Science, Faith, Determinism, Free Will and Nihilism: A Journey From Faith to Reason to Faith

Back when I found myself stepping away from my faith and challenging a lot of my beliefs, I found myself at something of a crisis point. It started with a process of questioning the rationality of my faith after opening myself up to the wide world of academics and thinkers I had not previously been exposed to, and at a certain point coming to accept that I should abandon my faith on the basis of reason alone.

I then came to a point where I realized that these same academics, including the grand and storied world of philosophy, were basically caught in the exact same space as the religious conviction it wanted to critique. It is one thing to say that this is simply the way the world is, it is quite another thing to make a case for why living in this world must matter in the face of death.

I came to understand that contradictions abounded in terms of reconciling these two things, and if the same rational minds that had convinced me to abandon my faith in the idea of God based on reason alone consistently chose irrationally based narratives as the means by which we can then live in this rationally constructed world in a meaningful way, what then was the essential difference between the narrative of faith and the narrative of materialism or, what I would have described at the time, secular humanism, a term I’ve since come to dislike. If I was taught that faith must be deconstructed on the simple basis of rationality alone, on what basis should I then refuse to submit my lack of faith to the same rules. This becomes especially crucial when it comes to applying a notion of personal responsbility, an idea that continues to inform our problematic understandings of retributive justice.

This is what led me eventually to a nihilistic conclusion of it all, acknowledging that if this is simply the way things are, there is no truly rational answer to the question, why live in the face of death. There are simply answers that we arrive at based on the nature of our circumstance and narratives we choose to accept on often irrational grounds that allow us to then give this life a certain level of meaning.

I had one big problem though. In abanding the world of faith I was also abandoning the specificity of the Christian faith, and in particular the weighty nature of the determinism that soaked much of this renewed interest at the time of my departure in Reformed Theology. As many of my friends were migrating either away from the Christian faith or towards this grand exodus to these neo-Calvinist circles, I came to realize that this faith expression had played as much of a role in my loss of faith as my grappling with the wide world of academics. This led me through an exploration of different faith traditions, but for me personally I continued to be arrested by this notion that I encountered in Tolkien of needing some kind of anchor in terms of locating a “True” story. If anything was going to make sense, landing in any Tradition of faith or non faith needed to rest on a central conviction of faith in something. The only way multi-culturalism and diversity can hold any power in this world and be protected against homogenious tendencies is to find a way to preserve this sense of conviction in something that is capital T “True”. While this part of my journey is colored with plenty of nuance and reasons and stories, I came to undertand that being able and willing to say that Christianity, should one come to that convcition, is the True story that gives all of our other stories their meaning and foundation, the very basis for which Tolkien imagines his own writings, is not elitist or exclusionary or arrogance, but quite the opposite. In fact, I was at my most arrogant and exclusive and elitist when I was pretending that my godless worldview was not based on a simlilar conviction of capital T Truth. What gives all these expressions of faith their meaning and their power is their conviction in this shared allegiance to Truth. However we reconcile this as a diverse people who live in faith of something, we simply cannot ignore this simple fact. I have little to say if I don’t hold a conviction in something, and what makes diverse cultures beautiful and compelling is the fact that this something is in fact a conviction.

Why I am bringing this up? This recent podcast episode linked below from The Reluctant Theologian Podcast (Time, Physics and Free Will With Jeff Koperski, Episode 62) reminded me of a voice that helped give me an in road back into not just the idea of God, but a renewed grappling with my Christian faith. It is an interview with author and physicist Jeffrey Koperski. In specific, it is the work he does on the nature of this relationship between the science of determinism and the human will that helped open me up to the wide range of possibilities in theological thought. He’s not the easiest read, but his brief book The Physics of Theism: God, Physics, and the Philosphy of Science released about 7 years ago is a wonderful and nuanced dialogue of the intersection of faith and science, and really helped to dig underneath where it is we impart and depart from reason alone as our basis for understanding the mysteries of God and this world. The podcast offers a concise overview of some of his central premises, and his newer book, Divine Action, Determinism, and the Laws of Nature is currently available for free in Canada through Kindle reads. For me anyways, reconciling determinism and the will was the most crucial point of perspective for making sense of either faith in a godless reality or faith in God, as for me determinism in theology (via the sovereignty of God) or materialism (via the laws of nature) leads to nihilism, and it is in the ways which we deal with this question with God or without God that breathes meaning into this exercise of faith.

A couple quotes from Koperski,

Even if there are windows through which God can act without breaking natural laws, such approaches have “simply replaced one mode of interference with the world – that in which the laws of nature are set aside – with another, in which those laws are used as tools… The very idea that there are laws of nature is a modern innovation…. Ideally, though, an appeal to mystery occurs after a great deal of progress has been made on an issue.

Divine Action, Determinism, and the Laws of Nature, Jeffrey Koperski

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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