November 22, 2017

Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science.  A review of the book by Mike “Science Mike” McHargue.  Part 6- Epilogue.

Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science

• Part 6, Epilogue

• • •

I just want to share some random thoughts about the book and about Mike’s journey to wrap up this book review.  As a scientist, I identified with Mike’s struggle to reconcile ancient faith with modern science.  Too many of the extremists want to drive the wedge and separate faith from science in an absolutist manner.  The extreme atheists want to say that you cannot believe that what modern science has revealed to be TRVTH with what the bible says.  Six thousand year old “punyverse”, an original pair of humans from whom all humans descended, planet-wide flood responsible for all geology, a wrathful deity sending you to hell just because you never heard of him:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”  Richard Dawkins

Such a god doesn’t exist and such a bible is demonstrably false.  End of story, deconvert now, stop the cognitive dissonance, and embrace the FSM, noodly world without end, amen.

Sigh… and the funhouse mirror flip side: If you don’t think that Noah put all the animals on the ark, including the dinosaurs, then you don’t believe the gospel.  There is no difference between the narrative of Genesis 6-9 and the narrative of John 20; you believe them both or you believe neither.  Choose ye this day whom you will serve… and avoid(ing) profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called (I Timothy 6:20).

But the extremes no longer seem to be persuasive.  As Tom Krattenmaker notes, in his USA Today article :

New polling data show that for the first time in a long time there’s a notable decline in the percentage of Americans — including Christians — who hold to the “Young Earth” creationist view that humankind was created in its present form in the past 10,000 years, evolution playing no part.

According to a Gallup poll conducted in May, the portion of the American public taking this position now stands at 38%, a new low in Gallup’s periodic surveys. Fifty-seven percent accept the validity of the scientific consensus that human beings evolved from less advanced forms of life over millions of years.

Has atheism taken over so thoroughly? No, and that’s why this apparent break in the creationism-vs.-evolution stalemate is significant and even instructive to those in search of creative solutions to our other intractable public arguments.

As the poll reveals, the biggest factor in the shift is a jump in the number of Christians who are reconciling faith and evolution. They are coming to see evolution as their God’s way of creating life on Earth and continuing to shape it today.

There does seem to be a rising tide of acceptance of science as the explanation for the physical realities of life while there is still the longing for meaning and purpose that transcends the mere humanistic explanation for those deep-seated emotional needs.  And as Chaplain Mike mused in several recent posts , “rationality is overrated when it comes to developing our moral psychology” and our sense of transcendent meaning as well.  That is why “Science Mike” is gaining a wider and wider audience with the millennials, the nones, and the dones; he is willing to explore the questions and the nuance without condemning the lack of reliance on dogma.

Let me make my own position clear; I’m a creedal Christian who accepts the basic doctrines of Christianity.  I don’t sanctify doubt.  I’ve noticed a trend on some Patheos blogs to… oh, I don’t know… wear your doubts as some kind of “progressive” badge of honor. Roger Olsen had a recent post  on defining fundamentalism.  He listed what he called: “…a critical mass of spiritual-theological “symptoms” that I find common to and almost unique (in terms of emphasis and influence) among a particular tribe of American Protestant Christians.”  They were:

Roger Olson

1) A tendency to elevate doctrines historically considered “secondary” (non-essentials) to the status of dogmas such that anyone who questions them questions the gospel itself.

2) A tendency to eschew “Christian fellowship” with fellow evangelical Christians considered doctrinally “impure” along with a tendency to misrepresent them in order to influence others to avoid them.

3) A tendency to “hunt” for “heresies” among fellow evangelical Christians and to reward fellow fundamentalists who “find” and “expose” them—even where said “heresies” are not truly heresies by any major confessional standards shared among evangelical Protestants.

4) A tendency to place doctrinal “truth” above ethics such that misrepresenting others’ views in order to exclude or marginalize them, if not get them fired, is considered justified.

5) A tendency to be obsessed with “liberal theological thinking” that leads to seeing it where it does not exist along with a tendency to be averse to all ambiguity or uncertainty about doctrinal and biblical matters.

Well and good, right?  Certainly something we on this blog see all the time in the comments. But he went on to post the next day “What is Liberal Christianity”and said there:

1) A tendency to reduce the Bible to “the Christian classic” that is “inspired” insofar as it is inspiring;

2) A tendency to reduce Christianity itself to ethics such that doctrine is an expression of collective opinion always open to revision in light of changing cultural conditions;

3) A tendency to embrace and promote individualism in spirituality and doctrine while insisting on certain controversial ethical positions as matters of justice and therefore beyond debate;

4) A tendency to deny miracles or “demythologize” them so that belief in no miracle is essential to authentic Christian existence;

5) A tendency to emphasize the immanence of God over God’s transcendence;

6) A tendency to believe in the essential goodness of humanity and to deny hell except as inauthentic existence in this life;

7) A tendency to interpret Jesus as different from other humans only in degree (e.g., more spiritually and ethically advanced) and not in kind;

8) A tendency to promote authentic Christian existence as a life of love only without judgment (except of “injustice”).

Right on, Roger, especially numbers 2 and 4.  I do not have to “demythologize” miracles to be a scientist.  And I don’t have to accept one extreme or the other, I don’t have to buy into the fallacy or false dilemma of the excluded middle.  And you can’t make me.

All that being said, I don’t think Mike McHargue is promoting his doubts as something to aspire to.  This book was about a man who began as a fundamentalist Southern Baptist, a bible-believing Christian, if you will, and then was overwhelmed by all the modernist assertions of “scientific” truth.  He concluded, in his own words:

 The universe was indifferent to us.  We were all just an accident of the self-organizing principles of physics—mere quirks of gravity, electromagnetism, and chemistry.  This was it.  This was the end of my search.  “God, I don’t know why I’m praying.  You aren’t even real.”

In the time it took to say those 11 words, I’d become an existential nihilist.

And for two years Mike was on a path leading him further and further from God and Christianity.  All the doubling down of his “Christian” friends, the rebukes, the apologetics, and the warnings weren’t reversing that path.  Those things weren’t helping him recover his faith; they were, in fact, driving him farther and farther away.  And then… and then… what happened?  It wasn’t the brilliant apologetics of William Lane Craig or Norman Geisler that brought Mike back.  It was being served communion by hyper-liberal-uber-alles ROB FREAKIN’ BELL where God spoke to him.  Hah… tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor!!

Oh… but he’s not a Christian, he doesn’t believe in a literal resurrection or a literal virgin birth.  Well, he has his doubts, but two things about those doubts:

  1. They are honest expressions of his thinking, he is not deceiving himself pretending he doesn’t have them.
  2. They are not unique to him; plenty of people share them.

But here’s the thing, Matthew 28:16-17 says this:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.  And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

Did Jesus rebuke their doubts?  No, he commissioned them with a promise:

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

As I said in an earlier post; Mike realized that the people in that beach house that day accepted him exactly as he was.  He wasn’t made to feel like an outsider.  He threw the fullness of his doubts about God at them, and they held it with grace.  They didn’t shout him down or take apart his arguments.  They didn’t try to win him over or rebuke him.  They just accepted him.  And they even thanked him for caring.  And that’s why Mike could say this:

If you’re a Christian who wonders what to do with someone who’s in doubt, consider these words carefully: Love and grace speak loudly.  The first and best response to someone whose faith is unraveling is a hug.  Apologetics aren’t helpful.  Neither are Scripture references.  The first thing a hurting person needs is to know they’re not alone.  My path back to God was paved with grace by those who received my doubt in love.

So I think Mike, like the early disciples, has been commissioned, both despite, and because of his doubts.  Despite his doubts, Jesus is with him always, even unto the end of the world.  Because of his doubts, Mike is “able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God “(2 Corinthians 1:4). 

Carry on, Science Mike, carry on…

Comments

  1. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Beautiful.

  2. Christiane says:

    A long time ago, sometime around 2013, I found this poem presented here on Imonk by ‘Mule Chewing Briars’ (Our Mule?). Author: (?) I wonder if Mule wrote it, but I don’t know this.
    I thought it might fit the topic in some way for some readers. I myself see some connection, yes:

    “The Consistory men came at dawn
    to strip the churches bare
    to gather all the idols
    they said were lurking there

    Took they first the Mother
    With her beloved Child
    And chopped her into kindling wood.
    My father said they smiled.

    “This is not He!” The father cried
    The new one that they sent
    “These painted dolls! These wooden sticks!”
    Into the fire they went.

    There went my patron Anthony
    Who fought against the Snake
    Dark-eyed Lucy, gentle Claire
    And Martin in their wake

    Fierce wolves of God, they gnawed the church
    Down to her very bone
    Even the body on the rood
    They did not leave alone

    When all was gone that I had loved
    They saw me standing by
    Very small and very scared
    and very soon to cry.

    The father stroked my tousled hair
    And held aloft a Book
    He fixed me with his icy gaze
    It was no pleasant look

    “Child”, he said, “From this you’ll learn”
    “The ways of God above”
    “And how he proffers saving faith”
    “With His electing love”

    I don’t want his nasty Book
    But to run and jump and play
    And to feel the wind upon my cheek
    The cool of night, the warmth of day

    He says that this is evil
    I must learn to mortify
    All that sin that in me dwells
    Or surely I will die.

    And so I grew from girl to maid
    and cut myself away
    and feared lest all this useless beauty
    should cause my soul to stray

    But as I listened to his book
    I heard the ancient strain
    The palm trees laden with their dates
    The flowers after rain.

    The eagle in his heaven
    The tree beside the brook
    The conies in their stoney place
    All this was in the Book

    “This is also Me” I heard Him say
    The voice within the Book
    Omnia quia sunt lumina sunt
    But you have to learn to look.”

  3. Very well written post. I sound like a Richard Beck disciple, which I’m not, but this brings to mind something important that he shares. He has lamented the fundamentalism and revivalism in the prison he attends. It isn’t just knocking it, he knows it promotes an imbalanced spiritual formation. As part of trying to expand perspective they started showing Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos. They were inspired to do it because their college students were raised on them. How did it play in prison. The inmates love it. Great discussion. Helps to get out of a rut.
    It’s not accepting one extreme or the other…..when you use something of them to get off of being stuck. Here I am stuck in the middle with you. I mean you can be in the music industry banquet, and even pastiche the king of the industry, and be pushed out of being listened to by the clowns on the left or the jokers on the right. And the animosity between those extremes gets listened to because its entertaining, it stirs up the adherents………pl…..eeee….ase, plllll…..eeeeaase. I got the feeling that something ain’t right.

  4. Some similarity to my journey. Simple faith is beautiful, but it can be ridiculously partisan – an ant-faith.
    Realistic faith can be harder.
    In the end you have to find God and still live with yourself.

  5. Ronald Avra says:

    Mike, thank you very much for bringing in the comments by Roger Olson. I find that I consistently appreciate his perspectives. I’m grateful for level-headed thinkers like Roger.

  6. Nice closing wrap-up, Mike! I’ve enjoyed the series.

  7. Excellent series, thank you!

  8. Thank you so much for posting this, Mike. Although this is only the second time I’ve commented on IMonk, I’m a regular reader.
    While my own life hasn’t included time away from the faith like Science Mike’s, his own doubts mirror mine in many ways, and this series felt very meaningful to me. My own beliefs are pretty orthodox, but I very much identify with the feeling of being both faithful and doubtful at the same time. Perhaps that’s not a far cry from being a saint and a sinner at the same time.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      I suspect the struggle is much more common than evangelicals like to admit.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        If not universal, and those who claim otherwise are either lying or self-medicating or trying to score points.

    • AdeptOaf said, “I very much identify with the feeling of being both faithful and doubtful at the same time.”

      Mark 9:24 said, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

  9. bad49brains says:

    My father, grandfather, and two uncles are, or were, pastors in a fundamentalist (ish) methodist denomination in Texas so, needless to say, I grew up with a pretty well-defined and clear outlook of how Christianity worked. Over the years (in my 40s now) as I grew to think more about my beliefs, I struggled with reconciling a lot of my questions and doubts. I struggled with wondering if I could continue to claim to be a christian if I was having trouble maintaining belief in some of the things I’d always been taught were not open for discussion. I was embarrassed trying to defend/explain beliefs to others that I wasn’t even so sure about. Sounds silly when I type it because I know differently now, but that’s the hold that my particular type of upbringing can have on a person. I felt guilty for being unsure or for having nagging questions – it’s disheartening, and you can feel a little lost or rudderless as you suddenly find yourself a grown man unsure of your exact beliefs. The pressure to adhere to every “tenet” and doctrinal view of my parents or church or denomination lest I invalidate my entire relationship with Jesus, well, it was certainly real for me.

    I”ve gotten to a good place in the last few years – still struggle, still question, still don’t have it all figured out – but I have an honest and genuine relationship with Christ. I wish I would have discovered internetmonk sooner – it is such a valuable resource for me as I wonder about and wrestle with things in my relationship with Christ.

    I’m rambling, guess I felt the need to provide a little background and introduce myself, but what i really wanted to say was how much I’ve enjoyed this particular thread/series/discussion – it has been so great. I really appreciate the honesty.

    My 17-yr old (about to be) senior in high school, who loves Jesus, has started to ask some of the same questions I have asked. We were talking last night about something we had read in a book describing one of God’s positive attributes and he told me quietly in the restaurant we were in, “I don’t get that, God doesn’t really seem like that at all to me, sometimes i feel like he’s playing a game”. I couldn’t have ever said that to my father, at least not safely…haha. I put my fork down and leaned in and said “you know, I have a really tough time with that one too man” and then we proceeded to kick around the concept for a few more minutes over our burgers, all the while knowing our Christian club membership cards weren’t being fed into some heavenly shredder. We finished our meals and went to the theater next door and watched a special screening of Hot Rod and laughed til we cried (please don’t judge me, that movie is a father/son guilty pleasure at our house). All that to say, I loved last night. We had fun. We spoke honestly with each other and I didn’t have to dutifully read a bullet point to him from the “What we believe” section of our church website to try to answer his question. We are going to continue to meet on our quest for the best burger in DFW and to discuss a book or the bible or our faith or whatever else comes up, but we are going to talk and ask and be honest. And pray.

    Sorry again for the ridiculously long post, ya gotta cut me some slack – i don’t ever post….But this Finding God in the Waves has really got me thinking and I wanted to give props to this site and forum. Love the discussion. Great stuff!

    Thanks – J

    • Christiane says:

      “I”ve gotten to a good place in the last few years – still struggle, still question, still don’t have it all figured out – but I have an honest and genuine relationship with Christ.”

      it’s a sojourn, a journey towards the light . . . . . be patient 🙂

      on the other hand, maybe you don’t need to have it all figured out as most of us don’t, and some even know it, and others, like the author Anne Lamott, have even found another way forward that works for them:

      ” I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity;
      I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees. ”
      (Anne Lamott)

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        The hypostatic unity of the most Holy Trinity is to be adored. I don’t particularly know if it can be ‘understood’. What comes to mind is the difficulty of using instruments composed of subatomic particles to trace a subatomic particle. From what I have been told, it has to be apprehended mathematically, which is a different sort of understanding from ‘seeing’.

        Some people, such as myself, aren’t capable of this, and shouldn’t be faulted for it, but neither should they be consulted on such matters.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      No need to apologize, great post. Thanks for commenting. I’m sure that conversation with your 17-yo is something you will both treasure for a long time to come.

      • +1. It was a great post. Loved the testimony and the glimpse at your evening with your son.

    • You brought light to your son! The light to continue an honest journey. That’s Beautiful. Fellow inhabitant of the Metroplex here. God bless. God bless

    • bad49brains
      Just yesterday I was talking with my 21 year old daughter recounting how I took a course in University on Religious and Moral development from an ex-priest (he had left to get married). I was a science student full of doubts and troubles.

      I wrote an essay on fundamentalism as I tried to deal with my Christian past. Your experiences were much like mine. I was very fortunate that a chaplain on campus encouraged me to wrestle with my faith.

      The thing that was hard was that I tended to veer in the opposite direction because it was so hard to sort through. Years later I compared it to taking all the furniture in my apartment and chucking it out on the lawn. Occasionally as I walked by the mess I would say ‘hmm – I think this table would be okay in the den’ and pulled stuff back in. Some of it I hauled off to the dump.

      Some people just throw it all out for good and become cold and sceptical. Thanks for sharing your journey~

  10. Burro [Mule] says:

    I’m kinda sorry to see this series end. I learned some interesting science.

    For me, the Science-Bible Smackdown was introduced to me by an atheist family member who insisted that my belief in Christ’s resurrection necessitated my belief in the entire YEC panoply. For 40 years he has been trying to provoke an argument that I just didn’t, and still don’t, see.

    Other side of the fun house mirror, indeed.

    Thanks to both Mikes for their participation.

    • –> “For 40 years he has been trying to provoke an argument that I just didn’t, and still don’t, see.”

      Yep. The flip-side indeed. Everyone seems to be telling everyone else, “You gotta draw lines in the sand and plant the flag and FIGHT!” Which means, “Either fight WITH ME, or fight AGAINST ME, but in either case, FIGHT!”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      For me, the Science-Bible Smackdown was introduced to me by an atheist family member who insisted that my belief in Christ’s resurrection necessitated my belief in the entire YEC panoply.

      Ken Ham is in complete agreement with him.

      • Dana Ames says:

        See, I view “Mike’s struggle to reconcile … faith with modern science” as a case of one modernistic view versus another – mirror images, or two sides of the same coin. I think “scientism” is problematic – and I also think fundamentalist Christianity (esp as Dr.Olsen describes it) is also problematic. The mindset of both arose in the wake of the Enlightenment. I’m not bashing scientific inquiry or every aspect of the Enlightenment; it’s just that, even though the conclusions are different, the premises seem remarkably similar to me.

        I put an ellipse in place of the word “ancient” because I don’t think that what Mike was raised to believe had much of the Ancient Faith about it.

        I appreciate Mike the G leading this discussion.

        Dana

  11. I’m three quarters of the way through the book. My estimation is that Mike McHargue has a ‘living’ faith. He brings scientific rationality but combines it with child like imagination. Verbal supplication combines with nonverbal meditation. He holds fast to what takes root in him as sure and uses that as a base for venturing into the giant and uncertain that confronts each of us. I like it. It’s expansive. He’s paddling in the flow.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Choose ye this day whom you will serve… and avoid(ing) profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called (I Timothy 6:20).

    I’d like to know the provenance of the word “Science” in this quote.

    “Science” comes from the Latin word for knowledge, “Scientas”.
    What was the original word in Koine Greek?
    And its meaning at the time of writing?

    If “knowledge” (like the Latin), an alternative translation could be “knowledge falsely so called”.

    • What was the original word in Koine Greek?

      I pulled out my Interlinear Greek New Testament. This edition translates it “falsely named knowledge” and the Koine Greek (transliteration) is “pseudonymou gnoseos”

  13. nothing is ever
    just what we think it should be
    but it is itself