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Faith of a Physicist (Theology and the Sciences) [Paperback]

By J. C. Polkinghorne (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   224
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.16" Width: 6.02" Height: 0.54"
Weight:   0.81 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 1, 1996
Publisher   Augsburg Fortress Publishers
ISBN  0800629701  
EAN  9780800629700  

Availability  0 units.

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Item Description...
"I do not find that a trinitarian and incarnational theology needs to be abandoned in favour of a toned-down theology of a Cosmic Mind and an inspired teacher, alleged to be more accessible to the modern mind." Many would likely disagree with the idea that a trinitarian and incarnational theology is palatable to the modern mind, for it is thought that science and the modern mind are in conflict with traditional theology. But physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne strongly believes that a trinitarian and incarnational theology is tough, surprising and exciting enough to truly stimulate the modern mind. The Faith of a Physicist comes out of the invitation given to Polkinghorne to give the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, on the topic of "The Knowledge of God". Polkinghorne chose to build his lectures on phrases from the Nicene Creed. Combining those phrases and his scientific experience, Polkinghorne offers illuminating insights into the nature of humanity, our search for knowledge, the way to speak of God in light of science's understanding of creation, the believability of the accounts of the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the role of the Holy Spirit, and eschatology. Thoroughly versed in science, and equally adept in Scripture, Polkinghorne offers his lucid explanation of why he feels it is reasonable to be both a Christian and a scientist. Fascinating, and well-written, Faith of a Physicist is sure to stimulate your mind, and broaden your knowledge and horizons. Polkinghorne will not compromise his views on the trintarian nature of God or the incarnation, and he proves that modern science does not require this, nor has modern science proved a trinitarian and incarnational theology to be false. An excellent reminder to take all thoughts captive to Christ.

Publishers Description
"It has become fashionable to write books with titles such as Religion in an Age of Science (Barbour), Theology for a Scientific Age (Peacocke), or Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning (Murphy). They signify the recognition that the interaction between science and religious reflection is not limited to those topics (such as cosmic history) concerning which the two disciplines offer complementary insights. It involves also an engagement with habits of thought which are natural in a culture greatly influenced by the success of science. To take this stance is not to submit to slavery to the spirit of the age, but simply to acknowledge that we view things from where we stand, with all the opportunities and limitations inherent in that particular perspective. . . . My concern is to explore to what extent we can use the search for motivated understanding, so congenial to the scientific mind, as a route to being able to make the substance of Christian orthodoxy our own. Of course, there are some revisions called for in the process, but I do not find that a trinitarian and incarnational theology needs to be abandoned in favour of a toned-down theology of a Cosmic Mind and an inspired teacher, alleged to be more accessible to the modern mind. A scientist expects a fundamental theory to be tough, surprising and exciting. "Throughout, my aim will be to seek an understanding based on a careful assessment of phenomena as the guide to reality. Just as I cannot regard science as merely an instrumentally successful manner of speaking which serves to get things done, so I cannot regard theology as merely concerned with a collection of stories which motivate an attitude to life. It must have its anchorage in the way things actually are, and the way they happen. . . . A bottom-up thinker is bound to ask, What makes you think this story is a verisimilitudinous account of Reality? The anchorage of Christianity in history is to be welcomed, despite its hazards. For me, the Bible is neither an inerrant account of propositional truth nor a compendium of timeless symbols, but a historically conditioned account of certain significant encounters and experiences. Read in that way, I believe it can provide the basis for a Christian belief with is certainly revised in the light of our twentieth-century insights but which is recognizably contained within an envelope of understanding in continuity with the developing doctrine of the Church throughout the centuries." - from the introduction

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More About J. C. Polkinghorne

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John C. Polkinghorne is an Anglican priest, a fellow of the Royal Academy past president of Queens College, Cambridge University, and former professor of mathematical physics at Cambridge. Polkinghorne resigned his chair in physics to study for the Anglican priesthood. After completing his theological studies and serving at parishes, he returned to Cambridge. In 1997, Dr. Polkinghorne was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for distinguished service to science, religion, learning, and medical ethics. He was the recipient of the 2002 Templeton Prize. He lives in Cambridge, United Kingdom.


John C. Polkinghorne was born in 1930.

John C. Polkinghorne has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Theology and the Sciences

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Typical Polkinghorne material, but very thorough  Feb 8, 2007
Polkinghorne is usually a puzzling read for me. One admires his expertise in the exotic field of particle physics, and also his zeal in postulating a compatibility between physical science and his version of Christianity, but I usually come away from his efforts rather unconvinced of the merits of the proposed "merger" he proposes. On the one hand, he wants us to move forward from the ancient conception of God as brutally crashing through natural events to perform miracles, and instead conceive of God as the invisible gently-prodding hand behind all events. Such a model would not necessarily violate standard quantum mechanics. While this theological model has been proposed by others, and may indeed help modernize a believer's conception of God's possible action in the world, it is nonetheless difficult to reconcile with the traditional Judaeo-Christian image given by the scriptures themselves. If one looks objectively at the stories in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, one sees an abundance of gross physical violations of natural laws, the kind that Polkinghorne obviously has trouble with when constructing his own "gentle guidance" theology. I say "has trouble with", because if one reads Polkinghorne's dialogue with fellow physicist (Nobelist and skeptic) Steven Weinberg, Polkinghorne clearly doesn't want frequent abrupt divine interventions into the natural world, as is often seen in the Old Testament, for example (anyone for killing a crowd of Canaanites this week?). And this observation is not diminished by the presence of other images that might help Polkinghorne's theology, such as the Apostle Paul's statement "in Him we live and move and have our being". In essence, Polkinghorne wants us to have our cake and eat it too-i.e., somehow remain "faithful" to the Biblical intervention narratives and yet up-to-date on integrating modern physical insights into one's worldview. There might be a fundamental incompatibility problem trying to keep both types of "actions"; something needs to give. Interestingly, it is Polkinghorne's own faithfulness to the Biblical narratives that gives way; he can't deny the physics. In fact, Polkinghorne has re-visioned the Biblical view of divine action into something neither Jesus nor his followers might recognize. Say we want to buy Jesus and Peter walking on water, for example. It wouldn't be conceivable with Polkinghorne's "gentle quantum manipulation" theology, being a sudden (massive) macroscopic violation of physics. Miracles of this type aren't conceivable to many moderns anyway, as there is no direct observation of such gross violations in the empirical world, but we are here examining Polkinghorne's own model, not a skeptic's. We can go further; none of the miraculous acts of Jesus or his disciples are adequately explainable by Polkinghorne's (sub-)quantum gentle-action. Of course, the fundamentalists will have none of this anyway; the events in the Bible are unquestionably God's abrupt intervention. Yet Polkinghorne's theology *is* one possible theology away from this, of course. Be that as it may, it is far from the worldview of Jesus or his fellow Mediterranean inhabitants; let's not kid ourselves.
Polkinghorne is powerful  Sep 12, 2005
Polkinghorne is brilliant: he is way out in front as a scientist with his mastery at the leading edge of quantum mechanics. He is a very well read theologian. He brings both of these qualifications to bear in the explanation and support of his strong convictions about our need for a lively faith in a benevolent Creator God. This book has launched me into a journey through his other books; a journey that has all the flavor of a treasure hunt.
"seas too deep for simple knowledge"  Jan 27, 2004
One may point to Polkinghorne's credentials as a theoretical physicist or an Anglican cleric, but in his writings we find that he is also a philosopher, theologian, and student of the humanities (art, history, comparative religion), although he is quick to label himself an "amateur" in these areas. A thoughtful reading of "The Faith of a Physicist" will be particularly valuable to philosophical materialists whose "skepticism" of Christian theism should itself be exposed to skeptical consideration. As Polkinghorne explains, dismissals of theism are often couched in convenient but ignorantly simplistic characterizations: "Scientists who are hostile to religion tend to make remarks such as 'Unlike science, religion is based on unquestioning certainties' [Wolpert]. They thereby betray their lack of acquaintance with the practice of religion. Periods of doubt and perplexity have a well-documented role in spiritual development . . . Religion has long known that ultimately every human image of God proves to be an inadequate idol."
Considering metaphysic's classic poles of dualism versus monism, the author is inclined to reject each in preference to a "dual-aspect monism." In this he is not particularly controversial, nor in his interpretations of quantum theory in terms of its philosophical implications. Polkinghorne's biblical exegesis will be controversial on certain points (whose isn't?). Although he is sometimes accused of being a process theologian, it seems clear that he is not. His theology is ultimately rather classical, including certain elements of process ("There are aspects of Whitehead's thought from which one can benefit without accepting it in its entirety") and what he calls a "tinge of deism" (recognizing that the cosmos was indeed "wound-up"). If the reader thinks that one must either demand that Christian scripture is inerrant or reject it as being errant, then Polkinghorne will offer him/her no satisfaction. In fact, all readers will be rather challenged.
(Regarding dual-aspect monism and David Bohm's metaphysics arising from his interpretation of quantum theory): "My instinct as a bottom-up thinker is to be wary of such grandiosities of philosophical fancy. Instead, I would want to follow the flight of such straws in a metaphysical wind as our understanding of the physical world provides. My own tentative ideas have been woven round two concepts: complementarity and openness." In other words, something like the particle-wave duality and something like the ordered-disorder of the so-called chaos theory.
(Regarding Stephen Hawking's suggestion that his "no boundaries" model displaces the need of a creator): ". . . 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 spacetime 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 the sustainer of the self-contained spacetime egg and as the ordainer of its quantum laws.' God is not a God of the edges, with a vested interest in boundaries."
Polkinghorne uses statements of faith taken from the Nicene Creed as a springboard for his apologetic. He offers a "non-literalist" defense of the doctrine of divine creation that assumes a general correctness to present cosmological and evolutionary theories but also finds them to be unexplained apart from the Divine action of an intelligent will. While questions certainly remain unanswered within the theistic view, the materialistic alternative is seen to provide no ultimate answers at all. He offers a defense of Christianity's doctrine of "eschatological destiny" which sees the "optimistic arrow of time" (Davies term for complexity in spite of entropy) and entropy's "pessimistic arrow of time" (second law of thermodynamics) as vectors converging in a significantly unique event. He offers a defense of New Testament uniqueness and reliability (not inerrancy); and a strong defense of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He argues that, when all is considered, the claimed resurrection of Christ is more credible than any alternate theories that have been proffered but which fail to explain subsequent events. Polkinghorne offers a defense of the doctrines of the Trinity and of eschatology, and concludes with thoughts of alternative views. If you find the last chapter (Alternatives) to be too brief, Sire's "The Universe Next Door" may be of further interest. In the course of the text here, Polkinghorne argues for a bold and far reaching teleology including, but not restricted to, physical theory, embracing "the natural theology of the arts". He argues also for a boldness in defending the authenticity of the canonical Christian gospel; a boldness not simply based in unquestioning fideism but arising from the best documentation of ancient history and human experience. In sum, it makes for a difficult but fascinating read.
Rich food for thought.  Nov 10, 2000
For a volume that contains less than 200 pages, this book is certainly rich with interesting ideas. Furthermore, the author has mulled them over until they came to intellectual ripeness. Within an outline drawn from the Apostles' Creed, Polkinghome gives his view of the anthropic principle, the relation of body to mind, the nature of God, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and other subjects, in a thoughtful manner. He strikes a good balance between authority and personal opinion. He refers frequently and in humility to what well-known thinkers on all sides of the questions at hand have said (he has obviously done his homework), but is confident, bold, and smart enough to pick his own path across the fields of fact. He argues, at one point, that "The titles assigned to Jesus play the role that models do in scientific investigation." In other words, the New Testament does not appear as a mass of dogmas artificially superimposed upon stories of Jesus' life. Rather, terms like "Son of God" show the early Christians groping for a way of coming to grips with remarkable facts. That is the kind of "bottoms up" approach Polkinghome appreciates.

I have three caveats. First, Polkinghome slips into theological jargon too often. Second, his idea that we do not have souls, but that at some point in the future, God will make copies of us from His perfect knowledge, not from the same bits of matter though, seemed weak to me. I mean, presumably God could do the same now -- there could be copies of us running around on other planets. But what does that have to do with you or I or the promises of Scripture?

Third, what Polkinghome primarily seems to give here is a cautious explanation of his faith, rather than a strong argument for it. His initial caution lends his ultimate conclusions about the resurrection of Jesus, for example, a great deal of weight. But while agnostics and atheists who make this book their token foray into Christian apologetics could do worse, they should be aware that the author is passing over some very strong areas of evidence for Christianity. Please do not put the book down saying, "Well, I survived that; I guess I'm safe." I suggest you also consider the psychological truths G. K. Chesterton discusses in Everlasting Man, the history Don Richardson relates in Eternity in Their Hearts, and the many testimonies of modern Christians on how God answers prayer. (Miracles are the most "bottoms-up" kind of evidence for God.) You might also find my new book, Jesus and the Religions of Man, worth a read, especially if the question Polkinghome raised about spiritual alternatives to the Christian faith is of interest.

A tough read that is well worth it  Jun 16, 2000
Polkinghorne's method of exploration is simply to look at the world as a scientist and interpret it as a theologian. In The Faith of a Physicist we get the opportunity to explore with him as he does this. He asks many of the same questions and struggles with the same issues that I do, basic questions that run through the heads of people who think seriously about the world. Fundamentalists may well discard his theological conclusions, but those with an open mind will appreciate his attempt to stay true to orthodox Christian belief while exploring its interaction with modern science.

This book is dense and not one that I would recommend for speed reading (believe me, I tried when I needed to read it for class). It takes time to digest and to ponder Polkinghorne's thought processes and conclusions. In addition, I found the first two chapters to be more difficult reading than the rest of the book (perhaps I was just tired when I read them), so don't let them stop you from finishing the book. The rest of the book is great.


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