Here is the first stage in a series of summaries I intend to write on Alistair McGrath's A Scientific Theology. I'll write more once I've read it!
Chapter 1: Science as the ancillae theology
From the word go it becomes clear that this is not going to be a bit of light bed time reading! McGrath commences by showing historically how Christianity has always had to wrestle with the interface between theology and other areas of knowledge: Platonism and patristic Christianity; Aristotelianism and medieval Christianity; social science and early twentieth century Christianity. With these and all dialogue partners there is the potential for intellectual exploration, appreciation of parallels and particularly apologetic value. However, there is danger of undue influence if the roll of the supporting discipline begins to become the determining discipline. Natural science offers great opportunities but will it govern or illuminate theology? Mcgrath argues that ‘a positive working relationsip between Christian theology and the natural sciences is demanded by the Christian understanding of the nature of reality itself.’ The fragmentation of the subjects (natural sciences v humanities) he argues was an enlightenment hangover whereas the bible and the longstanding confession of the church is that all truth is God’s truth. Natural sciences examine the book of God’s works theology examines the book of God’s words. Is there a case for a unitary foundation for human knowledge?
Chapter 2: The approach to be adopted
If there is such a unitary foundation this would mean direct engagement of Christian theology and the natural sciences. The specific form of this projects scientific theology is based on traditional creedal Christian orthodoxy. A true scientific theology must be careful not to be formulated such that it interacts with transient theological trends. Trends result in implausible and dated mediation which is of no lasting value and ultimately pointless. The traditional creedal Christian tradition enables direct engagement with the natural sciences. Evangelicalism stands within this tradition seeing the meditations of those who gave total priority to the Bible in the past as a supporting resource as it reflects faithfully on scripture in the present. Provisionality is also a characteristic of the natural sciences. The history of science shows evidence of previously well established theories being overturned in paradigm shifts. Hence engagement with specific scientific “certainties” is also liable to instability and will not be followed in this scientific theology. Mcgrath emphasises that his scientific theology will be Christianity and science not religion and science since to speak of religion as a homogeneous whole is clearly not possible.
The natural sciences offer a resource to theology to ensure that the settled scientific assumptions of yesteryear now suspected to be erroneous have not been uncritically accepted into the teachings of the church. McGrath then describes the essentialist fallacy in which interactions between science and Christianity weave a complex and often distorted picture aiming to either perpetuate a war like conflict or constant harmony model (neither of which is particularly realistic). By contrast the true picture is often more complex combining, personal, cultural, ideological, political and religious agendas.
Most practicing scientists subscribe to some form of practical realism (that there exists a reality independent of the human mind of which some account may be given). They do so because of the force of evidence which sees remarkable explanatory power and predictive success. Realism as will be discussed in volume 2 is essential for an account of Christianity and the natural sciences. It assumes a reality independent of the human mind; that the reality can be known and that the reality may be described however imperfectly. McGrath argues that Christian theology shares this understanding of realism. Yet this cannot be explored until a detailed engagement of the concept of nature and its relation to the biblical concept of creation has been explored