Alister McGrath began his academic career as an atheist and ended up as a Christian. He earned an Oxford University D. Phil. in molecular biophysics and later was awarded a D.D. for his research in historical and systematic theology. He currently holds the post of Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford. A prolific writer, his recent book, THE BIG QUESTION: why we can’t stop talking about science, faith and God, addresses the complementary relationship between science and religion. They are not adversaries but different ways of understanding the world and human identity. He cites philosopher Karl Popper (1902-94) as arguing that science is in no position to “make assertions about ultimate questions – about the riddles of existence, or about man’s task in the world.” One major factor that led McGrath to Christianity was his growing realization that the Christian faith made far more sense of what he saw around him and experienced within him than its atheist alternatives. He lists the ways in which his faith works for him.
- Religious faith helps me make sense of the world by giving me a way of seeing reality which affirms both its intelligibility and coherence.
- It gives me a framework which allows me to discern meaning and purpose within life.
- Faith generates a moral vision that is not of my own making and does not serve my own interests.
- Faith helps me cope with negative situations by allowing me to see them in a new light.
- Faith brings hope by enabling me to see my life in a wider context of meaning. “Hope” here does not mean a groundless optimism but a firm conviction of present significance and future fulfillment.
He goes on to claim that Christians hold that their faith makes sense in itself and makes sense of the riddles and enigmas of their experience. He quotes Simone Weil (1909-43):
“If I light an electric torch at night out of doors, I don’t judge its power by looking at the bulb, but by seeing how many objects it lights up. The brightness of a source of light is appreciated by the illumination it projects upon non-luminous objects. The value of a religious, or more generally, a spiritual way of life is appreciate by the amount of illumination thrown upon the things of this world.”