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Archive for July 2nd, 2012

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What is the relationship between science and religion?

Throughout history, and even now, the tension between them has been too much the characterization. The argument goes that science proffers testable hypotheses and the scientific method uncovers either support for that hypothesis or fails to do so. Religion, on the other hand, is discussed as wholly subjective, defined by untestable beliefs.

In establishing this dichotomy, a false one in my estimation, they are endemically at odds with each other. In today’s scientific and pseudo- scientific ethos, science is often deemed superior and more appropriate for our times. Religion, on the other hand, is portrayed by empiricists as a quaint remnant of pre-scientific explanation. Theists, on the other hand, see science with suspect eyes, arguing that it misses the deeper import of events and what it means to be. Both polar viewpoints are ill informed.

Fundamentalist science and religion are, indeed, at odds with one another. Both suffer the same problem: they proceed from a dogmatic position of what is true, right and knowable. I set aside fundamentalisms of all kinds as too narrowly constructed and thereby intrinsically fragile and lacking in merit. Those who subscribe to them are welcome certainly to their beliefs but it strikes me that such extreme positions render dialogue impossible, and creates a climate of mistrust, sterile bickering, and mutual claims about the inadequacies of the other. For me, such banter is a waste of energy and are, simply, uninteresting.

Instead, I live at the nexus between these two methods of knowing and both have much in common along with complementary differences. They need each other if the goal is agreed upon as a seeking after truth and a deep desire to get inside the ontological mysteries. Science speaks in the language of mathematics. Math is wholly based on certain assumptions and, while an invention of humankind, it is unusually powerful in unraveling the mysteries of the Cosmos. The scientific method then is brought to bear on predictions to apply critical tests. Yet, while we have seen convergent evidence of their existence, no one has ever seen, for example, a quark. In other words, we study the cumulative record. Having done so, new evidence may overturn, and often does, our most established interpretations.

Religion is also a cumulative record. Yes, it is a phenomenological one but this too is data. Seen through the lens of well reasoned theological discourse, it too makes predictions and offers interpretations. For example, in a universe that became conscious of itself, one can rightly posit that intelligence must be fundamental in its essence ( I.e., that it had a first cause). One need not resort to a simplistic Creationism that mangles good science to get there either. With the integrity of both science and theology left fully intact, one can catch inspiring glimpses of the heart of mystery.

To devolve to angry and oppositionally defiant atheism is to ignore experience and the universal sensibility of something greater than we that beckons. Such a retreat to mere science reduces matter, energy and space-time to mere objects of study rather than deep subjects with which to have a relationship. The result is spiritual reductionism and solipsism.

I am a scientist- theologian because as I study the one it informs the other. The reflections of science for me give rise to the meditations of spiritual practice. I delight in the online lectures such as those offered by the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in the UK Faraday Institute for Science and Religion that serve to elevate and poke our understanding.

When both scientific and religious discourse act with genuine humility, we can proceed boldly and with the spirit of the child into realms of deep wonder. May our eyes be opened to see the wider landscape that awaits us if only we get beyond the tyranny of methodological chauvinism.

Life is way too short to narrow one’s field of view.

© The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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My wife and I took in the new Marvel Comics Avengers movie last night. We both found it well written and very entertaining. Beyond the usual action packed and high tech cgi extravaganza that defines Hollywood these days, I was impressed with the subplot beyond heroes saving, as they always do, the Earth and humanity, either from itself or, in this case, from other alien invasions. That theme running throughout was the power of a shift from thinking about oneself to a consciousness revolving around the greater good.

The 21st Century already tells a story of human greed and it’s consequences:

* Wall Street profits while main street carries on in stress and anguish.
* Wealthy individuals and corporations unleash their resources in hopes of buying election results to shure up future fortunes while the middle class is bombarded by propaganda in hopes of having them vote against their own best interests.
* Healthcare for all is still debated as a privilege instead of a right.

Enter the Avengers, a group of larger than life super folk who are called upon to save the day but now as a team. They spend much of the movie infighting about who is really heroic. In the end, they act together and, in so doing, they evolve. They are transformed and their greatness comes from having each other’s back and shared sacrifice for the good of all. In order to take on evil they first need to get beyond their own ego, pride, and sense of singular purpose.

The message is a New Testament message cloaked in secular dress: We are each other’s keepers and we find our purpose more in serving others than in pursuit of our own sense of what we need do to feel special. Finding our ordinariness is the surer path to unleashing our inherent greatness. The other way around simply begets pomposity, arrogance, and self- inflation.

That Hollywood has produced this is less a testament to its wisdom and more a reflection of the Spirit moving within us. The archetype of the servant leader is resurfacing. It emerges in propitious and momentous times when the darkness is sold as if it is the Light and the true light is discussed as if anachronistic, a throw back to simpler and uninformed times. We hear a mantra from some that government is a business and needs to be run with attention, first and foremost, to the balance sheet.

I get all that but what about the soul of the Nation and it’s values. If we lose that we lose the Nation. Should we not instead slow down and ask ourselves: What point is there to government if it isn’t first and foremost about all the people. Why is caring portrayed as weakness and slashing budgets for schools and social services touted as wise and responsible conduct. Are we not sacrificing the long term for a short term and simplistic “fix”?

May we govern with a sense of the real gift of liberty: to empower the Nation by serving all and, by doing so, enable our true greatness.

Indeed, we need such a cadre of leaders who have the same spirit discovered, in the end, by the Avengers.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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