Christians contend that theology can be harmonized with science. Both disciplines pursue the same object—truth—and by that common object are unified. Even methodologically, science and religion are complementary. As Pope St. John Paul II duly observed, “Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” Among the many scientists who would agree with John Paul II, one of the greatest modern advocates for the complementarity of science and religion has been Sir John Polkinghorne, the distinguished particle physicist and Anglican priest.
Polkinghorne, who recently died at the age of ninety, obtained a doctorate in quantum field theory from Cambridge in 1956. He obtained a second doctorate in elementary particle physics in 1974. A few years later he left his research post (to the shock of many) to pursue theological studies, eventually being ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1982. Polkinghorne became a key proponent for the reciprocal complementarity of theology and science (writing almost thirty books on the topic), and of the unique ability of the Christian worldview to broaden and deepen one’s vision of reality in both its physical and metaphysical domains.
Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould famously contended that science and religion constitute “non-overlapping magisteria.” He proposed the idea of a hard separation between the domains of science and religion. As a result of this separation, the domains may in no way be said to be in conflict with—or to complement—one another. His theory had the favorable effect, perhaps, of maintaining the fact that scientific thinking is not in conflict with Christian doctrine. But, ultimately, the theory is too radical. It goes too far.