So far, the only attribute of deity that we have discussed is creativity. Virtually all theists have many other strongly-held beliefs about God: God is just, God is merciful, God is Love, and so on. Those claiming any organized religious faith, as well as those claiming none, who tell us they have experienced communion with God, agree that God is much more than we humans can ever comprehend. In fact, some mystics hold that any attempt to describe God ultimately limits us to an incomplete concept of God.
Most theologians, as well as mystics of all stripes, agree that there are various categories of knowledge: knowledge received through the five senses, knowledge deduced rationally, knowledge imparted to us by other people, knowledge received by direct spiritual revelation. P. D. Ouspensky adds emotional knowledge, the knowledge of how experiences interact with us at the subtle level. Science as historically practiced under the Grand Material Paradigm only accepts the first three kinds of knowledge, leading to an epistemological problem from the very beginning of any dialog between science and religion. Religion says, “God is real, in fact God is the supreme reality.” The materialistic scientist says, ‘Prove it.” Even Martin Luther said that the only god who could be deduced by logical arguments was the god of the pagan philosophers. “Faith does not require information, knowledge, and certainty, but a free surrender and a joyful bet on his unfelt, untried, and unknown goodness.” [Armstrong, Karen: A History of God, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994, p. 278]
Western religion (exoteric) meets science: Asked to discuss God, the religious spokesmen begin to tread unfamiliar turf. No longer able to use the language of theology so laboriously developed over the centuries, they attempt the language of the science of the day. Thus unawares, these spokesmen have moved onto the turf of science. Forced to discuss in an alien language, the religious spokesmen have naturally been at a disadvantage. To this day, the unlevel playing field remains.
Attempts by theologians to discuss God rationally include:
Example of God’s Action: God holds planets and stars in place
Response of Science: Newton’s first law
Example of God’s Action: God created the universe
Response of Science: Uniformitism (now disproven)
Example of God’s Action: God is manifested in storms
Response of Science: Ben Franklin’s proof that lightning is static electricity
Example of God’s Action: God created all life forms
Response of Science: Darwinian evolution
At each point, it seems that the gap in causality formerly filled by God had been filled instead by science. This doomed attempt to prove God’s existence has been termed the “God of the Gaps.” Many sincere, well-meaning religious persons have fallen into the trap of the unlevel playing field through an uncritical literalism.
“At a time when Mulla Sudra was teaching Muslims that heaven and hell were located in the imaginary world within each individual, sophisticated churchmen such as Bellarmine were strenuously arguing that they had a literal geographic location. When Kabbalists were reinterpreting the Biblical account of creation in a deliberately symbolic manner and warning their disciples not to take this mythology literally, Catholics and Protestants were insisting that the Bible was factually true in every detail. This would make the traditional religious mythology vulnerable to the new science and would eventually make it impossible for many people to believe in God at all. ... This would ultimately enable the new ‘atheists’ of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to get rid of God altogether.”[Armstrong, pp. 290-291]
Rene Descartes was deeply religious, and he considered mathematics to be the language of God. Recognizing the problem we have just described, he attempted to forestall a confrontation between science religion through an intellectual schism that we have already discussed: Cartesian Dualism. He said Creation is divided into dual domains: matter and soul. The proper study of science includes only the realms of matter and energy. The proper study of religion includes only values, emotions, and things of the spirit or soul. Thus it would be “unscientific” to discuss anything rationally except matter and energy. That this schism came to be generally accepted, at least by most scientists, led to the gradual rejection (until very recently) of all non-measurable data, phenomena, and experiences as unscientific and therefore superstitious, childish, weak, and outdated. The scientific study of psychology has been hobbled by the limitations imposed by Cartesian Dualism. And although Descartes explicitly accepted the spiritual domain and the existence of the soul, his intellectual offspring increasingly did not.
Ignoring the leap in logic that the dualistic division of experienced reality is entirely arbitrary, philosophers began to have a very difficult time figuring out how a non-material soul could affect a material body. However, today we understand more about the influence of the non-material upon the material. A computer controlling a powerful robot is itself controlled by software represented by electrical states of tiny transistors operating upon infinitesimal subatomic particles. Even though the software is represented in material objects, the essence of the software is ideas in the mind of the software writer. Some moderns who claim to be spokesmen for science will not allow this example, as they believe that the mind is “simply” an epiphenomenon of the brain. Another example was given earlier: human interpretations of experiences have physiological consequences. A third is the ability of love, especially altruistic love, to motivate humans to perform sometimes amazing physical actions. Many attempts have been made to explain mind/matter interaction through quantum physics. While we shall see later that quantum physics does contain some important keys, most of these attempts have been analogous to the God of the Gaps, the gaps having become quantum leaps.
Perhaps much more important than the constricting effect that Cartesian Dualism has had upon the science/religion dialog is the effect that it has had upon the practice of religion. “ ... for centuries, we in the West have divided the world into spiritual phenomena and natural phenomena, as if all phenomena were not natural. To put it another way, we came to believe that some natural laws were more God’s laws than others. Faith and spiritual experiences were dismissed as delusions that had no basis in fact.... Scientific rationalism even influenced religion. ‘The religious groups had to be creatures of the Enlightenment,’ explains David Baird, minister of the Putnam United Methodist Church in Putnam, Connecticut. Even today, reverend Baird notes, ‘the training we get is ninety-nine percent intellectual, theological, and philosophical. There is very little on the cultivation of the spirit.’ For the last few centuries, he notes, many religions have ‘tried to package religion in a way society could accept.’ When he did hands on healing as a Lutheran minister, he recalls, ‘people felt it was getting into magic. They thought I was leaving orthodox Christianity.’” [Goldner, Diane: Infinite Grace, Hampton Roads Publishing Co., Charlottesville, Va., 1999, pp. 42-43]
The formal dialog between science and religion can be summarized thus:
1. In the early days of science, the Church (in the West) and the leaders of Islam (in much of the Near East) not only controlled the dialog, but they employed professional scientists: astronomers, mathematicians, and the like. While these professionals made much progress in science, their conclusions were always subject to the tests of religious dogma. In India and the Far East, dogma has never been as highly esteemed, and scientific studies at that time were not a major part of the intellectual climate. The source of true knowledge was considered to be enlightened masters who claimed to maintain a union with the Ultimate (sometimes called “God”, sometimes not), and whose pronouncements were beyond questioning because the Ultimate is by definition omniscient.
2. Beginning during the so-called “Enlightenment,” (notice the almost diametrically opposed usages of this word in the East and West), the religious side of the dialog lost much of its following among the intelligentsia in the West and, to perhaps a lesser extent, the Near East. Gradually, the situation described above by Rev. Baird came to be, even to the extent of weakening the influence of the mystical religions of the Far East.
3. By the end of the 18th century, scientism had become the de facto religion of the intellectual elite in most of the world, although there were vast numbers of people less analytically inclined, who continued to accept the religious traditions of their ancestors. In fact, science did seem to prove the mechanical nature of a universe which was infinite in extent, history, and future.
4. During the 20th century, as we have discussed, many of the props were pulled from under scientism, and the work of Thomas Kuhn, the founders of General Semantics, and others helped to reveal the difference between scientism and science. Also, the influence of Indian, Far Eastern, and aboriginal religions began to be felt in Western society, largely due to a generation that found itself intellectually as well as spiritually unsatisfied with materialism. Willis Harman, in “Toward a Consciousness Metaphor in Science,”[ Noetic Sciences Review, 24 (Winter 1992), pp. 35-36] stated,
“There is a common misconception about science, not shared by good scientists. That is that science describes reality. But in fact the activity of science is basically a way of understanding based on making models ... or choosing metaphors ... to represent certain aspects of reality.... Great mischief can result when the models and metaphors of science are mistakenly taken to be the ‘true’ description of reality. Because when they are, people feel a necessity to defend them, and to stamp out competing reality claims. Many of the conflicts in the history of science, as well as the conflict between science and religion, have been battles between groups who insist that their metaphors are ‘really’ how reality is. Mainstream science, characterized by an obsession with prediction and control, has almost exclusively employed physicalistic metaphors such as ‘mechanisms’, particles, waves, or fields. It has been very dubious about more holistic metaphors such as organism, personality, ecological community, or the Gaia metaphor for the Earth and its biosphere. (Scientists have typically insisted that these whole-system descriptions can or will be understood in terms of their parts.) Further, science has tended to disallow a third kind of metaphor, a consciousness metaphor.’
In fairness, it must be added that many of the religious conflicts throughout human history have resulted from failure to perceive that models represent reality but are not themselves essentially real: “the map is not the territory.” We will discuss the consciousness metaphor in much greater detail later.
Next, we will enumerate the topics of discussion in the science/religion dialog as of this writing.