Saturday, September 3, 2011

Is John Polkinghorne a Possibilian?

Here's an article that insists that the physicist/priest/writer is indeed uncertain on everything, including his religious beliefs.

I've enjoyed his work ever since I saw him at the Gustavus Adolphus College Nobel Conference in 1990.  He, along with Ilya Prigogine and Benoit Mandelbrot, gave talks to a crowd of science students, teachers, and ordinary folks like me interested in science.  His talk was on the relationship between science and religion.  That year's topic was chaos theory and fractals.  A fascinating weekend for me in St. Peter, Minnesota.

Here's a sample from the article:

But even people who don't normally think about these things have a hard time pinning down what they know for sure. Scratch just a little below the surface of most of us, and you'll find very few things on the list of what we really know. What do any of us know for certain? Not much.
Polkinghorne's level of comfort with uncertainty has its roots in reading the Hungarian chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi, who used the term "motivated belief," and who called into question the idea that scientists deal in objective facts.
"Complete objectivity as usually attributed to the exact sciences is a delusion and is in fact a false ideal," Polanyi wrote in the 1950s. In other words, we're all coming from some kind of vantage point — always. Facts always come with interpretation. People of science are motivated to believe certain things as they proceed with their experiments, and people of faith are motivated to believe certain things as they proceed with their beliefs. Living with doubt leaves one open to additional discovery, both in science and faith.
Polkinghorne points to the example of what scientists once knew about light. For years, scientists proved that light was a series of particles. Later, scientists proved that it was waves. Then scientists proved that light acted like waves some of the time and particles some of the time. "If there is motivating evidence, you have to change your view of rationality," Polkinghorne said.

1 comment:

  1. Funny thing that I've read this article. I've been trying all of my life to really find a word that defines what it is by "belief" is. Possibilian hits right on the nose. I tried to call myself an agnostic most of my life but then I've been scolded by people who say I have to be either an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist. I didn't view myself as either of those two choices. There are a few things I can define in fact that I know (or at least I hope I can): I(a bag of meat) am on a big rock(Earth) that floats around a ball of fire(star). Weather this was caused by some deity/deities or by the universe/whatever is in my opinion unknowable at the moment and may always be to us humans as unknowable. Fact exists, there is only one possibility but to define that fact with our limited abilities is very unlikely. We were either created by a God/gods or we were created by the Universe(which we cannot truly define either). Both scenarios cannot be true to its fullest. Interesting questions will always come up no matter what stance you take. Where these Gods/gods created? Was the Universe created? Is time simply a human creation? Has the Universe always existed? Is there a Heaven/Hell waiting for us when we die? How can anyone with absolute certainty give an answer to any of these question.

    Well there is my rant.

    I hope to receive some feedback thank you.