Life & Faith
Alister McGrath, a biochemist and Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, may be Richard Dawkins' most prominent critic. As the author of "Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life," he was interviewed extensively for Dawkins' recent documentary, "The Root of All Evil." Not a frame of these interviews made it into the final edit. Below is a slightly modified version of remarks delivered by McGrath in response to Dawkins' latest book, "The God Delusion."
Lent was in origin the time of final preparation for candidates for baptism at the Easter Vigil, and this is reflected in the readings at the Liturgy, today and on all the Sundays of Lent. But that basic theme came to be subordinated to later themes, which dominated the hymnography of each Sunday. The dominant theme of this Sunday since 843 has been that of the victory of the icons. In that year the iconoclastic controversy, which had raged on and off since 726, was finally laid to rest, and icons and their veneration were restored on the first Sunday in Lent. Ever since, that Sunday been commemorated as the "triumph of Orthodoxy."
What did Darwin have to say about religion? What were his religious, or anti-religious, beliefs? Did he believe that his theory of evolution by natural selection was incompatible with belief in a Creator? Was it his revolutionary science that turned him into an agnostic? These questions have a special urgency in 2009, the year that marks the bicentenary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his most celebrated book, On the Origin of Species (1859). It is important to answer them in a balanced way because Darwin's authority and example are continually invoked to justify metaphysical and theological claims that go far beyond the details of his evolutionary biology and that of his scientific successors. Darwin's great gift to science was to show how an explanation could be given for what had been described as the mystery of mysteries, the successive appearance of new species discernible in the fossil record. If new species could emerge from pre-existing species by a process of natural selection, it was no longer necessary to suppose there had been what Darwin called independent acts of creation. For atheists and scientific materialists the plausibility of Darwin's theory was a particularly welcome gift because it could be used to dispel the notion of divine intervention in nature and to challenge the long-cherished belief that each species had been separately and meticulously designed by its Creator. Not surprisingly, there was much apprehension and some downright hostility among religious believers, which in ultra-conservative religious circles still continues today. Darwin's theory has certainly proved divisive within Christendom; but a long tradition of assimilation and accommodation suggests that some at least of Darwin's insights have been received as a gift by religious thinkers as well as scientists. As the nineteenth-century Anglican theologian Aubrey Moore put it, under the guise of a foe Darwin had done the work of a friend, liberating Christianity from a false image of the deity in which God was only present in the world when intervening like a deus ex machina.
Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.
No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.
"Thou, Who art the God of peace and the Father of compassions, didst send unto us the Angel of Thy great Counsel, granting us peace."
The Angel-Messenger of the pre-eternal Counsel of the Holy Trinity comes to the earth. This is not an ordinary messenger; it is the Only-begotten Son of God Himself. He brings peace to men. "Peace be unto you," he said more than once to His disciples. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you," He says to the apostles at the Mystical Supper, "not as the world giveth, give I unto you." And appearing after His Resurrection, again He says: "Peace be unto you." "For he is our peace," the holy Apostle Paul says concerning Him: "He came to the earth to reconcile man unto God by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. And having come, He preached peace to those afar off and to those near, because through Him we both have access unto the Father."
For those who think administrators are no more than "empty suits," with nothing to teach us spiritually, the early medieval Pope Gregory I ("the Great") is the great counter-example. Gregory (ca. 540-604) was a contemplative mystic at heart who struggled all of his days with the conflict between busyness and intimacy with Christ. And this struggle gave him great pastoral sympathy for a group of people who had become "second-class citizens" in Christendom: married layfolk. His meditations on the busy life-the life he associated both with Jesus' friend Martha and Jacob's wife Leah-led him to formulate a spiritual theology that blasted monastic elitism and freed busy laypeople to enjoy the contemplative life.