Emily Parker spoke with author Alister McGrath about his latest book, 'The Great Mystery.'

Alister McGrath (Photo: Chris Andrews)
Alister McGrath (Photo: Chris Andrews)

Who are we? Why are we here? What is our future and are we alone? These are just some of the questions that frame the latest book, 'The Great Mystery', by Alister McGrath. Emily Parker spoke with him about why these questions are important, the sorts of questions that science and faith can answer, and the importance of authors like CS Lewis and JR Tolkien in opening us up to the big questions of life.

Emily: Why did you write this book?

Alister: Because the whole issue of meaning: why are we here? What are we meant to be doing? What's the point of life? Are really important for most people. I thought it'd be very good to write a book that lays out some of these issues and especially interact with two very big movements: science and religion. In other words, what does science say and what does religion say, and how might that help each of us to work out where we stand on those questions? I thought that would be a great way of opening up a really interesting discussion.

Emily: You've written previous books in the past including 'Inventing the Universe,' how does that book differ to this one?

Alister: This book builds on that earlier work. The earlier work is saying science and religion can talk to each other and there are some very good outcomes. This new book is really saying that we need to think more about who we are and why we go so wrong so easily.

If human beings are so wonderful, why is the world such a messed up place? I was trying to ask what is it about us that makes us mess things up and what should we be aiming for; who are we really and how can we enact that in our lives?

Emily: When did you first start asking these questions?

Alister: When I was a young boy. I was an atheist at that time. I didn't really believe in God or anything like that. It just seemed to me that you had to do the best that you could and once you died that was the end of the matter.

I suppose as I got older I began to realise it wasn't that simple, and more than that, that those very simple answers just weren't good enough.

I'm sure many people will know the feeling very well, this feeling that there has to be more than this; this deep feeling that there's more to life than what we currently understand; that each of us really is important, and there's something big that we're a part of. My book tries to open up what those questions are and how we might answer them.

Emily: Why are questions like, 'what is the meaning of life?' pivotal and something we find ourselves continually coming back to?

Alister: It's almost as if we're meant to ask these questions. Psychologists have shown that whether we like it or not, we keep asking these questions. We keep thinking of them as being very important and we keep looking for answers. It all seems to be part of being human. My feeling is that it's not just part of being human, it actually is saying to us that we are meant to ask these questions and we are meant to find answers as well.

In many ways what this book is saying is, let's go with these questions and see where they take us; let's say these are important questions and see if we can find any answers.

Emily: You mention in the book that today we live in a world where we have more professors of philosophy than philosophers themselves. Why is that?