Science And Religion
How many of us would like for science and religion to reconcile with each other? If you practice a particular religion, wouldn’t it be great to know that your scriptures and the world’s scientific theories weren’t at odds with each other? And if you’re not religious, wouldn’t it be nice to know that the “believers” around you weren’t totally crazy? When thinking about our own views on science and religion, how many of us experience cognitive dissonance; the mental stress and discomfort that comes from holding contradictory beliefs and ideas? We hear and read narratives in our faith traditions, while we’re educated in the scientific method and study the discoveries of contemporary times. These advances make our technologically sophisticated civilization possible. But what about the ancient stories of our religious traditions? Are they still valid in the face of modern knowledge? Can you be both educated and religious?
I believe it’s possible if we view our scriptures as a kind of poetry, that points to concepts that are hard to describe with words. Karen Armstrong said this beautifully in her autobiography, The Spiral Staircase. Enlightenment thinkers were right to oppose superstition, and put their trust in the scientific method. But superstition and religion are not necessarily the same thing. While many see religions as competing belief systems, religious practice can be about a way of being in the world — a “science of consciousness,” as Marianne Williamson said. With new discoveries every day, I think science and religion are actually moving closer to each other. The great split in our Western culture that started with the Age of Enlightenment is being slowly healed. Theoretical physicists often talk in poetic language to describe new theories about the universe.
The God Particle
Physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider on the French/Swiss border confirmed the Higgs particle in 2013. Some have referred to it as “the God particle.” This is proof of a force they believe pervades all of space, the Higgs field. It imbues fundamental particles with mass. Without it, nothing could exist. But we can’t “see” it, we can only detect it by measuring slight fluctuations in super collider collisions.
Conventional theories suggest four fundamental interactions: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear; each understood as the dynamics of a field that has a source. Yet unlike these other fields in physics, the Higgs field has a physical reality at every point in space even without a source to generate it. The entire universe is saturated with the Higgs field all the time everywhere, yet we can only confirm it in a super collider. This reminds me of a quote from Hebrews 11:3, “For by faith we understand that the worlds were fashioned by the word of God, and these things that are seen came into being out of those things which are unseen.”
Albert Einstein once said, “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself (or herself) in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds.” Compare his comment with this quote from Acts 17:27 “So that they would be seeking and inquiring after God; and they may find him by his creation…”
Check out this video for a more understandable and poetic way of explaining the Higgs field (kind of like a parable)…
Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Psychiatry and neuroscience are also confirming that the intuitions of our religions are correct. Not the literal, fundamentalist view of religion; but the intuitive, gnostic way of being and knowing.
Psychiatrists tell us that when we are born, we experience the world as one. Our young minds don’t process the information from our 5 senses the same way as our adult brains process sensory information. A baby has to be taught about edges, that forms have individual identities, and that we are separate from each other. Many parents experience this separation process as the “terrible two’s.” The time when a baby’s consciousness splits off from its mother and its ego starts to develop. The ego is necessary for physical survival and socialization, but becomes a cage later in life. Which is why Christians talk about the need to be “born again” and Buddhists refer to developing a “beginners mind.”
Neuroscientists tell us about the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The right being the creative, unitive processor; the left being the logical, linear processor. We need and use both, with some of us relying on one side more than the other. In the Tao Te Ching, these attributes are referred to as yin and yang. And ideally they should be in balance, Ch’i.
Here is a 19 minute video of a TED talk by brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor. She talks about consciousness, the left-right structure of the brain, and a spiritual sense of oneness…
Unitive Consciousness: Once a Man, Twice a Child
The first half of our life is the building up of our ego. The second half of our life is the breaking through of our ego. Essential for our early survival (much like the egg is to the bird), our egos must later be cracked in order for our inner spirit to fly. For that to happen, we must experience the pain of living. But this pain is not suffering for the sake of suffering, rather it is suffering for the sake of transformation. Our cage has to be rattled so we are no longer comfortable. Our assumptions about who we are and the world must be challenged.
We have three choices about pain in this life. We can try to avoid it, we can try to deny it, or we can let it transform us. The avoidance and denial of pain is usually accomplished by diversions and addictions. Accumulating more than one needs, eating and drinking too much, working and partying too much, climbing social ladders; craving more and more of what doesn’t heal us or satisfy our real hunger. This is why the Buddha recommended the Middle Path. And also why the Bible warns, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The rich man, like the bird in the gilded cage, never learns to fly.
Or we can let our pain transform us. In that space of unease, we take our first steps across a threshold. Leaving our ego’s cage, we fall through the darkness and discover our true self, our soul. And then, with our newly discovered selves we can rise into the light of unitive consciousness. This falling and rising is called the Pascal Mystery in Catholic theology. By falling, we find out who we are and our unique purpose (where the world’s needs and our deepest desires meet). By rising we rediscover our connection to each other and the world. This re-cognition of unitive consciousness (our second childhood) is our glimpse of Nirvana or Heaven.