JULY 2002
A Reunion of Spirit and Science

Centuries ago science as we know it did not exist. Our understandings of the earth and cosmos were grounded in philosophy and religion. The tenor of the mind was set around cycles of the sun, moon, earth and planets, all guided by Divine Providence. Astronomers sought truth alongside philosophers and holy men, believing authority was derived from a living world created by God to benefit human life.

Then in the 16th Century Copernicus questioned the prevailing belief in the fixed, central position of the earth. At first his formulations were considered heresy but over time a new worldview about the nature of truth emerged. The "scientific revolution" of the 1500’s shifted the source of ultimate authority from tradition to observation and experiment. No longer was grace considered a cause as hotly debated theories of evolution took center stage.

Once the accepted thought was that the universe was imbued by divine purpose, with wo/mankind standing in the middle of a Great Chain of Being between angels and animals. The known world was a unified whole. After the "scientific revolution" came to define reality, the universe was essentially inert, influenced by laws and mechanisms that acted upon it. Some schools of science held to holistic thinking that included nature, gnosis, and metaphysical principles. But over the centuries, conventional science banished all tinges of divinity and theories split the body from the mind, the heart from the soul, the person from their God.

The scientific pursuit of truth pointed to proving the validity of hypotheses through mathematical formulas and "unbiased" laboratory test results. Science was driven to dispel mystery, squeezing it into rules and categories. We came to expect scientists to discover all there is to know.

Now in the 21st Century we are experiencing a new revolution. Even with, and perhaps because of, the sophistication of technology, scientists are beginning to acknowledge their limits. Along with a greater ability to look deeper into the unknown comes a discovery of more that cannot be explained.

This is a shock to many who have felt secure in a reality defined by science. It reminds me of how as a child, I believed my father knew absolutely everything. And though a man of few words, what he knew determined the expanse of truth I counted on. As I grew, I was quite surprised, and even afraid at times, to find there was much he didn’t understand. I expected him to have answers to all my questions. And when he didn’t, as a man of faith, he taught me about the wonder and mystery of a reality that was unable to be expressed.

That mystery became a bridge between science and spirituality, for mystery is fundamental in the life of the spiritual. In looking back reclaiming the awe of mystery was vital for my spiritual growth. Yet not as a child given over to the infallibility of a father, but as an adult with respect for learning and the vastness of the unknown.

Many of today’s scientists are coming to understand that what we cannot know may define the nature of reality more fundamentally than what we can know. Research on prayer and meditation, studies on consciousness and mystical phenomenon are conducted with scientific rigor. Our maturing sciences are beginning to recognize there may be basic unfathomable features of the universe. They are breaking out of their competitive, separate corners, sharing common discoveries across disciplines and acknowledging gaps in theories and measurements. Scientists are making room for the mystery, the unknowable and even the impossible.

Science and religion/spirituality are in essence not at odds with each other. Rather they can be complementary ways of knowing what it means to be human. This partnership of perspectives brings substance and depth to our personal quests for revelation. The other day I spoke with a doctor about his laboratory research. I listened to details and methods for studying an aspect of biology I knew nothing about, yet curiously was completely engrossed. After several hours we both admitted, no matter how meticulous the investigation and dedicated the researcher, the results could provide only a peek at a greater, unfolding mystery. Still, the careful process of searching was exhilarating.

In this new Century we are invited to join a revolution full of the spirit and liveliness of exploration. And through bringing the discipline of a scientist to the zeal of our spiritual seeking the Unknown calls to us to respond, not with fear but with fascination.