International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Paths from Science towards God: The End of All Our Exploring

by Arthur R. Peacocke

Introductory Essay by Michael Reiss

Arthur Peacocke towers as one of the giants of the science and religion field. This volume was produced towards the end of his life, when he was 76 years of age, in the year that he won the Templeton Prize, but shows him still able to write creatively, originally and with great insight and power.

Paths from Science towards God begins with an imaginative re-writing of the creation narrative in Genesis, entitled Genesis for the third millennium, that is illustrative of one of Peacocke’s central points in much of his writing, namely that there is nothing in science that can run counter to the notion of God. He then goes on to summarise familiar arguments that constitute the contemporary challenge of science to religious beliefs.

The rest of the book is a response to this challenge. Drawing on the well-accepted philosophical notion of ‘inference to the best explanation’, Peacocke argues that this approach should be used for theology as well as for the sciences. He then goes on to do just that. Of course, some of his conclusions will be unwelcome to some readers. For instance, he concludes that the only dualism that appears theologically defensible is that between the Being of God and everything else (i.e. the world, all that is created). Thus, to talk of the supernatural as a level in the world other than God is misleading: “A God who intervenes could only be regarded, by all who adopt a scientific perspective on the world, as being a kind of semi-magical arbitrary Great Fixer or occasional Meddler in the divinely created, natural and historical networks of causes and effects” [57].

After a defence of the contention that the standard scientific account of evolution is fully compatible with religious faith, Peacocke argues that pain and suffering are an inevitable consequence of creatures acquiring – through the action of natural selection – nerves and, thereafter, brains that permit consciousness.

A subsequent chapter explores more explicitly how God interacts with the world. Rejecting the idea, favoured by some, that the world is God’s body, Peacocke argues that because the ontological gap between God and the world is located everywhere in space and time, God can cause particular patterns of events to occur which express God’s intentions.

In the final third of the book, Peacocke argues that his conclusions point towards an ultimate reality, God, who is not specifically Christian. Furthermore, there is a need to reaffirm strongly that God is the immanent creator, creating through the processes of the natural order. Peacocke favours the notion of panentheism, that the world is in God but that God is more than the world. For Peacocke, this allows a strengthened emphasis on God’s immanence in the world alongside God’s transcendence over it.

Peacocke takes as an epigraph a quote from Eliot’s Little Gidding “… the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time”. He ends the book by presenting the Christian hope that “it is God as Word/Logos who is believed to be incarnate, embodied in the historical Jesus the Christ – and God as Word/Logos has been continuously active throughout creation at all times and in all places” [168].