BY ANDRÉ FRENCH
It has always fascinated me that the grace of God does not discriminate in matters of intellect. While the educated elite may argue that Christ is a crutch for millions of brainwashed adherents, there are those among the intelligentsia that have come to embrace not only the crutch of Christ by which they stand, but also the necessity of washing a brain contaminated by the malignant ego often hinged to higher education. The war on moral absolutes that is our present postmodern age found its first conscientious objectors in thinkers like Oxford Professor C. S. Lewis and British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. Both men were renowned intellectual skeptics until the day God said “Come, let us reason.” Today, while universities remain a principal breeding ground for secular humanism, scores of deeply committed Christian educators lecture in halls of higher learning. But how is such a one won? Lewis said of his conversion that he “came into Christianity kicking and screaming.”
Given that mankind was made by and in the image of God, I think we can agree that one man’s intellectual capacity is another man’s aptitude for the arts. Both are gifts exclusively bestowed by their creator. While it may be technically argued that the two utilize opposite sides of the brain, we tend to think of the artist creating from the heart while the thinker theorizes from the head. The artist feels while the intellectual analyzes. Very often those who elevate emotion over reason find the distance between them and God less a gulf than do those who must satisfy the scrutiny of cross examination (pun intended). So then, while a God-given gift in the arts can become a bridge to the divine, a gift in intelligence may serve as a stumbling block. But the intellect is not impenetrable by the Spirit of God. The biblical claim of divine design has not been debunked by the disciplines of science, in fact it is science that has consistently referred the intellectual back to the extraordinary order of a divine creator.
This regeneration of the intellectual mind is not without its pain and suffering. If the Bible is the Word of God and therefore truth, then it stands to reason that the original text of scripture and the evidence demonstrated in nature must agree. Yet, there is seemingly no end to arguments between theologians and scientists. Why? Theology is man’s study of God and science is man’s study of nature. What do these two studies have in common? Man – biased and fallible man. For every two theologians disagreeing on scriptural interpretation there are two scientists disagreeing on the origin of the species or climate change. Assign to any imperfect man the task of thoroughly interpreting perfection and the both of you will be left wanting. Is it any wonder then that a fallen man of science might take issue with a fallible man of faith? In biblical terms, faith is first and foremost a matter of the heart and science is first and foremost a matter of the mind. It is interesting that the fruition of faith actually obligates both.
This is best illustrated in Matthew 22, where Jesus refers to the first and greatest commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Employing the heart or the mind alone does not satisfy this mandate. So then, to discuss matters of faith and science, one has to understand that while the two ultimately compliment each other, they do not encroach upon each other’s space. Were Thomas alive today, perhaps he’d be a forensic scientist, for he needed to see in order to believe. For reasons of his doubting heart, he required evidence and he reckoned the confidence of the other disciples merely blind faith. But here is the bottom line – all the evidence in the world will not convert the stubborn skeptic’s doubt to viable faith if the Spirit of God is missing from the equation. As Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” However it is that God gets our attention – be it through observing the wonders of creation, receiving the witness of a friend or a parent, or hearing the penetrating word of God spoken in season – both our heart and our mind must be enlisted if we are to become followers of Christ.
For all the criticism so often leveled against the seemingly heartless skeptic, it bears mentioning that there are those in Christendom who are happy to check their minds at the church door. When considering higher education’s humanist or the saint who denies that dinosaurs once roamed the earth, musician Steve Taylor’s words sound an appropriate warning against being “so opened-minded that your brains leak out.” Skepticism is no more the enemy of the Gospel than Thomas was. In the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, God’s grace reached to all, including the young man bent on examining the wounds of his savior. Notice the patience with which Jesus entreated him in John 20:26-28. This story should at least encourage us to be prepared with a patient and understanding argument for every cerebral skeptic. While their hearts may appear hard, they are also demonstrating the gift of intellect placed there by a very merciful (and intelligent) God.
Ultimately, a strict scientist busies himself with answering the question of “how” things work. It is reasonable then that history provides us with a very long list of scientists whom having ascertained the “how” have then considered the next obvious step in discovery… the “why.” If such remarkable order came from chaos or from nothing at all, what would be the reason? If, as René Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am,” why do I think I am, why do I exist… what is my purpose? Such a natural, rational progression ought not amount to a leap of faith, for faced with the undeniable design present in nature, it can take more faith to embrace coincidence than a creator. Once the conclusion of a creator has entered the analytical arena, the inquiring mind must answer a final question… “who?” This is how many theologians have been made of scientific intellectuals, but it is crucial to remember the differences between the two. Let’s explore two scientific disciplines that have challenged intellectuals back to the cross by what is called empirical evidence, or evidence based on observation.
Winston Churchill said “The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end: there it is.” Hardly an intellectual quest shines as bright a light on those words as the redemptive story of William Mitchell Ramsay. A Scotsman, born in 1851 to a third-generation lawyer, Ramsay enjoyed an affluent upbringing and first rate education. A graduate of Aberdeen and then Oxford, Ramsay went on to earn several doctorates and honorary degrees in science and the humanities. He held numerous academic chairs at major colleges and Universities. While the study of language and anthropology captivated him, it was his love for history and archeology that launched his fame. Ramsey’s analytical mind found the discipline of archeology to be the perfect marriage between science and the humanities, and the 1880s would be the first of nearly three decades devoted to the travel and study of historic Asia Minor. Why Asia Minor? What was the attraction? Ramsay was on a mission, in part to validate what was called the Tübingen theory, which argued against the accuracy of Scripture and in particular, the New Testament Book of Acts. There are those that dispute the degree to which the accomplished professor was a non-believer at the time of his initial expeditions, but suffice it to say that somewhere between Churchill’s attacking malice and deriding ignorance, Ramsay sought to make a name for himself by denying the author of Acts the same. In the end, as Churchill points out, “the truth is incontrovertible.” What followed were a string of journeys, all of which systematically and surprisingly debunked the established understanding that the details of Paul’s voyages were entirely inaccurate, haphazardly recorded, or worse, fabricated, in the mid second century. Every dig Ramsay unearthed unexpectedly added credence to Luke’s telling of the Gospel’s reach to the gentiles. Names of governors and destinations that had been doubted if not denied for decades were suddenly coming to unmistakable light. Routes taken by the voyaging Apostle had been hotly contested by all “educated” historians, based on generations of misinformation and centuries of name changes. Every route Luke recorded, every island, every country, every one of the dozens of cities, all became vindicating empirical evidence pointing to the historicity of the New Testament.
The implications for the intellectual were staggering. In the opening chapter of a groundbreaking book on the subject of St. Paul, published in 1898, Ramsay confesses “I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favor of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavorable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tübingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.” Regarding the author of Acts, in 1915 Ramsay would conclude in The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, that “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… [he] should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” Ramsay’s bias could not stand against the weight of empirical evidence exposed at one archeological site after another, and in the end his skeptical though inquisitive mind informed his hungry heart. Consequently, his contribution not only to modern archeology, but to theological studies, is enormous. The archeological validation of Paul’s voyages served to solidify the testimony of the Pauline epistles. Today, Ramsay’s work has been complimented by thousands of more contemporary discoveries. The New Testament now enjoys supremacy among all manuscripts of antiquity. With more than 24,000 known copies spanning 200 years, a number of manuscripts are only 25 years removed from their originals. Well over 5,000 of those copies are complete New Testaments, some dating as early as the second century, and every one of them passing the demanding test of textual criticism with stunning 99.5% accuracy. Now compare this impressive documentation to its nearest rival. Homer’s Iliad, for all its historic literary significance, has left us with only 643 copies, the first of which is dated 500 years after the original. Today’s archeologist and collector of antiquities has every reason to be as moved in mind and heart as William Mitchell Ramsay was a century ago.
Moving ahead one hundred years, what better place to stop and examine the drawing power of observable evidence than in the observatory, with perhaps the most prominent cosmologist of our lifetime? Allan Sandage was only eight when his fascination with celestial bodies sealed his vocation. His love affair with the cosmos began when he first peered through a telescope belonging to a boyhood friend. Recalling his youthful aspirations, he says of that time “I knew I had to be an astronomer.” He would spend his life studying the stars, never losing that sense of awe for creation, that need to know more, look deeper, and see farther. While earning his Ph.D. at Caltech, Sandage was invited to assist renowned cosmologist Edwin Hubble, for whom the famed telescope is named. After Hubble’s untimely death in 1953, Sandage was tapped to carry on his mentor’s work. That research became a launch pad for “defining the fields of observational cosmology and extragalactic astronomy.” It was Sandage who made the initial discovery of quasars, very distant “celestial objects whose power output is several thousand times that of our entire galaxy.” He is also credited with mapping not only the structure and formation of the Milky Way, but the universe itself, with special attention paid to what is called the Hubble Constant, a measurement of the rate at which the universe is expanding. He achieved legendary status for the breadth of his published work, numbering over 500 papers. Allan Sandage died only two years ago at the age of 84, but not before his quest for the stars led him directly to the one responsible for placing them there. Nearly three decades of search and discovery led him to the source of all light in 1976.
The deeper Sandage looked and the farther he gazed, the more order he observed and the more folly he saw in the concept of coincidence. It became to him “less and less clear that all this could have occurred without an ordering principle.” His observations led him to conclude that the perfectly arranged and expanding universe coupled with the intricate biological detail designed into the human body were evidence of a “supernatural event” of creation. He came to realize that this creation often defied the laws of physics and was “outside our understanding of the natural order of things, and by this definition a miracle.” But while the discoveries of science may point to a creator, there is little in science that tells us just who that creator is. That discovery would call upon the meeting of both mind and heart. By the time Sandage inherited the Hubble project, he had joined the ranks of a very select group of astronomers, becoming one of only 16 cosmologists in the world. Always the ambitious dreamer, at the age of 26, his remarkable rise in scientific stature left him haunted by a success that seemed to yield little if any upward mobility within his scientific discipline. This haunting was magnified by the solitary work of a stargazer, staring into the infinite reaches of space, examining immensities while pondering the personal sting of insignificance. Years later, as this struggle with purpose collided with the revelation of divine design, the meeting of mind and heart became for Sandage a springboard to faith. Beckoned by the testimony of Blaise Pascal, a 17th century mathematician and physicist, in addition to a number of devout Christian scientists who garnered his respect, Allan Sandage became a believer at the age of 50. While the seed of his conversion was his recognition of the order and beauty science has revealed, it was the questions that science could not answer, the mystery that nature concealed, that led this deep thinker to embrace Jesus Christ. Ultimately, the questioning mind was eclipsed by the longing heart.
The reliability, credibility, accuracy, authenticity, historicity and ultimate inerrancy of Scripture and of the Christian faith will always be found in the crosshairs of the scholarly skeptic. But so too is the skeptic held in the focused scope of the Savior, ever patient and appreciative of the mind that He has created. John Polkinghorne, a brilliant Cambridge theoretical physicist-turned-theologian, said his peers likened his marriage between science and religion to being a vegetarian butcher. But in essence, the term “Christian scientist” is far from an oxymoron, regardless of all the cynicism common to the halls of higher learning. As the father of all physicists, Albert Einstein reminds us, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
~André French © 2012
The Moral Liberal Guest Writer, André French, is a husband and father of three from Sharon Springs, NY. He is a small business owner, musician, songwriter, and worship leader, and writes regularly on history, politics, culture, faith, and family. Andre’s Facebook Page
The Moral Liberal recommends: Lincoln, Speeches and Writings (2 Volume Set) : Vol I: 1832-1858 (Speeches, Letters, and Miscellaneous Writings, The Lincoln-Douglas Debates) ; Vol II: 1859-1865, (Speeches, Letters, and Miscellaneous Writings Presidential Messages and Proclamations)