Book Review: The Big Question: Why We Can't Stop Talking about Science, Faith, and God

(system) #1
McGrath offers a promising middle road between seeking to "prove" Christianity and giving up on apologetics altogether.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(James Stump) #2

What do you think about McGrath’s approach to natural theology? The “big question” for supporters of the traditional approach to natural theology is why everyone doesn’t find the arguments plausible. Some of my Reformed friends think answering that question is easy: God didn’t give them faith, and so their depraved minds cannot apprehend the truth. I’m more inclined to think the evidence from natural theology is ambiguous and can be interpreted in different ways.


Jim, Thanks. I’m grateful for your review, but even more grateful that a site like Biologos exists. Bravo! No doubt you put a lot into Biologos and it’s much appreciated. I find McGrath helpful and it seems a good idea to move away from some of the older rationalistic “proof” type apologetics and into something that moves in the direction of making good sense. In our new book From Evolution to Eden. Making Sense of Early Genesis we suggest that “faith seeking understanding” needs to be complemented by “understanding seeking faith.” The reason for that is that it seems, at least according to Heidegger, Ricoeur, and others, that we always start with understanding where we are in the world and then go from there. In our book we tried to focus on phenomenology and hermeneutics and used Ricoeur’s work in several places, aiming to interpret Genesis 1-3 in light of our evolutionary history or what we call “the natural world informer.” Some of my Reformed friends suggest that we start with God or the Bible, but this doesn’t seem to take into account that we already have understandings to begin with. At any rate, I agree with your last sentence that “evidence from natural theology is ambiguous and can be interpreted in different ways,” yet at the same time those different ways might have some hermeneutical limits.

(sy_garte) #4

McGrath writes faster than I can read. Thanks for the review of his latest. I like that somebody is finally targeting the atheist audience, and it sounds like McGrath is providing some answers for some of their themes. In particular I am intrigued by his use of the “wired in” data to turn the tables on the argument that religion is just a natural instinct and has no “real” reality. Will add this to my growing collection of “to read” McGrath books.

(John T Mullen) #5

If we are persuaded that the evidence from natural theology is ambiguous (and I completely agree that we should be), then we become puzzled about why that should be so. That condition itself becomes a puzzle, and we are quickly immersed in questions of divine hiddenness. A natural response is to begin asking why it might be a good thing for us to be in an ambiguous condition, so that we may reasonably believe that God would want us there.

Regarding evolutionary accounts of the origin of theistic belief, it seems to me that they can never (even when fully accepted) serve as convincing evidence against the content of theistic belief. The fact that natural selection does not directly select for truth does not imply that we must have unreliable belief-forming tendencies. There may be an indirect selection for truth, and in any case all such accounts are compatible with God retaining a providential oversight of the whole process. In fact, why shouldn’t we generalize as follows?: Evolutionary accounts of the origin of any general human tendency to form beliefs provide no evidence that beliefs so formed are false. The question of the beliefs’ truth or falsehood is simply left unaddressed, and additional evidence is needed to conclude that any particular belief-forming tendency is unreliable (i.e., insufficiently likely to produce true beliefs). Sometimes this can be done, but it has not been done in the case of theistic belief, and that task is exceedingly difficult. If Dawkins et al want to argue that theistic beliefs are debunked simply because our tendency to form them is a product of natural selection pressures, they will have a very hard time restricting their argument to theistic beliefs. All our belief-forming tendencies might be the product of natural selection pressures, but of course they would not all be thereby debunked. The new atheists cannot so easily relieve themselves of the burden of arguing against theistic belief on other (i.e., non-evolutionary) grounds.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #6


Thank you for the review and information about the book.

McGrath makes some very good points, bu7t I still do not think he gets quite to the basic problem. The points are that atheism is a flawed world view based on monistic materialism. The basic problem is that theism is flawed also because it is expressed with the outdated philosophical model of Western dualism.

The solution is to find a better philosophical world view that fulfills both science and theology, which is not what he is trying to do as far as I can see, nor are other theologians such as Polkinghorne. We need fresh wine and new wineskins to put it in. Hopefully we are getting some fresh wine from McGrath and scientists who are looking at evolution from an ecological perspective. We also need the new wineskins that will preserve the new wine.

(James Stump) #7

I thought of you when I wrote that line!

(Christy Hemphill) #8


Your book sound interesting. You had me at ‘Ricoeur.’ I am putting it on my Amazon list. :smile: