The Religious and Scientific Mind
By Martin LeFevre
The beauty of a wood always surprises one on a rainy day. After months of smoke and haze from wildfires, the early rains are a godsend. A light drizzle falls as I walk along the fragrant paths. The parkland is devoid of people except for a couple of kids riding their bikes home from school.A doe and her fawn stand leisurely in the middle of the stream, and are surprised by the human walking on the bank above them. The fawn is unafraid, but follows its mother as she effortlessly bounds up the steep bank on the other side.A couple minutes later, a large woodland hawk swoops over and lands on a branch of an oak tree overhanging the park road. One sees them regularly and hears them often in the park, but not with such a sense of ownership of the place. At least today in this college town, the raptors have full tenure.The drizzle stops, and I sit for half an hour at a picnic table. The oaks, sycamores and everything around me grow more vivid as the mind effortlessly grows more deeply present. Walking again more slowly and consciously, I drink in the rich damp smells in the park. A slower pace mirrors the sublimity of the Earth, and a feeling of unfathomable mystery and deep reverence spontaneously arises within.When the mind and heart effortlessly grow quiet, one comes into contact with the all-encompassing silence beyond all natural sound and man-made noise. There is something unnamable beyond thought, beyond verbal or artistic expression, but thought fall deeply and effortlessly still for it to be felt. There is no personal God or separate creator. Nor, in the words of British evolutionary biologist and zealous atheist, Richard Dawkins, "any kind of supernatural intelligence that designed the universe and everything in it." However Dawkins throws the baby out with the bathwater when he says, "we must be wholly mechanistic when talking about life." That’s utterly false. As a long-time student of human evolution, there are many things that Dawkins says with which I agree. For example: "Religions have miserably failed to do justice to the sublime reality of the real natural world." I also share his outrage at the fact that "teachers all over America are being prevented by intimidation from teaching the facts of evolution."But Dawkins is mistaken when he declares that religion and science "are about the same thing...both aspire to explain the universe, explain why we're here, the meaning of life, and the role of humanity. That statement indicates that Dawkins understands neither the scientific mind nor the religious mind, which are distinctly different, though potentially compatible.Science is the open-ended endeavor to accrue knowledge about nature and the universe through observation, theory, evidence and repeatable experiment. Science cannot explain "why we're here, the meaning of life, and the role of humanity." Organized religion cannot do so either — that is the purpose of philosophy, which is essentially explanatory. The religious mind, which has nothing to do with belief systems, is oriented to silently experiencing the wholeness of nature and the universe and the inseparable sacredness that infuses energy, matter and life. Dawkins derides the "voguish movement among many scientists" that maintains religion and science are about different things, each having their place. Whether there is "intelligence somewhere at the root of the universe is a scientific question," he dogmatically pronounces. That’s simply untrue. "I put a probability value on the question of God," Dawkins adds, thereby applying the same tool that insurance companies use with their actuarial tables to the most important question a human being can ask.Like many people, Dawkins conflates organized religion with the religious mind. They are two completely different minds, since there’s a vast difference between the comforting belief in a separate, personal God, and the perennially disturbing awareness of a creative, immeasurable intelligence that pervades nature and the cosmos. (Disturbance is a good thing.) There is no chaos in nature or the universe, only in man and creatures like man wherever they evolve in the universe. But is cosmic intelligence completely indifferent to man, or is there an intrinsic intent to evolve fully sapient beings? Can Homo sapiens transcend the increasing chaos and darkness of man’s consciousness, which is based on symbolic thought, and awaken a higher consciousness, based on attention, which reflects the harmony of the universe? The methods, tools and knowledge of science obviously have their place, but they don’t apply to the primary work of human beings: to fully awaken the potential for awareness that cosmic intelligence imbued the human brain.Science cannot bring about that transmutation, and religions have utterly failed to do so. Only the individual, questioning alone and with others, can ignite the creative explosion of insight that will save the Earth and humanity from the fragmenting, suffocating consciousness of man. Martin LeFevre
|A doe and her fawn |
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Martin LeFevre, a contemplative, philosopher and writer in northern California, serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times. His "Meditations" explore and offer insights on spiritual, philosophical and political questions in the global society. LeFevre's philosophical thesis proposes a new theory of human nature. He welcomes dialogue. email@example.com