Contrasting the View of the Ultimate Reality in Relation to Science

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Mark Semaan
Dr. James W. Jones
Religion and Science
October 19, 2009
Matter and Spirit:
Comparing and

What compels mankind to seek unity between, science and religion, two compartmentalized and distinct aspects of our world? John Polkinghorne states, in “Does God Act in the Physical World”, “The demand for an integrated account of both theological and scientific insight impels us to the task” (Polkinghorne 59). Yet Polkinghorne is not alone is his quest; in “Emptiness and Form” Fritjof Capra connects the ultimate reality with the physical world. While Polkinghorne and Capra agree on certain ideals, such as the man’s inability to fully grasp the ultimate and the incorporation of quantum mechanics in each one’s respective argument, they also contrast in terms of the religions they use to defend their argument. This leads to differences in their views on the ultimate and His interaction with the physical world. While this leads to two distinct and diverse arguments, I believe that both arguments are equally presented in a reputable and successful manner.

At one point in each of their respective arguments, Polkinghorne and Capra clearly state that the understanding of the ultimate reality cannot be fully understood by humankind. Polkinghorne writes, “We are a long way from a full understanding of our own powers of agency, let alone how it is that God works in the world” (Polkinghorne 74). Due to our limited minds and capabilities, mankind will never be able to fully grasp the ultimate reality in its full essence. It is quite mindboggling, if not impossible, to fully understand the ultimate reality, when it is as an infinite and omnipresent being. “The reality underlying all phenomena is beyond all forms and defies all description and specification” (Capra 211). The professor who taught my freshman Colloquium on Science and Religion once stated that God cannot be put in a test tube. While he did say this statement as a means to refute the existence of an ultimate reality, his assertion is valid; there is only so much we can know about the divine. It is crucial that both Polkinghorne and Capra affirm this position in order to clarify that while it is possible to unify the ultimate reality with the physical world, we will never fully understand the relationship. In evolution terms, there seems to be a “missing link” that allows us to connect both aspects.

Also, both Polkinghorne and Capra use the ideas and concepts of quantum mechanics as premises when connecting the ultimate reality with the physical world. Capra’s discussion of electrons and photons becomes the premise for one of his deductions. Capra writes, “The full interaction between the electrons will involve a series of photon exchanges…” (216). This leads to the assertion that there are no true forces in the subatomic world but that these interactions are due to the exchange of particles, that according to the quantum field theory are created and destroyed (Capra 217). These two premises lead Capra to state, “The electromagnetic forces are due to the presence of virtual photons ‘within’ charged particles…[and]…the forces between particles appear as intrinsic properties of the particles.” After deducing this premise Capra goes on to say, “Such a view of forces is also characteristic of Eastern mysticism which regards motion and change as essential and intrinsic properties of all things” (221). In order to clarify this statement he utilizes aspects of Chinese religion and explains how this assumption of quantum mechanics is connected to the ultimate reality.

Like Capra, Polkinghorne makes use of the theories and ideas of quantum mechanics as premise to relate the ultimate with the physical. One of the ideas he uses is the chaos theory. The theory says that events in a chaotic system are random but Polkinghorne employs this theory in his argument in order to show how deterministic chaos is not a valid argument, which will eventually lead to his idea of an...
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