Saturday, 20 May 2006

Alister McGrath: The Order of Things

Alister McGrath has just sent me a copy of his latest book, The Order of Things: Explorations in Scientific Theology, which is due for release within the next month.

The book begins with my own chapter outlining McGrath’s “scientific theology,” followed by nine essays in which McGrath develops various aspects of the dialogue between theology and science. He explores in depth topics such as natural theology (he is also currently writing a whole book about this), emergence and stratification, biological evolution as a model for doctrinal development, and the church as an empirical reality. The volume also contains methodological reflection on the way to go about constructing an entire “scientific dogmatics,” which is McGrath’s major project for the future.

McGrath has been publishing prolifically on theology and science in recent years; but I reckon this new collection of essays contains some of his most interesting and most creative work to date.

15 Comments:

Arvid said...

I've always found the thought of cross-breeding theology and science (especially astrophysics) intriguing. Thanks for mentioning this book. I'll sure try to get myself a copy (if its distibuted to sweden, that is). Seem like a stimmulating read.

Looney said...

Having worked 25 years in high tech, I can testify that the cross breeding is already there and we are loathe to admit how much is really happening on a daily basis.

For example, when Reagan was in office, the Left's ideology demanded an immediate unilateral disarmament of the US and this was supported with apocalyptic computer simulations called the "nuclear winter" - i.e. the inverse of global warming. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, stopping capitalist greed became the prevailing ideology and suddenly the simulations reversed trends to provide "global warming". Since scientific/engineering simulation is my profession, you probably might like to know that a .1% change to some inputs can determine if the temperature goes up or down.

In a nutshell: Ideology dictates what science is discovered, and the science discovered will dictate what facts need to be engineered.

Before starting to develop a theology of science, you might want to start by questioning the Disneyized, fairy tale version of science that intellectuals promote.

Lyn said...

Wow, you work with McGrath? I've read a couple of his books and find him very engaging. Congrats on your new publication. lgp

Arvid said...

looney said: "Ideology dictates what science is discovered, and the science discovered will dictate what facts need to be engineered."

Then perhaps the Big Bang theory, if we accept the notion of a gravitational singularity as the start of the expansion, is to blame on the theological stress on the "ex nihilo" part of creation... Which goes hand in hand with the thought of facts needing to be engineered being not found/engineered (what went on before, in particular); the thought of them being contained outside history. Hmm... Nevermind a newbie. I don't know much about theology, and far less about astrophysics.

But I guess Looney's got a point.

Arvid said...

...and (just to keep on blabbering), friends of mine often laugh at the disneyized fairy tale notion of science that I... suffer from :)

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for these interesting comments. I know what you mean about the relationship between ideology and technology, and I think you're right that this also affects scientific research in various ways.

Still, the friends I have who are scientists seem pretty keen to preserve the crucial distinction between "science" and "technology". And part of McGrath's own emphasis is on the realist nature of scientific investigation: he argues that science really can uncover truth about the physical world, even though scientific knowledge is at the same time always socially constructed.

kim fabricius said...

Hi Ben,

I see your point, as long as we also agree that the distinction between "science" and "technology" is not the same as the distinction between "(critical) realism" and "social constructivism". In any case, Looney's disturbing point is not really about the social construction of reality but the ideologically-driven deployment of technology of which theoretical ("pure") scientists surely cannot wash their hands - the lesson of the life and work of Robert Oppenheimer.

By the way, keen as you are to draw a distinction between "science" and "technology", would you be equally keen to divide, say, "dogmatics" and "moral theology"? Is this an analogy worth pondering?

Just being a gadfly!

Stephen G said...

Ben, is you essay published anywhere else?

My own understanding of the science-technology relationship is that it is, as is usual with these things, more complicated than it first seems. Some like Ellul argued that "pure science" no longer exists being subsumed by "technique" - which equates with contemporary constructions of a "techno-science". Others like to split the along the lines of science=observation of nature, technology=manipulation of nature (chemistry is both though).

What is obvious from my reading of science and religion literature is that it tends to be either "science and religion" or "technology and ethics". There often reference to "ethics and technology" in the back of the science-religion books, but it's left as an "exercise for the reader".

Also science-religion stuff tends to be more esoteric and "beautiful" - physicists and mathematicians - rather than the really messy stuff of the biological sciences.

For an interesting spin on separating science, arts and technology see Kevin Kelly's paper, "The Third Culture." Science 279 (1998): 992-993.

Drew said...

Is the title deliberately foucault, or something else?

Looney said...

Since I work in an in-between land which is sometimes science but usually technology, I will give a technology/science distinction based on my experience:

A technologist is someone who uses scientific principles + intelligent design to earn a living so he can feed his family. The technologist's end product is always something tangible - which will either work or it won't. Without intelligent design, technology is impossible.

The scientist is nearly the same, except his end product is an idea.

I find it quite interesting that scientists have recently proven that intelligent design is impossible.

Ben Myers said...

Yes, Drew: at one point in the book McGrath indicates that "the order of things" is a nod towards Foucault (and he also says that the concept of "the order of things" will be central in the big "scientific dogmatics" that he's planning to write).

Yes, Stephen: a slightly different version of my essay was published last year as "Alister McGrath's Scientific Theology," Reformed Theological Review 64:1 (2005), 15-34.

Stephen G said...

Thanks Ben. Interloan request filed for a copy. Looking forward to reading it.

michael jensen said...

Wouldn't KB be screaming NEIN right about now?

Stephen G said...

Paper arrived via interloan at the weekend. Good stuff. Nice to see the detailed footnoting too.

I've now cited the paper in a footnote in my thesis chapter surveying approaches to science, religion and technology.

Arvid said...

looney said: "Ideology dictates what science is discovered, and the science discovered will dictate what facts need to be engineered."

Then perhaps the Big Bang theory, if we accept the notion of a gravitational singularity as the start of the expansion, is to blame on the theological stress on the "ex nihilo" part of creation... Which goes hand in hand with the thought of facts needing to be engineered being not found/engineered (what went on before, in particular); the thought of them being contained outside history. Hmm... Nevermind a newbie. I don't know much about theology, and far less about astrophysics.

But I guess Looney's got a point.

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