The consideration of such weighty matters can be unsettling. Whether we call it by name or not, all of us have arrived at a certain worldview. It helps us make sense of the world around us, provides us with an ethical framework, and guides our decisions about the future. Anyone who tinkers with that worldview should not do it lightly. A book that proposes to challenge something so fundamental may inspire more uneasiness than comfort. But we humans seem to possess a deepseated longing to find the truth, even though that longing is easily suppressed by the mundane details of daily life. Those distractions combine with a desire to avoid considering our own mortality, so that days, weeks, months, or even years can easily pass where no serious consideration is given to the eternal questions of human existence. This book is only a small antidote to that circumstance, but will perhaps provide an opportunity for self-reflection, and a desire to look deeper.
First, I should explain how a scientist who studies genetics came to be a believer in a God who is unlimited by time and space, and who takes personal interest in human beings. Some will assume that this must have come about by rigorous religious upbringing, deeply instilled by family and culture, and thus inescapable in later life. But that's not really my story.
PART ONE The Chasm Between Science and Faith
MY EARLY LIFE WAS UNCONVENTIONAL in many ways, but as the son of freethinkers, I had an upbringing that was quite conventionally modern in its attitude toward faith -- it just wasn't very important. I was raised on a dirt farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The farm had no running water, and few other physical amenities. Yet these things were more than compensated for by the stimulating mix of experiences and opportunities that were available to me in the remarkable culture of ideas created by my parents.
They had met in graduate school at Yale in 1931, and had taken their community organizing skills and love of music to the experimental community of Arthurdale, West Virginia, where they worked with Eleanor Roosevelt in attempting to reinvigorate a downtrodden mining community in the depths of the Great Depression.
But other advisers in the Roosevelt administration had other ideas, and the funding soon dried up. The ultimate dismantling of the Arthurdale community on the basis of backbiting Washington politics left my parents with a lifelong suspicion of the government. They moved on to academic life at Elon College in Burlington, North Carolina. There, presented with the wild and beautiful folk culture of the rural South, my father became a folksong collector, traveling through the hills and hollows and convincing reticent North Carolinians to sing into his Presto recorder. Those recordings, along with an even larger set from Alan Lomax, make up a significant fraction of the Library of Congress collection of American folksongs.
When World War II arrived, such musical endeavors were forced to take a backseat to more urgent matters of national defense, and my father went to work helping to build bombers for the war effort, ultimately ending up as a supervisor in an aircraft factory in Long Island.