Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Big Question by Alister McGrath

Despite predictions by outspoken atheists that belief in God would fade away, it hasn't. Why?

Science has its limits, McGrath says. It can't answer questions like why we are here, or what the point of life is. We humans want answers to those questions so there is a deeper quest – the quest for God.

McGrath shares his own progression, his “growing realization that belief in God made a lot more sense of things than my atheism.” (8) He rejects the dogmatic view that one must choose science over religion, based mostly on historical myths. He offers an alternative approach that welcomes the confluence of science and faith.

I like his approach to science, quoting Eugenie Scott, then director of the National Center for Science Education, “'Science neither denies nor opposes the supernatural, but ignores the supernatural for methodological reasons.'” (19)

McGrath asks us to consider another way of thinking about science and faith. He has found it to be deeply satisfying and says it is worth exploring. He shares his own quest for an integrated understanding of reality. He writes about the personal nature of scientific knowledge and how Christian faith made far more sense of what he saw around him than atheism did.

Some criticize Christian faith because it is untestable. McGrath identifies scientific theories that explain but are untestable, like M-theory and the multiuniverse theory. Such theories are valued (though debated) because they provide a way of seeing things that makes sense of observations. (72) He notes the parallel to Christianity – untestable but explaining our observations.

Some said Darwinism was a way to finally get rid of God. McGrath reviews the major themes from Darwin's work, including the idea that humans are more than their components. He writes about the limits of science, such as it not being able to inform us about morality. Science is a tool used for specific purposes, he says. When used for something else it does not work.

McGrath emphasizes that he is not trying to defend either science or Christianity. He is rather encouraging readers to see how they might intertwine and interconnect. “This book,” he writes, “represents a plea for dialogue, opening the door to an enriched vision of reality.” (207) There is much yet to discuss, he says. This book paints with a broad brush and there are many important questions that still need to be investigated.

I highly recommend this book to those seeking to find and explore a coherent and satisfying understanding of the world in which we live, learning from the strengths and weaknesses of both science and faith. (11)

Food for thought:
And like it or not, the idea of God remains one of the simplest, most elegant and most satisfying ways of seeing our world.” (89)
Science is a vitally important tool for investigating our world and living within it. But it illuminates only part of the picture, not the whole picture. To think otherwise is a delusion. And we need that whole picture if we are to live authentic and meaningful lives.” (182)

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Alister McGrath is a scholar in the interaction of theology and the sciences and currently holds the post of Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University. He is the author of many books on theology and religion. He lives in Oxford, UK. You can find out more at

St. Martin's Press, 264 pages.

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