Faith & Science

Are faith & science fundamentally incompatible? 

Dr. Alister McGrath, a distinguished theologian and scientist, looks at major historical developments in science, philosophy, and religion, dispelling myths and offering a thoughtful case for the complementary roles of faith & science. 

This course was filmed live over five days.  Participants included scientists, theologians, pastors & graduate students.


01. From Atheism to Faith

In this brief introductory lecture, Dr. Alister McGrath describes his journey from atheism to Christianity – a journey that led him to his life’s passion: the relationship between science and faith.

Tags: Conversion, interdisciplinary dialogue, worldview


02. Christianity & Science 

Dr. Alister McGrath speaks to the assumed conflict between science and Christianity, debunking two popular urban legends – one concerning Copernicus and Calvin, the other concerning Wilberforce and Huxley – and establishes the historical context for the apparent chasm between the disciplines of theology and science.  He then gives an outline for the rest of the course and concludes with the question, “Is there any way in which the Christian view of reality allows us to see the world in a way that helps us make connections between the creation and the Creator?”

Tags: Interdisciplinary dialogue, history of science, science-faith controversy


03. Historical Landmarks

Dr. Alister McGrath separates history from myth as he explains three of the greatest science-faith controversies of all time:  the Copernican revolution, the Newtonian worldview, and the Darwinian controversy.  In each case he distills the debate to the main points of tension between the Christian faith, as understood at the time, and science, as understood at the time.  In this process, he reveals the recurring themes and draws out a pattern that is instrumental in understanding the relationship between science and faith.  

Tags: geocentric, heliocentric, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies, Copernican Revolution, science-faith controversy, Newtonian worldview, Darwinism, Hermeneutics


04. The Doctrine of Creation

Dr. McGrath spells out the implications of the doctrine of Creation.  Drawing from Paul Davies, St. Augustine, John Polkinghorne, and others, McGrath explains why the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Creation actually gives legitimacy to the scientific endeavor. He fleshes out the doctrine of the image of God and in the process contrasts the Enlightenment notion of man’s dominion over nature with the Judeo-Christian value of stewardship as defined in Genesis. It is the activity of a Creator, he argues, that makes possible the congruity between the human mind and reality, and thus makes scientific engagement a fruitful endeavor.

Tags: Creationism, Imago Dei, cultural mandate, stewardship, dominion, natural theology, natural sciences, natural law


05. Natural Theology

Dr. McGrath introduces the concept of natural theology.  He explains several ways that various thinkers throughout history have used natural theology to point to the existence of God - including reason, order, and beauty. Dr. McGrath asserts that none of these approaches proves God, but rather confirms the basic belief in God that already exists within the human being.  He explains the book of nature and the book of scripture of Calvinist tradition and, using the anthropic principle as a test case, demonstrates the way these two books work together.

Tags: Biblical natural theology, historical theology, philosophical natural theology


06. Q&A: Natural Theology

Dr. Alister McGrath interacts with participants on questions about the similarities between Calvin’s accommodation and Bultmann’s demythologization, the lack of an evangelical doctrine of ecology, miracles, the anthropic principle, hermeneutics, the resonance of creation with individual souls, the hierarchy of senses, theological vs. atheological arguments from nature, rational apologetics vs. faith, proof for or against the existence of God, and what, if any, science can be extracted from scripture. 

Tags: Historical theology, hermeneutics, interdisciplinary dialogue, apologetics


07. Q&A: Creation

Dr. McGrath answers more questions on topics from his first lectures. These regard the emphasis that should be placed on natural theology, opportunities in the field of science and faith, interdisciplinary dialogue, atheistic belief, Romans 1:20, special revelation and salvationthe anthropic principle, the nature of suggestion versus proof, biblical interpreters, and intelligent design.

Tags: Systematic theology, evangelism, doctrine of God, Interdisciplinary dialogue, hermeneutics


08. Models & Analogies

Dr. Alister McGrath speaks to the necessity as well as the limitations of models and analogies in both scientific research and biblical interpretation.  He speaks to the similarities and differences between the nature of scientific models and the nature of theological models.  After giving a brief overview of the history of quantum physics, Dr. McGrath draws on Niels Bohr’s principle of complementarity to explain the necessity of multiple models for complex concepts in both science and religion.

Tags: quantum physics, religious models, theological models, analogies, scientific models, modeling, Ian Barbour


09. Philosophy of Science

Dr. Alister McGrath gives an overview of the philosophy of science since the Enlightenment and its ramifications for theology.  He describes the tensions between rationalism and empiricism, and between idealism and realism.  He gives a quick historical tour from Descartes through the Vienna Circle.  In doing so, he brings to light the problems inherent in these systems of thought, as well as the challenges they pose for theology.  Dr. McGrath wraps up this session by asking what theologians might learn from scientific philosophers Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi.

Tags: objectivism, enlightenment, rationalism, empiricism, history of philosophy, philosophy of science, Vienna Circle, logical positivism, logical atomism, paradigm shift, tacit knowledge


10. Q&A: Models

Dr. Alister McGrath interacts with participants on topics concerning the identity or model of Christ as God and man, apologetics, ways theologians and scientists deal with underdetermination, non-scientific reasons for judging theories, role of imagination in science and theology, how to judge between various theologians’ perspectives, and the role of evidence in the science-faith debate.  

Tags: Christology, apologetics, historical theology


11. Philosophy of Religion

In this lecture, Dr. Alister McGrath considers the philosophy of religion.  He examines the development of the arguments for God from Aquinas to Paley to process thought to intelligent design.  He critiques the god-of-the-gaps theories and gives the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional cosmological arguments from causation and teleology.  In examining the philosophy of religion and the rational argumentation that accompanies it, Dr. McGrath hopes to bring to life the question of whether God’s existence be proved or disproved by engagement with the world through the sciences.

Tags: presuppositional apologetics, god-of-the-gaps, cosmological arguments, classical apologetics, Anselm, Aquinas, Paley, philosophy of religion, primary cause, secondary cause


12. Q&A: Theology

Dr. Alister McGrath discusses a variety of topics with participants, including deism’s relationship to atheism, miracles in Aquinas’ theory of secondary causality, the Genesis creation account, presuppositional apologetics, process theology, God as sufferer, open theism, Paley’s intentions, epistemology, and process thought and liberation theology. 

Tags: Doctrine of God, historical theology, Old Testament Biblical theology, hermeneutics


12. Q&A: God's Action

Dr. Alister McGrath continues discussing questions with the participants.  Topics include the problem of suffering and God’s action in the world, man’s destructive power versus God’s sovereignty, the relationship between God’s action and his being, a naturalist explanation of being, the kalam argument, the uniqueness of creation and of humanity within creation, the role of the creeds, fallen humanity’s responsibility for natural disasters, resurrection of the body, and models of God’s sovereignty.

Tags: Historical theology, doctrine of God, demonology


13. Critical Realism

In this session Dr. Alister McGrath shows how realism is the preeminent school of thought within the scientific community.  He describes three alternatives – idealism, positivism, and instrumentalism, and critiques them in turn.  Dr. McGrath spends the rest of the session giving a detailed analysis of critical realism and its implications not only for science, but for theology as well.

Tags: epistemology, ontology, critical realism


14. Richard Dawkins

In this session, Dr. Alister McGrath offers an informed and detailed critique of Richard Dawkins’ spiritual and scientific presuppositions.  In point/counterpoint format, Dr. McGrath shows the fallacy in Dawkins’ belief that the sciences necessarily lead to atheism.  In this process, Dr. McGrath asserts, “the scientific method is not capable of delivering a decisive adjudication of the God question one way or the other.  And … those who believe that it proves God, or those who believe that it disproves God, have simply pressed the method way beyond its acceptable limits.”

Tags: Richard Dawkins, medieval science, atheism, proof, apologetics, scientific method, presuppositions, presuppositionalism, basic beliefs


15. Q&A: Dialogue

Dr. McGrath answers questions on a variety of topics including the implications of “rebellious” scientists upon bioethics, dialogue with scientists, the ethical implications of knowledge, the relationship between the enlightenment and realism, intellectual anarchy, destructive religion versus Christianity, how scientists should talk about their personal worldviews, the dangers of a reductionist understanding of reality, identification of new disciplines, theology of the cross in public dialogue, the Sokal Hoax, Christian epistemology, closing the gap between the sciences and humanities, the definition of science, the two Genesis accounts,  the restoration of metanarratives, critical realism and the emergent church.

Tags: Theological ethics, epistemology, interdisciplinary dialogue, ontology, philosophy of science, Old Testament Biblical theology


16. Key Thinkers

In this session, Dr. Alister McGrath provides an introduction to six key thinkers in the science-faith debate in hopes that participants will want to continue their exploration of this topic.  He presents four scientists who developed an interest in theology – Ian Barbour, Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – and two theologians who developed an interest in science – T.F. Torrance and Wolfhart Pannenburg.

Tags: process thought, process theology, philosophy of history, theology of nature, natural theology, critical realism, dialogue, models, Barthian tradition, evolutionary process


17. Q&A: Theology & Science

Alister McGrath takes questions concerning process theology, the credibility of key thinkers in the faith-science dialogue, young earth creation, and Darwinism.  He also addresses the work of Paul Davies, the god-of-the-gaps theory, orthodoxy in faith-science dialogues, pantheistic scientists, a posteriori theology, Reformed theology and critical realism, the interaction between the church and the world, the application of chaos theory to history, the scientific significance of the fall, the image of God and evolutionary theory, the sacred-secular distinction, the benefits Christianity has brought to science, scientific motivation for theists, the closed system of the universe, and how to begin studying theology.

Tags: interdisciplinary dialogue, scientific credibility, interpretive frameworks, philosophy of history


18. Continuing Issues

In this lecture, Dr. Alister McGrath discusses the limits of science, in particular the why questions of our existence. He spends the bulk of the lecture addressing the most significant challenges Darwinism poses to Christianity, including our understanding of humanity, God’s involvement with the world, the wastefulness of the evolutionary process, as well as Darwinism’s implications for biblical interpretation. Dr. McGrath outlines and evaluates the most popular Christian responses to these challenges including young and old Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design and evolutionary theism.  He closes by discussing the potential for positive relationships between spirituality, science and faith.

Tags: anthropology, history of science, historical theology, hermeneutics, interdisciplinary dialogue


19. Q&A: Evolution

In this interactive session, Dr. McGrath takes questions from the participants concerning his personal testimony and his dealing with doubt, as well as his fears and hopes for the future.  He also discusses the compatibility of doctrine of the fall and evolution, how to introduce the notion of a creator in academic circles, biblical insight into the created order, encouraging young learners, and the effects of evolution on the gospel message.  Finally he considers Satan’s influence on creation, the biblical perspective on eating meat, the mathematical possibility of evolution, and the historicity of Adam and Eve.

Tags: interdisciplinary dialogue, academic credibility, Christian education, mere Christianity, vegetarianism


20. Discussion & Reflections

In this interactive dialogue, Dr. David Cook questions Dr. Alister McGrath on some key issues addressed in the Faith and Science course.  They discuss encouraging Christians to study science, the dearth of Christians in the humanities, and the caricature of religion-science battles.  They also consider the work of Teilhard de Chardin and T. F. Torrance and process theology.  They discuss the origin of the universe, biblical interpretation, intelligent design theory, the limits of science, elements of faith and objectivity in science and religion, financial pressures in scientific research, miracles, and a scientific view of mystery and ethics.

Tags: science-faith controversy, Christian education, hermeneutics, interdisciplinary dialogue, philosophical theology, objectivity