Reconciling science and spirituality

Where lies the intersection between science and spirituality? As a former evangelical Christian who one day realized he no longer believed in God, I have struggled to define what spirituality means for me now. Can I in fact still call myself spiritual? Chris Mooney of Discover blog The Intersection answers this question eloquently in an article published in Playboy (warning: the online link includes erotic visuals), The Born Again Scientist.

People have asked me whether I am a rationalist. The term makes me uncomfortable because it discounts the sense of unspeakable wonder one feels when faced with the complexity, beauty and terror of nature. I have similar qualms about materialism. What we feel is just as important as what we know. Science might one day break the workings of the physical universe into a complete set of laws and equations, however I doubt that we can ever thoroughly understand our own personal or collective inner cosmos. If magic exists, it is here. True pilgrimage happens within.

I prefer the category of philosophical naturalism. One need not resort to supernatural explanations to insist that the human spirit transcends logic. Over millions of years this powerful, untamable experience has evolved naturally: intelligence, sensory complexity, love, and capacity for awe. This also gives clues to the basis of a morality: we owe sacred allegiance to the world which bore this richness.

2 thoughts on “Reconciling science and spirituality

  1. Van, I find your comments here so interesting and enlightening. I find many of my own thoughts reflected in your words – those ideas that float in our minds and are often difficult to express or define. I find it interesting that our similar religious backgrounds have caused us to ask so many similar questions. I echo your statement: ” What we feel is just as important as what we know”. I believe that being connected, or “in touch”, with what we feel has much to do with a sense of spirituality. Ironically, the evangelical world in which we both existed denied the validity of feelings and emotions, unless they were regimented by doctrine and dogma. I never really knew what it was to feel “spiritual” until I stepped out of that closed world and allowed myself to marvel at the open and tangible world that was all around me. I also echo your statement: “…the basis of a morality:we owe sacred allegiance to the world which bore this richness.” While in the religious world we use to ask, “What would Jesus do?”, we must now consider, “What does this universe need?”

    1. Jon, I’m glad this connects with you. Toward the end of my sojourn in the evangelical community I began to feel its limitations. I was intrigued by the various threads of religious mysticism, but it was hard to practice a naked, personal experience of the divine when no new revelation was permitted. With nature there are no rules about how I experience it, and I like that.

      This morning I read another essay that resonates: Mere science cannot account for beauty by Michael McCarthy.

      I have doubts whether the universe needs us. It will probably keep rolling on its course regardless of whether we wipe ourselves out or evolve into something different. I would frame the question this way: “How can we participate in this immeasurable creative potential?”

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