A story about having faith, losing it, and finding it again through science—revealing how the latest in neuroscience, physics, and biology help us understand God, faith, and ourselves.
Mike McHargue, host of
The Liturgists and
Ask Science Mike podcasts, understands the pain of unraveling belief. In
Finding God in the Waves, Mike tells the story of how his Evangelical faith dissolved into atheism as he studied the Bible, a crisis that threatened his identity, his friendships, and even his marriage. Years later, Mike was standing on the shores of the Pacific Ocean when a bewildering, seemingly mystical moment motivated him to take another look. But this time, it wasn''t theology or scripture that led him back to God—it was science.
Full of insights about the universe, as well as deeply personal reflections on our desire for certainty and meaning,
Finding God in the Waves is a vital exploration of the possibility for knowing God in an age of reason, and a signpost for where the practice of faith is headed in a secular age. Among other revelations, we learn what brain scans reveal about what happens when we pray; how fundamentalism affects the psyche; and how God is revealed not only in scripture, but also in the night sky, in subatomic particles, and in us.
“Through the lens of neuroscience, McHargue makes his case for valuing religion not for its factual explanatory power but rather for its ability to give meaning to human existence . . . For those who fear science will rob them of both God and Christian community, this work may offer much-needed hope that Christianity and science can coexist.”
“Mike McHargue tells you about the science of everything in a way that is both interesting and immediately applicable. In
Finding God in the Waves, he employs this gift on a whole new scale by explaining the science of how to walk with God–especially for those who doubt God is real at all."
—Donald Miller, bestselling author of Scary Close and Blue Like Jazz
“One of the most original and moving accounts of faith I have read in recent years. Anyone who has tussled with doubt—and who hasn’t?—should read this book.”
—Tanya Luhrmann, professor of anthropology, Stanford University, author of When God Talks Back
“More than your typical ‘science vs. faith’ book,
Finding God in the Waves is a deeply engrossing story about the experience of doubt, the thrill of discovery, and what it means to be human. Mike is the rare storyteller who can make you laugh, tear up, and feel a sense of wonder, all on the same page—and in this delightful book, he has delivered an essential, unprecedented read on the role contemplation plays in how we can know God, even in an age of skepticism.”
—Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation
“Extraordinary. It’s so rare to find a book that is both this important and this much fun to read. Funny, intelligent, and disarmingly honest,
Finding God in the Waves gives voice to a generation of faithful skeptics and masterfully navigates the tricky terrain of faith, science, belief, and experience in a way that honors the humanity of atheist and believer alike. It’s the kind of book that forever changes how you see the world and yet reads like a comfortable conversation with an old friend. With this work, Mike McHargue has established himself as one of the most thoughtful and necessary Christian voices of our time.”
—Rachel Held Evans, author of Searching for Sunday and A Year of Biblical Womanhood
"No one merges science and faith, mystery and reason better than Science Mike. It''s magical. They should call him Magic Mike, if that''s not already taken. Read this book!"
—Pete Holmes, comedian, star of the HBO comedy Crashing
"Mike McHargue’s life has straddled two diametrically opposed worldviews: conservative Christianity and secular humanism. His fearless search for the truth led him out of the strict confines of his Southern Baptist upbringing, but his persistent experience of God wouldn’t let him remain an atheist. In
Finding God in the Waves, McHargue offers a vulnerable, relentlessly logical account of the deconstruction and reconstruction of his faith that’s sure to challenge skeptics and believers alike. His story will resonate with anyone who’s ever doubted, been the odd one out, or struggled to make sense of their faith. And by giving readers this intimate window into his own journey, he will both help doubters grow in their respect for faith and help believers grow in their respect for science."
—Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, executive director of The Reformation Project
"This fascinating book is unlike any other I''ve read.
Finding God in the Waves is one part story, one part science, one part theology, and taken altogether it sings of truth and wonder. Rather than placing facts and meaning at odds, Mike invites us into the freedom of
—Sarah Bessey, author of Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith and Jesus Feminist
“Faith and doubt exist more closely than many of us acknowledge. We want to relate to a God we can neither touch nor completely understand. In
Finding God in the Waves, it feels as if Mike is sitting at a table inviting the reader to bring questions and fears to a conversation about how our doubts can actually bring us closer to God and not further apart. This book is for the believers and the doubters, the nerds and the creatives, the skeptics and the faithful. The message of hope and beauty in this book is for all of us.”
—Amena Brown, spoken word poet and author of Breaking Old Rhythms: Answering the Call of a Creative God
“This is the best book on navigating the tension between science and faith that I’ve ever come across. For any who desire to have some sort of faith or spiritual practice, but who also love science and don’t know how to navigate the apparent conflicting claims of both,
Finding God in the Waves may be one of the most important books that they will ever read.”
—Michael Gungor, musician, author of The Crowd, The Critic, and the Muse
“This is the most honest, challenging, and insightful book on reclaiming a lost faith that I’ve ever read—utterly unique and unexpected. I had one ah ha moment after another as Science Mike cast my faith—and my doubts—in a more hopeful and encouraging light. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Peter Enns, author of The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More than Our “Correct” Beliefs
"A rare and needed voice, McHargue reminds us that science and faith are not opposites, but allies. Brimming with honesty, vulnerability and a deep appreciation for the mysteries of the universe we inhabit,
Finding God in the Waves will mean so much to so many."
—Ryan O’Neal, Sleeping At Last
Mike McHargue, also known as “Science Mike,” is a Christian turned atheist turned follower of Jesus who uses his story to help people know God in an age of science. Mike is the host and co-host of two podcasts—
Ask Science Mike and
The Liturgists Podcast—that have attracted a curious following among Christians, the spiritually interested, and the religiously unaffiliated. He is an in-demand speaker at conferences and churches around the country, and he writes for the Storyline Blog,
Dinosaurs in Sunday School
I was a fat kid.
I had no discernible athletic talent. I wore my hair in a bowl cut and had an odd appreciation for Hawaiian shirts. The shelves in my bedroom were full of computer magazines, spare parts from robots, and toys from science fiction movies arranged in scenes of battle.
Here’s how deep my “nerdery” ran: When I was eight, I took apart a VCR and reassembled its parts in a lunch box. I put the lunch box in a backpack and then ran some cabling from the backpack to a roughly cylindrical mechanical assemblage that I had scavenged (OK, stolen) from my grandparents’ farm in rural North Florida. The end result was a homemade proton pack, which allowed me to start an unlicensed Ghostbusters franchise in my neighborhood. I convinced my friends to build packs of their own, and we would roam the streets of our neighborhood at night, catching ghosts. I had no idea how prophetic this would be, my fixation with a movie in which humans dominated the supernatural with science and technology. But that’s a story for later.
For now, all you need to understand is that, in the 1980s, a passionate love for science, an overactive imagination, and a chubby physique were not exactly the recipe for popularity. I was a round peg (a very round one) for a too-small square hole, and this made my grade-school days a living hell.
My elementary school in Tallahassee, Florida, was like a John Hughes “Brat Pack” film gone horribly wrong. Ever since I could remember, an unofficial but strict hierarchy had dominated our social world. Everyone knew who our leaders were: a small collection of boys who were the funniest, the fastest runners, and the first picked when we played team sports. I both idolized and feared them.
The rest of the social pecking order was indecipherable to me. But I knew I was at the very bottom, the nerdiest of the nerds. Time spent in my company was damaging to anyone’s reputation—and, in fairness to the other children, it’s not as if I hadn’t earned my social standing. People usually picture nerds as introverted, maybe even antisocial. Certainly many are, but I think some are like me: extroverts of such intensity that it makes others uncomfortable.
I once told my classmates that I was a werewolf—a fact about which I was absolutely convinced.
Then there’s the fact that I cried at the drop of a hat, something other grade-school boys take in with the excitement of a shark smelling blood.
At recess, tag was the worst. I ran like someone wading through molasses, and my classmates knew that once I was “it,” there was no way for me to transfer that dishonor to anyone else. When the alpha kids discovered this, they began running backward and chanting, “water tank, water tank,” making fun of the way my belly made waves when I ran. I was easy prey—a fat, ginger gazelle in “husky” jeans.
By second grade, every recess had come to represent a choice: I could try to play with other kids and be bullied, or I could seek solitude and make it through without tears or having to call for teacher intervention.
So I chose solitude. Each day when the recess bell rang, I would make a beeline for the woods at the edge of our playground, where I would pass the time inventing stories to tell myself. This strategy wasn’t 100 percent effective. Occasionally a teacher would fetch me from my hiding place because I’d ventured too far afield; other times, a bored bully would actively hunt me down. But more often than not, I was out of sight and out of mind, and they left me alone.
I became a Christian when I was seven.
My family comes from the largest denomination of the conservative Evangelical movement: the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptists believe that people become reconciled to God when they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for the sins of all of humankind, and when they state that belief in a prayer.
That prayer is called the Sinner’s Prayer, a name that says a lot about what it’s like to grow up in that wing of the church. Southern Baptists believe that all people are born sinners. Humans are in love with pleasure, power, and prestige, and our natural inclination is to follow our sinful natures into all sorts of trouble. This isn’t too far-fetched an idea. I carry 40 pounds of evidence of this tendency around my midsection.
But most Southern Baptists take it further, believing that people are completely hopeless without God, and that anyone who isn’t saved through faith in Jesus goes to hell—an actual, physical place of eternal, fiery torment and suffering. This concept can do a number on the imagination of a seven-year-old kid, which was the age my friends and I were when we heard it. Many children express interest in salvation right around the time they’re old enough to grasp this concept of eternal torment. Some of my friends remember having nightmares in which their “unsaved” friends roasted in fiery pits while they looked down from heaven’s paradise.
I’m thankful to report that this wasn’t my experience. I was fortunate to grow up in a congregation that focused on the hope of salvation—a message that was more carrot than stick. People at my family’s church talked about having Jesus in your heart and the Holy Spirit in your life. God was someone who helped you make the right decisions, understand the Bible, and find peace no matter what was happening around you. That sounded wonderful to my small ears.
One night after coming home from church, I interrogated my parents about salvation. Even as a kid, I was never the kind of person who accepts information without scrutiny, and I wanted to see if I could find or poke any holes in this salvation concept. I don’t remember this conversation, but my mother tells me it was remarkably businesslike. I wanted to know how, exactly, the process worked. What words did I say to be saved? What did God do, exactly, when I said those words? How would I know that God was doing His part? After nearly an hour, my curiosity was sated, and I went to get ready for bed.
I usually fall asleep quickly, but I couldn’t that night. I felt a sense of urgency, an energy pulsing through my bones. I knew I needed to ask Jesus into my heart, so I grabbed my mom and told her it was time—that I was ready to know Him. Mom asked a few questions and then led me in that Sinner’s Prayer as we knelt beside my bed—an altar covered with Snoopy sheets.
A few weeks later, the congregation baptized me, my teeth chattering in a baptismal pool with a broken heater. My feet didn’t reach the bottom of the tank, so I dog-paddled to the pastor and stood on his boot. Moments later, after I was dunked under that frosty surface in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the preacher said I was a new creation, and I felt it. I was inspired, and I couldn’t wait to share the good news.
So I didn’t. The next day, I went to school and told every one of my classmates that I loved them. Every one of them. Every last boy and every girl—all of them so equally horrified by my pronouncements of love that I found myself in the principal’s office.
My faithful walk with Christ wasn’t helping my social standing at school. Maybe I took that “ye are . . . a peculiar people” thing too literally.
But my faith did help me in other ways. When I felt lonely hiding in the woods to escape bullies, I would talk to Jesus. I talked to him about feeling fat, slow, and stupid. Sometimes I would ask him why, if he truly loved me, he had made me the way he did. Other times, I asked Jesus to make me able to hit a home run or run a mile without stopping, and I would imagine the admiration and accolades that would come from the other kids when such a miracle happened. I didn’t think it was too much to ask. Jesus was God, after all, and God had parted a sea for His people. All I was asking for was one lousy home run.
I never got that home run, but at least Jesus was a good listener. He never made fun of me, either.
Our talks weren’t all lament and pleading. We had a lot of fun, too. We’d talk about how the world worked and all the things in nature that amazed me. I didn’t have any friends at school, but that was OK. My best friend lived in my heart.
These days, people often tell me I’m smart. Every time I hear it, I’m amazed, because no one made that assumption during my first few years of school.
I had a hard time learning to write and spell. Around the time my classmates were forming legible letterforms, my scrawl still looked like preschool graffiti. And even though I loved to read, my spelling was atrocious—bad enough, in fact, that I was put in a special class for a few hours each week. It was a strange class, one that housed both the smartest kids and the kids who had trouble learning.
My parents kept having to come to school to talk with my teachers about my unrealized potential. The teachers would tell them that I needed to work harder and apply myself. A couple of them said I was smart but lazy. I believed them. I hated myself for being so lazy.
At the end of each school year, my grades were usually good enough for me to advance to the next level but bad enough to initiate a serious talk about holding me back. Each year this talk got a little more serious. I’d probably still be in the third grade had it not been for a miracle that saved my academic career.
My school got computers. And computers changed everything.
In those days, computers were expensive and unproven, and they weren’t kept in every classroom. They had their own special domain—a small room where the Apple IIs, with their green-on-black screens and giant floppy disks, were kept in two rows.
Computers and I became fast friends. You could press a key, and a letter would appear on the screen as if by magic. I felt none of the frustration I usually experienced when forming handwritten letters. Before long, I was crafting words and sentences with ease. This didn’t free me from the tyranny of penmanship, but it at least helped my teachers see that I wasn’t a hopeless case.
Before long, I had taught myself the basics of programming by modifying the educational video games the teachers gave us to play. I would figure out how to name fish after myself in a game called Odell Lake or get extra money in The Oregon Trail. One day, I created a program that would write my name on the screen over and over again. Everything about the machines made sense to me, because their abstract, procedural way of thinking resembled my own.