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A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology (Gifford Lectures) (2009 Gifford Lectures) Paperback – March 2, 2009
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[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
“[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
Top Customer Reviews
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. This trend is being stimulated by a series of recent scientific advances that shed new light on some very old questions (maybe THE questions), like 'Why are we here?' and 'Is there a god?" Somewhat surprisingly, the tentative answers that science has been providing have some fascinating implications.
(a) the universe has a beginning, and
(b) the universe has properties which are remarkably sensitive and had to be precisely arranged in order for life, and even the universe itself, to exist.
Wait...modern science is saying this? Yes! Sounds more like a theologian...
...Precisely. Which is why the the first seven of fourteen chapters (lectures) address history and questions of natural theology. The second half of the book addresses several specific examples of fine-tuning found in biology, chemistry, astronomy, and cosmology and their theological implications. As McGrath discusses each example, he first documents the historical context and scientific observations that one would expect from a thorough academician. His material is heavily, heavily referenced and footnoted, making the work an excellent reference volume.
I plan to re-visit this book several times over the coming years, maybe even teach a class or two from it. Although academic in scope and tone, the prose is clear and intriguing. Congratulations Dr. McGrath.
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." Quoting McGrath: "One of the most fundamental concerns was the intellectual integrity of Paley's core argument. How could one speak of observing "design" in nature? One observes nature, but one infers design in nature. Design is not an empirical datum, but reflects the interpretation of what is observed."
Chapter 8 is the best discussion of Augustine's views of creation that I have yet seen anywhere. McGrath demonstrates that Augustine believed that God brought everything into being at a specific moment, with embedded causalities that emerged or evolved at a later stage, which we now refer to as the "big bang" and biological evolution. McGrath supports his views with numerous references to Augustine's "De Genesi ad litteram (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis)."
Chapters 9-14 present applications of counterfactual thinking to anthropic phenomena, origins of life, the curious chemistry of water, chemical catalysis and the constraints of evolution, and the mechanism and directionality of evolution. These chapters are also very good summaries of the current research in these areas. Alister McGrath has an excellent grasp of what's currently going on in a wide range of sciences and presents it in a readable style.
The extensive footnotes are thoughtfully placed at the bottom of the page on which they occur, and there is a 36-page bibliography and a 4-page index. This is a well-referenced book. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in natural theology.
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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(I am an engineer, not a theologian.)