In this provocative assessment of the world's current ecological crisis, the author of the critically acclaimed In the Beginning exposes the false assumptions underlying the conflicts between science and religion, and proposes an innovative approach to saving the planet.Traditionally, science and religion have been thought of as two distinct and irreconcilable ways of looking at the world, and scientists have often chastised the world's religions for keeping their eyes on the heavens and paying scant attention to the destruction of Earth's precious resources and its natural wonders. In The Reenchantment of Nature, Alister McGrath, who holds doctorates in both molecular biology and divinity, challenges this long-held and dangerously misguided dichotomy.Arguing that Christianity and other great religions have always respected and revered the bounty and beauty of the earth, McGrath calls for a radical shift in perspective. He shows that by defining the world in the narrowest of scientific terms and viewing it as a collection of atoms and molecules governed by unchanging laws and forces, we have lost our ability to appreciate nature's enchantments.
McGrath, professor of historical theology at Oxford and prolific author (this is his 15th title since early 2001, and another is due in October) could easily write a fine book on religion and ecology if he'd slow down long enough to eliminate repetition and to organize his material so that its content supports his stated theme. There is much to like in this apologia: its nonsectarian Christian viewpoint, the author's dual passion (he has Oxford doctorates in molecular biophysics and in theology) and his use of analogy and poetry to illustrate his points. Alas, McGrath does not focus. Although he announces that the book "is intended to bring out the strategic resources of the Christian faith for the environmental struggle" and says in the final chapter that its basic theme "suggests that we reclaim the idea of nature as God's creation and act accordingly," most chapters are neither motivational nor practical but defensive. Taking frequent shots at science writers and religion despisers Lynn White and Richard Dawkins, McGrath argues that historically it is not Christianity but prosaic, reductionistic godlessness that has led to the destruction, domination and exploitation of nature. Christians, unlike disenchanted heirs of the Enlightenment, value nature as God's creation and as a source of divine revelation, and this Christian worldview, he contends, is as intellectually respectable as any scientific theory. While Christian apologists and graduate students will find value in this scientist-cum-theologian's perspective, McGrath's material could have been more effectively presented in one well-crafted magazine article. (Sept. 17) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 17, 2002
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Excerpt from The Reenchantment of Nature by Alister McGrath
The Meaning of Life and Other Enigmas
What is life all about? Does it possess any intrinsic meaning? Or is this "meaning" just something we impose upon a meaningless void? These are sincere and important questions, and there has been no shortage of answers. In his comic masterpiece Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams tells how a race of superintelligent beings from a very advanced civilization constructed a supercomputer called Deep Thought to answer the question "What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?" Deep Thought's circuit boards pulsed with activity for seven and a half million years and finally produced a result: 42--an enigmatic answer, to say the very least. Perhaps an even more puzzling answer is offered in Alan Dean Foster's Glory Lane, which tells of a group of people who visit another advanced civilization and ask its similarly advanced supercomputer more or less the same question. This time, the meaning of life is defined in less numerical, but still slightly baffling, terms: shopping.
Perhaps these answers are meant to caution us concerning the reliability of some of the more serious answers to this question. Precisely because these answers are of such importance, people tend to treat them with suspicion, even cynicism. And they are right to do so. How many people have been deluded, hoodwinked, or pressured into accepting less than adequate, and even dangerous, answers? Yet this understandable degree of cynicism must not force us to draw the conclusion that there is no meaning to life; or that, if there is indeed a meaning, it is so hidden and obscure that none can hope to find it.
Many of the answers given to these questions are religious, and for that reason they automatically attract ridicule from the "let's get rid of religion" school. Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins, who is a particularly luminous representative of this group, is quite clear why so many people find religion attractive. It offers them--to use his terms--"explanation," "consolation," and "uplift." In every case, of course, Dawkins argues that what religion offers is completely false and that the truthfulness of the sciences is to be preferred. Science may not always be able to offer the equal of religion, but at least what it offers is absolutely true. As Dawkins puts these points in an article in Humanist magazine, following his election as Humanist of the Year:
Humans have a great hunger for explanation. It may be one of the main reasons why humanity so universally has religion, since religions do aspire to provide explanations. We come to our individual consciousness in a mysterious universe and long to understand it. Most religions offer . . . a cosmology and a biology; however, in both cases it is false.
Consolation is harder for science to provide. Unlike religion, science cannot offer the bereaved a glorious reunion with their loved ones in the hereafter . . .
Uplift, however, is where science really comes into its own. All the great religions have a place for awe, for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation. And it's exactly this feeling of spine-shivering, breath-catching awe--almost worship--this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide.