Science, Faith, Mystery (2)

Reality is not so easily divided into the natural and the supernatural and the latter is not so easily dismissed simply because it refuses to be quantified. Think again of history. Everything used to be supernatural. Humanity used to see gods in every nook and cranny of the natural world, and it seemed right to do so because the natural world so surpassed their ability to fathom it. The fact that fire was once supernatural raises the question: now that it is merely heated photons has the essence of what fire is been diminished in the greater glow of our own scientific understanding, or is that only an trick of perception brought on by the fact that in understanding something newly, we feel as if we are growing up. I think it is the latter. We come to understand things better, but the universe is unchanged. It didn’t care when we thought it a god and it doesn’t care now that we think it only atoms. Fire is fire; thinking it supernatural and thinking it uber-natural go wrong in the same way.

Think of it this way: if you brought a human of an ancient age into our present day, would they not think we – with our flying planes, speeding cars, and glowing computer screens – live in a world of magic. Now project yourself far ahead into the future. Can you see yourself thinking the same thing when faced with the sober wonders of another 1,000 years of scientific progress? Won’t humans from the future look back on us and feel the same way as we do about ancient humans, that they wrongly called things supernatural that were merely natural. What does it mean? It means the mistake comes when we think of ourselves as the gatekeepers of mystery, when we think the boundaries of our knowledge is the boundaries of all that is knowable. It means that there is no supernatural, but only the natural, however, we’ve only empirically established a small fraction of the natural and call the rest, which is yet too high for us, “super”.

It is a chain. Everyone calls what is above them in the chain supernatural. That means that the being at the top doesn’t think of himself as anything more than merely natural. God understands his own work and all that it contains and there are no mysteries to him, but because he built the universe the way it is, the prerequisite for thinking faith is something dispensable may in the end be nothing less than achieving that highest order of being. If that is the reality of the universe we can dispense with these silly divisions of supernatural and natural and the marginalization of the supernatural. From God’s perspective its either all magic or none of it is.

Like it or not, given the limitations of our own understanding, we all have worldviews that must be patched together with the unknown and the mysterious. Mystery forces its way into our worldviews, and therefore, so does faith. It doesn’t matter if that mystery was arrived at by religion or by means of experimentation. Materialists and religionists stand in the same fundamental position, that of finiteness. It is not more rational to live by the readily quantifiable than to accommodate the mysterious and it involves quiet a bit more hubris. One might as well say that it is science that discourages curiosity. After all, religion does not embrace mystery in a way that prevents curious minds from exploring it, and science does not reject mystery in a way that, if held consistently, leaves room for what it cannot understand. Religion does not stop the those who would understand the universe we live in from entering those gaps in our knowledge and seeking answers, but only admonishes them upon entering not to be surprised if, once within those gaps, they find they are in the presence of things which are too large for them.

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