We are on a journey: a journey from separation to relationship and from dualism to unity.
One of the dominant dualisms of our time has been the idea of disconnection between science and spirituality. Since the age of pure reason, our educational system has been working hard to establish the conviction that science has to be free of spirituality, and that spirituality should have nothing to do with science.
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For the past hundred years, graduates in their millions have been coming out of universities brainwashed with the belief that either spirituality is a matter of personal and private life, or it is pure ‘mumbo jumbo’. This mainstream view has ignored the scientists of the past and the present who see no dichotomy between science and spirituality.
The outstanding German poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe worked with a profound scientific spirit. In his books The Metamorphosis of Plants and Theory of Colours, he challenged the narrow and linear view of science.
With his phenomenological understanding of Nature, he expounded a more interrelated, cyclical and holistic science. But Goethe’s idealistic and spiritual science was neglected by students of science in most universities. He was appreciated as a great poet, but not as a scientist!
The same is true of Leonardo da Vinci. Everyone thinks of him as a great artist, but hardly anyone recognises him as a scientist.
However, our contemporary science of complexity and systems thinking finds its roots in the work of Leonardo because he was concerned with living forms and therefore embraced the science of quality as well as quantity. The moment we think of a science of quality, the word ‘spirituality’ comes to mind.
Albert Einstein was also a spiritual scientist. He said: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe […] one in the face of which we, humans, with our modest powers must feel humble.”
Einstein respected the religious dimension of human experience. He said: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Einstein was not talking about institutionalised and organised religious establishments - he was talking about religious experience, which is beyond measurement.
Bringing spirituality and science together will help to bring meaning and measurement together. These two should not be fragmented or separated.
A sense of unmanifested wonder and curiosity, and a sense of intuition and inspiration exist before there is empirical knowledge through experiments, evidence and proof to create a scientific hypothesis and a theory.
Dismissing that unmanifest intuition or inspiration, as some materialist scientists do, is a grave folly.
The word ‘spirit’ simply means ‘breath’ or ‘wind’. We cannot see the wind, we cannot touch it, or measure it, but we can feel it. As trees are moved by wind, humans are moved by spirit. Breath or wind is the invisible and subtle force that makes life possible. The visible is sustained by the invisible.
The outer and material reality is held together through the power of the inner and spiritual reality. Acknowledging one and denying the other is like wanting a bird to fly with only one wing.
The reality of wholeness is composed of two interrelated aspects. The Chinese called it the harmony of yin and yang. The Indians called it the balance of Shiva and Shakti: positive and negative, dark and light, silence and speech, emptiness and fullness, spirit and matter, unmanifest and manifest are part of one single whole.
Uniting science and spirituality has a very practical purpose. Science without spirituality can easily lose the ethical, moral and values-based perspective.
Scientists without the guidance of spirituality can engage in the invention of nuclear bombs and other weapons of war, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, factory farming where animals are reared in cruel conditions, and technologies that create waste, pollution and the destruction of Nature.
Science without the guidance of spiritual values has created many of the problems the world faces today. Science by itself is not benign, value-free or neutral. Therefore, science needs the helping hand of spiritual wisdom in order to maintain its integrity and modify its power. Without spiritual wisdom, science can be dangerous. Spirituality gives meaning, value and purpose to science.
As science needs spirituality, spirituality needs science. Without science, spirituality can easily and quickly turn into blind faith, dogmatism, sectarianism, and fundamentalism.
Unscientifically minded people may claim: “My god is the only true god and I have the truth. Everybody must be converted to my truth.”
Such narrow religious exclusivity has led to wars, conflicts, terrorism and divisions. Science helps to keep our minds open so we can seek truth and act for the benefit of the whole of humanity and for the good of all living beings, human, and other-than-human.
Do we want to live in a fragmented way, either as materialists discarding the subjective dimension of spiritual wisdom or as spiritual seekers denigrating the objective world of scientific discovery?
The choice is ours. I choose to embrace spirituality with a scientific mind. For me, science and spirituality are complementary parts of the whole.
Satish Kumar is editor emeritus of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine. He was interviewed by Richard Dawkins on the subject of science and spirituality. The interview is available to watch here. The latest edition of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine is out now!