Waldlaw Blog

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Musings about Magic

I've been on vacation for a couple of weeks with my kids, so I though I'd take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on my recreational reading -- including Harry Potter. I read volume 5 last week, and am looking forward to volume 6 (the new one). In the midst of my forray into the world of witches and wizards, I got into a discussion about the evolution/creationism debate. And the combination made me think.... It seems to me that there are fundamentally two types of people in the world -- those who believe in magic, and those that don't. (And I use the word "magic" very broadly here, to include essentially anything that has no explanation in nature or logic.) As with most things in our culture these days, the "evolution" camp and the "creation" camp tend to be utterly polarized. And as with most things in our culture these days, I find myself most interested in the middle ground -- and yes, I think there is some. You see, my father was a scientist who was deeply spiritual and who was fascinated by the intersection between the scientific world and the spiritual one. He loved to think about what it was that allowed life to begin on earth -- and, according to my mother (herself a scientist), late in life he became intrigued by a theory that for life to have come into being on earth, there must have been some aspect of "life" floating around in the cosmos. In other words, some aspect of "life" has to have been present in the elements in order for evolution to have been able to occur. This concept of a free-floating life force that formed the seeds of what we now know of as life on earth doesn't seem that different to me from what the most sensible of the "intelligent design" folks are talking about -- i.e. that of course we evolved through natural processes such as those described by the evolutionary biologists, but that at the start of it all was a spark of life brought into existence by a supreme being. The difference, as I see it, comes down to this: do you believe in magic? There are extremes on either side of this debate. But in the middle is a line -- and on one side of the line are those who do not believe that there is anything "real" for which there is no "natural" or "scientific" explanation (even if we have not found the explanation, and may never find it -- what's important is the belief that it exists) and on the other side of the line are those who believe that some things cannot be explained -- that some things must ultimately be attributed to spiritual or magical forces. And the folks who live closest to that line on either side aren't really all that far apart. So maybe if we talk to each other -- and, more important, maybe if we really listen to each other, we will find a larger common area than we knew we had. In the meantime, I'm going back to Harry Potter and trying to answer the question for myself: do I believe in magic??


  • I've been thinking about this post for days now. And I keep remembering what little I read of Kierkegaard and his Leap of Faith (or Leap to Faith). We rational types can never fully comprehend our world. There are always limits to rational, scientific understanding. At some point you either believe in God / miracles / magic or you don't. If you do, its a leap you have to take with fear and trembling because there is nothing here on earth that will validate or disprove your faith.

    That always resonated with me.

    So, from Kierkegaard's view, I guess, Intelligent Design would be a fool's attempt to annex the rational with the spiritual. A fool's errand for sure.

    Let the empiricists have evolution and push the envelope of understanding as far as they can. There will always be room for all to see and marvel at the divine within all living things.

    By Blogger KC, at 3:29 PM  

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