Atheism in decline and will be defeated by faith, says Oxford professor

Alister McGrath currently holds the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of OxfordMark Rushton

Atheism is in decline and will be trumped by faith, the professor of science and religion at the University of Oxford has said.

Professor Alister McGrath made his predictions during the annual Parchman Lectures at Baylor University's Truett Theological Seminary, the Baptist Standard reports. The academic, who has degrees in molecular biology, theology and intellectual history, spoke on "why faith makes sense: exploring the rationality of Christianity."

McGrath said he was an atheist as a young man, but faith makes greater sense of reality and transcends reason, which is insufficient for understanding the world.

"New Atheism ridicules the 'irrationality of faith,'" said McGrath, who has debated New Atheist icons such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. "But it's in decline, because it's stale, dull and incredible. It provides unsatisfactory answers to ultimate questions. People want to know more."

The Oxford professor ridiculed the atheist claim that reality is only "what reason and science can demonstrate," pointing out the limits of science and the ambiguous nature of scientific truth.

By contrast McGrath said faith offers the best worldview to "make sense of what we experience." Faith can accept the contributions of science but then fill in the missing pieces of meaning and understanding.

"Science offers one perspective on reality, and I admire it. But it gives us a limited perspective of reality," he said. "Faith offers a set of stereoscopic spectacles that enable us to see depth. Faith supplements science.

"Christianity makes sense of what science is and is not and its limits," McGrath added. "Science is very good at taking things to bits to see how they work, but humans need to know how to put them back together to understand what they mean.

"Atheism (which claims to limit knowledge to scientific certainty) offers you an emaciated view of the world. It's bleak, nasty. Christianity gives you a way of thinking that makes so much sense," offering purpose, identity and "the ability to make a difference.

"New Atheism offers none of this," he said.

Ultimately McGrath encouraged Christians not to feel the need to explain every scientific or theological question.

"We don't have to worry about it all that much. That's the human condition: We know we cannot prove all the great questions of life," he said. But Christians can offer their answers to hard questions, as well as reasons for believing them, he assured.

"The best way to persuade others is not by argument but by inviting them to step inside (of faith) and see if it helps make sense of things," he said, citing CS Lewis. "It is not an illusion, but truth, and truth shall set you free."