I read the book ”Life is a Miracle—An Essay Against Modern Superstition” by Wendell Berry. First off I have to confess that I actually enjoyed this book. Initially I thought that I would just storm through this book just to get it over with, but it was quite the opposite. There was many thought provoking moments. Perhaps the reason I liked the book is because Wendell Baker is not a scientist. From the pages of the book I learned that he is a rural farmer guy, with strong ties to agriculture and the environment, and has his M.A. in English. Throughout the entire book he was very humble in admitting that he is not a scientist and doesn’t claim to have a perfect understanding of the world. But, that which he does know is in perspective—or in other words, he realizes that his understanding is foolishness in comparison to God’s knowledge. With that in mind he effectively explains how our culture has being deceived to think that the world is a perfect science that will eventually be understood in its fullness through scientific hypothesis testing.
Throughout the whole book Dr. Berry harps on the author Edward O. Wilson and his book, Consilience. Berry accuses Wilson of materialism, imperialism, reductionism, and more. I could go on forever on the many thoughts and applications that rushed through my mind while I was reading. But, I would like to focus my writing on one topic—Life is a miracle. Berry eloquently explained how our society of science, and reasoning has led many to believe that the Earth and the Universe are calculated objects. Berry uses the word machines. The world is viewed as a machine and can be predictable just as we can predict 100% of the time what car will leave a GM assembly line. Berry strongly disagrees. He feels that life is not predictable. We have agency and are influenced by thoughts, feelings, and faith. Wilson might argue that it is more secular than that. Or, that science can explain every phenomenon in nature, or at least has the potential of discovering all of the answers. I agree with Berry in that this life and this world in which we live are not predictable machines. I believe that there are imperative aspects of life such as moral agency, love, miracles, mystery, and a loving Heavenly Father that make this life somewhat unpredictable for the mortal mind to fathom. Nature has its patterns, but there is always facets of the environment that perplex the mind and baffle the “genius” of scientists. More particularly, the very science of salvation, will never be understood by the mortal mind. Wilson, in all of his learning and machinist thinking may be led to disbelieve in miracles, God, and salvation because there is no place for such things; man will eventually figure them out for himself. Wilson is forgetting one huge principle of nature: there is matter and element that he has not even though of—Spirit.
As Latter-Day Saints we believe that Spirit is matter, but more pure and fine than even the Periodic Table of Elements can distinguish. God operates by law, and does not walk in crooked paths to bring about his work of salvation. I guess you could say that God is the Master Scientist or Supreme Physicist. He did not change water in to wine through magic. He did not part the Red Sea through mysticism. He did not heal Namaan’s leprosy through voo-doo. God did not create the Earth and Heaven by pixy dust. It’s true that there is a celestial science to all of these marvelous wonders, but it is false to think that mortal man with all of his learning will ever discover such a science. These powers can only be handled and understood by virtue of the priesthood. Wilson is correct in thinking that life is a science, but he is horrifically wrong if he thinks that man will discover everything about the planet through man’s device.
I love what Wendell Berry says about the amazing nature of our earthly probation: “To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up in it” (Berry 10). How true is that? He is probably not even a member of the Church and yet he came to that profound truth (not to say that only members of our Church can discover such gems of truth). But yes, as soon as we reduce this life to its elements and functioning parts, we misunderstand it as a whole. This life is life is like the human body: if we were to dissect every organ, tissue, and cell and find out what each one does, we would never be able to predict what that human would be able to do. We have to take into account the spirit, which runs through our body, and our mind and the agency by which we CHOOSE to do things. Then we must believe in miracles. Life is a miracle. Likewise, nature is a miracle. As soon as we realize that nature and the environment are miracles, then we will treat them preciously. Berry understands this, and therefore has treated nature with respect, and has continued a five generation span of farmers in his family that have gleaned tons from nature without taking its virtue.
(I read this whole book)