Test of FAITH
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Alister E. McGrath, Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011)

Cover Image$17, 136 pages

Buy from: WJK Press (no UK publisher yet, but US version available from UK outlets)

Author details: http://alistermcgrath.com/

Surprised by Meaning is a user-friendly presentation of Alister McGrath’s recent work on natural theology. The focus of the book is on uncovering evidence that points towards God, particularly in science. The emphasis is very much upon making the case that our knowledge so far makes the best sense within the Christian paradigm, rather than on ‘proof’ for God’s existence. McGrath puts all this evidence in its place in a balanced Christian theology.

The analogy used throughout the book is that of a detective story in which we make sense of the clues before us. We long to make sense of things, and science can only take the us so far in the quest for meaning before we begin to run up against questions that science cannot answer. McGrath explores the scientific method and the philosophy of science, and goes on to look at the evidence for fine-tuning in astronomy and biology. He describes his own discovery of Christianity as a student, and his analysis of the New Atheism and its arguments.

McGrath’s defence of Christian faith as ‘warranted belief’ will be helpful to those who find it hard to understand why a scientist might accept Christianity, or who might have thought of Christian faith as an exercise in ‘believing six impossible things before breakfast’ that is incompatible with a scientific approach.

One of the great strengths of the book are the frequent quotes from other sources, useful footnotes and references. McGrath has read extremely widely, and this depth of content is refreshing in a book that is so short and readable. At times McGrath is a little repetitive, but his arguments are laid out very clearly, with not too much detail for the non-specialist, either in science, theology or philosophy.

This is definitely a book for the beginner in science and religion, or one to pass on to sceptical friends. It’s also a great summary for those who may not have time to tackle ‘A Fine-tuned Universe’, which deals with these subjects in more depth. Some of the content will be familiar to those who have read McGrath or heard him speak before, but the detail on points of philosophy and fine-tuning, particularly in biology, are interesting.

Faith does not contradict reason, but transcends it through a joyous divine deliverance from the cold and austere limits of human reason and logic. We are surprised and delighted by a meaning to life that we couldn’t figure out for ourselves. But once we’ve seen it, everything makes sense and fits into place…Like Moses, we are led to climb Mount Nebo, and catch a glimpse of the promised land – a land that really is there, but which lies beyond our normal capacity to see, hidden by the horizon of human limitations. The framework of faith, once grasped, gives us a new way of seeing the world, and making sense of our place in the greater scheme of things.

McGrath, Surprised by Meaning, p6

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Ruth Bancewicz, Test of FAITH Project Leader/Editor, The Faraday Institute

Difficulty: Intermediate