In the re-emerging debate over creationism, intelligent design and evolution, much has been made of the need to keep religious faith out of the classroom. If this were accomplished, it would, of course, be a great loss, for if religious faith is removed from the classroom, physics, chemistry, and biology will have to be dispensed with and the hard sciences will be completely lost to us. This is a point that is lost on most of the people in the debate.
Take, for instance, the foundational premise of physics: reality exists. As members of a Christian Western culture, we often have a hard time understanding how fully those two words represent a specific religious viewpoint. To assert that reality is not an illusion, but is, in fact, substantial is to take sides in a long-standing religious debate.
The Hebrew and Christian faith insists on independent physical reality. The Hindu, the Buddhist, the Taoist traditions, along with any number of similar religious traditions, hold precisely the opposite viewpoint. For these other faith traditions, reality is not only an illusion, but an obstacle to real peace. Christians say that in order to achieve peace, we must work for justice. Other religious traditions say that to achieve peace, we must recognize physical reality as an illusion, an artifact of the mind, a stumbling block that prevents our achieving total union with Nirvana or Moksha – Nothingness. For Christians, peace comes from a full transformation from our fallen selves into who we are. For others, peace comes from completely extinguishing who we are.
The idea that physical reality has an independent existence with laws that operate both upon it and upon me is a religious concept because it simultaneously insists we have the ability to know something outside of ourselves and insists there is something outside of ourselves to be known. After all, the very word “religion” is derived from “re-ligare” the Greek words for “tying back together.” For Christians, our investigation of physical reality is part of our task as persons. Through it, we begin to tie back together a reality that was irretrievably broken at some earlier point in time.
This is an important point, for investigation is only possible by means of a pre-existing purpose, and this purpose is the foundation of the statement “reality exists.” Let me explain. No one investigates a thing without having a purpose in mind. The purpose directs and forms the investigation. We investigate in order to establish “why.” But, where reality has no real existence, there is no “why.” Investigation is purposeless and therefore not undertaken. Thus, the statement “reality exists” assumes not only that the investigator exists, it also assumes that the thing to be investigated has a “why” associated with it. In short, “reality exists” assumes the existence of purpose in both the investigator and the thing to be investigated.
The search for a unified field theory is one example of such an assumption in action. The hard sciences exist only because an ordered reality pre-exists them. If the universe were formless chaos, there would be no underlying reality upon which logic could function, nor, arguably, would there be a way to demonstrate the existence of logic at all. Logic would be the illusion instead of the tool.
Physics tells us we can treat the particles that compose the universe as information packets. Physics does not point out the obvious: information exists only where purpose exists. Where reality is an illusion that repeats on an endlessly cyclic basis, there is no information to glean, no reality to tie together.
The Eastern faith traditions are, in this sense, not religions at all, for they carry no sense of the need to heal reality. Even the healing of the individual is accomplished only through personal self-annihilation, the removal of information (although they would call it the removal of illusion) from the equation. For them, the reality is simple: there is no equation.
As this discussion should demonstrate, it is no more possible to remove religion from the classroom than it is to remove religion from public discourse. If we would say “reality exists,” we have injected religion into the classroom. If we say “reality is an illusion,” we have avoided injecting religion into the classroom, but only by virtue of having denied the need for a classroom at all.
The next essay will discuss how science has reached the absurd position of denying its own reality.