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.