Note: This transcript has not been proofread, and therefore its accuracy is not guaranteed.
Wright: Arthur Peacocke, originally a biochemist, went on to become an Anglican priest and member of the theology faculty at Oxford university. He is now honorary canon at Christ's Church Cathedral at Oxford. His books include "Paths from Science Towards God," "Theology for a Scientific age" and "God and the new Biology." I interviewed him at Oxford. Well first of all congratulations on having just won the Templeton prize.
Arthur Peacocke: Thank you very much.
Wright: If you need any any help deciding on what to do with the money I'd be happy to provide any guidance I can give.
Arthur Peacocke: That's alright. I'm getting plenty of advice.
Wright: I bet you are. The prize is I believe the way they state it is it's for progress in religion. Is that right?
Arthur Peacocke: That's the title of the prize, yes.
Wright: And and looking back on your work, and you've done a lot of writing on religion but looking back on your work what would you say at the most basic level is the type of progress you have hoped to make in religious thought.
Arthur Peacocke: Well I hope I've opened up in my writings Christian thinking at least. because I start as a Christian theologian, opened up Christianity and Christian thinking into the vistas of science and what science is telling us about the natural world and this poses both challenges and opportunities for theology. The challenge is sometimes appear to have a negative effect when cherished beliefs have to be put on the back burner but more often than not since science is giving us truth about the natural world nearly always in the long run it broadens our vistas and deepens our understanding of what we mean by the world God and God's relations to human beings.
Wright: What are some of the biggest challenges?
Arthur Peacocke: Well I suppose one of the things that catches people people think about creation as something that happened if they're creationists and people who are called literalists they think 4,004 B.C. and even scientists talk about the creation of the universe in 10 or 12 billion B.C. but what what the general vista of science shows is the world is created all the time, new forms keep coming into existence and in particular we see this most strikingly in the whole epic of evolution particularly biological evolution on the surface of the earth and this show that God as it were made thing make themselves so the process of creation is an ongoing process and that God just wasn't a creator in the past but is still creator now. God is creating in the present tense and this restores to our understanding of God's relation to it in the sense of of God's presence with in and under the processes of the world. God is creating through the processes that science unveils.
Wright: As far as biological evolution goes you can there are various ways of thinking of that as being an instrument of divine purpose. There's a deistic scenario where you know you you imagine a God winding up kind of the clock and letting it go, the idea being that natural selection by it's nature would tend to move in certain directions and then there are there are there are alternatives scenarios which it sounds like you're more inclined toward am I right?
Arthur Peacocke: Not quite.
Arthur Peacocke: I take rather the first scenario but I don't think it's a matter of God winding it up and letting it go, this is I think a much too external understanding of God's relationship to the world as it goes God is out there, set up the machinery and then went on off for a holiday and just left us to it. That is 18th Century deism which of course people were moved towards when they saw the universe as a great clock or the planet's moving in strict regularity around the sun and so on and the mechanical eye of the universe mechanical model is very dominant and it did look as though God was the great watch maker and of course when you set up a watch going it keeps on ticking away and going round it's cycles without any change. But the world isn't like that. The world actually goes on producing new things in time it isn't like a clock which keeps going round the same cycles and I think we've got to restore the idea of God the world being in God, God is present with and under the world, the world isn't separate from the world God is in the world is embedded in God who is greater than we can think, greater than the world. It's a spacial model, it has it's limitations but if we think of the world as in God, God is never absent from any of it and all the processes of the world are given their existence all the time by God giving them existence, it is dynamic process and if God ceased as it were to think the world into existence it would cease to exist of course that's the very nature of what it should mean of God being creator. It's a fundamental relation of God to a world which God gives it's own being to. God gives being to the world and gives the world it's becoming so that one has a much more dynamic and the technical world is immanent relation of God to the world. Now this is not absent from Christian history. Indeed it's not absent from the scriptures but it's tended to be soft petalled in recent years with this idea of a God out there which is encouraged perhaps by the Newtonian universe and and the idea in the Sistine Chapel of God leaning over and touch the globe from a distance as it were to bring Adam into existence and all the rest of it it's a natural image but I think it can be a misleading one.
Wright: Now equating God with the creation itself...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: ... and the process of creation...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: ... one variant of that is what is called pantheism...
Arthur Peacocke: What I was talking about was panentheism.
Wright: Panentheism ok can you define the two?
Arthur Peacocke: Yes, the little word "en" in the middle means the world is in God, God is other than the world in essence and greater than the world and great than we can conceive but there is no part of the world that is absent from God and God is in the very processes the processes are themselves God being creator he's creating through these processes, he's not winding up a process and leaving it. The processes are given their character, they are regular characters the sciences are invariable by a God who of course is as clever as we can conceive and always in science the processes of nature always turn out to be more subtle and more intricate and more intellectually beautiful than ever we though they were before we started investigating them. And also in the case of biological ones infinitely more complex but so that's the kind of view I would want to as a panentheism is an ugly word but I'm not identifying God with the world...
Wright: Which is what pantheism does...
Arthur Peacocke: Which is what pantheism does yes.
Wright: In pantheism, everything you see is God and God is nothing more than that kind of right?
Arthur Peacocke: Exactly exactly but but in but the view I'm seeing one tries of preserve it's been a perennial problem in all religious thinking how to preserve a balance between the otherness of God, God being other than one's self to give existence to all that is but at the same time being as it were closer to one's own heartbeat and one's own breath some images like that come in the scriptures of course so the God within is also the God with other and the God in nature is is the God who is other but the God within nature and these two are always the technical words are transcendence and immanence and it's always been if one goes too far into transcendence one has the deist God who is the absentee landlord who clock-maker winder who has disappear... if it's too immanent you have pantheism and you identify the world with God. You must keep the two together in a kind of creative tension.
Wright: And in your book "Theology for a Scientific Age" you you make the comparison I believe in trying to clarify this concept of simultaneous transcendence and immanence you make the comparison to a person a person and a person's relation to the body...
Arthur Peacocke: That up to a point that that's it I mean we are in our bodies our bodies express us and we couldn't be we couldn't be persons without expressing ourselves through our body. That analogy has been a common analogy the world is God as our bodies are to our sort of personal consciousness. That has it's limitations. It can be too dualist and of course it never doesn't protect entirely the otherness of God the God we don't give existence to our bodies but it is an analogy which shows the closeness yet distinction which is what one's trying to express. Another other images I I've used well there's one famous one not mine St. Augustine namely of all people namely of the world is rather like a great sponge floating in the infinite sea of God, there's no part of the sponge to which the infinite sea doesn't penetrate and it is held up floating by the sea but the sea is other than it and it extends to infinity and so that's one image. Another one of course is the the process of creation of mammalian life and human life, males create as it were outside of themselves and but women the female of the mammalian species are familiar with something being created within themselves so in a way one would have to use more feminine images in saying that the world as it were is created within God's self God herself and this is a more vital image that God is present to what's creative within God's self but still other than God what's created and I think these images these are some of the ways in which science by giving us this marvelous mystery of a creating universe, a universe that is going on producing new forms has widen and deepened I think our understanding of how we're going to talk about God and God's relation to the world and in the long run to humanity.
Wright: Yes well people a lot of people think of the relationship of science and religion as being one of which science poses challenges or even obstacles and then religious thought evolves in a way that either overcomes or in the view of some fails to overcome them. Have you you are a scientist, you're a biochemist is the way you would describe yourself?
Arthur Peacocke: Well physical bio-chemist. I'm interested in the physical chemistry of biochemical systems.
Wright: Ok. Have have have you in your own work have you seen a different kind of relationship where science actually in your mind at least provide kind of evidence of divinity?
Arthur Peacocke: Evidence is too strong a word no I mean the scientist must go on and do good science by the criterion of science and meeting the criteria of public conferences and refereeing of papers and so on no but when one reflects on the picture of the world that science gives and I think it's up to one's self then to draw one's own conclusions. Some people say "Well just stop that question" they don''t ask the why question about why the world is the way it is and say we don't need to ask that, the scientific picture is enough for them. But for me my own (()) my scientific curiosity to ask why to keep on asking why until you can't get any kind of answer impelled me to go and ask why should the universe be the way it is, why should persons with their values that have emerged from natural processes from quarks simple whatever the hot big bang came from, why is there anything at all and in this way that I take to be the fundamentally the religious quest, the search for meaning and purpose in the universe and that's bound to be affected by the picture science gives but it's a separate operation, it isn't science one's doing then one's thinking I hope reasonably and by ordinary rational reasonable criteria which I'd urge very strongly but it's not the same operation as science because your data are much wider than what science you don't repeat the science of trying to see if there are other worlds might exist and what sort of gods they would have we got this universe and we are finding out about...
Wright: You mentioned the you know peoples the whole moral sensibility of human beings and how that emerge from natural processes...
Arthur Peacocke: Do I say quite that ...?
Wright: Maybe not.
Arthur Peacocke: Not quite as hard as that I think that socio-biology does give us a way in to a certain patterns of behavior that look as if their moral in cases where they defend their offspring sacrifice themselves on behalf of their offspring as you know game theory of socio-biologists can understand that in terms of preservation of the genes even of the parent who sacrifices his or her self ... that maybe be some basis of a cooperation altruistic behavior in human beings but of course in the long wrong the ethical values, the values of goodness or self-sacrifice which operate in the best of human lives really are not counting the consequences, not counting whether the genes benefit it and human beings should in the best of them sacrifice themselves for any other human being regardless of whether they are kith and kin.
Arthur Peacocke: So there is there is an over plus in human beings although there might be a biological basis for having moral behavior at all that is behavior that isn't entirely egotistical yet the development of human thinking and the content of our moral thinking is not I don't think biologically determined.
Wright: Tell me if I'm paraphrasing you correctly that it's one thing to say that some of our moral intuitions and some of our some kind so altruistic behavior have are kind of written into our genes to put it simplistically but that's not to say that that these things that are natural to do are necessarily the right thing to do.
Arthur Peacocke: Absolutely. This is what I mean there is a certain tension between trying to implement and instantiate values and what our natural egotistical drives lead us to to selfishness and all sorts of egocentric behavior. And although we have built in perhaps by our genes a degree of socializing behavior it certainly isn't adequate for living even a normal normal civilized life.
Wright: So is the idea that biological evolution kind of naturally got us to a point where we have the capacity for reflection and choice that at least gives us the potential to transcend the selfish deployment of our moral...
Arthur Peacocke: Well yes and although the biology by it's evolutionary processes is a question of why did it do that but that it has done so gives us the capacity to be moral the capacity to be creative the capacity to think it doesn't predetermine the content of our thinking and the content of our moral values. Those come from much deeper and much wider considerations. And of course at this point a theist such as myself will link up the processes of evolution which if you are a theist you believe God given to some kind of intention or purpose of that creator to produce a sentient person that has values and can instantiate values with freedom of course and that means all sorts of restrictions on the process. If we were automaton we couldn't be free of course we couldn't we must that's got to be built in the capacity to be free.
Wright: But but it might not make sense to say that of say bacteria I mean the you wouldn't say that about all form of life but it's something...
Arthur Peacocke: No. I mean well I mean what has emerged I mean each level has it's own special characteristics and different concepts have to be applied at different levels and one can see a progression through the evolutionary process of increasing sentience in certain lines not along all lines but I am one of those who thinks that there is a propensity in evolution by purely natural processes for an increasing complexity along certain lines not along all lines branching tree of branching lines of evolution a bush rather than a tree I agree with Stephen J. Gould in that regard but along some lines clearly an increase in complexity is going to be an advantage in natural selection requiring a new metabolic skills perhaps new speeds in avoiding predators whatever this needs perhaps more complex apparatus so there's a propensity towards complexity and I think since information storage and processing is clearing an advantage in natural selection then along some lines creatures will emerge who are survived by their ability to store information about their environment utilize it and avoid being killed the next time they're jumped upon putting it crudely so that I do think that there are propensities towards complexity information processing information storage which of course means nerves and brains and therefore and a propensity towards socialization because certain week creatures like ourselves really only survive by combining in groups which means if you require language you can combine better and you survive so a creature given enough time and the temperatures in the planet remain stable enough long enough some kind of intelligent creature will emerge in my view and now this happenstance we happen to have ten finger and ten toes and have the morphology that we have this might have been quite different if life emerged on another planet it probably would be different but given time there is long and natural selection pushes not pushes it but allows the possibility now this doesn't mean to say that other possibilities don't come up as well but it seems to me a perfectly good argument it doesn't need God to push it any particular point this is what some people want to say but I think God gives existence to a process which has the inherent capacity to produce thinking persons.
Wright: Right. And for theological purposes the you know your right it doesn't happen along all lineages and only one lineage lineage has lead to high intelligence so far...
Arthur Peacocke: Well the anthropoids, the octopus, another line of development of intelligence actually.
Wright: Well well not quite our level...
Arthur Peacocke: No but I mean but's a line in which intelligence evolved.
Wright: Well I was just going to say that for theological purposes it doesn't really matter whether every lineage gets there. The question is what are the chances that one lineage or another will get there ...
Arthur Peacocke: Exactly exactly exactly...
Wright: And that seems to me there's a certain amount of confusion over that ...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: ... that question and there's certainly a ton of contingency in the sense that any given lineage is unlike it took a lot of lucky breaks for our lineage to be the one but that's the same as saying it took a lot of lucky breaks for there to be one that...
Arthur Peacocke: You might say it took a lot of luck breaks for there to be for there to be a dove or for there to be a cow ...
Arthur Peacocke: You know as it is now it is the end result of all sorts of twists and turns in the evolutionary process so that of course there's a corollary to this if you think God is there is a creator God who has the intention of some point as I say some planet some solar system some galaxy some universe of being an intelligent person even if they look very different from us then you have to ask what's God up to with all these other forms of life. I think at this point one has to widen one's conception of what God as creator is up to. Presumably God takes delight one has to use rather anthropomorphic terms takes delight in all forms of existence, even the simplest insect is the most beautiful articulation of ingenuity you might say in the way it survives and that God as creator takes delight in all forms of life and indeed in all forms of existence but that doesn't preclude God having some special intention for those creatures who are capable of consciously relation to God's self.
Arthur Peacocke: And that would be the kind of framework (()) which one would put somewhat you know traditional terms about God having a purpose in bringing human beings into existence.
Wright: Yes there there does seem to be one creature on the planet that has more in the way of spiritual capacity I guess than the others. What do you make of that?
Arthur Peacocke: If by spiritual capacity I would take that to mean not as something having a spirit as a sort of entity which is attached to us but capacity to relate to God I would call it and it does appear that human beings emerge with all sorts of capacities ... the capacity to think and the capacity to create the capacity to imagine conceptually and create new concepts new images conceptually and the capacity to relate to God and that's what I take is a spiritual capacity, to relate consciously to God. Who knows what relationship to God other creatures whatever level of consciousness they have, we are not in a position to say that. They may well have relationship to God which God alone knows but for us we can know that we have a relationship and can articulate this relationship in communities and exchange ideas about that relationship and exchange our experiences and so it does seem that the world is of such a kind this is the question I would put to one's atheist acquaintances how do you explain the existence of a world in which quark soup whatever it was fluctuation of quantum field or whatever it was initiated the hot big bang is capable of producing out of it's by natural processes creatures with these capacities? I want an explanation of that kind of universe not just the mechanical clock like universe which of course you'd have an absentee deity deity would soon disappear over the horizon.
Wright: And and so you see direction in biological evolution you think that's it was likely that you'd get a creature with broadly speaking...
Arthur Peacocke: I use the word very carefully propensity which is a word thought of myself but I picked up a bit from Karl Popper who pointed out that when you have a random process the outcome of a random process depends entirely very much on the law like framework in which it's based in which the randomness has it's consequences and it does seem that the random processes in biology, namely mutations in DNA are effecting organism in a framework the environment of planet earth which is of course governed by in the long run by physics and chemistry in an environment which enables has enabled these capacities to emerge and by it's natural processes so that I think that's an extraordinary powerful question to respond to now.
Wright: And do see anything in human history that parallels the propensity you see in biological evolution?
Arthur Peacocke: Well it's human history looks at human history in and out with rising curves ... in certain you know the history of art is interesting... who would say that the (()) and the ancient Greeks we've even now progressed from the them who could say that no we can't there care certain times and perceptions who could say that even in religion that what Moses experienced in the story of the burning bush it may be mythology but it does represent and experience of a transcendent experience of God which is which is definitive culturally and who can say that these aren't just peaks unique peaks is there a rising curve we could be now have the capacities we all know of being much better behaved and move civilized to each other but the history of the 20th Century doesn't encourage much optimism as we acquire more powers we might acquire equally powers to do evil as well as good. We are free and in the history of culture we stand on the shoulders of giants and we're fools if we don't listen to what they have to say. But in any particular period in history -- I'm no historian -- human nature still seems to have an ability to to kick over to kick against it's best motives and go the wrong way.
Wright: And what would be...
Arthur Peacocke: ...that's a that's a truism it doesn't take scientist to say that it's just an observation that we're all aware of after the 20th Century.
Wright: And how would you characterize the right way?
Arthur Peacocke: Well I think this is what is if God what is God calling human beings to? We are free to respond. If we weren't free to respond we would be automaton, God wants a free response and I would say and this is where my Christian perceptions come in that is legitimate to think of what happened in Jesus the humanity of Jesus as it was fully opened to God we have a kind as it were consummation of the biological processes at least of human evolution namely here is a human being so open to God that he he he is self-offering self-sacrificial love in all his relationships and ultimately in his death and this shows how to assume the path humanity is meant to follow in order to acquire those spiritual qualities which enable us to be one with God and to enter the presence of God as Jesus did through his as the experience of the resurrection and ascension indicates so that for me it's the evolutionary process it culminates in a vision of the possibilities of humanity which are manifest in the life, death and resurrection of this person in history. Doesn't mean to say that it's the only possible revelation but that would take further elaboration but it is the unique instantiation of what a human being can become.
Wright: Now you as you said you're saying all of this from a Christian perspective...
Arthur Peacocke: That's from a Christian perspective yes I mean that's how I fit my my Christian understanding into into my scientific one. It's not deduced from the scientific one you understand...
Arthur Peacocke: ... it's a natural reflection on the scientific picture and thinking how do I make sense of both.
Wright: Yes and and one question I have is to a person who doesn't have faith and many people don't and they don't come to it with any convictions...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: ... but they're interested in questions of ultimate purpose and so on. How much do you think they can get from science in a way of suggestive patterns?
Arthur Peacocke: Well in my last well in my last book about to come out I culled paths from science towards God not to God, this isn't a definite track but it's pointers of ways in which reflecting on the universe and they way that now science has revealed what kind of universe it is this whole sweep of cosmic and biological in the epic of evolution and the complexity of the human brain and of the closeness of our thinking to our physical structure and all that kind of thing which is very significant. I've tried to show reflecting on that how this points towards a source of this kind of existence other than ourselves which is imbedded in it which in English which is the ultimate reality but which in English we use the word God for. What we mean by God of course has got to be elaborated and this is one of the exciting things one's understanding of what that world God refers to is increasingly elaborated and enriched by this picture. If I may give an analogy, this isn't so different from what goes on in science. The word electron was first invented they thought it was some kind of little particle because they by electromagnetic they would move a certain way and they got its charge to mass ratio subsequently if they let that beam of so-called particles goes through a crystal a little then it got defracted and they said oh it seems to be behaving like a wave so what is it? They still use the world electron to refer to it but their understanding had now been widened and then later on with the development of matrix mathematics chemics and so on, mathematical concepts came along to show how these two pictures were two modes of experiencing electrons as it were or experiments showed up under different circumstances and it became an even richer concept but if you ask a theoretical physicist what an electron is they will say they won't be able to say what it is in itself they say well it's like this it does this certain things are true to be said of it and I think the word God is rather like that, we don't ever want to know what God is in God's self but in definition God is greater than that which we can conceive but what is going on I think is elaboration of our understanding of that to which the word God refers and that's a better language and more precise language to use. But we should never....just be ridiculous to think we'll ever understand it God fully but that's what that's what if you want progress is if you like progress in religion is coming closer to God and having a better conceptual (()) to refer to to this God who you want to who you are relating to.
Wright: So do you agree with Alfred North Whitehead that that religion partly under the provocation of science partly in the course of responding to science moves closer to to true conception of ...
Arthur Peacocke: Well I hope it does I mean that's what I think I think that's what the theological enterprise is about, namely trying to refine and enrich and understand ... it won't only be science that contributes to this it'll be other aesthetic and other historical experiences too. It will all be part of the mix, it isn't science alone but it's since I came in from science and that's what I learned about and that was particular perspective I wanted to use in my case to enrich our understanding of God and of how we how we use how we use that word but it's not the only one by any means and it isn't a deduction it isn't a deduction from science to God that's why I use the word towards...
Wright: But there has to be a kind of compatibility ...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: ... between the two ...
Arthur Peacocke: Absolutely yes. I mean you want some sort of coherence so one makes sense of the other and they're they're mutually consistent yes yes.
Wright: And and certainly along the way specific religions have had to abandon specific beliefs such as creation in 7 days.
Arthur Peacocke: Exactly exactly. And of course it's not clear whether though there comes a beginning of the Bible it wasn't the first bit of the Bible to be written there are other concepts of creation which if you .... scholars would tell you Psalms and the book of Job and the wisdom literature, other concepts of creation and the Genesis one is a relatively later one, there's a lot so that there are many different myths of creation which are knocking about in the ancient Middle East and in some ways Genesis 1 is the least mythical at all because of (()) creation story. God said "Let there be ...give existence to..." the mythology when you get to Genesis 2 and 3 you get a much more racy anthropomorphic story which comes from a different source at a different time.
Wright: And can you imagine as as things progress and science moves on and so on Christianity for example although other religions as well abandoning as as mythic abandoning literal belief in things that now are are a central part of dogma?
Arthur Peacocke: Well I think that's likely to happen it's I certainly happened in my circles and in this country certainly all theologians I've read in the story of Adam and Eve for example which is taken as a myth in the sense of a story that is not historical but meant to convey theological truths about the actual existential state of human beings, their alienation from God, from nature and from each other and I think it's true some of the some of the New Testament now can as well be taken in that sense as well in the long run.
Wright: But what about something as the literally divine nature of Christ?
Arthur Peacocke: Well when you said the literally divine nature of Christ then you've got to ask well what do you mean by literally divine?
Wright: Well I'm I'm out of my depth I have no I idea what I...
Arthur Peacocke: What I'm arguing is that well yes we the question would automatically be out of anybodies depth is what I'm suggesting because how we predicate of Jesus divinity is a subtle question and it's been much debated in the early history of the church and goes on being debate exactly my own way of for doing it is speaking of it is I see Jesus as a human being who became by his own free will so open to God that God was able to express the nature of God through his personality and his life death and eventually his resurrection and so that he became one with God and as well is one with God and is a paradigm of what human beings are meant to be and he is a revelation therefore of human potentiality but at the same time a revelation of the of the essential nature of God himself offering love and that so so it's a revelation of both humanity and of divinity and I see his divinity and his humanity in a functional sense you know not so much ontology as a bit of oil God you got a bit of mixed with a bit of water humanity and they don't mix how do you solve the puzzle but that in his life, death and resurrection he displayed what human beings should be the path they should follow and he displayed when doing so what God was really like so so a kind of functional way of thinking of it which I think is the way for example I think in terms of the mind body problem.... our brains have the function capacity to have mental capacities and spiritual capacities and we don't want to think in terms of two tier bodies mind or three tier body mind and spirit sandwich with three kind of separate entities that you have to try and mix together someway which never seems intelligible.
Wright: Well let me try to get at the issue from another direction. As histories advance and cultures become more conscious of one another it's become clearer and clearer that there are various religious traditions.
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: And the and it seems harder and harder to suggest that any one group of human beings has an exclusive right to the to the fundamental truth...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: Is it do you think it's possible that major religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, even without reference to or even without the set of beliefs about Christ that Christians have are in some sense converging on the same fundamentally the same truth and are as close to it.
Arthur Peacocke: And are as close to it I wouldn't know that quite I don't know enough about other religion it would take a lifetime study but what I would say something like this... two things. It's inconceivable that God should not have revealed God's self in some way to millions of Chinese and Hindus for others that as it were God closed God's self off from millions of human beings who were seeking the ultimate reality so that's the first thing. The second thing is there is within the Christian way of thinking things and the fourth gospel opens it was about with the idea that the word was with God there is there is that of God which expresses God's self in the universe and what it proclaims in that gospel is that that word that expression of God in the universe became specific and visible and instead of being incognito it became shown in a person Jesus of Nazareth and that's what Christians are following but that which was made known in Jesus was universally present but it was the universal expression of God in the universe so how can we say that that word which was made flesh as John 1:14 says in Jesus was not expressing God's self in other cultures in other ways in other images in other terminology? And it would just seem to me implicit in the Christian tradition that the word of God, the logos of God that was made flesh in Jesus uniquely is present everywhere in the world, in fact that's what John 1 says, that it was present in the world all the time, we didn't know it was there but now we've seen it in Jesus of Nazareth. But that doesn't preclude that word from not being expressed or heard or experienced in other cultures. It seems to me rather great enterprises of the next century and the next millennium is as the different religions grow together in the sense that more and more people educated people of different religions are being lived together they really communicate with each other at a level where they can begin to respect what the other's have heard of the word of God in their traditions. This doesn't mean to say that Christians would not go on saying "Yes, we have heard and seen the word of God in Jesus of Nazareth in his secrets of his life, death and resurrection. But that doesn't preclude it us from looking elsewhere and I hope it won't preclude others from looking at Christianity in a new way.
Arthur Peacocke: ... but it's but it's a a new enterprise which had hardly begun.
Wright: Because of globalization largely.
Arthur Peacocke: Exactly I mean this this this will happen again and again but of course. Anyone is just arrogant to think that a person brought up in one culture, say the Western culture, is quickly going to get under the skin of another culture without learning their language and their symbols and actually living with the whole culture so it's no use just rushing off to India for the next guru and think you're really going to understand the whole symbol language I mean we brought up with English language at least I am and my resources of imagination comes through that, through my own culture and one's one's just a fool to think one can get out of one's skin ... even in 76 years...
Wright: But it sounds like you do think that it's important in in this global age especially that each of the great religions leave room for the fundamental truth of the other religions.
Arthur Peacocke: Be open to them, listening to them and seeing what they can understand of their truth. As a matter of fact, I'd add this: I think that Western Christianity has been the first major religion to run up against the world view of science and it's in part because of the cultural history of both but it seems to me the challenge of science the world view of science to other religions particularly the monotheistic religions is very similar to that to Christianity and other religions will have to take on board the kind of picture that science is beginning to develop. For example the the this collapse of dualist view of human personalities. If there is a thing called the mind and spirit thing called the body that both are so intimately interlocked it's very difficult to unravel them. All that's got to be taken on board and it seems to me that in exploring the implications and challenges of science together religions might begin to understand each other better by facing up to a common challenge and a common question.
Wright: Is there something spiritually significant about a time in history where all the world's cultures I mean after all history has been characterized by people from one culture...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: ...trying to kill people from another...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes I know.
Wright: ... or having so little interaction with them that they just assume they're subhuman.
Arthur Peacocke: Yes.
Wright: Is there something is there some kind of spiritual potential in an age when we are forced to reckon with people of different cultures and faiths you know we're economically interdependent with them we're just more aware of them through T.V. and the web and so on... does is this this is a special moment in ...
Arthur Peacocke: Yes well you couldn't have expressed it better I mean I think that we are now faced with enormous new opportunity and so for comprehension and the more you understand people the less your likely to think of them as subhuman and even if your interests conflict at least you being to deal with them as rational people to talk to. Churchill once said "better (()) than war war" and the more one is prepared to see one's opponents or people of different cultures as human beings on the same enterprise with difference and with arguments and with different interests but you're more likely to you're more likely to talk about it than to try and shoot them down.
Arthur Peacocke: And of course I mean the one of the tragedies of the (()) is so often many of these ethnic conflicts are now given a kind of religious veneer and this is one of the problems for all people of any religion to to to disassociate their spiritual aspirations from their ethic origins. This is not always easy for people because they are very mixed up with their own culture and I think it's part of the purpose of education to enable that to happen.
Wright: Do you imagine I mean if one views biological history and human history as in some way the unfolding of divine purpose does does does the present moment in history have you know represents some kind of test that that that you know we're kind of being given or...
Arthur Peacocke: It might do I mean only only somebody with prophetic inspiration would say that you know that but I mean looking back I wouldn't be surprised that these last 20 years will be seen as a turning point in in the intellectual and spiritual history of human beings in so far as the first time we are readily in contact with each other in a remarkable way which and also oddly enough with as it happens to be my own language now widespread is the is the language of communication around the globe. It's pretty bad of course we don't learn foreign languages any more than you do...
Wright: Well you come closer than Americans do I assure you.
Arthur Peacocke: Yes but it's so and that that has it's virtues and limitations for some languages are better much better than English for expressing certain things than English does. English has it's virtues too. But it may one just begins to feel that there is just thinking as I two weeks must have been or three weeks ago I was with my grandchildren and we went to the the planetarium in the Rose planetarium I think it's called in New York and marvelous picture of the universe and then you go down the spiral staircase and see how it's all evolved and the last going each each each foot I think is a million years or something and then you come to the last bit and they have a thickness of a little (()) which is the period under which human beings have been on this planet and it and I couldn't help thinking now that picture's gradually unfolded during my lifetime over since the mid-20th Century and I I I'm putting it together and that's been the basis of my writing but to these young children that'd be just the world they know that's the world they're growing up in it's not new to them that just is it from that point so that's their launching pad where we've just got off to as it were...
Arthur Peacocke: ... and so they will grow up in a world of internets and communication and of course this is where the opportunities are enormous and of course the conflicts are enormous too.
Wright: Well right we have the the technological capacity to blow up the world...
Arthur Peacocke: Of course we have.
Wright: ... and whether we do depends I would think in some degree on our moral development...
Arthur Peacocke: Absolutely. Whether we can have the spiritual and moral stature to know how to control ourselves and not to see the other person as subhuman and as a threat.
Wright: That's what I mean when I said to a person such as yourself a person of of clear religious orientation, do you is it possible to think of this as being a kind of test a kind of opportunity to use our freedom but...
Arthur Peacocke: It makes even more important that you have a clear perception of what human values are and how they should be expressed in human life and what the purpose of existence is and so it means that the broadly the spiritual question of human beings becomes even more important to their survival. And I sometimes put it like this I mean that clearly animals all creatures survive by being adapted to their environments but one of the things about human beings is that as we evolved we clearly aren't adapted to the aspects of our environment which lead to fulfillment and fruition and happiness. Human beings almost uniquely commit suicide. Well it does raise the question about how moral values can be expressed in moral and all our other values can be expressed in human life and I think it raises even more acutely the question of what life is for. Now I'm just reflecting that most other animals are closely adapted to their environment but human beings alone seem to be uniquely unadapted in the sense that they're often unhappy even when they're very wealthy and affluent. The highest suicide rates are in the affluent countries and and even when one has all the provisions to look after one's food and sex and housing and everything else many people in the Western world are not happy because why? It seems to me they perhaps misperceive what their true environment really is and even now human beings because of our spiritual and mental capacities, I think have evolved to a point where we have to apprehend what are true. Environment is to which we ought to be in harmony and that environment is to me God. Simply. And once we that we will not be in harmony with each other and so within harmony with that ultimate environment in which to go back where we started this conversation we are deeply embedded, namely the ultimate reality of God.
Wright: What would it mean specifically for humankind to move closer to consonance with that environment?
Arthur Peacocke: To be to to capital "E" Environment which we name as God. Well the process by which, by self discipline and prayer and reflection and listening to the wisdom of the ages and one begins to consciously relate one's life to this reality and both individually and corporately and freely, not through coercion and so that in this quest this is precisely the kind of thing the religions of the world have been doing separately. But it seems to me it's going to be what's going to be required of all human beings if we are not going to destroy each other and the planet.
Wright: I agree. Let me ask you one final question. A biological point of view, you're a biological scientist... thinking of biological evolution as as the source of human beings somewhat accentuates the problem of evil in the sense that you see that the price of the creation of our species was a lot of suffering and carnage. Has this I'm sure you've thought about evil and probably in this specific context...
Arthur Peacocke: Are you referring now to natural evil not the moral evil of human beings?
Wright: Well actually and some would argue that the latter is an extension of the former that that it's because we were produced by natural selection that we're capable of so much evil but but in any event...
Arthur Peacocke: Alright. That is remains an acute problem particularly when it affects particular individuals I mean death is is a phenomenon which without death of individuals species couldn't evolve so the death of the individual is the only is the means of the creation of the new. We wouldn't be here if millions of our previous ancestors hadn't died on the path leading to ourselves and so death in that sense has to be related to to creation not to sin as such which has been the conventional relationship but this is why in many many modern theologies people take very seriously the fact particularly in Christian theologies that what was revealed in the life, death, resurrection of Jesus was more explicitly and overtly than ever before that God was self-offering and self-suffering love that it is costly to God to bring into existence the universe that there is God suffers in with and under us and in the person of Jesus is as it were in the creative outcome of his suffering human beings can discern a creative possibilities of their own sufferings and this doesn't entirely doesn't really entirely draw the sting of individual suffering but it begins to make more sense of it and the idea that God suffers in with under the creative processes and with human beings is of course a central distinctive affirmation of Christian theism.
Wright: And and what about the the I mean some would ask I mean to to state more or less the problem of evil baldly, a truly omnipotent God could he have not made reality such that you could have creation without suffering without death.
Arthur Peacocke: I don't know I mean it seems to me certain parameters, if you're going to have new forms coming into existence by natural processes which are regular and without sort of God interfering every time doing a sort of magical trick then they've got to be such that complex systems for example are going to feed on this complex systems they've got to have some of their building blocks already made. What is that? That's eating, that's predation. That's eating vegetables and eating other animals. And there are certain parameters of that semi-logical kind that make it if you're going to have a complexifying universe you're going to have these kinds of things happen. You're going to have sensitivity enough to have information processing and storage you've got to have nervous systems unless you're going to be three inch nickle steel you can't have a development of intelligence and so on so that you begin to see that how it's all a package deal really and one has to with humility say that in the divine providence purposes presumably there what God intends eventually outweighs or justifies the the defaulties of producing the results. The other thing of course is if you're going to be free and not automaton you can't have goodness without evil. If we if we were automatically wire to do the good then we wouldn't be wouldn't be good for us to be automatic...
Wright: So choice implies ...
Arthur Peacocke: Choice implies the possibility of doing evil yes absolutely. That's been recognized for centuries of course. But I think we can see a bit more now the kind of parameters in the natural world why why for example I mean cancer. The processes that cause cancer and suffering in individuals are the very same processes of mutations in DNA which cause which enable new species to come into existence. You wouldn't be here without the uses of those processes. And here we are fragile creatures I mean the wonder is that we're here at all with this fragile mechanism which can reproduce itself and think and pray and laugh and enjoy music.
Wright: Well listen thank you very much for letting me come here to ...
Arthur Peacocke: Thank you.
Wright: ... your home at Oxford.
Arthur Peacocke: I hope I hope I hope you have a fruitful voyage and journey with around your own interviewees.