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A Theory of Everything (that Matters), by Alister McGrath

by
03 July 2020

John Inge reads a book on Einstein’s thought

DISTINGUISHED in science as well as theology, Alister McGrath has done much to facilitate a sensible understanding of the relationship between the two. This book, written in his characteristically clear and accessible style, is a welcome addition to his writings.

Everyone has heard of Einstein — he’s a cult figure — though few have engaged with his writings: they simply associate him with what they imagine to be an incomprehensible theory of relativity. That theory, on which we depend for GPS to tell us where we are, was first proposed in 1905 and was finally proved on 7 November 2019 by measuring the path of the stars travelling near the sun during an eclipse. Here, the author gives a very comprehensible introduction to Einstein’s scientific work and then goes on to consider “how Einstein personally wove together science, ethics and religious faith to yield a richer account of reality — if you like, a theory of everything that matters.”

Einstein was a “big-picture” thinker who was “concerned about the ultimate nature of reality and our place within it”. McGrath helpfully surveys Einstein’s writings on this theme. Einstein was not religious “in the conventional sense of the word” (author’s italics), but neither was he an atheist. He had “an intense commitment to ethical and political issues and a strong interest in religion as an appropriate response to the mystery of the world”. Though he did not believe in a personal God and was generally hostile to individual religions, in his published works he repeatedly and explicitly refers to an “intelligence”, “mind”, or “force” that lies behind or beyond the universe, and he identifies this with God.

In the final chapter, the author brings other scientists and theologians into the discussion to attempt “a Christian reading of Einstein” without trying to “force Einstein into a Christian (or any other) mould”. He suggests that Einstein points us to “the book of nature”, highlighting “its mystery, its elegance and order, and his deep sense of religiosity in its presence”’, so that Christians can set this alongside their own “book of Scripture” and find that the features of the latter are brought into sharper focus. At the very least, Einstein can help Christians to recover a sense of awe and wonder at the glory of creation. Reading this book would be a good step in that direction.

 

Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.

 

A Theory of Everything (that Matters): A short guide to Einstein, relativity and the future of faith
Alister McGrath
Hodder & Stoughton £14.99
(978-1-529-37795-8)
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

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