Such powerful questions reveal the majesty of religious belief to provide us with meaningingful ‘answers’. Yes, Alister McGrath is at it again, this time comparing belief in god to belief in dark matter.
As Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, once pointed out, science takes things apart to see how they work. But religion puts them back together again to see what they mean.
If science is about explanation, religion is thus about meaning. Science helps us to appreciate the wonder of individual aspects of the universe; religion to see, however dimly, the “big picture” of which they are part.
Yes, McGrath assures us that religion and science are indeed compatible ways of knowing. That’s how we know we can turn to religion to answer the title question about meaning and purpose for Alister McGrath. As you can see, it’s an empty claim… the kind you can fill with all kinds of Oogity Boogity purposes and meanings. That doesn’t make it a compatible way of knowing but a sure way to fool yourself that you have, in fact, found an answer rather than just made shit up and slapped it in its place.
Some atheist scientists ridicule Christians for believing in a God whose existence cannot be proved. Yet science regularly posits the existence of things whose existence cannot be proved to make sense of our observations.
Thus we infer the existence of dark matter from observations that would otherwise be puzzling. We can’t see it, and we can’t prove it’s there. Yet this doesn’t stop most leading astronomers from accepting its existence.
We can’t see it; we can’t touch it; we can’t smell it; and we can’t hear it. Yet many scientists argue that it’s the only meaningful explanation of observed gravitational effects. Where the naive demand proof, the wise realise that this is limited to logic and mathematics.
McGrath, as a professor of organic chemistry, knows perfectly well that scientists don’t demand proof; they demand well-supported answers that are held to be provisional. This he presents as a Bad Thing:
Christians have always held that their faith makes sense of the enigmas and riddles of our experience. It’s not about running away from reality, or refusing to think about things (to mention two shallow popular stereotypes of faith). For Christians, faith is not a blind leap into the dark, but a joyful discovery of a bigger and clearer picture of things, of which we are part.
The Christian tradition speaks of God as someone who makes sense of the puzzles and enigmas of life, illuminating our paths as we travel. This does not detract from the wonder of the universe; if anything, it adds to its beauty and grandeur..
You see how he misrepresents science – as if it were about proof rather than a method of inquiry – to make room for religious compatibility? We still face the question of how do we know this christian tradition “makes sense” when its claims are held to be “a joyful discovery” when the method of making shit up and slapping it in place of knowledge under the banner of religious belief is kept immune from the naive insistence of the unwise that it falls to the religious to provide well-supported answers that are held to be provisional beyond their personal religious beliefs?
We don’t know. We must take it on faith. That’s why physicist Sean Carrol writes
If you wanted to highlight the intellectual superficiality of how modern theologians talk about God, you could hardly do better than to contrast it with how modern physicists talk about dark matter. For one thing, science never “proves” anything at all (as I talk about here).
And that’s the kind of honesty that undoes the apologetic religious scientists like the Alister McGraths of this world trying to make compatible the incompatible. In spite of his assertions to the contrary, McGrath’s faith does not “illuminate” anything we can know anything about… except where it meshes with good evidence gathered from the method of science. And that’s how belief in god is different than any kind of similar belief in dark matter: we continue to seek direct evidence for the provisional hypothesis in dark matter compared to the incompatible assertions about reality made by people like McGrath comfortable in the certainty of their faith… busy pretending it offers us bullshit ‘answers’ that are in reality nothing more and nothing less than empty assertions divorced from knowledge.