Several pieces of scientific information have been important to me in finding direction and perspective in my life. This scientific information is spiritual insofar as spirituality concerns a larger entity of which we feel a part.
- For 3.8 billion years, each generation of living things has created the next one. Although existence may well be a state of impermanence, and each life by itself is frail and fleeting, this chain of life evokes my awe and a deep feeling of reassurance.
- All living things struggle to thrive and reproduce. This commonality is at the heart of our capacities for not only selfishness but generosity as well. Compassion, altruism, and love are rooted in our knowing that not only other people but all living things face the same essential tasks.
- When we are suffering, we look beyond ourselves for something larger in order to find consolation or understand the meaning of our suffering. But all living things, both plants and animals, at some time either suffer—feel actual pain—or expend all their energy just to stay alive. Our suffering places us in the company of the countless organisms that are struggling for what they need.
- Religions encourage the belief that people are not isolated individuals but parts of a larger, living whole. Science brings a similar message: not only are we parts of the living world and the cosmos, but we are also social beings to our core, our brains woven over time by and for our relationships with other people.
In today’s debates about religion, many are looking for an overlap or a compromise between science and their beliefs in a transcendent God. But it seems to me that science itself, understood vividly and taken to heart, offers its own spiritual opportunities.
The Author: Brock Haussamen
I live in New Jersey and taught English at a community college for nearly four decades.
I retired from teaching in 2006 in part to move on from teaching and partly to try to help reduce poverty locally and through global advocacy. For the past few years, I’ve served as a financial coach for low-income families.
I think about the questions that catch up with most of us sooner or later: What is my purpose? How will I face death? What do I believe in? I’ve always liked and trusted the descriptions from science of how living things work and how we all evolved. But I could not put those descriptions together with my questions. Gradually, I’ve come to see how the history of life over 3.8 billion years stands inside and throughout my being and the being of others.
I feel the same — very much — but many don’t. In my opinion science and religion should be sympatico. I see my religion as an aesthetic expression compatible with knowledge derived from direct experience and scientific research. So I’m wondering what you make of Jerry A. Coyne’s new book, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. I haven’t read it myself, can’t decide if it’s worth the trouble. I like to challenge myself, but I’m not interested in a screed against Abrahamic monotheism, and I kind of suspect that’s what I’d find.
I haven’t read it either. I’ve read enough of Coyne’s lively web site, Why Evolution Is True, to know his positions and one review said that the book is solidly written, which doesn’t surprise me because he’s a good writer when he’s not ranting. I imagine that mostly it addresses the tension between science and a belief in god without having much to say about how non-theistic spirituality relates to science, but I don’t that for sure.