Polkinghorne: Colleges Need to Give Theology Same Priority As Science

College universities that are heavy on science but light on theology are missing the opportunity to provide students with a truth-seeking environment, says a renowned scientist and theologian.

The Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, who is the founding president of the International Society for Science and Religion, told those attending the Christian Scholars’ Conference at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., last week that science and religion complement each other rather than conflict.

“I’m a passionate believer in the unity of knowledge. A university that finds no place for theological truth seeking is lacking an important element in fulfillment of its purpose,” Polkinghorne said.

The English theoretical physicist and theologian was one of several speakers at the three-day conference that is in its 31st year. Polkinghorne is currently a fellow at Queens' College, Cambridge, and was a canon theologian at Liverpool Cathedral.

“The reason that science and religion are friends and not foes is that both are engaged in the great human quest for truth attainable through motivated belief,” said Polkinghorne.

Science addresses the “how” question while religion asks the “why” question, he noted. Both areas of study are valuable and serve a purpose.

“‘How’ and ‘why’ are certainly different questions,” he said. “I believe that universities exist to explore this rational spectrum.”

The duo-field expert has published several books that combine areas of expertise in theological inquiry and scientific investigation. His books include: Science and Providence, The Faith of a Physicist, and Science and the Trinity (2004).

The theme of this year’s Christian Scholars’ Conference was, “The Path of Discovery: Science, Theology, and the Academy.” Organizers of the event stated the aim of the conference this year is to promote harmony between the scientific and Christian communities. Topics of discussion included stem cell research, conservation science, and finding the common thread between science and theology.

Other speakers at the conference included National Institutes of Health Director, Dr. Francis S. Colllins; Emmy award-winning journalist and sustainability advocate Simran Sethi; and Dr. Ted Peters, who is the professor of Systematic Theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.