Monday, September 28, 2009

Science and spirit

The philosopher Karl Popper called science "one of the greatest spiritual adventures man has yet known."

Spiritual adventure? Most people would say that science is the antithesis of spirit. This is no doubt because most people are caught up in the philosophical dualism that has dominated Western thinking at least since Augustine -- body/soul, natural/supernatural, matter/spirit. But if we have learned anything in the past several centuries, it is that philosophical dualism is bankrupt. Consider what unitary science has given us, then ask yourself what dualism has contributed to human progress. Body and soul are one. Natural/supernatural is a sterile distinction. The dross matter of the dualists has dissolved into a thing of musical resonances and spiritual potentialities.

In a recent letter to the editors of Nature (11 June), Dick Taverne, distinguished British politician and humanist, concisely summarized the significance of the scientific way of knowing.
Because science rejects claims to truth based on authority and depends on the criticism of established ideas, it is the enemy of autocracy. Because scientific knowledge is tentative and provisional, it is the enemy of dogma. Because it is the most effective way of learning about the physical world, it erodes superstition, ignorance and prejudice, which have been at the root of the denial of human rights throughout history, whether through racism, chauvinism or the suppression of the rights of women."
He might have added that by rejecting philosophical dualism, science shatters the various brittle idols we have set up as gods, and opens the door to encounter with authentic mystery.