My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Are religion and science incompatible? Part 2

Physicists are more at home than biologists with the uncertainties of our world, our cosmos, and our consciousness. Einstein trumped Newton with his relativity theories. Now even these have been cast in some doubt by experiments in the world’s largest physics laboratory at Cern, suggesting that subatomic particles have gone faster than the speed of light.

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” wrote Wittgenstein. The truth is that we simply don’t know what we don’t know. As Chris Clarke writes in Weaving the Cosmos: Science, Religion and Ecology: “the realm of the unprovable will forever outstrip our attempts to grasp it.”

There is a real need for us all to show much more humility and be far more open-minded to the co-existence of science with the religious and the spiritual as well as the secular. We need all of these in the world, coexisting and cooperating in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. We need balance between the head and the heart.

Many astronauts, all highly trained scientists or technicians and dependent on the latest most complex technology for their missions, have found a spiritual awakening or deepened their particular religious faith when in awe and reverence they saw the cosmos and the earth for the first time from space. Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut and the sixth man on the moon, wrote: “My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity…we went to the moon as technicians; we returned as humanitarians.” He went on to found the Institute of Noetic Sciences, ‘a non-profit membership organization located in Northern California that conducts and sponsors leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness, including perceptions, beliefs, attention, intention, and intuition. The Institute explores phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional scientific models, while maintaining a commitment to scientific rigor.’ For example their many current research projects include a study of how engagement in spiritual practices is related to health and well-being.
“What a wonderful, what a religious discipline, is science and mathematics. Today science has shown me that all that is discovered is only an approximate knowing, and that I cannot even reach, let alone touch or overstep the frontiers of knowledge…” These were the wise words of Phiroz Dorabji Mehta, reminding us that the scientific method of experimentation is only suggesting probabilities, from experiments devised to test theories: nothing more or less. Mehta (1 October 1902 – 2 May 1994) was an Indian-born writer and lecturer on religious topics who studied natural sciences at Cambridge as well as pursuing many other interests, including astronomy, poetry and philosophy. He was brought up in the Zarathushtrian religion.
In his wonderful book The Heart of Religion, written over a period of 20 years, he brought 50 years of study and practice together to explore what it means to understand and live the religious life, to evolve towards a life that is “free from fear, greed and hatred, a life in which our actions are pure, wise and compassionate.”
He further wrote: “For him who attempts to write about the deeps of religion, science is a powerful aid, for the scientific discipline helps in curing the mind of intellectual cobweb-spinning, of using misleading analogies and of false reasoning.” He went on to observe that science has become a god for many, a modern idol! (This was in 1976 – we do not seem to have learnt!) “Applied science, technology, holds the human race in thrall to the machine. Drugs, chemicals and various inventions destroy man and nature alike and fill the plundered Earth with pollution. Mankind, perhaps all life on the globe, is in danger of extermination by man. No animal has shown such ingratitude to Life. Vast hordes senselessly look to technology to solve human problems and produce human fulfilment.”
Where is the balance? Where is the inner life in that?

To be continued...

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