2012-04-25

Squeezing Science for Spiritual Juice

The community of scientists over the last 500-hundred years has put together a very detailed story. They didn’t put that story together for religious purposes. They put together a story consisting of theories and laws: theories of matter and species change, laws of motion, of thermodynamics -- inertia, gravity, entropy. These theories and laws, this story, helps with control and prediction. The story allows prediction of how planets and stars or any mass moves, and what happens when certain chemicals or certain genes mix. The scientists' story also guides further research. The story helps scientists identify what's the next thing that needs to be found out, provides some hints about how to go about finding it out.

The science story is for control, prediction, and guiding further research; it's not for religious purposes. Nevertheless, religion, faith, and spirituality can often be aided by a story about how we got here, and what sort of being we are, and what our world is like.

That’s why there’s Genesis, and the thousands of other creation stories among human cultures. Creation stories have the spiritual function of situating us: giving us a sense of place and belonging in this world. Creation stories awaken our spirits, arouse us to awe and gratitude, show us that we are each more than merely our ego defenses.

So: the bud vase! The interaction between science and religion lies in the prospect for spiritual fulfillment through the stories the scientists have developed, even though those stories didn’t come from any intent to serve religious purposes.

Figures such as Lao-Tzu and Buddha and Jesus and St. Francis show us that you don’t have to have modern science’s stories in order to perceive the intrinsic beauty, goodness, and interconnection of things – at least, they didn’t. But if science’s stories help those of us who don’t have the natural spiritual gifts or haven’t had the experiences those figures had, then let us make what use we can of science’s stories. Buddha and Jesus didn’t need the scientific knowledge that every breath of air they took contained molecules present at the origin of the universe, that our planet and our bodies are composed of the dust of stars, that sea turtles and humans share a common ancestor, that 98.4 percent of our DNA is the same as a chimpanzee’s, or that about 50 percent of our DNA is the same as a banana’s. But if knowing that helps us awaken to awe,
   and thus to beauty,
      and thus to gratitude,
         and thus to compassion,
then let’s squeeze those scientific findings for all the spiritual juice we can.

Particularly for us Unitarian Universalists, the project of using scientific findings within a spiritually satisfying story is an important one. We want a story both scientifically respectable and spiritually relevant.

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This is part 2 of 7 of "Eschatology: Evolution's Arrow"
Next: Part 3: "Flukes of the Universe"
Previous: Part 1: "Science, Religion, and a Bud Vase"