Dallas Willard on Science & Faith


In discussing the Resurrection, Dallas Willard makes a very good point in his essay: Blind Science vs. Blind Faith: Some Thoughts on Breaking the Deadlock. He writes:

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.

He then goes on to explain:

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.

But Willard notes that ‘religion’ often does the same thing by often merely invoking the ‘God of Great Power’ argument. That is, both sides invoke their own non-explanations as a ‘means of holding its ground.’ I agree with this assessment and take it a step further and say that Christians need to be able to explain the ‘reason for the hope they have’ to anyone who asks. I agree that it is not enough to say to the atheist or non-believer that we believe something because ‘God is powerful’ enough to do it. Frankly, that is beside the point.

Willard makes one other point too that I found especially insightful:

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.

Again I agree. For all the arguments I have with certain Darwinists who have visited here, I have to say that they most likely are searching for truth. I have probably not done as well in explaining the truth from the Biblical perspective as I should have, and that is where I must grow. Christians own the greatest Truth in the entire Universe. We need to be able to carefully reason together with those who are opposed or simply do not believe. Perhaps if Christians, and I include myself here, will learn better how to articulate the truth of the Resurrection in history of Jesus Christ (among many other things) such a dialogue will open up between Christians and non-believers. Perhaps such a meeting ground does exist where such dialogue and the quest for truth can take place in good-faith efforts. Perhaps there is hope. 

There doesn’t need to be ‘two sides’ which, in Willard’s words, ‘never come into contact.’ He says ‘important work of reconciliation needs to be done.’ His answer?

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 professionals are in blind conflict with genuine faith in Jesus Christ.”

And what I would say is this. The ‘intellectual professionals’ would do well to stop discrediting the Christian point of view merely because it is a Christian point of view. It is not invalid simply because it is, for lack of a better term, unpalatable to the intellectual or because it invokes faith or because it believes in a metaphysical idea. If the ‘intellectual’ will create space for the Christian to even have a voice, to be heard, without fear of ridicule and condescension, much progress will be made towards the end of reconciliation. But I don’t seriously think such a conversation can take place as long as the Christian point of view is dismissed before it is ever in the door or as long as the credentials of the Christian are discredited simply because the person possessing them is a Christian. I think Prof Willard has made a fine point. What do you think? Is such a dialogue even possible?

You can access many more essays on Christianity at Dallas Willard on-line. I’m not suggesting that you are going to be satisfied with everything he says (I surely wasn’t), but you will find some carefully reasoned essays and arguments that will help us all as we try to create such a space in this world for the dialogue to either get started or, in some cases, continue.



3 thoughts on “Dallas Willard on Science & Faith

  1. Thanks for an excellent post and for bringing this Dallas Willard article to my attention. It will be helpful for my thinking on a sermon series I’m working through for January.

    I saw an interesting program on the history channel where scientists were debating whether or not a particular underwater formation was natural or man-made from a time when that area might not have been under water (Atlantis?!). One astute lady stated that she believed it to be man-made because it was too creative and artistic. Hmmmmmm.

    I’m not the least bit afraid of science. God invented it.

    I suspect you’ve also tapped into a lode of wisdom concerning using “religion” or “science” as the be-all end-all to any argument. Perhaps I haven’t worded my comments well, but I hope the heart of them shows my appreciation for your entry here. Blessings.

  2. “It is not invalid simply … because it believes in a metaphysical idea.”

    It is invalid as “science”. We have to agree on a definition of “science” as “methodological naturalism”. Then “metaphysics” is not part of “science”.

    So you can believe in metaphysical things without conflicting with “science”. But you can’t tell “science” what is or is not “true” based on your “metaphysics”.

    “space for the Christian to even have a voice, to be heard, without fear of ridicule and condescension”

    Well, what could you possibly say to “science”? You might say things to “ethics” or “morals” or “philosophy”, but not to “science”. “Evidence” means “natural”, not “supernatural” to science.

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