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Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Polkinghorne Quotes #3: Why is the Tea Kettle Boiling?

Why is the kettle boiling? Answer#1: The kettle is boiling because the burning gas heats the water. True. Answer#2: The kettle is boiling because I want to make a cup of tea and would you like to have a cup with me? True.

There is no conflict between those two answers; they are in fact complementary. In an exactly similar way I don't have to choose between science and religion. "The universe sprang into being about fifteen billion years ago through the fiery explosion of the big bang." That is true, but it does not preclude my also saying, "The universe came into being and remains in being because of the Word of a Creator whose mind and purpose are behind all of the scientific truths that we perceive."

From Is Science Enough?, September, 1994 Lecture at The University of the South

The teakettle analogy is perhaps Polkinghorne’s most frequently repeated quote. Actually, since it seems to change with each repetition, it should probably be classified as something other than a quote. I’ve seen the analogy appear in many different forms, in articles and lectures by Polkinghorne himself, and in books, articles, lectures, emails, and blog entries by others (this one here substituting coffee for tea – something Polkinghorne as a good Brit probably considers heretical).

I believe that one's view of divine action is the most significant factor in demarcating Christians that accept evolution from those that do not. It is certainly more important than how one thinks of scripture as many anti-evolution Christians (probably most supporters of ID for example) do NOT interpret scripture literally. For those Christians whose model of divine action is restricted to God intervening in nature in a way that is unexplainable by natural causes, evolution will be forever troublesome. Evolutionary theory does not allow for gaps in the natural record, and the scientific evidence for this theory continues to bear fruit. However, for Christians who see God acting in and through nature, who see nature as simply a secondary cause and not as a final cause, who believe that a scientific description of an event or process does not diminish God’s active control of that event or process, evolution can be fully compatible with faith in a God who acts in this world.

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1 comment:

SFMatheson said...

I forgot to mention that I only drink fair trade coffee. D'you think that would keep me out of trouble with Professor Polkinghorne? :-)
Keep up the fine work.