It is interesting that rigorous science is validating what many people have known for millennia – that prayer is good for you. This topic is the focus of this month’s Templeton Foundation Newsletter. TPF admits that: “With present scientific methods, at least, research into the effects of distant intercessory prayer is probably a scientific (and theological!) dead end.” But they are upbeat about, and funding, research demonstrating the prayer has positive effects on the health and well-being of the person who prays. As they conclude in the introduction, “Perhaps the billions of people who pray every day are on the right track toward an expanded knowledge of God — and growing in grace along the way.” This is wonderful, but should come as no surprise. As we discussed in a previous post, spirituality is innate, and spiritual practice is good for you!
Our world seems to be mired in anxiety and fear, and civic discourse has degenerated to accusations, outright lies and rhetoric. While we hear calls to “drain the swamp,” any common understanding of what that means, and a willing consensus required to achieve it, seems to eludes us. Perhaps we are looking at the situation from too narrow a perspective. It is not just our politicians that are lost in the marsh. It is our spiritual life, too.
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…)
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…)
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 list below is a small handful of sources dealing with an incredibly complex and evolving subject. The science of biology has exploded in recent years, as has the controversy associated with applying some aspects of the science to human issues.
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