John C. POLKINGHORNE, Science and Providence: Godís Interaction with the World. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2005. pp. xv-128. $14.95 pb. ISBN: 1-932031-92-8.
Reviewed by Gloria L. SCHAAB, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL 33161

In this revision of his 1989 work of the same name, John C. Polkinghorne considers anew whether the concept of a personal and interacting God remains coherent in light of scientific accounts of the cosmos. His argument that modern science does not make incoherent the possibility of Godís purposeful and providential activity within creation and its creatures hinges on two linchpins. The first is the parallel between divine and human intentional agency. The second is the intrinsic unpredictability of the cosmos and its processes. Concerning divine and human agency, Polkinghorne infers that the God who bestowed radical freedom upon humanity surely allows liberty to Godself. The most plausible ďcausal jointĒ by which God and humanity exercise this freedom is through the openness and flexibility that exist in the processes of the cosmos. However, while human agency is observable in the cause and effect of events, the activity of God in particular events is inevitably a matter of interpretation. This is especially so with regard to manifestations of Godís special providence, particularly the miraculous. Polkinghorne refuses to reduce miracles to ďpious hindsight,Ē (51) but insists that such events are prolepses of Godís future destiny for humanity and the cosmos. Polkinghorne unfolds this insight with regard to prayer as a collaborative process of aligning oneís human will to that of God. He also engages the necessity of regarding God as both temporal and eternal if one is to affirm Godís agential involvement with cosmic history and explores this understanding in his reflections on the Christian mysteries of Incarnation and of Sacrament.

Like his other efforts, Science and Providence is an eminently readable work profiting both the initiate and seasoned in their search for points of contact between the two disciplines. Nevertheless, one may be unsatisfied with certain critical elements of this presentation. The question remains of how Godís particular providential actions are not classifiable as interventionist actions of a ďGod of the gaps.Ē Polkinghorne points to ďthe intrinsic incompleteness of a scientific causal accountĒ [xiii] of cosmic phenomena to counter an interventionist interpretation. However, this seems to use scientific ignorance as an explanation for cosmic openness and flexibility, suggesting that the coherence of Godís providential activity is contingent on advances in the scientific understanding of the cosmos. Moreover, if events of Godís special providence give teleological insight into general physical processes, how can one differentiate between these processes and the intentional activity of God? The distinction necessarily lies in the realm of interpretation, which nonetheless leaves room for Godís general providence in the cosmos filtered through what Polkinghorne terms the subtle complexity of human circumstances.

The most difficult question arising from Polkinghorneís argument, however, remains the question of pain, suffering, and death in the cosmos in the face of a provident God. Polkinghorne recapitulates his understanding of cosmic unfolding through God-given free process and free will in this regard. However, his arguments for Godís special providence in the cosmos provoke the theodical question of how to reconcile the pervasiveness of evil and suffering in a world in which that God is freely and purposively capable of acting. Despite Polkinghorneís affirmation of the God who suffers with creation and its creatures, the issue remains unresolved and scientific support for the coherence of Godís capacity to act makes the conflict all-the-more irreconcilable. One is left in the realm of mystery, sustained solely by belief in the God of inexhaustible hope, grounded in Godís unceasing embrace of love for the cosmos and its creatures.

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