For too long, our understanding of reality has been fragmented; broken down into the separate categories of science and religion. And those two understandings of reality have been at war with each other for centuries. Each was claiming that their way of understanding reality was the right way. For the scientists, God was not relevant. Understanding reality was about mathematics. For the religious, God was ultimate mystery.
Scientists insisted that spirituality and religion were too ephemeral and touchy feely. They believed that Newton was right. Reality is a machine that works in mathematically predictable ways. They were convinced that the only way to understand reality was by breaking it down into ever-smaller bits and pieces, and learning how those bits and pieces fit together.
Religion, on the other hand, has insisted for two millennia that God created reality and both God and Reality can only be understood as ultimate mystery. They believed the sacred texts of our world’s various religions were clearly the best way to understand both of those ultimate mysteries.
Today, science and religion are becoming allies. My understanding of God is changing.
Three New Discoveries That Changed Science And Religion’s Maps Of Reality
The age old struggle between science and religion ended as a credible conflict in the 20th century with the discovery of three new worldviews.
Discovery #1: The first discovery came from the field of quantum physics. The old Newtonian understanding of reality as a machine that could be understood through natural laws and mathematical formulas became obsolete. As physicists looked deeper and deeper into the sub-atomic particles that are the building blocks of our universe, they discovered that much of reality was only a probability. In fact simply the act of looking at these sub-atomic particles changed how they behaved. As Einstein said, they behaved in very “spooky” ways. Chaos theory and nonlinear mathematics struggled to understand and describe the new realities they were seeing. The days of scientific certainty were over. The old scientific worldviews of reality lost their credibility as predictable maps of reality.
Discovery #2: The second discovery on the nature of reality came from the field of biology. As biologists explored the nature of living systems, they discovered that life could best be understood as extremely complex interdependent chemical and biological systems that were continually self-creating, self-organizing, and self-maintaining. Like the well known Russian dolls that were popular years ago where smaller and smaller dolls were contained inside the largest doll, living systems were smaller unique wholes contained within larger wholes. The word they used to define a self-creating, self-sustaining living system was autopoietic.
The biologists and physicists quickly realized that our planet was an autopoietic entity called Gaia. In some ways, even our Universe could be considered a living autopoietic system.
The entire universe began with just unbelievably hot helium and hydrogen. From that simple beginning, the universe began to create what would eventually be our universe with all of its stars, galaxies, chemical elements, and eventually life itself. The bacteria that emerged from the early chemical building blocks available on our planet created autopoietic cells, and over time those cells cooperated interdependently to create the amazing diversity of autopoietic living systems that inhabit our planet.
For the first time, humanity saw the Universe and our planet as an autopoietic, living, evolving, self-creating, and self-sustaining entities. We call the autopoietic living system of Earth; Gaia. The maps of reality were changing.
Discovery #3: The third discovery came in the field of religion. Biblical scholars from all religions began to understand that the sacred texts of our world religions were simply myths and metaphors that the writers in those ancient cultures used to describe their understanding of ultimate mystery. Lacking the scientific knowledge we have today, the writers of the sacred texts used the stories and language of their culture to create their religious and spiritual worldviews. It wasn’t until recent times that conservative theologians of our world’s religions turned those ancient myths and stories into rigid imperative truths that buried the deeper spiritual truths the writers were attempting to capture. Ideological beliefs replace the deeper wisdom contained in the ancient metaphors and stories. The religious maps of reality changed rapidly in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Where We Are Today And What These Discoveries Mean For Our Future
Today, scientists are discovering that their maps of reality need to include the awe and spirituality found in religion. The scientific discoveries they are making about reality cannot be totally explained using scientific laws and mathematics. When the behavior of subatomic particles can be change simply by an observing consciousness, the old scientific maps of reality were forced to enter the realm of spirituality.
Religion is discovering that our universe and life itself can be understood as self-creating and self-sustaining autopoietic chemical systems. The awe and mystery of creation are present in the incredible diversity of evolution and the amazing complexity of inter-dependent systems that define life. The living systems worldview of our universe, our planet, and life itself is a greater creation story than any creation story we humans have ever created religiously.
If there is a Creator, and many believe there is, the Spirit of that Creator would be the Evolutionary Spirit of “Becoming”. There is no aspect of creation that is not changing, evolving, transforming, or “becoming” a new creation. To deny change by claiming that any belief is eternal and unchanging is an attempt to “push the river”. To believe that the Ultimate Mystery we call the Creator is immortal and unchanging is a personal belief that is helpful for many people, but beliefs attributed to that Creator are the product of human minds, and thus subject to change, reinterpretation, meaning, and purpose.
Scientific and religious beliefs are maps of reality that attempt to describe reality. Because they are maps of a human created reality, they are always subject to change. It is important to remember that maps are not the territory any more than a menu is the food.
Summary and Final Thoughts
Much of the conflict and violence we see in the world today; much of the conflict and rigid ideologies gridlocking the government of our nation, find their roots in the conflict between science and religion.
There will always be people who will use primitive egoic black and white thinking to assume, in the imperative voice of absolute truth, that their beliefs are true and eternally unchanging. They represent what is known as a closed mind. The closed minds of adolescence are dangerous because they insist on “pushing the river” of reality. Stated differently, when adolescent beliefs collide with reality, it is often reality that suffers, not the adolescent beliefs. Stated humorously, it’s not uncommon for a 28-year-old returning home to be amazed at how much his or her parents have learned in just ten years.
There is a growing concern that far too many people today manifest the consciousness of an adolescent, closed mind. If this is true, our future as a species could be facing a very uncertain and dangerous future as we attempt to “push the river” of reality. Reality is reality whether we believe it or not.
Others say that the consciousness of our species is growing and evolving very rapidly; that we are becoming a more open-minded, evolved species. I would like to believe the latter. But it’s clear, the future of our human species will be determined by which worldview prevails.
An open mind is a level of consciousness that is capable of changing its beliefs when those beliefs are challenged by reality or proven false by reality. An open mind is an evolving, growing, maturing, autopoietic mind. In my experience, open minds most accurately reflect reality. I also believe the world is far too complex to fit into a rigid, unchanging adolescent belief system; scientifically or religiously.
For me, an open mind embraces 21 century religious and scientific maps. The God of the 1st century is no longer large enough for a 21st-century consciousness. I believe God is Reality. And the Ultimate Mystery I refer to as the Creator is best captured in the spiritual awe and unity I experience when I look up at the stars at night and take in the amazing 14.8 billion-year-old complexity of our universe. The Universe, the Evolutionary Spirit of the Creator, poured itself into, is a living, autopoietic Universe that is forever changing, growing and evolving.