Sunday, March 25, 2018

Science and Religions (in the Plural)

This passage comes from a manuscript I'm writing on the present state of, and future directions for, science and religion in the United States. A few ideas about the present... 

I often look at the relationship of mainstream science to Christianity--which is an entirely worthy endeavor since the U.S. is still predominantly Christian. When I step back, however, as an academic who studies religion and science more broadly, one of the obvious changes in the twentieth century is that science and religion has become pluralized so that we should talk about science and religions. This might sound like a truism today in a way it did not half a century ago because, in the popular consciousness, religious diversity was beginning to bloom. We can note that in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. could speak in his “I Have a Dream” speech of “all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics” as a summary of religious diversity. Despite the profundity of MLK’s vision, this strikes a sensitive reader of American religious life as quaint. We are far more than Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles. We are more pluralized and secularized. And, as I have presented in other places, religiously the United States has far more digital Spotify mixes than a LPs

Looking back at the emergence of “the present state” of science and religion many have a difficulty imagining that religion should be coterminous with Christianity. It makes this statement from Ian Barbour in his seminal 1966 Issues in Science and Religion sound a bit provincial as he sets out the course of Issues in Science and Religion
“We will consider religion in the West, primarily various forms of Christianity—and not, except incidentally, the religions of Asia." 
(What about, for example, Judaism in the U.S., where almost half of all Jews live, or for that matter, the increasing presence of eastern religion?)
Consider two important voices that emerged in the decade just after Barbour's book, that is to say, a little over forty years ago. Fritjof Capra in Tao of Physics, first published in 1975, argued that perfect harmony found in the complementarity of particle and wave, mind and matter, and thus there intrinsic unity had striking similarities to eastern mysticism. And the accent falls on mysticism. Capra ties this insight to an a mystical vision in the early 70s on an unnamed beach, “watching the waves rolling in and feeling the rhythm of my breathing, when I suddenly became aware of my whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance." It should not have suprised me to read his descriptions of eastern religious traditions or philosophies (depending on how these are viewed) and be struck by how he shepherds the contents of five chapters on "The Way of Eastern Mysticism"—Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese Thought, Taoism, and Zen—toward a common goal, namely, his project. Even “mysticism” in the section title offers a glimpse of where he‘s headed.
Besides Capra, a couple decades later brought Amit Goswami Self-Aware Universe from 1995 and its work at the unification of all of physics (four fundamental forces) as part of Hinduism's Atman (or the single source of all). Both Goswami and Capra looked toward an Eastern view of religious life. And this emergence was predicated on the weirdness of quantum physics where things are both something and not something—an electron can be both a wave and a particle, but not both at the same time.  As Nobel laureate physcist Frank Wilczek commented in The Lightness of Being (2008), 
Niels Bohr distinguished two kinds of truths. An ordinary truth is a statement whose opposite is a falsehood. A profound truth is a statement whose opposite is also a profound truth.”
I find this fascinating, and as a Christian speaking about the relationship of science and the faith I profess, this makes it complex and challenge to be heard among the babel of other religious voices.

1 comment:

D Diamond Stylus said...

“The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain, or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha - which is to demean oneself.”
“Classical understanding is concerned with the piles and the basis for sorting and interrelating them. Romantic understanding is directed toward the handful of sand before the sorting begins. Both are valid ways of looking at the world although irreconcilable with each other.”
Robert M. Pirsig