Monday, June 18, 2012

Surprised by Meaning

Alister E. McGrath, Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things. Louisville, KY: WJK, 2011. 136 pp.

How can we make sense of the world? Are science and religion compatible? Is it possible to experience meaning and purpose in this life? These and other questions McGrath answers in his new book, Surprised by Meaning. This book is based on lectures McGrath delivered in 2009 and 2010. McGrath is professor of Theology, Ministry, and Head of the Center for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King's College in London. He has doctorates in theology and science.

McGrath makes a strong case that Christianity both helps us make sense of this world and provides meaning and purpose. He quotes from C.S. Lewis: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else." McGrath believes the Christian faith is credible in itself, but it also explains what we experience in this world. He also shows how the truths presented by the disciplines of sciences, humanities, and the social sciences point to God. He does a good job in showing what science can do and what it cannot do. In this book, McGrath presents a case for natural theology. He does not believe that the existence or non-existence of God can be proved. He notes that most of our most important beliefs cannot be proved. The most important questions of life cannot be answered by science. McGrath is not against science, but against those who make science the only method for knowledge. This idea is known as scientism. Faith, however, is not a leap in the dark. He shows how even science is based on faith. McGrath asserts, "Christianity may be open to criticism on many grounds, but it is certainly not vulnerable to the charge in contrast to scientific or empirical thought, it rests on mere faith"(114). McGrath believes "To hold that something is true and reliable may be justified without necessarily being proved" (113). McGrath's purpose is not to prove that Christianity is true, but to show that many clues exist to show that Christianitry is true.

In chapters one to three, McGrath describes how humans try to make sense of things. This pattern is evident in the sciences. We come up with theories that will explain our observations. In chapter three, Mcgrath lists three commons ways we make sense of things: "causal explanation, the best explanation," and "explanatory unification." This is even what he does in presenting the case for Christianity. What best explains all the phenomena we experience in this world? In chapter five, he descibes his journey from atheism to Christian belief. He also examines the New Atheism and how much of their arguments is based on empty rhetoric. In chapters six through nine, he shows how the universe is fine-tuned for life. The last few chapters show how the Christian faith makes sense of not only science, but history, culture, and the human experience. The last chapter shows how Christianity satisfies the search for meaning.

McGrath makes a good case for why Christianity makes sense in itself and makes sense of our experience in this world. It is written for the general public and is easy to read. McGrath is an author you can trust.

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