Science and Spirit

The most beautiful and profound emotions, we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the power of science. – Albert Einstein

Man has been attempting to understand his relationship with universe and his surroundings, with other organisms and non living objects since the dawn of civilization. Observation, supposition, contemplation, imagination and logic have been his tools. In the earliest civilizations, every material object in nature was thought to possess a spirit. Aboriginal cultures do not make the usual distinctions among rocks, air and humans; all are imbued with spirit, the invisible energy. Idea of God and ghosts is the first important acquisition of human civilization This idea is central to the development of religion.

The ideas of God and soul (spirit) have contributed significantly to the unfolding of the secrets of creation, and understanding the living world. Religion and religious institutions have been central to the organization and development of family and society. Culture and civilization have been associated with religion inextricably. Belief, conviction, devotion and tradition made them meaningful by providing form, order and continuity to them. New wisdom continues to be incorporated from time to time. It was found that many riddles and phenomena could be solved and explained without invoking God and spirit. That led to a parallel line of wisdom identified as scientific enquiry. With the growth of science, the space of God and spirit graduallly shrunk. This led to two schools of truth; the truth as propounded by religion and the truth of science.  
           Whenever the new wisdom comes into conflict with the established truth, it faces stiff resistance. Religion does not accept doubts and dissent from its truth. It labels any deviation as blasphemy. It considers its truth as final and immutable.  Religion and science differ in that science explores answer by logic, evidence and proofs obtained by rigorous scientific methodology. On the other hand faith and tradition form the cornerstone of religion. Religion does not entertain doubts regarding its truth. Whereas science considers its truth fina onlyl till it is not proved otherwise by scientific methodology. Values of science are rationality, creativity, exploration of truth, adherence to a code of conduct and some sort of constructive dissent. Science contradicts its own truths.
                        Church has been in the business of suppressing scientific discovery when it is at odds with church dogma. It was Nicholas Copernicus, a savvy politician as well as a gifted astronomer, who launched the spirit/science split when he released the public his profound manuscript “De revolutiomibus orbium celestial (on the revolution of heavenly Spheres.” The 1543 manuscript boldly declared that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of “heavenly spheres.” This is obvious today, but in Copernicus’ time it was heresy because his new cosmology was at odds with an “infallible” Church which had declared the earth to be the centre of the universe. Copernicus believed that the inquisition would destroy him and his heretical beliefs, so he prudently waited until he was on his deathbed to publish his work. His concern for his safety was fully justified. Fifty-seven years later Glordano Bruno, a Dominican monk who had the temerity to speak out and defend Copernicus’ cosmology, was burned at the stake for this heresy. Copernicus outsmarted the church—it is hard to torture an intellectual when he is in grave. Unable to kill the messenger the Church had to deal with Copernicus’ message.

          A century later French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes insisted on using scientific methodology to examine the validity of all previously accepted “truths”. The invisible forces of the spiritual world clearly didn’t lend themselves to such analysis. In the +post-Reformation era, scientists were encouraged to pursue their studies of the natural world and spiritual “truths” were relegated to the realms of religion ad metaphysics. Spirit and other metaphysical concepts were ‘devalued as ‘unscientific’ because their truths could not be assessed y the analytical methods of science.

            In the seventeenth century Descartes’ dismissed the idea that mind influences the physical characters of the body. Descartes notion was that the physical body was made out of matter and the mind was made out of an unidentified but clearly immaterial substance.. He held that mind (energy) arises from the physical body. It raised momentous doubt on the established wisdom and religious truth. Concept of soul as the basis of life came to be questioned.

Split between Spirit/Science received more reinforcement in 1859 when Darwin’s theory of evolution made an instant splash. The theory had a shattering effect on the society. Origin of life from nonliving matter without divine intervention and evolution of mankind from lower forms of animal life meant an end to any spiritual characteristic of human beings. Life is all matter and environment. This constitutes the truth of science as of now. But the quest contunues. Scientists as well as philosophers are still groping to find answers to their experiences and natural phenomena. The mystery continues.  There seems to be continuity between the animate and inanimate world.  Presence of food chain, food web, ecosystem is evidence. Nature reveals itself to the observer as a symphony amazing integration of plant and animal species. All live in a delicate, dynamic balance, not only with other life forms but with the physical environment as well  This is evidence of a spiritual world.


More by :  Ganganand Jha

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