Science and religion shouldn’t clash, says world-renowned Oxford theologian Alister McGrath
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has sparked conflicting responses, and some groups have based their resistance to public health guidelines on religion. While a religious mindset is driven by trust in a higher power, a science-based perspective relies on knowledge based on empirical evidence to understand life. Some may say the two are incompatible, although according to world renowned theologian, Alister McGrath, they inform each other.
McGrath is an old friend from when I taught at Oxford. I don’t remember how it happened, it happened over 20 years ago, but I finished teaching what I taught at Said Business School, Leadership and Change to Ministers of the Church of England with Alister. So in the middle of the crisis, I thought about asking him some more probing questions to see what he could do.
“Science can give us answers that don’t necessarily solve things but offer us a way out of some of the worst aspects of the pandemic,” said McGrath, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford.
Known as one of the world’s leading apologists for Christianity and esteemed Christian theologians, McGrath was once an atheist. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he grew up in the town of Downpatrick and majored in pure and applied mathematics, physics and chemistry at Methodist College. He then joined Wadham College, University of Oxford to study natural sciences before turning to theology. Noted for his work in historical and systematic theology, much of his research advances the dialogue between science and religion.
McGrath stresses the importance of scientific research and discovery. After all, the healthcare system is deeply rooted in religious institutions.
“If you look at medieval monasteries, they always had a hospital because it was part of their faith,” McGrath said. “Medicine was seen as a means of grace, a way of actually using human knowledge and the Earth of God to develop treatments.”
“Some will still say that science and religion are incompatible,” he added. “They are indeed different, but so are science and ethics, and every scientist I’ve met wants to be an ethical person.”
By the logic that science and religion are incompatible, we should assume that scientists cannot be religious, but “a very large number of them are,” McGrath added.
According to the Christian theologian, we are therefore faced with finding a way to bring together our scientific, ethical and religious understandings to give meaning to our lives.
Scientific knowledge can lead to practical explanations, while religion can provide much-needed hope, especially in times of crisis.
“One of the big questions we face with Covid-19 is sheer exhaustion,” McGrath said. “We need something to enliven us and give direction in what seems like darkness and uncertainty.”
In response to vaccine hesitancy, McGrath shared that while he understands the apprehension, the pandemic has reminded us that human existence is more precarious than we realize and compels us to protect and protect ourselves. protect each other.
“There’s a logically continuous argument between taking aspirin for your headache and getting vaccinated,” he said. “The question is where to draw the line.”
He describes the coronavirus vaccination program as a necessary extension of the “medical program in progress for 2,000 years”. According to McGrath, Christians must then share a sense of responsibility in the face of the global health crisis and serve God by serving others – an important tenet of Christianity.
“We have no idea what awaits us around the next corner, and the entire immunization program has placed increased emphasis on being prepared for whatever may come next,” he said. “It’s a very natural, very obvious thing for me to do as a Christian.”
Earlier this month, McGrath posted Return from a distant land, a paperback book in which he presents his vision of Christian theology.
“I try to explain why I’m really interested in science and religion, but I’m also interested in historical theology, the emergence of ideas, and why public engagement is so important. for me as a theologian.”
In the book, McGrath further advances the need for religion and science to work together to address contemporary social issues and urges theologians to voice their views in public debates.
“There are wonderful opportunities for discussion to show how Christianity plays a role in major cultural issues, gives good answers,” he said. “These answers are not heard because people are not talking.”
Stephanie Ricci contributed to this story.