I had not learned until recently that George Orwell, the author of several dystopian stories, had also reviewed C.S. Lewis’s supernatural thriller, That Hideous Strength. Though he conceded that the novel was worth reading (and it is), he finished by complaining that supernatural elements “weaken” a story because “in effect they decide the issue in advance.” One has the impression that he may have written the review just to have an opportunity to say so. “When one is told that God and the Devil are in conflict,” he goes on, “one always knows which side is going to win. The whole drama of the struggle against evil lies in the fact that one does not have supernatural aid.” Although Orwell also suggests that supernatural agencies are implausible, his main complaint isn’t that he doesn’t believe in them, but that they take the steam out of the story. Including God, he thinks, is like building in a spoiler alert.
One may call this attitude methodological naturalism. Orwell doesn’t ask that we disbelieve in God, but he thinks we should write as though we do.
Methodological naturalism in literature is much like methodological naturalism in science. According to Orwell, believing in God squeezes out suspense, because the same party prevails in every struggle; God always wins. According to materialists, believing in Him squeezes out scientific wonder, because everything has the same ultimate cause; God does everything.
Both complaints are naïve.
As to stories, it is enough to point out that God created free and rational beings, not puppets or divine beasts. Though He cannot be overcome by evil, human beings can be. Though He offers aid, they may not accept it. The drama of the story is not that we do not know what will happen to God, but that we do not know what will happen to men and women. To find out, we have to keep reading.
And as to science, notice that God works through secondary causes. Although He is the origin of the whole causal order, that order is nonetheless real. Knowing that water is His idea does not tell us why it boils; knowing that gravity is of His doing does not tell us the geometrical properties of the space-time manifold. To find out, we have to investigate.
So rather than depriving stories of their drama, God’s reality increases it: For what could be more thrilling than the fate of souls? And His reality increases the wonder of scientific inquiry, for now we can ask not only how things happen -- but why!