Stu­dents in our col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties live con­stant­ly in a ten­sion between two author­i­ty sys­tems: one more or less vague­ly asso­ci­at­ed with sci­ence and the oth­er with reli­gion. Both sys­tems are blind” in the sense that the edicts they impose on thought and behav­ior are nev­er, for the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple, reduced to any­thing close to under­stand­ing, ver­i­fi­ca­tion, or proof. An illus­tra­tion comes from a recent expe­ri­ence report­ed by one of my students.

This stu­dent was walk­ing across cam­pus with a pro­fes­sor whose field is reli­gious stud­ies. In their con­ver­sa­tion, the stu­dent hap­pened to men­tion the res­ur­rec­tion of Christ. The pro­fes­sor’s response: The res­ur­rec­tion is incon­sis­tent with the laws of physics. Now, in fact, the laws of physics lie at a con­sid­er­able con­cep­tu­al dis­tance from phe­nom­e­na such as human death and decay and their pos­si­ble rever­sal. This par­tic­u­lar pro­fes­sor in any case, would have lit­tle if any idea where to begin show­ing that res­ur­rec­tion con­flicts with physics — or why it mat­ters, if it does con­flict. Indeed, who would? Very few, I would imag­ine. Sci­ence” was vague­ly invoked to end the dis­cus­sion, just as in oth­er con­texts, reli­gion” is used for the same purpose.

But then the pro­fes­sor prob­a­bly will nev­er be con­front­ed with the task of actu­al­ly demon­strat­ing how the res­ur­rec­tion is incon­sis­tent with the laws of physics. The stu­dent in ques­tion, an extreme­ly bright as well as devout young man, was too gra­cious (and per­haps stunned) to force the issue; and cer­tain­ly he would have found it dif­fi­cult to show that the res­ur­rec­tion and physics are not incon­sis­tent or why it does­n’t mat­ter if they are.

It is painful to observe that our cul­ture pro­vides no friend­ly meet­ing place for the author­i­ties of sci­ence and reli­gion to engage in good‑faith efforts to under­stand the truth about our life and our world. How many peo­ple seek or find the prepa­ra­tion required to deal prof­itably with issues such as res­ur­rec­tion and the laws of physics? To be gen­uine­ly open to truth and able to seek it effec­tive­ly is sure­ly one of the great­est human attain­ments. I am con­vinced that it can come only as a gift of grace. It implies faith in a cos­mic con­text where one no longer feels the need to hide, to invoke expla­na­tions that real­ly explain noth­ing at all but sim­ply enable one to hold a posi­tion with an appear­ance of reasonableness.

The pro­fes­sor who invoked physics is sur­round­ed con­stant­ly with things and events for which no phys­i­cal expla­na­tion yet exists, nor even the begin­nings of one. Just look at the physics texts and see. A most obvi­ous case is the exis­tence of the phys­i­cal uni­verse itself, as well as of life and human con­scious­ness. When con­front­ed with the de fac­to inabil­i­ty of physics in this respect, the aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly sanc­ti­fied dodge is to invoke chance, along with huge spans of time, for every­thing to work,” and fur­ther, to invoke the promise of what sci­ence (real­ly, physics) sup­pos­ed­ly will be able to explain in the future as it con­tin­ues to make progress. But chance is not some­thing that can pro­duce or explain any­thing. Rather, it is invoked pre­cise­ly at the point where there is no known expla­na­tion or cause. And if some­thing is, indeed, impos­si­ble, it will not help to have more time to get it done. We need a demon­stra­tion of the pos­si­bil­i­ty, for exam­ple, of life’s emerg­ing from the inor­gan­ic, and then we can talk about time. But the assump­tions of this sci­en­tif­ic” eva­sion are so com­pli­cat­ed and cul­tur­al­ly pro­tect­ed that most peo­ple con­fronting it do not real­ize they have been hand­ed intel­lec­tu­al saw­dust instead of bread.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, reli­gion fre­quent­ly invokes its own non‑explanations as a means of hold­ing its ground. Usu­al­ly these involve the idea that God’s pow­er is so great that we can say with ref­er­ence to any­thing sim­ply that He did it and thus have an expla­na­tion that pro­tects us. There’s no need to look fur­ther or think further.

Now God’s act as an explana­to­ry prin­ci­ple has an advan­tage over chance in that we all know some­thing of what it is like for an act or choice to bring some­thing about. Noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble can be said of chance. Per­son­al­i­ty is a source of ener­gy and cau­sa­tion with an intel­li­gi­ble struc­ture. It sim­ply is not a phys­i­cal struc­ture. But there is no good rea­son it should be, and once you think about it, every rea­son it should not. For if it were, the fun­da­men­tal fea­ture of human life and con­scious­ness would be destroyed or reduced to illu­sion. As long as we rec­og­nize that knowl­edge does not reduce to physics, and as long as we under­stand that sci­ence is just knowl­edge, we have every right to speak of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a sci­ence that encom­pass­es con­scious­ness in divine and human forms along with the phys­i­cal and what­ev­er else there may be.

The impasse of author­i­ties con­fronting author­i­ties (or intim­i­dat­ing oth­ers) begins to dis­solve when pre­pared and thought­ful peo­ple devote them­selves to the hum­ble exam­i­na­tion of facts and evi­dence rather than to defend­ing their posi­tions. It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any­thing more nec­es­sary and God­like than this. We must escape the cul­tur­al dead­lock that is turn­ing uni­ver­si­ties — and church­es — into places of right views,” rather than thought and knowl­edge, and pro­duc­ing a Chris­t­ian per­son­al­i­ty split into a reli­gious side and a pro­fes­sion­al, intel­lec­tu­al side which nev­er come into contact.

Impor­tant work of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion needs to be done. Progress is pos­si­ble if a vast num­ber of Chris­tians, devot­ed and qual­i­fied, will per­me­ate all dimen­sions of soci­ety and bring the Spir­it and pow­er of Christ to bear upon the points where the author­i­ty struc­tures of the intel­lec­tu­al pro­fes­sions are in blind con­flict with gen­uine faith in Jesus Christ.

PUB­LISHED IN REA­SONS TO BELIEVE, FOURTH QUAR­TER 1994, VOL. 8, NO. 4; used here with per­mis­sion from dwillard​.org.

Text First Published October 1994

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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