The 2006 edition of Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding by John Polkinghorne explores the relationship between theology and science focused through the nature of creation. Originally published in 1988, this text represents an early introduction to the influence that particular scientific concepts and understanding have on theological concepts regarding the genesis and ongoing creativity of the natural world. He contends that the consonance between theology and science is most effectively demonstrated through the search for knowledge of God termed natural theology. This approach to God through reason and observation of the world has been critiqued by theologians such as Karl Barth who assert that God can be known solely through God’s free and decisive self-revelation in the scriptures and in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Polkinghorne supports his own position through an overview of biblical literature, including the Wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Logos as the rational order of the world proclaimed in the gospel of John, the cosmic Christ of Colossians, and the affirmation in Romans that God’s “invisible nature…has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20). He buttresses his claims historically through an appeal to the Greek Fathers, the ontological argument of Anselm, and the quinque viae of Thomas Aquinas. Despite this history, Polkinghorne notes a certain reluctance in contemporary theology to incorporate the data of science into theological reflection and discourse, and calls upon theologians to engage a revised natural theology or risk “relegating theology to an intellectual ghetto.” (23)
Having made his case for a scientifically-influenced natural theology, Polkinghorne unfolds several areas of scientific investigation that have particular ramifications for theological discourse. These areas include big bang cosmology, the juxtaposition of mechanics and thermodynamics, and the interplay of necessity and chance in the process of evolution. This overview is followed by a strikingly insightful chapter on the relationship between Creator and creation that flows from the mutual illumination of theology and science. Polkinghorne remains committed to a substance ontology that causes him to dismiss the move of theologians toward an understanding of the God-world relation as panentheistic. Nonetheless, he unfolds a poignant vision of a Creator who in risk, vulnerability, and self-limited omnipotence is steadfastly and kenotically involved “in the freely evolving creation that He allows to be” as both “ground of phenomenal order” and “free origin of contingent events” (77). This apparent coincidentia oppositorum in the nature of the Divine leads Polkinghorne to propose a related complementarity in the nature of reality as simultaneously material and mental as, for example, quantum entities are both particle and wave in a “mutual indwelling of characteristics” (85). He concludes his study by suggesting a similar complementarity between the disciplines of theology and science, proposing a “theological science” that recognizes “in the pattern and structure of the physical world a reality which calls for admiration and wonder” (117).
Undoubtedly, this re-publication of Polkinghorne’s 1988 volume still provides an integrated presentation of scientific and theological insights on the crucial questions of creation and its Creator for those unacquainted with the fruitful dialogue between theology and science on this topic. However, his perspective so often weighs one-sidedly on the value of science to theology that one wonders how truly mutual the interaction is that Polkinghorne envisions. His call for a return to natural theology that depends upon reason and observation of creation must be augmented by revelation and tradition if the relation between theology and science is to be truly dialogical. His resistance to the panentheistic vision of God-world relationship so prevalent in theology-science dialogue also displays a lack of familiarity with movements in theology from substance ontology to relational ontology represented by theologians such as Catherine Mowry LaCugna, Denis Edwards, and Walter Kasper and by scientist-theologians like Arthur Peacocke. While his thought does reference the work of Jürgen Moltmann, this re-publication could have benefited from amplification and revision influenced by other contemporary scholarship. Moreover, his call for a “theological science” implies an assimilation of theology into science, rather than a consonance between theology and science that would preserve the integrity of each discipline. As Polkinghorne himself asserts, “Truth always exceeds what can be proved” (98). It is this realization that maintains the balance between these dialogue partners and that promises to keep their dialogue mutually transformative, challenging, and enriching.