A Meeting Place for Religion and Science – Ervin Laszlo

It’s time to use the power of the Internet to confront the two great strands of the modern world, the strands that scientist and novelist C.P. Snow called the “two cultures”: the scientific, and the humanistic. Must these two cultures run on separate tracks? Must they be at war with each other? Or could conflict shift to comprehension?

We are not talking about making science into a religion, or religion into a science. We are talking about finding the unity in diversity that’s basic for a healthy community.

Both religion and science are key factors of life in our communities. When HuffPost Religion launched, Paul Raushenbush wrote that “there is no question that religion plays a crucial role in how humans make meaning, create community, act politically, and find mandates for how to live a good life.” We can say the same thing about science. It, too, plays a crucial role in our life already because of all the science-based technologies we use. They shape how we live, what we consume, and what we want to — and can — achieve.

Both religion and science shape the way we see the world, and for that reason they shape how we act in the world. The great mathematician and philosopher Henri Poincaré pointed out that we all carry a view of the world in our head and act in light of it whether we know it or not. The trouble is that religion and science create different, and in some respects opposing, views. The time has come to look at these views and see whether their contrasts really are a chronic, irremediable cause for conflict. Conflict between religion and science is dangerous, for it rends asunder the fabric of society and can degenerate into violence.

Of course, there is not just one science worldview and one religion worldview but as many as there are science- and religion-minded people in the world. Yet there are some typical features of the individual worldviews, and these are useful when we try to compare them and seek to understand their agreements and disagreements. Take, for example, the typical worldviews of the following people:

* The classical scientist: The world, including all things and all people, is but a collection of bits of matter that move about in space, impacting each other. There is no meaning or intention behind this, it’s just the way things are. If you think differently, you only project your own subjective values and feelings into the objective, and objectively meaningless, world.

* The orthodox religionist: The world we experience is the work of a divine Creator. It’s not the entire world or even the highest world; it’s only the temporary world below, the precursor of the eternal world above. The earthly world derives its meaning from the will of its Creator, and human beings achieve their personal worth and ultimately gain their salvation by obeying His commands.

* The mystic: The entire world, with all things in it, is infused with spirit and consciousness. We are who we are, and everything is what it is, because of the divine spark we all embody. The entire cosmos is a whole and is holy in its entirety.

* The atheist: The only things that are real in the world are the kind of things that we see with our own eye and grasp with our own hand. The rest is just talk — illusion or wishful thinking.

* The new scientist: We can know the world by following the scientific method: codifying and quantifying the data of human experience and applying the laws of reason to them. This gives us a complex world furnished not only by what we can touch and see, but also by quarks, black holes, and quantum fields, things too small, too large, or too subtle to perceive.

The worldview of the classical scientist is that of Newtonian physics: the universe is a giant mechanism that runs harmoniously, if meaninglessly, through all eternity. It’s the view of most of the people who consider themselves scientific.

The worldview of the orthodox religionist is shared by the devout Christian, Jew, and Muslim. The world is the creation of a transcendent God and testifies to His omnipotent will and spirit.

The world of the mystic is the world of traditional peoples and Eastern religions. It’s a world infused by spirit and consciousness; all things are alive and everything that happens to them has deeper meaning.

The atheist’s worldview is clear-cut: only what we can see and touch is real, everything else is imagination or wishful thinking.

The new scientist’s worldview is in principle open to everything we can experience and to everything we can rationally derive from experience, as long as it’s verified by repeatable observation and controlled experiment.

These are the prototypes of the principal kinds of worldviews people espouse today, even if they don’t espouse them as cleanly and starkly as this. They line up along a scale with science on the one end and religion on the other.

The classical scientist is on the science end of the scale. He is in direct opposition to the orthodox religionist, who, particularly if he is a fundamentalist, is on the other end.

The mystic is on the religion side, but he is not at its end, for he is generally less explicit and dogmatic than either the classical scientist or the fundamentalist religionist.

The modern atheist is dogmatic on what he claims to be the side of science. He is opposed to all views that claim that reality has a higher dimension.

The new scientist should be open to all ways of thinking about the world but tends to disregard or dismiss ways that don’t measure up to his concept of sound knowledge.

What about you and me — what kind of worldview do we hold? Only you can answer the question regarding your own view. As to me, I need only to say that my worldview is aligned with the view of the new scientist (hopefully without the disciplinary blinders), and that, because I see the world as an integral, interconnected whole, it’s also compatible with the worldview of the mystic and of spiritual people in general.

Ervin Laszlo is currently leading the “Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality” on his website — a place where top scientists and renowned spiritual leaders search for ways to heal the gap between the two cultures by drawing on the latest findings of the sciences and the best insights of spirituality and religion. These posts will carry a logo with the legend “An invited contribution to the Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality.”

Advertisements

Bill Gates: How I’m trying to change the world now (includes the infamous mosquito release!)

Bill Gates hopes to solve some of the world’s biggest problems using a new kind of philanthropy. In a passionate and, yes, funny 18 minutes, he asks us to consider two big questions and how we might answer them.

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions

Best known as an outspoken atheist and the author of The End of Faith, writer-turned-neuroscientist Sam Harris has echoed the assertion, normally associated with religious thinkers, that humans need a universal system of morality. At the 2010 TED conference held last month in Long Beach, California, Harris claimed that there are definite right and wrong answers to moral questions. “Values are a certain kind of fact,” he argued.

However, Harris quickly rejected the notion that religion would offer the answers to moral questions. Instead, he argued for a scientific approach to achieving a universal morality, one that conceptualizes human well-being as something that can be quantified and maximized in any number of equally successful ways — much like health and nutrition.

He criticized the tendency to regard moral questions as matters of opinion rather than as questions that have scientifically verifiable right and wrong answers. “How have we convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere there is no such thing as moral expertise, or moral talent, or moral genius, even?” he asked. “How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count?”

“Just admitting that there are right and wrong answers to the question of how humans flourish will change the way we talk about morality,” he said.

Watch the entire talk below:

%d bloggers like this: