Tuesday, June 16, 2015


                       I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction 
                 that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed 
                 insufficient for that day.
                                                                                                                  Abraham Lincoln

Reasons for Prayer

Prayer (from the Latin precari "ask earnestly, beg, entreat") is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with something or someone through deliberate communication. (1)

Prayer may be religious practice, though not necessarily so. It may be done privately and individually, or it may be done in the presence of fellow believers. It may involve the use of words, songs and music, or complete silence. It may be prepared or spontaneous. People pray for personal reasons, or on behalf of others.


Many anthropologists think that the earliest intelligent humans practiced a form of prayer. Today, most major religions involve prayer in one way or another. Some ritualize the act of prayer, requiring a sequence of actions or restrictions on whoever is praying. Others consider that prayer may be practiced spontaneously by anyone at any time. Some think prayer is simply being reverent and paying attention to the marvels of nature. (3)

Prayer is a centerpiece of today’s major religions. Prayer networks and prayer requests can be found in multitudes across the World Wide Web. Observant Muslims say five daily prayers, and devout Jews have even more.


There are different forms of prayer – petition, supplication, thanksgiving, or praise. It may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or a spiritual idea, for the purpose of worshipping, requesting guidance or assistance, confessing transgressions, or to express one's thoughts and emotions. (2)

There are those who take prayer very seriously and practice it like an art. There are people who use it for healing, people who do it casually. Some people make a living studying it.

There are prayers to fit specific occasions, such as the blessing of a meal, the birth or death of a loved one, other significant events in life, or days of the year that have special significance. 

Prayers may be recited from memory, read from a book of prayers, or composed spontaneously as they are prayed. They may be said, chanted, or sung. They may be with musical accompaniment or not. There may be a time of outward silence while prayers are offered mentally. Prayer can be incorporated into a daily "thought life". Some people pray throughout all that is happening as the day progresses. 


There are many different postures for prayer – standing, sitting, kneeling, lifting hands, looking upward, bowing down, and placing the head between the knees.  The origins of many of these were the positions taken by supplicants before royalty. (4)

Some people consider that physical positions prepare one for prayer, usually individual preference. Contemporary attitudes consider prayer as less a physical posture and more an attitude of the mind. Gandhi said, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”


Prayer taps into the same neurological pathways that meditation uses. It produces a peaceful feeling. Some think that prayer asks that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of the petitioner. Sometimes people seem to come up with a prayer technique that appears to bear results – in wellbeing, or stress relief. (5)

While some claim that prayer helps people to get in touch with the supernatural, today psychologists and physiologists think that results are based on the way brains work – nothing supernatural needed.

There are benefits in the act of praying which have been clearly acknowledged by physicians, psychologists and philosophers in countless writings over centuries.

Prayer slows the mind, calms the spirit, and centers the heart. It removes the mind from the constant changes and allows focus on something greater and more important. It calls for connection with desires and values.

Prayer offers all the benefits of solitude with an added dimension – asking for things that are the most important, the deepest values. True prayer provides focus on families, friends, health, significance, and the greatest ambitions.

Atheists and Agnostics pray

Many think that prayer is religious, or spiritual and therefore atheists or agnostics cannot pray. But many do indeed feel a deep spiritual connection with nature and see themselves as "spiritual but not religious." (6)

Some atheists and agnostics pray often. They may have is a feeling of awe, a sense of peace brought on by nature, a moment of transcendence in the presence of music or art, or perhaps simply a moment of felt stillness. Their prayers might also be an overflowing of gratitude, a shout of joy brought on by being alive, a moment of connection with another’s pain. Or, they could also be cries for help from people who can’t help crying out even though they don’t think anyone hears. Or they just voice their pain because that’s what people do. (7)

Outside of Self

Prayer is any kind of thought that addresses something outside of Self.  It’s a subtle but powerful shift in thinking mode. With prayer, people may feel relief at not having to work things out alone. It is often effective. (8)

Many people have experienced that through prayer, the subconscious mind provides answers, sometimes within minutes.  If praying for the well-being of someone, a way to help that person might occur – perhaps a remedy that could help, or a book that might help, or maybe help more directly with time, money, advice. Some claim to have evidence that these practices can cause a lot of different changes throughout the body, which could have a healing effect. (9)

My Prayers

I was born and brought up as a Catholic and today I am spiritual, not religious. The Our Father has always been my primary prayer. When I was floating over the forest on a zip line in Costa Rica that was the prayer I said spontaneously. When I stepped devoutly into the waters of the Ganges in India that was the prayer I recited.

At 77, I’m blessed with good health, a loving family and good friends. I live in Carlsbad, California, directly on beautiful Carlsbad beach. enengageI sit on my balcony watching the waves and listening to the sounds of seagulls, with processions of pelicans passing, sometimes seals and spouting whales in the distance. For me, the sounds of the ocean reflect the voice of the Infinite. I pray a hundred times a day, giving thanks for my health, happiness, the people, love and joy in my life.

Andrea Bocelli & Celine Dion – The Prayer

With this essay on prayer, I must mention one of my favorite songs – The Prayer, sung by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. Whenever we have a quiet moment, we listen to Bocelli and end with this beautiful song. There are many Youtube links to Bocelli and Dion performances. I’ve chosen one, which allows you to listen to the song with lyrics and thoughtful pictures.

Let’s Engage

Please share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog.

  1. Are you religious? Agnostic? Atheist?
  2. Do you pray? How do you pray? How often?
  3. Are your prayers directed to God? Or something else?
  4. Do your prayers always ask for something? For yourself? For someone else?
  5. Do you say prayers of thanks?
  6. How does prayer help you?
 Add comments, ideas and suggestions.



  1. Wikipedia on Prayer: http://goo.gl/uVuMeS
  2. Prayer and Forms of Prayer: http://goo.gl/LNR4KX
  3. Origins of Prayer: http://goo.gl/nFy1oH
  4. Is there a correct posture for prayer? http://goo.gl/Ysj2Ig
  5. What Happens to Your Brain When You Pray? http://goo.gl/y3N2BI
  6. Do You Need to Believe in God to Pray? http://goo.gl/X4Jv82
  7. Some nonbelievers still find solace in prayer: http://goo.gl/4xUCLt
  8. Letting Atheists Pray, Too: http://goo.gl/RH87fg
  9. What is a humanist alternative to prayer? http://goo.gl/NGV5zc
  10. My favorite – Andrea Bocelli & Celine Dion – The Prayer: https://goo.gl/1OVlWw

Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA.
16 June 2015

Monday, June 8, 2015

Science vs Faith

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.

Religious Traditions

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.

Religion & Spirituality

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.

Pinto Quest

Religionists explain the valid questions raised by science’s unsolved gaps by terming their beliefs
“faith-based”. Somehow, I’m not satisfied with that explanation. Scientists dismiss “faith-based” as quirky and not subject to any kind of scientific validation.

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)

Please Engage

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.

  1. Are you atheist, agnostic or religious? Explain the difference between atheism and agnosticism?
  2. Is there a God? Can you provide your own definition?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. If you are agnostic, are you satisfied with simply not knowing?
  6. Is there a difference between religion and spirituality? Please explain.
  7. Is the Pinto Quest to find a bridge between Science and Religion reasonable?
  8. Please provide comments and suggestions to help with my quest.

  1. Library of World Religions and Faith Traditions: http://goo.gl/ESqEiL
  2. 7 Differences Between Religion And Spirituality: http://goo.gl/0bGmBn
  3. Physicist Ponders God, Truth and 'Final Theory': http://goo.gl/u65zac
  4. Are Science & Religion at War? http://goo.gl/6pg8cu
  5. War of the World views: Science vs. Spirituality: http://goo.gl/dHGsz6
  6. Evolution Is a Spiritual Process: http://goo.gl/qCJEly
  7. Stupidly stuck between religion and science: http://goo.gl/qRIxRr
  8. Science Vs. Religion: Beyond The Western Traditions: http://goo.gl/kvx6kt
  9. How Does the Human Brain Work and Produce Mental Activity? http://goo.gl/jnJemQ
  10. YouTube video - Science, Religion, and Spirituality: https://goo.gl/MU7Dda
Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA.
8 June 2015