God & Science
Both religion and science make truth claims about ultimate reality. For that reason there is growing interest among scientists, theologians, and laypeople to ask if science and religion can both answer the same questions about reality and have real points of interaction. I like to think of myself as part of this exciting and stimulating movement. I personally am coming to the last stages of completing the manuscript for my new book that hopefully will offer fresh ideas to this important discussion.
There are of course, landmines everywhere. For instance, in order to unify science and God one has to offer at least some rational evidence (if not empirical evidence) that God indeed exists. Next problem: what theological interpretation of religion and what scientific interpretation of quantum physics do you choose to unite? From my humble point of view, any successful encounter between the two would require that theology offer new insights to solving the perplexing issues of the New Physics, and that these solutions of science lead to a more rational approach to the deepest mysteries of faith. Since this has not happened I fully expect that an upheaval in both science and theology will be required. My book deals with this shake-up.
In the hopes of starting a dialog with open-minded and serious thinkers I would like to share with you reasons for my confidence that such a thing is possible. (Agnostics and atheists are more than welcome to participate.)
Before anyone pooh-poohs the existence of God, it is important to understand exactly where science is hitting a brick wall – its fundamental understanding of reality. Even science based on a strict materialistic philosophy is finding that nature, on her most fundamental level, is radically “weird” and resists a reductionist approach. In the invisible world of the quantum vacuum nothing physical or solid exists, there are only “tendencies to exist.” If God exists it will be in a non-local and non-temporal realm – exactly where science does not have a firm grasp on what is going on.
On the other side of the physics coin, relativity theory and the Big Bang Singularity presents us with another weird problem. Since the universe is expanding scientists assumed that if you turn time backwards the universe will shrink into an ever- decreasing radius and disappear into the void as a zero-dimensional point (essential singularity) where time and space no longer exist. Where there is no spacetime there are no physical laws either. So, if the laws of physics break down in a singularity than physics cannot explain the beginning of the universe.
Both quantum physics and the Big Bang point to a non-physical beginning (even though they do so in different ways). Therefore, the laws of physics must have their origin in an invisible, non-temporal and non-spatial realm. What non-material principles and agency made up the special initial conditions of the universe where time equaled zero (t = 0)?
It is the premise of my forthcoming book that the laws and forces of nature are actually spiritual laws and forces extended into the constraints of time and space. In other words, the various qualities of God’s Divine Love and Wisdom create all the ratios, proportions, and analogies we find in the extensiveness of the physical world.
Most physicists agree that Nature is unified. The essence of love is to unite and the essence of truth is to differentiate. Nature is the perfection of unity through difference. This is why Nature is a mirror image of God’s nature. What do you think
January 13, 2008 by thegodguy
When Emanuel Swedenborg tells us that the Lord God and His angels always work gently to bend our flawed desires into something that is more, noble, this does not mean that we are separated or immune from any suffering or discomfort whenever the Heavens act and try to purify us.
While The Lord removes many undesirable traits from our lives secretly and without our knowledge, conscious spiritual transformation requires real knowledge and difficult choices.
Swedenborg tells us that the trajectory of Divine Providence is to take humanity from states of evil to less evil, and even to good. But this cleansing process is lawfully intensified by our reciprocation and partnership with the Creator. We must consciously choose and endure the “ego-popping” self-discoveries that spiritual challenges bring upon us.
Our reactions to this divine cleansing influence can often be intense and lead to real agony because of what we most strongly identify with (self-centeredness—or that which we believe belongs to us from lower, worldly principles) is being criticized and challenged from above.
As the saying goes, “old habits die hard.”
Furthermore, the higher, psycho-spiritual interpretation of the Apocalypse in Revelation and other biblical battles represents the inner intensity of genuine spiritual confrontation. It is a cosmic war. Even Jesus was in a sweat as he prayed in the olive grove at Gethsemane about his future challenges (because his finite human form still contained some doubts and physical fears).
The belief that spiritual growth is always a joy can delude us and make us complacent to our spiritual responsibilities, where it becomes a real struggle to see God’s help and providence working through our various misfortunes.
Spiritual transformation is a life and death struggle between our old self and the new self that God has planned for us. So one of those selves has to die! This process can only be gentle if we receive truths sparingly and let our inner battles simmer slowly over a long period of time.
There is real evidence that Swedenborg’s own spiritual journey was harsh (especially since he left the world with a completely new dispensation from heaven—that is not yet accepted).
The more truth we acquire, the greater the battle (spiritual conflict) to incorporate those truths into genuine love and action, which emerges from a growing conscience.
The theory of evolution is now universally taught in schools.
The clash between science and religion was partly because religion got something badly wrong. This was religious people claiming that the Bible is literally true as a source of knowledge about our natural origins. My article Can science explain human existence? shows why the Darwinian view easily saw off the creationists within conventional academia. So, how do you answer the question about your natural origin? Have the scientists got it completely right?
Prevailing scientific opinion
Much of how evolution works is now biologically clear. Genetic information is stored in the DNA. The genes in the population of offspring are a random sample of the genes present in the parental population. This sampling causes variability in adaptability. There are also tiny changes in genetic material caused by random mutations.
Natural selection is said to come about from the reproduction of those organisms best suited to their environment. This is the survival of the fittest. Mainly successful characteristics are passed on at each generation. The features of the offspring of the successful parents will differ in a tiny way from the characteristics of the previous generation. Over a long time, this results in the gradual evolution of plant and animal species.
Humans and animals
One historical difficulty with this account is that there is no fundamental difference between humans and animals, which differ only along a continuum. In other words human beings are not unique according to science.
Some scientists have tried to argue that chimpanzees for example have language. But it now seems that they have only such limited rudiments and that it is misleading to say that they have language.
Although difficult to prove, it also seems that self-consciousness is something that is distinctive to human beings. This self-reflection enables us to meditate and pray as well as worry and give ourselves insomnia. Animals do not have insomnia or commit suicide.
Likewise it is hard to see how evolution can give an account for the development of ethics. This is a multi-faceted phenomenon comprising moral insight, ideology, resistance to temptation, reactions to transgression, altruistic behaviour etc.
Furthermore, humans respond very differently to similar circumstances. This can be seen to be due to personal choices that sometimes transcend self-interest. Do you not feel you are free to choose to stop or continue reading this article? There seems to be no natural factors like environment or genes that can fully account for the way individuals make personal choices particularly those concerned with deeper matters.
Finally, I imagine you do not regard animals as having moral culpability: they are not responsible in law. They may behave badly but when you come to think about it would you blame them for this or say they are just following their nature?
Randomness in evolutionary theory
Another troubling point, about the scientific account of our origins, is the way the notion of randomness keeps cropping up — random selection of genes in offspring, randomness of genetic mutation, and random changes in the environment conducive to survival.
Perhaps this is not surprising. All science tends to avoid any account of natural phenomena as having purpose. This is because whether such accounts are true or false is argued to be beyond the ability of science to judge empirically. There can be no room for design in any scientific view of your natural origin. Spiritual belief on the other hand gives something that scientists don’t claim to offer — ideas about meaning and purpose. Natural selection is assumed to have no end in view and cannot see the future. It merely accumulates variants that favour prevailing conditions.
And so life, according to science is basically an accident.
Emanuel Swedenborg offers us a way of thinking about random chance. He suggests that there is a higher power of Providence working flat out to give us the opportunity of freely choosing the divine way of living. According to this view, although the appearance of the senses may point to say the operation of random chance, he says actually this is an illusion that conceals a deeper truth which we can only discover using our higher mind. This illusion is said to preserve our freedom not to be compelled to believe one thing or another. And so it is claimed that Providence foresees and invisibly inflows not only into the general things of order in the universe but also the smallest details none of which occur by chance.
Swedenborg’s view does not deny the truth about the facts of nature that science can show but acknowledges the deeper side of human life revealed inwardly to those of a spiritual mind. Science is brilliant at describing how evolution and heredity occur. But ask yourself whether it should be expected to explain why — other than using natural ideas? Maybe you think there is room for the God of religion in the very laws of nature themselves?
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems
According to neuroscience, the brain fully explain consciousness. Sensory impressions of what we see and hear cause electrical activity in the brain. There is evidence that when a new memory is formed, new proteins are made locally at the synapse — the connection between nerve cells — increasing the strength of the synaptic connection and reinforcing the memory. The journal Science reveals that neuroscientists have captured an image for the first time of this mechanism.
You may wonder that if memories are chemically and electrically stored in this way, does this mean that your brain is the be-all and end-all of your memory and that without your brain you would remember nothing after death? Is it true that the brain fully explains consciousness?
It would seem so. After all, many brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s can cause memory loss, as can brain injury.
Brain a necessary but insufficient cause?
And so the human mind is often explained away as nothing more than the workings of the brain. Neuroscientist, Raymond Tallis, believes that the brain is clearly necessary for our having memories. But he also wonders if it is a sufficient explanation of the experience of remembering. He points out that the brain is a mechanism but the content of memory is not entirely contained in the mechanism of electrical impulses going along nerve fibres. He feels we need a bit more and suggests what that bit more is, no scientist knows.
The spiritual thinker might point out that the redness of something remembered or its beauty cannot just be due to what happens in the activity of matter of the brain but has something to do with a consciousness of mind that transcends matter. The brain fully explain consciousness? Well perhaps not after all.
Brain as detector or activator of mind?
Wilder Penfield was a brain surgeon. His patients frequently reported hearing hazy voices coming from some strange and unknown place when he stimulated the right temporal lobes of their exposed brains with a mild electric current. Elaborate recollections and other conscious experiences did occur at such times. However he went on to say these were either automatic, as in epileptic seizures, or felt to be caused by the surgeon’s probes. He thus concluded that direct electrical stimulation of the brain never activated the person’s mind.
A. R. Lauria, neuropsychologist, has pointed out that, for many centuries, philosophers and other scholars supposed that the brain was a detector (rather than an activator) of mind, which itself was seen as an inner, subjective state of consciousness. Like many spiritual ideas such a theory is these days seen as not amenable to scientific proof.
In a noisy room full of people having separate conversations, we may likely want to attend only, or mainly, to one specific conversation — not always the one we are participating in — without being too distracted by others. We can do this by focusing on the distinctive quality and volume of one particular person’s voice, and where the sound is coming from.
Divided attention is possible but the principle is the same – i.e. unattended input is said to receive only minimal brain processing. In other words, our noticing something and reflecting on it, is necessary to fix some experience or fact into the patterns of memory. Without interest we remember less.
And so it can be argued that personal choice is relevant to what we attend and thus remember. Yet for the scientist, everything must be determined by some measurable entity: like what is seen or heard, the chemical state of one’s brain or one’s genetic makeup. No room here for the notions of intention and free will. No need to ask the question ‘Does the brain fully explain consciousness?’ It’s a no brainer!
What Emanuel Swedenborg calls interior memory, is said to differ from natural memory in that it has to do not with naturally seen objects or symbols, but with abstract ideas like honesty, goodness, integrity. When you are reminded of such spiritual concepts your thought can be raised out of the world of sense perception.
An important part of his philosophy is that what merely enters into the understanding does not affect one’s character but only that which one makes a part of the love of one’s life. We need, however, a memory of spiritual knowledge to draw on if our personal growth is to be confirmed, sustained and built up.
In the end your destiny is all about what was true in the way you inwardly responded to life rather than by the false external memories you erect for yourself to rationalise such intentions. Swedenborg claims that how we each actually lived is a fixed internal memory found in our individual book of life. Writing in the 18th century he said:
“Man has an external or natural memory, and an internal or spiritual memory. Upon this internal memory is inscribed everything in general and in particular that he has thought, spoken and done in the world from his will, and that so completely and particularly that no detail is lacking. This memory is man’s book of life, which is opened after death and according to which he is judged.” (Swedenborg E, Divine Providence 227)
Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems