An old friend of mine wrote to me a long time ago about trying to figure out whether to believe in God. What he was looking for, and what he might have expected me, as a scientist, to tell him, was whether there was any verifiable evidence of miraculous activities of such a God, above and beyond the world of nature. Unfortunately, I had to tell him that evolution explains the entire history of life and the universe, and that all mental and spiritual experiences of humans seem to be explainable by the chemical reactions in the brain. I had concluded that there was no proof of God, and probably no Person we could call God, but only Love.
I told my friend that I believed in God because Gustav Mahler believed in God. That is a strange thing for a scientist to say. I do not know if Mahler had a specific theology in mind, but he believed in the kind of God you can encounter by listening to the forest and meadow that surrounded the cabin in which he wrote his Third Symphony. He entitled the first movement, “Summer marches in,” the second movement “What the flowers in the meadow tell me,” the third movement “What the animals in the forest tell me,” the fourth movement “What the night tells me,” the fifth movement “What the morning bells tell me,” and the final movement “What love tells me.”
Was Mahler experiencing a delusion of the evolutionary overgrowth of the human mind? We cannot know, since we are limited to our human minds. Long before there was any theology, humans experienced what Edward O. Wilson has called “biophilia,” the love of the natural world; and saw, or imagined, within nature a power beyond human experience.
Whoever listens to the forest is much less likely to pick up a gun and aim it at another person whose theology differs from theirs than someone whose entire faith is based on doctrine.
Originally published on http://www.stanleyrice.com in January, 2008.
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