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Many windows

04 December 2015

Adam Ford applauds a challenge not to over-simplify reality

Inventing the Universe: Why we can’t stop talking about science, faith and God
Alister McGrath
Hodder & Stoughton £25
Church Times Bookshop Special Price £16.99


THE title of this book, Inventing the Universe, hints at a quote from the great science writer Carl Sagan: "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." It has to be a universe capable of evolving both apples and people who can bake.

The totality of the rich and astonishing cosmos that we inhabit is the subject of this book by Professor McGrath (an author always worth reading). He explores ways in which creation can be described by both scientists and people of religious faith in overlapping and complementary narratives. With clear arguments, he provides the final nails for the coffin of that old chestnut the "conflict myth", which falsely set religion and science at war with one another.

The subtitle, Why we can’t stop talking about science, faith and God, speaks to all of us: anyone with a religious faith is bound to reflect on how his or her beliefs mesh with the "rapturous amazement" (as Einstein put it) that may be felt when one is confronted by the evolving universe illuminated by science. Inventing the Universe is a personal account by McGrath, tracing his journey from early atheism at university to the discovery that a Christian approach to nature deepened his appreciation of the world as explored by science.

His heroes C. S. Lewis and the philosopher Mary Midgley are regularly drawn in to support his view that both science and religion are needed to make sense of life and the world. Midgley argues that we need "many maps, many windows, if we are to represent the complexity of reality". The writings of the New Atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion — a "jaunty little sound bite"!), are liberally quoted to reveal the tunnel vision and shallowness of much modern scientism, which treats religious beliefs as a kind of mental illness.

Both science and religion do go wrong, both can breed monsters — as any honest examination of history will reveal. We have to face questions about whether Homo sapiens is intrinsically good or evil — or neither, or both. The chapters on human nature and the quest for meaning are, for me, the most engaging of all in this very enjoyable book.


The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.

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