It has always been a delicate territory to tread — the parallels between science and religion. Besides, the whole idea of such a ‘bond,’ albeit not all-encompassing, in terms of both precept and percept, rubs people the wrong way — on both sides of the ‘barrier.’
Scientists, for obvious reasons, dislike the orientation of their work being guided by dogma — not inquiry, or data. Theologians, likewise, fear that attempts to connect religion to empirical study of the world would knock ‘off-balance’ the essence of faith itself. Result: a truly palpable stalemate in the all-too-familiar ‘battle royal’ to link the two great fields of study, or knowledge, that have existed for ages.
Not that science hasn’t seriously investigated the imponderable, or immaterial, that animates the world. It certainly has, through the reading of experimental evidence, just as much as religion, explored for knowledge about the intangibles — through the study of Scriptures. In other words, the inference is comprehensible, because, in either meadow, the frenzied excitement of enlightenment is essentially impossible to tell apart. It is, quite simply, identical.
However, things are a-changin’ — thanks to a new faith that has acquired hundreds of converts on either side of the spectrum. It is sure going to transform the world… sooner, maybe, than later. In simple terms, it is a celestial form of enlightenment, based on a straightforward principle. In place of the unity of god, it seeks out minimalism of explanation. In place of a central doctrine, it rests on the fabrication of theory through empirical data. Ultimately, it also develops its own inherent set of guidelines, and provides the mechanism to “remove” them.
It has a name, too — one that is fascinatingly novel — sci/religion, as Corey S Powell, senior consulting editor for American Scientist and science editor at Aeon Magazine, puts it in his landmark book, God In The Equation [Free Press]. Not just a tome, but also a dazzling standard that demystifies the long-time conflict between science and religion, Powell’s brilliant synthesis brings home a new fact. The ‘clash’ has never existed; it is no more than just a myth.
There’s more to Powell’s articulation than what meets the mind. The psi, in sci/religion, represents not only quantum theory, but also the fundamental uncertainty of measurement. Besides, the idea, says Powell, also blends elements of the experimental and the mystical, and gives credence to a statistical blur of potential positions — positions that may, otherwise, be forbidden according to the classical laws of physics, or even common sense.
PROPHET OF SCI/RELIGION
Powell’s observant work contends a new relationship between scientists and ecclesiastics, or priests, doubtless. It identifies, for the first time, Albert Einstein as the supreme mystic of the sci/religion revolution. For one simple reason. The founder and greatest prophet of sci/religion, avers Powell, had no qualms about finding common ground between the material and the mystical. Yes, not for a famous wisecrack did Einstein wax lyrical, “God does not play dice.” Einstein recognised the quest for truth as an essentially spiritual journey. In his own words, “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe — a spirit vastly superior to that of man.”
Einstein, also explicitly and implicitly, preached the doctrines of unity, simplicity, and universality — the guiding lights of sci/religion. Though only a handful of his followers, to quote Powell, speak as openly as he did on ‘divinity,’ their actions give them away. To cull a paradigm: just look at the beliefs that motivate their experiments, equations, papers, and articles. They worship, as Powell explains so convincingly, in the Church of Einstein.
“Sci/religion,” says Powell, “doesn’t need to make its case solely by tearing down the ancient faiths.” He avers that it offers a positively appealing, alternative way to look at the world — a religion of rational hope. Sci/religion, he adds, is a human faith, prone to inevitable distortions and misinterpretations — like any other field of human enterprise. But, unlike old-time religion, Powell argues, sci/religion has mounds of evidence that show its assumptions are true. Interestingly, he admits — and, also to his credit — that sci/religion, thanks to the doctrine of falsification through observation, can never quite state with certainty that all given physical laws apply in all places, at all times.
MODEL OF THE SOUL
Powell examines another facet of sci/religion, too: of how it could help confront the problem of human aggression. The new faith, he analyses, is rooted in curiosity and examination. It can, he further explains, grab control of the old human conquering spirit — a relic of our survival instinct — and, redirect it from physical acquisition to intellectual exploration. In his words, “Not long ago, adventurers set out to conquer ostensibly savage lands and convert the native populations. Today, we reach out with our minds to touch the edge of the Universe, and the beginning of Time.”
Powell is convinced that the sci/religious faith will expand, not only to provide a new theory of consciousness, but also extend a definitive cosmic connection to it. Consciousness, according to Powell, is a philosophical position — not a testable theory. However, it’s one possibility, he maintains, that could, perhaps, give sci/religion something resembling a model of the soul — a sense that our individual consciousness is linked to universal responsiveness.
To highlight the point, Powell again quotes Einstein, who ‘prophesied’ that traditional religions would have to abandon the idea of a personal god and articulate a new moral philosophy. Why? Because, the success of sci/religion depends quite heavily on its practitioners jettisoning their reticence, and speaking openly about the deep mystical satisfaction their work delivers. Or, as Powell aptly elaborates, “The material success of science — glitzy consumer electronics, sophisticated new medical treatments — will not make a case for them.”