Alister McGrath Escapes Rationality

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Gnu Atheist

Alister McGarth is a Christian theologian and apologist, and Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at King’s College, London.

In his latest article, he chides the New Atheists for their adherence to the prison of mere rationality. He argues that reason and science are not enough to discover the depths of reality.

At one point, he asks “why should reason be able to tell us anything about God?” At another point he touts Thomas Aquinas, who claimed that one could deduce the existence of God through the use of reason. When New Atheists use reason, it can’t tell them anything about God, but when Christians use reason, then a different result is possible.

McGrath points out:

Reason needs to be calibrated by something external. That’s one of the reasons why science is so important in the critique of pure reason …

What happened to the “mere” rationality that is the New Atheist’s defining attribute? Are those who use science as an external calibration for reason, not New Atheists?

McGrath states:

To limit oneself to what reason and science can prove is merely to skim the surface of reality, and fail to discover the hidden depths beneath.

Where’s the evidence of the hidden depths to reality? These depths are not hidden to McGrath since he is aware of their existence, so these depths must be hidden only to those who don’t share McGrath’s acuity. Are these depths part of reality or merely part of McGrath’s imagination, and how does McGrath make that discernment?

McGrath goes on:

Both reason and science are severely limited in what they can prove, and in their capacity to engage the deepest intellectual and existential concerns of humanity.

Deep concerns like, the origin of species or the origin of the universe? Reason and science have provided excellent answers to those concerns, so McGrath must mean something even deeper. The deepest concerns must be those not addressed by reason and science. As soon as a concern is addressed by reason and science, it’s dropped from the “deepest” list.

And what does McGarth offer as an explanation to the “deepest” concerns? God. God is not an explanation, God is the manifestation of man’s inability to find an explanation.

H/T: Pharyngula.

16 thoughts on “Alister McGrath Escapes Rationality”

  1. I really don’t think McGrath is an authority on reality.

    Seriously you want to understand reality and all you use is faith?!

    Wow talk about running around in the dark refusing to use a torch because you think you can do better with your hands over your eyes

  2. How would McGrath respond to the suggestion that imagination is a silver thread acting as a conduit to the immortal and carrying the spark that ignites inspiration?

  3. If your faith is so fragile that it’s threatened by someone else somewhere believing something different you might need a new faith.

    I wonder how Mr. McGrath would feel about a similar article published about his personal philosophy. Someone must have fallen asleep during the whole “Golden Rule” lesson in theology school.

  4. “he chides the New Atheists for their adherence to the prison of mere rationality. He argues that reason and science are not enough to discover the depths of reality.”

    I think his argument is correct in toto, but ultimately silly. I do believe that reason and science are not enough to discover reality’s depth, but then neither is faith and religion. We are less than atoms from the perspective of the entire Universe. I believe that it would be almost impossible for those such as we to figure it all out. However, science and reason make worthwhile attempts, whereas faith and religion make no attempts at all, but follow the dictate of one or another canon that smugly believes it has all the answers already.

  5. Manny,

    My complaint with McGrath is he pushes pure reason onto the New Atheists as a strawman argument, not with his arguments regarding the problems associated with pure reason. Most of the New Atheists are scientists and use reason and evidence to form their concepts.

  6. “The mistake metaphysicians typically make is to apply reason to things in themselves and try to understand matters beyond reason’s grasp. Such attempts tend to lead reason into contradiction and confusion. Kant redefines the role of metaphysics as a critique of pure reason. That is, the role of reason is to understand itself, to explore the powers and the limits of reason. We are incapable of knowing anything certain about things-in-themselves, but we can develop a clearer sense of what and how we can know by examining intensively the various faculties and activities of the mind.”

    Seems like the guy is in pretty good company to me. I wouldnt call Kant just any old somebody.

  7. Even the most average dead person would have “knowledge” of theology more than the most learned theologian. I’ll wait til I am dead and argue about the evidence then if necessary.

  8. I can attest that I tried rational arguments with the Good Benedictine Sisters and it didn’t convince them and I spent even more time in the Hall!

  9. “The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.” – Harlan Ellison

    It’s elemental and elementary where McGarth falls in that statement.

    The power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly rational ways is such an obvious detriment to understanding the nature of reality. Because it is so obvious that what appears to us as solid matter is actually mostly comprised of empty space between atoms. If we as a species operated primarily upon belief? There would be no chemistry, no physics, and no modern medicine. We’d still be living in caves.

  10. Rationality be damned. I’m with stupid!

    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.”

    ~Albert Einstein

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