Science and Spirituality -- not necessarily in opposition

There's a cute little article (blog entry) in New Scientist, about a collaboration between a Buddhist monastery in India and San Francisco's Exploratorium.

Buddhism, especially under the 14th Panchen Dalai Lama, has had a very favorable and welcoming attitude toward science. Traditional Buddhist practice toward enlightment stresses observation, experiment, and reproducibility (all classic hallmarks of "scientific" investigation), and elevates personal questioning above outside authority (unlike traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamist "revelation").

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gmjhowe8 years ago
Very interesting, personally i have found my self to understand most of the big questions (and some of the smaller ones) only when taking into consideration religion and science. They work very well together.

Also, i think that many scientists have some sort of spirituality, even if its not a specific religion.

I also like how alot of scientists answer the big questions with a response that relies on the fact that science will 'eventually' discover an answer.
kelseymh (author)  gmjhowe8 years ago
I agree, Jake. I personally have colleagues who span the full range from angry athiests (like Dawkins has become :-( ) right through to flaming fundamentalists.(then there are the literary alliteratives like myself :-)

Especially for those who have developed an intellectual foundation for their faith (I'bles members like yourself, Skunkbait, Adrian, Goodhart, etc.), their spirtuality surely informs and supports their scientific inquiries. But that spiritualily is not necessary for good science (just as it is not intrinsically an impediment). I do my science just fine, thank you very much, without needing religion to help me :-)

Having said that, I think I have made it clear in many of my postings that Science does have an underlying metaphysical set of assumptions, which may be labelled "faith" if you're trying to be provocative.

Science is, essentially by definition, a materialist endeavour. What we observe around us (a) has a real, objective reality that everyone can test and agree upon; and (b) there is nothing else but what we observe around us. That's an assumption. It can't be proven within the context of Science, but without it, you can't engage in the scientific process.

Science also assumes that nature is explicable -- that everything we observe can be explained. That doesn't mean we have the explanations yet, but there is no barrier in principle to finding them. Again, that it an assumption which can't be proven. But without it, the drive to pursue scientific questions can become fairly limited: "oh, we don't know about that, but maybe we just cant know about it, so why try?"
I say things like "We don't know about that yet." And to be honest, I think there are things I suspect we won't know in this lifetime. HOWEVER, the ideology that subscribes to "Why try?"- That one bothers me. I am never afraid of the RIGHT answer. In fact, I kinda feel morally compelled to find out the facts. I don't go to an illiterate doctor. I don't take my car problems to a chef. I don't use the "Magic-8 Ball" for my investment strategies. WHY on earth would I trust spiritual matters to any other human being?! In regard to something as important as the possibility of an afterlife, why wouldn't it be important enough for me to do my own research? Science has it's place. If "science" contradicts faith, two questions must be asked: A)Has the science been done properly? B)Has my faith been misplaced/uninformed/underinformed? I'm quite the conservative when it comes to matters of theology, but part of true conservatism is refusing to "fill in the blanks" with blind dogmatism! When in doubt, (scientific or theological), don't just shout louder! (That's a sure sign of irrational emotionalism.) But rather, re-evaluate your interpretation of the facts. The answer, and a rational explanation/reconciliation might be right under your nose!
8bit skunkbait8 years ago
Is irrational emotionalism then useless?
skunkbait 8bit8 years ago
It makes for good performance art, but not so good for real-world applications.
8bit skunkbait8 years ago
Can you think of no other application? What about propaganda? Perhaps it even has uses in the adhesion of culture.
skunkbait 8bit8 years ago
Oh, yeah. It's great for marketing too!
skunkbait 8bit8 years ago
Well, propaganda helps fuel irrational emotionalism. I guess it could be used as a psychological weapon.
kelseymh (author)  skunkbait8 years ago
Thanks, Skunkbait! As to your two questions, when you're dealing with experimental or observational science, question (A) should always be the first one you ask. That's what the whole peer review process is for. It's very easy, especially if you're the one who designed the experiment, to overlook some systematic uncertainty or bias, or a detector artifact, or some confounding influence in your sample of birds, or whatever. Within science, the analogue to your question (B) is, "is the theory describing my data correct?" When we get an experimental result that contradicts a well-established theory, crackpots go straight to (B), but the right procedure is to ask (A) first. Only if you've got really solid results, preferably with some independent confirmation, do you even start to investigate (B). I think the same applies to a well-grounded faith.
8bit kelseymh8 years ago
"It can't be proven within the context of Science, but without it, you can't engage in the scientific process." That assumes, quite logically, that one's actions and beliefs are necessarily in accordance, but is it always the case? Your statement, "But without it, the drive to pursue scientific questions can become fairly limited: 'oh, we don't know about that, but maybe we just cant know about it, so why try?'" does not take in to account the uncertainty of life in general. There is very little we can know with absoluteness, if we can even know anything with certainty. Living beings have adapted so that certainty is not nescessary for action. So, we are curious and will feed our curiosity even if we don't know if something is even possible to know.
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