by Revd Dr Gillian Straine
from Signs of the Times No. 48 - Jan 2013
It is my pleasure to provide this response to Jeyan Anketell's review of Making Sense of Faith in God by Jonathan Clatworthy which appeared in the October edition of this newsletter.
I do not intend to review the review (I agreed with it entirely), nor to provide the traditional review fodder of describing the book in terms of its structure, content and argument as this can be all found it Jeyan's article. Instead, I offer a few thoughts on how this reader, who is both a scientist and theologian, encountered the book in the light of what has already been described, and where it fits into the broader debate between the magisteria of science and religion.
This book falls squarely into the field of apologetics. It is a well argued, thorough and clear text, that does exactly what it says on its cover: it defends the view that, scientifically speaking, faith in God 'makes sense'. Through its well-structured chapters on design, values, morality, religious experience, necessary being, order and intelligibility the author sets out why he is certain that it is logical to believe in God. At this time of growth in secularism and atheism, and, perhaps more dangerously, the commonly accepted belief that God is irrelevant without any need to justify such a view, this book is essential: It defends the faith, and does so mostly against atheistic positions, rather than the other extreme of religious fundamentalism which is roundly dismissed. The author communicates the importance and urgency of this task at our own moment in history.
To do this, he delivers a book with enormous scope and depth hidden behind its rather beige exterior. Within the word limitations that I assume he had, the way he presents the historical background to where we are now is noteworthy in its balance and erudition. As he rightly expounds, we are not dealing here with the history of science and religion, but rather showing that where we are today is a product of the people of history, doing their thing in their own contexts and cultures: It's as much as about politics, than pulpits and periodic tables.
Also of great interest, and not typically part of texts about religion and science, is his work on value and morality, which gives the books an integrative feel, helping us to think about science and religion as they are met in the ethic dimensions of living. The phrase, 'morality based on God is a morality of hope', will stay with me, as he offered a valueless and subjective Godless morality as the only alternative.
He admits that there will be no absolute proof of God, but he holds that belief in God is logical by looking at its alternative and asking the reader to which they emotionally feel attracted. Or he presents one of the big questions in the field, such as order in the universe, or creation theory, and argues that faith in God is the most rational response to these questions. For example, when looking at creation he says that we must choose between God and the theory of multiverse which postulates that we are one of a billion universes that spring up all the time. In this case, an appeal to Ockham's razor was made.
One aspect of the book that I did struggle with was the subtitle: how belief makes science possible? It's odd, and possibly inflammatory in an already contentious area and I think it may turn people off the book, especially any scientists. Clatworthy several times expressed the 'solution' to the religion and science problem: science needs to include the possibility of God as a legitimate scientific explanation. As science deals with the testable, even at the theoretical level, this idea is going to be a non-runner. While to a theist, even a scientific one, the idea that God is the primary cause of the universe, who gave the universe order, who is the source of morality, and the giver of our intelligence, will never be part of a scientific description of the world, even if it provides our metaphysical backdrop. And science would carry on exploring and discovering quite happily and successfully without any need to talk about God.
As with many apologetic texts, there is just the hint of the defensive in the rhetoric, which might not appeal to every reader. The root of this might be that God may not be able to be fully defended, or understood by the rational human mind. And that science may yet explain things that make us theists distinctly uncomfortable. He is skating on rather thin ice, simply to say that faith in God simply makes better sense when science is still exploring and explaining the world. For example, consciousness may just one day arise out of a very complex, parallel computer, we simply do not know. We must have, and defend, an understanding of God that will weather whatever science might postulate. There is no need to be defensive. There is surely still a place for the apophatic and mystical, even the indecipherable, as we humbly try to speak about God in this weird, heart-breaking and lonely experience of being human. Does belief in God, after all, ever completely and utterly make sense?
What is wonderful about this book is its size and scope. To get a sense of his argument it is best to to read it cover to cover. Clatworthy's rational justification will appeal to many, even if strict rationality is not normally your favoured way of thinking. And it is a worthy addition to an important area of thinking which should not be left to the atheists and scientists to grapple with alone.