Science and Our Knowledge of the Human Soul

Dallas Willard

Toward the end of the last millennium, Dallas Willard was a featured speaker for a conference at Wheaton College, which was offered under the banner “Science and Our Knowledge of the Soul.”

We wanted to call your attention to his remarks for a number of reasons. First, we want to make sure you know that Conversatio offers full transcripts for many of the key video and audio files you’ll find on the website. Thank you, Pam Stewart.

We also want to feature this particular talk because of the importance of Willard’s words. With his dry humor, piercing insights, and broad breadth of reading, Dallas reminds us of the vast importance of the underlying issue of the conference. It is about nothing less than what counts as knowledge and reality.

The university has come a long way from the time when it was organized around the transcendentals of goodness (theology), beauty (the arts), and truth (the sciences). Since those early days, goodness and moral knowledge have been moved off campus, and the sciences, especially physics, have become the keepers of truth. The usual assumption is that whatever is not scientific cannot constitute knowledge nor serve as the basis of responsible action.

But Willard reminds us that if God did, indeed, create a 10-diminsional universe and is the maker of all things visible and invisible, then it is not surprising that a 4-dimensional system cannot accommodate the Invisible Real. And Dallas also reminds, Draconian (as opposed to Baconian) science is not itself a scientific view, but rather a philosophical interpretation of a world and an attempt to fit science in it in such a way that the ultimate player is the human being and not God.

Thank you, Dallas, for the reminder that it is not necessary to exegete the Nicene Creed with a pocket knife; nor to doubt that the creator of a 10-dimensional universe might actually be real smart.

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Introduction of Dallas Willard

Leader: Tonight we are here to hear an address given by Dr. Dallas Willard. The title of his address is “Science and Our Knowledge of the Human Soul,” illustrating the use of spiritual discipline. I want to take a few moments and introduce our speaker and then lead us in prayer before he begins.

I remember fifteen years ago talking with an editor from Harper & Row. He was excited about a new author he had just discovered. He described him as a young faculty member at USC who is writing in the area of Christian formation. He was almost giddy with excitement. When this author’s book finally was published five years later—I’m told by Dallas that it was a somewhat harrowing experience with the manuscript being lost by the publisher and numerous other events—when it finally came out, Dallas Willard’s book Spirit of the Disciplines lived up to the editor’s initial description. [1:09]

A few years ago I was at a conference where Dallas was speaking and over dinner we began to swap stories about Dallas. Soon, our conversation turned to quoting Willard-isms, such as his characteristic of contemporary American evangelicalism as advocating a gospel of sin management or his description of Jesus as the smartest man who ever lived. When I spent time, any time with Dallas, I’d leave with some profound aphorisms. They are catchy and arresting such as when he debunked contemporary culture by saying that in part of the pop psychology it was advocating, you could fornicate your way to mental health.

A person at the table that evening said, “I used to think that Dallas just spent his time dreaming up these aphorisms but then I realized that he is simply describing what life is like for him as he walks in the Kingdom of God. His words are often odd and arresting because he looks at life from a very different perspective—that of God’s Kingdom. [2:23]

A few things that I am grateful for about Dallas that may help you appreciate his message. I am grateful for the life of discipleship that Dallas has set forth that is both rigorous and inviting, and yet is also free of legalism. I am grateful to a man who honors his evangelical spiritual forbearers. In conversations and in writings, I am always impressed by his willingness to quote and express a debt to some profound yet very simple Christians of the past.

Look at who he dedicated his most recent book, The Divine Conspiracy—which by the way was the winner of Christianity Today’s 1999 Book of the Year award. The list in the front cover is not a politically correct list, but it is people whose anointed teaching touched his life in whom he wants to remember. [3:24]

I see Dallas in many ways as a humble journeyman in the way he carries out his work. I think of him more like a skilled tradesman who does skillfully what he has been called to do. He is not the self-absorbed and brooding scholar, which are all too common, but a simple Christian doing what he has been called and enabled to do to the best of his ability, with an appropriate pride and a job well-down, and with the humility to praise others who do equally well.

He was born in Buffalo, Missouri, and I have met only one other person besides Dallas who claims to have any knowledge of Buffalo. We speak of humble origins, but that’s a polite term for growing up in poverty. From that I have seen by his dealing with people, he has a deep connection with ordinary folk. His pastor mentioned how he had been touched by Dallas’s profound friendship with a very simple tradesman in his church. He has taught for more than thirty years at USC in the Philosophy Department and has served the church as he brings his keen ability and his clarity of analysis to the topics of the soul, discipleship, and spirituality. [4:55]

Tonight I urge you to listen to what I expect to be wise words with a refreshing and thoughtful perspective tied as it always is deeply to the thought and the life of Jesus. Please join me in prayer.

Gracious Lord, we pray tonight that you would use your servant, Dallas Willard, to speak with clarity about the soul, about your perspective on it. We pray tonight that his teaching indeed could be anointed that he can give us words that allow us to understand, words that minister deep to us, that call us to a new way of living and to a new way of finding joy as we order our lives by Your priorities and the power found in Your Kingdom. We are grateful for Your love. We are grateful for Dallas’s patient and workman-like discipleship. Amen.

Please welcome Dallas Willard. [6:07]

 

Dallas Willard: Thank you very much for those very kind words and thank you for including me in this conference. This evening, I want to try to address a number of issues, which have been perhaps mentioned and dealt with to some degree, and to raise some issues that perhaps will be somewhat different.

I was explaining to someone that this is a little bit like serving the thirteenth course in a seventeen course meal. And I am hoping that we can find something to add a new slant on our discussion—this very important issue of healing health and spirituality.

This evening I want to begin by addressing briefly what I take to be the real underlying issue of the conference. Lying at a much deeper level possibly than many of the issues that we have been discussing is the issue of what counts as knowledge? What counts as knowledge? [7:33]

This is the underlying issue simply because in human affairs, generally, knowledge is recognized as a condition of responsible action. And as Christians, we are concerned about responsible action, and we are concerned about informing and directing others in their lives. It is assumed rightly that responsible people, and therefore good people, act and advise and direct others on the basis of knowledge—of knowledge that is in their possession. And by knowledge, we all naturally understand a correct appreciation of how things actually are in reality; and it is not a bad description of reality to begin with to say it’s what you run into when you are wrong. And that’s why it is so important. [8:46]

Reality is unforgiving in many ways. And so knowledge is very important because knowledge allows us to act and to direct others to act in such a way that we are in harmony with reality. And so to act without knowledge is irresponsible and bad, especially if it is done with self-awareness. Unless, of course, one is in a position in where they have to act without knowledge which the human situation often involves.

So, the issue of what does and does not constitute knowledge immediately gives rise to the issue of who is and who is not a responsible and good person? And that’s why the battle around spirituality and theology and religion on the one hand, and science and medicine and all of the other practical concerns of life on the other. And that’s why that issue becomes so important. In our contemporary culture, that automatically brings us to the issue of what is and what is not scientific? For the usual assumption is that whatever is not scientific cannot constitute knowledge. I’ll say that once again because that really brings us to the heart of the matter. Whatever is not scientific cannot constitute knowledge and therefore cannot serve as the basis of responsible action. [10:12]

Some of those, like Dean Ornish and others who for many years have been pushing what you might call the spiritual side of medicine and so on, have a lot of interesting antidotes to tell about the responses from their colleagues when they brought up the issues of the spiritual life or spiritual attitudes and so on in relationship to health. Often the responses certainly qualify as verbal violence.

The usual assumption is that whatever is not scientific cannot constitute knowledge and therefore cannot serve as the basis for responsible action. So then immediately, the challenge is for those who are not identified as scientific when they speak about matters that concern human well being, including health. To fail to be scientific is to fail to be a good and responsible person in the context of action and the direction of action. [11:18]

So everything turns on how science and being scientific is to be understood. It is interesting to observe that in one historically established sense, it is quite appropriate to speak of religion and the spiritual understanding of human life engaging with science. Indeed, if it works that way, of there being a science of God and of the spiritual life.

Coming in on Naperville Road, I saw a sign—a great big sign that says—the Science of Spirituality. There’s a good bit of that tradition isn’t there in American culture? You can think of denominations that have stressed that. There is a group in Los Angeles called Science of Mind and the pull toward describing the religious understanding of life and the practice of life as scientific is precisely the pull to claim, to be responsible before reality and human beings as people who know—who have knowledge. [12:30]

In this sense, it was long said that theology is the Queen of the sciences and philosophy is her handmaiden, where philosophy basically meant something close to what we think of today as science. This sense of science remained quite strong in Western culture well into the nineteenth century. We shall talk a little bit about a man named Franz Brentano in a moment as illustrative of how that idea of science carries out into the present—almost, but not quite.

So, I want to address that issue just to help us perhaps more appreciate the significance of our discussion. The significant of the discussion concerns who has the right to speak to the human condition. Who has the right to speak to the human condition? Health has been at the center of the Christian gospel since day one. Jesus was, among other things, one who brought the Kingdom of God to bear upon human needs for health and healing, and that was just one dimension of His power over creation. And today, as we live as followers of Him, the question stands in many ways: what do we have to say—as evangelicals—to the issues of health and wholeness and healing? [14:22]

I want to stress the point about evangelical theology. One of the advertisements for the conference was “health, healing, healing health and spirituality; evangelical theology engages scientific research.” What I want to do this evening is focus on that idea of evangelical theology specifically. Now, obviously, inquiry into the relevance of religion to health is not unrelated to evangelical theology. But it may be that there is a great deal more to evangelical theology than there is to religion generally understood. We’ve heard a great deal about religion and the issue of being specific, but I want to come closer to my understanding at least of specifically evangelical theology and its relationship to the issues of health and healing.

I’m going to try to summarize my remarks this evening under four headings and all of them start with a “DON’T,” and perhaps this way we can be clear and focused in what we want to say. [16:00]

 

Don’t Be Too Broad

The first thing that I want to say is when we approach this issue of evangelical theology and healing, we DON’T want to be too broad. We don’t want to be too general. We want to be very specific about exactly what we are talking about when we address the central conception of evangelical theology. What is the very central core? Pull that out and differentiate it from the general understanding of religion, and perhaps, the general understanding of some parts of historical and contemporary Christian forms as they are commonly identified. I don’t think there are many of us today who would want to say that the evangelical is the only form of the Christian faith. Yet it is a specific form, and it’s the one that Wheaton represents and has represented strongly and proudly for decades. And so, let’s just think for a moment now about what is the specific core of evangelical theology. Then we will go on to see or raise the question of how it relates to health—and I want to talk about the soul some tonight.

One of the things you may have noticed is that that is not a part of our discourse. We don’t talk about the soul, and yet, as a Biblical people, we have a source that says a lot about the soul. Does that have a place today? Can it fit into a scientific understanding of the self? [17:52]

Now, this first DON’T then, I want to simply spell out as follows. The core of evangelical theology has to do with being lost and being found on the basis of a revelation of God, which we now find in the Biblical witness—being lost and being found. One way of putting it is to say that the evangelical message, which may be missing from many other versions of religion, is new life from God through Christ—new life from God through Christ! In order to explain that, we might want to talk about a personal relationship with God.

I had a lovely discussion of pietism today and what that meant. Pietism captures much of this very personal element of individuals living in a conscious personal interactive relationship with God, and I think that’s what we have to make sure we are focused on. When we speak about the relationship within evangelical life, I’d rather speak about that frankly than evangelical theology because what we are talking about is a certain kind of life based on an incorporating a theology. Now, when we talk about that, we are talking about the spiritual dimension of reality. I think that this is the thing that is most likely to be omitted or misinterpreted. So let me just try to say a few things about it. I like to try to define or describe concepts and realities as closely as I can. And I think in the confrontation—which is what it often is or in the accommodation or the coming together of theology—evangelical theology and healthcare and science generally we have to make very sure that we don’t lose the spiritual. So let me just suggest to you what the spiritual is. [20:31]

Spirit, I believe is best understood as unbodily personal power—unbodily personal power. Now, as a Biblical people, when we think of spirit, we first think of God. I believe that an accurate description of God is to say that He is unbodily personal power. The spirit is a realm of reality. It is not a style of life, and in American thought for decades, there has been the drive to reduce the spiritual to a quality of something else.

One of the most well known attempts at this—which is unfortunately not well known any longer—is a book by John Dewey called The Common Faith. Dewey is trying to do something in that book that has become a household industry in our culture, which is to reduce the spiritual to a qualitative dimension of ordinary human life. The spiritual as a realm of being—of reality that has its own existence and its own nature and is a causal power over all of the rest of reality—is lost. And there are dangers of dualism. I have often been struck with the fact that now, in the discussions of the dangers of dualism, what usually turns out to be primary is the material or social world. It’s kind of like the joke—used to be a joke at any rate—that feminists used to like to make about the saying, “the two shall become one.” The joke was, “Which one?” And you see, if we are going to not be dualists, we have to answer that same question. [22:56]

Now, the drive against dualism has many valid points to it because some forms of dualism—platonic and Cartesian dualism, as that’s usually understood—did not do justice to the significance of the body, and often as has been said, treated the human being as if they were an angel—a disembodied being. So there was harm in that. But today, you will notice that in the discussions criticizing dualism, the tendency is to allow the spiritual side to disappear into the material side. And I think that that is one of the most serious problems and issues that we face when we come to think about evangelical theology in relationship to the material world and the scientific understanding of that world including issues that have to do with health.

Obviously, issues that have to do with health concern our bodies, even if it’s mental health. We have to have something to say about the body, but the incarnationist view of the body, that comes out of the Biblical tradition, elevates the body without replacing the spirit by it. And it’s extremely important that we take these concepts—such as the birth from above or the new birth or the spiritual birth and the contrast between the flesh and the spirit—and understand that spirituality is not just a human dimension. [24:52]

I recently received a book with the title, Secular Spirituality. You see, spirituality has now become something following these developments that I have so briefly alluded to—spirituality has now become something that no one wants to be left out of. And so there is a spirituality of everything. Some years back, there was an advertisement for Chevrolet trucks that said, “There’s something spiritual about a truck.” Well, what were they saying? There is a dimension of human life, that simply doesn’t fit in with what you might say, the crass physical categories; meaning, inhuman life is not a physical concept in any straightforward sense. The issue is one where we must strongly insist on the ontological character of the spiritual, and we want to insist that God himself is spirit.

I often shock people by reminding them—they all know it, but they don’t think about it—that God doesn’t even have a brain. Apparently, He doesn’t miss it! It’s hard to resist the tendency to say that’s why everything is a “no brainer” to Him. But the point is that the integrity of the divine personality is something that is independent of the material world. The second of the Ten Commandments is designed to remind us of that and to very carefully help us understand how we are to think rightly about God.

So the first thing that I have to say is that as evangelical theologians and thinkers and those who live the evangelical life, we must never forget the primacy and the transcendency of the spiritual. And we must bring that to bear on all of the issues that we confront including the relationship of our faith and our life to health. [27:25]

I think this is tremendously significant. We think of the verse that was referred to earlier today—a wonderful verse— “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Matter is elevated. I often think that the highest revelation of the nature of matter to this point is the body of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. If you want to know what matter is about, you have to look at that and then the resurrection body. I love the way Luke leads up to the Transfiguration—“As he prayed . . .” “As he prayed, his face was transformed and his clothing began to shine, whiter than lightning” (Luke 9:29, author paraphrase). Have you looked at a lightning bolt recently? This is a revelation of the call that is upon the material universe. How can one think badly of matter when you understand that?

You see, that’s the incarnation—the old language, “he did not abhor the virgin’s womb.” He was quite at home there, and when we look at one another and realize that we are the temples—our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit—then we are beginning to get our theology in the right place to face the issues that we have to deal within life—health, life, death. And hopefully, we are able to think of health in much more holistic and encompassing terms that we normally think of it, like it might be represented in pictures you might see in a health magazine. [29:22]

I can tell you that some of those people who are pictured in those health magazines are among the most unhealthy people on earth. But you see, they have thought of it simply. It’s like one of the jokes of the students at USC—you wouldn’t be seen without your tan, but a tan has very little to do with health. Perhaps it has a lot to do with sickness or future sickness at least All of these symbols indicate that this is not health, because they are not a picture of the whole person functioning as an eternal being in the Kingdom of God. That’s health. That’s health! [30:31]

 

Don’t Aim Too Low

The second thing I would say is DON’T aim too low. When we think of the life that comes to us through Jesus Christ and when we understand that spirituality is actually a kind of life that is lived from the resources of God Himself, then let’s don’t think too lowly. Let’s understand that when we want to talk about the relationship of evangelical theology to health and medicine and science, we want to talk about the fullness of life that is given through our faith in Jesus Christ. And that’s going to be a kind of life of virtue and wholeness and goodness and strength that is, strictly speaking, unhuman.

Now, when you study your Scriptures, I believe you will see that the mark of the presence of God through His Spirit in any life is that the quality and effects of that life are far beyond any human capabilities. This is why for example that Isaac, the son of promise, is taken as a representation of the effect of the Spirit. What happened with Isaac was not humanly possible. From the human point of view, when the promise came, you may recall, Sarah literally fell over laughing, I guess. And that’s why Isaac was named Isaac, wasn’t it? [32:11]

The incongruity. I’ve seen so many times people who from the human point of view don’t have a great deal of ability as that might be recognized. And yet when you look at the effects of their life, you see that they have achieved things that are far beyond human comprehension.

One of the stories that I tell in one of my books is about D. L. Moody. In one of his evangelistic trips to England, he was being followed around by an outstanding theologian of the day who wanted to understand what made Moody successful. And after observing him for some time, he said to him in effect, “Mr. Moody your work surely is blessed of God because it is clear that it cannot be explained by your natural abilities.” Well, Moody, you know, he knew that. And I’m sure that was the highest compliment that could have been paid him, but my dear friends, that’s the highest compliment that anyone could pay us. [33:28]

Let me just read a few lines from Galatians 5. You are familiar with these, and if not, look them up in your pew Bible there. You can easily find them on page 1132. In this passage, Paul contrasts the two forms of life. The first is the acts of the flesh:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Galatians 5:19–21).

You don’t have to think too long to imagine the effects on emotional and physical health of this. This is life lived within the boundaries of normal human abilities. [34:29] This is a life where the individual is trying to run their world and wring their satisfaction and their security out of what they can do by their own abilities. That’s why, by the way, we so quickly turn to the body itself and begin to try to wring pleasure out of it and try to get more than it can possibly give. Why it so quickly leads into excesses that are perversions is because we have limited ourselves to that part of reality.

To contrast that is the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control against such things,” Paul wryly says, “there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23 Paraphrased).

Now, what I am saying is when we think about evangelical life and evangelical thought, and we raise the question, “How does this relate to issues of health and healing and well being?” this is what we are looking at. [35:42]

How does this life relate to health? How does it relate to well being? How does it relate to human goodness? And I quickly add the third thing because we can’t really divorce the picture of the height of evangelical faith and life from how you get there. There is a temptation to look at this passage about the fruit of the spirit in a kind of consumerist model, like sometimes my students look at me when I walk in the classroom. It’s like, “Do it to me, teach!” You have to sort of get them over the hump of realization that that’s not the way it works. We have a consumerist attitude in much of our religion today—evangelical and otherwise—that imposes on the minster what is sometimes called the “hatch, match, and dispatch” syndrome that you take care of births, marriages, and deaths. So religion is actually isolated from real life.

 

Don’t Be Impractical

And so, when we think of the second point, DON’T aim too low in your thinking about evangelical theology and its relation to healing and health. We have to add quickly DON’T be impractical. Raise the question: “How do I get to be like that? And answer that question in terms of intelligent discipleship to Jesus Christ. This is the greatest missing element in the whole picture of evangelical theology and well being today—the concept of discipleship. [37:50]

So let me just say as simply as I can what I understand by that concept. I think that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am living in that personal relationship by which I am eternally and in every respect saved. I am living in that relationship and I live in it as His apprentice. And as His disciple, I am learning from Him how to lead my life as He would lead my life if He were I. I am not thinking about how to lead His life. He did that very well, and I don’t need to do that. God is interested in my life and the life of each one of us here. Wherever we may be on life’s pathway and whatever may be our situation, the great message of Jesus Christ is that, there as that person, I can find Him living in the Kingdom of God all around me and learn from Him how to do the things that I do in the way that hHe would do them if He were I. [39:11]

You cannot understand the evangelical message unless you understand that concept of discipleship. It’s why it’s so important for us to understand that evangelicalism did not begin after the Second World War. The things that we are talking about, in terms of discipleship and the fullness of life, have been studied and dealt with for centuries.

You want to see evangelicalism set forward in clear and full language, pull out your Richard Baxter and read him. You want to see evangelicalism? Pull out Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and Holy Dying. Let your soul go out into that wonderful language which often has sentences so long that you have to take three breathes to get through them. But when you get through them, you feel like you have got a treasure. [40:25]

We have to return to the concept of discipleship and make practical the life that is given to us through our faith in Christ and the eternal spiritual God, the Lord and Master, the King of the Universe, in which we are invited to live and to be a part of His plans for this world. We have to have discipleship; otherwise, we will invariably aim too low.

I was raised under a system known as dispensationalism. It was a very comfortable system and I learned later why. Basically what it did was go through the New Testament and anything that we didn’t have, we said, “that’s for another age.” I came to call that selective dispensationalism. [41:25]

I hope not to offend you, because that was a serious and important way of reading the Bible. The effect of it, especially for my own life, as I looked into all of those beautiful things that Jesus taught and that He did, was to say, “That’s not for me.” It was okay when I was a child to sing, “The wise man built his house upon the rock” and to think that that meant doing what He said. But when I grew up, I was supposed to put that aside and accept the fact often called “miserable sinner Christianity that you never get any better till you die.”

So, if we are going to think about the challenge that faces us with a secular world and a secular medicine, a secular science—a science that says nothing about God—we are going to face that. We want to face it with the fullness of evangelical life that comes through intelligent, grace-filled, non-legalistic discipleship; and that will express itself certainly in the practice of spiritual disciplines. [42:57]

Discipleship calls for disciplines and spiritual disciplines are for disciples. One again, I’m talking about something that can be known and understood when I speak of disciplines. Let me just try to say what a discipline is and talk about one or two as an illustration. Remember that we are talking here about how—the methods, the practicalities of stepping into the fullness of evangelical life.

A discipline is an activity in my power, which enables me to do what I cannot do by direct effort. That’s true in any area of life. I cannot sit down and play a Beethoven sonata by trying. I have to learn how to do it. I cannot converse in French by trying. I have a friend who says when he goes to France he just speaks English louder. No wonder they hate us. The secret is not trying. The secret is training. [42:47]

So take a simple teaching of Jesus that would make such a huge difference: “Bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28). Now perhaps in our culture, we have more opportunities to do this on the highway than almost anywhere else. And we know how not being able to bless really often leads to tragic and deadly occasions. But also in the family, how much grief there is in the family—how much of it would be removed—if people simply had the ability not to curse back, not to condemn, not to harm with words. I’m not talking about doing it through gritted teeth, you understand. [45:36] The secret is not the suppression of anger, but being big enough and strong enough to where you’re really not angry. What is it to bless someone? Well, I think we could imagine that blessing means that we invoke the goodness of God on them through explicit word or deed because we really wish them to be well off.

Now, think of the inner condition, and understand that there are ways that we can be like that, if we wish. We can actually be that way. We don’t have to be angry in general. We can be free of anger. That grates with many people because we do have a culture today that suggests that if you are not angry about some things, you are brain dead. But I want to tell you that anything you can accomplish with anger, you can accomplish much better without it. [40:27]

It’s Christian disciplines of solitude and silence—Christian disciplines of study, of Scripture memorization, of meditation on the Word of God, of rest. Rest is one of the most important Christian disciplines. That’s why the Sabbath is still in the Ten Commandments. But if you don’t have solitude, you may not be able to practice Sabbath. And if you can’t abide silence, you won’t be able to get free of all of the things that pull you to pieces. And if you are weary, you will not be able to bless, and you will not be able to love. You have to have the plan for getting the time and the solitude that will allow you to do the things that will make you strong. [48:12]

Alistar, last evening, studying in different fields, commented on getting the time. But you see, you are the master under God of your time and the only cure really for busyness is solitude; and solitude can teach you how not to be busy. C. S. Lewis makes the statement “Only lazy people are busy.” You first hear that and say, “What could this mean? What he is talking about is how, if you are diligent in making decisions, you will have time and you will not be busy. Solitude cures loneliness because in solitude you discover that you are never alone. Primarily by discovering that there is a you, that there is real substance to yourself and your soul.

Now, all of these things are things that we can know. We can know how disciplines work in discipleship. We can know how discipleship leads to the heights of evangelical life and piety. We can know the richness of that life and we can see it to be in fact a spirituality that comes from our relationship to God. All of that I say is knowable. It is possible to represent these things as they really are on an adequate basis of thought and experience and that’s what knowledge is. [37:13]

 

Don’t Worry About Science

But now I finally have to say a few things about science and what I’ve said thus far is, “Don’t be too broad,” “Don’t aim too low,” and “Don’t be impractical.” Finally, I have to say, “DON’T worry about science.” Focus on inquiry. Don’t worry about science.

Now, the truth of the matter is that very few people today use the word science or scientific in a descriptive sense. It is used as an honorific term. It is used often in a language that is like religious might have been used seventy years ago. Words change their meaning and science has now become a word with which to conjure. It is possible to give some meaning to it, but there are problems with it. The changes of language are amazing. [51:28]

I noticed a sign over in your cafeteria that we have all over the West Coast: “We proudly serve” such and such kind of coffee. I won’t mention its name because I personally think it’s so strong that you ought to have to show your drivers license before you drink it. Sixty years ago that sign would have said, “We humbly serve . . .” But humble is not good anymore—proud is good. See, the language changes.

The words science and scientific have had a remarkable change in the last century. If I had a long time to talk about it—and I would like that very much—I would track that change somewhat more closely than I can this evening. But science, as it was used, for example, toward the end of the last century, referred to a certain quality of mind, a certain kind of intellectual work. It involved such things as attention to facts through analysis of problems and methods as to their assumptions, the conceptual contents that were involved in statements, and painstaking description of phenomena to eliminate unfounded assumptions and interjections. It involved utilization of concepts that are as exact as possible as to extension, intention, logical interrelationships, and the utmost care in the logical analysis and organization of judgments and in the specification of logical rules of the inferences employed. I’m sorry, that’s a little long winded. [53:39]

But that’s what scientific was thought to be. And if you will notice one of the things that is lacking there isn’t any restriction to a particular domain of reality. It is left wide open as to what the facts may be and what has happened to the concept of the scientific. By and large, it has come to be specified in such a way that the scientific must fundamentally be knowledge of the physical or the natural, and physics is elevated to the position of an ultimate science. And the other sciences are more or less thought to be in one way or another reducible to physics or dependent on it.

That kind of science is reductionist science. It is reductionist precisely because it tries to affectively get rid of any—except a narrow range of—facts. I like to use the contrast between Baconian Science—after Francis Bacon—which is open to facts without specifying what they must be and is prepared to sift and inquire to collect the data, to make comparisons and judgments. This was thought to be scientific method. It was wrong in a certain sense well up until toward the end of the nineteenth century with a few exceptions. [55:21]

Any of you who wish to see how this is developed in detail, look at what are called Mills Methods—John Stewart Mills methods. They are not an adequate presentation of scientific method. I agree with that, yet they retain the kind of openness of inquiry that is essential if you are going to have an adequate science for life.

The alternative to Baconian Science is what I call Draconian Science—I couldn’t resist the rhyming. This is a science, which with a very heavy hand, simply says that the life world—the world we live in and ourselves and others as we know them—have to be reducible in some way to the facts of physics. Steven Weinberg, a very fine physicist, no doubt, and an extraordinarily good expositor of science, somewhere just says, “Well, all there is are quarks and it’s just quarks all the way down”; everything has to be reducible to that. Well, I don’t know how “quarks” are holding up nowadays, but you get the idea. It used to be said it was atoms, but that’s long gone. [56:43]

Now, if Draconian Science is what we have to confront when we come to the spiritual life, the soul, and God, then there is no possibility of accommodation, because you have built into it a theory of reality, which rules out God and rules out the spiritual nature of the human being. The point of view which gives us Draconian Science is an interpretation of science, and please don’t think I am trying to attack science. When I speak of Draconian Science, I am not speaking of science. It is not itself a scientific view. It is a philosophical interpretation of a world and an attempt to fit science in it in such a way that the ultimate player is the human being and not God. And so it rules out God in its basic assumptions. [57:56]

But if we think of science as inquiry that is free and open—a phrase that was used by one of our speakers earlier, I believe, as evidence validly collected and correctly interpreted—then there is no problem with approaching all aspects of human life and even God Himself with a view that is appropriately called scientific. And the deepest depths of the human soul and the highest heights of the spiritual life can be understood as a field of knowledge where people can come to learn and represent things as they are and live on the basis of that understanding. [58:55]

At that point it is possible to reintegrate revelation and the Bible into your epistemology. That takes some doing. None of these things I am saying at this point are easy and quick, but revelation can become a fundamental part of the body of knowledge by which we live. And we need to challenge ourselves to think of things, like what we called the Apostle’s Creed and other things, as representations of a knowledge tradition in which we stand as an evangelical people today.

Once we do that, then we can speak about the soul. I want to say just a little bit about it because we haven’t said much about it in this conference. It’s not acceptable language really. But Baconian Science can locate and study the soul. [59:58]

I like to think of the soul as that aspect of human personality that organizes and operates the whole. I believe that it is a real part of the human self. I think this is reflected in the language where we speak of the soul as the depths of the personality. There has been a revival in the literature generally of soul books—Thomas Moore and others have written books on the soul. They always turn out to be the depths of the self. You see this in the Biblical writings—“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him for the help of his countenance” (Psalm 42:5, KJV). See, you speak to the soul as if it were in the second person. That reflects the depth of that part of the self.

I think of the self as a whole that has parts—don’t lean heavily on the word “parts”—the mind, emotions. It has a will, a character that arises out of those through practice and habit and grace and gift from both tradition and family and God. And out of that emerges a whole personality, which is an incredible thing to see. When you stop to think of it. It has a brain. This one does. It has a body. It has an endocrine system. It has a digestive tract. It has the marvelous capacity to love and create poetry. Above all, it has the power to relate to the God of the universe. It has the power to create a unique path of life unto God, which is absolutely precious before God Himself—that whole life. The soul is the part that organizes that and brings it together. [1:01:59]

Once we understand that there is a soul, we can begin, by the grace of God, to work on it and to bring it to the fullness of life, which God intended for it. Spiritual disciplines originate from the spirit and heart of the person. Now with new life from God and with the aid of the mind and the emotions illuminated by the light of the word of the Gospel and the person of Christ, these direct the body. Ironically every spiritual discipline is a bodily behavior, but not ironically, when you understand the economy of the human self. Spiritual disciplines bring the mind and the emotions and the heart to direct the body into situations and experiences whereby the soul is, in some major way, reorganized, and the natural responses of the self become those of Christ Himself.

The mark of soul transformation is precisely that you don’t have to think to do the right thing. You can if you need to. When Christ hung on the Cross, I do believe that we should think it was not a great effort for Him to say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, KJV). Why? Well, because that was the order that was in His soul. It would have been an incredible effort for Him to have cursed them and said, “Father, make sure that these have a very warm spot in hell because of what they are doing to Me.” That would have been hard. Why? Because of who He was in the depths of His being. [1:04:03]

Now, when we have walked the path of spiritual disciplines with Christ, our soul is transformed so that as Peter says, “When he was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2:23, KJV), that becomes our nature. Can you imagine that? People say, “Oh, it’s so hard to love your enemies,” but have you looked at how hard it is to hate them? It’s much harder. It’s just that in the moment of effort and choice, until our souls are transformed, the natural response overwhelms us from the human point of view. And so, when we are reviled, we immediately revile back because that’s what‘s in our soul. [1:05:08]

What I am saying to you very simply, this evening, is when we look at the whole issue of an evangelical life, lived in the spirit and substance of the Gospel teachings and the person around whom the Gospels are centered, then that kind of response which we see in Christ can become the natural response for each one of us who have faith in Him and make ourselves His disciples.

Now, when we do that, this kind of life will manifestly show its goodness and its greatness. We’ve had fine lectures on the misunderstandings that can come here, but the truth of the matter is, surely, even at the level of almost simple religion, you can see the power of it. You may know that Larry Dossey (I don’t know if you have read his Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and The Practice of Medicine and other books by him) was raised an evangelical, departed from it, and has come back and has swung away in the other direction. He is a medical doctor, and he actually—not entirely jokingly—is suggesting that the evidence is now so strong for the effects of laying on of hands and healing that doctors who do not do it should be sued for malpractice. [1:06:38]

Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital— one of the most famous hospital in the country—now has a six-month training program for nurses and doctors who wish to learn how to lay on hands and pray for their patients. This is not something that is done in a corner. If on top of this, we can bring the fullness of the Kingdom of God through understanding and practice of the Christian Gospel to bear on human life, I think we can say that we can have scientific knowledge—Baconian, not Draconian; that’s impossible; forget it. We can have scientific knowledge of the human soul and we should have it. I have no doubt that when we do, it will be clear that evangelical life possesses immense advantages for human health and life understood in the holistic terms appropriate to the type of spiritual and physical being that a human person is. Thank you very much. [Clapping] Thank you! Thank you! [1:08:29]

 

Q and A

Leader: Well, Dallas has agreed to take some questions and answers. [1:09:17]

Question: The apostle Paul mentions that to those who do not know Christ, redemption is the aroma of death, but to those who do, it is the aroma of life. It seems to me that this phrase is an important question in regard to science as Draconian and it’s an issue that has been raised here in a number of context that religion is perceived as being pathological.

How can we claim that evangelical truly evangelicalism as you suggest without being implicitly sectarian in doing so, removing ourselves from the apologetic measures of speaking to this in a way that does not appear pathological? Do you understand the jest of my question? (paraphrased)

Dallas: Thank you. It is a good question—a lovely question. I do wish I’d had more time to talk about the difference between Baconian and Draconian Science. Basically, what I believe—and I trust that David and others will correct me on this if I am wrong—but I think what you’ve seen in most of the data that you’ve looked at here is a beautiful illustration of Baconian Science and what that does—it raises questions of correlation. Baconian Science is fundamentally correlational and subsumptional. It establishes correlations and brings them under higher laws, so here you have a claim that religion is pathological. [1:11:15]

That is a question of fact and how you look at it is precisely the way that these fine scholars have been looking at it. Now then, I believe you are concerned also about the question of sectarianism. Sectarianism is a matter of one’s spirit, and in fact, there are few things more sectarian than Draconian Science. The sectarian is someone who has closed their mind. Perhaps I can best illustrate it by just this personal anecdote:

When I was going through my own education, because of my background, many of my friends were uneasy. There were stories about how you lose your faith. I had to come this position that if there was a better way that could be found, Jesus Christ would be the first to say to me, “Take it.” And I think that that attitude is entirely freeing from sectarianism. That means that I am now able, through my trust in God, to be open and listening to other people. It is a matter of our spirit. For example, suppose we adopt as a hypothesis that evangelical life is a life—let’s suppose that we were to say, as a hypothesis, it is the life that is most conducive to wholeness and health in human life. That’s a question of fact. Let’s look at it. And I think that this really does answer the question. [1:13:07]

Occasionally, I will have a student who will come to me and they are surprised to learn what I believe. They’ve heard it somewhere and they come and they will sometimes say to me, “I understand you are a Christian. Why?” And my first response is simply, “Who else did you have in mind than Christ?” And it’s not to shut them up. It’s to open the door to a discussion and I am willing to consider any possibilities and to consider them thoroughly. I think when we do that, whether it’s other religions or atheist or agnostic or whatever version of secular spirituality or New Age or whatever it may be, it’s simply a question of fact. Let’s examine the issues.

My view is that once we have learned to live at the height of evangelical faith and piety, we are set free from fear, and that enables us to be a true neighbor and friend of the people who are very different from us. I think that’s works in fact. [1:14:13]

Question: I’d like to raise an issue with your last point about Larry Dossey and his prayer research. I guess I’m troubled by what some of what I am reading and seeing among nurses where Larry Dossey says it doesn’t matter who you pray to. At first he said, “Prayer doesn’t go anywhere,” and now he’s playing with quantum-physics and non-locality. I’m just wondering how much, as evangelical Christians, we can say this is really prayer and rejoice that its being done, because I think people are being pulled into idolatry. [1:15:00]

Dallas: Yes, that’s extremely important. Thank you for saying that. I’m not trying to sell books. I actually examined that issue at some length in this book, The Divine Conspiracy, because it’s a very great concern for me. I’m actually in touch with a lot of nursing teachers at USC, and I’m very concerned about the extent to which they have more or less bought into these kinds of things—also the issue of laying on of hands and praying.

At Massachusetts General Hospital, they just pray to God and it’s more or less a kind of 12-step prayer where however you think of Him is fine. Now, there are a couple of things I’d like to say, however. I think there is a non-physical realm of the soul which has a great deal more power than we imagine. And I think that a lot of what Larry Dossey and New Age people are into is in that area. [1:15:53]

There is another thing, however, that I do want to say. I think God is possibly a great deal more generous in these matters than we would think at first hand—and it is not true, as the man in John 9 says, that God does not hear sinners.

If He didn’t hear sinners, we’d all still be there. One of the reasons why I insisted at the outset of my talk that when we talk of the spirit—we are talking about unbodily personal power that is transcendent to normal human existence—is because precisely I want to say that praying in the Kingdom of God as Jesus taught us is not a matter of metaphysical manipulation. And we should be very troubled about it. [1:26:43

On the other hand, I think, too, we should say this is a cry from the human heart for something that is not being provided by Draconian measures. So often, for example, nurses—because they deal much more closely with people than many doctors do—are conscious of a different reality and they also often have a different heart.

Many medical people today—this is common knowledge and discussed much in the professional literature of profession—many of our professionals today have substituted moral and civic involvement. They have substituted expertise for that, but the expertise that gets us back into the Draconian Science sort of stuff. [1:17:32]

Draconian Science is looking for deductive essential type connections that would, if you could get them, give you absolute control; where as, Baconian Science is more directed to the practical. It’s not essentially deductive. It lays a basis for acting in a world where there are a lot of factors you don’t understand; possibly even the spiritual. It’s a very important question.

Thank you for asking it and we really do need to be conscious of this. But let me just close this part of my answer by insisting that this is the cry of a heart, for God and all that stuff about praying for wheat germs in lead enclosed boxes, you know. Talk about double blind studies. See, the lead enclosed boxes are designed to eliminate some sort of physical thing that might be being put out. It’s fascinating and worrisome. Thank you. [1:18:38]

Question: One could construe a lot of the conference as attempting to look at the Draconian Science and speak to it on the basis of the figures we have heard.

Dallas: Yes

Question: You seem to suggest that that is going to be a useless effort ultimately and might we better as Christians address the Draconian nature of the closed box and possibly address the larger issues more directly?

Dallas: Yes, I think that’s what we have to do if I understand your question. We have to admit, for example, where deductive type connections can be developed—where you can get good reductions. I mean, there are good reductions. The one that I often use to illustrate it—I hope it will stand up to your examinations—is Keplers Laws of Planetary Motion. Those laws were very striking and very important when Kepler formulated them but after Newton, who cares? I mean, really. [1:19:53]

Newton’s Laws were more general, comprehended more phenomena, and left nothing to be said for Kepler’s Laws except as historical curiosity. It explained the phenomena on a different basis. Kepler’s was rather mystical and speculative, geometrical forms and God as a geometer and so on. So there are genuine reductions and I think where we can get it, we ought to be happy for it. [1:20:24]

But what we want to do, I believe, is to insist that reality is not set up to be totally encompassed in this way, and particularly, that there is a God and that God has spiritual supervision over the present universe, as well as that He created it. There is an element in the human being which is not physical and that consists basically of what we would call at a surface level our thoughts, our emotions, our choices and so on.

At the deeper level, what I call the soul and then our invitation is to the Draconian—you say it can be done, do it. We’ve been living on promises here for a long time, especially with reference to things like brain science and so on. I personally am hoping that as quickly as possible, someone will get a brain transplant. I think that’s going to clear the air of a lot of misunderstandings. [1:21:26]

You know, we went through this with the heart transplants, right? I think this would help a lot if we could get that done but I don’t know how that would work out. But that would be my response to that. You see, reductionist, Draconian Science is good when it works. I don’t dispute that at all. It’s good when it works. The problem is that it promises something that is not science, but scientistic. It is a philosophical view that tries to incorporate physicalism or naturalism into the very definition of science. That’s where I think it’s a disaster.

Question: I really appreciate your careful description of words and distinction between words. The term knowledge, for example, and the term science. If I may add, if you allow me to add a comment that even though there is a virtue in pursuing knowledge and in seeking learning, that doesn’t necessarily transform naturally into wisdom. I think there is higher virtue in cultivating wisdom and maturity and the spirit of God. Practicing those spiritual disciplines allows this body of knowledge . . . We live in an age of information overload, so I think your call to us is very timely: to take this exposure into spirit of prayer, to become distilled knowledge, and to transform into wisdom under the spirit of God. And in this way, we become more mature and more useful in being a blessing to others as well. Thank you. [1:23:51]

Dallas: Well, thank you for that comment. That’s so good. I don’t know of anything to add except just to say possibly science, even as I’ve called it Baconian Science, will not teach us how to live. For that, we have to have an understanding that does not come from correlations and subsumptions under laws, but rather that comes from an insight into the individuality of God, our circumstances, and what we are to do with them, and the personal dimension of life that concerns our individuality. That is dealt with well only by what you perhaps are calling wisdom.

Knowledge can help, but wisdom is a matter of knowing how to live and in the end, knowledge, in either form of science as I have crudely described it tonight, will not answer that question. Of course, I believe that our glory, if you wish, is that a personal God has spoken to us personally and has shone us what we need to know in order to live well. And since He was the maker, He has the knowledge to do that. [1:25:14]

So, I think that’s one reason why scientists will normally shy away from questions about values and wisdom and so on is there is an implicit recognition in the nature of the kind of inquiry that we rightly and thankfully do as science. There is an implicit recognition that it cannot deal with the individual and with choices about the ends of life.

Leader: We are going to end. I would like to ask Dallas to end our time with a word of prayer.

Dallas: Great God, King of the Universe, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—we have come to believe in You and trust in You because Your Son has entered history and has caused the light to shine even to our minds now. Lord, we would like to serve our neighbors for Your glory. We love them and want them to be blessed in Your Kingdom. We ask that You would give us wisdom and understanding so that we could do our work well as scientists and teachers and leaders of all kinds, as young and old. Lord, let us know Your Kingdom where we stand and live in it.

And in this important area of our fundamental beliefs and life and its relationship to health, to health care, to the understanding of healing, we especially ask that You will make these days and hours that we have had together count well for the blessing of mankind and the glory of Your Kingdom. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.