RECONCILING SCIENCE AND RELIGION (Part 1)

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According to historical tradition, western civilization began in ancient Greece when radical thinkers began to look for rational explanations of what they observed, rather than relying on invisible gods or demons. A line was thus drawn between two realms of life: the realm of matter and the realm of spirit.
 

The resulting rift between matter and spirit, which separates the mind from the body, and simultaneously isolates the soul from the physical world, is still the Central Dilemma of Western Civilization, and it is the chief cause of many modern circumstances of life. All the rifts and conflicts between scientists and theologians, believers and atheists, liberals and conservatives, east and west, and even between men and women, are in many ways a direct consequence of this fundamental conflict between what we today would call the ‘viewpoint of science’ and the ‘viewpoint of religion’.
If we wish to create a world of peace, compassion, and meaning, a reconciliation is long overdue.


The Realm of Religion, which in its broadest sense includes the invisible internal life of contemplation, emotion, faith, and philosophy, requires a connection with the exacting knowledge and rationality of science, and its associated life of action in the physical world. Without this connection, the mind becomes puerile, the emotions become sentimental, the individual becomes ineffectual (or worse, lunatic and dangerous), and culture becomes stagnant (or worse, fanatical and depraved).

The Realm of Science, on the other hand, which broadly includes the entire visible external life of nature, and, by extension, the life of action, politics, economics and technology, requires a connection with the religious realm of the spirit, the heart, the philosophic mind. Otherwise, science becomes merely the accumulation of facts without any meaning — a trivial and dangerous pursuit, which inescapably leads to apathy, cruelty, the destruction of the environment, an insipid consumerism, and all the inner emptiness that rots and impoverishes our lives and society.

In other words, the religious spirit needs material science, to become mature and useful. And the scientific endeavor needs religion, to become decent and intelligent. 

But all too often, we seem to believe that we have to make a choice between one or the other. This only leads to disaster.

For much of western history, the religious viewpoint of the Church completely dominated the human mind. There was certainly a great deal of beauty and magnificence during these centuries, from the art of Raphael and Leonardo, to the building of the Gothic Cathedrals, to the divine poetry of Dante. But we also know from history what a horrifying disaster this was: the stultifying of the human mind, the suppression of new ideas, the fanatical slaughters and witch-hunts and burnings at the stake. These were the terrible results of humanity choosing to focus on the realm of religion and spiritual belief while completely denying the importance of science, nature, and human reason.

Today, however, and during the past few centuries, the pendulum has swung completely, and we have been totally overwhelmed by the scientific point of view. This, too, has led to extraordinary and magnificent human achievement. Unfortunately, science per se can find no intrinsic meaning in the world. Why, for example, should light travel at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, and not some other speed? Why should objects attract each other with a force proportional to their mass? There is nothing inherently necessary or rational or meaningful about these natural laws

Even more importantly, a purely quantitative science contributes nothing to the great questions of human existence. Laboratory experiments can describe, but they cannot explain, all the complexity and miraculousness of life and consciousness. If the great human questions and issues still move us, we cannot turn to science for much help. This responsibility cannot be delegated. And anyway, answering these questions is not the job of science, any more than it is the job of religion to explain the intricate mechanics of a desktop computer.
But we do indeed live in a ‘Scientific Age’, in which everything, even our thoughts and feelings, are expected to be subject to scientific measurement and scientific analysis. This enormous encroachment of scientific methodology into all aspects of human life and experience, coupled with the spiritually barren assumption that all of Creation can be explained by mechanics, confers a dead, hollow universe.


Of course, none of us has ever experienced such a universe! We experience ourselves as emotional beings living in a colorful, fragrant, sensual Nature, and we experience purposefulness everywhere. Rather than trust our own experience, however, it is easy to succumb to the prevalent scientific insistence that everything, even the soul, is made of little material particles bouncing around according to the laws of motion, and anything else we think we experience is just our naive imagination. As Democritus of Abdera, the ancient Greek founder of the Atomic Theory, expressed it long ago, “A thing merely appears to have color, it merely appears to be sweet or bitter. Only atoms and the void have real existence.”

This, however, is a fantastic assumption! And it is an assumption which modern physicists themselves have clearly proven to be false. But for most of us, the stubborn viewpoint of classical mechanical science continues to hold sway, and even to tighten its grip on the human mind. And this leads us treacherously toward the belief that life is meaningless. For in such a world, as Alfred North Whitehead warned, “Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless, merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly.” 

This belittling sense of ultimate insignificance provides us with all the necessary groundwork for selfishness, boredom, hatred, servility, and fear. The consequences of meaninglessness are seen throughout that disintegration of human life and culture that is so pitilessly recorded in each morning’s newspaper. In a world in which faith has dimmed, in which conscience has succumbed to apathy, and where values are determined by fleeting fashion and whim, all the violence, the drug abuse, the environmental destruction, the hunger, and all the pervasive alienation, will easily continue unrestrained.

These critical problems which confront the human species can never be resolved merely by instituting new governmental policies, furthering economic growth, or awaiting future developments in technological science.

 

Our exaggerated reliance on these external saviors is a symptom of the problem itself. Politics, economics, and technology have a valuable place in our lives, and it is emphatically not my purpose to denigrate the accomplishments of science. But they are only truly valuable when they are ruled by men and women of conscience. When ethics and faith vanish, however, and conscience weakens and dissolves in a milieu of meaninglessness, then politics, economics and technology become the rulers, and we become their slaves. Thenceforward, they can only help us in that condescending way in which a master ‘helps’ a slave.

These are the appalling consequences of humanity choosing to focus on science while denying the importance of religion. Science must be informed by the spirit, in order to be intelligent and meaningful, rather than merely clever, utilitarian, and so frequently life-threatening.

So history has shown us clearly that we cannot live a decent, fulfilling, and purposeful life, unless we learn to balance and include both sides of this rift. 

But how can we successfully reconcile them together, and re-unite our contemporary scientific lives with a meaningful spiritual life?

COME BACK TOMORROW for PART 2, and MY Answer to this Question. In the Meantime, What is YOUR Answer?

Did you like this post? Or not? Please Leave a Comment and tell us what you think!

 
 
 

Pravin Waghmare says:

I think the first step is to be taken by Spirituality. Science already says that it takes no position on the existence of higher consciousness.
Spirituality generally comes with a lot of baggage of faiths, beliefs, rituals, mystecism, etc. Science looks at it as no appearent logical and rational base. Spirituality has to come openly forward with all questions open. It should explain its methods in logical and rational manner which is very much possible. Such approach would appeal to science.

Essentially, science & spirituality (separate & distinct from religion) ultimately end up in the same place but science (left brain) needs ‘proof’ to accept the results while spiritualists (right brain) rely more on an ‘inner’standing rather than an external truth. I believe the two will meet when our society becomes more right brain. I don’t believe the opposite is possible.

Marja says:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein
I can only try to answer your question from my personal experience. For me it is a life long development to combine the rational mind with my spiritual life.Once you develop more spiritually you start to integrate it more and more into all aspects of life. I think the best way to spread it is from person to person. I’ve seen here thanks to the earthquake that many people became more spiritual and connected to each other. Behind science are people I think for them it works the same.