Friday, June 10, 2011

Science and Religion: "The Necessity of a Rapprochement"

In the video below, Apollo 14 astronaut, Dr. Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man to walk on the moon), recounts the profound spiritual awakening - an experience of what the ancients called 'samadhi' - which he had while viewing the Earth, Moon and Sun in synchronicity from the immensity of space.

Mitchell's transformational experience prompted him to look deeply into the confluence of the world's great wisdom traditions and science. As a result of this search, Mitchell went on to found the Institute of Noetic Science ("IONS"), a think-tank dedicated to "supporting individual and collective transformation through consciousness research, educational outreach, and engaging a global learning community in the realization of our human potential."

Writing in the most recent IONS newsletter, Mitchell comments on the breach between religious and scientific outlooks over the last four centuries, and makes the case that a rapprochement between the two disciplines - one focused outwardly, the other inwardly - could allow humanity to tap into a vast and under-utilized potential for higher consciousness, thereby yielding a new moral ethic which could help us to resolve the existential problems we face.

"Perhaps after 350 years of divisiveness between science and religion," Dr. Mitchell writes, "we are on the threshold of a new era of knowledge and cooperation. It should be obvious that objective observation and reason do not by themselves produce a satisfactory ethic for living – neither for the individual nor for social systems. Facts become divorced from values, and action from need."

"On the other hand," he notes, "intuition and inspiration do not by themselves produce the agreement society needs to bring about order, structure, and survival in the material world. In this case, observation frequently becomes subject to individual interpretation according to the covert biases of the individual."

There is, however, Mitchell points out, reason to believe that these two great strands of humanity's quest for knowledge can, and should, converge.
"Research over the last fifty years by little-known but forward-looking thinkers," Mitchell observes, "has shown there is a vast creative potential in the human mind that is as yet almost totally unrecognized by science. Nonrational cognitive processes have so far eluded scientific description. However, this potential has been previously known and described by a few ancient sages and enlightened religious teachers, using veiled prescientific language to express what they discovered through subjective, intuitive, experiential means."

"We are," he opines, "on the threshold of rediscovering and redefining those concepts and insights through the objective, rational, experimental efforts of science – if dogmatism and outmoded belief structures do not prevent it. The proper direction of sophisticated instrumentation and laboratory techniques can be the means whereby the physical and metaphysical realms are shown to be different aspects of the same reality."

"If this is demonstrated," Mitchell wryly observes, "it would be ironic, but appropriate, that so-called godless technology and materialistic science should lead to the rediscovery of the essential unity of science and religion."
It is ironic, and just too, that this vision of a convergence of science and religion comes from an individual who glimpsed the potential for a confluence of humanity's understandings of 'inner space' and 'outer space' in space itself.

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