I can see it even now, a full decade after The X-Files went dark, plastered front and centre in the midst of a kaleidoscopic mess of article clippings and photos: Agent Mulder’s iconic poster of a UFO with the simple caption: I want to believe.
In its day, the X-Files was a cutting edge show showcasing excellent writing, great acting, and intriguing plot lines. But that’s not why it became a cult hit. No, it became a hit because the principle pair of characters—Agents Mulder and Scully—embodied our longing for more.
And for clarity.
Mulder was a believer in all things paranormal and paranoid. He’d seen things—too many things—to sleep well at night without wondering how it all fit together. But his cryptic poster described him to a T: Mulder didn’t believe because he’d experienced so much, he experienced so much because he believed. And he believed because he wanted to believe. Because he needed to believe.
Scully was Mulder’s flesh-and-blood counter-balance, an uber rational scientist who was utterly convinced that everything Mulder had experienced could be explained scientifically rather than spiritually. She was a believer, too—in science, that is, and she was just as committed to her religion as Mulder was to his. She also needed to believe, needed to find a way to fit everything they encountered into her neatly indexed X-Files.
At first blush, this pair—the paranormal and the scientist—seem to describe two different kinds of people. And there are definitely people who live in both camps. But I think the X-Files struck such a chord with our culture because in reality, both a Mulder and a Scully live within each of us.
We want, even need to believe in more than mere rocks and rubrics. Mystery gives faith wings, and the chaos swirling around the unknown keeps the child in us alive, even if just in fits and starts. The idea behind prayer—a relational connection to God that can actually change things some of the time—is delicious to many of us.
But a part of us also needs to make sense of the world. Too much mystery and uncertainty stifles our attempts to work and master things. Not everything is up for grabs. There really is absolute truth, things we can count on being true all the time. This, too, is so refreshing that we try to impose our scientific mind on everything around us.
Case in point, watch how we bloody our brains trying to distill prayer into a reproducible formula that can be packaged as more of a science than the art or mystery it truly is.
I need to revel in mysteries beyond my comprehension to be fully human. I also need to rest in the regularities of science to bring order to my world, to my life, to my sense of progress and growth.
Faith vs. Science
We’ve heard preachers say there is no true conflict between science and faith because all truth is God’s truth. I agree that all truth is God’s truth, but sometimes we forget that science is also a theology of sorts, a philosophy of the cosmos. It’s based on the assumption that everything real can be tested or even reproduced in a laboratory.
In that sense, faith (which traffics in mystery) and science (which traffics in certainty) must always be engaged in lively debate. We’ve come to equate science with truth, and they are not the same thing. But wait! Believers have come to equate theology with truth, and they aren’t the same thing, either. Science is a collection of theories that we’re running with until proven false. My theology is a collection of theories I’m running with until my understanding deepens enough to become more biblical as I grow as a person.
People of faith aren’t being entirely honest about the tension between faith and science, because we wrestle with it every day.
Better faith, better science
My theology is my current and best attempt to describe what the Bible says, but I’m continually learning, hopefully becoming “more biblical” in my understanding. A scientist moves with her best and current hypothesis, but must hold it loosely in case variables she hadn’t accounted for warrant a change in her theory. What I will say is this: As far as my theology is biblical, and as far as science is drawing accurate conclusions about things within the realm of “testability,” there is no conflict.
But there will always be tension.
See, Mulder wasn’t really looking for the truth. He was looking for his truth. The same with Scully. She was looking for her truth, not the truth. God’s truth, THE truth, is bigger than my theology, bigger than Hawking’s science. Wanting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth… is a tricky business for all of us. There will always be tension there, not because of some inherent conflict, but because both a Mulder and a Scully are duking it out inside me.
So what about aliens and Men in Black?
I want to believe.
No, I need to believe—that there are things bigger than me that defy explanation, that the universe is more wonderful and mysterious than I’ve ever dared to dream. Not because I want to become friends with little green men (that would be just weird), but because I’m friends with Jesus Christ—the kind of Person who laces all his works with terror and wonder, and I love exploring the works of his hands in all their guts and glory.
So, your turn. What do you think?
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