ne of the most influential twentieth-century philosophers of science was Thomas Kuhn. He propounded a celebrated thesis about how science progresses.1 Most of the time it chugs along, solving problems one by one (Kuhn called this 'normal science'), but once in a while something more dramatic happens. There are times of scientific revolution, moments of radical change in which the scientific 'paradigm' (the currently accepted total view) is drastically altered. An example of such an occasion would be the dawn of quantum theory, with the consequent abandonment of belief in the total adequacy of the classical Newtonian paradigm. A physical world previously considered to be clear and deterministic was found to be cloudy and fitful at its subatomic roots. A theological analogue would be
I. T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd edition), University of Chicago Press, 1970.
the birth of Christianity, with its radical notions of a crucified Messiah and a risen Lord, ultimately leading to the trinitarian and incarnational paradigm of the nature of God and the relationship between Creator and creatures.
In his enthusiasm for his new idea, Kuhn tended greatly to exaggerate the degree of discontinuity involved in paradigm shift, suggesting that the Newtonians and the quantum theorists inhabited such different theoretical worlds that they could not really talk to each other—despite the fact that a good deal of that kind of exchange actually took place as people tried to understand how measurements are made and how the new physics could secure for itself the actual successes achieved under the old paradigm. Later on, Kuhn himself came to realise that he had overdone it, and he back-tracked somewhat from his earlier extreme position. Nevertheless, he had certainly hit on an important general principle of how to understand what is going on in science, namely that the history of science is the best clue to the philosophy of science. If you want to know how science operates, and what it may legitimately claim to achieve, you have to be willing to study how science is actually done and how its understanding actually develops. Evaluations are to be made on the basis of concrete experience and not by appeal to abstract general principles. The philosophy of science, properly pursued, is largely a bottom-up argument about how things have turned out to be, rather than a top-down argument about how they had to be.
Theology, with its necessarily greater engagement across the centuries with other perspectives beyond that of the present alone (a point that we noted earlier), particularly needs to work with the idea of an historically unfolding development of doctrine. Those who believe in the continuing work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15) willsee revelation as a process, rather than a once-for-all act of the communication of instant knowledge. There will certainly be times of special insight, such as the New Testament period, that are comparable to times of revolutionary scientific paradigm shift, but there will also be times of steady 'normal theology'. Our comparative study of science and Christian theology can appropriately turn to considering some historical examples of how the discovery of further truth proceeds in these two disciplines.
(1) Growing recognition of deeper significance. Progress in understanding requires a process of the sifting and exploration of the consequences opened up by new conceptual possibilities.
(a) Theoretical progress. Planck's original hypothesis, that radiation is emitted and absorbed in packets whose individual energy content is directly proportional to the frequency of the radiation, yielded a splendidly successful formula for the spectrum of black-body radiation. Yet Max Planck himself was far from comfortable with his great discovery, describing it in an interview that he gave later in life, as having been an act of desperation. Quanta are entities that are countable (you have 1,2, 3, . . . packets of energy), and in 1913 Niels Bohr extended this idea of countability to another physical quantity, angular momentum, a measure of a system's rotatory motion. This enabled Bohr to construct his famous model of the hydrogen atom. In quantitative terms, it too was remarkably successful, explaining the properties of the hydrogen spectrum and deriving a formula that had been written down some twenty- eight years earlier by a Swiss schoolmaster,
Johann Jacob Balmer, but which had till then remained simply a numerological curiosity that fitted the facts, although no one knew why. Yet Bohr's principle of the quantisation of angular momentum, in one sense so insightful, was in another sense just an arbitrary imposition of dubious consistency, forced upon Newtonian physics. Not until 1926, when Erwin Schrodinger exploited an analogy with the relationship between wave optics and geometrical optics that enabled him to conjecture his eponymous equation, and then applied this wave equation to the hydrogen atom to find that it yielded a convincing calculation of the Balmer formula, did it seem that real understanding had been gained. A little earlier, in 1925, Werner Heisenberg had discovered the first true formulation of quantum theory, but he expressed it in what at the time seemed to be an unfamiliar and untransparent fashion (matrix mechanics), not immediately recognisable as being the same physical theory that was later proposed by Schrodin-ger. Events moved fast, however, and the fundamental equivalence of the two theories was soon established, being most clearly demonstrated by Paul Dirac's general account of the principles of quantum mechanics, based on the superposition principle (see p. 18).
The quantum story is one of continuous development within an expanding envelope of understanding. The endpoint (modern quantum theory) looked very different from the starting-points (drops of energy dripping from a black body), yet the pattern had been one of coherent growth in conceptual understanding and effective explanation, linking start to finish and giving the whole episode the character of an increasingly profound grasp of truth.
(b) Titles and incarnation. Christian thinking about the status and significance of Jesus exhibits a corresponding pattern of truth-seeking development. In his lifetime, Jesus was clearly conscious of a specially close relationship to God, his heavenly Father. In Gethsemane he prayed in intimate terms, using an Aramaic word that Mark felt was sufficiently significant for him to need to retain it transliterated in the Greek of his gospel, 'Abba, Father, to you all things are possible, remove this cup from me; yet not what I want but what you want' (Mark 14:36).2 Earlier, when Jesus had asked his disciples who people said that he was, he had not refused Peter's blurted confession, 'You are the Messiah [Christ]', even though he then told the disciples to be silent about this and he began immediately to qualify the concept of God's anointed one by associating it with suffering and rejection, rather than with military triumph (Mark 8:27-33). The persistence of the title Christ, until it soon effectively became a second name, suggests that the earliest Christians recognised that this was a title of dominical origin that had faithfully to be preserved.3
A more complex story attaches to another title that Jesus is portrayed in the gospels as using. The phrase 'the Son of man' is regularly on his lips in all four gospels and only once is it used by anyone else, when a crowd echoes it back to Jesus (John 12: 34). Yet there is no reason to believe that the title was in independent regular use in the post-resurrection Church. There has been endless argument among New Testament scholars about what to make of this. Here I can only summar-
2. While there is scholarly argument that abba need not necessarily carry an intimate connotation, its occurrence in Mark (and in Romans 8:15 and Gala-tians 4:6) as a rare Aramaic insertion in the Greek of the New Testament, strongly suggests that it conveys a meaning of special familiarity in these contexts.
3. C. F. D. Moule, The Origins ofChristology, Cambridge University Press, I977, pp. 34-35.
ise the conclusions that seem reasonable to me.4 Sometimes the phrase is clearly referring to Jesus and it implies a special significance attached to him (for example, Mark 8:31), but at other times it refers to a figure related to the final achievement of God's purposes, who is closely associated with Jesus but not unequivocally identified with him (Mark 8:36). I believe that the title goes back to Jesus himself, and the fact that there is some variation in the way in which its relation to him is expressed only seems to confirm this, since it is surely inconceivable that the post-resurrection Christian community would have been in any doubt that Jesus was the final fulfiller of God's purposes. It is very likely that in using the phrase, Jesus had in mind the vision described in Daniel 7, where 'with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man' (v. 13, RSV), who is presented before the throne of God to receive 'dominion and glory and kingship' (v. 14). If that is the case, the title carries a very special degree of significance, beyond that of simply referring to a prophetic messenger charged with conveying a word from God.
These titles, Christ and Son of man, tell us something important about Jesus' self-understanding in his lifetime. They are exalted claims, identifying God's special agent in history and beyond history, but they are not intrinsically divine titles. The same can be said of 'Son of God', since this could be attributed to the king of Israel (see Psalm 2:7). To me, these titles are consistent with what a man might think about himself as he lived the truly human life of a first-century Palestinian and believed himself called to fulfil a unique role in God's pur-
4. For a fuller discussion, see J. C. Polkinghorne, Science and Christian Belief/The Faith of a Physicist, SPCK/Fortress, 1994/1996, pp. 98-100.
poses, without settling, one way or the other, the question of whether there was more to that man, and to his relationship to God, that might subsequently be recognised by others reflecting on their experience of him, and in particular on their belief in his resurrection.
It is clear that the early Church very soon came to the conclusion that there was indeed more to be said, and from this conviction there arose that strange mixture of divine and human language about Jesus that we have already noted, such as the use of the quasi-divine title 'Lord'.5 In the search for adequate words in which to speak of Jesus, those early Christians combed the Hebrew Bible to find the resources that they needed. The Roman Catholic New Testament scholar Raymond Brown makes an interesting point when he compares this activity to the way in which the Dead Sea Scrolls community of Qumran handled the Hebrew scriptures. Their technique, called pesher, took a prophecy, such as Habbakuk, and sought to interpret it painstakingly, line by line, as referring in detail to contemporary events. The early Christians were much more free and eclectic, their thinking being driven by a concentration on Jesus himself. Brown comments, 'the idea is not primarily that the OT makes sense of the present situation, but that the present situation makes sense of the OT: the control is supplied by Jesus, not by the scriptures'.6 Among the Old Testament images that the first Christians used were the notion of Jesus as the second Adam who reverses the consequences of the first Adam's fall (see Romans 5:12-21) and the
5. The word kyrios had an everyday meaning somewhat similar to the English usage of 'sir', but its use as a manifest title is surely a different matter.
6. R. E. Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology, Geoffrey Chapman, 1994, p. 98.
LESSONS FROM HISTORY figure of divine Wisdom (see i Corinthians i: 24). By the time that the prologue to John was written (probably towards the end of the first century) Jesus is identified with the Word— blending, I believe, a concept of the ordering principle of the universe, which is one of the meanings of the Greek word logos, with the Hebrew concept of dabar, the word of God active in history—and the Word is identified with divinity (John 1:1, i4). Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as the Son (in such a manner as inevitably to cause it to be spelt in English with a capital letter) sent by the Father, yet that gospel also contains a verse (John 14:28, 'because the Father is greater than I') to which the Arians would later appeal as supporting their subordination of the Son to the Father. By the end of the New Testament period, there was already much Christological development and some Christological confusion. Theological debate continued, leading eventually to the decisions of the great ecumenical Councils that culminated in the doctrine that the man Jesus of Nazareth was the incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. As in quantum theory, so in Christian theology, much greater significance came finally to be recognised than had been apparent at the start of the process of searching for truth. Quantum physics needed for its expression new kinds of mathematics beyond that developed by Newton, and the authors of the Nicene creed had to use philosophical words not found in the New Testament itself. The fifth-century definition of Chalcedon certainly looks superficially very different from its first-century starting-point, but I believe it is possible to conclude, as I shall argue in due course, that what was involved in these developments was not the result of rash and unbridled speculation, but the conceptual development, how ever deeply counterintuitive, of the implications of the initiating evidence.
(2) Collateral developments: Further examples considered. The search for understanding requires the development of a portfolio of inter-connected concepts to do justice to the richness of experience.
(a) Waves. Exploration of how conceptual understanding grows historically, in a manner that achieves significant change without severing connection with the initial motivating experience, is so important a theme for my purpose that it seems worth considering some further illustration of this happening, drawn from developments related collaterally to the principal concerns of this book. In the case of physics, it is to wave theory that I turn for an instructive example.
The waves that people first thought about were directly perceptible phenomena, such as the waves of the sea and sound waves induced by vibrating strings. In these examples it was clear that an oscillating material medium served as the carrier of the waves. Therefore, in the nineteenth century when James Clerk Maxwell brilliantly used his new understanding of electromagnetic theory to show that light was made up of electromagnetic waves, it was natural to suppose that in this case also there was a material substrate serving as the medium for carrying the relevant waves. Hence the famous postulate of the existence of the luminiferous aether. Because material bodies appeared to move freely through the aether, it had to have a subtle character, but the nature of the waves that it sustained showed that it also had to be extremely stiff. Not surprisingly, contemporary physicists, such as Lord Kelvin and
Maxwell himself, puzzled over this strange combination of properties. They attempted to conceive of mechanical models of a medium with these characteristics, in an effort to test the consistency of assigning to the aether this kind of behaviour. Their baroque constructions of wheels within wheels were surely not intended to be realistic, but they were thought experiments seeking to test the credibility of the assumptions being made. Perplexity deepened further in 1887 when the Michelson-Morley experiment, designed to measure the velocity of the Earth through the aether, yielded a null result.
In 1905, Albert Einstein cut the Gordian knot by his discovery of special relativity, which promptly resulted in a way of thinking that abolished the need for an aether altogether. Electromagnetic waves were recognised to be just that. It was the energy present in the electromagnetic fields themselves that did the waving.
In 1926, when the Schrodinger equation was formulated as a new kind of wave equation, the question once more arose, waves of what? The initial inclination was to suggest waves of matter, but it soon became clear that this would imply so diffuse an account of the electron that it would not be compatible with its localisation when it was actually experimentally observed. It was Max Born who found the answer. The Schrodinger waves are waves of probability, and the corresponding wavefunction is a representation of the potentialities present in the unpicturable quantum state associated with the electron.
This brief history of the wave idea shows both how indispensable a concept it was in theoretical physics and also how its realistic interpretation moved on from a naive objectivity to a much more subtle account, without at any time ceasing to function as a means for describing the way in which the physical world was found actually to behave.
(b) Spirit. A somewhat similar history can be traced in the case of the theological idea of spirit. At the beginning of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 1:2), the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of chaos (or is it a wind from God, blowing over the waters?—the Hebrew could be read either way). Later there are promises of God's pouring out divine spirit (for example, Joel 2:28-29) and of its focused bestowal on the Messiah (the one anointed by God; see Isaiah 61 :i). Spirit is often conceived in the Old Testament in terms of a gift of power, sometimes for very specific purposes (see the account of Bezalel and Oholiab being empowered to construct the ark and the tent of meeting in Exodus 31:1-11). In the preaching of John the Baptist a new note was sounded when he spoke of one who was to come and who would baptise with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:7-8 and parallels). The gospels and the early Church unanimously identified Jesus as fulfilling this prophecy. In Acts (1:8), the Holy Spirit bestows the power needed for bold witness to Christ, and there are many stories of the signs and wonders that accompany this gift. In the foundational event of Pentecost, it is the risen and exalted Jesus who pours out the Spirit (Acts 2:33). A somewhat different account of pneumatological working is given in the Pauline writings. The gifts bestowed by the Spirit are diverse, distributed in different ways to different believers for different purposes (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), but they yield also the single fruit of a Christ-like life (Galatians 5:22-23). Any merely impersonal notion of spirit simply as power is dispelled by Paul's deeply personal account of the Spirit's intercession with deep sighs, uttered in solidarity with the travail of creation (Romans 8:26-27). In Paul it is God who gives the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12 and elsewhere), though he can also speak in one and the same verse (Romans 8:9) of the Spirit, and of the Spirit of God, and of the Spirit of Christ. In John, Jesus both promises to send the Advocate (Paracletos; John 16:7-8) and also says that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus' name (John 14:26).
Everything is not sorted out neatly in the New Testament, but it is clear that mostly its witness to the Spirit is framed in personal terms. It took the Church some time to work out how to think about all this. It was not until the fourth century that the concept of the Holy Spirit as divine, and as being the Third Person of the Trinity, finally emerged with a settled clarity and definiteness in the understanding of the Church. Once again one sees movement from a comparatively naive reification (an extra ingredient given to Bezalel) to a profoundly subtle account of a deep and unexpected reality.
(3) Tides of fashion. The questions considered significant, and the style of thinking found appropriate to answering them, are influenced by contemporary intellectual and cultural attitudes.
(a) Relativistic quantum theory. At any one time in a branch of science, the attention of researchers tends to be concentrated on a fairly narrow front. Partly this is because current circumstances (the tenor of recent discoveries; what is currently accessible with existing experimental facilities and techniques; and the state of theoretical development) indicate what are likely to be the questions that are feasible to address and profitable to pursue. But there is also another effect oper ating, which arises from what it is that catches the intellectual imagination of the day. Science is not immune from the tides of fashion, and sociological factors are certainly at work in its communities, even if it is a gross exaggeration to suggest that they determine the nature of the conclusions eventually reached. Consideration of what is fashionable will undoubtedly affect the direction and pace of scientific advance, through its influence on what it is perceived to be appropriate to fund and career-enhancing to work on.
I want to illustrate these effects by giving a brief account of the development of relativistic quantum theory. The subject was initiated by Paul Dirac in the later 1920s through his twin discoveries of quantum field theory and of his celebrated equation of the electron (which is rightly engraved on Dirac's memorial tablet in Westminster Abbey). It was soon realised that all relativistic quantum equations need to be treated as field theories. Initial calculations, based on a rather crude approximation, gave promising answers in agreement with experiment at the level of accuracy that was then attainable. This empirical success, coupled with the conceptual clarification of wave/particle duality and Dirac's successful prediction of the existence of antimatter, clearly showed that the quantum field theorists were on to something.
However, when more refined calculations were attempted, instead of yielding the small corrections that were to be expected, they gave nonsensical results, for the answers turned out to be infinite! Something was going badly wrong. As a result, for a while people lost interest and confidence in quantum field theory. Further progress had to await the end of World War II. The postwar generation of physicists then found an ingenious, if somewhat sleight-of-hand, way round the problem. In quantum electrodynamics (the field theory of the interaction of electrons with photons, abbreviated as QED), it was discovered that all the infinities could be isolated in terms that simply contributed to the mass and charge of the electron. If these formally infinite expressions were replaced by the actual finite values of these constants, the resulting calculations were not only free of infinities but they also proved to be in stunning agreement with experiment. (The predictions of QED differ from measured values by less than the relationship of the width of a human hair to the distance between Los Angeles and New York!) This procedure was called 'renormalisation'.
Quantum field theory had regained its popularity, but it did not last. When attempts were made to apply the same techniques to interactions related to nuclear forces, they failed to give satisfactory answers. Physicists began to question the whole field idea. It is based on the supposition that one can describe what is happening by means of a formalism expressed in terms of all points of space and all instants of time, but in the laboratory we only have much more limited access to what is going on. The basic technique used is a scattering experiment, described simply in terms of colliding particles coming in and scattered particles coming out. It was, therefore, proposed that fields should be replaced by a much leaner account, simply linking 'before' to 'after' the scattering interaction. The resulting formalism was called S-matrix theory (S for scattering). Certain mathematical properties of the S-matrix were known to be implied by relativistic quantum mechanics, and it was hoped that these properties would provide the basis for a new theoretical formulation. It looked promising, and a good number of theorists devoted themselves to the task. In the end, however, the theory became so complicated that it simply collapsed under its own weight.
Just about this time, developments began that were to give field theory a new lease of life. Problems with its application had arisen because the forces relevant to nuclear interactions were too strong for the QED techniques to work. A new class of field theories was identified, called gauge theories, in which interactions were found to become weaker as distances decreased. This meant that some of the old techniques could, after all, be used to discuss nuclear matter in certain circumstances. Field theory once again became the place where the young and ambitious theorist would want to be. This phase has continued so far, and all contemporary theories that are favoured in elementary particle physics are gauge field theories.
(b) The historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. If a comparatively straightforward subject like physics has its phases of fashion, one might expect this to be even more the case in a discipline like theology, concerned as it is with a more elusive engagement with profound and mysterious aspects of reality. This has indeed proved to be so. The fluctuating fortunes of quantum field theory have their theological counterpart in the fluctuating emphasis placed in Christological thinking on the importance of research into the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth.
Critical historical study of the gospel material, conducted in a modern manner, had its origin in the later eighteenth century under the influence of the spirit of the Enlightenment. Yet, from the beginning the limitations of a strongly rationalist approach when applied to this unique material were only too apparent. The posthumously published writings of H. S. Reimarus (i778) illustrated the shortcomings of a reductive analysis when he made the highly implausible suggestion that the disciples stole the body of Jesus and concocted a story of his resurrection in order to promote their dead leader into a spiritual redeemer, a deceitful act undertaken in an attempt to disguise the fact (as Reimarus believed) that Jesus had been more concerned with nationalistic issues than with religious matters. An aversion to any suggestion of the miraculous, and a commitment to a flat historicism based on the axiom that what usually happens is what always happens, characterised much of this initial period of modern research into the historical Jesus which, because it represented an unprecedented turning away from a pre-critical reading of the gospels, is often called 'the first quest'. Perhaps the most notable proponent of such an Enlightenment approach was David Friedrich Strauss, whose influential Life of Jesus (1835) made extensive use of the category of myth in giving an explanation of the content of the gospels, and in particular their miraculous element, to which Strauss was willing to attribute only symbolic value. If one understands the category of myth aright, as referring to truth so deep that its most powerful means of conveyance is through story rather than by argument, then it is a concept that certainly is not necessarily hostile to orthodox Christian belief. The critical issue is the relation of myth to history. No one today takes the Greek myths as accounts of actual occurrences, but the orthodox Christian claim that I am concerned to explore and defend in this book, asserts that the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is an enacted myth, a story that is not only true symbolically but also true histori cally, as the central component in God's revelatory disclosure within history of the divine nature and the divine purposes. Miracles, such as the resurrection, can then be seen as unique and unprecedented events occurring in unique and unprecedented circumstances.
The first quest of the historical Jesus came to an end with the closing of the nineteenth century, when the tides of Christological fashion began to flow in another direction. Martin Kahler wrote an important book (1892), The So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, drawing a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, holding the latter to be the real subject of Christian belief. Kahler referred to the 'historic, biblical Christ', but he meant by that the figure who is proclaimed in the imagery of scripture, rather than a person whose actual words and deeds are historically accessible through the evidential record of scripture. One might compare this approach to S-matrix theory, for it is a similar paring down of what is considered significant, in order to concentrate on a directly given final result, without making enquiry into the detail ofhow that result came about. Consequently, interest shifted from Jesus of Nazareth, who sometimes came even to be thought of as a shadowy and obscure individual, to the commanding Christ-figure who was the subject of the Church's preaching in its proclamation of the gospel. Yet it is surely hard to understand how that figure of the preached Christ arose unless there had been something altogether uniquely striking and remarkable about the wandering Galilean known by those disciples who formed the first cohort of proclaimers of the Christian message.
The final coup de grâce to the first quest was delivered in 1906 by the publication of Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus. He showed how the liberal nineteenth-century accounts of the historical Jesus had been formed much more under the influence of the spirit of their times than by taking this first-century Jew seriously on his own terms. The Catholic writer George Tyrrell expressed the same thought in his witty comment on a great Protestant church historian, that 'the Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness, is only the reflection of a liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well'. Schweitzer himself laid heavy emphasis on the apocalyptic expectation, held by Jesus, of the final breaking-in of the Kingdom of God in order to bring an end to history, believing also that when Jesus felt disappointed in these hopes, he tried to force a divine turning of the wheel of history through seeking his own self-immolation. While it is surely true that Jesus had a much more forceful conception of the Kingdom of God than was congenial to nineteenth-century liberal expectations, Schweitzer equally surely sought to swing the pendulum too far by way of correction. Jesus resists reduction to any simplistic category, whether it be ethical teacher or eschatological prophet.
Rudolf Bultmann was perhaps the most influential New Testament scholar active in the first half of the twentieth century, and he continued a deep distrust of history and a sceptical suspicion of claims of the miraculous. In his opinion, the gospels needed demythologisation if they were to be acceptable to persons living in a scientific age. What mattered about
7. The title of the original German publication was From Reimarus to Wrede. Wilhelm Wrede was a New Testament scholar whose book about the so-called 'Messianic secret' in Mark (1901) claimed that Jesus had not believed himself to be the Messiah.
Jesus was his teaching and not the details of his life, which Bultmann thought are largely hidden from us. In his opinion, the category that is essential for seeing what the New Testament is actually all about is existential commitment to the figure of Christ, as proclaimed in the kerygma, the apostolic preaching.
Yet commitment to a person unanchored in history because so little could reliably be learned about him might well prove to be commitment to an illusion. In my opinion, a positive evaluation of the relationship between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith lies at the heart of a credible Chris-tology. Christians cannot rest content with a purely symbolic figure. The religion of the incarnation is inescapably concerned with the issue of the degree of actual enactment that can properly be seen to be involved in the origin of its myth. Least of all in a scientific age can we be satisfied with less than a careful investigation into the historically embedded motivations for Christian belief about the unique significance of Jesus. To treat him as a symbolically evocative, but historically unknown, figure is to lose contact with his reality. It is not surprising that in the second half of the twentieth century, Christological fashion changed again and, in my opinion, changed for the better. A 'new quest' was inaugurated in search of the historical Jesus. It continues vigorously today, in its contemporary phase laying great and justified emphasis on the need to take fully into account the context of firstcentury Judaism within which Jesus' life was lived.8 Just as quantum physics was driven to seek a more detailed, and con-
8. For my own accounts see, Polkinghorne, Science and Christian Belief/Faith of a Physicist, ch. 5; Exploring Reality, SPCK/Yale University Press, 2005, ch. 4.
sequently more illuminating understanding than that afforded by the veiled account of S-matrix theory, so Christology had to return to its foundational roots in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
(4) The role of genius. Advance in understanding owes much to the insights of a small number of exceptional people.
(a) The founders of quantum theory. A great deal of development in science stems from the labours of the army of honest toilers in research, as experimental opportunities are exploited and theoretical implications explored. Yet this acknowledgement should not lead us to undervalue the importance of the insights attained by a small band of people with exceptional gifts. There is certainly some truth in the 'great person' version of scientific history, even if it is not the whole story. Particularly at times of great change in the understanding of physical process, the discoveries of the geniuses play an outstanding role in driving the subject forward. In the case of quantum theory in those formative years of the mid-i92os, the exceptional insights of Heisenberg, Schrodinger and Dirac laid the foundations of modern quantum theoretical understanding. Each brought the gift of a particular perspective: Heisenberg's concern with spectral properties and his discovery of the uncertainty principle; Schrodinger's creative formulation of the quantum wave picture; Dirac's profound insight into the underlying mathematical structure, based on the superposition principle. Each of these men won for himself a permanent place of honour in the history of physics. Of course, the times were propitious for great scientific discovery, but these physicists of genius were able to seize these opportunities in a remarkable way that has left its impress on all subsequent quantum thinking.
(b) Apostolic insight. The writings of the New Testament are quite varied, but they are dominated by the profound insights of three particular authors, Paul, John and the unknown person who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Different themes find emphasis in their writings: Paul's concern with sin and righteousness, law and gospel; John's emphasis on the love of God and his insight that the cross of Jesus is the throne of glory; the picture given by the writer to the Hebrews of the heavenly intercession of the exalted Christ, who nevertheless had 'learned obedience through what he suffered' (Hebrews 5:8). The depth of theological reflection found in these writings has meant that all subsequent generations of theologians have had to engage with them. It is very striking that the first generation of Christians produced three of the greatest figures ever in the history of theological thought. Their brilliant insights have shaped the form of Christian theology in a manner that the believer will see as the result of providential inspiration by the Holy Spirit, guiding the use of individual human gifts. Of course, the times were propitious for great theological discovery, but these theologians of genius were able to seize those opportunities in a remarkable way that has left its impress on all subsequent Christian thinking.
(5) Living with unresolved perplexities. While the ultimate aim is a coherent and fully integrated scheme of understanding, it may be necessary to tolerate living with not all problems fully solved.
(a) Quantum problems. How does it come about that the apparently reliable Newtonian world of everyday experience emerges from its fitful quantum substrate? More than eighty years after the initial discovery of modern quantum theory, it is embarrassing to have to admit that there is no comprehensive and universally agreed answer to that reasonable question. Three major problems remain unresolved.
One relates to measurement. When an electron which is in a state that is a mixture of 'here' and 'there' is experimentally interrogated about where it is, using the classical measuring apparatus available in the laboratory, on each occasion a definite answer will be obtained. Not always the same answer, of course, for sometimes it will be found 'here' and sometimes 'there'. The theory enables us to calculate with impressive accuracy the probabilities of obtaining these different answers, but it is unable to explain how it comes about that a specific answer is obtained on a specific occasion. Various proposals have been made, which are mutually incompatible, and none is wholly satisfactory.9
The two great twentieth-century discoveries in fundamental physics were quantum theory and general relativity. Straightforward efforts to combine the two yielded nonsensical results. The current attempt at remedy is superstring theory. Its ideas are ingenious, but the approach depends upon trying to guess the form of physics in regimes whose scale is more than sixteen orders of magnitude smaller than those of which we have actual experimental knowledge. Many doubt the feasibility of so ambitious a project.
Microscopic quantum theory and macroscopic chaos theory are imperfectly reconciled with each other. The extreme
9. See, for example, J. C. Polkinghorne, Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 44-56.
sensitivity of chaotic systems means that their behaviour soon comes to depend on fine details of circumstance to which the quantum uncertainty principle forbids access. Yet a synthesis of the two theories is frustrated by their mutual incompatibility. Quantum theory has a scale (set by Planck's constant), but the fractal character of chaotic dynamics means that it is scale free. They do not fit together.
No one rejoices at these perplexities in physics, and all physicists hope for their eventual resolution. Meanwhile the subject is not paralysed in its search for understanding. Scientists can live with partial knowledge and a degree of intellectual uncertainty.
(b) The problem of evil. The most perplexing problem that theology faces is the problem of evil and suffering. Its nature can be stated concisely enough. If God is both good and almighty, whence come the disease and disaster, the cruelty and neglect that we observe in creation? If God is good, surely these ills would have been eliminated. If God is almighty, there is surely divine power to do so. Following the century of two world wars, the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, and many natural disasters, this problem presses particularly hard on contemporary Christian thinking.
At least a partial answer can be held to lie, not in qualifying divine goodness, but in a careful analysis of what is meant by 'almighty'. The word does not mean that God can do absolutely anything. The rational God cannot decree that 2+2=5, nor can the good God do evil acts. Almighty means that God can do whatever God wills, but God can only will that which is in accordance with the divine nature. Christians believe that nature to be love. The God of love could not be a cosmic tyrant, whose creation was simply a divine puppet-theatre manipu lated solely by the divine Puppet-Master. The gift of love is always the gift of some kind of due independence to the object of love. Hence the theological claim, coupled with a deep human intuition, that a world of freely choosing beings is a better world than one populated by perfectly programmed automata. That is the case even if free will results sometimes in horrendous consequences, permitted but not positively willed by that world's Creator. One must admit that this last assertion is not one that one can make without a quiver in the voice, but I believe it to be true nevertheless. It affords some insight into the existence of moral evil, the chosen cruelties and neglects of humankind.
But what about physical evil, disease and disaster? These ills might seem to be much more the direct responsibility of the Creator. I have suggested that there is a kind of 'free-process defence', paralleling the free-will defence in relation to moral evil. All parts of the created order are allowed to act according to their varied natures, being themselves and — through the evolutionary exploration of the potency with which the universe has been endowed—making themselves. In a non-magic world (and the world is not magic because its Creator is not a capricious magician), there will be an inevitable shadow side to fruitful process. Genetic mutations will produce new forms of life, but other mutations will induce malignancy. Tectonic plates will enable mineral resources to well up at their edges to replenish the surface of the Earth, but they will also sometimes slip and induce earthquakes and tsunamis.
These are hard answers to deep and difficult questions, but I believe that they are true insights. They suggest that the ills of the world are not gratuitous, something that a Creator who was a little more competent or a little less callous could easily have eliminated. It is not possible to claim that all perplexity is removed, but I think these theological ideas offer some help with the problem of suffering. Christian theology adds a further level of insight, more profound and existentially relevant than the intellectual discussion we have been pursuing so far. The Christian God is not simply a compassionate spectator of the travail of creation, looking down from the invulnerability of a celestial realm onto the sufferings of Earth. Christians believe that in Christ, and particularly in his cross, we see God sharing human life and its bitternesses, even to the point of a shameful and painful death, experienced in darkness and rejection. The Christian God is the crucified God, truly a fellow sufferer who understands. This insight touches the problem of suffering at the deepest level at which it can be met.10
10. For more discussion of the problem of evil, see Polkinghorne, Exploring Reality, ch. 8.
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