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Thursday, 6 December 2007

Polkinghorne Quotes #4: The Christian God: Not Limited to nor Restricted by Edges

Theology is concerned with ontological origin and not with temporal beginning. The idea of creation has no special stake in a datable start to the universe. If Hawking is right, and quantum effects mean that the cosmos as we know it is like a kind of fuzzy space-time egg, without a singular point at which it all began, that is scientifically very interesting, but theologically insignificant. When he poses the question, “But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary, or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?”, it would be theologically naïve to give any answer other than: “Every place – as sustainer of the self-contained space-time egg and as the ordainer of its quantum laws”. God is not a God of the edges, with a vested interest in boundaries.

Creation is not something he did fifteen billion years ago, but it is something that he is doing now.

From Science and Christian Belief, page 73

Many Christians, I think, put too much stock in the implications of scientific discoveries. Thus for example, since biological evolution seems to threaten traditional ideas of a historical instantaneous Fall, many Christians dismiss biological evolution out of hand. Rarely is it asked: “Does evolution really change our ideas of a historical instantaneous Fall?” (some evolutionary creationists say no), or “Is a re-examination of a historical instantaneous Fall helpful for our theology” (possibly yes), or even “Do I really need to definitively resolve this particular tension right now?” (maybe the best question of all).

As Christians I think we can make a similar mistake with scientific discoveries that seem to cohere nicely with orthodox Christian theology. The Big Bang, a theory proposed by a Catholic priest, is the classic example. Christians have stated that it is “proof that God created the universe”. Now, I have absolutely no reason to doubt the Big Bang theory (Simon Singh’s book on the topic is one of my favourite works of popular science). As well, I must confess to some satisfaction in knowing that the theory continues to incite strong opposition from some atheistic materialists, and that it meshes neatly with the Christian concepts of creation ex nihilo and a non-eternal universe. However, my Christian faith does not rest on the theory of the Big Bang and I disagree with the statement that the theory “proves that Christianity is true". If the scientific consensus of the ultimate fate of the universe suddenly changed from "a universe accelerating towards The Big Freeze" to "a universe entering a cycle of Big Crunches & Big Bangs (of which our instantiation may not be the first)", I do not see how that is relevant to my faith.

God is neither restricted by nor limited to the edges. We should neither search for him there, nor fear that they constrain him.

Other Polkinghorne Quotes: [Introduction] [Previous] [Next]


oplopanax said...

Hey, good post.

stalk --> stock

Steve Martin said...

hi oplopanax,
Thanks for the correction. Fixed.

John Farrell said...

Superb post. And your point about the Big Bang is quite true. You might be interested in this post which you might say proves your point.

Steve Martin said...

Thanks John. And definitely an interesting post. Your book "The Day without Yesterday" just went on my to read list. thanks.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for these Polkinghorne quotes. Polkinghorne is certainly worth reading (and quoting).

sam said...
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