Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mind vs. Spirit

Many people in our culture and throughout the world believe there is a war between religion/spirituality and science/logic.  

Intellectuals can often be dismissive of religion.  And whether it's conservative Christians on the right or new age idealists on the left, many religious people view intellectualism and academia with fear and distrust.  They belief that science attempts to disprove the existence of God.  And people like Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss,contend that it already has.

I know there are a lot of people in the Western world who don't fully buy into the conclusions of either side.  But I haven't found many examples of the divide being bridged.  Maybe people are avoiding the cognitive dissonance of engaging the two sides simultaneously, or maybe those that have figured it out are getting stifled out of the conversation by the polarization.

I agree with all premises and arguments made by the intellectual side of the debate.  But despite those positions, I don't agree with the conclusions that God's nonexistence is proven (or imminently will be) nor that spiritual practice is a useless delusion.

You've probably read about primitive people who believed that thunder and lightning were evidence of angry gods.  Today, even staunch religious believers find this idea quaint because we know lightning is caused by static energy in the atmosphere.  Nonetheless even liberal religious people today continue to use the same process of reasoning.  For example, they assume that life could not have spontaneously arose without God, because they can't imagine another explanation.

And right there is the biggest piece of the problem.  Religious fundamentalists and hardcore atheists actually agree on one fundamental premise.  They share the belief that a (or even the) primary function of religion is to explain the phenomena of the world   I won't be the first to argue against the premise, but no one in the public debate is challenging it.

I was watching a Steven Hawking documentary where he implied that God does not exist, when he said that science has no need for God when explaining how the universe works.  But I realized, if you don't defer to religion for its explanatory function, then Hawking's statement can be accepted, without any offense to religion.  Christian theologians who understood science defended religion by explaining that the God they believe in is not the God of the gaps.

Scientists ask how things work, not why.  "Why" is about purpose and value, and that's the realm of religion.  Virtually everyone agrees that science should never even attempt to answer"why" questions.  So why is it so difficult to think that religion should stop answering "how" questions?  If it does stop, the conflict between religion and science pretty well evaporates.

What about Genesis?  Every religion I've heard of has an origin story that explains how the world began and how people came to be.  Does this perspective mean it's all bullocks?  Not necessarily.  As I've learned from Joseph Campbell, religious and mythic stories and texts were never meant to be interpreted literally.  He's not claiming that there was a time when literal interpretation didn't occur.  But I'm learning that myths can reveal things that are spiritually or psychologically valid, even if they are empirically false.

I've heard people of various religious backgrounds say, 'we are all children of God.'  Do they mean that God actually gave birth to each of us or that God literally inseminated our respective mothers?  The question is absurd.  We all intuitively understand that they are speaking of spiritual truth, not empirical truth.  Even a hardcore atheist who disputes the validity of the statement understands that it speaks to a non-empirical realm.

So I've learned to expand that perspective to all religious texts.  When reading religion or spirituality, I don't ask "does this seem empirically true?"  Rather I ask, "is it useful, or does it offer insight?"

Thank you for reading.  Use the comment tool to post any thoughts or questions.  And please share my blog with others who might find value in it.  May you be well and happy.


  1. On an interesting side note, I cobbled together the brain and Bible image up top myself, because when I did a Google search trying to find something like it, I did not find anything. Everything I found was a snarky comment by one side against the other. I hope my blog will insert a bit of Metta and mutual understanding into the discussion.

  2. Nice read Andy. I love this topic. I worked at Science Central for a couple of years and was amazed at the number of times I'd find myself confronted with a overly zealous christian parent. I finally came up with this one:

    The universe can be thought of as the language of God (et al.) and science is the way we try to understand that language.

    It's a work in progress, what I found interesting is it calmed even the most radical anti-science fundamentalist down. I never debated, I always looked to the person in love, then drew them a bigger circle and included All. :-)

    Einstein did some writing on this topic, he was a very spiritual scientist. Love Einstein, he was definitely a person who was awakened to a greater reality.

    Joseph Campbell believed we needed a new myth, a new way of understanding our new, and, thanks to science, ever changing place in reality Mind vs spirit (logic vs belief) is one of the things I believe that myth needs to resolve.

    Thanks for the good read!