Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wonder Unites Science and Religion
The silver light, which, hallowing tree and tower,
Sheds beauty and deep softness o'er the whole,
Breathes also to the heart, and o'er it throws
A loving languor which is not repose. Lord Byron
It’s that time of year again. Darwin’s day is just around the corner, and evolution’s sibling rivalry (science and religion) is back on the agenda. Science generally deals in what we know to be true and the truth needs to be tested. Religion generally deals in what we need to be true and the truth needs to be trusted. Science looks for what can be seen. Religion looks beneath the surface for things that can’t always be seen.
The psychiatrist's secretary walks into her office and says, "Mr. Matthews is in the waiting room asking to see you again. This time he claims he's invisible."
Without hesitation, the psychiatrist replies, "Tell him I can't see him."
Science and religion don’t necessarily have to clash. Religion can embrace the advances of science without fear. Science can embrace the experiences and poetry of some forms of religion without defense. It does require religion to take a decisive and deeply humbling step; recognize that religion is a human creation and therefore it is open to critique and revision.
This isn’t new. Religion has slipped back into dogma, after Immanuel Kant, and Frederick Schleiermacher had solved the problem back in the 18th century. The scientific advances of the Enlightenment made a mockery of superstitious religion. Kant and Schleiermacher said that while you can’t say for sure that the invisible guy in the waiting room exists, you can describe your experience of the invisible man. You know what you experience. You know what you like. You know what moves you.
They don’t seem to have this problem in India. Maybe that’s because Hinduism has intuited so much scientific truth in its ancient wisdom. A 4,000 year old verse from the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text says “O Moon! We should be able to know you through our intellect, You enlighten us through the right path.”
It’s a curious irony to westerners that the first Indian moon landing took place in 2008. A week before the launching, millions of Hindu women fasted until the first sighting of the moon’s reflection in a bowl of oil. They do this to safeguard the welfare of the family. The magical qualities of the moon don’t seem to be compromised by getting up close and personal with the giant ball of silly putty in the sky.
In the west, much scientific advance chips away at religious doctrine, like thinning slices of a fading moon. Christianity struggles to hold the magic of heaven within, once the certainty of heaven up there is questioned. Once the curtain of religious wizardry drops to reveal that religion is actually a human construction, devised, revised and organized in the human brain, many feel the lure of flatland secularism.
Consider taking a cue from India. Affirm both the curiosity of science and the imagination of religion. The moon is its own metaphor for the relationship between science and religion, with its yin yang shades of light and dark, receiving and reflecting the sun’s rays. Her front porch is lit with guiding light, while the inner parts of the house are in deep darkness.
When the child sees in the moon a giant rabbit standing over a kitchen table, maybe the child is intuiting something about the parent like power of the moon to affect human mood and behavior.
Shine on you crazy diamond. Fill us with the light of your lunar wisdom. Teach us to bask in the beauty of it all, scientific curiosity and religious wonder alike.
At C3 over the next 3 weeks, we are paying homage to wonder. With no need to fear science, we will discover that all of life has a unity. Each moment is filled with enough beauty and mystery to keep our attention locked in wonder’s gaze forever.
Wonder is a uniquely human trait. It allows you to suspend habitual thinking, and consider new possibilities. Wonder has the ability to dethrone your well laid plans in preference for some well laid mindfulness.
Wonder allows you to see (experience) the world in a new way; with fresh, unprejudiced attention. It’s a sight that is akin to the Hindu notion of “darshan”. It is the ability to see divinity in all things, if divinity is the highest and widest of human ideals.
Wonder is seeing divinity within; the universe of consciousness that resides within you.
Wonder is seeing divinity between; the joy of crossing galaxies to touch the moon is matched by the joy of crossing the street to bring muffins to neighbors, touched by love.
Wonder is seeing divinity beyond; the discovery of a connection between yourself and all else.
The prized gift of wonder is the ability to see yourself as a participant in a greater whole. You are a player on life’s stage with a love so large it can travel to the moon and back, shedding beauty and softness on the whole, and never lose its luster.
Both science and religion can embrace wonder. However wonder should not be confused with knowledge. The scientist must be able to acknowledge that the world may be more wonderful than current theories can account for, and religion must be able to acknowledge that its truth is poetic and not absolute.
Wonder unites the science of curiosity and the religion of imagination. In the words of the classic 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, wonder “throws a lasso around the moon and pull it down, then you can swallow it…and then moonbeams shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair.”
“God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.” Dag Hammarskjold