The Only Question That Matters
I’m still mulling over some of the excellent lectures I heard last week at Regent College’s Pastors Conference on Science and Faith. One lecture, in particular, focused on the “new atheists” (who are increasingly becoming, well, not new) and their often simplistic misunderstandings of the scope of science, the relationship between science and faith and the roles both play in our consideration and adoption of world-views (incidentally, I noticed today that David Bentley Hart has another wonderfully entertaining and insightful critique of the new atheism up over at First Things). The basic idea in the lecture (delivered by Denis Alexander) was familiar enough: just because science can explain one level of reality very well, it is not thereby equipped to explain or even suited to address every level of reality. All that was very good, if relatively standard stuff.
But discussions about science and faith can, if we’re not careful, get rather sterile. Sometimes we can work very hard to reconcile two different intellectual systems or ways of looking at the world, but then if/when we achieve some kind of harmony or reconciliation we step back and wonder what, exactly, we have accomplished. Suppose, say, that we are convinced that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really is somehow immanently involved in the creation and ongoing unfolding of the created order. Suppose we arrive at this conclusion. What then? What, precisely, have we pulled off? Analyzing the world around us and coming to the conclusion “God did it” is satisfying, on one level, but it’s hardly enough. Much deeper and more troubling questions remain.
I was reminded of this while reading one of Frederick Buechner’s sermons this morning. As usual, Buechner has a great way of getting to the existential heart of the matter. This is from a sermon called “In the Beginning” in The Magnificent Defeat:
To put it another way, unless there is some very real sense in which the Spirit of God moves over the dark and chaotic waters of this age, these deeps of yours and mine; unless God speaks his light- and live-giving word to me, then I do not really care much one way or the other whether he set the whole show spinning x billion years ago. Unless I have some real experience of it myself, then even if someone could prove to me objectively and verifiably that it all happened just as Genesis declares, I would be tempted to answer him with the two most devastating words in the English language: so what?
Is new life stirring in this death-ridden world? Is light about to be created out of our darkness? This is the only question that matters.