We are going to review Alister McGrath’s new book, “A Theory of Everything (That Matters): A Brief Guide to Einstein, Relativity, and His Surprising Thoughts on God”. In this book, McGrath examines the life and work of Einstein, explaining his scientific significance and considering what Einstein did and did not believe about science, religion, and the meaning of life. A review of the book by Greg Cootsona in Christianity Today can be found here. (I reviewed Cootsona’s book, “Mere Science and the Christian Faith” for Internet Monk beginning here). Also in Christianity Today, there is an interview with McGrath by Christopher Reese that can be found here.
Alister McGrath is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and serves as associate priest in a group of Church of England village parishes in the Cotswolds. His website is here . McGrath is both a scientist; in 1977 McGrath was awarded a PhD in Biochemistry from Oxford University for his work on molecular biophysics, and a Christian minister and apologist; following his conversion from atheism to Christianity, he studied divinity at St. John’s College at Cambridge (1978-80) and in September 1980, he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England. Of his former atheism, McGrath says:
When I was growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the 1960s, I came to the view that God was an infantile illusion, suitable for the elderly, the intellectually feeble, and the fraudulently religious. I admit this was a rather arrogant view, and one that I now find somewhat embarrassing. My rather pathetic excuse for this intellectual haughtiness is that a lot of other people felt the same way back then. It was the received wisdom of the day that religion was on its way out, and that a glorious, godless dawn was just around the corner… and says about his subsequent conversion:
In the midst of this growing delight in the natural sciences, which exceeded anything I could have hoped for, I found myself rethinking my atheism… Atheism, I began to realize, rested on a less-than-satisfactory evidential basis. The arguments that had once seemed bold, decisive, and conclusive increasingly turned out to be circular, tentative, and uncertain.
In the realm of reconciling faith and science that I am most interested in, McGrath is one of my heroes. As he says in the same beliefnet article noted above:
My Christian faith brings me a deepened appreciation of the natural sciences, and although I am no longer active in primary scientific research, I keep up my reading in the fields that interest and excite me most: evolutionary biology, theoretical physics, biochemistry, and biophysics.
Why does faith bring this intellectual enthusiasm and satisfaction? In the words of another academic from Belfast who found faith at Oxford University: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen-not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis wrote this in “Is Theology Poetry?” his famous essay on the explanatory potential of the Christian faith.
So I am especially glad that Alister McGrath has written this book. Albert Einstein was, without a doubt, the most iconic scientist of the last century. His name is virtually identical with genius; to call someone an “Einstein” is to give their intellectual ability the highest praise. In this book, McGrath provides an accessible introduction to Einstein’s great scientific discoveries, as well as careful analysis of his views on the relationship between science and religion. Einstein, contrary to popular opinion, was a nuanced thinker of the big questions of life, and who better than McGrath to give us a tour de force of this aspect of the great scientist’s legacy.
“Albert Einstein remains the world’s favorite genius. He has appeared on the cover of Time magazine no fewer than six times and was lionized as its Person of the Century in 1999. Einstein’s equation E = mc2―along with his trademark hairstyle―has found its way onto T-shirts and billboards. Yet while Einstein is universally recognized as a genius, his ideas can still mystify us, even a century later.
This concise book sets out to explain in accessible terms Einstein’s revolutionary scientific ideas, which still shape our world today. Nobody thinks a scientific genius is infallible. Still, Einstein’s genius status means he is profoundly worth listening to, especially when thinking about how we make sense of our universe and God. This book takes seriously Einstein’s fascination with a “big picture” of our world―if you like, a theory of everything that matters.
Einstein is a dialogue partner whose reflections may help us move beyond the fragmentation of ideas and values that has become such a core feature of our own day.
Let’s begin that conversation.”