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Book reviews >

Stirring discord

Jeremy Craddock on scientists at variance

All That Is: A naturalistic faith for the twenty-first century
Arthur Peacocke (Philip Clayton, editor)

Fortress Press £12.99 (978-0-8006-6227-1)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

THIS IS Arthur Peacocke’s last book, written when he knew he was dying. In a 50-page essay, he seeks to distil his thinking over many years; then come ten responses, of about ten pages each, by other theologians. These are followed by a chapter by Peacocke, in which he assesses their views. (It would be convenient if each of his comments followed the relevant author: one has to flip backwards and forwards.) The whole is preceded by an analysis of it all by the editor.

So I find myself writing a review of the editor’s review of the author’s review of ten reviews of his essay.

I hope I understand correctly: Peacocke invites us to see the universe as naturalistic (events have natural, not supernatural, causes); as emergent (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts); and as panentheistic (the universe is contained within God, who sustains it moment by moment, and therefore interacts constantly with every part of it, but is himself greater than the universe).

My first reaction was disappointment that the list of commentators excluded some who were at odds with him. Neil Messer once wrote that he disagreed with Peacocke “most sharply”; John Polkinghorne has written helpfully about emergence, but rejects panentheism. I need not have worried. Most of the commentators disagree when they feel they should, and make no bones about it. That is particularly so with Keith Ward, and Peacocke’s difficulty in replying. The ten even disagree with each other.

Scientific reductionists might conclude that, if theologians cannot agree, then theology is nonsense. But scientists have not always agreed, and don’t agree now about, say, quantum theory, or even Darwinism. They should read Peacocke’s Nunc Dimittis: “Death comes to everyone, and this is my time.” Humility helps.

The Revd Jeremy Craddock was a forensic biologist.

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