Book Review: “Quarks Chaos and Christianity” by John Polkinghorne

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I decided to pick up “Quarks Chaos and Christianity” for two reasons.

1) The author (John Polkinghorne) is both a renowned theoretical physicist and an Anglican priest. How could I not be interested in a book by a guy with a resume like that.

2) The book is barely over one hundred pages long, so I knew I could read it quickly one lazy afternoon. While I do love a good long book, I’m also a big fan of the quick read as well.

In his book, John Polkinghorne tries to bridge the gap between science and religion by seeking a common ground of mutual understanding. This rare convergence of the empirical and religious mind is a welcomed break from the clash many readers might have come to expect in texts that deal with the relationship between the sciences and religion. The book is easy to follow, which is surprising when one considers the very advanced physical and theological concepts that the author deals with. As a reader who’s only knowledge of physics is what I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel show “How The Universe Works” I was still able to follow along pretty easily.  Polkinghorne manages the very difficult feat of tackling both theology and physical sciences in an accessible and non-threatening way.

The book is organized into eight chapters, each dealing with a specific problem that a scientific mind might have when it comes to matters of faith and religion. It is clear from the questions Polkinghorne chooses to address that this book was aimed more at the scientist struggling with faith than the faithful struggling with science, though readers from either perspectives could benefit from this book.  Religion, as presented in this book, is not something completely alien to science but rather just another tool by which man seeks to understand the universe that God created.  A person unfamiliar with science might have to overcome a slight learning curve as a result, but Polkinghorne does his best to explain any difficult concepts referenced within the text. I do not consider myself to be scientifically gifted, but I was able to easily following along most of the time.

The topics covered in this book are:

  1. Why do we need religion?
  2. Does the universe need a creator or designer?
  3. Why does evil exist from a scientific and religious stand point?
  4. Is a man more than a just a body?
  5. Can a logical person pray?
  6. How can a scientist believe in miracles?
  7. Where does Christianity stand in a universe that is materially pointless, hopeless, and inevitably doomed?
  8. What does all of this mean?

While I have some issues with this book, I feel it has done as excellent a job of trying to unite religion and science as anyone could hope for. Polkinghorne, for the most part, manages to stay both theologically and scientifically sound in all of his claims as far as this reader could tell. Though I do not agree with some of the author’s conclusion I could easily follow most of his thoughts and see how he came to most of the conclusions he did. Many sections of this book, I found to be extremely enlightening and challenging. The combined mastery that Polkinghorne shows for both science and theology is at a level that I have not experienced before in a single author. Of the weaknesses I found in this book, most were nothing more than leaps in logic I did not follow or assumptions that I thought were too readily accepted. I cannot really criticize Polkinghorne too harshly for this, since the subject matter he is dealing with exists largely in the theoretical and theological disagreements on my part do not equal a weakness on the author’s part.

This book should be seen as a valuable resource considering how well it is able to make sense of advanced concepts that could easily confuse most men. The amazing way in which Polkinghorne is able to work science into religion is heads above the usually heavy-handed attempts to force the two together. I would gladly recommend this book for either the scientific person wandering if religion can be for them, or for the religious person wanting to understand how the Christian faith works in this ever increasingly scientific world.  This book successfully manages to bring two different schools of thought together without overtly catering to one side or the other, and in doing so it achieves the goal it set out to accomplish.

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