Monday, June 02, 2008

John Polkinghorne on Speaking of Faith

John Polkinghorne is Christa Tippett's guest on Speaking of Faith. The mp3 is almost 50 megs in size so you might want to listen to the stream. Dr. Polkinghorne is a physicist and Anglican Priest. It is a fascinating listen. The interview took place in 2005. About beauty, he says this:

Well, beauty is a very interesting thing, and a form of beauty that is important to me is mathematical beauty. That's a rather austere form of aesthetic pleasure, but those of us who work in that area and speak that language can recognize it and agree about it. And we've found in theoretical physics that the fundamental laws of nature are always mathematically beautiful. In fact, if you've got some ugly equations, almost certainly you haven't got it right and you should think again. So beauty is the key to unlocking the secrets of the physical world.

On quarks:

Well, quarks are, in some sense, unseen realities. Nobody has ever isolated a single quark in the lab. So we believe in them not, because we've, even with sophisticated instruments, so to speak, seen them, but because assuming that they're there makes sense of great swaths of physical experience. And I was lucky enough to be a humble member of the particle physics community during the time all that was being worked out, and it was great fun to be, in a small way, part of it.

On light:

You take both answers into account. And the important thing I want to emphasize is that people had to cling on to taking both insights into account before they understood how they fitted together. We don't make progress by chopping experience down to a size that fits into our current theories. We have to allow the way the world is to modify our understanding of the world. And if you're a Christian theologian, and you're telling that sort of story that I've just told about light being both particle-like and wave-like, we know that the Christian story about Jesus Christ is that He is, of course, a human being but also, in some real sense, needs to be described in terms of divine language. And it's the same sort of dilemma, if you like, and we're not quite so clever, theologically, at finding the precise answer to that. But, again, we don't make progress by denying our experience.

About Quantum theory and a Clockwork Universe:

Well, that's right. Well, if the world were clockwork, then I suppose you'd have to hope that God had designed the clockwork and wound it up in such a way that things wouldn't turn out too badly. But 20th-century science has seen the death of a merely mechanical and merely clockwork view of the world. It came first of all through quantum theory. At the subatomic level, quantum events are not precise and determinate. They have a certain randomness to them. They have a certain cloudiness to them, so that that process isn't clockwork. And we've learned, of course, from chaos theory, the "butterfly effect" - very small disturbances producing enormously big consequences - that even the everyday world described by the sort of physics that would have been familiar to Newton isn't as clockwork as people thought it was.

Listen to the whole thing.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jim,
    I couldn't find the link to the lecture .. or am I missing something. There are also a lot of good polkinghorne lectures at the Faraday institute. See: Faraday multimedia page.