The Scientific and Religious Minds

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    Featured Columnist – Meditations
    Martin LeFerve

    Though the rain didn’t begin until mid-morning, by mid-afternoon the park that runs through town felt like a wild place. A light drizzle, almost imperceptible amongst the trees, fell as I walked along the redolent paths, devoid of people except for a couple of kids riding their bikes home from school.

    The beauty of a wood always surprises one on a rainy day. Spoiled by sun most of the year in California (even during the rainy season one can usually expect two or three clear days a week), most people stay indoors when the weather turns inclement. I almost did as well today, and am glad I didn’t.

    There is always solitude in being alone in nature, but in a park on a rainy day, even in a city, something ineffable within and beyond nature is palpably felt.

    A doe and her fawn stand leisurely in the middle of the stream, and are surprised by the human walking on the bank above them. The fawn is unafraid, but follows its mother as she effortlessly bounds up the steep bank on the other side.

    A couple minutes later, a large woodland hawk swoops over and lands in a branch of an oak tree overhanging the park road. One sees them occasionally and hears them often in the park, but not with such a sense of ownership of the place. At least today in this college town, the raptor has full tenure.

    The drizzle stops, and I sit for half an hour at a picnic table, a pad protecting my seat from getting soaked. The oaks, sycamores, and everything around me grow vivid as one grows more deeply present.

    Walking again more slowly and consciously, I drink in the rich wet smells of new growth in the park. A slower pace accents a sublimity emanating from the earth, and a feeling of reverence spontaneously arises within one.

    When the mind and heart effortlessly grow quiet, one comes into contact with the silence that precedes and encompasses all sound and man-made noise. There is something unnamable beyond thought, but thought must be essentially still to contact it. Using words, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to give even an intimation of the sacredness that dwells beyond all words and images, memories and knowledge.

    There is no personal God or separate Creator. Nor, in the words of British evolutionary biologist and zealous atheist, Richard Dawkins, “any kind of supernatural intelligence that designed the universe and everything in it.” But then he throws the baby out with the bathwater when as he reactively says we must be “wholly mechanistic when talking about life.”

    As a long-time student of human evolution, there are many things that Dawkins says with which I deeply agree. For example: “religions have miserably failed to do justice to the sublime reality of the real [natural] world.” I also share his outrage at the fact that “teachers all over America are being prevented by intimidation from teaching the facts of evolution.”

    But Dawkins is wrong, and wrongheaded, when he declares that religion and science “are about the same thing…[that] both aspire to explain the universe, explain why we’re here, the meaning of life, and the role of humanity.” That statement shows that Dawkins understands neither the scientific nor the religious enterprise.

    Science is the open-ended accumulative endeavor to understand the universe in terms of theory and knowledge, evidence and repeatable experiments. Science cannot explain “why we’re here, the meaning of life, and the role of humanity.” Religion cannot do that either, but the religious mind, which has nothing to do with belief and everything to do with insight, can.

    Dawkins derides the “voguish movement among many scientists” which holds that religion and science are about different things, each having their place. Whether there is an “intelligence somewhere at the root of the universe” is a scientific question, he dogmatically pronounces. That is simply untrue.

    “I put a probability value on the question of God,” Dawkins adds, thereby applying the same tool that insurance companies use with their actuarial tables to the most important question a human being can ask.

    Like many less learned and articulate people, Dawkins confuses and conflates religion and religiosity. There is a vast difference between the comforting belief in a separate, personal God, and the often-disturbing awareness of a creative, immeasurable intelligence that pervades nature and the cosmos.

    That intelligence may be completely indifferent to human consciousness, or there may be an inherent drive in sentient beings to transcend the increasing chaos and meaninglessness of this stage of consciousness, and awaken a consciousness that is in harmony with the universe.

    The methods, tools, and knowledge of science obviously have their place, but they do not apply to the first work of the human being—to fully awaken the potential for cosmic awareness that the universe breathed into the human brain.

    Science cannot bring about a transmutation in consciousness, and religions have failed to. Only the individual, questioning alone and with other individuals, can awaken insight, which is always new.

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