Sunday, 28 November 2010

Science and spirituality

This is the second in a series of "Deep Thought" mini-essays. They're a bit longer than my usual posts.

In the previous post in the series I said that people should believe what is reasonable to believe, and these are the things that are evidence-based and observable. I think a lot of people make a huge mistake by subconsciously adding “... and material” on the end (‘material’ as in physical, I’m talking about the material worldview, where nothing exists that isn’t physical). There is a really common argument that a surprisingly large number of people rely on, which goes a bit like this:

- Science does not concern itself with spiritual things, only material

- Therefore science explains the universe in a physical way

- Therefore the universe is entirely material

- Therefore there is no spiritual aspect of the universe

I want to quickly say that I love science. A girl I met at a youth group once proudly declared “I don’t believe in science!” and I cringed so hard I almost flattened my eyeballs, because she thought she was being a determined Christian. Science is amazing! It teaches us astounding things, and gives us understanding and appreciation of the wonderful way in which the world works.

But science does not address spirituality, and it makes me mad that people think by not addressing spiritual things, science has proved that there are no spiritual things. Ok, so religious people used to think the sun went around the earth, science proved them wrong. There are probably lots of examples of religious thinking being refuted by scientific enquiry, but somewhere along the line the idea arose that therefore all religion and spirituality must be tosh, which is, ironically, tosh.

Then we developed this notion that science and religion are opposed to each other, which again is nonsense. But we do tend to separate the two along these kind of lines:

- Science is about finding out the truth through testing and observing the world.

- Religion is about taking a blind leap of faith in something for which there is no evidence.

I think a more accurate definition would be:

- Science is concerned with how the material world works.

- Religion is concerned with how the material world relates to the spiritual world.

Materialists will disagree with my definition because they will certainly claim “there is no such thing as the spiritual world”. But how have they found that out? Through science? Can exploring the human body show that humans do not have a spirit? The statement “there is no such thing as the spiritual world” is nothing more than an assumption.

But... It’s a reasonable assumption, because the default position should be non-belief. By default I do not believe in talking jam, and I won’t until I am convinced otherwise. So it’s fair enough to be a materialist, until someone provides evidence to the contrary. The big question, therefore, is; is there any evidence that a spiritual world exists? Yes. Here are some examples;

Miraculous healings

Unexplained illnesses

Out-of-body experiences

Particularly abnormal dreams, visions, trances

People’s experiences of Jesus

People’s experiences of the occult

The huge majority of the world’s population that recognises a spiritual force of one sort or another

I’m not saying that any of these prove that the spiritual world is there, but it’s evidence.

Most materialists, upon hearing about a miraculous healing etc. will probably claim that there ‘must be a logical (a synonym for scientific/material) explanation’, which is a handy way of addressing the uncomfortable issue without actually supplying any explanation at all. The thing is, a lot of the time there is no scientific explanation whatsoever, and the materialist must comfort him or herself with the knowledge that ‘science has disproved religion’, which is bunkum.

Lets create a scenario, or better yet use a real one. A girl has an illness, someone prays for her to “be healed in the name of Jesus Christ” and afterwards she finds that the illness has gone. The materialist makes ridiculous claims such as, “she wasn’t really ill in the first place” and “it was all psychological”, but why are those claims being made if the materialist is aware that he/she was only assuming the non-existence of the spiritual world to start with? Surely it’s logical, that faced with such an example, anyone would say “ok, maybe it’s reasonable to believe that Jesus really healed her.”

The reason that doesn’t happen is that most materialists are not just assuming that the spiritual world doesn’t exist, they’re determined that it doesn’t, despite there being no evidence that it doesn’t.

Here’s the contradiction: A materialist will often admit that they can’t disprove the spiritual, that the burden of proof is on the believer – the ‘religious person’ needs to come up with a good bit of evidence. But when the believer shows that evidence to the materialist, they react as though it has already been disproved. They will find a reason to utterly reject a spiritual explanation, when they really have no reason to at all, unless spirituality has already been disproved, which they admitted at the start can’t be done.

Can we please redefine ‘logical explanation’ to mean an explanation that is logical, not an explanation that is fundamentally scientific?

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