I’ve often had occasion here and elsewhere to mention the prolific Alister McGrath, an Anglo-Irish theologian who earned his doctorate in divinity from Oxford before earning an Oxford doctorate in intellectual history but after earning an Oxford doctorate in molecular biophysics. Between pages 235 and 267 of Eric Metaxas, Life, God, and Other Small Topics: Conversations from Socrates in the City (New York: Plume/Penguin, 2011) there is a transcript of a New York City speech by Dr. McGrath bearing the provocative title “The Twilight of Atheism” and of the questions and answers that followed it. From this transcript, I extract the passages below.
It seems to me the situation is simply that we can interpret the natural world in an atheist way; we can interpret the natural world in a Christian way or we can interpret the natural world in an agnostic way. A good case could be made for each, but it is not necessitated by nature itself. Or to put that in very simple English, all of these viewpoints are perfectly okay, but nature itself does not force us to choose this one, rather than that one. (252)
Sir Peter Medawar won the Nobel Prize for medicine in the 1960s for his work in immunobiology, and in a book intriguingly entitled The Limits of Science, published in 1986, Medawar argued like this: When it comes to explaining the material world, there are no limits to science. If it can’t explain them now, it will be able to explain them in the future.
But then he says there are metaphysical questions. He gives some examples: “What is the point to life? Why are we here?” He makes the point that these are real questions that matter to people. His argument is that science actually cannot give convincing answers to those questions. If they can be answered, they have to be answered on other grounds, and that seems, to me, to be a very important point.
For example, a quotation from Richard Dawkins’s A Devil’s Chaplain, published in 2003: “Science has no means of determining what is right and what is wrong.” Now, on that point, I think he’s right. (256)
From the Q&A after the speech:
I am a Christian because I believe . . . it offers the best explanation, best evidence, but also the best explanatory capacity. (261)
[I]f you think of the discovery of the electron, that was originally simply because, “Look, we can’t see this, but we need to invoke this to make sense of what we do.” In many ways, Christian theology is doing the very same thing. It’s saying, “Look, we see this and this and this, and we ask, ‘What is the best way of making sense of this?'” The very classic answer is “There is this God, and this God actually helps to make sense of things.” (266-267)