Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 51. Drowning in Materialism (2)
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
Recap: Yesterday we observed two definitions of materialism and we thought about the first one, encompassed in the abbreviated form: “Material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values.” The second definition is more a philosophical one: “the theory or belief that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications.” To remind ourselves why we are even thinking about these things, we have to go back to a comment that I made, that I believe modern man is drowning in a variety of things in modern life, and for the Christian these things have the potential of undermining our belief systems and no more so than in this subject of ongoing redemption.
Pondering the basics of life and living: I am sitting at a keyboard. I feel the keys and the mouse. I am observing the words appearing on a screen. If I lived five hundred years ago I could consider this is magic. Today I understand a little about electrical currents and what goes into computer software and hardware. In a while I will go into the kitchen, turn on a tap and water will flow; I will fill and turn on a kettle and not be surprised when it starts making a noise and gets hot. Everything about my modern life is about reacting to and responding to material objects and yet, much of it is unseen. I understand that ‘electricity’ is in fact just a form of energy resulting from the existence of charged particles, electrons and protons. There is no marvel about that today although there would have been two hundred years ago. We have to thank Einstein’s E=MC2 for linking mass and energy, and energy is the stuff we cannot see but can experience. We even take this idea of ‘energy’ for granted – “power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources, especially to provide light and heat or to work machines”. It is all part of the ‘material world’ and as such these are the nuts and bolts of modern science.
Modern Science: Science is founded on the ‘scientific method’, an empirical method of knowledge acquisition. Now ‘empirical evidence’, “also known as sensory experience, is the information received by means of the senses, particularly by observation and documentation of patterns and behaviour through experimentation.” (Isn’t the Internet a wonderful thing!) So we have a material world and we investigate that material world – to find out how it works and what we can do with it – through the senses that we ‘material beings’ have.
Limitations and Questions: And that is as far as science can go and so we don’t need to be defensive when scientists in laboratories say, ‘we cannot see signs of a spiritual world’. At that point we need to gently smile and ask, “Have you got good and meaningful reasons everything works as it does, why we actually exist – and please don’t just give me a ‘mechanical’ answer because everything in me and in millions of other people, if not most people, feel there is more to existence that mere physical existence?” You see, a rock has no ‘meaning’, it just exists. We can possibly explain the scientific process how it came to be a rock and ultimately it all goes back to ‘particles’ (no longer mere atoms and molecules of my school days) but there we hit the biggest mystery of all when we come to the so-called’ “Big Bang”.
Francis Schaeffer, a Christian philosopher in the middle of the twentieth century, said and did some memorable things. One of the most helpful here was his concept of ‘nothing-nothing’, the thought of there being absolutely nothing, no vacuum, no energy, nothing! When we speak of nothing scientists usually dig themselves an escape tunnel by speaking about energy, but the existence of ‘energy’ explains nothing. Imagine the total absence of anything, and remember one of the things science used to say is that you cannot get something from absolutely nothing. Even IF you could explain the big-bang, you cannot explain what was before it that explained why it happened. If some scientific philosopher (and science and philosophy have joined hands in recent decades) postulates a theory (because it is all theory) that somehow energy could come from nowhere, they would be flying in the face of logical science. If he postulates how energy came into being, it would have to be from ‘something’. Our minds cannot cope with nothing-nothing and something coming.
Living with the scientific environment: So yes, we have this material world and we have this approach to measuring it that we call science. No problem. The problem comes when we say (as atheists do) that this is all there is. The interesting fact is that many top world-class scientists are Christians and don’t see a conflict, for ultimately they believe there is more than ‘just’ a materialistic world. But when your son or daughter sits in a schoolroom, or a room in college or university, their teacher is operating on one level and the odds are that they will insist that that is the only level, materialism is all there is, but in doing that they reveal their ignorance of the amazing diversity of evidence to the existence of a spiritual dimension to life.
Now without doubt, we in the West live in a high state of awareness of science and of technology (science applied), an environment if you like unlike anything any previous generation has experienced. Because of that, perhaps, many people struggle to cope with the voices that are raised to explain it, the most obvious being, “There is nothing apart from the material world, we can explain it all and there is no need for a God.” No, all you are doing is explaining how God has made things to work. The worrying element is not this, but how we apply this knowledge and what we will do with it. (Non-Christian) Minds far greater than mine are, for example, giving warnings that the advances of artificial intelligence and robotics may well create a Matrix (see the film trilogy) scenario that will spell out the death of humanity.
History and Belief: But let’s get back to basics again. Historians (and most of the rest of us sane people) believe there was last century a war we refer to as World War Two. Many people alive today still remember it. No question. Choose any accepted historical event of say two hundred or five hundred or two thousand years ago, and historians build up a picture of what happened then by the evidence that has been found and the sequence of events that flowed from it to bring us up to the present. Historians argue and change their minds about various aspects of history but essentially it is all about playing with whatever evidence is available. Today, for example, there are very few scholars (history specialists) who deny the existence of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. Our beliefs about our past and who we are today are predicated on the evidence we have about historical events and that is as true about the Christian faith as it is about anything else. It’s all about evidence, past and present.
A Fundamental Starting Point: Now strangely our presuppositions (another thing Francis Schaeffer majored on) are key. You either begin from a starting point that you believe there can be a God, or you start by saying there can’t. We might also add, you may say there is a God, but He doesn’t involve Himself in this world, or He does. This was foundational to the confusion caused by so-called scholars at the end of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century who approached the Bible from more of a materialistic standpoint and so denied that prophecy could exist, denied that God could speak to people, denied that miracles could happen, and therefore challenged and wrote off much of what they found in the Bible. It took many decades for greater scholarship in the church to realise that this was a faith battle not a scholarly battle. If you believe the Bible as a complete package, it makes total sense and that sense can be applied into everyday life. Take away a God who communicates, a God who can act powerfully into this world, and the content of the Bible doesn’t merely not make sense, it is an absolutely bizarre series of stories that can neither have meaning nor credibility. Start, with our header verse today, with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) and we have a completely different ball-game!
A Logical Outworking: If that statement is true, then the logical outworking of that is that this God must be all-powerful (able to do anything) and all-wise (knows everything and knows how everything works – knows every bit of knowledge before the scientist finds out about it) and is good (the world itself is fundamentally a good place if you don’t settle next to low coastal plains or volcanic areas – but that is ignoring the facts of the Fall and a perfect world beforehand). The uniformity of the Bible is a compelling piece of evidence; it is not full of contradictions and with at least 42 different writers of 66 books the uniformity of its claims about God are amazing, but you will only see that if you have eyes willing to look with an open mind – and you understand the place of ‘science’ in this world – AND don’t listen to those who are tunnel visioned and refuse to study more widely than their career specialism area.
If you want to criticize God, the Bible, the Christian faith, you can in reality only do it out of ignorance. If we let such voices pour at us without ourselves becoming learners in these things, then it is not surprising that some are showing signs of drowning, showing signs of abandoning their faith and losing a spiritual vitality in their lives. It is not because the faith is found wanting, it is because those individuals are found wanting, and there can be no excuses. When we speak of ongoing redemption as we have in this series, it must be surely, that part of His ongoing working in us is to teach us to see with a clearer perspective, so we have a broad canvas of understanding of science – and its limitations – and a broad spectrum of understanding of our beliefs as Christians that holds material and spiritual in true balance – as God has made it to be.