La ciencia desde la fe. Los conocimientos científicos no cuestionan la existencia de Dios

Science from the perspective of faith. Scientific knowledge does not question the existence of God.

Author: Review of Alister McGrath, La ciencia desde la fe. Los conocimientos científicos no cuestionan la existencia de Dios, Espasa, Barcelona, 328 pp.
Published in:
Publication date: 2016

Alister McGrathAlister McGrath is a biophysicist and theologian, professor of science and religion at Oxford University. He is one of today's leading Christian apologists. In this book he recounts snippets of his own life story. He conveys to the reader his childhood and youthful passion for science; his admiration for nature and the enthusiasm of his early experiments. He describes his initial ideological position of rejecting ultimate questions about man and existence, because he thought that science demanded to be materialistic and, at final, nihilistic. He recounts his studies of science at Oxford and Cambridge. And he confesses the progressive finding of the value of the fundamental questions that every man asks himself. He acknowledges that most scientists understand the need for an enriched vision of reality, which admits wonder and mystery - the necessary stimulus for the progress of science. And, finally, the admission of the Christian faith that leads him to study it in depth.

It is not really an autobiographical book, but it is written from the personal passion of one who seeks truth -cognitive and existential- and is able to transmit that passion effectively. These pages are written from the perspective that human existence is a long or short road to understanding the truth and acting in accordance with it agreement . A path that has no end because the human knowledge can always grow, both in extension - we can know more things - and in depth - perhaps even reach deeper, more interesting, more useful knowledge. But this path begins with the dazzle that the very richness of reality can provoke in human beings. However, that beginning is today threatened by the myth of conflict or war between science and religion. Each of these pages has been written to correct this myth and, at the same time, to show the enrichment that the search for the intelligibility and coherence of reality from the different perspectives that we humans have discovered and developed entails.

The central idea is that it is not possible to understand things well from a single cognitive dimension, however singular it may be. Man's understanding of himself and the world can only make sense by articulating the different narratives, images and maps that man has developed. Understanding reality means weaving a complex set of threads of different thickness and quality and of different colours into a harmonious weave. The value of that understanding will depend on whether it expresses the beauty and wonder of the world that awakens wonder in us. Science is only science, a decisive instrument for understanding aspects of reality. That is why it does not serve for everything. Human life is understood as a narrative in which different levels of reality must come together to enable us to draw up maps with which we can understand each other and not get lost in history.

Science serves to see a dimension of the world correctly and thus responds to the yearning for certainty that we all possess. But, at the same time, some things of essential importance remain "outside the domains of science" (Einstein, as referred to by R. Carnap in P.A. Schipp (ed.), The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap, La Salle (III.), Open Court, 1963, p. 38, cit. in 263). We may not be able to elaborate theories about the meaning of human life, but we need our life to have a goal that can give rise to the power of hope. Sometimes we need a change of perspective in order to see correctly. Who would be satisfied to see the back of a tapestry? Religious faith is often a change of mentality that offers new perspectives and fills the heart of man with joy as it illuminates the whole of reality. Faith is a light to be judged by the multitude of things it illuminates when possessed (C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection, London, HarperCollins, 2002, p. 21; cit. 95 and 252). Even then we understand why we can do exact science in a strangely rational universe: it has been created by an intelligent being.

It is not just a matter of affirmations. The author reviews three essential themes in the dialogue between science and faith: the universe (chap. 3), life (chap. 4) and the human being (chap. 5). The created universe naturally makes it possible to understand the strange rationality it manifests even in its smallest details: faith thus creates the intellectual conditions for science to be a reasonable way to knowledge the universe. But there is in fact no scientific argument against creation, nor can there be, since the nature of God escapes the self-imposed limits of science as certain knowledge. But what is most astonishing is that faith allows us to understand another mode of real existence that science does not reach: eternity. The discussion of evolutionism is uniquely engaging, as well as an amusing chronicle of the development of ideas. The relationship between evolution and faith has faced some tensions, but no one has consistently expressed any incompatibility between the two explanations. In addition, the author sample the drawback of using science to define human existence and the way we behave: the eugenics that developed at the beginning of the 20th century explicitly relied on the theory of evolution. But evolution is not to blame for its fraudulent use (145-149). The episode sample rather highlights the need to think more broadly and to gain a richer and more enlightened understanding of reality in order to make our actions more meaningful and targeted.

Finally McGrath tackles the question of what makes man human. Certainly some of the most elegant refutations of reductionism can be read here. But, to my mind, what is decisive is an understanding of man that cannot but ask and speak of God. In the same way, the history of mankind sample shows that it is not all light, that we - scientists and ordinary people - are sometimes responsible for truly horrific events, and that both science and religion can go wrong and contribute to our misfortune. Therefore we cannot help but reflect, search anew for the best and create new ways for a more humane culture. Even if that requires more than science.

We need rational answers to the fundamental questions of our existence. It matters a lot to us that our story, everyone's story, makes sense and that we can call it good. But just as science cannot answer the fundamental questions of human existence, since it is designed for something else, so science does not teach us what good we are to do. Ethics requires a different kind of attention than science imposes on its domains. Even in this topic human reason itself discovers its limits: respect and benevolence require a broad outlook that reaches out to the whole of humanity today and to each of the next generations. And here religious faith sample details its value when it is able to arouse the heroism of submission for others.

Throughout the book there are solid arguments and accurate rebuttals to some of the claims of the most renowned atheists. For example, "Dawkins presents a convincing rebuttal to Paley's approach . Unfortunately, he seems to believe that the same refutation serves to convince us to renounce God in general" (129). Alexander Krauss, following Stephen Hawking, argues about how 'something' emerges from 'nothing' to nullify the reality of creation and suppress the need for God. "So what does Krauss mean by 'nothing'? This is what he writes about it: 'When I speak of nothing I do not mean nothingness, but simply nothingness, which in this case is the nothingness that we normally call empty space'. Krauss apparently thinks that by writing 'nothing' in italics he is solving a metaphysical problem, when all he is implying is that Krauss's 'nothing' is not 'nothing' at all" (120-121). He also comments on Desmond Morris's famous title, The Naked Ape: "it's a good way to grab headlines, but it's simply the wrong interpretation. In reality, we are ex-apes" (162). Or, commenting on Ch. Hitchens' 'anti-theism', he says: "that financial aid helps us understand why the New Atheism often seems to be a mirror image of theism. Its most prominent representatives seem to be defined by an obsession with that against which they take a stand, as if they were referring all the time to an ancient love they could not stop talking about" (29). Or about Sam Harris: "despite all the hype that accompanied his book, I get the impression that Harris himself does not really believe that it (science can serve as a basis for ethics). Neither science nor scientists enjoy any privileged knowledge in discerning what is good or right, or how to achieve it" (229).

Within the extensive set of arguments developed in these pages, I think it is worth highlighting two. The first refers directly to Dawkins and the second to Hitchens. McGrath quotes a text by Dawkins which reads: "[Genes] abound in large colonies, safe inside giant, slow-moving robots, enclosed and protected from the outside world, communicating with it by circuitous and circuitous routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate reason for our existence" (El gen egoísta: las instructions biológicas de nuestra conducta, Barcelona, Salvat, 2002, p. 25; cit. in 163). And, following Denis Noble's critique, he asks: what is scientific in this text? Only the statement that genes are in you and me points to a correct empirical fact. Everything else is literature and unverified prior ideological commitments cloaked in metaphysical speculation. For that reason, he proposes to rewrite Dawkins' statement, turning his metaphysical assumptions completely upside down and retaining the only empirically verifiable statement in the original text. It would read: "[Genes] are trapped in large colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, shaped by the outside world, with which they communicate by complex processes through which, blindly, as if by magic, a function emerges. They are found in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation depends entirely on the joy we feel in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate reason for their existence" (La música de la vida: la biología más allá del genoma humano, Madrid, Akal, 2008, see discussion in 162-165). I don't think it is necessary to add more.

On the other hand, I consider the second argument against Hitchens to be important. He provocatively entitles his book: God is not good. But he also thinks that religion is based on a fiction, that it is a human creation. "God did not create man in his own image and likeness. Evidently, it was the other way round" (Ch. Hitchens, God Is Not Good: A Plea Against Religion, Barcelona, discussion, 2008, p. 22; cit. in 187). But if that is so, then to claim that God is a genocidal tyrant means that what is really happening is that it is we ourselves who are so. And so, "when we say that religion perverts us, we are simply saying that we have perverted ourselves... The fault is ours alone" (187). If evil is real we cannot attribute it to a non-existent entity, but it is the image of how we really are (188).

The decisive part of this book comes at the end. The title of the last chapter is clear: "Science and faith. Making sense of the world, making sense of life" (243). It is the very need for understanding that leads to an opening of the eyes. Science certainly gives us a way of looking at things, but it is not a complete description of the universe. Philosophical reflection and religious life are not human inventions to find solace, but the radically human way of seeing the world more clearly; so clearly that we can take in grade the wondrous mysteries that surround and sustain us. Religion enriches the scientific speech , leads to a richer understanding of man and his life, gives him clarity and motives for action, fills the use of the technical knowledge with reasons and stimulates scientific curiosity. It gives meaning to every moment of our lives and enables us to look confidently into the future. "It is a way of looking at things that allows us not only to exist, but also to live" (273). A book that is worth reading and, even better, assimilating its proposals with the same simplicity and clarity with which they are proposed.