Science is wonderful at raising questions. Some can be answered immediately; some will be answerable in the future through technological advance; and some will lie beyond its capacity to answer—what my scientific hero sir Peter Medawar (1915–87) referred to as “questions that science cannot answer and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer.” What Medawar has in mind are what the philosopher Karl Popper called “ultimate questions,” such as the meaning of life. So does acknowledging and engaging such questions mean abandoning science? No. it simply means respecting its limits and not forcing it to become something other than science.
The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955) put his finger on the point at issue here. Scientists are human beings. If we, as human beings, are to lead fulfilled lives, we need more than the partial account of reality that science offers. We need a “big picture,” an “integral idea of the universe” . . .
Scientific truth is exact, but it is incomplete.” We need a richer narrative, linking understanding and meaning. That is what the American philosopher John Dewey (1859– 1952) was getting at when he declared that the “deepest problem of modern life” is that we have failed to integrate our “thoughts about the world” with our thoughts about “value and purpose.”
So we come back to that haunting and electrifying sense of wonder at the world . . . I gradually came to realize that we need a richer and deeper vision of reality if we are to do justice to the complexity of the world and live out meaningful and fulfilling lives. So just what are we talking about? The quest for God.
–Alister E . McGrath,