I enjoy things that work properly. If a clock doesn’t work right, I try my best to fix it. Do the batteries need replacing? Is it programmed correctly? Even though there are plenty of clocks around the house, I want all to be working as they were designed. When the time changes twice each year, I walk around and reset all the clocks. Until this job is complete, I don’t feel right.
During my engineering studies, professors assigned problem sets to be completed before the next class. After completing the assigned readings, I had to solve the problems. The answers were in the back of the book but without the required calculations to solve the problems. If my answer did not match the one in the book, I had to figure out where I made a mistake. After repeated tries, I would seek help from fellow students or visit the professor’s office. I would not accept unsolved problems. Perhaps this trait served me well later during my professional career, but my focused precision would probably annoy creative people who enjoy living with uncertainty.
Hugh Whelchel, Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, wrote How then Should We Work: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work (Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, McLean, VA, 2012). He is an experienced businessman who later went to seminary. In Chapter 3, titled The History of Work and Calling, one section discusses the view of work during the 18th and 19th centuries. (pages 66-69) Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher during the Enlightenment Period. Kant divided our world into two parts: phenomenal and noumenal.
“The phenomenal is the public world of empirical fact, that which can be proven with reason alone. Once something is proven, you can know it for certain, and you can publicly encourage others to believe it.” This is the world I occupied during my engineering studies. Engineering is applying mathematical and scientific facts towards problem solving. The formulas were developed based on observations and scientific principles.
“The noumenal world deals with morality and spirituality, things which cannot be rationally or empirically proven. All beliefs in this realm must be accepted by faith; therefore, we cannot know these things for certain. Noumenal beliefs should be kept private and outside the public domain.” I was never asked when solving my problem sets about my faith or how the world was created. Emotions and religious beliefs were not part of my engineering calculations. Engineering answers were either right or wrong: no grey areas or heated philosophical debates.
“Such a dichotomy between fact and spirit produced a pronounced compartmentalization in Western thinking.” Secular (phenomenal) and sacred (noumenal) split into the great divide. Scientists and theologians went into their separate camps, sometimes clashing and usually not seeking a mutual understanding.
“Yet there is hope. Many Christians today earnestly desire a deeper, more integrated approach to serving God in their work. They are looking for an approach that takes into account the Christian as a whole person, not a life compartmentalized and divided by conflicting demands of different roles. They want to be men and women who serve God with heart, soul, and mind in every sphere of life, as husband or wife, parent, church member, employer, or employee.” (page 73)
Is it possible to bridge phenomenal and noumenal? I believe the two ‘worlds’ can be united! For engineers to solve problems, they need to be mindful of their community and the new creation. All calculations involve assumptions. Reducing the factor of safety may injure or kill people. Not being good stewards with resources may harm future generations. Abusing the sabbath for secular gains robs personal renewal and diverts our focus away from the new creation. Bonding phenomenal and noumenal makes Christians whole and complete. “There is no distinction between spiritual and temporal, sacred and secular. All human work, however lowly, is capable of glorifying God.” (page 77)