How Religion enriches a scientific narrative
I recently finished reading Alister McGrath’s “Inventing the Universe” (subtitle: “Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Science, Faith, and God”) and was struck by the similarities between his view of the science-religion relationship and what I believe the Bahá'í Faith teaches.
McGrath is a living rebuttal of the bogus “scientists = atheists” default that both extremes of the discussions want us to believe. A trained scientist who moved over to theology, he is a Professor of Science and Religion, and a devout Christian. This book is an attempt to show that science is not the enemy of religion (or religion of science), that religious people need not feel threatened by scientific advances, even apparently challenging ones like evolution, and the militant atheists who claim that science replaces religion are wrong. He puts a lot of effort into rebutting – always courteously – the claims of figures like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
There was little in his book to disagree with except for the way that his picture of religion began and ended with Christianity (apart from the occasional supportive note from Einstein or Carl Sagan).
Late in the book he sets out a longish section “How Religion Enriches a Scientific Narrative” and I believe it’s worth sharing the key points of this. The expletory notes below each are heavily summarised and probably don’t do them justice, but this post would otherwise have been very long.
- It provides us with an assurance of the coherence of reality.
- As the author puts it, “… that however fragmentary our world of experience may seem, there is a half-glimpsed ‘bigger picture’ that holds things together its threads connecting together in a web of meaning what might otherwise seem incoherent and pointless.”
- It offers answers to the scientifically unanswerable questions that we, by our very natures, want answers to.
- What Karl Popper called “ultimate questions”, relating to the meaning of life, and our space in the general scheme of things.
- Religion prevents a scientific narrative from collapsing into a mere technocratic catalogue of things.
- Some may not find this a valid claim, after all the wonders of the natural world are in themselves more than capable of inspiring feelings of wonder and awe. But religion claims that there is more that needs to be said if a full understanding of reality is to be attained.
We may well differ in our agreement with these points and the reasoning behind them, but I do feel they offer something useful to the debate.