Faith and Reason, Art and Science, Together at Last

| 4/29/2008 9:08:43 AM

Lotus FlowerA prevailing view among scientists and atheists is that everything is knowable. Humans are simply particles in motion, governed by biology and physics. Given the right tools and information, some people believe that human beings could know all the secrets of the universe, past and present. This mode of thought has led to a number of remarkable discoveries, but according to theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, writing for the scientific website the Edge, it is fundamentally “reductionist.”

Viewing the human experience as nothing more than biology and physics allows for only happenings. “There are no meanings, no values, no doings,” Kauffman writes. There is also no room for spirituality, or acceptance of forces beyond human comprehension. “Science has driven a wedge between faith and reason,” according to Kauffman, elevating science and devaluing faith as irrelevant.

The schism between science and religion has turned into a philosophical “cold war” according to philosopher Ken Wilber. In an interview with, Wilber talks about how neither science nor religion are fundamentally wrong. They’re actually complimentary, if a person looks at them the right way. Wilber says some of the world’s greatest scientists, including Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, and Sir Arthur Eddington, were fundamentally mystics, because they understood the limits of physics and science.

“Understanding the limits to human knowledge and intervention is going to be the question of the twenty-first century,” according to opera director Peter Sellars in an interview with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (pdf). Science is able to push the boundaries of knowledge, but science alone has proven itself unable to understand the limits. That’s where not only faith, but art can play a useful role.

Bryan Welch_4
5/5/2008 5:47:28 AM

Great blog, Bennett.

H.E. Whitney
5/3/2008 2:42:26 PM

I take issue with the contention that we have to be wary when science itself becomes a religion. There is no reason to believe that scientists or proponents of the scientific method hold that meaning or value is exclusively scientific, or that science aims to derive a system of moral codes. Most scientists recognize that they and their disciplines can never hope to do this. With that said, it is perfectly reasonable to be skeptical of assertions of a "spiritual" realm or half-baked claims about how science will never be able to describe human consciousness. With respect to claims asserting the existence of a spiritual realm, a skeptic need not have any allegiances to science in order to plausibly wonder what sort of proof could be put forward for such claims; moreover, such claims have at their interior emotional urges to seek self-validation of one's own cosmological outlook and hopes. And on the topic of another type of reductionism (the notion that one day science will reduce consciousness to physical or neurochemical events), even if science were to accomplish this, it would be doubtful as to the overall relevance of such an "achievement". We would still have emotions; still have feelings; still dream and have ideas. I would sound like a fool if I told a friend to meet me two hours before earthset, or asked my waiter for a shaker of NaCl. Such an achievement would only consist of providing us with a compelling vocabularly for explaining how an emotion, feeling, or other item of consciousness coincides with a particular neurochemical event. Consciousness, after all, is embodied consciousness and therefore cannot be viewed as ontologically separate or distinct from the organism.

Katherine S. Harris_3
4/30/2008 2:20:59 PM

I earned my degree in Physics, but I certainly believe that there exist forces which we cannot measure, but which manifest themselves in very real ways in our lives. I don't think we should deny the existence of our spiritual dimension, nor try to explain away Faith, Hope, Charity, Love or Genius as configurations of neurons in some part of the brain.

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