Friday, October 1, 2010

Science and Spirituality (1 October 2010)

"Does a scientific explanation of the world diminish its spiritual beauty? I think not. Science and spirituality are complementary, not conflicting; additive, not detractive. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality. Science does this in spades."
-        Michael Shermer Why Darwin Matters (2006)

“Science, like painting … has a higher aesthetic.  Science can be poetry.  Science can be spiritual, even religious in a non-supernatural sense of the word.” (27)
-        Richard Dawkins A Devil’s Chaplain (2003) 

These quotes say something that I am always trying to say; often meditating on—and seeking to understand.  They allude to a relationship between science and spirituality that is often overlooked, if not obscured, by our culture's biases.  There is a bridge between science and spirituality; each area of human endeavor can inform and guide the other.

As we explore the universe and the world around us in ever greater depth and particularity via the sciences, this question of the relationship between science and spirituality needs to be brought more to the fore, especially if we are eventually going to grow out of superstition and supernaturalism and get existentially grounded in the world as it is; not as we would simply like it to be.

The idea that science somehow diminishes our existence; that it 'robs' us of what is most important to us, seems to me to be the whining of those who are coming out of the closeted aesthetic and experiential existence that so often characterizes a religious or ideological worldview into the wider, brighter world that is our common home.

Of course, science will wreck any claim to truth that is inconsistent with what we are actually able to demonstrate to be true about the universe, ourselves and our world.  Such truth is based on empirical evidence and the extrapolations from evidence that ground the theories that the sciences have been able to construct and solidify through decades of research, observation and experimentation.

Certainly, for those who have lived within the ghettos of supernaturalist belief that are so characteristic of religion and ideology, it is quite a shock to realize that the world is not the way you once thought it was (I experienced this 'shock' myself, when I first turned from religious worldviews to a scientifically grounded one).  There can be a 'come down' off of imagined aesthetic, emotional and intellectual heights, as you leave the narrow confines of religious and ideological worldviews behind; yet this is but a temporary condition, at least for those who push on into the wondrous depths that the sciences offer up for meditation and reflection!

If spirituality is an affirmation of life and a search for ways to better live life; to develop practices, rituals and stories that engender wonder and lead on to self-realization, then science is certainly, as Shermer and others have said, a boon to spirituality; science and spirituality feed off of one another, each inspiring the other—ideally if not always actually. 

The quest to understand ourselves through what science is revealing to us about our biology and our place in the natural environment deepens the earthen seeker, and leads on, potentially, to wisdom (i.e., that kind of knowledge that enables us to best live life as the kind of beings that we are).  Spirituality grounded in science leads to awe and wonder _and to the discovery of the nature of what-is, and results in new 'highs' – emotional, aesthetic and intellectual – that embellish our worlding and inspire us once again to epiphanies; this time genuine ones not rooted in illusion and superstition.

The world as revealed by science is a beautiful, awesome; and it takes a lifetime to appreciate it.  _For this reason, and many others, science is a boon to spirituality. 

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