The latest Radiolab podcast has an odd story called “Rocked by Doubt.” It’s about a geologist who is having a crisis of faith. Here’s the description:
In 2010, Lulu Miller was biking across the country, taking some time to clear her head for a new phase of life. And somewhere in Nevada, she ran into a guy named Jeff Viniard who was on a similar journey. They shared the road for two weeks, pedaling hundreds of miles together until Utah. Along the way, they got to be pretty close, and Jeff, a geologist by training, rekindled Lulu’s long-lost love of rocks. But it turns out the ground beneath his own feet was shifting that summer… and he found himself desperately searching for some rock-solid evidence to help him figure out his future.
Jeff, it turns out, was engaged to a nice religious girl, but then one night he’d had a “deconversion” experience–a strong feeling behind his sternum that there was no God. His girlfriend doesn’t want to marry someone who doesn’t share her religious beliefs, so he goes on a long bike trip looking for a sign telling him what to believe. He doesn’t find it on the trip. But then, a year later, he gets another feeling behind his sternum that God exists, so he and his girlfriend get married.
And that’s the story. Sorry for the spoilers.
The story is told in the usual entertaining Radiolab way, and Jeff seems like a very likeable, earnest young man. But geez. Is the most important decision in his life based on nothing but feelings behind his sternum and signs from above? (A ceiling tile falling onto Jeff’s sandwich at an Arby’s also figures in the story.) Jeff is an educated guy, but nowhere in the story do we hear of him reading any philosophy or theology or history or neuroscience. He never seems to think about what he has experienced and how it could be explained.
As someone who has never had a religious feeling of any sort behind his sternum, I find this depressing. Because of course all the logic and science and reasoned argument in the world are not going to be able to overcome that feeling. People are going to believe what they are going to believe. Unless maybe a falling ceiling tile intervenes.