Rex and the Governor General

Governor General Julie Payette
generated a fire-storm of words when she asserted her belief in science and
effectively derided all other forms of knowledge or faith. For the record, she
is, of course, entitled to make such statements in this multi-cultural,
multi-faith country of Canada. What she said at a science conference is her own
opinion, even if it seems to carry more weight because of her position. Yet, if
I had the chance to become friends with this intelligent and politically influential
woman, I might give her a bit of advice and remind her of the position in which
we all find ourselves. It is advice I have given to other friends and advice by
which I try to live my own intellectual life. The advice I would give her is
that “we all need to abandon the notion of certainty.”
Standing on a stage and
proclaiming the absolute certainty of any science, philosophy, or religion is
not only politically dangerous, but also intellectual hubris. I may preach
several times a year at our church community in Calgary with trust in the Bible
and the mission of Jesus Christ of Palestine, but I do so by faith in that
Bible and in Jesus.
Let me draw upon the thoughts
of other writers and sharp thinkers to illustrate the point. Rex Murphy, in the
National Post, reminded us that “… our
finest sages, present and past, have always counselled against certitude, and
cautioned that when we are most certain of something is precisely the time we
should go over our sums.”
[1] Considering
this statement, our Governor General would do well to “go over her sums,” yet,
this is also a reminder to all of us, Mr. Murphy included, to be considerably
more humble with what we “know” to be true.
John Stackhouse, in an
exceptional article on this topic, has said,
It is
commonplace in modern times to put faith over against knowledge, as if the
former is mere wishful thinking and the latter hard fact. Instead, however,
according to both Christian tradition and contemporary currents in
epistemology, all of our intellectual commitments – whether we call them “faith”
or “knowledge” – ride on a sea of non-certainty. As the eminent scientist and
theologian John Polkinghorne concludes, it’s all faith. Human thought is
nothing other than our best guesses on the basis of what we trust are helpful
avenues to knowledge. We can never be entirely sure that what we think we know
matches up precisely with the way things are. We can only trust what we think
has worked in the past, or what seems promising to work in the future, and make
our best guesses.
Thus it
is all faith, in the sense of faith as a commitment to act in the light of what
one believes one knows to be true with the recognition that one might be wrong –
and will act anyway.

For all of us, in circumstances
such as these, this is perhaps the most important concept of which to be aware.
We all live by faith! We may know that the speed of light is 299,792,458 m/s,
but how many of us have tested that knowledge? We may believe that quarks and
leptons are the smallest particles in the universe, but who can prove that? We
may trust that there is a God who created the universe. Or conversely, we may
think that the universe came into being spontaneously by random chance. Despite
the furious rants of certain atheists and certain Christian apologists, we
cannot prove either of these cases. If we could, the argument would be over.
No, I say it again, we all live by faith!
Christianity and Science are
no more in conflict with one another than science and music, or baseball and
art (to refer to a previous blog in which Mary Doria Russell makes this point). Rex Murphy makes the same point (even if he shouts it)
when he says,
But more
profoundly, the observations on the origins of life and the religious
understandings of that most profound of subjects are not in contest, as
evidently she [Payette] thinks they are, with scientific understandings. They can, and in
fact often do, co-exist. There is physics, and there is also metaphysics; facts
are indeed truth, but truth is very often more than just facts. What we may
observe and measure is not all of life, nor will it ever be. A backhand
dismissal of the “truths” of religion, and the clear implication that they are
the products of credulousness and ignorance (“can you believe…?  Are we still debating…?”) is a sophomoric
What is it for which I am
arguing? I am asking all of us to recognize the limits of our knowledge. I am
suggesting that whether we are scientist, Christian apologist, philosophical
debater, astronaut, Governor General, Prime Minister, pastor, IT technologist,
carpenter, baker, gene-splicer, or newspaper editorialist, we all need a
healthy dose of humility. Regardless of our spiritual, philosophical, or
scientific discipline, let us all practice humble apologetics.

[1] National Post, 2017-11-02, “Governor General places
herself as umpire of questions of faith and science,
“Why Christians Should
Abandon Certainty,” John Stackhouse in Living
in the Lamblight: Christianity and Contemporary Challenges to the Gospel,
edited by Hans Boersma, Regent College Publishing,
Vancouver, 2001.