Saturday, November 27, 2010

Religion vs. Science vs. Spirituality: A Dialogue

Science: You are simply mythology, nothing more and nothing less. Stories told in ancient times for ancient minds.

Religion: Well, by all means, let's jump right into the discussion. I prefer to think that I am the bedrock of civilization. You, on the other hand, are just a means of knowing and manipulating the physical world. You can't offer answers to the real questions that I address.

Science: I have explained away all the myths you created to understand the world. I have explained how the universe was created, how life came to be, how humans arose, and how they have evolved over time.

Religion: You have just discovered some of the mechanism for how things happened. You still haven't explained why? You say the universe began with the Big Bang, but you can't tell us why.
Science: In time I'm sure I will figure it out.

Religion: Even if you do, you don't have anything to say about life as humans live it.
Science: I think I've had a great deal to say through psychology and sociology.

Religion: Again you're just watching and making guesses. You can't speak from authority.

Science: What possible authority can you speak from?

Religion: I speak with the authority of God.

Science: What God? Which one? You have so many religions, so many gods, and so many stories. They can't all be right. The Christian God is not the same as the Hindu gods, or the same as the Zoroastrian gods. And Buddhism doesn't even have a creator god.

Religion: Each religion speaks with its own authority.

Science: Then how can your religion be universal? You're admitting limits to your knowledge.

Spirituality: May I interject?

Science: Not if you're going to start in with that stuff about a perennial philosophy and a great chain of being.

Religion: What do you have against those?

Science: First, the great chain of being is based on faulty logic. Sure, you have matter giving rise to life and life giving rise to mind, but you can't just extrapolate mind giving rise to soul and spirit. You can see matter and life, and you can see minds, but you can't see spirit.

Spirituality: Exactly. Soul is an interior experience. And Spirit can only be experienced internally as well.

Science: Then how can you prove it?

Religion: You don't need to prove it.

Spirituality: Well, I disagree with Religion there. You prove it by experiencing it. How do you prove that you are dreaming? Or that you have a mind?

Science: With an EEG of your brain wave patterns.

Spirituality: And you can get an EEG of your brain when in deep ecstatic meditation.

Science: Which just proves that it's all in your head. Just like dreams.

Spirituality: No, it's all in your head period. The reason I brought up dreams is because even if you can see that someone is dreaming, you can't tell what they are dreaming. You have to rely on them to describe to you that interior experience. But you also have to rely on them to describe the way they perceive any experience. And a change in brain wave patterns only shows that all experience is interpreted through our minds.

Science: If I see a tree and you see a tree, we both see a tree.

Spirituality: Yes, but we both see the tree differently.

Science: But I can describe the tree in scientific terms with complete accuracy. In terms that are not dependent on internal experience.

Spirituality: But however you describe it, you have to interpret it internally. Why is it that two scientists can look at the same data and reach two totally different conclusions?

Science: You're talking about human fallibility.

Religion: That's the fallibility of science.

Spirituality: Fallibility is a good point. Karl Popper suggested that for a scientific principle to be held as accurate, that it must continue to be proven "not wrong." It is never accepted as gospel, but held in a suspension of fallibility, constantly checking it against the facts.

Science: Which is something that religion can't do. Your facts contradict themselves. Which proves them wrong.

Religion: You might make me concede that I'm wrong about how the universe began, or about evolution, but you can't prove that there isn't a God.

Science: And you can't prove that there is. Fallibility means that your proof must be consistently positive, and yet you haven't been able to muster a single positive proof for the existence of God.

Religion: I don't have to prove God. That's what faith is about.

Science: I can't accept faith as a way of engaging the universe. Fallibility means that I can't have faith in anything. It is all provisional. However accurate my theories may be, they might change. Newton thought he had the universe licked, then Einstein changed everything and now string theory may change it again. So, if I can't have total faith in something I can see and measure, how can I have faith in something I can't see?

Spirituality: But you can see it.

Science: Where? How?

Spirituality: Internally through meditation.

Science: Back to the internal.

Spirituality: And back to the perennial philosophy.

Science: How can you have a perennial philosophy when the religions don't agree?

Spirituality: The religions don't agree, the myths and rules and dogmas, but the mystics agree on the ultimate nature of reality.

Religion: I'm not sure. Christian mystics aren't saying the same thing as Buddhists.

Spirituality: They are both revealing a different perception of reality obtained through contemplation and meditation. And a close study of the world's mystic traditions shows that they unfold in deeper and deeper layers.

Science: It doesn't matter. It's all in their heads. The meditation changes the structure of their brains in ways that create the experiences.

Spirituality: The meditation does seem to change their brains; however, not in ways that create experience, but in ways that change their perception of experience. The same things happen as we grow from babies to adults. Our brain changes, and with it, our perception of the world. Mystics are doing the same thing.

Science: But it doesn't prove that there is a God.

Spirituality: It doesn't prove a creator, a single being or entity that is all knowing and all-powerful, no.

Science: So, no God, no religion.

Spirituality: No, you still have religion; you just don't have the myths or dogma. Mystics throughout the ages have been reporting a similar deepening view of reality through meditation. Ultimately they reveal a non-dual perception of the universe, of the universe as One, as Spirit, the Ground of All Being, and One without a second.

Religion: Which is God?

Spirituality: You can call Spirit as the Ground of all Being, God, but you can't personify it, because it is beyond personality. That's the whole point of transcending the ego-self. You have to get past your ego-self to see Spirit as the Ground of All Being. It wouldn't make any sense to then find another ego-self written large over the universe.

Science: But it's all in their heads.

Spirituality: Think of it as a giant long running experiment. Over a period of at least 2500 years people have been meditating and when adjusted for cultural differences, and for depth of experience, they all seem to be reporting similar changes in the perception of the nature of reality.

Science: But where's the control?

Spirituality: It's built in. The control is all the people who haven't been meditating.

Science: So, I'm just supposed to accept what these mediators say?

Spirituality: No. You can try it yourself. Like a good scientist.

Science: What about Religion?

Spirituality: Religion needs to try it as well.

Religion: Mysticism is for special people. For saints and sages. It isn't for everyone.

Spirituality: No, it is for everyone. That's the whole point behind Buddhism. It's a religion based on mysticism.

Science: Look, even if I try this meditation and it changes the way I see the universe that still doesn't change the fact that Religion can't describe the universe the way science can.

Spirituality: Right. Well, you're both going to have a problem with this, but here goes. Religion needs to let go of its myths and stories and dogma.

Religion: Assuming I did that, what do I have left besides morality?

Spirituality: You have me. Spirituality which is what you use to inform your teachings and your morality, instead of myths and dogma.

Science: So, you two need me, but I don't need you.

Spirituality: No, you need me as well. Spiritual science….

Science: There's no such thing.

Spirituality: And spiritual religion. Stop seeing us as three separate things. See us as interconnected. If you think of a spiritual worldview the same way you think of other worldviews, it will make sense. A group of scientists from 1850, 1900, 1950 and today would all have different worldviews that would inform their ideas of what science is. Each one is a little wider than the last. A scientist with a spiritual worldview will be wider still. Their science will encompass even more.

Religion: So, you're saying that religions, like science, need to be based on direct experience. If that direct experience agrees with science but not with scripture, then we have to change the scripture. And if that direct experience reveals a sense of the numinous, we need to acknowledge that this experience is available to everyone.
Spirituality: Exactly.

Religion: Then what is my role outside of mysticism?

Spirituality: The same as before, only now your authority comes from the individual's direct experience. You are the paths and practices that the individual can follow to this direct realization.

Religion: So the traditions that disagree on cosmology and mythology can agree on you, on spirituality?

Spirituality: They can, but they don't have to be in total accord. The variety that you offer is one of your strengths.

Science: All of this is fine and dandy for Religion, but what about me? How am I supposed to accept a direct experience of the numinous, of Spirit as the Ground of all Being, of something I can't measure if I can't describe it in the terms of science, with math and equations?

Spirituality: Well, you can measure your own experience and compare it to people who are also engaged in the experiment. As for math, what you're really talking about is faith and belief.

Science: Right. I can have faith in math, I can believe in the theories it proves, but how can I have faith in you or Religion?

Spirituality: Well, faith and belief are very intertwined. Basically there are four kinds of belief. The first is based on faith. We believe something because it is presented to us by someone we trust. Whether it's God or Spirit or quantum theory, if we believe it on the basis of someone else's authority, then it's faith. And there's nothing wrong with that. I don't have the math to understand quantum mechanics, so I have to take your word for it. The second kind of belief is based on supposition or hypothesis derived from observation. You look at the world and see a pattern and from that you extrapolate a supposition about something and your belief rests on that chain of logic. Your belief in the effectiveness of meditation could be based on the fact that it seems to have produced similar results repeatedly throughout history. The third kind of belief is based on direct experience; upon knowledge gained through the senses or by logic. My belief in the realities revealed by prolonged meditation are based on engaging in a daily practice. Your belief in the realities of Quantum Physics are based on learning the math, performing the equations, and trying the experiments that prove it. The last kind of belief is similar to the third, but it is based on direct experience or knowledge unclouded by the senses or logic. This kind of belief is only available to those who have such experiences.

Religion: Since you're explaining faith, what about prayer? What about faith and service in God?

Spirituality: Look, you can still pray to God, or the Goddess, or as many gods as you choose, but if you are immersed in a practice of transcending the ego-self, of stepping beyond separateness, beyond person, then you will eventually move on to worshipping Godhead, not God or Goddess, and you begin to see this in everyone, everything, not as some being outside you. Worship of a God or Goddess can be a very important stage on the path. You don't need to throw it out, you just need to eventually transcend it.

Religion: None of this is going to be an easy sell to my friends.

Science: You're friends will be more open than mine.

Spirituality: No, it won't be an easy sell, and it will take quite a bit of time, but it is possible. When Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity, physicists didn't immediately embrace what he was saying. Many of them continued to cling to a Newtonian view of the universe, and many clung even more tightly when Heisenberg came along and started making noises about his Uncertainty Principle. The same will happen again and it will be just as difficult for religion. But fortunately the nature of religion is to shift and change over time. What we really need are leaders who are willing to push for change.

Science: So, I guess there's a lot of work cut out for us.

Religion: Decades, even centuries worth.

Spirituality: Yes, but the whole point is that none of us have to do it alone. We can, and should, all work together. Our futures depend on it.

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