Spirituality versus science / Spirituality isn’t rocket science
In the West, we have a very strong tradition for doing science. In fact, the tradition has been so firmly established as our fundamental worldview, that it is often overlooked as being exactly that: One of many possible worldviews. But the scientific way of thinking wasn’t always around. Greek philosophers like Aristotle (384-322 BC.) did some of the basic groundwork, but it really wasn’t until the time of philosopher-scientists like Francis Bacon (1561-1626) that what became known as empirical science, later to turn into physics and chemistry was founded. When the 18th century French Enlightenment conclusively rejected religion as the basis for human life, Bacon’s empirical way of looking at things took its place.
These days, the avant-garde of western thinking is slowly starting to realize that that just might have been a wrong move: Scientific terminology and scientific thinking doesn’t cut it, and we desperately need something else, or at least something more. Getting rid of dogmatic religion, in the Judaeo-Christian sense of the word, might have been the right thing to do, but we still need something, that recognizes man’s spiritual dimension. We need spirituality, if we want to fully understand the so-called human experience.
Many of the eastern spiritual disciplines, like for example Buddhism, seem to offer an alternative option. Buddhism is very scientific and empirical in the sense that you aren’t asked to go on blind faith. Like the credo of Francis Bacon, the credo of the Buddha seems to have been don’t take my word for it, go check it out for yourself. And being westerners, raised on scientific scepticism, we like the idea of not having to believe something up front. If I had to guess, I’d say that that this is exactly why most modern, New Age, western spirituality is modelled not on our homegrown Judeo-Christian ideals, but on seemingly foreign, imported worldviews like Buddhism, Advaita-Vedanta etc.
This is all very well, and very intelligent. The problem occurs, when we have to formulate the new, western, spiritual terminology. We obviously don’t want to re-use traditional Judeo-Christian terminology like sin, Holy Spirit, absolution, confession, communion, God etc., because these terms are all to tainted historically. And we can’t very well use the original eastern terminology, since it is in a foreign, and, for most people, inaccessible languages like Sanskrit or Tibetan. So we start inventing new meanings for terms we are already very familiar with; terms that are already socially accepted as high-end terms when it comes to truth, knowledge etc., which are the scientific terms. In short: We use scientific terms to describe the new spiritual paradigm, because big, scientific words are trustworthy and make people listen. Just like any good shampoo, skin lotion or detergent commercial has to mention liposomes, enzymes, amino acids, B5 extra care formula+ and what have you in order to sell the product.
What this means is that all of a sudden, you have the paradox of a spiritual community rejecting the scientific worldview yet using scientific terminology like, for example, energy, frequency, vibration, quantum physics, etc. to describe their own world view.
Mending the gap
Some go even further in trying to mend the gap between science and eastern spirituality, thereby also lending scientific credibility to spiritual terminology of course, by saying that, for example, Prana is really just energy or, the soul is just vibration or, the theories in quantum physics are just like the theories of advaita-vedanta.
As well meaning and full of good intentions as this may all be, what this mending really does is make everything less clear. Of course, deep down everything is just like everything, and spirituality is just like science, and I am just like you etc. But just like all these things are alike, they are also different. And if we don’t really know how they are different, saying that they are the same is just a poor excuse for not wanting to exercise our much needed discriminatory muscle.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not against spirituality. I am very much for it. But what I am against is spirituality unwarily bending its knee to science, because in my opinion spirituality can stand on its own. And I believe that in the long run, we will realize that science can never form the basis for human life, because science is essentially meaningless. Science only tells you, what is there and how to make it bigger and faster, it doesn’t and can never tell you why it’s there or what you should to do with it.
Photo by DashaDee, Russia. Flower of life by Karin Henseler, Germany.
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