Seven years ago, the Swedenborg Center of Concord opened its online portal with a post entitled Integrating Science and Spirituality – Why is This Important? At that time, my assessment of the situation was that:
“Pre-eminent scientists… have felt compelled to attack all religion as irrational superstition. Many religious adherents have raised strident voices supporting biblical literalism and demeaning scientists’ claim to truth.” Gantz (2011)
In the years since, the public acrimony has, in my opinion, softened. I do not claim that this website and its 147 subscribers can take any credit for that, but we can take heart that progress has been made in healing the divisiveness and in recognizing the possibilities for integrating our scientific and spiritual understanding of the world and life. This post outlines some of the signs of progress.
Three Bridges West, a San Francisco film company, recently interviewed Gorge Gantz for a movie they are producing on the topic of Consciousness. This week they released a short video featuring his thoughts on the question “What is God?”
Yes, our world seems to be mired in anxiety and fear; and civic discourse has degenerated to accusations, outright lies, and rhetoric. We hear calls to “drain the swamp,” but it never seems to happen. Perhaps we are looking at the situation from too narrow a perspective. It is not just our politicians who are lost in the marsh; it is our spiritual life, too. That’s the message of “What Swamps Teach us About Spiritual Life,” which appeared this week in Swedenborg Foundation’s Spirituality in Practice blog.
The original version was published in this forum as What We Can Learn From Swamps: Stagnation, Entrenchment and Spiritual Renewal. The essay explores the correspondence of swamps in nature with the problem of psychological stagnation and economic and political entrenchment. The common thread connecting our negative image of wetlands, psychological stagnation, and societal entrenchment is this: when purity and freshness, in the image of clean water, does not flow in our wetlands, our personal lives and our civic lives, these systems cease to thrive and start to decompose and decay. As Ezekiel said millennia ago:
But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. (Ezekiel 47:11)
The same is true of our spiritual lives. If we close ourselves off to spiritual ideas, and the possibility of having spiritual experiences, then our spiritual life will be deprived of sustenance and will decay.” Without the water of spiritual renewal, meaning and purpose will no longer be present in our lives.
“It all ends where it begins: with the water of truth that is the source of life.” (essay conclusion)
This essay is a companion to an earlier essay, also republished by the Swedenborg Foundation, What Can We Learn From Fire: Ecology, Economics and Spiritual Growth.
George Gantz, founder and principal writer for The Swedenborg Center of Concord, has launched a new website and book project at www.spiralinquiry.org, dedicated to the exploration of science, faith and philosophy.
Excerpts from in his opening post:
“Knowledge is enhanced when we bring these three [science, faith and philosophy] together. They are symbiotic and reciprocal. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
“At the same time, we have to recognize that knowledge is empty unless it is put to a useful purpose. The pathways are many, but they all require effort and action dedicated to the goal of a life that is right and good. What motivates us along the path? The same force that flows, as cosmic intentionality, through the universe – the force of love.”
“The universe has given us life, beauty, joy and self-reflective consciousness – it has loved us. In turn, it is possible for each of us to reciprocate this love.”
The website will build on the enormous breadth and depth of material written by George for the Center’s website over the past six years. E-Publications of George’s prize-winning essays are available as well. His goal is to complete an initial book project bringing science, faith and philosophy together in a technically detailed, yet accessible volume in the next two years. The success of Spiral Inquiry is a key milestone on that journey.
The Social Conquest of Earth (2012) by preeminent entomologist Edward O. Wilson is a marvelous and deep work by a master scientist and storyteller that documents the evolution and advancement of humankind through the intertwined processes of individual and group selection. However, for me the work is marred by a dogmatic anti-religious bias that belies Wilson’s own commitment to dispassionate inquiry. Wilson moreover fails to acknowledge the hard limits to scientific knowledge and understanding – limits that can only be crossed by transcendent forms of understanding which empirical study cannot provide. (more…)
Explaining the Puzzles of Physics – a response to Michael Shermer (Scientific American, May 2012, p.86)
The field of Physics has been confounded for nearly a century with intractable puzzles. It is also rife with contention between religious and atheist points of view, with both sides claiming proofs, or more precisely, un-proofs, for their points of view. A recent example is Michael Shermer’s “Skeptic” column in the May 2012 Scientific American, titled “Much Ado about Nothing”. Mr. Shermer borrows his title from Shakespeare’s romantic farce, a remarkably apt context for his article, but he is apparently oblivious to the irony. (more…)
I have recently come across several pieces from scientists skeptical of religion suggesting that they are coming to see significant benefits to both individuals and society of religion. Religious people tend to have higher self control, they are more trusting, and they are happier, than people who are not religious. So, is this benefit the gift of a divine being, or is it an emergent property of a non-conscious evolutionary selection process? (more…)
This week the EconTalk podcast featured a discussion on whether economics, with its limited predictive capabilities, can be classified as “science”. I found the exchange (between Alex Rosenberg and Russ Roberts) to be wide-ranging, interesting and very perceptive, but I was disappointed that both missed the mathematical dimension to the issue of predictability.
By Justin Junge
Note: For a recording of Dr. Junge’s presentation on June 6, 2011, please visit the New Church audio website at this link.>
Imagine that a scientist could acquire a detailed map of every atom in your brain at a given point in time, clustering these atoms into active chemicals, cells (neurons), connections, and other groups of matter relevant to brain function. (more…)
By Reuben P. Bell, DO, MS, MDiv
The dialogue between science and religion has reached an impasse over the claims by some scientists that certain biological structures or processes are just too complex to have come about by the mechanism of Natural Selection as set forth in the doctrines of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis (the marriage of Darwinian theory with modern genetics). (more…)
On May 2, 2011, about 20 participants joined a lively discussion on the difficult question of how we determine that something is “true”. This included an exploration of gaps in the ability of science and math to prove beyond doubt that something is true, and reflections on whether science and religion are distinct areas of inquiry or whether there are ways these spheres of understanding can inform and support each other. Many topics for potential future consideration were identified. (more…)
The following is a comment posted April 24, 2011, (on scientificamerican.com) in reply to a Commentary titled “Trust Me, I’m a Scientist”, in the May 2011 issue of Scientific American by Daniel T. Willingham. (more…)
I was recently explaining the Concept of ISAS to someone who said, “oh, like God of the Gaps.” I later took a quick scan of the postings that showed up on a web-search and confirmed that this is another buzz-word mine-field, treating science and spirituality like battlefield competitors. In contrast, ISAS is based on the concept that science and spirituality belong together – complementary rather than antagonistic. (more…)
The materialistic worldview espoused by some scientists excludes the possibility of a spiritual reality. Most theologians, on the other hand, believe natural and spiritual realities coexist. This may explain the hostility some scientific writers express towards religious beliefs – it may also affect their science….
This list includes a variety of useful resources on the science-religion debates. It is not, by any means, exhaustive, as a google search on the topic will demonstrate. As I come across additional materials, the list below will be updated.
Over the past four hundred years, the scientific mode of understanding the world has achieved remarkable success. The technologies that have grown from scientific inquiry have propelled the human race into a prosperity and superfluity that would have been unimaginable to anyone living in a pre-industrial society. The resulting credibility gave science an authoritative claim to being the truth about the world.
One might wonder why any alternative claim to truth, such as through religious experience or revelation, could survive. Yet religion has survived, and in many ways has flourished. One reason is that science has generally not claimed to be able to answer all questions about human life – including the questions of where the world came from and why we are here. Another reason is that science has been inadequate in dealing with our conscious, emotional and creative experience. However, religious ideas have, with few exceptions, ceded considerable territory to scientific ones in these four centuries.
In the past few decades, the uneasy truce between science and religion, if there was one, seems to have broken. Pre-eminent scientists such as E.O. Wilson, Stephen Hawking and others, have felt compelled to attack all religion as irrational superstition. Many religious adherents have raised strident voices supporting biblical literalism and demeaning scientists’ claim to truth – enough of them serve on local school boards to significantly influence the teaching of science in public schools.
The stridency and bitterness of these exchanges are of significant concern and undermine critically needed civil discourse on the ideas and changes that are shaping our lives. In contrast to the public squabbling, the common sense view of most people is that scientific and spiritual modes of understanding the world are both valid and do not contradict each other. And fortunately, this topic has been getting increasing attention by writers, thinkers, scientists, theologians and the media in recent years. In fact, the literature on efforts to understand and explore the interface of science and spirituality has been exploding.
As someone who is steeped in mathematics, science and philosophy, I do believe that science is valid and that the scientific endeavor has brought incredible benefits to human life and transformed our understanding of and relationship to the natural world. However, the history of science also shows that scientific knowledge evolves over time. Time and again, scientists over-reach the actual results they have observed – and their conclusions are reversed or amended by the next generation using better tools and more refined theories.
At the same time, my experience in life has reinforced my belief that there are spiritual truths that transcend the limitations of the natural world. This spiritual knowledge is critical to our choices about how to live and how, ultimately, to be happy. We engage in the process of understanding spiritual truth in very different ways than we do scientific truth. This does not mean that either mode of knowing is invalid.
So how do we integrate our scientific and spiritual understanding of the world and our life in the world? Are they dealing in totally separate realms of knowledge and, as a result, they do not and should not intersect? Or are there possibilities for integrating the two modes of understanding – can they be complementary? And if so, what can we gain in our spiritual inquiry from an understanding of science – and, correspondingly, what can we learn about science from our understanding of spiritual truth?
That is the purpose of the ISAS Forum. I invite you to help me find answers to these questions. Please post your thoughts and reactions to what I and others have to offer. Together, perhaps, we can hope to influence the course of the ongoing debates and make a positive contribution to human understanding.
Thank you for your interest. George Gantz