Alister MCGRATH.  The Big Question: Why We Can’t Stop Talking about Science, Faith and God.  New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Pp. ix + 257. $20.88 pb.  ISBN 978-1250077929.  Reviewed by Jason EICHENBERG, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560.


Alister McGrath aims to present a new direction in the faith and science dialogue, while offering creative remapping of ideas along the way. His proposal is a response to the new atheist movement and its unfounded assertions and attacks specifically on the Christian faith.  He unfolds this narrative by first providing his personal journey from “scientism” in his youth, toward his current Christian worldview. His goal is to utilize the many “maps” that faith and science have employed and currently still employ to find truth. He proposes unceasing dialogue among all disciplines of faith and science. He suggests achieving this by debunking the idea that there ever was a conflict between faith and science, as is assumed and accepted by the general population in today’s post-modern culture.

McGrath is clear that his work is a beginner’s guide, interweaving these narratives of faith and science with a broad examination of the intellectual terrain. He suggests this should be done in a number of ways. First, understand and respect the limits of each field of study, as well as understand and respect each field’s metanarrative. With honest open dialogue, science can continue to describe the cosmos while simultaneously illuminating our faith.  In operating this way, all fields of study might see the correlation of one another and perhaps begin to recognize they are in many ways discussing the same reality, while using different terms. McGrath points out early on that he agrees with atheists such as Dawkins on “the ability of a grand theory” (13). However, he suggests the principle differences rest in the terms used by each side.

McGrath sets up his arguments by pointing out the flaws of Dawkins and the new atheist rhetoric as they often seem to assert truth claims without an honest critique of their own scientific claims.  McGrath simultaneously shines a light on the limits of faith as well.  He demonstrates how some thinkers simultaneously ignore the “faith” that scientists must have in order to advance their predecessors’ foundations and expand their own scientific knowledge.  McGrath cites many experts within the faith and science communities to demonstrate the mistake of one particular field of study trying to act as the other, and especially warns all to avoid one form of intellectual tunnel vision, which tends to declare its method of investigating and representing reality to be the only valid one.  As McGraths comments, “To criticize science for failing to deliver moral principles is like blaming a microscope for not making good coffee” (201).

Finally, McGrath fine tunes his metanarrative and his multiple “maps” arguments to operate in parallel to the Christian story, while purposely and I think wisely avoiding Christian doctrine, for the sake of keeping the dialogue moving forward without bias.  McGrath urges all involved to continue the dialogue between faith and science as distinct but with one and the same goal to “explore what happens when they are allowed to speak to one another” (208).  He suggests that future dialogue maintain two main principles in order to progress. The first is for us to definitively recognize the ideologically driven and historically inaccurate battle between faith and science (on both sides).  Secondly, we must steer clear of the limitations of using any single map of reality in our pursuit of truth.

I would highly recommend McGrath’s latest book and think his perspective can stir desire from all fields toward further study concerning the artificial ideological war between faith and science. While no new principled arguments are employed, McGrath uses his own unique method to weave his metanarratives and “maps” arguments into a beginner’s guide toward a common web of a “Grand Unified Theory.” Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but I think it worth pursuing in order to bridge the gaps among all fields of study as we move to dissolve the fictitious war between faith and science in the modern world.