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