Can Science and Religion Save Each Other? (Part 2)
by Deepak Chopra, MD
Science is used to being dominant, and religion is used to being defensive–these are familiar poses for two worldviews, the one being on the rise, the other on the decline. Generally when an entire belief system is on the decline, it steadily disappears. There’s no need to believe that the king’s touch can cure disease once modern medicine appears, and no need for bleeding to be a medical practice when its usefulness is experimentally invalidated. But the model of progress that substitutes automobiles for horse-drawn carriages doesn’t apply to religion. It may lose adherents who accept the argument that scientific rationality is superior to faith. The values of modern secular society are constantly on the rise.
Yet no matter how far science rises, no matter how convincing rationality appears to be, the triumphs of science do not spell the end of religion–quite the opposite. As we saw in the first post of this series, science may need religion to avoid a dead end, and religion may need science to reinforce its cherished beliefs. The reason for this unexpected turn of events is reality itself. Reality has two components, the physical creation and the domain that lies outside the physical creation. By defining only the former as real, science has made enormous progress. Religion, whose specialty has always been the invisible, transcendent realm beyond the stars, lost its claim to be about reality.
But then science found itself stuck–as it remains stuck today–when it reached the limit of what physical investigation can discover. Physical investigation cannot tell us where time and space came from, or what preceded the Big Bang, or how mind and brain are connected. It cannot describe where thoughts come from, or how memories are stored and retrieved, or even what the nature of consciousness is. The fact that the human brain can produce the perception of a three-dimensional world is as utterly mysterious today as it was to the ancient Greeks.
Let’s say that a scientist, speaking candidly and off the record, acknowledges that progress on all these fronts has been stymied (the standard line in science stubbornly insists that if we just wait long enough, answers will be forthcoming without altering the same method that has yielded no answers so far). Assuming that one can find such an obliging, candid scientist, he might say something like the following: Yes, examining the physical world has reached its limits or soon will in the foreseeable future. There is something that lies beyond the physical universe, a pre-created state that gives rise to time, space, matter, and energy. But why should we turn to God for the answers? It’s not as if religion has been a progressive force or a reliable source of knowledge.
The objection seems valid as applied to conventional organized religion, which lays no claim to explaining reality according to the standards laid down by science. That’s why it needs rescuing as much as science does. Modern secular society isn’t going to accept faith as a justification for God. Half of reality, the physical half, has so dominated our attention that the other half, the transcendent, has withered into amorphous vagueness. God doesn’t need rescuing, but our mindset about the transcendent does. Therefore, if an obliging, candid scientist questions whether the religious worldview can possibly help science out of its current dilemmas, here are some valid reasons.
1. The pre-created state isn’t open to physical investigation because it isn’t physical. Another mode of investigation must be developed, and such a mode exists in the world’s wisdom traditions.
2. These traditions investigate consciousness. They do so because all experiences, including the experience of doing science, take place in consciousness.
3. Having investigated consciousness for thousands of years, the greatest spiritual thinkers have come to the same conclusion as modern science: reality streams from an invisible source into the realm of space, time, matter, and energy. The fact that this discovery was made has nothing to do with faith. The discovery came about because consciousness is capable of examining itself.
4. A bridge was formed between inner and outer reality, making the division between objective and subjective much less strict that the division posited by science. The ideal of perfect objectivity doesn’t exist and cannot exist as long as consciousness is part of every phenomenon.
5. If consciousness is the common link, it may have its own natural laws, rules, behaviors, and parameters. If so, these could be as useful and provide as much valid knowledge as science. In fact, because consciousness can’t be taken out of the equation, any explanation of reality, from the smallest to the largest aspect, cannot be trusted when consciousness is disregarded.
6. The present exclusion of consciousness, which is standard operating procedure in science outside the most rarefied theoretical circles, is the cause of the rift between the scientific and religious worldviews. Each has arbitrarily put up walls where no walls exist in the structure of reality.
7. Once the arbitrary divisions and walls are removed, it becomes obvious that there is only one reality, not two. The fact that human perception makes a distinction between the physical universe and the transcendent domain is irrelevant. Reality is what it is, regardless of our stubbornness, denial, hidebound beliefs, and cherished points of view. Without a doubt the human project labeled as religious and the human project labeled as science are incomplete without each other.
The fact that modern times have widened the separation between these two projects has actually distorted each of them. Religious fundamentalism and arch physicalism are extreme deniers, holding opposite views that are equally untenable. It is untenable that religious scriptures are the indisputable truth; it is untenable that materialism and it sole focus on physical reality are the only truth. From the two extremes have grown many beliefs that are more casual and tolerant but just as flawed, which must be so once your worldview is dualistic. You will always wind up explaining only half of realty while ignoring or undervaluing the other half.
The only way forward, then, is a holistic worldview as the starting point. The correct beginning is to say, “there is one reality. Let’s all agree on this and see where it leads us.” From this unified starting point, every branch of investigation has something to offer. It appears that some scientists, especially in the younger generation, are seeing the value of a unified worldview. They offer the best hope for understanding reality as it is, not as second-hand beliefs and assumptions declare it must be.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. His latest book is The Future of God