Are we using science in ways that it wasn't intended to, in which case we should be a little careful, or are we using faith in ways that faith wasn't really designed for? There are certain questions that are better answered by one approach than the other, and if you start mixing that up, then you end up in … conflict.
— Francis S. Collins
The relationship between Science and Faith has always been a subject of study by philosophers, theologians and scientists. They provide several diverse perspectives from different geographical regions, cultures and historical epochs. Sometimes the diversity is harmonious and other times conflicted.
There are many traditions of religious or spiritual thinking, which affect how we think about science. Much of Western thinking is rooted in the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which started to gain respect for science after the continuing spread of knowledge. (1)
Historically Hinduism has embraced reason and empiricism, holding that science brings legitimate, but incomplete knowledge of the world. Confucian thought has held different views of science over time. Most Buddhists today view science as complementary to their beliefs.
Developed countries achieved substantial advances through science and the mindset steadily developed that science is pre-eminent and religion is obsolescent, or even obsolete. Witness the widespread decline of religion in advanced economies and continued spread of religious influence only in relatively poorer countries.
There’s a difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is a set of beliefs and rituals that claim to develop a relationship with God. Spirituality is a focus on spiritual things, instead of physical things. (2) Deepak Chopra says succinctly, “Religion is belief in someone else’s experience; Spirituality is having one’s own experience.”
Thousands of years ago, in cultures across the globe, inspired spiritual teachers such as the Buddha, Jesus, and Lao- Tzu proposed profound views of life. They taught that a transcendent domain resides beyond the everyday world of pain and struggle. Beyond the reach of the five senses lies an invisible realm of infinite possibility. And the key to unfolding its potential is consciousness. Go within, the sages and seers declared, and you will find the true source of everything: your own awareness.
Religion & Science
Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg writes that his understanding of the origins of the universe leaves little room for miracles or for a designing intelligence. The human mind, so central to the religious belief in God, is to Weinberg a product of “impersonal laws acting over billions of years.” (3)
Science and religion generally pursue knowledge of the universe using different methodologies. (4) Science acknowledges reason, empiricism, and evidence, while religions embrace revelation, faith and sacredness. Despite these differences, before the sixteenth century, science and innovation developed through sponsorship by religious leaders.
In the popular imagination, science long ago discredited religion. Facts replaced faith. Superstition was gradually vanquished. That’s why Darwin’s explanation of man’s primate ancestry prevails over the allegorical story of Genesis. This is why the “big bang” is widely accepted as the source of the cosmos rather than the various myths of creation.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism claim to have no particular conflict with science, particularly in the areas of the origins of creation and the age of the universe – some billions of years. The Hinduism version of evolution agrees with the scientific theory that evolution moves from the simple to the complex and from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.
Religions Shift to Spirituality
In the past, religion in the western world had it’s own unshakeable wall that inhibited change. Roman Catholicism dominated Christianity for several hundred years and strong bureaucratic criteria governed the definition of truth, or “dogma”. Scientific evidence that showed the invalidity of any accepted belief had to first go through a rigorous process of religious acceptance. This process was shown to have failed in many instances – notably Galileo, who was forced to recant his evidence that the Earth was not a central point of the universe but revolved around the Sun. A formal apology was made only after several hundred years.
There are many instances of such failures in organized religions. With the ascendance of science to preeminence, religion was forced to shift its stance to tacit acceptance of proven science and has endeavored to move towards increased spirituality.
Science & Spirituality
The scientific and the spiritual have been the two great quests of humanity. The scientific quest is to discover order in the external world of space, time, energy and matter. The spiritual quest is to discover order in our consciousness. (5)
For some, the feeling has developed that science is antagonistic to spirituality. If it is going to win or even survive in this ongoing struggle, spirituality must first overcome a major disadvantage. It must go beyond the dependence on faith-based beliefs.
Reality is built up of both matter and consciousness. Reality is matter and energy; consciousness is a function of matter and energy, specifically in the brain. Science is trying to understand consciousness primarily through a study of the brain.
In 1996, shortly before his death, Carl Sagan explored the relationship between the scientific and the spiritual:
“In its encounter with Nature, science invariably elicits a sense of reverence and awe. The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging with the magnificence of the Cosmos. Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”
Does Spirituality Require God?
Ray Kurzweil, computer scientist, inventor, futurist, does not think that genuine spirituality requires an input from divine or supernatural agents interacting with the human mind? He points out that scientists now routinely regard neurological processes as operating at molecular levels, according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Brain, mind, behavior and personality are increasingly being understood and replicated without reliance on notions of non-material causation. Human spirituality is not obviously an exception to this process, any more than is consciousness. (6)
Kurzweil views God not as an extra-material factor but as a meme, a powerful thought-pattern in which people find many meanings. For him “God” symbolizes the ideal level of complexity, elegance, knowledge, intelligence, beauty, creativity, and love. He thinks that biological and technical evolution will continue advancing ever faster towards the understanding of spirituality.
Science and Religion are Stuck
For several hundred years now, since the rise of Science to preeminence, it has built a seemingly unshakeable wall around it. In my view, it has developed its own myopic creed. Any theory must be proved and the proof validated using accepted methodologies. “Show me evidence!” is the demand. (7)
It seems to me that science has lost the true purpose behind its search for truth. It still depends too much, in my opinion, on extrapolations of too rigid, conventional logic. I think it is important to consider a paradigm shift, driven by observations that do not conform to established scientific dogma.
Similarly, there is a wall around Religion. The thinking and methodology remain inflexible, in a completely detached, unconnected domain. People who believe in God accept that their belief is “faith based” and not subject to scientific proof. In opposition, scientists demand proof. With no verifiable evidence, scientists simply regress to skepticism.
My quest is to demonstrate that there is indeed a bridge, a realm between Science and Spirituality that can make a difference to our understanding of both. In my view, the links are through the human brain and mind. (8)
The workings of the human brain are still a relative mystery to science. There are more neurons in the brain than there are stars in the galaxy, and more than one million new connections occur among these neurons each day. The mechanics are becoming fairly well understood, but the knowledge is based merely on physical observations at a microscopic level; the explanations are merely empirical.
A huge amount of work is being done using functional and advanced anatomical tools, but there are still vast gaps of knowledge and understanding. No one has really explained the mechanics of the human mind. The scope of the challenge is awesome and, in my view, there is very little demonstrable progress. (9)
How can we proceed? Religion, Spirituality and Science are waiting for the gaps in understanding to be explained. If indeed there are demonstrable scientific results, the walls that have been built up over time immemorial will crumble. (10)
I need your help here. What’s your view about the gaps between Religion and Science? To begin, please answer some questions and proceed with your own suggestions.
- Are you atheist, agnostic or religious? Explain the difference between atheism and agnosticism?
- Is there a God? Can you provide your own definition?
- If you are atheist, how do you explain your belief beyond, “No one can prove there is a god, so there is no god”? Are you satisfied with that explanation?
- If you are religious, how do you explain your belief beyond, “faith-based”? Are you satisfied with that explanation? Is religion anything more than a set of rules?
- If you are agnostic, are you satisfied with simply not knowing?
- Is there a difference between religion and spirituality? Please explain.
- Is the Pinto Quest to find a bridge between Science and Religion reasonable?
- Please provide comments and suggestions to help with my quest.
- Library of World Religions and Faith Traditions: http://goo.gl/ESqEiL
- 7 Differences Between Religion And Spirituality: http://goo.gl/0bGmBn
- Physicist Ponders God, Truth and 'Final Theory': http://goo.gl/u65zac
- Are Science & Religion at War? http://goo.gl/6pg8cu
- War of the World views: Science vs. Spirituality: http://goo.gl/dHGsz6
- Evolution Is a Spiritual Process: http://goo.gl/qCJEly
- Stupidly stuck between religion and science: http://goo.gl/qRIxRr
- Science Vs. Religion: Beyond The Western Traditions: http://goo.gl/kvx6kt
- How Does the Human Brain Work and Produce Mental Activity? http://goo.gl/jnJemQ
- YouTube video - Science, Religion, and Spirituality: https://goo.gl/MU7Dda
8 June 2015
8 June 2015