Friday, November 13, 2009

Jaki on Polkinghorne

John Polkinghorne is the famed physicist turned Anglican minister who has written several books on science and religion such as “Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship”, “Exploring Reality: The intertwining of Science and Religion” and “Serious Talk: Science and Religion in Dialogue”.

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However, Polkinghorne’s fondness for “quantum” theology only earned him a serious talking to in Fr. Jaki’s works. With direct reference to Polkinghorne, Jaki writes:

Almost a crude lack of perceptiveness is at work in a Christian who sees in that “quantum mechanical” world an ally of Christian faith, a deliverance from ironclad mechanical determinism. For one, such a Christian fails to see that physical determinism, discovered freely and investigated freely, can never be any threat to human freedom. For another, such a Christian fails to see anything significant in the fervent espousal of that random world by a post-Christian world. The fervour is largely fuelled by the “liberating vistas” of moral randomness, the worst counterfeit of true freedom.
[The Only Chaos and Other Essays p.257]

Jaki criticises Polkinghorne’s attempts at theo-scientific monism through the Copenhagen interpretation and its end results, such as taking “quantum mechanical chance for a proof that God handed over to the universe the work of creation.” [God and the Cosmologists p.152] According to Jaki, only a play of words “lies at the basis of any explanation of physical reality as a particle play” [ibid p.139], such as the one outlined in Polkinghorne’s The Particle Play, his popularisation of Quantum Mechanics.

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Jaki had little sympathy for Polkinghorne’s stance as a “critical realist” and for his “dual aspect monism”. In God and the Cosmologists (p.152), Jaki notes Polkinghorne’s rejection of Aquinas’ argument “that only an immaterial organ can carry on with the act of understanding”, and comments:

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“When a Christian clergman does not see why this has to be so, he obviously can but be disturbed by the age-old Christian belief that the soul survives bodily death.”

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I conclude this piece with some long excerpts of Jaki’s review of Polkinghorne’s Christian apologetic, “The Way the World Is” in the National Review (22 March 1985). Next week I will consider Polkinghorne on Father Jaki’s writings.

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~ Jakian Thomist

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WORLDS FRAGMENTED

Stanley L Jaki

The Way the World Is, by John Polkinghorne

(Eerdmans, 144 pp., $4.95)

The book is mostly on theology, an area in which the author considers himself a novice, not necessarily out of false modesty. Only three years elapsed between his resigning his Cambridge professorship in physics and his writing this booklet. In that interval he studied theology as a preparation for "ordained ministry," as he puts it, in the Church of England. Judging by this book, the theology he assimilated was heavy on New Testament criticism, a field more complex than theoretical physics. Still more importantly, the sciences and theology are very different fields—a claim that may turn one nowadays into a loner.

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Polkinghorne doesn't mention Kuhn, though twice he approvingly recalls Popper, the architect of falsificationism. He fails to suspect that on that basis also fragmentation is in store for his theological venture aimed at securing reasonableness for the main tenets of the Christian religion. He is not only galloping across the crucial issues of Christian theology (the status of the New Testament, of Jesus, His divinity and Resurrection) but also riding the wrong horse. It would be a bad horse even if it were a good scientific methodology, which can hardly be said about the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the author's chief intellectual arsenal. For all its computational wizardry, quantum mechanics is not (as the Copenhagen interpretation claims it is) a proof of the proposition that one can know only aspects but not things in which aspects presumably inhere. Countless books to the contrary—including The Particle Play, Polkinghorne's popularization of fundamental particle physics—if one is to probe the play of particles one must have particles or things. It still remains a colossal fallacy in logic to argue, with an eye on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, that if an interaction cannot be measured exactly, it cannot take place exactly. The fallacy is the confusion of the operational and ontological levels.

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Ontology, of which the author could not learn through his studies of New Testament criticism, is indispensable even in Biblical theology. There one has to come face to face with such statements as "I AM WHO IS" and "Before Abraham existed I AM," and "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life," to mention only three. The second and third are not cited by Mr. Polkinghorne, whose notion of truth is probabilistic, harking back to his quantum- mechanical upbringing. Truth he confuses time and again with "knockdown demonstration." No wonder that he has no use for dogmatics, not even for the hallowed dogmatics of Nicea and Athanasius's defense of it, although it failed to "knock down" either the Arians and semi-Arians or their present-day liberal progeny.

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Polkinghorne is unconvincing in his efforts to make his reader accept something divine in Jesus, Whose strict divinity he leaves to the mercy of the phenomenological approach, where it is largely ignored. According to Polkinghorne, that approach may liberate one "from the hectoring and self-confident tone of the Quicunque vult." Such is the worst kind of liberation theology conceivable. For it imprisons one in that probabilistic subjectivism for which the deepest ontological questions of theology—such as the homoousion and its chief corollary, the constant beatific vision enjoyed by Christ, the man—do not carry any significance.

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It is doubtful that on the basis of this book one might hope for a calming of the latest Anglican storm stirred up by the new Bishop of Durham's [David Edward Jenkins] "scientific" onslaught on Christ's miracles and His Resurrection. Tellingly, the bishop rejects the bodily Resurrection of Christ. Once more, things— bodies—are the ultimate touchstone of truth. This book is hardly about the way the world is, physical and spiritual, and it certainly does not provide those worlds. In fact, both are potentially fragmented in this book. It may titillate Christians eager to make a misconstrued theology appear respectable to a scientific forum chronically misunderstanding itself.

1 comment:

The Cogitator said...

"…not necessarily out of modesty." Ah, Fr. Jaki had l'espirit de escalier at the top of the staircase. ;)