Making the Garden

With this, with a searchlight focused on the whole, I could no longer really avoid the topic of God.
I suppose it is fair to say that there are two approaches to the reality of God. One is faith; the other is reason. Faith works easily when it is present, but it is luck, or one’s early history in family life, or a blinding insight of some kind, that determines whether one has faith. Reason is much harder. One cannot easily approach the reality of God by means of reason. Yet in twentieth- and twenty-first-century discourse, reason is almost the only way we have of explaining a difficult thing so that another can participate.

It is reason—the language of science, and its appeal to shareable, empirical observation and reasoning—that has given our modern era its strength. Yet one is unlikely to encounter God on the basis of reason. There can, however, be a persuasive logic that deals with the whole, and with the deeply enigmatic problems that the concept of the whole opens.

My life began with childlike faith. After then going through the dark forests of positivistic science, to which I gladly gave myself for so many years, I was finally able, through contemplation of the whole, to emerge into the light of day with a view of things that is both visionary and empirical.

It is a view that has roots in faith, and from it builds bridges of scientific coherence towards a new kind of visionary faith rooted in scientific understanding. This new kind of faith and understanding is based on a new form of observation. It depends for its success on our belief (as human beings) that our feelings are legitimate. Indeed, my experiments have shown that in the form I have cast them, feelings are more legitimate and reliable, perhaps, than many kinds of experimental procedure.

It is in this way that I was led from architecture to the intellectual knowledge of God. It was my love of architecture and building from which I slowly formed an edifice of thought that shows us the existence of God as a necessary, real phenomenon as surely as we have previously known the world as made of space and matter.

During my years at Berkeley, I never taught or spoke about God explicitly as part of my work as an architect. As professor of architecture, I tried to teach and write in ways that were consistent with my background in science and mathematics. It would have seemed incongruous to bring God into my discussions of architecture because I was simply trying to find out what was true and write it down. A fairly straightforward process, I thought, following well-tested methods of scientific inquiry. So that is what I set out to do, and that is what I did. In my heart, I was always dimly aware that I did maintain an inner knowing that the best way to produce good architecture must somehow be linked to God—indeed, that valuable architecture was always about God, and that this was the source of any strength I had in being able to identify the real thing. But in the early days these stirrings were very much private, interior to me, and subdued.

You see, then, how it is that the careful study of architecture led me—and I believe would inevitably lead any careful and empirical thinker—to thoughts about the nature of things, and the simultaneous existence of what we may call the objective (outer) nature of things, typically dealt with in science, and at the same time of what we may call the subjective (or inner) nature of things.

What is new is the discovery that the so-called subjective, or inner, view of things is no less objective than the objective or mechanical view of things. When questions about the subjective are asked carefully, and in the right way, they are as reliable as the experiments of physics. This understanding has led to a new view of experiment that uses the human being as a measuring instrument and leads to reliable, shared results when properly done.

This has all come to light because of my intense interest in and focus on architecture. In conventional philosophy, there is nothing that allows one to test the reality of God, or of visions inspired by God. But we ask people to compare two buildings, or two doorways, and to decide which one is ­closer to God, different people will answer this ­question in the same way, and with a remarkably high ­reliability.

All this has a unique ability to point to the reality of God. In theory, other disciplines such as ethics might seem to have more claim to illuminate discussion of God. But the tangible substance of architecture, the fact that in good architecture, every tiny piece is (by ­definition) suffused with God, either more or less, gives the concept of God a meaning essentially translated from the beauty of what may be seen in such a place, and so ­allows it to disclose God with unique clarity. ­Successful architecture ultimately leads us to see God and to know God. If we pay attention to the beauty of those places that are suffused with God in each part, then we can conceive of God in a down-to-earth way. This ­follows from an awareness in our hearts, and from our ­active effort to make things that help make the Earth ­beautiful.

This is not a pastiche of pseudo-religious phrasing. In technical language, it is the structure-preserving or wholeness-extending transformation (described in The Nature of Order and capable of being precisely defined) that shows us how to modify a given place in such a way as to give it more life. When applied repeatedly, this kind of transformation is what brings life to the Earth, in any place.
Earth—our physical Earth and its inhabitants—sand, water, rocks, birds, animals, and trees—this is the garden in which we live. We must choose to be gardeners. We must choose to make the garden beautiful. Understanding this will give us intellectual insight into the nature of God, and also give us faith in God as something immense yet also as something modest, something which lies under the surface of all matter, and which comes to life and shines forth when we treat the garden properly.

The most urgent, and I think the most inspiring, way we can think about our buildings is to recognize that each small action we take in placing a step, or planting a flower, or shaping a front door of a building is a form of worship—an action in which we give ourselves up, and lay what we have in our hearts at the door of that fiery furnace within all things, which we may call God.