lord says to him "What do you want?"  It is perfectly clear what the man wants; he wants to regain his sight. But he has to commit himself - to say, "Master, let me receive my sight" - before he is healed.  In a similar way, we have to say what it is that we really wish for.  I find that a helpful, if sobering, thought.

Question (JL)Please excuse me for both my lack in both science and theology but I have a question that has burdened me as of late, directed toward yourself or Dr. Polkinghorne.
If the creation of an ever expanding universe was initiated by a radiation vacuum or similar theory, where did energy originate? Simply: is there a God?
The question as posed probably sounds pretty unoriginal, but for some reason the question is gnawing at me.
I once told a friend who had asked me my religion, I responded," I'm a paranoid agnostic". Could you direct me on a course of action.? Thanx, John L.
Nicholas' Preliminary Response: Yes John, there is a God and the amazing news is that He loves and cares about you, and me, and the people you and I  love, and the people you and I don't love - cares enough to get fully involved in our messy human existence. And the even more amazing news is that you are so important to God that He was willing to die in agony so that you can truly begin to live life to the full.
  As you rightly discern the initial conditions of the universe, (the Big Bang) are so finely-tuned to allow the emergence of human-like life that it is absurd to suppose they occurred by chance. John discusses some of these issues in  The Faith of a Physicist (chs 3&4). 'why is there something rather than nothing?'  Every chain of explanation has to have a starting point...God [is that] for a believer.  An atheist...would have to claim that matter was somehow sufficiently self-explanatory.  In fact the physical universe, by its very rational order and fruitfulness, seems to point beyond itself.
  John is of course fully aware of the claims made about creation 'from nothing' out of vacuum fluctuations. They are based on speculations about what might have happened ...before the formation of spatial order at the Plank Time of 10-43 seconds.  We need to bear in mind the warning uttered by the great Russian theoretical physicist. Lev Landau, that his cosmologist friends were 'often in error but never in doubt'.  All the same, bold speculators are sometimes right, and let us, for the sake of argument, suppose that they are correct in supposing that the universe of our experience emerged, by some process or another, from a pre-existing quantum vacuum.  Only by the greatest abuse of language could such an active and structure medium be called [nothing] (for in quantum theory, when there is 'nothing' there it does not mean that nothing is happening).
 As for a course of action - I would not presume to 'direct' but I'd suggest finding some intelligent Christians and talking to them.

Dear John and Nicholas,  Gentlemen I have read with great interest your comments on creation. In particular I appreciate the way you have answered the question of "Adam and Eve" in terms of theistic evolution. I appreciate too that the the existence of two accounts of creation in the book of Genesis indicate that God did not intend the reader to take these accounts as literal history but as symbolic language to explain the relationship between God and creation in general and between God and man in particular.
  May I ask you. How do you regard the story of the flood of Noah? Obviously this is also not intended to be taken literally but it seems to be a parable of sorts to indicate the great mercy that God has for an evil mankind. Would you agree? Do you think that the account in Genesis is based on the huge flood that is reported to have occurred about 4000 B.C,  the effects of which were reported by Wooley?
  Also do you think this flood may account for the other flood stories in the myths of the Sumerian and other surrounding peoples? I await any answer with great interest. Thanks again for the wonderful service you provide.

Polyani (RJ) I wonder if you could talk to me a bit about Michael Polanyi's idea of  fiduciary framework in the book, Personal Knowledge?  I do not know anything  about his religious background, but if you, as a scientist-theologian could  explain the difference between a Christian's knowledge attained inside of a  fiduciary framework versus a non-Christian's knowledge in accord to his  beliefs, it would be appreciated.  It seems to me without a clear distinction  between sources of various faiths, all one has gained from reading Polanyi's  book is just another form of relativism.  (though, without a doubt, it is  distinctly a brilliant work).  I believe that a Christian's faith is  qualitatively superior to others since it is a gift of God. Even though I  realize it is quite unpopular to be religiously selective,  I would  appreciate your response to my perception of Polanyi's work.
John's Answer Michael Polanyi was a religious person and would certainly have called himself a Christian. His central idea is not relativism but that there is an inevitable degree of precariousness about all human knowledge. Nevertheless we should commit ourselves to what we believe we know. Truth is not the same as certainty. In the realm of religious knowledge this is called faith.  Of course, religious faith is deeper and more comprehensive than scientific faith for it does not only involve belief about reality but it implies and requires the response to divine Reality which calls not only for belief but also for awe, worship and obedience.  A good account of his thinking is given in Drusilla Scott Michael Polanyi. (NB: but alas this is out of print)
Keep searching for truth.

Question(GWC) I am an astronomer and a Christian, although I have some problems with "traditional" Christian responses to certain issues. I find myself "resonating" with many of your views, but I am uncomfortable with many aspects of using contemporary scientific findings to argue for a specific religious paradigm (and the converse). For example,
(0) the "Anthropic Principle" has been used, ad nauseum, by religious people and atheists alike, to support their philosophical viewpoints. I think the "Anthropic Principle" is the "God of the Gaps" all over again. We don't currently understand the apparent fine-tuning of the Universe scientifically, so some assign this to God. To me, this is like saying that everything science can't currently explain must be due to God, and, conversely, everything that science CAN explain doesn't require God. The God I believe in isn't the "God of the Gaps" -- I believe in an active God who works through the laws of physics. I am an observer, and I trust my senses and observations to help reveal "truth" in nature, which I firmly believe reflects the "personality" (for lack of a better word) of God.
This brings me to some problems I have accepting the "complete" Christian worldview: In particular, I question the Christian view on:
(1) other animals (such as posted on the Q&A website, that "animals do not experience pain the way we do"),
(2) the resurrection occurring at some point in the "future" after the "real death" of an individual (as opposed to the continuity of the spirit -- separation of the spirit at the moment of death),
(3) Christianity being the only path to Salvation.

Perhaps the questions I will pose would be better-directed to neurobiologists! I am certainly way out of my own field here, but I've done a fair amount of reading and have my own personal experiences on which to rely.

Regarding (1), I have witnessed "other animals" behaving far more "humanly" than humans: dogs overcome with grief upon the death of a beloved "master", dolphins saving humans, and quite possibly, having comparable intelligence, though limited by their own physical forms, other primates learning and exhibiting very similar behaviors to people. In light of both observational evidence and experience, I have a hard time swallowing that this is some "illusion". I think that would be like denying realism. Also, recent results uncovering extrasolar planets and protoplanetary systems (ie. disks around other stars) strongly suggest we are not alone in this vast cosmos. If we, as humans, set ourselves so far above the other animals of our own world (ie. we have everlasting spirits, they don't), how does that bode for any potential future interactions with other intelligent species? Forgive me, but I am going to anticipate the response here (perhaps incorrectly) -- that it is not us, but God who has set us above other species. I would argue that this is a potentially dangerous belief -- similarly held beliefs have led to bigotry, sexism, and gay-bashing. Also, I think this view (that we are so far above the other animals) is in conflict with the truth which is revealed in nature (God's "personality").

Regarding (2), I am intrigued by NDEs (Near Death Experiences). I am very aware that these experiences hardly offer "proof" of life after death, but I think there is enough here to warrant serious scientific investigation into these phenomena. I have heard three explanations, two relating to religious or mystical experience -- that the source of these experiences is contact with (a) God or (b) Satan, and that (c) the explanation has a completely "natural" origin. I would argue that (c) doesn't necessarily preclude either (a) or (b). The Christian espousers of (b) claim that a lot of these experiences have elements that are in conflict with traditional Christian beliefs. This argument seems both paranoid and circular to me (anything that's in conflict with our interpretation of the Bible must be from Satan -- perhaps what should be questioned is the interpretation of the Bible...). If these experiences are "real", then they strongly suggest that something may survive physical death. A hypothetical question: If the scientific evidence eventually supports this view, how would you react? I see 3 possible choices: (a) Christian faith would be shaken, (b) acknowledgment that interpretation of scripture (traditional view of resurrection in Christianity) must be wrong (this would be my own view, should the evidence point to this), or (c) denial of the evidence based on infallibility of scripture (=fundamentalism). I know that research into "anomalous cognition" is still viewed as "fringe science" by most of the scientific community, but I'm sure you're aware that several notable groups are leading research efforts in this area (eg. Nobel Laureate Physicist Brian Josephson's "Mind Matter Unification Project" at Cambridge). Also, some feel there is as much evidence for anomalous cognition in other animals as there is in human beings (eg. Rupert Sheldrake). I don't have an opinion on this, because I'm not qualified (and don't have the time to get qualified) to evaluate the experimental methods or statistical analyses being used, but I would be interested to know if you have an informed opinion on the legitimacy of "psychic phenomena".

Regarding (3) A lesson I've learned from science: there is one truth, but there are many paths to that truth. Risking heresy here, at heart I truly believe that the "best" religion is the religion that brings you closest to God, and that may not necessarily be the same for everyone! (That may sound a bit new-agey --- I don't mean it to, though, and I am most definitely not espousing relativism here.) In closing, I would greatly value your thoughts on these issues --- they are something of a "faith crisis" for me. I do believe in the divinity of Christ, but even if we were alive during the time of Christ, listening to Him with our own ears, our understanding of his message would be limited by our own human limitations. As with observations in science, understanding scripture also requires imperfect human interpretation.

Nicholas' Preliminary Response: Thank you for raising these points: please forgive me if I don't respond in as great a length as they really deserve:
(0) I don't think the Anthropic Principle is the same as the 'God of the Gaps'. It is indeed likely that some of the specific 'anthropic coincidences' will turn out to be explicable in terms of other initial conditions and better theories (although 'coincidences' arise from new discoveries as well). But for any scientific understanding of the Universe there will be a theory T, and a space of initial conditions Q of which a subspace Q0 say is anthropic. If Q0 is a very small subspace of Q then there is always the question of why the actual initial conditions are in Q0? An atheist can only claim that this is a 'coincidence' and this makes the likelihood of the atheistic explanation very small. On our present understanding Q0 is such a minuscule subspace of Q that anyone who claimed that such an unlikely event was a coincidence would be laughed off the stage in any other context.

(1) No-one knows exactly how animals experience pain but it is certain that the experience of pain is highly complex in humans and that the neuroanatomy of humans is fundamentally different from that of any animals. We are all fellow-creatures but that humans have unique attributes and responsibilities, and this truth has to be held between the twin fallacies of 'Animal Rights' and 'Animals are mere objects'. The existence of other solar systems by no means implies the existence of other forms of intelligent life: the number of stars in the universe is utterly trivial compared with the number of permutations in a genome. For the views of one of the greatest living biologists on this topic see here. When the Bible says that God has given humans 'dominion' over other species this does not mean that 'we can do as we like' but that 'we have the responsibilities of stewardship under God for His Creation'. The evils you mention (which are common in all societies) have indeed been cloaked in distortions of Christian teaching, but this no more invalidates Christianity than astrology invalidates astronomy. And it's worth remembering that abandoning Christian teaching for a supposedly 'rational' and 'scientific' basis for organising society has led to incomparably worse evils: the Nazi Holocaust (based on strictly Darwinian principles), the Communist Gulags and equivalent, and the millions of innocent human lives taken by mass abortion.
(2) I agree with much of what you say. There may well be interesting science in NDEs (at least interesting neurology) but I don't think it has much relevance to resurrection. Even if 'ghosts' were shown to exist in some form this would not change our Biblical understanding - most of the Biblical authors probably took it for granted that they did. However Josephson and Sheldrake are not reliable guides in this, and Sheldrake's claims about experiments need to be taken with a big pinch of salt.
(3) I (and John) would entirely agree that 'Christianity' is not the only path to salvation. Jesus says 'I am the Way, the Truth, the Light.' and we interpret that as meaning that, whenever people come close to God, Jesus is there whether they realise this or not. This does not mean that all religions are equally good - there is much that is evil/misguided in the teaching of all non-Christian religions, but God's patient love and calling of His children is greater than any human distortions.

Question (JH) "why?"and the anthropic principle Date: Mon, 03 Apr 2000
Hi. I've been reading about the anthropic principle and from what I've read I've gotten the impression that basically it is saying is that science cannot sufficiently explain why the universe's fundamental forces and the relationships between them are the way they are, and that because the universe appears to have been designed with human life in mind that there is room for a creator (I may be wrong about this, however, so please correct me in case I have made a mistake). It can be summed up into the following conversation:
Q: "Why is there this universe that supports life?" A: "Science has no answer, so it must be God."
So my question is this: So why is there God? I mean, if you can ask the question as to what the point of our existence is, could you not also ask the point of God's existence? Why should anything exist at all, including God? Just a thought. -john

Nicholas's Preliminary Response There is obviously room for a creator, whatever the laws of Physics. The point of the anthropic principle is that the Universe is so finely tuned to support life: tiny variations in any of the fundamental constants would make any form of intelligent life impossible. Thus, applying normal scientific criteria, the evidence strongly support H1 - there exists a loving ultimate creator over H0 - everything exists by chance. Check out the anthropic page and the Beale Howson debate for more details.

Asking about the point of our existence is a rather different matter. We have a deep intuition that there is a point, and it is self-evident that we are not self-existent, but depend for our existence on many other things. By definition, a Loving Ultimate Creator must (if He exists at all) be self-existent: if He depended on Another for His existence then He would not be the Ultimate Creator.

I hope this helps - if not, do come back.

Eternal (Dr LG) 10 April 00
Dear Reverend, I`ve just finished your „Believe in God in the Age of Science.” Thank you! Every your book I read has a great impression on me and influence on my work. I`m now writing a lecture in my native georgian language about the destiny of men and would like to ask you two Questions I confront with. I could not get an answer on these questions from elsewhere.
1. How did Jesus Christ exist before his arriving in Holy Virgin`s womb? Could someone worshiped Christ before? “I am before Abraham was”(Joh 9.58) – can it be a significance of earlier existence of Christ? How is this Problem related with His two, – divine and regular natures?
2. For how long continues the life of resurrected men? Will some of us live for eternity? What will be with them who think that eternity is boring? You write: “Our real hope…” (How the resurrection makes sense), “…One who is the ground of hope.“ (Believe in God in the Age of Science) and “...a sign of the hope…”(Science and Theology). Hope on what? Do you mean endless or timeless living? What you mean by “all will be well” (Science and Theology)? Is there a possibility for some men to die forever (as in Hinduism tradition)? I will be very grateful for your answer.

Nicholas' Preliminary Response
1. St. John's Gospel makes it clear that "in the beginning was ... The Word" (John 1.1) and it was "The Word" that became flesh and dwelt among us. Thus Christ, as the Second person of the Trinity, existed from the beginning of time. What happened at a particular moment in time was the Incarnation, where The Word became Flesh. (It is interesting that in Genesis 1 God says "let us create men in our own image").
2. Remember that "eternal life" means "the quality of life of God Himself" - we are destined to be caught up into the wonderful dance of Godhead of inexhaustible love. It is only a secondary fact that "eternal life" happens to go on forever. If you are caught up in inexhaustible love you cannot find that boring. { Is there a possibility for some men to die forever?} Our language about this inevitably uses inadequate images to express something that is beyond our experience (imagine two twins in the womb trying to discuss 'life after birth'). It is clearly possible for people to choose to be separated from God - and this is so serious that most of the biblical language speaks of eternal torment. However there are hints (eg in Rev20:14) that there may be some final extinction. Remember though that Revelation is not a scientific treatise!

God and the Bible.(RW)
(a) As a physicist I have some understanding of the inherent consistency of nature. Stephen Weinberg indicates that if the energy of the big bang differed by one part in 10^120 there would be no life anywhere in the universe. Moreover I agree with the position that the universe as it exists today is due to God rather than the result of random processes as the probability for this to occur is so small as to be non-existant.
(b) My question is since I believe in a monotheistic God "why should I subscribe to any formal religion?"
(c) You state in the book "Searching for Truth" that the Bible should be read in several ways. What other ways should it be read in addition to a historical account or story.

Nicholas's Preliminary Response (a) And of course there are many other examples of Anthropic Fine Tuning which further strengthen this conclusion.)
(b) Well given that God - the Loving Ultimate Creator - exists, is it not reasonable that God should seek to communicate with, and relate in love with, those of His creatures that are capable of love? Since God is obviously not incompetent, His communication is unlikely to have been ineffective, so we can reasonably restrict our search to claimed communications from God that have had a big effect on history, of which by far the most significant is that of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, there are strong reasons (see for believing that the fundamental claims of Christianity are true, and if they are true, then that is a strong reason to follow Him.

Whenever we try to communicate any deep truth in words we find that they are inadequate, and have to be used in many different levels. (Try writing down why you love someone, in more than 3 sentences! - or try explaining QM in words). The Bible talks about the deepest truths, and although some of them are historical, (eg the outlines of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus) many of them are telling us things in multi-layred symbolism. Sometimes this is obvious (eg the Psalms or the 2 Creation accounts in Genesis) and sometimes it is less obvious (eg Revelation). And often the Bible speaks at several levels at once - even great human art does that. How should it be read? Prayerfully and in the light of Christ. I hope this is of some use - if John adds more I'll let you know.

Something from infinity (DC) Is there any evidence, or theoretical reason, for assuming that before the Big Bang there was nothing? It seems more reasonable to assume that there was a state of infinity which somehow became bounded, constrained, to create our universe made up of finite things and processes. "Something from infinity" seems far more parsimonious than "something from nothing".

Response (NB with JCP amendment) On the current understanding of the equations, there was no space/time before t=0, so there was, in physical terms, no before. (but since we know that these equations are not the ultimate ones, we must be cautious about putting too much weight on them. Popular cosmologists are notorious for being "often in error but never in doubt") On the other hand if the equations 'existed' then in some sense there is an infinity that pre-exists. Theists can understand this as an aspect of the mind of God, the Loving Ultimate Creator. Atheists have no possible explanation (other than the desperate pseudo-explanation of an infinity of Multiverses - see below).

Multiverses (SS) What are your views on the "multiverse" theories that our universe is only one of perhaps an infinite number of universes, and that black holes may be the source for "baby universes"? If this is true, and if all these other universes exist, doesn't the anthropic principle lose all force? In other words, if there is reason to think that there are millions of universes, the fact that one of them {our own} contains life is not at all surprising. And what need is there to posit God as creator if the multiverse concept is sullficient to explain our cosmos? Stuart Smith

Response (NB - OK'd by JCP) There are two fundamental problems with the 'multiverse theory'. The first is that positing an infinite number of un-knowable universes to explain away an un-palatable fact (viz anthropic fine-tuning) is a form of intellectual suicide because it could 'explain away' anything. For example, you could have a 'theory' in which gravity randomly repels and attracts (ie the sign of G changes at random every year) and then 'explain' the fact that, as far as we can tell, G has always been positive by suggesting that we just happen to live in a universe where these 'random' choices have always been +, unlike the 2^15bn other universes. The second problem is that, although it reduces the force of the anthropic fine-tuning argument, it still leaves the question of why these universes exist. Furthermore, if you hold that all logically possible universes exist (as suggested by eg Max Tegmark) the existence of God is a logical corollary!

Language & Complexity (NS)What are your thoughts on the possibility that language has strong elements of design or properties of irreducible complexity (as in Behe's biological sense) I am referring to a recent comment by Noam Chomsky in his book Class Warfare in which he makes the following interesting comment about his current work in linguistics: "there seems to be a way possibly to show that a core part of human language, the core part of the mechanisms which relate sound and meaning, are not only largely universal, but in fact even from a certain point of view virtually optimal. Meaning on very general considerations if you were to design a system, like if you were God designing a system, you would come close to doing it this way. There are a lot of remarkable things about language anyway. It has properties that, it has been known for a long time, you wouldn't expect a biological organism to have at all, properties which in many ways are more similar to things you find in the inorganic world, for unknown reasons. If this turns out to be on the right track, it would be even more remarkable in that same sense because the last thing you would expect of a biological system is that it would be anything like optimally designed." The fecundity, high functionality, and unreasonable productiveness of language seems to go far beyond anything that," my ancestors having dodged saber toothed tiger's"(Polkinghorne) should have acquired as a survival mechanism. I think that this might have direct and important relevance to the theology/science interaction or dialogue I would appreciate you thoughts or comments on the role of linguistics or phenomenology of language in a minimalistic and revived natural theology.(Logos?)

Response (NB - OK'd by JCP)Firstly, I think we have to be very careful to distinguish between the scientific fact of evolution and the evolutionism of people like Dawkins. It seems clear that evolution is one of the deep and beautiful principles by which God created the Universe - Gravitation is another. But to pretend that evolution or gravitation in some sense disprove the existence of God has no scientific or logical validity. To quote from Belief in God in an Age of Science (p94) "no reasonable person doubts that [evolution] is a component in the history of life but that it is the sole and totally adequate cause of all that has happened is simply and article of blind belief.. It is a scientifically interesting question to ask whether there might be more to the story than has been told ... the magnitude of the changes involved in the time scalse available encourages the thought that there might be more to discover. Holistic laws of nature of [a] novel kind... represent one possibility that is worth considering" Of course it's very unlikely that Evolution is the only biological principle, just as Gravitation isn't the only physical principle: it's just that until you can understand evolution well enough to make calculations as opposed to hand-waving arguments about what "must have happened", you can't begin to detect the other factors at work, and serious quantification of evolutionary systems is relatively new. Because evolution, like Quantum Mechanics, is probabilitsic, you can't really say that a particular system 'couldn't have evolved' but you can draw attention to the very low probabilities. In this context it is worth reminding Dawkins and Co that 3 billion years is not a very long time for combinatorial exploration: for example your question has 1722 characters and there are about 7e2591 ways of arranging the english letters, plus the punctuation marks you used - so if one trillion 'monkeys' had been generating one million questions per nano-second completely at random it would take them about 1e2559 years to have a 50% chance of having 'asked' your question.

Having said all that, we need to be very cautious about giving the impression that acceptance of scientific evolution, as opposed to evolutionism, is anti-Christian. Behe is of course himself a Roman Catholic and accepts that evolution occurs, but questions its adequacy as a complete explanation. I think his arguments raise interesting questions but may be a bit simplistic: small random changes in the genome could have big consequences for the proteins synthesied and the eventual physiology.

Now to get on to language. We know that God intended us to have language, and that the logos is a very important gift from God. The question of how He gave us this gift is interesting but secondary. It does seem clear that there are innate structures in the brain that support language, and it is also clear that these give considerable evolutionary advantages: effective communicators are much more likely to have children that survive. Languages also clearly evolve, and there is a significant survival value for a group that can communicate more effectively. When there are strong evolutionary advantages you do expect a system to be reasonably well optimised: we know that 'genetic algorithms' are very good at addressing complex optimisation problems. Thus there seems no particular reason to suppose that the existence of well-optimised language and language-faculties per se points to the other holistic laws of nature to which John refers. This in no way diminshes the idea that language is a God-given faculty, or that language in fact offers deep insights into the mind of God - or into the structure of the Universe. It also seems clear that at some stage in the evolution of Homo Sapiens a series of major changes occurred which allowed the advanced linguistic faculties to be activated: even if evolutionary theory predicted a reaonably high probability of these occurring (and we are a long long way away from being able to make sensible calculations about this) there is still the issue that God chose to allow the events to occur at a particular time - and chose not to allow the results to become extinct due to natural or man-made disaster.

Thus to summarise: there is something very special indeed about God's gift of language to us, but I'm not persuaded that the physical/biological principles He used to impart this gift need be especially non-evolutionary. In any event, the 'specialness' of language does not depend on the 'specialness' of these principles. It is ordinary bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of Christ.

Question (DK) In "Faith of a Physicist" and "The End of the World . . ." Polkinghorne claims that cosmic optimism regarding human destiny is an integral part of orthodox biblical Christianity. How can this be? For at least some of us orthodox Christianity is the PROBLEM, not the solution, in the quest for ultimate meaning. Many have left the orthodox Christianity Polkinghorne wishes to espouse precisely because its theology over the centuries has NOT entailed the "fuller, transformed reality" where there will be "neither sighing nor sorrow" for the vast majority of humans, and the "requiem aeternam" outlined by conventional scientific cosmology, while certainly not completely satisfying, nevertheless represents a step FORWARD, not backward, from orthodox biblical Christianity.
According to the Christian scriptures, the god of the Old Testament visited his most horrific punishments on his chosen people simply because they did not carry out his demanded genocidal decrees. The New Testament is filled with stories about the future division of humanity into the haves and have nots, the sheep and the goats, the elect and the damned (a division insisted upon by precisely those reformers who most closely followed the written biblical texts). The eschatological climax of the Bible is saturated with blood, gore, and an irrevocable cleavage of humanity into an eternally separate heaven or hell.

Doesn't Polkinghorne's "cosmic optimism" grow far more from his (perhaps unconsious) adoption of modern liberal humanistic sensibilities rather than from a historically sensitive examination of orthodox Christian teaching?

Nicholas Preliminary Response Christ teaches that everyone who wants it has the opportunity of eternal loving communion with God (and because this is not, and cannot be, compulsory, the alternative is eternal separation from God). You have to be pretty pessimistic to think that an alternative whereby everyone is extinct and love has no eternal value is preferable. The joys of eternal union with God (=Heaven) are infinitely greater than the pains of eternal separation (=Hell). Precisely because this is the most important choice anyone can make, the language used is very vivid: it is better to have a millstone tied round your neck and be cast into the sea than to miss eternal love - missing eternal love is worse than missing the most wonderful party imaginable. To get fixated on the earthly images used to convey the eternal point is to miss it entirely.
And according to the Christian scriptures, the point of the 'genocidal' elements of the OT is that we must be ruthless about dealing with the sinful tendencies in our own hearts - Jesus makes it crystal clear both in word and deed that we must love the human beings who are our 'enemies'.

Reply (DC) Christ teaches that everyone who wants it has the opportunity of eternal loving communion with God. Including, of course, the 75% of all the people who have lived since the death of Jesus who have never heard of him.
The joys of eternal union with God (=Heaven) are infinitely greater than the pains of eternal separation (=Hell). Infinitely, eh? I wonder what scripture you're analyzing here, especially since you follow with "missing eternal love is worse than missing the most wonderful party imaginable." But then, I never did like parties anyway.
. . . the point of the 'genocidal' elements of the OT is that we must be ruthless about dealing with the sinful tendencies in our own hearts. OF COURSE - an object lesson for modern Christians!!! How utterly stupid of me not to have thought of that myself!! I'm sure that woman crouching in her mud hut and seeing her suckling child hoisted on the spear of an Israelite warrior before being run through herself would have been deeply gratified to learn that their deaths were going to serve as object lessons that would help 20th c. Christians purify their moral lives (and salve their consciences with absurdities like this).
Years ago I sent the following letter to a national Christian publication in response to their attempted defense of eternal damnation. Naturally they didn't publish it or respond to it, but I send it along as one person's position that summarizes a (long) lifetime of exposure to various forms of Christianity. Your "delete to trash" command will quickly enable you to get along to more imortant things.
If eternal damnation is in fact a reality, then we truly do stand utterly and irrevocably condemned. After a fleeting, unchosen moment in a confusing and ambiguous existence, with our options only ill-presented (or, for most of us, never presented at all), we find ourselves faced with a future more horrible than anything glimpsed in the lowest depths of our worst nightmares: the final and complete abandonment of his children by the Father who created them and who claimed to have loved them. The cross has been rendered impotent, evil is eternal, Satan is richly triumphant, and the deeply flawed structure of our world is not covered by the realization that a chosen few among us may not have to bear such an awful fate. The "good news," the news that should speak peace and reconciliation to the souls of men, turns out to be the most despairing, the most crushing, the most heart-rending message that has ever entered into the consciousness of this tragic, damned human race.
Thanks, but no thanks. DK
Reply (NB) 75% is a gross over-estimate - but yes "Lord, when did we see you naked...." There is now no doubt amongst mainstream churches that many who have never heard of Jesus in their earthly life have been, and will be, saved. The NT makes it clear that many people who had not heard of Jesus were saved after the crucifixion.
As for the interpretation of the genocidal elements - I can trace it to St Benedict (d.480) - not exactly a 20thC Christian - although his teachings are still deeply relevant. Of course inter-tribal violence is part of fallen human nature - the reason the Bible records it is so that we can learn from it.
I don't deny that the teaching that salvation is only available to 'the few' is deeply repugnant to our moral sense. But all the mainstream Churches now understand that God's love is more wonderful than that. See the answer to the question about universalism here.

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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