Preface to the 2007 Edition

Apart from a short book intended to be a personal apologia for my Christian faith (Polkinghorne 1983), which I wrote during my transition from being a professor of mathematical physics to becoming an Anglican priest, One World was my first book on issues in science and religion, soon to be followed by two more (Polkinghorne 1988, 1989), with which it forms a trilogy. Reading it again, I recognize that it introduces a number of themes that have remained important in my thinking in subsequent explorations of the interaction between science and theology, those two great human engagements with reality.

I described the context of One World as being the post-Enlightenment realization that the quest for clear and certain ideas, which could serve as foundations for reliable knowledge, had, in the end, proved to be a heroic failure. In today's postmodern culture, with its questioning of metanarratives and doubting of claims of truthful understanding, the issue of what we can know and how we can gain knowledge is one of even greater criticality than it was in 1986. I believe that the answers to questions of this sort have to arise from the investigation of specific truth-seeking projects, assessing their actual methods and achievements, rather than from general epistemological argumentation. The consideration in this book of the nature of science in chapter 2, and of the nature of theology in chapter 3, are exercises of this kind. In both cases, we encounter communities that are seeking truthful understanding, which they affirm can be gained through the quest for well-motivated belief. The knowledge thus acquired cannot be asserted to be certain beyond any possibility of peradventure, but there are sufficient grounds for believing it to afford a reliable, if never complete, grasp of actual reality. In both science and theology, I believe that we can affirm a stance of critical realism—called "critical" because the method of enquiry is subtle, with a delicate intertwining of experience and interpretation, and called "realism" because the investigation has the character of a process of discovery, rather than that of human construction. This stance of critical realism is one commonly held by scientist-theologians like myself, and its defense is a topic to which I have often returned in subsequent writing (see particularly, Polkinghorne 1998, chs. 2 and 5). The fact that critical realism can be asserted of both science and theology, despite their very different subject material, implies a cousinly relationship between these two truth-seeking endeavors (Polkinghorne 2007), and it provides a basis for their mutual interaction as they present their different perspectives onto the one world of existent reality (see ch. 5).

Science advances at a rapid rate, and the chapter that would be most different were I writing the book today is chapter 4. What is discussed there still remains significant, and in this edition I have updated minor points, such as incorporating the recent revision of the age of the universe. Were I starting from scratch today, however, I would add more material. This would include an enlarged discussion of the anthropic fine-tuning of the universe, the remarkable particularity that has been recognized as necessary in the character of the laws of nature in order to permit the evolution of carbon-based life. Two excellent detailed analyses of this issue (Barrow and Tipler 1986; Leslie 1989) were published too late to be cited in One World. (For a concise but expanded discussion of this issue, see Polkinghorne 1991, 77-80.) The discovery of this striking specificity of our universe was an upsetting thought to many scientists, whose instinct is to favor generality over particularity. They would have preferred the cosmos to be just an unremarkable universe. If anthropic fine-tuning is to be made intelligible, it is certainly necessary to look beyond science itself, since the latter has to treat the form of the laws of nature as given, the unexplained basis on which it rests its explanations of specific happenings. One possible interpretation is theistic, seeing fine-tuning as an endowment given to creation by its Creator in order to enable cosmic fertility. Some scientists definitely disliked that option. To defuse the theistic threat, there has been an astonishing willingness to entertain the notion of a multiverse, the idea that our universe is simply part of a vast portfolio of different worlds, all distinct and disconnected from each other. Such ontological prodigality goes far beyond anything for which sober scientific motivation might be offered. It is a metascientific strategy of what seems to me to be a pretty desperate kind.

I am surprised that I made no mention in One World of chaos theory (for an account, see Gleick 1988), the discovery in the 1960s of intrinsic unpredictabilities present in the macroscopic physics of everyday processes, due to the existence of many systems of such exquisite sensitivity to the finest detail of their circumstances that their future behavior cannot be reliably foretold. Here is a scientific insight that can offer a metaphysical option for how one might begin to understand how the world might be open to its future. I have extensively pursued this matter as my contribution to the investigation into issues of divine action that occupied the science and religion community for much of the 1990s (for a survey of my ideas, see Polk-inghorne 1998, ch. 3).

In the years since 1986 there has been continuing argument about evolutionary matters. Though much of this has centered on disputes about claims to discern Intelligent Design, I think that the most interesting scientific development has been Simon Conway-Morris's emphasis on the role of convergence in biological history (Conway-Morris 1998, 2003). It seems that certain kinds of structure often recur independently in biological evolution, indicating that the range of possibilities that are both functionally effective and biologically accessible is more limited than one might have supposed. Evolutionary history looks much less like a random lottery than many have claimed. Conway-Morris even believes that if there is extraterrestrial intelligent life, it is quite likely to be broadly similar to human life.

In relation to the issues discussed in chapter 6, there has been increasing interest, both scientifically and philosophically, in the processes by which new levels, such as life and consciousness, may be thought to have emerged in a context from which they were previously absent (see, for example, Gregersen 2003; Clayton 2004). This is a promising realm of enquiry, which one may hope will make further progress.

The pace of change in theology is less hective than in science. Development comes characteristically from deepening consideration, rather than from the discovery of completely novel concepts. In later writings I have returned to several of the topics briefly introduced in One World. They include the nature of scripture (Polkinghorne 1991, ch. 5; 2005, ch. 2), sacrament (Polkinghorne 2005, ch. 5), God's relation to time (Polkinghorne 2006, ch. 6), and the perplexing diversity of the world faith traditions (Polkinghorne 1996, ch. 10). A topic briefly referred to here (71-72; 91-92) is the eschatological hope of a destiny beyond death, both for human beings and for the universe itself. Recently it has figured as a significant issue on the agenda of science and theology, to which I have sought to contribute (Polking-horne and Welker 2000; Polkinghorne 2002).

I have called my style of theological thinking "bottom-up," seeking to move from motivating experience to attained understanding in a way that is natural for a scientist, and which reflects the cousinly relationship that I see existing between science and theology (Polkinghorne 2007). In fact, when I wrote my Gifford Lectures (Polkinghorne 1996), they were subtitled "Theological Reflections of a Bottom-up Thinker," as I sought to address the central Christian beliefs expressed in the Nicene Creed in just such a fashion. I am a passionate believer in the unity of knowledge. One World is based on this conviction, whose truth I believe to be guaranteed by the unity of the one true God, the Creator of all reality.

Writing in the 1980s, I followed contemporary custom in using the male pronoun in reference to God. Of course, I was never so stupid as to think that God was gendered and actually male. I ask my readers today to excuse me for the faults of the past.

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