January 23, 2021

Struggling with God in the Modern Times

Struggling with God in the Modern Times

This BioLogos Forum encapsulates the issues I have tried to deal with during my time as a writer for InternetMonk. That time has drawn to a close as this will be my last post.  Forum poster, Sam B, writes:

Hey all. Recently I have been dealing with some doubts about God’s existence. I am a firm believer in science (evolution, age of the universe and cosmology), but I am struggling more with this knowledge. We know that these things evolved, we know all of these planets exist, and we know the facts of the universe. It seems like we know how all of us got here and how our world exists without God’s help.

For instance: There are growing theories about our universe and how it arose from “nothing”. It is possible to have a universe without a prime mover, or that something can come from nothing. How can I justify my belief in God when my very existence is a product of natural phenomena?

Sam B is just the type of Christian I have tried to target in my Science and Faith posts.  They are aware of the science with respect to evolution, either writ large as cosmic evolution, or more personally as human evolution.  How can such knowledge, which is only growing more conclusive, be reconciled with Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, and Genesis 2:7 ” Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

As the answering posters point out, the problem is with God as just another entity lurking around the universe, which sets up the false dichotomy of “God’s actions” versus “natural processes”.  But no such dichotomy exists because no such God exists.  Of course, it is difficult to discern the minds of the early scripture authors; were they sophisticated enough to understand that Yahweh was more than just one God among other nations Gods- just more powerful?  Or, as is I think likely, such sophistication grew over the course of the Old Testament’s compilation, culminating in the revelation of Jesus Christ.

In any event, if God is the “ground of all being” and “being itself,” then it is silly to contrast a natural process with God’s actions as they, by definition, are the same thing.  Christians, in particular evangelicals, are fine to proceed with that proposition from the spinning of universe to weather patterns to embryology, to even the germ theory of disease. Where the wheels come off is the evolution of human beings.  The religious traditionalists still object to the idea that diversity in life, including human beings, arose through natural processes without a need for supernatural intervention.

So how has the cause of reconciling science and faith fared?  On the plus side has been formation of BioLogos itself through Francis Collin’s efforts.  The organization continues to grow as evinced here.  However, despite their best efforts, as this article shows, strong opposition to BioLogos’ “theistic evolution” remains among conservative evangelicals.

Then there is the fact, that after four years of the Trump presidency, his calling the Covid-19 pandemic a hoax, saying ‘science doesn’t know‘ what’s causing wildfires, and numerous other anti-science statements , still at least 80% of evangelicals turned out to vote for him in the 2020 election .

In the short run, I’m not optimistic about a greater understanding of science among evangelicals.  But in the long run, I share Michael Spencer’s hopeful note at the end of his essay on the coming evangelical collapse:

“Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, “Christianity loves a crumbling empire…

We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.

We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture.”

I have certainly enjoyed sharing my thoughts and receiving the responses from the Imonk community of readers and commentators.  I wish you all the best.  I don’t what’s ahead, blog-wise, for me.  Like Mike Bell, I’m going to take some time off for reflection and prayer.  Then, we’ll just have to see…

Comments

  1. David Greene says

    Mike, thank you for all your wonderfully insightful posts. Hopefully we can find you next year when you turn up somewhere else. God Bless.

  2. Have loved your posts. Thanks loads and be blessed.

  3. Burro (Mule) says

    Your posts have always been my favorites here. They have caused me to lift my eyes to the horizon and imagine what lies beyond it.
    These days, that’s no minor achievement, so small have we become.

  4. Thank you, MIKE-the-Geologist, for all the good writing you shared with us here.

    One of my favorite references you shared was when you wrote about Mike Wallace. I kept a quote, this:

    ““Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace
    I was startled by the clarity and beauty of his writing. Here’s a sample:

    “” We belong in the universe no less than electrons and galaxies, after all, and we simply cannot stop living our lives as if love is real and as if it matters ultimately. So maybe it is real and it does matter ultimately.
    We are not freaks. Instead, we express a core cosmic reality when guided by love, we make even the tiniest of choices. We are drawn by love toward a world we can’t quite see but occasionally glimpse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . a world Jesus called the kingdom of God.” (Paul Wallace)

    those glimpses of unexpected kindness . . . yes, this resonates ”

    Thanks again. I hope to find you again somewhere on the internet, but if I cannot, I know I will be greatly disappointed, such is the quality of the articles you have written and the content you have shared. 🙂

    • Good comment, Christiane. Thanks for the Paul Wallace blurb. Love is real. Science cannot explain it. That is evidence of God.

  5. Klasie Kraalogies says

    The proving or disproving of the existence of any deity using natural science is a fool’s errand. Inevitably the debate devolves into philosophical battles and/or semantic trickery (more often the latter). In my own journey I found the real question is looking for God in anthropology/sociology/psychology through the lens of history. Not does He exist, but more “Whence God?”. A very different question.

    Mike, your posts here were a lot of fun, and though I often disagreed, and still do 🙂 , it was a good journey. Peace, my friend a fellow geo!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The proving or disproving of the existence of any deity using natural science is a fool’s errand.

      Doesn’t stop people from trying it over and over and over.
      A lot of Christian Apologetics is grasping at straws for Reassurance.
      And PWNing the Heathens.

      Like that specifically-Christian version of Fringe Archaeology — “ARK-ology”, the Search for Noah’s Ark. Trying to find some Absolute PROOF to rub in the faces of those Heathen Atheists — “I’M RIGHT! YOU’RE ALL WRONG! HERE’S PROOF! SEE? SEE? SEE?”

      During my attempts at sampling CHRISTAN(TM) “Science Fiction”, I came across two variations on this theme, both having to do with EVILution::
      1) A Christianese SF story which included an aside of a long “Talking Head” lecture in mid-narrative how Evolution Was Proven False Long Ago. (The main story was a Fifties-style puzzle story about exploration of an extinct alien race where the Big Reveal at the end was they had “evolved” into Atheism and all committed Mass Suicide because they were Atheist. I wish I was making this up.)
      2) WORLD Magazine’s 50th Anniversary of Roe v Wade issue which had narratives set in the “100th Anniversary of Roe v Wade”. The one that was really face-palmable to this old school litfan was the one where the Human Genome Project found Genesis 1 encoded word-for-word in the genome of all life on Earth, thus PROVING the Bible is TRUE and Overturning Roe v Wade. (Can’t remember if the genome sequence was also signed YHVH, but it wouldn’t surprise me.)

  6. Thanks, Mike, for all these posts over the years. They’ve always made for substantive discussion and have helped me see how others, including yourself, process the issues the posts raise.

  7. Thanks to you Mike and all the writers here at Internet Monk. I have not visited as often in the past few years as I did previously, but when I do visit, I was always thankful it was here. The posts were always insightful and made me think.

    Several weeks ago, I ran across a post recommending Anne Bokma’s My Year of Living Spiritually, so I got it, read it, and I loved it! The author’s struggle to find a way to connect to some sort of spirituality resonated with me and I learned quite a bit about different spiritual practices. Her upbringing in a conservative religious environment struck a chord with me, too, as that was my story. If you are still looking for a Christmas gift, it gets a 5 star rating from me!

  8. Michael Bell says

    Thanks Mike for all your posts. They were a great help to me through a difficult period. I would be very interested in sharing a writing platform with you in the future.

  9. Mike the G I’ve learned a lot from your posts. Good luck to you in whatever direction you go from here.

    The problem with God as “ground of being” (leaving aside wondering what that even means) is how you get from there to Jesus. A “ground of being” seems to have little to do but “be”. The God of the Bible is an activist

    The rather more haunting question is how we reconcile the rapacious processes of evolution with the Abba, the loving Father of the New Testament. It explains the horror of the creationists at the evolutionary point of view. And I don’t think the theistic evolutionists have given this matter enough thought.

    I hope no one reading this expected any answers.

    • Michael Bell says

      This is a topic I would love to explore with Mike the Geologist some time down the road.

      • –> “This is a topic I would love to explore with Mike the Geologist some time down the road.”

        How about “right now”!?!?!? 😉

        • Michael Bell says

          I am a ruminator. I like to chew on a topic for a while before dispersing my wisdom. And I have never had an analogy break down so quickly!

    • Burro (Mule) says

      I remember reading somewhere about life being far more cooperative than we had previously thought, and that evolution was less like the Thunderdome and more like a group of sharp dealers all trying to do better for themselves by joining forces and getting along.

      Maybe the dominance of the ‘Nature red in tooth and nail’ metaphor has been the cause of our environmental problems, and we need to get with the program. Maybe the Buddha bunny jumping into the starving hunter’s fire is a more accurate depiction of what is going on in nature than we know.

      The Interior, Barfield said, is Anterior.

    • The “Ground of being” does seem pretty vague. Here is what one of my favorite novelists, Susan Howatch, did with that in her novel Scandalous Risks. The context was the young protagonist’s confusion between her sexuality and the little book by Bishop John Robinson, Honest to God, that was popular in the 1960s.

      I poured out the gin and sat sipping it in the twilight as the clock of St. Martin’s-in-Cripplegate tolled the hour. The little flat was shadowed and still.

      After a while I began to wonder if the Ground of My Being was staging a conservation battle against the Great Pollutant.

      No, I didn’t. I wondered if God and the Devil were fighting for the possession of my soul.

      Strange how much more chilling—how much more real—the battle seemed when described by the old terminology. One couldn’t get very worked up about something called the Ground of One’s Being, that was the trouble. And how on earth did one pray to it?

      I thought: someone should tell John Robinson that.

      Eventually, after a lot of gin, I started to cry.

      —Venetia Flaxton, protagonist in Susan Howatch’s novel Scandalous Risks

  10. “ Or, as is I think likely, such sophistication grew over the course of the Old Testament’s compilation, culminating in the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
    That is an evolutionary spirituality. That rings true to me. Like”growing up into the fullness of Christ.” The Spirit is living and breathing as is the Christian life. Some say there is no new revelation. That may or may not be the case. I don’t know and I don’t care. What is abundantly clear is that the evolution continues from our vantage point. Our acceptance of the revelation of God and or our capacity to internalize it, slowly, ploddingly, inches forward. It grows with knowledge of the physical universe, with knowledge of the human psyche, with medical knowledge and even technology. We see ourselves in new lights. That is not to denigrate the light of saints and mystics past. Sometimes I think sometimes we have completely regressed but that back and forth is the nature of it.

  11. Mike the Geologist,

    Your posts have always been informative and interesting.

    • Yes. And I might add, for myself, “sometimes not entirely understandable.” LOL.

      But seriously, I appreciate very much how you’ve tried to bring heady topics down to layman’s terms.

  12. Daniel Jepsen says

    Mike, I have enjoyed your writings immensely. I love the mind that God has given you.

  13. Thanks again, Mike Geologist. You’ve done good work here. I’d be happy to read anything more you want to publish.

    Dana

  14. Thanks so much Mike. Godspeed!

  15. When you start talking about getting something from nothing, you are speaking the language of mysticism, whether you are theologian or a scientist. As for the creation of humanity, that took place at the foundation of the world in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, which in our frame of reference is circa 1 C.E., give or take a few years

    • 🙂 🙂 🙂

      D.

      • It’s not necessary to be a mystic to be Christian. I’m certainly not a mystic, though I hope I’m Christian. But if you don’t at least have a certain degree of tolerance for mysticism, and you aren’t willing to acknowledge the essential part it plays in the faith and has played from the beginning, it will be hard to be the kind of Christian who doesn’t mangle Christianity into an almost unrecognizable shape. The unacknowledged mysticism will ultimately turn into the loud ravings of something as religiously diseased as, say, QAnon, or some other form of fundamentalism.

        • Well said!

        • I once heard a version of what you just said which took the point a little further than you. Still I think you both saying essentially the same thing. My old teacher Dr. Bruce Morgan said, “you don’t have to be a Christian to be a mystic but you have to be a mystic to be a Christian.” No point in arguing about degrees. Suffice it to say that Christianity does not live without seeing something covered and hearing something intuited through discipline and practice of spiritual sense of some sort. If it’s cheap and readily available, if it’s throw away theology that requires nothing of the listener, it is at the very best the milk and not the meat.

        • I could say the same of myself Robert.

  16. Thank you for your wonderful posts over all the years, Mike the G. Fare thee well.

  17. the snow
    begins and ends
    in silence

  18. I have really enjoyed your posts over the years, Mike. Your thinking – and reading – has informed mine.

    God speed!

  19. Mike M., again, thank you for all your excellent articles. Always challenging. I also enjoy your work over at The Liturgist.

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