Does God interact with his suffering world?

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Is it possible to keep the faith in a world of suffering?  A leading physicist turned priest will pose the challenging question at a public event in St Andrews tomorrow (Thursday 9 October 2008).

The Reverend Dr John Polkinghorne will talk at the University of St Andrews as part of an innovative series of public lectures that brings the world’s outstanding figures in the science-religion field to St Andrews.

Professor Polkinghorne is uniquely qualified to comment on both subjects as a top particle physicist and ordained priest – in 1979 he resigned his Cambridge University professorship to train as an Anglican priest.

His lecture entitled `Does God interact with his suffering world?’ will follow two strands of thought – firstly, does God interact with the world?  Secondly, if he does, why is there so much suffering?

Talking in advance of the lecture, he said, “The picture I want of God’s relationship with the world is one of continuing interaction, not occasional intervention; poking with the divine finger when things go wrong.  I believe that God interacts with the world, but doesn’t overrule the freedom he has given to creatures.

“The most difficult problem is to understand the suffering in the world.  It is one that troubles those of who are believers more than any other.  There is a mystery in suffering,” he continued.

Polkinghorne worked in theoretical elementary particle physics for 25 years, astounding his colleagues in 1979 when he undertook a radical career change, switching to the priesthood and finally becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1982.  The move, however, reflected his long-standing interest in matters of science and of faith, and in 1983 he published The Way the World Is, in which he explained how a thinking person can be a Christian.  In the intervening years Professor Polkinghorne has written over 25 books on the subject (including Belief in God in an Age of Science, and more recently, The God of Hope and the End of the World).

Professor Eric Priest, a mathematician at the University, is a co-organiser of the James Gregory public lecture series in Science and Religion, now in its second year.  He said, “To many people the material world of physics does not provide the whole answer to what it means to be human, since there are also the worlds of mathematics, consciousness and religion.  Shedding light on the ways in which these worlds interact and complement one another is therefore an important task.”

Fellow co-organiser Professor Alan Torrance (School of Divinity) commented, “What is so impressive about Sir John Polkinghorne in particular is his refusal not merely to argue for the existence of a God conceived in general terms but to explore the relevance of the Christian faith for making sense not simply of cosmological questions but of lives lived in the context of suffering. As one who witnessed his wife die of cancer earlier this year, I particularly appreciate his integrated vision of Christian faith with its significance for the exigencies and, indeed, tragedies of human life.”

Professor Polkinghorne, who was knighted in 1997 for distinguished service to science, religion, learning, and medical ethics, has chaired several Government Advisory Committees on ethical and social issues related to new developments in science and technology (eg the Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing).  He was one of the founders of the Society of Ordained Scientists and was elected first President of the International Society for Science and Religion (2002-2004).

He said, “I’m a passionate believer in the unity of knowledge. There is one world of reality – one world of our experience that we’re seeking to describe.  If the experience of science teaches anything, it’s that the world is very strange and surprising. ”

The Revd. Dr John Polkinghorne will deliver the fourth James Gregory public lecture Does God interact with his suffering world? on Thursday 9th October, at 5:15 pm in the Younger Hall, North Street, St Andrews. The lecture is free and open to the public. 

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Co-organised by Professors Eric Priest (Mathematics) and Alan Torrance (Theology), the James Gregory lecture series provides an ambitious Scottish forum for scientists, theologians and members of the public from different faiths to address major issues of joint concern. It has tapped a vein of public interest, attracting record audiences (estimated 600 people per lecture) to each of the three lectures last year.  Described as a ‘vision for a better world’, the ambitious series of twelve lectures over a four year period brings some of the world’s top experts to St Andrews to explore the natural tensions between the two subjects. Launched last year the series is supported by funding from the John Templeton Foundation and is named after James Gregory, one of the University’s most famous sons who invented the Gregorian telescope and was one of the founders of calculus.

For further information on the lecture series, contact Fiona Bond, 01334 828111 or [email protected]



Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected]

Ref:  Polkinghorne 061008
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