by Alister E. McGrath
Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman
The world is a maze of inexhaustible data. But there is order in the heap, and pattern in its functioning. Their interpretation in a religious framework constitutes natural theology. This book presents such an exploration and is insightful and rewarding. This profusely footnoted work by a highly regarded theologian and scientist shows how the natural world can be in harmony with a Christian Trinitarian perspective.
The fact that we yearn to make sense out of things is the starting point of all inquiries. If by ‘Nature’ one means “ways in which human observers choose to see, interpret, and inhabit the natural and empirical world” , and if this is done from a religious perspective, natural theology becomes inevitable. The book begins by tracing the history of (Christian) Natural Theology and reviewing the crisis of confidence it has been experiencing of late. It goes on to formulate a vision for the same. We are told more than once that the approach will consider natural phenomena “from the standpoint of the Christian tradition…” . The book discusses the challenges that a renewed natural theology is facing, and discusses how some of these are met. The notion of explaining reality is examined. Models of explanation are examined and the relation of explanation to empirical fit is considered.
One chapter presents as clear a discussion of the dynamics of a Trinitarian Theology as one can find anywhere. Here, the distinction between Judaic and Christian creation concepts is presented. Another discusses the relationship of surprising facts and counter-factuals to natural theology. There follows a brief review of the Augustinian view of creation.
The second part of the book, dealing with fine-tuning, begins with a discussion of fundamental constants and goes on to discuss the origins of life. The idea of biological fine-tuning is explored, leading to the conclusion that “The origins of life are … unquestionably anthropic” . The chapter on water, the matrix of life, shows the extraordinary coincidences that made the emergence of life possible, perhaps even inevitable. In a chapter on catalysis, the biochemical role of transition metals and the biochemistry of photosynthesis are discussed. The point is to “emphasize – though not to explain – the remarkable fine-tuning of biological processes” . In discussions of the origins of complexity we are introduced to Neo-Darwiniansm and reminded that “The standard Darwinian paradigm is better at accounting for improvements than for inventions” .
The topic of directionality of evolution takes us to St. Augustine’s Rationes Seminales. In the last chapter, the point is made that “creation entails the origination of a potentially multi-valued reality, whose properties emerge under certain conditions which did not exist at the origin of the universe” . In the conclusion, we read that “Natural theology … is back in fashion. This book offers a modest contribution to its further development” . Whether natural theology is back in fashion or not, this contribution is certainly not modest: It is significant and of great value to the field.