So this was not the post I had intended to publish next, but something happened last week that forced me to write this post instead. This event occurred last Wednesday morning while I was at Bible study in my church. I love my Bible study group because it is composed of intelligent and diverse women who are open to exploring all types of questions including ones – often from me- that challenge the most core elements of faith.
Anyway, we were about 10 minutes into our meeting when the church sexton opened the door and a young woman entered the room. The sexton explained that this young woman was looking for a church, and after some brief discussion we suggested that she should join our meeting. We all introduced ourselves, and the young woman explained that she had worked a night shift all night and had decided this morning that she needed to find a church. We were the second church she had walked into (she couldn’t find anyone in the first church). We continued with our study, including and explaining things to the newcomer when appropriate.
After the Bible study was over, the woman told us how much she liked our group, and what a good feeling she got from our church (of course I’m biased, but I have to say that our church is exceptionally open and welcoming). She was amazed because ‘God had told her this morning to go find a church’, and she felt like He had guided her to this one.
So, what’s so special about this story? Well – the weird part is that this Bible study meets just once a month – for one hour. What are the odds that this woman would have found us? Yes, of course, you can say “well, she would have just found another church and another Bible study somewhere”. That’s true – but the fact is that she found this church, and it felt so right to her because she felt that God had directed her path to us.
This story seems to me to be a perfect example of what I mentioned in the last post about how people turn to God to explain the random events in their lives. This story has absolutely nothing to do with science, or hard evidence. It’s just about life – the random twists and turns that our life takes and how we interpret those events. There is always more than one way we can interpret our lives – but the key question I have here is:
In the all-too-frequent scenarios in our lives when there is insufficient data to determine why a certain event has occurred, why is the ‘God-less’ explanation inherently superior?
Of course, you can say “well, there’s no proof that there is any higher power behind such random coincidences”. Yes, that’s absolutely correct – but there’s no proof that there isn’t either. So, really, as I see it, it comes down to which explanation provides greater functional value – and I think there’s a good argument to be made that explanations that involve God can do a better job. Here’s why:
If one acknowledges that certain events are ‘just random’ – this also means that the events, at root, lack real Meaning. We can still ascribe meaning to those events – we can build up whatever interpretations we choose – but when pushed – there is no foundation to the meaning systems we’ve constructed. If life is just random then fundamentally it lacks Ultimate Meaning (a point that was affirmed by the atheist author of the Not-a-scientist blog with whom I had a fascinating exchange after the last post – this exchange is worth reading on its own).
In contrast, when we ascribe events to God, this means that we believe that there is some underlying reason why the events have occurred – there is some higher purpose, there is some Ultimate Meaning to it all. We might be completely unsure what that meaning is – but we know it’s there and we have a foundation from which to explore that mysterious purpose. In the ideal scenario – when we ascribe the random occurrences in our lives to God, that provides the motivation for an ongoing conversation and exploration about meaning and significance.
So, the ironic thing here is that one of the common critiques that atheists make against religious explanations for phenomena is that they ‘kill the conversation’. In the scientific realm, using God as an explanation for a phenomenon is frequently an intellectual dead end. Richard Dawkins eloquently makes this argument in his critique of Intelligent Design theory – as he puts it “The reasoning that underlies ‘intelligent design’ theory is lazy and defeatist…”(p. 155). Invoking God as an explanation of natural phenomena allows people to escape from the hard work of finding out how something really works.
I couldn’t agree more with Richard Dawkins in this criticism. Using God to block scientific inquiry is a horrible thing – a sin, actually – because it prevents us from using our God-given intelligence to explore the glory of Creation.
However, in other scenarios in life – which explanation is more of a conversation killer? If random events have no meaning, what’s the point of talking about why they happened? You can do it of course, but isn’t there something hollow about those conversations – they are fun little fancies that we can engage in, but the underlying truth is that it’s all random – there is no ultimate truth. But if there is some underlying meaning to it all – well – then we’ve got something to talk about.