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A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology (Gifford Lectures) (2009 Gifford Lectures) [Paperback]

Alister E. McGrath
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 2, 2009 2009 Gifford Lectures
Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them—above all, the question of the existence of God. So how can Christian theology relate to these new developments?

In this landmark work, based on his 2009 Gifford lectures, Alister McGrath examines the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God.

The celebrated Gifford Lectures have long been recognized as making landmark contributions to the discussion of natural theology. A Fine-Tuned Universe will contribute significantly to that discussion by developing a rich Trinitarian approach to natural theology that allows deep engagement with the intellectual and moral complexities of the natural world. It will be essential reading to those looking for a rigorous engagement between science and the Christian faith.

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Editorial Reviews


A superb contribution to the science/faith conversation. --Francis Collins, MD, PhD, former Director of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God

[Alister McGrath's] book will be of great interest to all concerned with the relationship between science and religion. --Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS


“A superb contribution to the science/faith conversation.” —Francis Collins, MD, PhD, former Director of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God

“[Alister McGrath’s] book will be of great interest to all concerned with the relationship between science and religion.” —Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS

Product Details

  • Series: 2009 Gifford Lectures
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (March 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664233104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664233105
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alister E. McGrath is a historian, biochemist, and Christian theologian born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A longtime professor at Oxford University, he now holds the chair in theology, ministry, and education at the University of London. He is the author of several books on theology and history, including Christianity's Dangerous Idea, In the Beginning, and The Twilight of Atheism. He lives in Oxford, England, and lectures regularly in the United States.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I first became interested in Alister McGrath's work when he began systematically vivisecting Dawkins The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine. Of course, Dawkins is an easy target, but after 'The God Delusion' he deserved it. And I am not alone in my opinion; at the AAAS meeting in Chicago this year there was public scoffing of Dawkins in more than one session I attended...even by devout Darwin supporters. The theme of the scoffing was "Dawkins should stick to biology...wait...does he do biology any more?"

Anyway, although the McGrath's earlier book (The Dawkins Delusion?) did not contain dramatic new insights, it was a pleasure to read and it is useful to have the rebuttals cogently and systematically arranged. I left it out on the coffee table for some time! I also recommend it as primer for anyone who needs to cut the legs out from under the 'new atheists' (whose ideas and arguments are actually quite antiquated), especially college students, who often find themselves in a sea of gullible peers.

I mention McGrath's earlier book here by way of comparison; this new work by McGrath is no mere pamphlet, and it doesn't belong on the coffee table...but most certainly in the college classroom and on the scholar's bookshelf. Its fourteen chapters would provide an excellent outline for a semester course on natural theology, especially if one followed up on all the footnotes and references.

Based upon McGrath's "2009 Gifford Lectures" given at Aberdeen, this work is a rigorous academic treatment of an important new trend in our culture; the growing interest in natural theology.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An alternative way of looking at natural theology March 15, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While one might guess from the title that this book is about the anthropic principle, it's actually about an alternative way to look at natural theology. In a 2005 book ("Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life") McGrath concluded that William Paley's "Natural Theology" was an experiment that had failed as an approach to Christian apologetics. In his 2008 book "The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology," McGrath presented the basic elements of a new vision for natural theology. This 2009 book describes his alternative approach to natural theology, which McGrath labels a Trinitarian approach. It involves applying counterfactual thinking to natural theology, which results in an "explanatory unification" that "resonates strongly with our observation and experience of the world" and "the capacity to confer meaning."

The usual approach to natural theology can disclose a god, but not the God of Christianity. "Deism holds that God created the world; theism holds that God created the world and continues to direct it through divine providence; Trinitarianism holds that God created the world, continues to direct it through divine providence, and guides the interpreters of both the books of nature and Scripture through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian approach to natural theology does not prove the existence of God, but "offers a high degree of consonance with what is actually observed."

McGrath begins with a brief history of the place of natural theology, from "proving the existence of God" to using it to argue "that Christianity makes better sense of the empirical evidence than any of its alternatives or rivals by interpreting nature on the basis of Christian beliefs.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Contemporary Natural Theology of Evolution January 5, 2010
"A Fine-Tuned Universe" , by Alister McGrath, who has PhD's from Oxford in both theology and biophysics, extends the idea of fine-tuning previously applied to creation to evolution-- although in a very general way, by which I mean that one can make out instances of design where improbable steps take place: for example the critically important role of water in folding a certain protein. It is an excellent updated account of evolution which unintentionally makes Dawkins' account seem quite dated, and also obsolete, as the "Selfish Gene" has been shown not to be sufficiently general to merit the role of basic transmission mechanism.

McGrath's writing is a bit dull, but what did you expect from a genius writing on a very technical topic ? It is well worth struggling through. The only other criticism of McGrath's scientific writings is that they always seem a bit teasing, as if they are introductions to something wonderful.

Most importantly, McGrath devotes a chapter to St. Augustine's account of creation, which is remarkably modern. Augustine places "rationes seminales" into matter, which are metaphorically like seeds of God's intentions, essentially like virtual forces. So it is something like Paley's watch which has self-building, evolution and reproduction built
in. McGrath quotes someone as saying that God's creation of the universe is a miracle. but even more miraculous that creation is able
to create itself.

McGrath also uses a trinitarian formalism, which because of his dull writing is there, but is a little hard to pick out. Still, it is a contemporary natural theology (his words).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good enough
This book is good enough for anyone wanting to learn more about God's connection to our earth, but the wording and construction of the dialog makes it very tedious reading. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Martha N. Loesch
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine-Tuned Universe
I have enjoyed other works by Dr McGrath and was intrigued by the title. His thesis on Natural Theology, based on the philosophy of Critical Realism, is atypical of what is... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Spellman
4.0 out of 5 stars Mild Natural Theology
Alister McGrath is acquanted with both theology and science. Having written other works on the dialogue between science and theology he thoroughly qualified to write this book. Read more
Published on December 28, 2010 by Jfarris
2.0 out of 5 stars not his best
This excellent writer is one of the most important alive. But this is not for me his best book. It becomes very detailed and complex. Read more
Published on April 10, 2010 by jtq
3.0 out of 5 stars The Title is a Bit Misleading
The book is mostly about reconciling theology, or more specifically, Augustine of Hippo, with Neo-Darwinism. Mainly a promotion for Natural Theology. Read more
Published on March 8, 2010 by Urban Cowboy
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good points but ...
This book has some good points, but a lot of detail & most of it is over my head.
(I am an engineer, not a theologian.)
Published on February 7, 2010 by Richard F. Herlein
5.0 out of 5 stars Theologian and Scientist
Alister McGrath is an exceptional teacher, both of theology and science. His academic background allows him to relate the Christian religion and the biological sciences. Read more
Published on April 15, 2009 by David Baughman
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