New-Old Thoughts, Gould’s NOMA, Methodological Naturalism, Other Scary Terms, Chesterton Cliches, Why Christians Suck at Being Scientists and Writers (Why Atheists Suck Even More), and the Feelies

Back in 2010, when I was thirteen, I wrote my first substantial essay called “Faith and the Bible.” I have since kept it in a folder called “Old Thoughts.” The thoughts in that essay, though, are still very much current and alive for me. Towards the end of the essay, I wrote:

“Lately, everything has looked gray and dark to me. I see everything and truly see vanity. The past few weeks, I have been living an Ecclesiastes life. I’m not bothered by it, but I have been thinking of death a lot. It doesn’t scare me. In a sense, I look forward to it. It is not a death trap, but a gateway to eternal life! But examining myself, I think I am missing something. We are not to ignore the world and just focus completely on death, heaven, and hell. We are still commanded to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Yes, death is inescapable. Yes, we will only be here for a limited time. But if we have been called by God and have accepted Jesus’ substitute and have already thought of the end, we are to focus on fulfilling our duty here. By living like we’re dying, we are to remember that all is vanity outside of our duty.
“Conclusively, let us have joy in our fate. Let us have joy knowing that we have nothing to fear! Let’s not waste time here with vanities, let’s glorify our God. Let’s enjoy Him. Death’s clammy clutches have been severed! Praise the Lord! We are to have joy in this. We are to look forward to an eternity with our God. We are to live for Him. Where is death’s victory? Ha! It has none! Where is the grave’s victory? It has none. Do not ignore the book of the Bible. It will change your fate. God offers mercy to those who look for Him. Have faith in this. There is something I cannot fully explain. It is the feeling you get when you realize that all you have put faith in is the truth. It is the feeling you get when you truly understand that there is nothing to fear. It is the feeling you get when you walk in a graveyard and look at all the names and then you look up at the swaying trees and the crows cawing. This world is amazing. God is amazing. I am so finite and I cannot begin to understand eternity. Praise the Lord. Oh, if we could feel that feeling forever. The wind moves the corn in the field. It’s wonderful. There is something above us we do not fully understand. It is the feeling of eternity. It is the feeling of faith.”
I remember writing that last line, thinking, “Wow, that sounds cheesy. But, what else can I say?” The essay relates to two things I wanted to talk about here: the feelies and methodological naturalism as it relates to literature. How on earth I figured out it related, I do not know. Let’s unbind the mysteries of old thoughts together.
One thing I noticed in the essay (besides the scary realization that my writing hasn’t much improved besides a cut back on exclamation marks) is that it hits exactly where I need to be hit right now. We are such feeling creatures. I have every reason in the world to be a Christian, having never been closer to my heavenly Father as much as I am now, and yet I find myself praying for the feelies.
If I start talking about our relationship with feeling long enough and how we can use them to figure things out about reality (the harsh bulkiness of experience), I will unfortunately get quite erudite and lose my train of thought. I will save that discussion, maybe, for future theories I make when I have the mental stamina to take both you and myself there.
For now, let me just say that feeling the presence of God in nature and in our experience is an acute aid to belief. Unfortunately, we are guaranteed to sometimes be submerged (the passive voice is not something to be avoided) under various fogs, whether they be ones of productivity or doubt, and cannot see the light of wonder above us that only penetrates so far under the surface of our own prisons. I often ask the Lord for something along the lines of “Father, make yourself realized to me and my friends who just want to be near you. I am blameless before you. Make yourself realized. Christianity is not just a social club, I know. But sometimes, I don’t believe it. I sometimes live like an atheist. But, Father, I know that atheism doesn’t work; it is too secretive about its foundations.” All of this is I would affirm now, which means that I went from believing that science (the pursuit of knowledge) and the feelies (faith) were inextricably tied, to damning any connections (youthful pride), to being unable to de-knit them. I had something in my bones at thirteen I need again, over and over again. Here are some excerpts from the essay showing my past perspective:
“No, I’m not trying to do that [prove the existence of God]. I’m trying to show you that science and faith are not opposed! They are in union!”
“Now some people claim that science and religion are rivals, but that is not the case! As I have stated before, science requires some faith. Well, faith requires some science (or reason). Christianity has an endless amount of evidence for the claims presented in the Bible. Let’s just take a few right now…”
At thirteen, I was an evidentialist and would have been pretty uncomfortable with methodological naturalism, the idea that we ought not to bring our religious faith into science.
But, at about fifteen, I found Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA and thought it made sense. The magisteria of the church and of science ought not to overlap, because they don’t have to. As high school progressed, I quickly became a theistic evolutionist. I talked to my mentors in my life who thought the same and I subsequently toyed with other very minor intellectual rebellions. I have not fully forsaken a lot of those rebellions, but they have been tamed by orthodoxy.
In the essay (did I know it?), I placed the focus of being close to God on the submergence of ourselves into the mysteries of his created details. The most appealing thing about methodological naturalism is that it prohibits God ever being a cause for the things studied. This appears to work in the study of details. It explicitly does not work, however for the study of origins, but it does relate to a discussion of our chief end and how we ought to approach the study of created details. Let me explain.
Methodological naturalism is ultimately flawed, because it is too compartmentalized and fails to come to terms with the reality of relationship. Relationship, as my philosophy professor argued in an excellent speech recently (thanks, Dr. Stokes) is the beating heart of understanding. Methodological naturalism, however, can never even get to the point where the truth is nuanced enough to leave room for what would be its opposite (the importance of relationship). Give me more time to develop this for you.
Forget methodological naturalism for a second. The truth is, anyone who tries to do science (the study of created details) is going to do a bad job if they do not see God in everything. This means that both an atheist and a Christian can miss the point. Anyone who approaches science by trying to make it spiritual and constantly goes back to God as an obvious cause (as if the details of Creation were not holy and sacred enough) does not see that God as a cause for the details does not have to be our conclusion as Christians, because it is the assumption. The atheist who does science without assuming that God is in everything will fail to study the details, because he has no direction for his appreciation (this is a far bigger problem than people think). Here’s another example of what I am saying.
People fail to see God in the details within other disciplines, too. The reason most Christians suck at writing fiction is because they do not see the fiction and the details of writing as God-acts, but instead believe that making spiritual messages is a fulfillment of our chief end.  Most Christians do not see God in the details, but rather in their false sense of the spiritual. They suck at writing, because they do not read “enjoy God and glorify Him forever” as a declaration to stay put where we are, to dance with the details, to be fascinated with the mechanics of reality like God was at the very beginning. We get to know our father the best when we do what he does. The more we focus on the glory of his details, the closer we are drawn to him.
The same thing is true for science. Science ought to be the unraveling of designs God put there a very long time ago for us to find. It is the glory of kings to delicately peel back the petals of God’s designs, so that by studying Creation, we study his very nature.
We cannot be methodological naturalists in the lab (I think I am being loose with that term now), because it defeats the purpose of the disciplines. It also fails to grasp the nature of the problem. It does not solve a problem–it makes one by assuming one.
I did not understand at thirteen that God loves the mechanics of fiction, the movement of radiolarians, the life cycle of Bufo boreas, and the history we fish in.
Salvation does not come through academia or studying nature, though. Not everyone has to be an academic or an intellectual. But, everyone has to be curious. It should be a federal law. People who do not walk around with the question “How does this work?” have a serious problem they’re probably ignoring.
I am not being extreme or trying to be provocative, either. The fellowship of the living as the fellowship of the dead rotates impossibly around us, has received a generational and unlikely gift that came with directions: “Explore this.” Some may go deeper into the mysteries of experience, like King Solomon, but we are all to play our part before our time ends.
The steps to the dance we are in come from our constant need to re-approach the same existential issues anew. We do this, not out of a repetition of what we know, but a reminder of what we forget. We forget the truths we assume; we must see them anew every day, within every discipline, within every detail. We forget the truth that the sting of death is salved by our proximity to our heavenly Father within the created details we think are the very things getting in the way of our relationship. It is the feeling of faith, or something.

One comment

  • Matthew P. Michaelis

    “It is the feeling you get when you walk in a graveyard and look at all the names and then you look up at the swaying trees and the crows cawing.”


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