"A Primer On Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism Human Origins Initiative", Broader Social Impacts Committee Co-Chairs: Dr. Connie Bertka And Dr. Jim Miller
Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism: Primer
A Primer On Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism
Human Origins Initiative, Broader Social Impacts Committee
Co-Chairs: Dr. Connie Bertka And Dr. Jim Miller
Introduction: The Broader Social Impacts Committee
The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) invites the public to explore the depths of our understanding of what it means to be human in relation to the most reliable scientific research. The answers to the question, “What Does It Mean To Be Human?” draw on a variety of sources: scientific understandings of the biological origins and development of Homo sapiens, studies of social and cultural evolution, and global and personal insights from contemporary experience. It is in recognition of these broad factors that public engagement materials, events, and contributions to the Human Origins web site are being developed by the Broader Social Impacts Committee (BSIC) to support the exhibition in the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.
Organized by the Museum’s Human Origins Initiative, the BSIC is a group of scholars and practitioners from a wide range of religious and philosophical perspectives, many of whom also have experience in the academic field of science and religion. This committee helps inform the Smithsonian about the range of cultural perspectives the public brings to the exhibit, considers ways the museum can encourage the public’s engagement with the science the exhibit presents, and helps equip museum staff and volunteers to participate in a respectful conversation where science intersects with cultural and religious interests. The committee recognizes the unique opportunity the subject of human origins offers for the exploration of challenging cultural topics, which in turn can inspire greater public interest in, and understanding of, science.
Thus, it is with input from the committee that the co-chairs have prepared this primer. It provides a brief introduction to issues that arise at the crossroads of science and religion, particularly in relation to the scientific accounts of evolution and human origins that are presented in the exhibit. The primer is organized around two broad topics: science and religion and evolution and creationism. A question and answer format is used to highlight common concerns for each of these topics. Cultural divides in the United States over the acceptance of evolution and scientific understandings of human origins make this interchange relevant. They also offer an opportunity to inspire a positive relationship between science and religion.
Science And Religion
Visitors to the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins bring with them many assumptions about science, about religion, and about their relationship. These assumptions may impact, positively or negatively, their willingness and ability to engage the scientific presentation of human origins. The questions below are offered as a guide to begin thinking about science and religion in the context of the possible interactions of religious worldviews with a scientific account of human evolution and origins.
1. What is science?
Science is a way to understand nature by developing explanations for the structures, processes and history of nature that can be tested by observations in laboratories or in the field. Sometimes such observations are direct, like measuring the chemical composition of a rock. Other times these observations are indirect, like determining the presence of an exoplanet through the wobble of its host star. An explanation of some aspect of nature that has been well supported by such observations is a theory. Well-substantiated theories are the foundations of human understanding of nature. The pursuit of such understanding is science.
2. What is religion?
Religion, or more appropriately religions, are cultural phenomena comprised of social institutions, traditions of practice, literatures, sacred texts and stories, and sacred places that identify and convey an understanding of ultimate meaning. Religions are very diverse. While it is common for religions to identify the ultimate with a deity (like the western monotheisms – Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or deities, not all do. There are non-theistic religions, like Buddhism.
3. What is the difference between science and religion?
Although science does not provide proofs, it does provide explanations. Science depends on deliberate, explicit and formal testing (in the natural world) of explanations for the way the world is, for the processes that led to its present state, and for its possible future. When scientists see that a proposed explanation has been well confirmed by repeated observations, it serves the scientific community as a reliable theory. A theory in science is the highest form of scientific explanation, not just a “mere opinion.” Strong theories, ones that have been well confirmed by evidence from nature, are an essential goal of science. Well-supported theories guide future efforts to solve other questions about the natural world.
Religions may draw upon scientific explanations of the world, in part, as a reliable way of knowing what the world is like, about which they seek to discern its ultimate meaning. However, “testing” of religious understandings of the world is incidental, implicit and informal in the course of the life of the religious community in the world. Religious understanding draws from both subjective insight and traditional authority. Therefore, some people view religion as based on nothing more than personal opinion or “blind faith,” and so, as immune to rational thought. However, this is an erroneous judgment. Virtually all of the historic religions include traditions of rational reflection.
4. How are science and religion similar?
Science and religion both have historical traditions that exhibit development over time. Each has places for individual insight and communal discernment. Analytic and synthetic reasoning can be found exhibited in both. Science and religion have been and continue to be formative elements shaping an increasingly global human society. Both science and religion have served to jeopardize and contribute to the common human good.
5. How can science and religion be related?
Typical assumptions about this relationship fall into one of three forms: conflict, separation or interaction.
A conflict approach assumes that science and religion are competitors for cultural authority. Either science sets the standard for truth to which religion must adhere or be dismissed, or religion sets the standard to which science must conform. For example, some atheists adopt this approach and argue that science reduces religion to a merely natural phenomenon. Conversely, some religious adherents, while claiming to accept science, will identify specific points at which mainstream scientific findings must be distorted or abandoned for the sake of religious convictions. Such an adversarial approach tends to rule out any constructive engagement between science and religion.
Individuals who prefer a separation approach hold that science and religion use different languages, ask different questions and have different objects of interest (e.g., nature for science and God for religion). By highlighting the differences between science and religion, conflict is avoided. While this approach allows a person to explore what science has learned about human origins without fear of conflict with religious beliefs, it also encourages that the science be left, so to speak, at the museum threshold so that it has no impact on other non-scientific explorations of what it means to be human. A consequence of separation is that the science of human origins can be viewed as irrelevant to what might be the deepest of human concerns.
It should be noted that it is true that science is practiced without reference to religion. God may be an ultimate explanation, but God is not a scientific explanation. This approach to science is called methodological naturalism. However, this method of isolating religious interests from scientific research is not an example of the separation approach. Historically, this bracketing out of religious questions in the practice of scientific inquiry was promoted by religious thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries as the most fruitful way to discover penultimate rather than ultimate explanations of the structures and processes of nature.
A third possibility for the relationship between science and religion, one of interaction, at minimum holds that dialogue between science and religion can be valuable, more that science and religion can constructively benefit from engagement, and at maximum envisions a convergence of scientific and religious perspectives. Generally, this view encourages an effort to explore the significance of scientific understanding for religious understanding and vice versa. With this approach science remains relevant beyond the museum for many people who might otherwise ignore scientific findings.
Evolution And Creationism
The National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution has a responsibility due to its charter to provide the public with an opportunity to explore for themselves the most recent scientific understandings of the natural world, including human origins. However the question, “What does it mean to be human?” is generally recognized as one that does not belong solely to the realm of science. People are well aware that insights from the humanities, including the arts, literature and religious traditions, have much to say on this topic as well. For some people an evolutionary account of human origins may be greeted with skepticism because it challenges their particular religious commitments. In contrast, other people find their religious perspectives are deepened and enriched by an evolutionary understanding of human origins. Although the questions below recognize this range of perspectives, many of the questions reflect expectations that are especially characteristic of people from those religious communities that are skeptical about the science of evolution. Ironically, people in these latter communities often value science and seek scientific support for their particular religious commitments.
1. Do “creationists” necessarily oppose an evolutionary understanding of the history of nature and the origins of species and humanity?
No. In principle all members of the three western monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are “creationists” in that they believe the order of nature exists because a reality beyond nature, commonly called “God”, is the ultimate cause of all existence. In this sense of the word, many creationists accept an evolutionary understanding of natural history. However, at least four types of creationism can be identified, and each has a distinctive view of the evolutionary sciences and human origins.
“Young-Earth” creationists hold that the sacred text provides an inerrant account of how the universe, all life and humankind came into existence; namely, in six 24-hour days, some 6-10,000 years ago. Human beings were created through a direct act of divine intervention in the order of nature.
“Old-Earth” creationists hold that the sacred text is an infallible account of why the universe, all life and humankind came into existence, but accepts that the “days” of creation are metaphorical and could represent very long periods of time. While many aspects of nature may be the consequence of direct acts of divine creation, at very least they hold that the very beginning of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of humankind are the consequence of distinct acts of divine intervention in the order of nature.
Theistic evolutionists also hold that the sacred text provides an infallible account of why the universe, all life and humankind came into existence. However, they also hold that for the most part, the diversity of nature from stars to planets to living organisms, including the human body, is a consequence of the divine using processes of evolution to create indirectly. Still, for many who hold this position, the very beginning of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of what is distinctive about humankind are the consequence of direct acts of divine intervention in the order of nature.
Evolutionary theists hold that the sacred text, while giving witness to the ultimate divine source of all of nature, in no way specifies the means of creation. Further, they hold that the witness of creation itself is that the divine creates only indirectly through evolutionary processes without any intervention in the order of nature.
2. What will be the exhibition’s message to the majority (in some polls 53%) of Americans who do not accept evolution?
The exhibition’s main message is the same for all visitors; namely, that the scientific study of human origins is an exciting and fruitful area of research that has provided us with a deeper understanding of both our connection to all of life on Earth and the uniqueness of our species, Homo sapiens. It is intended that those Americans who do not accept evolution will experience in this exhibition an open invitation to engage the science presented, explore the supporting materials, and participate in conversation with staff and volunteers without fear of ridicule or antagonism. Though the viewpoints of those who do not accept the scientific explanation of human origins are not affirmed in the exhibition, the personal importance of their perspectives is appreciated. What the exhibition intends to create is an environment for an enriching and respectful dialogue on human origins that currently can be found in no other venue.
3. Scientific theories change in the light of new discoveries. Why should we believe what science has to say today about human origins when it may change tomorrow?
The perception that scientists completely change their mind with each new discovery is mistaken. Although this has occurred occasionally in the history of science, it is relatively rare.
Unfortunately, media coverage of advances in scientific research often sensationalize the “revolutionary” nature of new discoveries and are also likely to focus on the most controversial interpretations of new findings. What is frequently missed is the broad consensus among scientists in a field, like that of human origins research, which provides the basis for seeking new discoveries. For example, it is broadly agreed that the various characteristics that distinguish our species did not emerge all at once. Walking on two legs emerged before making stone tools, and both of these occurred well before the biggest increase in human brain size. All of these came before the origin of art and symbolic communication. Farming and the rise of civilizations occurred much later still. There is broad scientific agreement even in the light of the most recent fossil discoveries that these changes that define our species took place over a period of about 6 million years. Each visitor to the exhibition has the opportunity to explore both the latest findings of laboratory and field research as well as consider how the scientific community is using these to give a more complete account of human origins. Each visitor is also invited to consider how this account might inform their deepest religious understanding of what it means to be human.
4. What is Intelligent Design and does the exhibit address it?
Advocates of Intelligent Design (ID) hold that there are features of the natural world for which there are no natural explanations and that these features can be shown analytically to be the result of a designing agent. Although ID advocates seldom specify who the designer is, the logic of their argument requires that the designer be beyond nature, or supernatural. However, advocates for ID have not been able to show that their claims are genuinely scientific. While the scientific community welcomes new theoretical proposals, these must lead to active research programs that deepen our understanding of nature and that can find confirmation in either laboratory or field observations. Thus far, ID advocates have been unable to do either.
As an institution of informal public education, the exhibit cannot advocate a religious position. As a matter of public record, a US Federal Court has ruled that ID is not science but instead is a religious viewpoint (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 2005). For all of these reasons it is inappropriate for ID to be included in a scientific presentation on human origins.
4. Still, some people believe that there is a scientific debate about evolution, and that advocates of ID represent one side of this debate. They wonder, “Why isn’t the Smithsonian presenting that side?” They see it as an issue of fairness and expect that ID should be presented equally.
As noted above, the scientific community does not recognize ID as a scientific position. Therefore, it is not one side of a scientific debate. At the same time, the exhibition does provide the visitor with genuine examples of how the evidence for human evolution is interpreted differently by different researchers, for example, in the construction of frameworks for understanding how prehistoric species are related to one another. Here different interpretations of the evolutionary data are presented. While there is lively debate about such alternatives and data is actively sought to discriminate between them, there is no scientific debate about the basic validity of the theory of evolution as the best scientific explanation for the expansion and diversification of life on Earth, including human life.
5. Does the exhibition identify the gaps in the scientific understanding of the origin of humans, gaps that can suggest that God played a role?
It is just such “gaps” in our understanding that fuel the scientific enterprise. It is the unresolved questions about nature that mark the fertile areas for new research, propelling the sciences forward -- including those related to human origin studies. Science, as a particular way of knowing, restricts itself to offering natural explanations for the natural world. When scientists find a gap in their understanding of nature, as scientists they cannot say, “Here is where God acts in some miraculous manner.” Instead, scientists seek to look deeper into nature to discover there the answers that fill the gaps.
It is worth noting that many religious persons take exception to a “God of the gaps” viewpoint, to the idea that the action of God in creation is limited to those areas where there are gaps in human understanding. Supporting materials being developed for the exhibition by the BSIC will help visitors discover resources from various religious traditions that explore religious views on the relation of God and nature.
6. How do people incorporate evolution into their religious worldview?
Religious traditions vary in their response to evolution. For example, Asian religious worldviews do not assume an all-powerful creator God and often see the world religiously as interconnected and dynamic. They tend, therefore, to engage scientific accounts of evolution with little difficulty. However, for Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, the affirmation of a creator God in relation to the world has a central place. As noted in the discussion of various forms of “creationism” above, many individuals in these monotheistic traditions accept, generally, that God created the material world mostly by means of evolutionary processes. At the same time, some of these persons are committed to the view that there are a few specific acts of divine creative intervention: namely, at the very beginning of the universe, at the origin of life, and at the origin of humankind. However, as previously noted, others in the monotheistic traditions hold that God creates entirely by means of evolutionary processes without any intervention, even in the case of humans.
At least for theistic evolutionists and evolutionary theists the scientific exhibition on evolution and human origins stimulates the questions, “Where is God in the process?” and “What does it mean to be created in God’s image?” To the extent that such questions provoke a constructive engagement of scientific and religious ideas, they are an expression of an interaction approach to science and religion. There are many though, who adopt a separation approach to science and religion. For these individuals there is no need to raise religious questions in light of the science of human origins.
Writing biography is a strange thing to do. It's a journey into the foreign territory of somebody else's life, a journey, an exploration that can take you places you never dreamed of going and still can't quite believe you've been, especially if, like me, you're an agnostic Jew and the life you've been exploring is that of Muhammad.
Five years ago, for instance, I found myself waking each morning in misty Seattle to what I knew was an impossible question: What actually happened one desert night, half the world and almost half of history away? What happened, that is, on the night in the year 610 when Muhammad received the first revelation of the Koran on a mountain just outside Mecca? This is the core mystical moment of Islam, and as such, of course, it defies empirical analysis. Yet the question wouldn't let go of me. I was fully aware that for someone as secular as I am, just asking it could be seen as pure chutzpah. (Laughter) And I plead guilty as charged, because all exploration, physical or intellectual, is inevitably in some sense an act of transgression, of crossing boundaries.
Still, some boundaries are larger than others. So a human encountering the divine, as Muslims believe Muhammad did, to the rationalist, this is a matter not of fact but of wishful fiction, and like all of us, I like to think of myself as rational.
Which might be why when I looked at the earliest accounts we have of that night, what struck me even more than what happened was what did not happen. Muhammad did not come floating off the mountain as though walking on air. He did not run down shouting, "Hallelujah!" and "Bless the Lord!" He did not radiate light and joy. There were no choirs of angels, no music of the spheres, no elation, no ecstasy, no golden aura surrounding him, no sense of an absolute, fore-ordained role as the messenger of God. That is, he did none of the things that might make it easy to cry foul, to put down the whole story as a pious fable. Quite the contrary. In his own reported words, he was convinced at first that what had happened couldn't have been real. At best, he thought, it had to have been a hallucination -- a trick of the eye or the ear, perhaps, or his own mind working against him. At worst, possession -- that he'd been seized by an evil jinn, a spirit out to deceive him, even to crush the life out of him. In fact, he was so sure that he could only be majnun, possessed by a jinn, that when he found himself still alive, his first impulse was to finish the job himself, to leap off the highest cliff and escape the terror of what he'd experienced by putting an end to all experience.
So the man who fled down the mountain that night trembled not with joy but with a stark, primordial fear. He was overwhelmed not with conviction, but by doubt. And that panicked disorientation, that sundering of everything familiar, that daunting awareness of something beyond human comprehension, can only be called a terrible awe.
This might be somewhat difficult to grasp now that we use the word "awesome" to describe a new app or a viral video. With the exception perhaps of a massive earthquake, we're protected from real awe. We close the doors and hunker down, convinced that we're in control, or, at least, hoping for control. We do our best to ignore the fact that we don't always have it, and that not everything can be explained. Yet whether you're a rationalist or a mystic, whether you think the words Muhammad heard that night came from inside himself or from outside, what's clear is that he did experience them, and that he did so with a force that would shatter his sense of himself and his world and transform this otherwise modest man into a radical advocate for social and economic justice. Fear was the only sane response, the only human response.
Too human for some, like conservative Muslim theologians who maintain that the account of his wanting to kill himself shouldn't even be mentioned, despite the fact that it's in the earliest Islamic biographies. They insist that he never doubted for even a single moment, let alone despaired. Demanding perfection, they refuse to tolerate human imperfection. Yet what, exactly, is imperfect about doubt? As I read those early accounts, I realized it was precisely Muhammad's doubt that brought him alive for me, that allowed me to begin to see him in full, to accord him the integrity of reality. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that he doubted, because doubt is essential to faith.
If this seems a startling idea at first, consider that doubt, as Graham Greene once put it, is the heart of the matter. Abolish all doubt, and what's left is not faith, but absolute, heartless conviction. You're certain that you possess the Truth -- inevitably offered with an implied uppercase T -- and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness, by which I mean a demonstrative, overweening pride in being so very right, in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism. It has to be one of the multiple ironies of history that a favorite expletive of Muslim fundamentalists is the same one once used by the Christian fundamentalists known as Crusaders: "infidel," from the Latin for "faithless." Doubly ironic, in this case, because their absolutism is in fact the opposite of faith. In effect, they are the infidels. Like fundamentalists of all religious stripes, they have no questions, only answers. They found the perfect antidote to thought and the ideal refuge of the hard demands of real faith. They don't have to struggle for it like Jacob wrestling through the night with the angel, or like Jesus in his 40 days and nights in the wilderness, or like Muhammad, not only that night on the mountain, but throughout his years as a prophet, with the Koran constantly urging him not to despair, and condemning those who most loudly proclaim that they know everything there is to know and that they and they alone are right.
And yet we, the vast and still far too silent majority, have ceded the public arena to this extremist minority. We've allowed Judaism to be claimed by violently messianic West Bank settlers, Christianity by homophobic hypocrites and misogynistic bigots, Islam by suicide bombers. And we've allowed ourselves to be blinded to the fact that no matter whether they claim to be Christians, Jews or Muslims, militant extremists are none of the above. They're a cult all their own, blood brothers steeped in other people's blood.
This isn't faith. It's fanaticism, and we have to stop confusing the two. We have to recognize that real faith has no easy answers. It's difficult and stubborn. It involves an ongoing struggle, a continual questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt, in a never-ending conversation with it, and sometimes in conscious defiance of it.
And this conscious defiance is why I, as an agnostic, can still have faith. I have faith, for instance, that peace in the Middle East is possible despite the ever-accumulating mass of evidence to the contrary. I'm not convinced of this. I can hardly say I believe it. I can only have faith in it, commit myself, that is, to the idea of it, and I do this precisely because of the temptation to throw up my hands in resignation and retreat into silence.
Because despair is self-fulfilling. If we call something impossible, we act in such a way that we make it so. And I, for one, refuse to live that way. In fact, most of us do, whether we're atheist or theist or anywhere in between or beyond, for that matter, what drives us is that, despite our doubts and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair. We insist on faith in the future and in each other. Call this naive if you like. Call it impossibly idealistic if you must. But one thing is sure: Call it human.
Could Muhammad have so radically changed his world without such faith, without the refusal to cede to the arrogance of closed-minded certainty? I think not. After keeping company with him as a writer for the past five years, I can't see that he'd be anything but utterly outraged at the militant fundamentalists who claim to speak and act in his name in the Middle East and elsewhere today. He'd be appalled at the repression of half the population because of their gender. He'd be torn apart by the bitter divisiveness of sectarianism. He'd call out terrorism for what it is, not only criminal but an obscene travesty of everything he believed in and struggled for. He'd say what the Koran says: Anyone who takes a life takes the life of all humanity. Anyone who saves a life, saves the life of all humanity. And he'd commit himself fully to the hard and thorny process of making peace.
SOURCE: TED TALKS
Lesley Hazleton: The Doubt Essential to Faith
The editorial staff at What Is Enlightenment? magazine ask:
These days there is a wary climate regarding people who hold themselves out as spiritual authorities. There is a tendency to be very skeptical about the possibility that someone could be a genuine authority. Yet traditionally it’s been fairly common for people to seek out a spiritual teacher for guidance, and to commit themselves to that teacher. What are your thoughts on this?
for teaching your guru. Nowadays many people have been burnt and they will look twice. That is skepticism, and it can easily become cynicism, which isn’t very healthy. But it also has its healthy aspect because people are less gullible and teachers have to prove themselves. On the other hand, our time is so frightening, there are so many things going on that frighten us, that many people want security at any price. They will let themselves be put down, be abused and become dependent on a teacher just in order to have a sense of security, to feel that they know everything. No questions asked, you just do what you’re told, this sort of thing. That is always a great danger in times of fear. And our time is a fear-inspiring time. I understand when you say that many people are more skeptical, but there are also many people who want just this kind of security at any price, and are willing to be put down and pay that price.
There is just one great spiritual teacher, and that is the Divine Spirit in your heart. What any spiritual teacher on the outside can do, at best, is to always lead you back to that teacher in your heart. But the key word here is “authority.” We have a very impoverished and actually strongly warped notion of authority nowadays, and we think that authority is the power to command. Well, that’s wrong. That’s a derived meaning of authority. Originally authority means: a firm basis for knowing and acting. If you want to know what to do in a given case you will go to a book that is an authoritative book, or you will go to a person who is an authority in his or her field, and so forth. So that’s the original meaning of authority. However, because people who provide a firm basis for knowing and acting for others are few and far between, you put them in a position of authority, which means you give them power to command. But the more power somebody has, the greater the danger of corruption. This is where some spiritual teachers then go off the deep end. This is where the question of the proper use of authority comes in.
Jesus Christ brought a complete revolution of the understanding of authority. This is, I think, the Christian tradition’s most central insight and potentially its greatest contribution to spirituality in the world. It occurred in two ways. First, Jesus placed the authority of God, which was always seen as external, in the very hearts of his hearers. The core teaching of Jesus is not, “I am going to tell you all,” or anything like that. No, he presupposes you know it all. “Don’t you know it? I’ll remind you of it. You know it all.” This is his typical voice. This question opens many of the parables, “Who of you doesn’t know this already?” It’s not sufficiently emphasized nowadays in Christian teaching, but the moment you are alerted to it you see it.
So, one of the really dramatic events that happened in history – and that’s why the world is still reeling with what happened in the life of Jesus – is that with Jesus, the Divine authority was squarely placed in the hearts of every human being. That was a tremendous revolution. The immanence of God and the Divine in the human heart was stressed. And it was probably necessary that this should happen in a setting in which duality was stronger than anywhere else: “Holy” in the Hebrew Bible means “the altogether other.” So God was the absolutely other. Then Jesus comes and maintains that, doesn’t deny it in any way, but also says that the absolutely other is closer to you than you are to yourself. So that was the first part of the revolution of authority, that the Divine authority is placed in the heart of the earth.
This gives us a pretty good test for seeing which spiritual teachers are authentic and which ones are not: Do they use their power to empower others?
The second aspect is best expressed in the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and saying, essentially, “You call me Lord and Master. In other words, you call me an authority. You are right, that’s what I am. But in the world, those who have power lord it over others. With you it should be different. The greatest among you, the one who has the most power, should be the servant of all. And that is what I show you because I am washing your feet.” So that is the answer to the question, what is authority good for? Authority must be used, but there is only one legitimate use for it, and that is to empower those who are under authority. One of the most important things about Jesus is that he apparently had great authority but did not fall prey to its power. He even emphatically told his followers that that’s not what you do – you turn this upside down and become the servant of all. First divine authority was placed in the hearts of everyone. Then human authority was given a task, namely, not to put those down that are under authority, but to build them up and empower them.
This also gives us a pretty good test for looking at spiritual teachers, and seeing which ones are authentic and which ones are not. Do they use their power to empower others? There may be a phase where a person has to be carried like a child. There may be a phase of dependency that one may have to go through. But you have to look at the whole picture. With any teacher you will see, by looking at that teacher’s accomplished students, what it is leading to. When you see that this teacher makes them stand on their own feet, then that’s authentic. When you see that this teacher makes them more and more dependent, then that’s hands off, that’s dangerous.
Reprinted from What Is Enlightenment? (WIE) Spring/Summer 1996, Vol. 5, #1, pp. 26-27
Brother David’s Journey
DAVID STEINDL-RAST was born July 12, 1926, in Vienna, Austria, where he studied art, anthropology, and psychology, receiving an MA from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and a PhD from the University of Vienna. In 1952 he followed his family who had emigrated to the United States. In 1953 he joined a newly founded Benedictine community in Elmira, NY, Mount Saviour Monastery, of which he is now a senior member. In 1958/59 Brother David was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Cornell University, where he also became the first Roman Catholic to hold the Thorpe Lectureship, following Bishop J.D.R. Robinson and Paul Tillich.
After twelve years of monastic training and studies in philosophy and theology, Brother David was sent by his abbot to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, for which he received Vatican approval in 1967. His Zen teachers were Hakkuun Yasutani Roshi, Soen Nakagawa Roshi, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and Eido Shimano Roshi. He co-founded the Center for Spiritual Studies in 1968 and received the 1975 Martin Buber Award for his achievements in building bridges between religious traditions.
Together with Thomas Merton, Brother David helped launch a renewal of religious life. From 1970 on, he became a leading figure in the House of Prayer movement, which affected some 200,000 members of religious orders in the United States and Canada. Since the 1970s Brother David has been a member of cultural historian William Irwin Thompson‘s Lindisfarne Association.”
For decades, Brother David divided his time between periods of hermit’s life and extensive lecture tours on five continents. On a two-month lecture tour in Australia, for example, he gave 140 lectures and traveled 12,000 miles within Australia without backtracking. His wide spectrum of audiences has included starving students in Zaire and faculty at Harvard and Columbia Universities, Buddhist monks and Sufi retreatants, Papago Indians and German intellectuals, New Age communes and Naval Cadets at Annapolis, missionaries on Polynesian islands and gatherings at the United Nations, Green Berets and participants at international peace conferences. Brother David has brought spiritual depth into the lives of countless people whom he touches through his lectures, his workshops, and his writings.
He has contributed to a wide range of books and periodicals from the Encyclopedia Americana and The New Catholic Encyclopedia, to the New Age Journal and Parabola Magazine. His books have been translated into many languages. Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer and A Listening Heart have been reprinted and anthologized for more than two decades. Brother David co-authored Belonging to the Universe (winner of the 1992 American Book Award), a dialogue on new paradigm thinking in science and theology with physicist, Fritjof Capra. His dialogue with Buddhists produced The Ground We Share: Buddhist and Christian Practice, co-authored with Robert Aitken Roshi. His most recent books are Words of Common Sense, Deeper than Words: Living the Apostles’ Creed, 99 Blessings: An Invitation to Life, and the upcoming The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life, and Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for our Times.
Brother David contributed chapters or interviews to well over 30 books. An article by Brother David was included in The Best Spiritual Writing, 1998. His many audio and videotapes are widely distributed.
At present, Brother David serves a worldwide Network for Grateful Living, through Gratefulness.org, an interactive website with several thousand participants daily from more than 240 countries and territories.
Category:Science & Religion
Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."
Joel Primack has a long and distinguished career as an astrophysicist. A University of California, Santa Cruz, professor, he co-developed the cold dark matter theory that seeks to explain the formation and structure of the universe.
He also believes in God.
That may strike some people as peculiar. After all, in some corners popular belief renders science and religion incompatible.
Yet scientists may be just as likely to believe in God as other people, according to surveys. Some of history's greatest scientific minds, including Albert Einstein, were convinced there is intelligent life behind the universe. Today many scientists say there is no conflict between their faith and their work.
"In the last few years astronomy has come together so that we're now able to tell a coherent story" of how the universe began, Primack said. "This story does not contradict God, but instead enlarges [the idea of] God.”
The notion that science and religion are irreconcilable centers in large part on the issue of evolution. Charles Darwin, in his 1859 book The Origin of Species, explained that the myriad species inhabiting Earth were a result of repeated evolutionary branching from common ancestors.
One would be hard pressed to find a legitimate scientist today who does not believe in evolution. As laid out in a cover story in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming.
Yet in a 2001 Gallup poll 45 percent of U.S. adults said they believe evolution has played no role in shaping humans. According to the creationist view, God produced humans fully formed, with no previous related species.
But what if evolution is God's tool? Darwin never said anything about God. Many scientists—and theologians—maintain that it would be perfectly logical to think that a divine being used evolution as a method to create the world.
Still, science does contradict a literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible—on the origin of the universe—which says that God created heaven and the Earth and the species on it in six days.
Scientific evidence shows that the universe was actually formed about 13.7 billion years ago, while the Earth was formed around 4.5 billion years ago. The first humans date back only a hundred thousand years or so.
Like other scientists of faith, Primack, who is Jewish and reads the Bible regularly, argues that the Bible must not be taken literally, but should be read allegorically.
"One simply cannot read the Bible as a scientific text, because it's often contradictory," Primack said. "For example, in the Bible, Noah takes two animals and puts them on the Ark. But in a later section, he takes seven pairs of animals. If this is the literal word of God, was God confused when He wrote it?”
Science is young. The term "scientist" may not even have been coined until 1833. Ironically, modern physics initially sought to explain the clockwork of God's creation. Geology grew partly out of a search for evidence of Noah's Flood.
Today few scientists seem to think much about religion in their research. Many are reluctant to stray outside their area of expertise and may not feel a need to invoke God in their work.
"Most scientists like to operate in the context of economy," said Brian Greene, a world-renowned physicist and author of The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. "If you don't need an explanatory principle, don't invoke it.”
There is, of course, no way to prove religious faith scientifically. And it's hard to envision a test that could tell the difference between a universe created by God and one that appeared without God.
"There's no way that scientists can ever rule out religion, or even have anything significant to say about the abstract idea of a divine creator," Greene said. Instead, Greene said, science and religion can operate in different realms. "Science is very good at answering the 'how' questions. How did the universe evolve to the form that we see?" he said. "But it is woefully inadequate in addressing the 'why' questions. Why is there a universe at all? These are the meaning questions, which many people think religion is particularly good at dealing with.”
But is a clean separation between science and religion possible? Some scientific work, including such hot topics as stem cell research, has moral and religious implications.
"Religion is about ethics, or what you should do, while science is about what's true," Primack said. "Those are different things, but of course what you should do is greatly determined by what's true.”
In a 1997 survey in the science journal Nature, 40 percent of U.S. scientists said they believe in God—not just a creator, but a God to whom one can pray in expectation of an answer. That is the same percentage of scientists who were believers when the survey was taken 80 years earlier.
But the number may have been higher if the question had simply asked about God's existence. While many scientists seem to have no problem with deism—the belief that God set the universe in motion and then walked away—others are more troubled with the concept of an intervening God.
"Every piece of data that we have indicates that the universe operates according to unchanging, immutable laws that don't allow for the whimsy or divine choice to all of a sudden change things in a manner that those laws wouldn't have allowed to happen on their own," Greene said.
Yet recent breakthroughs in chaos theory and quantum mechanics, for example, also suggest that the workings of the universe cannot be predicted with absolute precision.
To many scientists, their discoveries may not be that different from religious revelations. Science advancements may even draw scientists closer to religion.
"Even as science progresses in its reductionist fashion, moving towards deeper, simpler, and more elegant understandings of particles and forces, there will still remain a 'why' at the end as to why the ultimate rules are the way they are," said Ted Sargent, a nanotechnology expert at the University of Toronto.
"This is where many people will find God, and the fact of having a final unanswerable 'why' will not go away, even if the 'why' gets more and more fundamental as we progress," he said.
Brian Greene believes we are taking giant strides toward understanding the deepest laws of the universe. That, he says, has strengthened his belief in the underlying harmony and order of the cosmos.
"The universe is incredibly wondrous, incredibly beautiful, and it fills me with a sense that there is some underlying explanation that we have yet to fully understand," he said. "If someone wants to place the word God on those collections of words, it's OK with me."
Perspective is everything, especially when it comes to examining your beliefs. Are you a soldier, prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs — or a scout, spurred by curiosity? Julia Galef examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information, interweaved with a compelling history lesson from 19th-century France. When your steadfast opinions are tested, Galef asks: "What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?"
So I'd like you to imagine for a moment that you're a soldier in the heat of battle. Maybe you're a Roman foot soldier or a medieval archer or maybe you're a Zulu warrior. Regardless of your time and place, there are some things that are constant. Your adrenaline is elevated, and your actions are stemming from these deeply ingrained reflexes, reflexes rooted in a need to protect yourself and your side and to defeat the enemy.
So now, I'd like you to imagine playing a very different role, that of the scout. The scout's job is not to attack or defend. The scout's job is to understand. The scout is the one going out, mapping the terrain, identifying potential obstacles. And the scout may hope to learn that, say, there's a bridge in a convenient location across a river. But above all, the scout wants to know what's really there, as accurately as possible. And in a real, actual army, both the soldier and the scout are essential. But you can also think of each of these roles as a mindset -- a metaphor for how all of us process information and ideas in our daily lives. What I'm going to argue today is that having good judgment, making accurate predictions, making good decisions, is mostly about which mindset you're in.
To illustrate these mindsets in action, I'm going to take you back to 19th-century France, where this innocuous-looking piece of paper launched one of the biggest political scandals in history. It was discovered in 1894 by officers in the French general staff. It was torn up in a wastepaper basket, but when they pieced it back together, they discovered that someone in their ranks had been selling military secrets to Germany.
So they launched a big investigation, and their suspicions quickly converged on this man, Alfred Dreyfus. He had a sterling record, no past history of wrongdoing, no motive as far as they could tell. But Dreyfus was the only Jewish officer at that rank in the army, and unfortunately at this time, the French Army was highly anti-Semitic. They compared Dreyfus's handwriting to that on the memo and concluded that it was a match, even though outside professional handwriting experts were much less confident in the similarity, but never mind that. They went and searched Dreyfus's apartment, looking for any signs of espionage. They went through his files, and they didn't find anything. This just convinced them more that Dreyfus was not only guilty, but sneaky as well, because clearly he had hidden all of the evidence before they had managed to get to it.
Next, they went and looked through his personal history for any incriminating details. They talked to his teachers, they found that he had studied foreign languages in school, which clearly showed a desire to conspire with foreign governments later in life. His teachers also said that Dreyfus was known for having a good memory, which was highly suspicious, right? You know, because a spy has to remember a lot of things.
So the case went to trial, and Dreyfus was found guilty. Afterwards, they took him out into this public square and ritualistically tore his insignia from his uniform and broke his sword in two. This was called the Degradation of Dreyfus. And they sentenced him to life imprisonment on the aptly named Devil's Island, which is this barren rock off the coast of South America. So there he went, and there he spent his days alone, writing letters and letters to the French government begging them to reopen his case so they could discover his innocence. But for the most part, France considered the matter closed.
One thing that's really interesting to me about the Dreyfus Affair is this question of why the officers were so convinced that Dreyfus was guilty. I mean, you might even assume that they were setting him up, that they were intentionally framing him. But historians don't think that's what happened. As far as we can tell, the officers genuinely believed that the case against Dreyfus was strong. Which makes you wonder: What does it say about the human mind that we can find such paltry evidence to be compelling enough to convict a man?
Well, this is a case of what scientists call "motivated reasoning." It's this phenomenon in which our unconscious motivations, our desires and fears, shape the way we interpret information. Some information, some ideas, feel like our allies. We want them to win. We want to defend them. And other information or ideas are the enemy, and we want to shoot them down. So this is why I call motivated reasoning, "soldier mindset."
Probably most of you have never persecuted a French-Jewish officer for high treason, I assume, but maybe you've followed sports or politics, so you might have noticed that when the referee judges that your team committed a foul, for example, you're highly motivated to find reasons why he's wrong. But if he judges that the other team committed a foul -- awesome! That's a good call, let's not examine it too closely. Or, maybe you've read an article or a study that examined some controversial policy, like capital punishment. And, as researchers have demonstrated, if you support capital punishment and the study shows that it's not effective, then you're highly motivated to find all the reasons why the study was poorly designed. But if it shows that capital punishment works, it's a good study. And vice versa: if you don't support capital punishment, same thing.
Our judgment is strongly influenced, unconsciously, by which side we want to win. And this is ubiquitous. This shapes how we think about our health, our relationships, how we decide how to vote, what we consider fair or ethical. What's most scary to me about motivated reasoning or soldier mindset, is how unconscious it is. We can think we're being objective and fair-minded and still wind up ruining the life of an innocent man.
However, fortunately for Dreyfus, his story is not over. This is Colonel Picquart. He's another high-ranking officer in the French Army, and like most people, he assumed Dreyfus was guilty. Also like most people in the army, he was at least casually anti-Semitic. But at a certain point, Picquart began to suspect: "What if we're all wrong about Dreyfus?" What happened was, he had discovered evidence that the spying for Germany had continued, even after Dreyfus was in prison. And he had also discovered that another officer in the army had handwriting that perfectly matched the memo, much closer than Dreyfus's handwriting. So he brought these discoveries to his superiors, but to his dismay, they either didn't care or came up with elaborate rationalizations to explain his findings, like, "Well, all you've really shown, Picquart, is that there's another spy who learned how to mimic Dreyfus's handwriting, and he picked up the torch of spying after Dreyfus left. But Dreyfus is still guilty." Eventually, Picquart managed to get Dreyfus exonerated. But it took him 10 years, and for part of that time, he himself was in prison for the crime of disloyalty to the army.
A lot of people feel like Picquart can't really be the hero of this story because he was an anti-Semite and that's bad, which I agree with. But personally, for me, the fact that Picquart was anti-Semitic actually makes his actions more admirable, because he had the same prejudices, the same reasons to be biased as his fellow officers, but his motivation to find the truth and uphold it trumped all of that.
So to me, Picquart is a poster child for what I call "scout mindset." It's the drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what's really there as honestly and accurately as you can, even if it's not pretty or convenient or pleasant. This mindset is what I'm personally passionate about. And I've spent the last few years examining and trying to figure out what causes scout mindset. Why are some people, sometimes at least, able to cut through their own prejudices and biases and motivations and just try to see the facts and the evidence as objectively as they can?
And the answer is emotional. So, just as "soldier mindset" is rooted in emotions like defensiveness or tribalism, scout mindset is, too. It's just rooted in different emotions. For example, scouts are curious. They're more likely to say they feel pleasure when they learn new information or an itch to solve a puzzle. They're more likely to feel intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations. Scouts also have different values. They're more likely to say they think it's virtuous to test your own beliefs, and they're less likely to say that someone who changes his mind seems weak. And above all, scouts are grounded, which means their self-worth as a person isn't tied to how right or wrong they are about any particular topic. So they can believe that capital punishment works. If studies come out showing that it doesn't, they can say, "Huh. Looks like I might be wrong. Doesn't mean I'm bad or stupid."
This cluster of traits is what researchers have found -- and I've also found anecdotally -- predicts good judgment. And the key takeaway I want to leave you with about those traits is that they're primarily not about how smart you are or about how much you know. In fact, they don't correlate very much with IQ at all. They're about how you feel. There's a quote that I keep coming back to, by Saint-Exupéry. He's the author of "The Little Prince." He said, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up your men to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
In other words, I claim, if we really want to improve our judgment as individuals and as societies, what we need most is not more instruction in logic or rhetoric or probability or economics, even though those things are quite valuable. But what we most need to use those principles well is scout mindset. We need to change the way we feel. We need to learn how to feel proud instead of ashamed when we notice we might have been wrong about something. We need to learn how to feel intrigued instead of defensive when we encounter some information that contradicts our beliefs.
So the question I want to leave you with is: What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs? Or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?