On a Book Review: Enriching Our Vision of Reality

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n my ongoing journey of diving into the positive relationship between science and religion, I read Enriching Our Vision of Reality: Theology and the Natural Sciences in Dialogue by Alister McGrath. With science degrees in quantum chemistry and biology, Dr. McGrath is a Professor of Science and Religion and Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science & Religion at Oxford University.

McGrath firmly believes that both science and religion are important parts of the big picture – but not the only parts. He sees science and religion are “different parts of the same reality” with each offering a different perspective. Although he unequivocally encourages readers to develop to develop an intricate understanding of nature, McGrath sees Christianity’s role (especially through the lens of natural theology) as providing greater insight into God, creation, and today’s scientific exploration.

“… both scientific and religious theories find themselves confronted with mysteries, puzzles and anomalies that may give rise to intellectual or existential tensions but do not require their abandonment. . . . In each case, there is a common structure of an explanation with anomalies, which are not regarded as endangering the theory by its proponents but are seen as puzzles that will be resolved at a later stage.”

“We all need a greater narrative to make sense of the world and our lives, naturally weaving together multiple narratives and multiple maps to give us the greatest possible traction on reality. Reality is just too complex to be engaged and inhibited using one tradition of investigation. That, I suggest, is why we need both robust theology and informed science.”

“Science dismantles the world so that we can see how things work; the Christian faith assembles them so we can see what they mean.”

In order to understand his point of view, Dr. McGrath organizes this book in a different, but sensible, manner – three parts with multiple chapters in each part; and one part building on the next.

  • Part 1: An explanation of the relationship between science and theology. Although some see the two as incompatible, McGrath promotes a positive relationship.
  • Part 2: Because he threads his story throughout the book, McGrath uses this section to discuss the three people most influential on his point of view: Charles A. Coulson, Thomas Torrance, and John Polkinghorne (whom I’ve read).
  • Part 3: These six chapters examine six parallels between science and theology: Theories & doctrines, faith, models, evolution, human identity, and natural theology.

At pertinent times throughout the book, McGrath shares his personal experiences, including his time as an atheist – so he willing responds to notable New Atheists (particularly Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I find this interesting because I’ve read multiple authors who have been atheists in their personal journey.

Before reading this book, my concept of natural theology related back to William Paley (19th Century) who saw nature’s design and intricacies as proving God’s existence because observable design is a sign of God’s past activity. (This thought is the general overview of those favoring Intelligent Design over evolution by natural selection.) Today’s natural theology (far removed from Paley) allows people to meld scientific and theological information in order to enhance our understanding and admiration of God’s creation.

McGrath surprised me with his criticisms of Ian Barbour’s four models explaining the science-theology interchange. Although he favors Polkinghorne’s four models, I tend to stay with Barbour’s explanation. While Polkinghorne’s model may be more centered on the theological perspective, I see Barbour’s models as an easy way for the general public to understand the different levels/stages of the science-theology relationships. After all, much of the public remains stuck in the paradigm that they must make a choice between the two disciplines. My personal journey on this topic also relates very well to Barbour’s models.

This book is well-researched and documented with 27 pages of endnotes. McGrath also provide 2+ pages of further reading materials for those wanting to know more. For me, these references also reinforces the decisions I’ve made what who and what to read

Enriching Our Vision of Reality is a thought-provoking, but not an easy read for novices on the topic – therefore I believe McGrath’s intended audience are those with more than a casual interest in theology and its interrelationship with science. I wonder if pastors are his intended audience. Then again, the intended audience could be scientists in order to expand their view of theology. For anyone interested, Kindle and paperback versions are available at Amazon.

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39 thoughts on “On a Book Review: Enriching Our Vision of Reality

  1. My “must read” list is getting so long, Frank, and here you are with another title I feel compelled to chase down! I know this is a book I’d consume. I really appreciate the way you provided such quality analysis, which indicates the breadth of the topics covered. Dr. McGrath has impressive credentials and seems well-prepared to handle such a complex and academic work! I will read this. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As you might guess, Frank, I am unaware of the different models you mentioned, or the literature pertaining to co-existence between science and religion. All the same, I have great faith in the advantages of expanding our knowledge, and seeking out answers to our curiosity, even though we may suspect that we’ll never know it all. Science and technology have grown so much within our lifetimes, that we have almost forgotten the other human endeavors. But the humanities, religion, ethics, music and art will remind us of our illustrious traditions when we tire of our new toys. Cheers to those who continue to study. Their reward fills the present and will continues on to the future too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the review, Frank. Several months ago, I heard a show on NPR discussing science and religion. There was an interview with a professor, who may have been McGrath. It was interesting–they were discussing Einstein and other scientists and their beliefs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “sees science and religion are “different parts of the same reality” with each offering a different perspective.”
    Book sounds interesting. My dad used to say something similar when we were growing up. Often at odds with “enlightened” church people. Periodically we’d head to the country on weekends and stay away until “those fools in the pulpit regain their senses”
    Thanks for the review

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As you might guess, Frank, I have a problem with the reasoning here. McGrath “sees science and religion are “different parts of the same reality” with each offering a different perspective.” Also, you say, “After all, much of the public remains stuck in the paradigm that they must make a choice between the two disciplines.” I submit that science and religion are different things and thus not at all comparable. Science is a methodology (observation, measurement, testing) and religions (all 4,200 of them) are ideologies. To me, comparing the two is a case of comparing apples to tennis balls. I find it pretentious that someone should be titled “professor of science and religion.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand that spirituality is a real thing. I believe that spirituality arises from the very complex functioning of the 100,000,000,000 (billion) neurons in the human brain. The more we learn about the brain the more we understand, from fMRI and drug interaction studies for example, that its patterns correlate to its physiology and its chemistry.

    After a long personal struggle with this issue I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that there is no evidence that would stand up in a court that any historical supernatural phenomenon cannot be explained in material terms. I wish it were otherwise. It would be tremendously comforting think that an afterlife awaits us but the evidence just isn’t there.

    All that said, I will admit being tremendously puzzled as to why anything at all should exist. Christians have been waiting for 2,000 years for an answer, no?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim,
      I figured you would chime in on this one. 🙂 … Interesting how different people interrupt the same words. To me, your argument supported the McGrath’s statement. So I ask you this important question – one that I don’t believe I’ve asked you before. Can a religious person reconcile their believe and scientific knowledge – or do they have to make a choice between the two?

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      • Frank,
        “. . . different people interrupt the same words.” Freudian slip? 😀

        Can a religious person reconcile their believe and scientific knowledge – or do they have to make a choice between the two?

        I have thought about this and I say, yes they can and no, they don’t have to make a choice.

        I submit that this is an example of my previous point about science and religion being not just two different things but two different kinds of things. Science is a methodology that is based on observation, measurement and testing. Religion is ideology based based on something called “faith.” There are two interpretations of the word faith. It means complete confidence or trust in something, but left out of the definition is the basis of that trust. Is it objective and rational or is it based on something else like wishful thinking or myth?

        I have known many people, including scientists and engineers, who clearly hold both kinds of belief strongly. Indeed, I think this is common but I don’t happen to be one of them (although I tried strongly to.) How can this be reconciled? I don’t think it needs to be for most folks because life is too busy and the urge to philosophy is too weak.

        Organized religion is a powerful force in any society and the human mind seems largely to be inclined to it. Some believe that spirituality evolved as a survival trait for tribal efficiencies, a hypothesis which makes sense to me. Groups are more efficient of talents and mutual defense.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for your thoughtful reply … and I know you would do that! Science and religion are different – and my goal here on these pages with over 60 posts on the topic has been to help those who believe in both understand the differences and they can be reconcile within – therefore not make a choice. The voices on the extremes are loud, and too many unknowingly believe they must make a choice – and that ain’t so!

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  6. So this is what you’re reading instead of “Fear” by Bob Woodward, huh? 🙂 I found your post enjoyable and the comment from Jim Wheeler interesting. Both science and belief in God require a great deal of faith because we don’t know all there is to know about either one of them. We are looking through a glass darkly. I personally have no problem believing in both and feel that one can’t do without the other. I have a feeling that one day it will all be made clear and we’ll be able to understand how it all fits together like a well-woven tapestry.

    Like

    • E-Tom,
      Yep … I like this stuff – and yes, I still see Fear as a waste of my time – although I give Woodward much higher credibility ratings than Omarosa and Michael Wolff. I also refer contemplating people like McGrath over worrying about Christian conservatives. After all, McGrath and others I’ve read (and me too) like you’re statement of “how it all fits together like a well-woven tapestry.” Well done!

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    • Resa,
      Totally agree as 1% is generous. I actually use book review posts to inform about a topic knowing that most will not read the book. … and thanks for the laugh. Come to think of it, I could have put in a short video.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I like all of your posts, but your posts on science and religion and how they are not mutually exclusive have always been my favorite over the years. Thanks for this book review–I will have to add this to my to-read list.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Desperation | Archon's Den

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