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Email letter addressing the materialist, empirical worldview and why it is only part of the larger picture of life
The following is an excerpt from a writer who regularly challenges my own worldview and beliefs. This is a good thing, for it means that I am not mentally stagnating, but exploring and taking in a wide range of viewpoints.
One of his passages reads as follows:
…We are much better off today than when our myths were all we had to explain our lives. The knowledge we have acquired through strict research into physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology and a number of other scientific fields shows us that we were not created by mystical beings living somewhere in the heavens. Our galaxy, our sun, and humanity evolved though a long process and series of complex events that completely overshadow the simplistic tales told by our shamans and priests….
Our next step is to replace blind obedience to a religion or to a political entity, or a charismatic leader with analytical thought and a high standard of ethics. Giving ourselves over to people and ideologies has been a form of psychotherapy for millions of us for many years. We seemed to welcome any theology, ideology, or rhetoric which could assuage our fears and give us meaning and purpose or give us a worthy cause to devote our lives to…
Then, with perfect timing, I came across an article in “New Scientist” magazine the other day which contained an arresting passage which attests to the very pervasiveness of the scientific and empiricist worldview, which has so thoroughly shaped life in the past two centuries, reaching it’s apogee in today’s world:
Consciousness has two major components: wakefulness and awareness of both yourself and your surroundings. Many researchers have mapped the connections between nerves in the outer layer, the cortex, of the human brain that underpin awareness, but the anatomical basis of wakefulness – which is regulated in deeper regions of the brain – is less clear. Now, Brian Edlow at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues have mapped how 18 clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, that were previously found to underlie wakefulness in the brains of mice, rats and cats connect to each other in deep regions of the human brain…
My enlarged and edited response to my friend’s essay follows. I don’t always know what I’m going to write here. Occasionally it’s a reaction to something I’ve read, intended initially only for the writer. I will give a lot of time and thought to a piece of writing, especially if it’s by a friend or someone I know. Then, when I presume I won’t be getting a response, for whatever reason, I will rewrite it and share it with others. This only feels right after I’ve spent a considerable amount of time writing something to another that I consider important, and which is not personal.
“As always your writing provides a compelling read and a trip deep into the science-based and materialist worldview. All of your previous essays adhere to this empirical worldview, which I understand and can appreciate for its rigor and logic. I see how it has evolved out of the Enlightenment, just as many other worldviews have. Human beings have brains and minds, and many use them for purposes beyond evolutionary self-preservation and betterment. It’s evident that you have thought long and hard about how to make the world a better, more humane and peaceful place for all people to co-exist with each other. I wish I shared your optimism.
“Humans, however, are not the source of all knowledge, wisdom, ethics and morality, nor can they alone save themselves. My view has for a long time been that there is no real conflict between science and religion. God, quantum physics and biological evolution can co-exist. I believe that myths, ancient wisdom traditions, and the wide varieties of spirituality and religious experiences, and religions (See “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James), have as much value in the human experience as physics, chemistry and biology. Emotions, spiritual beings, other dimensions, and the wonders of “the other side,” are not necessarily composed of atoms and molecules, or our own universe’s basic building blocks of hydrogen, helium and carbon.
“The physical world which you write about and describe with such detailed knowledge borne of extensive research, is but one reality, one state of being, one universe or dimension, if you will, among countless others. Perhaps you agree with me about this. Can I prove it? No, not now. But that doesn’t mean these states don’t exist. Our brains have almost, but not quite, infinite capabilities, most of which will never be utilized in this life.
“Our senses, and even our stupendously vast mental capabilities, can perceive only tiny slivers of the other worlds that exist beyond our ways of measuring and quantifying them, or proving this or that through the scientific method, and calling it a wrap until some other theory or law of physics takes the place of previous knowledge. We are capable of so much more, but need access to the means of attaining the soul’s higher access to wisdom and Truth. If we rely on the scientific method to prove this, we will continually be frustrated.
“Yes, I believe we all have souls, however you want to define that term. For me, Christianity, despite the awful and ignominious human-based acts of the institutional church over the past 2,000 years, provides the ultimate answers I need, but have a difficult time accepting on faith because I am a mere human at this point. But the soul is immortal, and there is such a thing as “the grace of God.” By they I mean God is a personal deity, not something humans created, who is the creator of everything that exists and is yet to be, or even imagined. This is not a crutch or panacea for the many ills of our blighted human race, the dominant earthly species that is temporarily, but disastrously occupying a small evolutionary niche of time in the planet’s history. One can obviously see from what we have made of this world we inhabit they we are fallen creatures in need of redemption. The “universe” can’t redeem us, but God can.
“And, I will insert here that I readily acknowledge that science and empiricism have brought about vast improvements in our lives, but they have also given us the atomic bomb.
“I want to re-iterate my belief that religions and belief in God are not crutches for simple-minded or helpless humans, nor are they mere stepping stones in evolutionary thought, or even evolution itself. Psychology and parapsychology, religion, philosophy, and the humanities, are all foundational enterprises of the human mind, and far and away transcend their origins in brain circuitry and neurons, and chemical balancing acts, if that is even where mind comes from. The “big” question, “What is consciousness?” (And where does it come from?) has not been solved scientifically or philosophically. It remains the ultimate unanswered human question, although some philosophers, scientists, theologians, and self-proclaimed creators of “Theories of Everything” claim to have reasoned out definitive understandings of consciousness, or at least are getting close, particularly scientific explanations based on research and empirical evidence.”
As someone put it succinctly to me recently in describing the idealism counterpoint to materialism: When will they see that the Brain is only a sort of ‘interface’ between what passes for Reality in our everyday perceptions, and something much more vast and ineffable?
In conclusion, religion, God, science, Idealism, physicality and our own consciousness are not, and never were, mutually exclusive. They are all part of the vast, interconnected consciousness of our universe, and perhaps an infinite number of others.