By Brian Davis
In light of the recent debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye on the origins of the universe, I thought it would be appropriate to address why I think science and spiritual practice are both vital in contemporary times. There is no doubting that the methods of empirical science have led to technological advancements that our ancestors would marvel at, and at the pace that technology is advancing, we can expect to stand in awe at our own innovations within our lifetime (some of us already do).
Yet, although modern science has enabled us to grow our population to exceed 7 billion, it has also led to the devastation of life on a scale never before known to man, and threatens the future of our species. It is because of these two extremes that I think science and spirituality must cross paths and become the driving force that shifts the paradigm of modern science into one of service.
During the creationism debate, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “If tomorrow we found out the true origins of the universe, whether it be by God or the Big-Bang, how would that change how people act today?” It was clear to me, when listening to the debate, that Nye’s interpretation of the past left room for a prime mover theory or an arbitrary origin theory, while Ham’s interpretation seemed firmly entrenched in knowing that God created the universe. However, given both of those stances on the past, how do each of these ideologies approach the present? It is my belief that both scientific and spiritual practice are necessary in today’s world if we are serious about tackling the problems that we face as a species.
The bottom line is that we can never know what it is like to be another person. We can be sure that we are having a subjective experience, but what’s it like to be somebody else? Your friends, family, acquaintances...what’s it like to be these people. Ultimately we will never know. I believe that, for this reason, spirituality is an extremely personal phenomenon. One person may have had an experience in which they saw God, and they see an interconnectedness in the universe clearly. They know, without a doubt in their heart, that God exists. Conversely, others may not have had the opportunity to indulge in such philosophical thought, and so they see no omniscient, omnipotent being in the universe. The point is that we cannot force another person to believe something as ambiguous as God.
What we must do, and this is where I think spirituality and science can merge, is acknowledge that each of us is having a unique subjective experience that skews our interpretation of physical phenomenon. We must take advantage of science in that it provides us with a method to test hypotheses while removing as much subjective bias as possible. We must remember the wise words of Francis Bacon when he said, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties”. The role of science is to guide us on our exploration of the cosmos to discovering certain fundamental laws that exist beyond the subjective, and even work to create our subjective experience, as we see in contemporary psychological and neuroscience research.
The role of spirituality is to serve as ethical guidance for the discoveries that science enables us to uncover. Spirituality allows us to acknowledge our common humanity by showing us the interconnectedness we share with all other conscious beings. This is not to say that those who are not spiritual cannot be ethical, or that to be spiritual you must believe in God; I am simply stating that, by acknowledging our similarities in the roles we all play as the collection of experiencers creating subjective meaning in this world, we allow ourselves to form stronger bonds and our actions are no longer arbitrary. Instead we act out of compassion for our fellow man and in the interest of the species and the preservation of the planet.
Ram Dass, a contemporary spiritual teacher and author, explains: “We’re fascinated by the words – but where we meet is in the silence behind them”. We engage in deep contemplation about what it means to be human and have conscious thought in order to allow ourselves to transcend the barriers that divide us, so that we might not feel so alone on this journey.