Last Saturday through Tuesday I was camping near Eagle River in northern Wisconsin. When I gazed at the vibrant colored leaves mirrored on the surface of a pond in the early morning or at thousands of stars scattered across the black night sky, I saw God’s signature on it all. One day I sat on the side of a back road looking out over a beaver pond, and not one car passed four half an hour. In that silent solitude, I heard God’s voice.

In contrast, one of my friends is an agnostic and a scientist. When he sees the leaves changing color at this time each year, he starts talking about how the disappearance of chlorophyll is what makes the leaves change color. When you mention the stars, he talks about the big bang and gravitational pull and why planets orbit around the sun. He doesn’t see God’s signature on any of this or hear God speaking to him in the silence.

Why?

My understanding is that each of us looks at reality through different lenses. He views nature through the empirical lens of science. Just the facts, ma’am. What is real is what is observable. He doesn’t deny that there is a God who is responsible for creating all the beauty I soaked in this last week. What he does is suspend belief until God’s existence and activity can be empirically verified.

In contrast to the scientific lens, I viewed nature these last few days through a religious lens. I see God in all that is beautiful. I hear God in silence.

When my agnostic friend and I look at the same phenomenon, we actually see different things. Trying to convince otherwise is futile until we both look at things through the same lens. That’s why when an evangelical tries to convince my friend that God exists by citing verses from the Bible, the evangelical gets nowhere. It’s because the evangelical sees the Bible as a lens through which a person can see the truth about God. The agnostic simply dismisses the accuracy of the Bible as a lens through which one can see what is real. End of discussion.

If we ever want to foster in healthy, respectful dialogue between science and religion or between Buddhists and Lutherans, we need to begin by acknowledging that we view “the truth” through different lenses. And. . . . .that might lead those involved in the conversation to try looking at life through the lens of the other. Each might be surprised by what they see.

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Tom Holmes

Tom's been writing about religion – broadly defined – for years in the Journal. Tom's experience as a retired minister and his curiosity about matters of faith will make for an always insightful exploration...

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