John Polkinghorne, Theistic Agency, and Clark Pinnock
A Review by Robert Brow
(web site - www.brow.on.ca)
(Posted on the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association discussion
list, February 9, 1997)
On February 7 and 8, 1997, Queen's University offered two lectures
by Dr. John Polkinghorne on "Science, Religion, and Divine Agency." Polkinghorne
began as a mathematician, then moved into mathematical physics, and taught
in the area of sub-atomic particles and quantum mechanics at Cambridge
University for 25 years. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in
1974. He was later ordained as an Anglican minister and became Master of
Queens' College, Cambridge.
In his second lecture he said that most theoretical physicists
now tend to need the idea of God as Creator to develop a grand unified
theory. He suggested that what preceded the moment of creation (the big
bang) is of little interest to science. What counts is the relationship
of God to our world.
In his second lecture he contrasted some models that could fit
the picture that science offers of quantum and chaos theory and the resultant
uncertainty and unpredictability at the sub-atomic particle level. No one
model can be proved to be the correct one, but we should ask which model
allows us to explain most of what we observe and experience. For example:
With this model God is not impassive and outside time, but involved in
our holistic time-world of true becoming. It allows science to set out
how things happen, and theology can work at why things happen. The imput
of the Holy Spirit and our agency in the world can be pictured by information
DEISM merely offers a clockmaker model for the beginning of our world,
but it allows no possible interaction between us and the Creator.
ATEMPORAL THEISM in which all points of time are equally known to God.
We can access God, and derive wisdom and strength, but he is impassive
to our feelings.
WORLD-SOUL MONISM in which God relates to the world as soul to body. In
this view some sense of cooperating or opposing the outworking of the world
soul is possible, but no person-to-person communication with God can take
PROCESS THEOLOGY offered the possibility of God remaining outside our world
system but involving us in the creative process by our open ended choices.
But in this model genuine interaction and response to our prayer longings
are hard to visualise.
THEISTIC AGENCY (which for Polkinghorne gives maximum explanatory possibilities)
uses the analogy of human agency. As we observe another person we can predict
many regularities (genetic structure, heart beat, blood pressure, temperature,
accent and language characteristics, behavioral characteristics) but there
is always the possibility of unpredictable (jagged edge) agency. Similarly
with God. On the one hand science can understand the awesome beauty and
elegance of many statistical regularities and set these out as laws. On
the other hand we can allow God the freedom to act unpredictably in what
we call miracle, response to prayer, and incarnation, resurrection, and
advents which all suggest unexpected agency. The model takes seriously
the fact that humans with free agency are made in the image of God who
also relates to us as Agent.
John Polkinghorne's preferred theistic agency model of the relationship
between God and our world seems to give a scientific account that corresponds
to the biblical and theological model set out in Clark Pinnock (Editor),
Rice, Sanders, Hasker & Basinger, The Openness of God: A Biblical
Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity
Press; Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1994).
These two lectures at Queen's University were in part based on
"Science and Christian Belief," the Gifford Lectures at the University
of Edinburgh, 1993.
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