Memory isn’t always a clear, sharp thing that can be recalled in an instant with precision. Not for me, anyway.
Case in point: my first trip overseas to Europe. I spent over two and a half weeks in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, and Italy, and there are a precious handfull of memories I can grasp at. Most of these involve concert after concert—I was ‘on tour’ with a tri-state high school orchestra and choir. The sheer repetition of the songs and the amount of times we sang or played them forced some of them into my head forever. I will probably always associate the segue into Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy with a stuffy wooden town hall in France: overflowing with elderly people, our audience listened raptly to an introduction from the only girl on our tour who could speak the language fluently.
There are a few profound moments of wonder that I can recall during those days, though. One day, we arrived late into an Austrian town that seemed like a giant bowl carved out of the earth. It was dark, so I couldn’t see any of the scenery at the time, but we were supposed to wake up early for a hike the next morning. I figured I’d be able to see a bit better then. It was dark the next morning too, though, which I couldn’t understand because it was already close to 7 AM in the first week of July. I stepped outside to join the small group and my guide, and immediately I understood: I was in a deep valley ringed entirely with snow-capped mountains. The sun couldn’t reach us yet.
The beauty of that place struck me so intimately, I still think and write about it often—particularly in poetry. We hiked to a hilltop in the center of the valley, where an old metal playground sat rusting from disuse. When the sun was finally able to overcome the height of the stone wall and flood into the valley at around 8 AM, the sensation I had was that—for the first time in my life—it felt as though I’d had a real conversation: between myself, nature, and something higher.
I have always struggled with meaningful conversation, simply because I find it difficult to glean meaning in everyday occurrences. I almost always want to go deeper, to analyze and connect things more specifically so that I can understand them more clearly. Not everyone wants that outside of a learning environment and in the context of a social one, however. So I find myself silent and listening more often than not. Standing there in the sun on a hilltop in the Alps with my heart expanding and my mind running circles around my body, though, I began to think that maybe my way of viewing things wasn’t as unacceptable to society as I’d thought. I just needed, over time, to find the right audience to speak with.
Another stop on my European journey was to the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg, France. We visited in the late afternoon, right before the evening hour when (as I recently found out) the church would be lit inside and out. I remember turning a corner in the street with our guide, where at least five children were begging for food for their mother, and observing what looked like the modern version of an open-air market. It was a wide stone street with covered stalls that led into interior shops, and at the end of it all was one of the most intimidating buildings I’ve ever seen: a medieval stone cathedral with thousands of faces on the front.
The interior was equally frightening, in my opinion. At the hushed hour that we visited, the ceiling was indeterminate—a blackness stretched from a few feet above hundreds of small candles in their red votives to wherever the ceiling stopped, and little light filtered in through the stained glass windows we had seen on the outside of the building. It was difficult just to get around, not to mention trying to find the astronomical clock near the front right of the cathedral. It was supposed to be the highlight of the building. Once there, the clock was magnificent—but not having had anyone explain to my 15-year-old mind what an astronomical clock was, exactly, made it nearly impossible to appreciate.
Don’t get me wrong. I could break the word down and understand that it had something to do with astronomy—stars, planets, and constellations. I now enjoy old buildings and architecture, having actually studied architecture in college, for a time. I understand now that the concept of the clock was an ordered universe, that everything has its place in God’s design. That the building represents a body of individuals who stand for a belief and support one another. But ever since that trip, given the option, I prefer to explore the deeper meanings I find in the outdoors.
Memory, for me, is about how a moment made me feel. The impact of an hour spent in a valley of light, praising the role of nature’s vast artistry in my short life, will probably always trump the time spent glancing at an astronomical clock in a church. It is my belief that a higher being made the valley—that the patterns that govern the physical world are more complex than the patterns a human can discern and therefore replicate accurately—and that we are meant to always be in constant immediacy with a tri-party conversation: God, all humankind, and the natural world. (After all, our understanding of how the universe operates changed once, didn’t it?)
I’ll always strive to remember every ounce of my life because it’s precious, but the strongest and most valuable of these moments have always been and will always be those that connect me to my creator. Comparing the circumstances of my life parallel to those I see reflected in nature sometimes help me to further outline and comprehend what I couldn’t initially understand, as in the case of the valley and the clock. The concept of the valley strengthened my feelings on the idea of God at the time, and put me in reach of a conversation about him as well as the idea of a purpose to life, while the clock in the cathedral did not work as well for me.
Now, having found Christ 9 years ago, I am curious to understand more of the world our father created, as well as the way others think about the natural world. Combining this with my innate curiosity on science and nature, I searched for other materials relating to Darwin’s Origin of Species—the thought process being that the foundation for modern science and one of the most discussed topics in our history would have other schools of thought associated with it. When I searched for these arguments and found Natural Theology, I knew I’d hit upon something to study: the ‘practice of inferring the existence and wisdom of God from the order and beauty of the world’ (Intro IX).
From my limited understanding of the foreword in Natural Theology, drawing conclusions about God and the relationship he has with his creations through the analysis of the natural world was William Paley’s inclination. The idea wasn’t new, as the foreword clearly states. The concept was in existence long before Christ. Paley is simply the most associated author with the concept, given his proximity to both the scientific revolution and particularly Charles Darwin, as I’m given to understand that Paley’s theories are generally considered Darwin’s jumping point.
And so, I’d like to give discussion on this a shot.
Please keep in mind, I’m not a scholar or an intellect. I’m an interested party. I want to learn, to discuss, to offer my viewpoint through the lens of my experience. This is my first real foray into an intellectual argument on both science and my beliefs, and I aim to keep it open.
My overall objective is simple: share some of my memories, illustrate the concepts I read through these memories, and discuss the pros and cons of those concepts with you. I invite you to share your thoughts, reactions, and experiences below at any time, and to keep in mind that I accept criticism without vulgarity.
Keep an eye out for the next post on my exploration of faith, Natural Theology: The Watchmaker’s Audience. I’ll be discussing the overall concept of the interpretation of Paley’s argument as found in the foreword by Matthew D. Eddy and David M. Knight.
Want to follow along? Here’s the book.