|Physicist Leonard Mlodinow|
That being said, I was listening to NPR on my way home from church this morning and Krista Tippett hosted physicist Leonard Mlodinow during her program On Being. Krista brought up the issue of religious belief because, I gather, Mlodinow co-authored a book with Deepak Chopra entitled: War of the World Views: Where Science and Spirituality Meet—And Do Not. I would have wished for a more profound author to state the case for Spirituality, but Mlodinow’s remarks were interesting. Unfortunately my route took me through several tunnels where the radio was “in and out,” but one remark that stuck with me was when Mlodinow referred to religion as being “outside science.” That is a strange way to regard science. Science is the study of phenomena and religion is a phenomenon. It is only “outside science” if scientists push it there and then we must ask them why they have chosen to do that. Granted “God” most likely can never be examined, much less proved, by science. Nor, for that matter, is “the soul” a likely subject for science. “God” or “the soul” are experienced by some as phenomenon but whether they have any objective existence in and of themselves is the very question that separates believers from those who do not believe. There is a line, probably an unbridgeable gap like that referred to in Luke 16:26 between physics and metaphysics. After all the word “metaphysics” means “beyond physics.” But the phenomenon of religious belief is something the existence of which is beyond dispute and which can be studied by scientists. Why do people believe? Why do they believe what they believe? Are they conditioned for belief by their biology? Are they conditioned for belief by their psychological makeup? What difference, if any, does religious belief cause in the structure and functioning of the brain of the believer? Does “prayer” alter the neurological makeup of the believer? Does religious belief and practice cause physiological changes that predispose the believer to certain ethical choices? I think there is a lot here for scientists in a number of different disciplines to look at—if, of course, they choose. Or they—or the universities for which they work and which pay them a salary, or the opinion of their peers, or the pressures and biases of the larger society and its limited interests—could lead them to dismiss these questions as “outside science,” if not as subjects that would only interest the eccentric. Again, I think that our culture is pushing religion to the margins in the hopes that it will become both invisible and impotent for social influence. That would be sad.
In 1972 Sir John Templeton, wealthy American/British philanthropist, established an annual prize to be awarded “for progress towards research or discoveries about spiritual realities.” The honorees include some of the best known humanitarians of the last forty years—Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Aleksandr Solzhenistyn, the Reverend Doctor Billy Graham, and Dame Cicely Saunders. Winners have also included a variety of scientists, including eleven physicists. On the other hand, as another example of a secularist who is unwilling to engage the phenomenon of religious belief, British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins snarkly said that the Templeton Prize “is usually given to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.” Of course it would be fascinating for a person like Dawkins who turned from religious belief to non-belief to allow himself to be studied scientifically as well to ascertain the psychological and possibly physiological determinates of his own evolution from his previous religious faith to his current atheism. But just as psychologists are usually more anxious to look at the idiosyncrasies of their clients rather than their own, scientists too seem to shy away from self-examination. Too bad. The inner world of one’s own psyche is far more fascinating than whatever we find outside ourselves and while we must ask the great questions of the universe, unless we know ourselves and how our own biases shape our perception, whatever knowledge we gain of the world beyond our own inner self is highly suspect. γνῶθι σεαυτόν