Theologians need to heed science story

By John Polkinghorne
Published by Yale University Press, $26

The past 50 years have seen the birth and flourishing of what have come to be called contextual theologies -- theologies that take seriously the particular experiences and challenges of a specific setting. Liberation and feminist theologies arise out of the context of the insights of the poor and of women. Theologies that arise out of Southeast Asia or Africa have provided rich ways of shaping theological thinking.

John Polkinghorne is an Anglican priest and scientist, winner of the 2002 Templeton Prize for outstanding achievements in linking science with religion. In his latest book Polkinghorne argues that the insights of modern science also provide rich context for theology. The dialogue between science and religion in our time, he feels, can contribute significantly to creative theological thinking.

“Science has discovered that the fabric of the cosmos is shot though with signs of mind, but it does not know why this should be so. Theology can render this discovery intelligible, through its understanding that the Mind of the Creator is the source of the wonderful order of the world.”

Polkinghorne cites, for example, important scientific discoveries made over the last two centuries about the existence of “deep time” -- the immense span of gradually unfolding process that brought into being present forms, beginning with discoveries in geology. Today we know the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and the universe itself has an age of 13.7 billion years.

These vast time scales, he says, at least should encourage in the theological mind “the idea that the Creator God is not in a hurry.”

We say: Charlottesville reveals the weeping wound of racism. What do we, the American Catholic faith community, do next? Read the editorial.

He also points to theology’s “parochiality” that ignores the vast scale of the universe, focusing only on planet Earth. “Yet the Sun is an ordinary star among the hundred thousand million stars of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and the Milky Way itself is a pretty ordinary galaxy among the hundred thousand million galaxies of the observable universe.” What are the role and meaning of the human in such a vast place? Theologians need to consider these questions.

Rich Heffern is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is

Support independent reporting on important issues.

 One family graphic_2016_250x103.jpg

Show comments

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

Commenting is available during business hours, Central time, USA. Commenting is not available in the evenings, over weekends and on holidays. More details are available here. Comments are open on NCR's Facebook page.