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Ervin Laszlo

Ervin Laszlo

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A Meeting Place for Religion and Science

Posted: 06/22/10 04:01 PM ET

It's time to use the power of the Internet to confront the two great strands of the modern world, the strands that scientist and novelist C.P. Snow called the "two cultures": the scientific, and the humanistic. Must these two cultures run on separate tracks? Must they be at war with each other? Or could conflict shift to comprehension?

We are not talking about making science into a religion, or religion into a science. We are talking about finding the unity in diversity that's basic for a healthy community.

Both religion and science are key factors of life in our communities. When HuffPost Religion launched, Paul Raushenbush wrote that "there is no question that religion plays a crucial role in how humans make meaning, create community, act politically, and find mandates for how to live a good life." We can say the same thing about science. It, too, plays a crucial role in our life already because of all the science-based technologies we use. They shape how we live, what we consume, and what we want to -- and can -- achieve.

Both religion and science shape the way we see the world, and for that reason they shape how we act in the world. The great mathematician and philosopher Henri Poincaré pointed out that we all carry a view of the world in our head and act in light of it whether we know it or not. The trouble is that religion and science create different, and in some respects opposing, views. The time has come to look at these views and see whether their contrasts really are a chronic, irremediable cause for conflict. Conflict between religion and science is dangerous, for it rends asunder the fabric of society and can degenerate into violence.

Of course, there is not just one science worldview and one religion worldview but as many as there are science- and religion-minded people in the world. Yet there are some typical features of the individual worldviews, and these are useful when we try to compare them and seek to understand their agreements and disagreements. Take, for example, the typical worldviews of the following people:

  • The classical scientist: The world, including all things and all people, is but a collection of bits of matter that move about in space, impacting each other. There is no meaning or intention behind this, it's just the way things are. If you think differently, you only project your own subjective values and feelings into the objective, and objectively meaningless, world.

  • The orthodox religionist: The world we experience is the work of a divine Creator. It's not the entire world or even the highest world; it's only the temporary world below, the precursor of the eternal world above. The earthly world derives its meaning from the will of its Creator, and human beings achieve their personal worth and ultimately gain their salvation by obeying His commands.

  • The mystic: The entire world, with all things in it, is infused with spirit and consciousness. We are who we are, and everything is what it is, because of the divine spark we all embody. The entire cosmos is a whole and is holy in its entirety.

  • The atheist: The only things that are real in the world are the kind of things that we see with our own eye and grasp with our own hand. The rest is just talk -- illusion or wishful thinking.

  • The new scientist: We can know the world by following the scientific method: codifying and quantifying the data of human experience and applying the laws of reason to them. This gives us a complex world furnished not only by what we can touch and see, but also by quarks, black holes, and quantum fields, things too small, too large, or too subtle to perceive.


The worldview of the classical scientist is that of Newtonian physics: the universe is a giant mechanism that runs harmoniously, if meaninglessly, through all eternity. It's the view of most of the people who consider themselves scientific.

The worldview of the orthodox religionist is shared by the devout Christian, Jew, and Muslim. The world is the creation of a transcendent God and testifies to His omnipotent will and spirit.

The world of the mystic is the world of traditional peoples and Eastern religions. It's a world infused by spirit and consciousness; all things are alive and everything that happens to them has deeper meaning.

The atheist's worldview is clear-cut: only what we can see and touch is real, everything else is imagination or wishful thinking.

The new scientist's worldview is in principle open to everything we can experience and to everything we can rationally derive from experience, as long as it's verified by repeatable observation and controlled experiment.

These are the prototypes of the principal kinds of worldviews people espouse today, even if they don't espouse them as cleanly and starkly as this. They line up along a scale with science on the one end and religion on the other.

The classical scientist is on the science end of the scale. He is in direct opposition to the orthodox religionist, who, particularly if he is a fundamentalist, is on the other end.

The mystic is on the religion side, but he is not at its end, for he is generally less explicit and dogmatic than either the classical scientist or the fundamentalist religionist.

The modern atheist is dogmatic on what he claims to be the side of science. He is opposed to all views that claim that reality has a higher dimension.

The new scientist should be open to all ways of thinking about the world but tends to disregard or dismiss ways that don't measure up to his concept of sound knowledge.

What about you and me -- what kind of worldview do we hold? Only you can answer the question regarding your own view. As to me, I need only to say that my worldview is aligned with the view of the new scientist (hopefully without the disciplinary blinders), and that, because I see the world as an integral, interconnected whole, it's also compatible with the worldview of the mystic and of spiritual people in general.

HuffPost Religion offers us an opportunity to discuss our worldviews and see how they line up with the view of others. Entering this "worldview café" doesn't need to make you collapse your differences or become dominated by just one kind of view. Instead, it can create a better appreciation of your differences and a greater willingness to live with them. After all, we all share the same planet and would best share it without ignoring, dismissing, or denigrating each other.

A little more understanding could produce a good deal more tolerance and a greater will to live together in peace. This would be a good thing indeed in a world rent by incomprehension and miscommunication and rocked by occasional violence.

Ervin Laszlo is currently leading the "Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality" on his website -- a place where top scientists and renowned spiritual leaders search for ways to heal the gap between the two cultures by drawing on the latest findings of the sciences and the best insights of spirituality and religion. These posts will carry a logo with the legend "An invited contribution to the Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality."

 

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