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.
PJ Buehler and George Gantz:
The Opening Conversation: Swedenborg and Near Death Experiences
Several months ago, Peter Buehler and George Gantz began an exchange of emails, focused on the “Hard Problem of Consciousness.” While the thoughts expressed will hardly solve that problem, they may provide some insights that readers will find interesting.
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.
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