Over the last few centuries there has been much talk about the union of science and spirituality but little real progress has been made, and the two fields have remained largely separate. In the meantime, science has grown more assertive and authoritative.
In today’s world, the relationship between science and spirituality ranges from hostility to peaceful coexistence, but there is no union because science and spirituality have two very different worldviews that resist integration. There is a duality that cannot be resolved.
Is it possible then to go beyond coexistence and find a total integration, a synthesis of the two, where science and spirituality merge into a unified worldview that changes the way we understand and practice both — the two becoming just facets of a seamless whole?
This paper will present a new conceptual structure that has the potential to do just that, namely to unify the two worldviews and resolve the mind-body problem that is at the core of the duality. This paper will also propose a union that goes far beyond intellectual accomplishment alone because it involves the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of each human being, unifying the inner and outer aspects of reality by active personal participation.
This solution promises to go beyond the mental sphere, freeing up the vast creative resources and the good will that are needed to solve the many challenges that are now facing humanity.
Religion, Spirituality, and Science
Often people believe that spirituality and religion mean essentially the same thing. But this is a major misconception that needs to be clarified at the outset. Religion is a set of organized beliefs about the relationship between natural and supernatural aspects of reality that followers are expected to adopt.
Such beliefs, including the duality inherent in the division between natural and supernatural realms of existence, have often the status of dogmas and are not to be questioned by followers. Religion also distinguishes between priests and followers, giving special status to priests as the intermediaries between the natural and the supernatural.
Spirituality is a personal search for a transcendent dimension within one’s experience. As such, spirituality stresses the first-person, experiential aspect of the transcendent rather than conformity to a particular doctrine, which is one of the core aspects of religions. Spirituality is experimental and open to finding the truth, whereas the cognitive posture of religion is fundamentally different, demanding that followers believe by faith in a particular doctrine, often revealed by God’s emissaries, if not by God Himself, to the founding fathers of the religion.
Therefore, at the core of religion there is a cognitive system based on authority, rather than supported by an open inquiry and an open debate.
Many religions, in fact, do not generally teach or encourage personal experience of the transcendent, their teachings remaining mostly confined to ritualistic issues and to the proper moral behavior to follow, rather than encouraging how to independently think. This attitude takes power away rather than helping each human being to discover and develop its own intrinsic strength.
Science is a discipline that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Science, and in particular physics, discovers universal laws that can be mathematically expressed in a set of equations whose solutions represent the expected behavior of the particular system under study.
In physics, a mathematical conjecture needs to be experimentally verified before it reaches the status of a theory. Thus, experimental verification is the primary method, not only to determine the truth of a conjecture in particular cases, but also to falsify a theory that was previously considered true. In other words, no matter how many true predictions are made by a given theory, that theory is considered incomplete or false if only one crucial experiment has a different outcome than the one predicted by it; in which case the theory must be changed or abandoned.
And on this point rests also the major difference between science and religion. Religious statements are generally not experimentally testable. Therefore, the assessment of the truth-value of an assertion must be based on the opinions of the religious authorities, and cannot be challenged and settled by outsiders.
In physics instead, anybody can challenge a given theory with a properly designed experiment that falsifies it. It may take a long time, but science has a way to recover from mistakes or distortions through a process that can be initiated by anyone competent enough. Religion, on the other hand, has neither a clear-cut methodology to collect evidence, nor a way to change the doctrine based on evidence, and these are the main reasons why the author believes that science and religion can never be unified. They represent two fundamentally irreconcilable world views.
With regard to spirituality, however, the situation is different because spirituality is based on experimental evidence, even if this is only the evidence of first-person experiences. Therefore, spirituality is compatible with science because it is possible to design experiments where information can be independently collected by several researchers and compared, thus allowing the creation of a body of reliable knowledge. Spirituality then can in principle be unified with science, if proper care is taken in the collection and use of evidence. Nevertheless, much work needs to be done to extend the scientific methodology to properly address inner experiences that are now considered subjective and unsuitable for scientific study.
There is plenty of evidence that some people may have access to information, or may directly affect matter in ways that are impossible to explain with the current scientific paradigm. Research in this field, however, is generally avoided since these claims undermine the fundamental assumptions of science, are difficult to study scientifically, and there is no alternative theory or explanation for them.