FAITH Magazine November – December 2010
A Fine-Tuned Universe - The Quest for God in Science and Theology
Alister E. McGrath, Westminster John Knox, 288pp, £26.99
"I believe in design because I believe in God; not in God because I see design." Cardinal Newman's words illustrate the scaling-down of natural theology's ambition advocated by McGrath in this book, which is based on his 2009 Gifford lectures. For McGrath, natural theology is not a means to prove the existence of God, but rather should aim to highlight a "fundamental consonance or resonance between Christian theory and empirical observation".
In other books, McGrath (inter alia Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at King's College, London) has battled against Professor Dawkins and the New Atheists. But, reflecting on the history of natural theology, he is conscious of the danger of nailing his colours to the mast of current scientific thinking. Although scientists behave as if their theories are facts, often arguing ferociously against critics, key paradigms of science can shift rapidly and fundamentally when empirical evidence reaches a tipping point. As McGrath reminds us, William Paley's Natural Theology (1802) set out a demonstration of the existence of God, based on observations of the natural world, that was highly influential in its day, and for many years afterwards. Most famously, Paleypromulgated the idea of God as a watchmaker, who engineered the fine intricacies of natural creation, such as the human eye. Then came geology and Darwin. Science took a sharp turn; Paley's natural theology, with its assumption of fixity of species since the Creation of Genesis, careered into obsolescence; eventually, his watchmaker was blinded by a scathing Dawkins.
In this book, which is in two parts, McGrath focuses on "surprising facts" - apparent fine-tunings of critical parameters of nature. These facts are consistent with the existence of a Creator, and indeed a potential catalyst for faith in unwaveringly sympathetic people, but are also open to atheist explanations. A major strand of McGrath's ideas is a reworking of St Augustine's concept of rationes seminales (as set out in De Genesi ad litteram). This is the concept that God incorporated multiple dormant potencies and principles of order into His initial Creation, and that those are actualised during the passage of time through divine providence. The existence of "surprising facts" in nature is consonant with that idea that Creation was created containing the seeds of itsfuture development. McGrath is aware of the risk of slipping into Deism - with a creator sitting back and detachedly watching his creation unfurl - hence, his emphasis on the importance of a Trinitarian approach, in which God not only intervenes in the subsequent development of His Creation, but in which the whole Christian economy of salvation is worked out. Much of the first part of the book is a discussion of what a natural theology, and especially a Trinitarian natural theology, should and should not be (the exposition of the theory itself is limited to little more than a single chapter). The natural theology McGrath espouses is Trinitarian in its explanation of our perception of imperfections and evil in the world. If we attempt to deduce properties of God from our observations ofthe natural world, our conception of Him will be far from orthodox, pointing perhaps to dualism or outright paganism. On a Trinitarian approach, we understand that we and the world exist in the broader context of the economy of salvation: we should expect to see imperfections and evil, both because we ourselves are fallen observers, and because we are observing a "groaning" Creation, in transition from a lost Paradise to "a new Heaven and a new Earth".
In the second part of his book, McGrath sets out detailed examples of "surprising facts" in cosmology, chemistry and biology (especially, but not exclusively, evolution). To pick an example from the cosmology chapter, if the strong nuclear force, one of the four fundamental forces recognised by modern physics, and which controls amongst other things the burning of the Sun, were slightly larger or slightly smaller, we could not exist. Similarly, to take another example, the emergence of entities on Earth capable of evolution again appears to require "fine-tuning" of physical and chemical properties of the Universe. Over six detailed chapters, McGrath builds up a compelling body of evidence. Of course, as McGrath recognises, atheist explanations for such "fine tuning" exist: the multiverse,for example, which posits that our universe is just one region of a vastly bigger reality, such that the apparently fine-tuned parameters have different values elsewhere. In that interpretation, an anthropic selection effect filters our observations: the parameters have here the values they do have because, if they did not have those values, we would not exist here to measure them.
The science chapters are informative and interesting in their own right, and will provide useful material for anyone likely to be debating the interaction of religion and science. Overall, although well worth reading on its own, the book does come across as being part of a broader work in progress - which it is. For a fuller picture, you would need to read other works by the same author. McGrath is a skilled apologist, with a pragmatic approach to evangelism, is very well-informed in both theology and science (he holds doctorates in both), and he writes very well. Reading his other books, as well as this one, would not be a waste of time.
This novel will not win the Nobel Prize for Literature - nor any other prize awarded by the Establishment. It is not high culture, but it is taking the Catholic Church in the US by storm. It names "the elephant in the room." "The elephant of catechetical illiteracy, the acculturation of the laity, the loss of identity of religious women, the loss of identity in Catholic higher education, the embrace of sexual promiscuity, microscopic attendance of Mass, acute vocational shortages, and impending episcopal and clerical scandals." (p. 499) Specifically, it confronts the Church's fumbling response to the contraceptive mentality of our culture.
How do you write a popular novel addressing these issues? Brian Gail - former athlete, Madison Avenue advertising executive, husband, father, grandfather, and faithful Catholic - has no difficulty spinning an engaging yarn encompassing the board room, the parish and the home. It is a revelation to find a novel exposing the commercial and cultural realities of pornography, contraception including the alleged suppression by the pharmaceutical industry of the Pill's connection to the incidence of breast cancer. Gail's research is thorough, but he avoids descending either into the minutiae of scientific evidence or unintelligent polemics. This work of fiction charts the devastating consequences on the lives of real people of the decoupling of society from orthodox faith and morals. Gail haswitnessed this and writes with a passion.
The principal protagonist is a young priest in 1980s Philadelphia who undergoes a post-ordination conversion experience. Fr. John Sweeney is not a bad priest. He says his daily Mass, he is assiduous in his pastoral duties, he has many personal qualities. But he has two flaws familiar to most priests today: a deficient formation and a desire for popularity.
These failings are fundamental. They prevent Fr. Sweeney giving the spiritual and pastoral advice required by those floundering in a Western society intent on "committing moral suicide." Those entrusted to his care only appreciate their need when they move parish to encounter directly the teaching of Pope John Paul II too often withheld elsewhere. It is with real tenderness and sorrow they confront their former pastor: "For people who want to live holy lives, dumb as that may sound, we've got to go where we get fed. It's too hard for us otherwise. We just can't do it. It's like we've been orphaned out there in the world. Father, we're spiritually... fatherless." (p. 336). Elegant prose? Perhaps not. But a cri de coeur for clerical introspection and courage.
Fr. Sweeney makes the transition to the culture of life. But the author maintains the tension, and he has us turning the pages to the very end - not without a couple of unexpected twists and cameo appearances from two real life heroes of the Faith.
It is unfortunate that the novel contains a handful of factual howlers which ought to have been picked up before publication. St. John Vianney did not preach in the eighteenth century, unless he was a teenage prodigy. Caravaggio's Conversion of St. Paul is not to be found in S. Luigi dei Francesi but rather Santa Maria del Popolo. Those wanting to reject Gail's underlying message might seize on such glaring errors. They should be corrected in a second edition. But they are no excuse for not reading this book. It challenges priest and layman alike to live out to the full a loving relationship with Our Lord and His Church in the confused world in which we find ourselves.
An essential stocking filler for any priest over the age of 45; confirmation of everything he already knows for any priest under that age; a snapshot of the contemporary Church accessible to any Catholic wanting to live a holy life.
Fr. Mark Vickers
St. Peter's Hatfield
There are many books on the development of liturgy in which the discussion is principally about what is happening within one liturgical tradition while taking into account influences from other traditions. This is not one of them. What we have here is an absorbing discussion on contemporary developments in liturgy and their interplay between the Catholic Church and in the Church of England.
Andrew Burnham, the Anglican Bishop of Ebbsfleet, takes us back to the way in which liturgy developed in England during the Reformation and why. With scholarly objectivity and an engaging literary style, Burnham navigates the reader through the turbulent waters of the English Reformation, the troubled waters of post Vatican II liturgy, and the exciting possibilities opened up by Pope Benedict's Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus. This is a book which will appeal to both scholars and laypersons.
Critics in both the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church complain about the coarsening of much of modern liturgy, its banality, the over emphasis upon the 'community' at the expense of a sense of participation in the transcendent worship in the heavenly sanctuary, and its slavery to now dated 1970s experiments in 'creative' liturgy. Many have voted with their feet and refuse to attend liturgical celebrations, especially those formats that have been 'manufactured' to attract the people.
In subtitling his book, "The Re-enchantment of Liturgy", Andrew Burnham signals his purpose which is no less than to sketch out newer approaches to liturgical renewal which, drawing upon the best of the Church's liturgical treasury, may assist worshippers to engage more fully in the transforming worship of heaven. There is a pressing need, he argues, to find the way out of contemporary liturgical banality in order to rediscover "something of the mysterium tremens et fascinans" of what the sacred liturgy, at its best, can truly express. Traumatic ruptures in the liturgical tradition, as distinct from organic development, have not served the spiritual interests and needs of the People of God.
Burnham begins his task with a scrupulously honest evaluation of what happened to the liturgy in the Church of England at the Reformation. He freely acknowledges that the traditional Anglican formularies of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 (and to a greater and lesser extent the Prayer books of 1549, 1552, and 1559) seem patient of either a more Catholic interpretation or a more Protestant interpretation. The rupture in the Catholic liturgical tradition engineered by Thomas Cranmer resulted in "a maddening ambiguity at the heart of Anglican Eucharistic theology." The differing Anglican Eucharistic theologies have become institutionalised in the Book of Common Worship which provides a variety of Eucharistic Prayers to meet the differing theological beliefs of different congregations.
Next Burnham turns his attention to what happened in the Catholic Church following the introduction of the Novus Ordo of Paul VI, and what is happening in the Church following the promulgation of the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum (2007). And, of course, full account is taken of Liturgicam Authenticam (2001) with the resulting and soon to be published new English translation of the Mass. Questions are raised about the Catholic Church's relative inexperience with vernacular liturgy compared to the 500 years' experience of the Church of England which allowed a sacral vernacular language to emerge. Burnham takes seriously the possibility of how one Form of the Mass, the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form, may influence theother. As an example he suggests the replacement of the Offertory Prayers in the Novus Ordo with those from the Missal of Blessed John XXIII thereby recovering in its fullest expression the true doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass for the Novus Ordo.
In his lengthy discussion of Church music Burnham displays all the acumen of one who has authority to speak in this important area of liturgical worship. He correctly points out that hymnody has had a powerful influence on Anglican consciousness, with hymns providing a teaching modality as well as beauty in the worship of God. Much Catholic Eucharistic theology is disclosed in well known and well loved traditional Anglican hymns. The practical loss of these traditional hymns with their replacement by often very unworthy contemporary alternatives has eviscerated much of the Anglo-Catholic legacy of traditional Eucharistic understanding and worship. In many ways, the content of Anglican hymns remedied what was -from a Catholic perspective - lacking in the Service of Holy Communion in the1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Burnham's discussion on the liturgical forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, and other Offices is carried out in its dialectical relationship between the Catholic breviaries in their various amended forms, and the forms devised by Thomas Cranmer. He carries that kind of discussion on into the contemporary revisions of the Church of England and the new Breviary now in use in the Catholic Church.
Burnham, while clearly Catholic in his understanding of liturgy, is nevertheless also able to present in an objective and dispassionate way alternative views more widely accepted by Anglicans. Importantly, Bishop Burnham also makes clear what is meant by the classic "Anglican Patrimony" which can suitably be retained and incorporated into the Catholic liturgical tradition, thereby enriching the tradition.
This book provides readers with a profound understanding of liturgical developments in both the Church of England and the Catholic Church, the manifest shortcomings of much contemporary liturgical worship both Eucharistic and non-Eucharistic. Usefully, the book goes on to suggest ways in which liturgy may not only be renewed in the light of tradition, but also re-enchanted such that active participation in the Eucharist will enable the believer really to experience something of the sublime reality of heaven.
In concluding with a chapter on St Mary the Virgin Mother of God, the Bishop makes the traditional Catholic link between the meeting of heaven and earth in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and the meeting of heaven and earth on our altars as bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Fr. John Fleming
This bible was presented to Pope Benedict XVI during his recent visit by Bishop Paul Hendricks. The Catholic Truth Society blurb has: "This is a Bible tailor-made for every Catholic. It will lead you through the same English texts that the Church uses at each Mass, with brand-new notes and introductions edited by Vatican expert Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB".
The book is attractive. The Liturgical notes explain what part of each biblical book is read at different times of the liturgical cycle. This is an excellent idea and potentially very useful. They also point out what texts are read in the Breviary - which is helpful.
Below I offer some critical comments, based on a very rapid reading, concerning the exegetical method employed and the unbalanced conclusions reached concerning the authors of the Bible.
I got the impression that the scholarship behind the Scriptural introductions is excessively influenced by historico-critical attitudes, whilst making the claim to be going beyond such.
There seems to be virtually no attempt to read the Bible in the light of the exegesis of the Fathers or the Middle Ages. I saw a mention of St Augustine. I didn't see any of St Jerome. There is a summary introduction of Vatican II teaching, but I did not see anything else of the Magisterium. I don't see therefore that we are being helped to read the Bible in Ecclesia. Basically, the scriptural "authorities" who are recognised are the new exegetes (from the 18th century). On the other hand, their views are not given full backing - in this sense, there is a distancing from extreme trust in the purely "scientific" method of interpreting the Bible; but see "Human Authorship" below.
The Inspiration of the Bible seems not to be a significant idea.
There seems to be no reference to the Holy Spirit being the author of the Bible. In most of the introductions I read (Genesis, Isaiah, Mark, John, Hebrews, 1 Peter, 2 Peter - I haven't yet read the introductions to Matthew, Luke or Acts) there is little evidence that the author of the notes believes in the traditional authorship. So we get the impression that the books of the Bible were written by someone and then revised by some sort of committee, who made up their own mind as to what would be there and what would not. Who gave them authority to do this? We are not told.
I would ask such "exegetes": if those committees were so free and easy with the material that came to them, how come that, as soon as we have a written scriptural text, there is a scrupulous defence of that text, and no one is allowed to alter it? Who was the Jewish High Priest (for the Old Testament), who was the Pope (for the New Testament) who suddenly put his foot down and told the committee authors that now they had to stop fiddling and what they had decided on became sacred? When did this take place? 143 AD (to give a date we can argue around)? What then about the Dead Sea Scrolls and their text of Isaiah (which I understand is virtually identical to the one we have)? What about the John Rylands MS of John?
The result is what I call "parasitic exegesis". It lives off the fact that traditionally the Bible has been seen as inspired, and written by the Holy Spirit... so that we can refer to all its parts as being mutually compatible, but then in practice it comments on each part as if it was the product of different people and doesn't draw the conclusion that, if this is the case, then there is no reason to assume that all the Bible holds together. There is no attempt to be rigorously coherent in drawing conclusions from the theories expounded, lest they undermine your convenient suppositions (see the comment on John's authorship below). Thus it lives off the faith that people have in the Bible, but undermines it by its comments.
The Messianic dimension of the Bible is mentioned but almost always as a concession to New Testament (NT) interpretation, not as the truth. The "NT interpretation" is often given, but with a spirit of detachment from it, as if the author of the introduction or notes does not really believe it to be a fundamental hermeneutical key to the literature.
Ps 2 and Ps 109 are not really seen as Messianic. In Ps 2, the divine sonship of the new King is related to an Egyptian custom of proclaiming a new king to be son of the divinity.
1 Cor 15 on the resurrection of the flesh being crucial: no big deal is made of this. There is no footnote for "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) - the footnotes do not bring out the strong points of Catholic belief.
The quadruple sources of Genesis, Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly and Deuteronomist are described and then more or less relegated as a passe theory. That is, there seems to be a conversion away from extreme historical-critical exegesis. However I saw not a single mention of the important tradition affirming Moses as the author; though there was a suggestion that some parts went back to Abraham. What is left of Jesus' own use of the Scriptures? His assumption was that Moses and Isaiah were authors who wrote their books.
In Isaiah, the notes explain the three author theory (Isaiah, Deutero-lsaiah, and Trito-lsaiah). Whilst they argue that the triple division is not really acceptable, they also argue that there cannot be one author of the whole book. One reason they suggest for this is that the name of Isaiah appears relatively rarely in the Book, whereas Jeremiah's appears often in his Book.
Mark 16:9-20 is said to be by a different author from the rest of the Gospel, and the implication is allowed that the author of the rest of Mark (who actually appears not to be the Mark we meet in the NT) perhaps leaves belief in the Resurrection as a matter of opinion.
The authorship of John: doubt is cast on the author being John the Apostle, on his being the beloved disciple, or standing at the foot of the Cross with Mary. The discourse at the Last Supper could be three different accounts later put together. It is admitted that the old view (of recent exegetes) that John was unreliable historically has been proved wrong. John, we are told, had detailed knowledge of Jerusalem. But that is used to "prove" (along with the fact that he was known to the high priest) that he could not be a humble fisherman, and a friend of Peter. There is no attempt to account for the fact that, if the theory that John the Apostle is not the author of the Gospel were true, then much of the iconography of the Crucifixion (with John comforting Mary) is wrong. For me, this isa typical example of "parasitic exegesis" -you live off the tradition, but undermine it with your views, and don't accept responsibility for the full logical consequences of those views.
We are told that 2 Peter is definitely not by St Peter.
In Hebrews, there is not the slightest mention of St Paul as the author (not surprisingly, given the present consensus). However, no convincing alternative is produced, and no idea that inspiration ended with the death of the last Apostle.
The Liturgical notes don't really expound the reasons behind the distribution of the readings. The notes also reflect the views of "exegetes": they say that Mark appears at the beginning of the Year and that this confirms the overwhelming view of scholars that Mark was the earliest gospel. But they do not present the opposite "evidence" of Matthew being the first Gospel by being chosen for Year A in the Sunday Cycle. The notes do not explain why Isaiah is distributed in the way that it is distributed, which, as far as I can judge, is certainly not that of the three-Isaiah theory.
There are a number of indices at the end of the volume. The type face of the main text is relatively easy to read.
The footnotes are in very small type face. The English translation used is that of the Jerusalem Bible. This is not surprising, since it has become the standard one used in liturgical readings. I liked the fact that the Psalm numbers are those of the Church (and the Fathers) rather than the now fashionable Hebrew numbers (I assume this is because the liturgy still uses the traditional Catholic Christian numbering system).
The modern demolition job done by exegetes is now being re-studied by those exegetes. There are signs of contrition in the air. It is interesting to bear in mind that A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (ed. by Dom Bernard Orchard) was published in 1953. It is only relatively recently that Catholic scholars have separated themselves from tradition. The notes in this CTS Bible are a sign that there is some attempt to return to tradition, though the reverential spirit that inspired Catholic biblical scholars until the 1950s is still not there.
To put things in very crude terms: we should prefer to be "wrong" with Jesus, than "right" with modern "exegetes".
I believe that the Bible is inspired (that is, authored) by the Holy Spirit and therefore infallible and endowed with inerrancy. I have no objection to scholarship, except that scholarship is not infallible nor endowed with inerrancy and, if it presents itself as such, then I have less respect for its results. I believe in reading the Bible in Ecclesia. That is as it has always been read in the Church: I feel at home with Origen, Augustine, Jerome, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Bede, Bernard, Thomas Aquinas, Trent, John of the Cross, Alphonsus, Pius IX, John Henry Newman, Vatican II, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I don't feel at home with some modern "exegetes".
Fr Andrew Byrne