(Real) Science & (Real) Spirituality: Three Questions To Consider.

Via Julian Walker
on Apr 25, 2012
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Three questions to consider with regard to the relation of science to spirituality:

1) Have you considered that “sacredness” may be a concept that denotes a state of being that is entirely natural and human and has to do with being in meditative absorption or in touch with deep compassion, or in a flow state and feeling really connected to oneself, others and the world around us?

2) Have you considered that sacredness and spirituality have always been part of human experience and have been depicted by mythic symbols and magical concepts since before we learned more about reality via science?

Our sense of the sacred and of spirituality need not depend on belief in the literal truth of any outdated mythic or magical notion from our pre-scientific past.

3) It might be helpful to also contemplate that the progress of science has not even one single time been that of demonstrating anything supernatural, magical or mythical as being literally true.

We are not heading toward some special moment when science reveals that magical thinking, mythic literalism or supernatural beliefs are actually true.

On the contrary, science has progressed (just by following the evidence carefully) in the opposite direction.

Every. Single. Time.

Yes there is an undeniable, valuable, essential sacred and spiritual dimension to human experience—but no, this is not based on anything other than human neurochemistry—which is sometimes ordinary, sometimes numinous and sometimes plain old batshit crazy!

There is a popular meme in our New Age infused yoga spirituality that asserts that science is “finally catching up” with whatever the speaker’s favorite magical idea, ancient prophecy, mythic literalist belief or reality-denying sales pitch might be…

But this is always based in either a willfully dishonest representation of science, or (more commonly) a real philosophical confusion about how various interpretations of quantum physics translate into our everyday lives.

{I give a much more complete treatment to this problematic and confusing idea in my forthcoming book The Embodied Sacred: Spirituality Beyond Superstition.}

This subject also gets into some interesting questions in philosophy regarding epistemology—or how we know what we know. For those interested in digging a little more into this – I find many in our community are invested in what I jokingly call the Diabolical Trinity of Logical Fallacies:

1) The Argument from Ignorance 

Logical fallacies are common ways of thinking/arguing that have been demonstrated to be incorrect by virtue of errors in logical reasoning.

In this one someone argues that their position (say that aliens or the “chupacabra” are responsible for cattle mutilations), is somehow made more likely to be true if the other person does not have a complete explanation (i.e. if we remain ignorant) for how else a phenomenon is possible.

You’ve heard this one a ton I am sure! So in the example at hand it would go like this:

A – I think it must be alien’s experimenting on those cows that mysteriously turn up dead and mutilated  in the field.

B – Well that is far fetched, do you have any evidence of this?

A – How else do you explain it, though!?

B – I am not sure.

A – Well then it must be aliens.

2) God of The Gaps

This one is very related to the Argument From Ignorance in that it inserts a supernatural explanation into any “gap” in our current understanding of any phenomena in the universe.

For example, we don’t know where the Earth came from so surely a God must have created it.

The problem with the God of the Gaps approach to dealing with reality is that as scientific knowledge has progressed we have found natural explanations for many of the things that we used to explain via supernatural ones.

For example, we used to think that the reclusive woman with a black cat who lived on the corner was an evil witch and that it was because she cast a spell on us that we developed this or that illness.

Now we know more about viruses and bacteria and that explanation no longer is useful, valid or puts people on the fringes of society at risk of being burned at the stake!

But this does not stop lovers of the “God of The Gaps” from continuing to insert unlikely supernatural explanations into places where soon enough natural explanations will probably emerge…

3) Shifting The Burden of Proof  

As I suggested, these three fallacies form a “Diabolical Trinity”—so if you are paying attention you will notice much overlap!

Cosmologist and philosopher Carl Sagan made the following  famous statement, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

This nicely sums up the burden of proof. If I tell you I had eggs for breakfast, this is not something you would have reason to doubt as it is a quite ordinary claim, but if I say I had dinosaur eggs for breakfast and they gave me superhuman powers?

Well then it would only be reasonable to not believe this without good evidence.

A common “Shifting The Burden Of Proof” move in the New Age and Religious communities is to make an extraordinary claim, say that a certain miracle has occurred and then follow this pattern:

A – I have heard there is a guru with the power to manifest objects out of thin air.

B – Well I would want to see proof of this, as would the rest of the world. It will no doubt be the biggest discovery in science for the last 400 years and will change the history of human knowledge—if it is true!

A – Well you can’t prove it is not true.

B – I don’t have to, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that such an extraordinary claim is true!

A – You’re just closed minded and bought into old paradigm beliefs. This is your dogmatic scientific fundamentalism speaking.

B – Not at all, I simply think such a highly unusual claim should be substantiated!

A – But a truly open person would just say we don;t really know, everything is a mystery and if it hasn’t been proven either way then it is a matter of religious faith to believe both that it is true or not true. I am just more honest about my faith in believing it is true!

B – Well in that case how about I tell you that I was born of a Unicorn and at night I fly around the world fighting crime with my laser beam shooting horn?

A – That’s ludicrous though–come on!

B – Hmmm…

The point here is that the very popular spiritual idea that we should be open to all possibilities and that really fanciful magical beliefs are true (or even possible) until proven false is not only logically fallacious but completely lacking in pragmatism.

In other words, no-one really lives their lives this way, even if they hold some air-tight compartment of belief separate from reality in which to entertain fanciful beliefs!

The more integrated we become, the less our spiritual philosophy remains separate from our reason, pragmatism and honesty about the nature of the reality we live in every day.

Science is not the enemy of spirituality, rather it is a way of discovering carefully what is actually true. This process of discovery keep unfolding and remains open—but open to something very specific: evidence. When new evidence appears, science changes its mind.

When we are informed by scientific method and standards of evidence, we can reason with more philosophical clarity about what is more or less likely to be true.

This in no way limits or detracts from the power of experiential states of compassion, love, joy, beauty, creativity, meditative absorption, sexual ecstasy, emotional truth, intuitive awareness or anything else that, alongside reason, makes us uniquely human. But it does guide us into being more honest about our lives and the world around us—and if that does not describe one of the central concerns of spirituality, I think we have lost our way!



About Julian Walker

Julian Walker is the founder of http://www.yogateachergradschool.com/ where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian's writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on Amazon.com. www.julianwalkeryoga.com


137 Responses to “(Real) Science & (Real) Spirituality: Three Questions To Consider.”

  1. __MikeG__ says:

    Fantastic article, Julian. I have heard and read so many arguments based on these fallacies that my head sometimes hurts. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have had to remind someone that science is not an enemy.

    The enemy is holding on to magical belief systems.

    Reality is much better and so much more interesting. Maybe I am just a nerd. Ok, not maybe…definitely a nerd. But how could anything be more fascinating than learning about how our real world works. Quantum physics, Relativity, Astronomy, Chemistry and Biology are wondrous in and of themselves.

    I'm looking forward to the publishing date of your book.


  2. I agree with Mike. It gets so frustrating listening to people whose main explanation for their beliefs is that they believe them. Science is not the enemy! I love seeing areas where there is synchronicity between spirituality and science…they are not opposites at all. Thanks for this, Julian.

    • integralhack says:

      Who is saying "science is the enemy?"

      • I was quoting the article. I have found in the alternative health community (I am a massage therapist) there seems to be quite a split between those who choose a scientific, logically-oriented outlook and those who choose a spiritual outlook. Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind." Personally, I would substitute spirituality for religion in this context, but the principle is the same. They enrich each other.

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    Yogijulian, What I find interesting, having been educated in "real science" and using real science in my career and also that I attempt to practice this thing we call Buddhism, is that "real science" when questioned or doubted is so aggressively defended, I would say even more so than any religion. That the practitioners of science have a hold on 'reality". Yet they themselves utilize "magical" thinking when it suits them, ie. The Big Bang. We are given an explanation for why the universe is the way it is based solely on a theory. The theory of The Big Bang. This requires as blind a faith as any creationist theory from any culture or religion. There are those that experience "realization" or enlightenment and can explain as best they can that non experience experience. Yet not one scientist can say unequivocally that they have experienced the Big Bang.

    • yogijulian says:

      what a mess! 🙂

      the big bang theory is based explicitly on scientific observation and logical reasoning.

      to call it an article of faith is very confused.

      there is no need to aggressively defend any scientific idea – there is either good evidence and sound reasoning or there is not. you may perhaps be calling the passionate touting of reason and evidence over superstition and magical thinking "aggressive" – but in any event this does not make it the same as the defense of religious dogma.

      do you see the difference?

      • Padma Kadag says:

        Suri and Julian, All along a theory is handled as gospel for years maybe a century or two until it is disproven often by accident. I understand science. i enjoy science. Scientific theory is not written in stone and is subject to re-examination and impermanence. But how valuable is that logic , which you say supports Big Bang, when the origin of the universe is determined to be a result of some other condition…and it will. I am not out to disprove the Big Bang or replace it with a spiritual replacement. I just know the big bang to be your version of magical thinking until your favorite physicist comes up with a new theory to explain the universe. Maybe believing in the Big Bang is worse than Magical Thinking…maybe your faith in a logic which will someday disprove it's own logic by disproving the Big Bang..but then all previous logic is conveniently forgotten.

        • integralhack says:


          Well said. It is hard for others to understand the Buddhist position of impermanence when they are attached to views of realism or scientific materialism.

          • yogijulian says:

            matthew you are confusing several things with this comment:

            1) impermanence as a buddhist concept has no applicability whatsoever with regard to science – it is an observation about the nature of human experience, feeling states, thoughts, identity etc….

            inner streams of experience and demonstrable outer truths are in different categories. science seeks to overcome our changing perceptions, beliefs and feelings by finding out as best we can what is the case regardless of those impermanent fluctuations.

            2) while it is a philosophically valid (yet tiresome and pointless) descriptor, "scientific materialism" is usually a coded put-down for anyone who does not believe in anything supernatural. but one can be both a "scientific materialist" (or a non-dualist who accepts the overwhelming evidence that we are biological creatures in a material universe) and still be engaged in a meditation practice that embraces and works with the realization of impermanence.

            3) impermanence does not mean that we cannot say that water is always made of hydrogen and oxygen, that meaningful self-aware consciousness is not possible without a functioning brain or that gravity dictates that you will always fall and hurt yourself if you jump off a 7 story building. that would be denial of reality – and as far as i can tell in his best moments, the buddha is inviting us into a direct engagement with reality as it is.

            4) yea – call me a realist, please do. as opposed to what – delusional?

            as suri pointed out going in byzantine postmodern philosophical circles about whether or not there is such a thing as reality, and – as i pointed out railing against world views that do not remain open to supernaturalism and anti-pragmatic sophomoric epistemic technicalities basically leads nowhere, is a waste of time and perpetuates more confusion than anything else.

            but i know – it allows you to maintain the illusion that there is an intellectual defense for believing in mind-body dualism, disembodied deities and some kind of immortality beyond the real life of the body in the real world.

          • integralhack says:

            1) I wasn't making the case for impermanence having "applicability in regard to science" (how did you jump to that conclusion?). I was referring to it in regard to human confusion.

            2) 10 points. No disagreement. Of course, a materialist and an idealist can both be non-dualist, they just disagree about what makes up "stuff."

            3) Again, no essential disagreement insofar as I can grok what you're saying.

            4) I suspect you are a realist, but as I point out in my comment far below, I do not consider it a slur necessarily. There can be stupid realists and sophisticated realists, but an anti-realist isn't a slur either, nor is that person necessarily "delusional."

            I have never "railed against world views that do not remain open to supernaturalism and anti-pragmatic sophomoric epistemic technicalities" [whew!]. Rather I only tend to rail against those who contend that their world view is the only correct one and even then I'm highly selective. You should be honored. 🙂

            Finally, I'm all for "using your illusion" as long as you realize it is illusory. But again, the charge that I believe in "mind-body dualism, disembodied deities and some kind of immortality beyond the real life of the body in the real world" is misplaced. You charmer, I'll bet you say that to all the girls!

        • yogijulian says:

          circularity and category confusion.

          it is just wrong headed to try and create an equivalency between religion and science, magical thinking and logical reasoning.

          because science is evidence based YES it changes when evidence changes – this is a basic difference with religion which is faith in the absence of and often in spite of evidence.

          • Padma Kadag says:

            Professor Yogijulian..you state.."1) impermanence as a buddhist concept has no applicability whatsoever with regard to science – it is an observation about the nature of human experience, feeling states, thoughts, identity etc…". Whatever can be written or conceptualized (ie. theory, "buddhist concept") is subject to impermanence. Your comment about my inability to see through my own " illusions" blah blah blah are resorting to the personal and your assumptions about Buddhist thought. I will ignore your self misgivings and stay to the subject. There is nothing more logical, more "real", more scientific, than Impermanence. Please prove otherwise. Your statement, "the buddha is inviting us into a direct engagement with reality as it is." is the smartest thing you've said all day. So tell me, this "reality as it is", when did you last experience a Big Bang? Are you so delusional as to reify theory and concept which you are unable to confirm on your own accord..seeing that we are talking about "reality as it is"?

          • yogijulian says:

            not sure what i said that felt ad hominem….

            you may be referring to the longer comment addressed to matthew, who i have known for many years and i think engages in this whole postmodern slippery sophistry yes to try and preserve illusions.

            your question about the big bang reveals a shocking misperception about the nature of scientific evidence and theories!

            it is similar to the question creationists often ask "where you there at the time of the dinosaurs?!" if not they would continue then one cannot claim any knowledge and carbon dating is just another form of religious faith….

            the big bang is a theory about the origins of our universe based in the observations of hubble that the universe is uniformly expanding and cooling. it is also verified by even more powerful telescopic views of the universe that actually see back in time(!) because the light from galaxies moves at a particular speed.

            we have been able to see back as far as the first few hundred thousand years of our roughly 13.8 B year old universe and look at (even photograph) the first galaxies forming!

            when i talk about reality i mean simply this: we do not live in a demon haunted world. there are no invisible disembodied deities any more than there are fairies or unicorns. we are biological organisms living in a material universe who, though we have evolved the capacity for compassion, reason, symbolic thought and self-awareness will nonetheless all die and disintegrate when our bodies are unable to continue.

            within this REALITY we are able to experience insight, love, beauty, awe and other spiritually meaningful qualities – but these in no way validate or even suggest the literal veracity of any prescientific mythology about the cosmos or our place in it.

          • Padma Kadag says:

            No I do not believe that my views on scientific theory and the Big Bang are "shockingly" misperceived. If you regard the Big Bang Theory as a concrete "reality" then you are over compensating for your arguments against reifying mythology and magical thinking because dollars to donuts that theory will change in the next 20 years. I am not a proponent of either. You on the other hand want to win an argument or sell an idea that concretizes science and nature and that is just not realistic and unscientific. Your belief in a Big Bang as "proven" by the Hubble telescope (an object) is open for interpretation and conseptualization. You do not understand the impermanent nature of all things even by your own scientific standards of "the universe is in constant flux"…another form of impermanence. The reality to which you regard with love and beauty is fine until you seem to want to decide what is real or not. Your comment regarding Impermanence not being scientific still you have not explained what it is you mean.

          • __MikeG__ says:

            You are confusing impermanence with a theory based on observations and measurements. The Big Bang happened billions of years ago. It is a factual error to equate that to the "impermanent nature of all things". And BTW, science does not claim a static universe. The Buddhist concept of impermanence in no invalidates the evidence for any scientific finding.

            Provide evidence that the Big Bang theory will change in the next 20 years. And remember supposition and hostility are not evidence. The reason the Big Band is accepted by critical thinkers and person of education is that the theory is based on observations, measurement and experiment.

          • Thaddeus1 says:

            It is a little simplistic to not think that there will be ongoing modification to the all scientific theories. The very nature of the scientific enterprise precludes a "final" answer. Science, by definition, must always remain open.

            I would challenge you to name one scientific theory which hasn't undergone serious modification or revolution…all one need look to is Newton to Einstein to the Quantum for perhaps the most recent of transitions inherent in the scientific endeavor. It seems that you yourself may have already fallen prey to the more popularized versions of science proffered about as scientific. In the end, it doesn't matter if the Kool-aid is fruit punch or grape, it's still Kool-aid.

          • @Suri_k8 says:

            The theory of evolution , germ theory ….
            If you are so against science , can you Offer a better alternative ?

          • Padma Kadag says:

            Hostility? My little flower…I did not state that Impermanence invalidates science, scientific observation, or theory. My point is that though one has faith based in scientific method it does not automatically realistically deny the existence of impermanence. Impermanence is all encompassing and even scientific method is subject to it. Whatever is composite will fall apart…

          • @Suri_k8 says:

            The problem with buddhist philosophy is that it is based on extreme relativism , which is useful if you want to evolve certain detachment for the material world but it also creates a dichotomy between mind and material world. You detach mentally but you are still bound by the laws of nature and still you need a baseline to operate in the material world otherwise your survival would be compromised.

          • Padma Kadag says:

            Suri…I am not against science. I dont believe there is anyone commenting here who is against science. What I find interesting is that you can believe in the Big Bang theory as if it were absolute fact and yet if one were to say that if I walk up that mountain and pray really hard I will find god…you would scoff…unscientific, not possible or provable. But upon your inquiry into this religious pilgrim they recite all of their logical reasons from generation to generation logically showing a progression of people who have done just that…you would still not believe them. Could you ,yourself, Suri actually prove, right now, the Big Bang, and demonstrate it?

          • Padma Kadag says:

            No i do not think you could demonstrate it. Therefore it is Magical Thinking on your part to be a beilever

          • @Suri_k8 says:

            I definitely cant , i am not an astrophysicist ( and im guessing you arnt either) , but i definitely wouldnt argue against a Nobel prize winner in physics (actually two Mather & Smoot) and i definitely trust them more ( when it comes to explaining the universe) than i would trust some pastor or guru …. In fact for me pastor/guru = charlatans.

            Also here is the definition of magical thinking , if you think the bb theory fits here, well , like i said you are entitled to your opinion.
            Magical Thinking
            The erroneous belief, similar to a normal stage of childhood development—Piaget’s pre-operational phase—that thoughts assume a magical power capable of influencing events without a physical action actually occurring; a conviction that thinking equates with doing, accompanied by an unrealistic understanding of cause and effect
            Examples Dreams in children, in primitive peoples, and in patients under various conditions
            Segen's Medical Dictionary. © 2011 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.

    • @Suri_k8 says:

      Well there are two problems with what you are saying , the first one is that you are wrong and the second is that in your ignorance of the subject (big bang theory) you are spreading the "science is magical thinking too" myth .

      It is important to point out , like i think julian already did , that the fact that you dont understand the science , doesnt mean that science is magical thinking .

      In a scientific context a theory is a set of principles that explain and predict phenomena…scientific theories are created using the scientific method and are tested for accuracy through observation and experiments…Now the word theory can also mean conjecture or guess , but that is definitely not how it is used in science , scientific theories are not mere conjectures . As a scientifically literate person you should know the difference between these two.

      In the case of the big bang theory it is a well tested , widely accepted scientific theory ..and there is abundant evidence like measurements and observations that validate it ..if in doubt you can always go to the llibrary and find out more about the subject.

      • Padma Kadag says:

        Suri…no.. your wrong. Thanks for the lesson in theorization and scientific context. Theories are subject to impermanence. In the spirit of of your comment…why dont you go to the library and read Kunzang Lamai Shalung the chapter on Impermanence.

        • @Suri_k8 says:

          I never said science is absolute , what i said is that you are wrong  in reducing a scientific theory to a mere conjecture …If you think science is nothing but magical thinking and a bunch of conjectures about to be disproved anyway  , well , you are entitled to your opinion ….but magical thinking never  ever in the history of  humans produced any  satellites or airplanes … in fact magical thinking has never ever managed to produce anything useful.

          BTW, im acquainted with the impermanence concept in buddhist philosophy and i like it , i think buddhist philosophy is a very effective tool for personal growth but i dont think it can be used as a means to explain paterns in nature and other natural phenomena .

          • integralhack says:

            Love what you're saying here, Suri, and I think you and Padma probably have more in common than you realize, but I engage in magical thinking all the time (sometimes useful and sometimes not). Sometimes a positive intention helps me get through the day. I'm pretty sure magical thinking also gave me the nerve to approach my wife for a date. Magically, perhaps, she consented to marry me. 😉

            As Wittgenstein and some anthropologists would say, some "forms of life" aren't grounded in science or even reason, but that isn't to say that they aren't sometimes efficacious and wonderful lives.

          • Padma Kadag says:

            Suri…because I state that The Big bang is as much a magical thinking phenomena as any other creationist mythology or explanation does not , in any way, state that all science is magical thinking. Tell me where I have said that..i do not believe that in any case. I also do not think that all science relates to the Big Bang just as all science prior to the 15th century was not a result of the world being flat. I disagree with your assumption with the inability of impermanence being able to explain patterns in nature…quite the contrary…it has everything to do with nature and furthermore with science as well.

          • Padma Kadag says:

            "in fact magical thinking has never ever managed to produce anything useful."…agreed..ie. The Big Bang Theory. "theory" "scientific theory" is generally understood to refer to a proposed explanation of empirical phenomena, made in a way consistent with scientific method." The word "proposed" stands out.

  4. integralhack says:

    The straw man continues to be beaten.

    • yogijulian says:

      which straw man is that exactly?

      • integralhack says:

        The straw man (an informal fallacy) is presenting an argument that is a misrepresentation of the opposing position such as "I have heard there is a guru with the power to manifest objects out of thin air." How many EJ readers actually believe such things? Your argument would be more compelling if you had actual examples.

        And Thaddeus1, below, is correct that this also appears to be "begging the question" (another informal fallacy). Let's manufacture a position that requires a threat . . . some "meme." I mean, if you're going after the "manifestation" and "The Secret" folks fine, but why not say that?

        • yogijulian says:

          gosh my fiend, i wish you were right, but i have found to my dismay the new age worldview is ubiquitous, the secret is the biggest selling DVD of all time and most people involved in the yoga community really do believe (as does our malfunctioning friend ken wilber) that some gurus have magical powers and that yoga/mediation should reveal either one's own magical abilities or some transcendent supernatural reality beyond the material world and limited mortal body.

          sorry you don't feel i am addressing your favorite nuances here – but even an article like this is unfortunately way complicated for most yoga folks, without getting into all the postmodern/integral/gussied up creationist/mind-body dualist in drag stuff with overblown vocabulary that basically amounts to the same nonsense.

          i am not merely beating the straw man, but trying to create an opportunity for distinction making that clears up the ever present confusion about the relationships between science and spirituality – it is folks like you who perpetuate the confusion AND make it seem like there is an intellectually defensible argument for poppycock.

          • integralhack says:

            Wow. And how am I doing that exactly, Julian? I am asking you to provide "real world" examples, rather than the "poppycock" presented in your article.

            You frequently present the either/or fallacy as well: the spiritual perspective is either grounded in science or it is magical/mythic. All I am suggesting is that a person's spiritual perspective is subjective and not objectively measurable. It isn't opposed to science, it is just largely outside scientific purview.

            I could succumb to your either/or worldview, but that would be rather stupid and "perpetuating confusion," as you say.

          • Thaddeus1 says:

            Well, it is so nice to see the old gang all gathered here again for another knock down/drag out debate filled with all sorts of hoopla that only time will tell…Personally, I've missed this. It gives me something with which to fill my day.

            Just two points here (with more to come, I'm sure since I haven't even read the responses to my original comment yet)…

            First, might I suggest that we all lay our credentials out on the table. As Julian points out above, he believes that his article is "way complicated for most yoga folks." In addition to being quite revelatory regarding what he thinks of his audience, it also raises a good point.

            We should all be aware of where each of us is coming from. I mean, one spends time vetting his/her yoga teacher and hair dresser to know their qualifications in order to make an informed decision, but here we are shooting a bit blindly and this is perhaps a cause of our frustration. By way of analogy, if I walk into a kindergarten class and start teaching Calculus 101, I am going to get a lot of confused looks and blank stares (not to mention a lot requests for chocolate milk). So, I think it would nice if we all knew a little bit about our educational (institutional and otherwise) backgrounds in order to more accurately adjudicate the level of discussion and debate.

            Second, intergralhack makes a strikingly accurate and often over looked point. Spirituality isn't opposed to science as it operates outside of the scientific purview. This, of course, has the unfortunate consequence for some of the above comments of making them borderline nonsense.

            Science has spent precious little time, energy and money actually investigating spirit and spirituality because it is an epistemology rooted in the empirical world, i.e., the world that can be measured via human senses. By definition, spirit and its purview lies outside this world. Now to my knowledge, and please correct me (with citation), science has never proven the lack of spirit because it hasn't actually bothered to investigate it because as stated above, it's not really its arena.

            In anticipation of the time-tested rebuttal concerning the burden of proof, I will merely point out that science and those who adhere to its principles are simply consistent to the degree to which they can support their claims within that framework. I would claim that an application of this within one's life would actually lead towards more agnosticism than outright "anti"ism.

  5. Thaddeus1 says:

    If we want to have a discussion regarding epistemology and the role that science, "real" or otherwise plays in it, then perhaps we should begin by examining the claim that "real science" is "a way of discovering carefully what is actually true." For as it stands, to merely make this assertion at the end of article which very nicely details the functioning of some of the more popular informal fallacies is to simply fall prey to another, namely, begging the question.

    In addition, we should carefully avoid becoming victim to the tendency inherent in the more "general" understanding of science popularized in the mass media and overstepping the empirical boundaries inherent in the process of science which lead one to claim far more than is actually justified by the scientific method and process.

    • yogijulian says:

      uh huh.

    • @Suri_k8 says:

      "In addition, we should carefully avoid becoming victim to the tendency inherent in the more "general" understanding of science popularized in the mass media and overstepping the empirical boundaries inherent in the process of science which lead one to claim far more than is actually justified by the scientific method and process."

      Can you elaborate on this?

      I would interpret "true" as overt , objective reality , as in measurable and observable ….I dare to say that philosophical debates on the "realness of science" or the "truthness" of objective reality usually lead nowhere specially when these are examined from a relativist point of view.

      • integralhack says:

        Not speaking for Thaddeus1, Suri, but I believe the answer is implicit in your statement: "I would interpret 'true' as overt, objective reality, as in measurable and observable." Given that a great deal of spirituality (which was the subject of Julian's article, no?) has to do with subjective experience, it is often outside the scientific purview. Naturally there are some areas that can be studied: efficacy of yoga asanas or meditation for health, for example, but these are fairly narrow areas of inquiry that don't reveal my subjective experience.

        • @Suri_k8 says:

          That is exacly what i mean which is why it is absurd to try to mix science with belief or spirituality , they are different and they have different purposes.

          • integralhack says:

            Suri, right on! I think we're on the same page and I think that's what Padma might be saying as well.

          • yogijulian says:

            subjective experience is only outside of the purview of science if it does not make claims about objective reality!

            and even when subjective experience only makes claims about subjective things – these are still subject to reason, critical thinking and other forms of interpretation for truthfulness, depth etc.

            you are slyly making a case here for spirituality existing in an anything-goes compartment.

            get pragmatic for a moment, ok! stay with me here – let's say person A comes to you and says they are developing a deepening awareness of their emotions and sensations via vipassana practice and it is helping them to feel more comfortable in their skin and better able to communicate with their loved ones.

            now person B comes to you and says that they have been meditating and have realized that the material world is an illusion that they are actually the messiah sent to preach this truth and that their first act of revelation for the planet will be to jump off a 50 story building and land unscathed as proof of their faith in quantum consciousness.

            seriously now – on what basis would you evaluate the claims of person A and B and on what basis would you decide how to best counsel them about the relationship of spirituality to (gulp) reality?!

            but as is often the case i think you do so for two reasons:

            1) to try and hold open a defensible space for your pet supernatural/pantheist/mind-body dualist beliefs.

            2) on principle because you rebel against science as a mean daddy that takes away your toys.

          • integralhack says:

            Once again, I'm presented with the Either/Or Fallacy: My position is presented by Julian as either supernatural or not.

            Personally, I *try* to stay away from all beliefs (or "views" as they are referred to in Buddhist parlance) but this includes the scientific materialist view.

            Having said that I would try to get person B some professional mental health support. I'm not evaluating "claims" but trying to keep someone from getting hurt. I wouldn't try to counsel–me trying to do psychiatry would be about as useful as you doing philosophy.

          • Padma Kadag says:

            integralhack and suri..I will stick my neck out here and say that in a situation where buddhism is being practiced as purely as can be …that science can be included with no conflict. I disagree that science and buddhism (spirituality) are too different. Because the purpose of Buddhism is to logically observe reality as it is and realize it's transitory impermanent nature leaving the individual to naturally open up completely dissolving all concepts through "empirical" self observation. For the benefit of all beings. The problem Buddhism has in the west is that far too many people discuss higher tantras without realization and now conceptualize in advance their assumed realization.

      • Thaddeus1 says:

        To Suri_k8…

        Sure…in short, I am referring to the tendency of mainstream "scientists" (and here I am referring to those scientists who publish books generally obtainable at Barnes and Nobles and anyone included within the New Atheist movement) to postulate, via their publications, claims which appear scientific, but in actuality have very little to do with the process of science.

        In essence, many writers clothe their claims in a thin veneer of empiricism and overstep the epistemological boundaries of science by making claims which lie outside the purview of their worldview. This usually takes the form of an implicit argument from ignorance that goes something like…"we don't have any evidence for a world beyond our senses…therefore, this world doesn't exist." Of course, an argument of this sort is fallacious and I have found in my experience with "real" scientists who do research a far greater tendency towards agnosticism regarding that which lies outside their epistemological foundations. However, this doesn't sell books to the general public. This, for me, is the difference between the process of science and "scientism." The latter which is really a sheep in wolf's clothing completely, utterly and consciously ignorant of its relationship to actual science.

        The other slight of hand inherent herein is the co-opting of terms like "objective reality" and "reality" as the sole purview of the western scientific worldview. Now please let me stress that I am not denying reality, or a "world out there." I know if I jump off a building I am going to fall, or if I smash my hand with a hammer that it's going to hurt like hell. However, some scientists, and all adherents to "scientism," fail to acknowledge the very simple fact that belief in an external world ascertainable and ultimately knowable solely via human senses depending solely on naturalistic explanations is THE a priori assumption (that means un-argued, un-tested and un-proven…simply assumed in order to get the boat afloat) which allows the western scientific worldview to operate. For me, this is an insufficient foundation upon which to lay a sole claim to "reality."

        • Suri_k8 says:

          I dont know about barnes and noble , but at amazon you can buy all kinds of books including very expensive textbooks …. so i dont think it matters where you buy your books as long as you check the credentials of the author ofcourse .. Popular science books are the means by which science reaches those that do not have a formation in science but i think it is important to point out that having a fomation in biology for example doesnt necesarily make you literate in cosmology . So even for a biologist the only way to understand cosmology is through a popular science book on cosmology …and there are many mainstream scientists that write good books ie Stephen Hawking … another example .. Richard Dawkins , i think he has written very good books on biology and i think thats where he is at his best …another example Sam Harris (philosopher ,Neuroscientist) , i like his books but i think he is incurably and strongly biased by his love for meditation and buddhism(?) although his books are more philosophical…Steven Pinker i can only say good things about his books although i think he doesnt like environmentalists very much …. so like i said it is up to oneself to check their credentials , and after reading their books use your critical thinking skills to make an analisis of what you read ..and then you can say this is BS or i liked it i want to learn more.

          About this .."we don't have any evidence for a world beyond our senses…therefore, this world doesn't exist."
          there is a big philosophical debate over wether you can or cant prove a negative …. in the meantime there is a lot of information coming from neuroscientists , evobiologists , evopsychologists about God/gods/supernatural beings and our minds tendency to infuse with meaning and intent patterns that are both meaningful and not meaningful and our tendency to tell stories .

          I also think books from agnostic authors sell just as well as books from atheist authors . I think there are more agnostics than atheists …i dont have the numbers for agnostics but there are less than 3 milliion atheists in america ….atheists are a tiny minority really.

          About this .."…For me, this is an insufficient foundation upon which to lay a sole claim to "reality." what would be a sufficient foundation for you?

        • @Suri_k8 says:

          Btw suri_k8 = @suri_k8 , same person

          • Thaddeus1 says:

            Kind of figured, but thanks.

            To respond to some of your queries. Many of the individuals you mention are a huge part of the problem which I am referencing, particularly, Dawkins and Harris. The point is that these individuals, while legitimate scientists, proffer ideology which is couched in the language and rhetoric of science, but often times is outside the boundaries of science proper, i.e., their claims while appearing scientific are situated outside the epistemological boundaries of science. Thus, the popularized account being offered is not at all in line with the actual workings of science. While I was pursuing my masters, I did a lot of work regarding the responsibilities and obligations of individuals within the field of science to offer an accurate portrayal of their enterprise and simultaneously correct the general public's misunderstanding of science. From what I can tell, Dawkins and Harris attempt the exact opposite.

            My point about the argument from ignorance was not to require a proof of the negative, but merely to point out that a lack of evidence does not and cannot count as evidence for something. If this was the case the entire scientific enterprise would collapse. There was a time, before Pasteur, that no one knew about microbes. But eventually technology, investigation and experimentation revealed never before seen entities. If the lack of evidence prior to this had been the grounds upon which to make declarations regarding an inviolable understanding of reality, then we still wouldn't know why milk goes bad. Thus, science can never with any certainty declare that something does not exist. It can say that there is no evidence, but to step much beyond this can be to end up on shaky ground.

            I'm not sure I understand your last question. I will say that I am not so arrogant to speculate that our flawed senses have available to them the totality of reality.

          • suri_k8 says:

            And I agree, thats why I think science and religion/spirituality should not be mixed … and i also get what you are saying about scientists like Dawkins and Harris …I personally think that education benefits society , its no coincidence that the least educated countries are also the poorest and I also think science is an important part of the ecuation …as for your flawed senses , well you are entitled to your opinion but I think our senses are awesome , i cant complain.

  6. timful says:

    You make a good case that scientific reasoning is generally more scientific than other approaches to life. But, I don't think people are generally seeking scientific results in their spiritual practices.

    • integralhack says:

      Well said, Timful!

      • yogijulian says:

        "I don't think people are generally seeking scientific results in their spiritual practices."

        i did not say they were.

        i am rather talking about how we RELATE science and spirituality, and whether or not we can make scientific claims based on spiritual experience without submitting these to scientific method.

        the simple point is this: an integrated perspective on reality embraces experiential spirituality while being informed by a scientific approach to reality.

        subjective experiences are meaningful and beautiful, but when they make claims about the nature of reality these claims are testable by scientific means.

        spirituality remains unhealthy, regressive, unintegrated and delusional when it attempts to construct a perspective on reality that is at odds with science and makes claims outside of the domain of subjective experience.


        i can say that in meditation i gained insight into how i contract my belly to avoid feeling sad and that when i softened my belly the sadness welled up as tears in my eyes and remembered a time when my mother didn't hold me after i was bullied. i can say that sitting in meditation allowed me to process through this sadness and i felt an open-ness in my belly after wards that allowed me to feel more intimate with my wife.

        beautiful – right? it is also entirely in the domain of interior experiences and makes no extraordinary claims about external reality.

        but if i say that in my meditation i realized that the contraction in my belly came from an alien implant and that an angel came to me and told me that my mother had not abandoned me in those moments but was really enacting god's plan for my life based on her psychic ability to tell the future…. well this is filled with extraordinary claims about external reality.

        if we have our heads on straight we should have a raised eyebrow about such an account of meditation – and if we are the meditation teacher we should definitely provide some very grounded guidance.

        i hope you agree on this much!

        likewise if i claim that meditation allowed me to realize that god not only exists but is an ever present disembodied conscious being that is everywhere and in everything and is my true identity to which my soul will return when my body dies – well again, these are BIG metaphysical claims about reality that should be subject to critical thinking, empirical scrutiny and logical reasoning.

        the experiences we have internally either fit with external reality or they don't.

        some that don't are imaginative, creative and lead to innovative ways of reasonably shaping reality by being just enough in touch with reality and open to new possibilities.

        some are metaphorical, poetic, mythic, symbolic and can be interpreted in terms of our relationship to external reality.

        some are just plain delusional and in their extreme form are manifestations of mental illness, in their less extreme form they are compartmentalized ways of denying, rationalizing or avoiding reality because we are psychologically ill-equipped to deal with how it makes us feel.

  7. yogijulian says:

    in short, timful – i am saying that what we should be seeking is a spirituality that is grounded in reality, and spiritual practices that help us to be integrated. this eliminates none of the wonder, beauty, compassion and awe – but all of the bullshit.

    my sense is that critical thinking and interest in all aspects of truth is an essential aspect of spiritual practice. discernment.

    i like ghandi's quote" there is no god but truth."

    and the dalai lama "well if science shows that some belief in buddhism is wrong, buddhism must change!"

    holding on to outdated beliefs from a pre-scientific time ABOUT THE NATURE OF SCIENTIFICALLY TESTABLE REALITY in the name of being spiritual is a set-up for delusional beliefs.

    the good news is we don't have to set ourselves up this way – and we can discover, live and share a spirituality in in the world that is not prey to this particular form of delusion. this not only makes spirituality healthier, it would perhaps give it a better reputation in the eyes of people who have rightly seen it is a bit of a pit of charlatans and nutcases!

    these people can then benefit from the aspects of spirituality that are most useful, sane and beautiful.

    • timful says:

      I think the main aim of science is to arrive at truths we can all agree upon. There is a strain of religious thinking that pursues that same aim, and I am happy to see that vanquished by scientific progress. But, there is a large part of experience about which we need not all agree. In fact, this is probably the bulk of what living is about… love, beauty, happiness… You seem eager to celebrate those subjective experiences, but only if they are grounded in a scientific reality that is somehow more basic and fundamental, what is really real. And, that is where it begins to sound like religious dogma, insisting that everyone must see it that way too. Science is not what we all must see, it is how we all see the same thing, when that is our aim.

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  9. Charon P. says:

    I find the "who has the burden" to be a curiosity and something of a game- is it the one asserting who has the burden, or the one with the more extraordinary claim? And is there a way to make 'extraordinary' not subjective, without resorting to a showing of hands? Myself, I take the one asserting to have the burden, though I am less concerned with the accuracy of the claim than the "so what" of it- some guy can manifest whatever- "so what" .. the universe is expanding – "so what". I read these genre of blog posts and wonder the same- what is the agenda or end-game?
    I have read many articles favoring of science and logic over religion/magic that use ridicule and other emotional language throughout. This is an effective rhetorical strategy that politicians and rabble rouses use all the time, but this sort of nastiness and enemy-izing shows a disdain for the audience, that the speaker thinks the audience needs to be insulted and manipulated, or perhaps worse that the audience already agrees and just needs a push into the type of action that emotional ridicule inspires. I always wonder what better world they imagine such a strategy will conjure.
    But outside of what I read as bitterness, there is a sense of betterness, and maybe this is related to the disdain, but I think in these articles it comes from studying the sciences and logic. Knowing logic does improve a person, because it shows how structured thought works, but doesn't make for a happier or healthier life, because it has no imperative to discipline, that is, it isn't going to get you doing what you want or need to do, let alone show you what those are.
    Fallacies are meant to improve arguments, not to shut them down. This article doesn't quite go a-shutting, which is nice, but comes close with the emotional language. And of course, appeals to emotion are fallacies too! Really, there is no escaping fallacies, because our language is not the language of logic, nor is our beingness logical- we can embody contradiction and hypocrisy, believe and disbelieve at the same time, unknowingly or intentionally; logic can not. New evidence, new thoughts, are not the exclusive domain of science, and I really don't think winning a philosophy contest changes life a deep substantial way.
    These articles have an undercurrent of an intention to improve human life, and to make humans more equal and less suspicious of each other. But to do this they point to the failings of religion/magic while ignoring the needs these beliefs are fulfilling, and point to the successes of science (though this often means equating technology with science, or shifting terms between colloquial and technical) while ignoring its shortcomings, namely that science is intelligence/education based, and entirely moral- and ethic-free. In this article, a nebulous "pre-science" age is presented to show (without evidence) that we are better knowing (whatever it is that we know now vs wherever "then" is), despite the consequences of creating that knowledge. These sleights of hand, and the slights these articles feature are unnecessary and serves as a proof to those who shun aspects of education and moral "freedom" that science is no less cruel or satisfying than any religion/magic.

    • Thaddeus1 says:

      Couldn't have said it better myself.

    • yogijulian says:

      oh goodness where to begin?!

      the title and point of the article is how in the light of what we now know about reality we can have a healthy relationship between spirituality and science.

      one underlying assumption is that it actually matters what is true – regardless of opinion, culture or belief.

      another is that spirituality becomes healthier, more effective and more integrated when it is not in the service of distorting reality.

      a third is that it is possible to have a rich inner life, contemplative practice, emotional awareness in a beautiful relationship to both psychological awareness and what science has revealed to actually be the case regarding our universe.

      yes, i think spirituality is enriched by knowing that the earth actually goes around the sun, that we are one among billions of galaxies and that the universe is expanding and has been for 13.75 B years!

      yes, i think spirituality is enriched by learning that we are in an intimate genetic relationship with all biological life.

      yes, i think spirituality is enriched by moving beyond mind/body dualism, embracing our mortality and letting go of superstitious supernatural beliefs.


      a) because it matters what is true

      b) because it is a fascinating inquiry

      c) because many of our superstitious beliefs are actually psychological defenses against dealing with our feelings about reality – and this is where a lot of the REAL spiritual work lies.

      you don't have to agree, and i am certainly not demanding that anyone else, especially those in completely different social/cultural contexts do – they are free to believe and practice as they choose – BUT in out zeitgeist there is not only a lot of confusion about the relation of science to spirituality, but a wild touting of pseudoscience as "proof" of magical thinking.

      personally i think it is worthwhile to challenge this, not only for the reasons i give above, but more practically because we live in a country in the midst of a public and political battle over how science is taught in schools, whether or not people can call creationism science, or claim that evolution is not true because it is a "theory…" we live in a country where postmodern relativism has made unlikely bedfellows with christian fundamentalism and unwittingly supports the anti-science lobby that wants to call homosexuality a "choice" and ban gay marriage as "un-natural" (evidence be damned) and rails against the evidence for climate change/global warming as a hoax.

      these same folks want to define human life as beginning at conception, take away a woman's right to choose, and make stem cell research that will save millions of lives illegal….they do all of this by relying upon the scientific illiteracy of the population and by using logical fallacies to make arguments that will affect the lives of billions.

      they also rely on the fact that us privileged folks forget how lucky we are to have separation of church and state and are not living under the tyranny of real theocracy, inquisition, witch burning, execution of "heretics" or the earlier brutality of superstitious world views that relied upon animal and human sacrifice, rigid gender roles, strict caste rules, ritual male and female circumcision etc…

      • @Suri_k8 says:

        This is exactly where the relevance of the debate is , where the religion of some afect the quality of life of others , where your religious beliefs stop being personal . The separation of church and state is definitely one of the pillars of democracy …one of the reasons arab states will most probably never be true democracies is because they have failed in separating Mosque and state . Another reason why they still live in such backwardness is because of their failure to adopt humanist values and rationalism both of which are the foundation of western societies .

        The US was created as a secular republic and founded on the basis of philosophical principles derived from the Enlightenment , these principles are essentially secular and humanist. Why religious fundamentalists want to destroy what most people value dearly , i cannot understand.
        It is ridiculous how they want to push their medieval agenda on everybody else.

        • Charon P. says:

          The US was also founded as a sexist and racial slave-state, some the US presently outsources.

          • @Suri_k8 says:

            Except that slavery and sexism were rampant everywhere in the world until the humanitarian revolution based on humanist values started kicking in ..rationalism also played a good part in this slow but effective process of humanizing and civilizing society… A process that also benefited the animal kingdom in what later would be called animal rights.

          • Charon P. says:

            It is my understanding that slavery is still rampant, and that companies like Qualcomm do not manifest in a vacuum.
            I am curious as to the metrics or ways of determining the influence of one set of ideas over another. I am fairly ignorant of these; I've always thought utilitarianism, or the collection of ideas it has, holds a more important role than either, but again I'm not sure how to parse or quantify the influence. Also, if you could shed some light on how rationalism has encouraged animal rights, I would be grateful.

          • @Suri_k8 says:

            Well during the enlightenment and the age of reason , intellectuals started reflecting on the entrenched customs of the time, many were brutal to say the least , this instigated a number of reforms and the emergence of the concept of individual rights this together with humanist values set the intelectual stage for what would later would become civil rights , womens rights, childrens rights , gay rights and animal rights … Ofcourse this is a simplified explanation , for an indepth analisis on this and the decline on violence with numbers and all you can check out The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined , Pinker.

          • @Suri_k8 says:

            Also it is important to point out that the more democratic a state is the less likely slavery and other forms of violence will be tolerated. The level of education is also key , analize the political and social problems of Norway and China or Germany and India .

          • Charon P. says:

            It seems a strange measure to sum tales of ancient battles (and their contexts, and the unknowable kindnesses they leave out) against the very different variables of modern life (drones, bigboxes, nuclear weapons/waste, factory farms, an empty ocean…), as it seems Pinker does, but I'll have to check it out, thank you.
            I am still curious as to how rationalism particularly had a significant effect on animal rights.

        • yogijulian says:


      • Charon P. says:

        If the purpose of the article was to shed "the light of what we now know about reality we can have a healthy relationship between spirituality and science," why wasn't this done? The article opens with questions, but they are shown to be purely rhetorical and aren't explored. The body of the article is a list of fallacies, exampled with exchanges designed not to inform but to ridicule. This is my chief objection and wonder about these type of articles, as I see ridicule working against and contradictory to the advance of education on science/logic, as it does not hold the reader in any esteem. Sarcasm is a part of modern language, but as a device for argument is "preaching to the choir" and a put down to its target. Thank you for not including sarcasm in your generous reply.

        Were what you presented here represented in the article, your case would have been made much stronger (assuming they are explained). I generally agree with your ethical/moral perspective on the value of education and human rights. Of your list Of the "whys" though, only "c" is not subjective, and I agree that the exploration of one's own psychology and how and what we think can be transformative. I would disagree that it is where most spiritual efforts take place, but certainly there is much we hide from ourselves using the modes and expressions of our culture (like sarcasm and irony).

        I am unsure why you example of fundamentalist-type religion, it seems a misdirect away from the "whats and hows" of my critique of the effectiveness of ridicule, in order to make an emotional appeal to the set of morals which I and your likely readers share. I wonder why this argument is made particularly regarding human rights, as China (and first-worlder's tacit support of it) is such an at-hand example of why oppression is not exclusive to a religious context. More curious is why, given "c", are their or any world-views and ethics said to be the result of religious/magic processes (without evidence- perhaps my standards are excessive?), while leaving unaddressed what the needs these traditions fulfilled, the dynamics and attacks perceived by these communities, let alone how to speak to them or resolve these needs.

        If it is in our nature to create phenomenon to justify some suspicion, we do not need any particular context to manufacture one; the witch becomes a crazy lady, and her supposed mental illness is used as an excuse to clean up the neighborhood, "for her own good"- rational, and selfish.

        It has been activists, often explicitly religious, not scientists (and of course all three can overlap), that have brought about substantive reforms in how we interact with people and the world. I don't see ridicule or lists of fallacies working to educate, or transform people in any "real" way.

        • yogijulian says:

          fair enough – i gratefully accept your critique and rebuke.

          you make some good points.

          the article was thrown together quickly after someone encouraged me to blog a FB comment – so i will be the first to admit it is not a well-rounded and carefully constructed piece of writing.

          i will look forward to seeing an article of yours online some time if you have a link.

          i would too echo suri regarding the enlightenment as being a powerful combination of activism, political liberation, scientific/rational awakening, liberation of religious tyranny and sowing the seeds of democracy and equality – even if it has been a gradual and imperfect process.

          the evidence for western societies that have the enlightenment in their history as being by far more free, progressive, educated, socially conscious, and i would even argue spiritually evolved is huge.

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  11. Uma Simon says:

    I really enjoyed the lucidity of your writing. Thank you. Uma

  12. __MikeG__ says:

    I see that the anti-science crew is hard at work. I still find it amazing how people misunderstand science and are so unwilling to move past magical thinking. I find it amazing that many people still do not understand that the word "theory" when used in science does not have the same meaning as "theory" when used in casual conversation. That some people do not seem to understand the difference between scientific theory and hypothesis.

    • Thaddeus1 says:

      And based on your "superior" understanding of the intimate workings of science, what praytell is that difference?

      Just out of curiosity, have you ever read Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions?" Or anything by Bruno Latour or Donna Haraway? I am guessing that they know a whole lot more about science than either you, I or anyone on this forum and they don't paint such a clean and tidy picture. Maybe you should check them out.

      • yogijulian says:

        you pseudo-intellectual pretentious bully.

        kuhn is always evoked by those who seek to muddy the waters….

        of course science evolves and changes and new paradigms are discovered – but this progression happens via evidence and so far has not in any single case turned us in the direction of magical thinking or mythic literalism.

        what's your point?

        • Thaddeus1 says:

          Well, name calling is an interesting avenue to explore in debate. I vaguely remember you writing in several of your pieces that you always wanted to keep the discussion above such a fray, but at last.

          Sorry to "muddy" your water. But if you actually want to address any of the points I've raised above I would be happy to dialogue with you.

          • __MikeG__ says:

            Name calling isn't good. Neither have been your snide and hateful comments.

          • Thaddeus1 says:

            Well, I can assure there is no hate in any of my remarks. As for being snide, I think that can happen to all of us from time to time. I sincerely apologize for any participation in this manner above.

      • @Suri_k8 says:

        Well , maybe they know a lot more about science than anyone of us but what would be interesting to know is how much about science do you know and as i asked you earlier , if you can offer a better alternative than science that can explain and give us insight about how the material world works , one that is not kool-aid ???

        Also It is good that you mentioned social constructivists and postmodernists , no less , now we know where you are coming from , there is nothing more out of touch with reality than social constructivim , its almost ridiculous. Haraways work can hardly be used as a reference for scientific knowledge .

        What is most interesting is that only one of the authors you mention has a formation in the natural sciences the other two are social scientists.

        Criticizing science is easy proposing better alternatives …not so much.

        • __MikeG__ says:

          Yep, great points.

          Pulling a name out of a hat …."well, what about what Mr. X says?"….is also proof of ignorance of the scientific method. Science, when done properly, is about evidence and peer review. One study, one experiment or one author never is the definitive answer to anything in science. And one does not have to be an expert to understand the basics of the scientific method. But one does have to put away preconceptions and magical thinking to make a meaningful contribution.

          Hugs. PeaceOut.

        • Thaddeus1 says:

          As for my background in the science…I graduated sum cum laude with honors in philosophy with minors in anthropology and women's studies. Then I went onto pursue a graduate degree in philosophy where I was part of an interdisciplinary program that worked across pedagogical boundaries somewhat successfully intermixing humanities and both social and environmental sciences. I can honestly say that I never experienced the strident attitudes from any of the scientists that I worked in conjunction with and attend classes with there in the way that I do here. In fact, I was honored to be included in two studies and publications in peer reviewed journals. And you?

          As for offering an alternative…the quality of any critique is not adjudicated on the basis of alternatives. This is a misleading rhetorical strategy. It saddens me that you seem more interested in being right, than pursuing the truth through critical reflection.

      • __MikeG__ says:

        I find it hilarious that even though I did not mention any person by name, it is you who gets upset. Hmmm, I wonder why that is?

        An educated person, when confronted with the fact that he/she is ignorant on a subject will then take pains to learn about that subject. Ignorant people just get pissed off when confronted by their own ignorance.

    • integralhack says:

      Who are the "anti-science crew?" Anyone that disagrees with Julian? I'm not anti-science–I respect the appropriate application of it and if people want to try to apply it to their spirituality, they are welcome to it. I don't have a clue of how to apply it to my own practice, seeing as I don't "believe" in the straw man beliefs that are being used as examples.

      I just see a very broad brush at work here, full of generalizations and fallacies.

      I find that the real magical thinkers are those that think that magical thinking isn't part of day-to-day lives, which it is. Thinkers as disparate as Buddha and Wittgenstein noted that magical thinking is part of the human condition.

      This isn't to say that I celebrate or support magical thinking–in most cases I'm opposed to it. I just think one should identify those forms of it that are really harmful (bad gurus).

      • yogijulian says:

        lets start by identifying the supposed fallacies and generalizations of my broad brush.

        i don't think it is broad i think it is quite specific and i await your pointing out of any fallacies with bated breath!

        OF COURSE we can be free of magical thinking in the true sense of how i am using it! it sounds like you don't see any link between beliefs and behavior or consequences in reality, or any underlying principle at hand in the multitude of bad decisions people make when armed with incorrect magical or religious beliefs.

        you my old friend engage as usual in a manipulative sophistry that seeks to muddle definitions and blur lines so as to not have to admit some basic facts: we are mortal biological organisms and there is nothing supernatural.

        i find your words intellectually dishonest and spiritually pretentious.

        • Thaddeus1 says:

          "we are mortal biological organisms and there is nothing supernatural." Fallacy: Begging the question.

        • integralhack says:

          Fallacies have already been addressed ad nauseum in the comments above. I'm not interested in the rehash.

          However, I do think you say something interesting when you point to the "underlying principle." I don't think "magical thinking" is the only reason people make bad decisions. Buddha pointed to a confused understanding of self which is a fundamental confusion (and fundamental magical thinking, if you like) but this is something that science typically can't help with (I believe scientific theory might be interpreted to support it as many have done, however).

          You and I have said some harsh things–I think we both give what we get when it comes to argument, but I'm going to try to put that aside and make an observation–you don't have to agree with this observation, obviously, but let me know if you think it is fairly accurate:

          I think you are a Realist–or at least lean toward it. A Realist is a particular philosophical position that 1) believes that truth claims are "Verification Transcendent" meaning that the existence for something is based on it actually being there 2) Realists are also "Bivalent" in regard to truth, meaning that something is either true or it is false. 3) Finally, Realists are supporters of the Principle of Non-Contradiction, meaning that a statement cannot be both true and false at the same time.

          I, on the other hand, am more of an Anti-Realist. As such, I lean toward Verification Dependence–to claim something is true I have to be able to verify it is true (as such, I neither attempt to claim or disclaim miraculous gurus since I am rarely motivated to travel to investigate). Naturally, however, I do have "doubts" and "common sense assumptions"–I just don't claim them as knowledge. I reject Bivalence because I think things might be true for one form of life and false for another. Finally, I reject the Principle of Non-Contradiction because I think things might be true and false at the same time depending on the perspective or form of life being examined.

          Interestingly, science or religion can take Realist or Anti-Realist positions. I don't think either position is a slur, but they tend to represent essential character differences that make arguments difficult since they start from such fundamentally different vantage points.

          I'm wondering if you think there is any truth to this observation? If there is, there may be hope for me yet since my intellectual dishonesty and spiritual pretentiousness may simply stem from the anxiety regarding a lack of epistemological terra firma under my pretentious little feet. 😉

      • __MikeG__ says:

        Julian does not rule science and I made no statement as to the validity of the article he posted. The anti-science crew are persons who argue for magical thinking who willfully, or through ignorance, misrepresent the scientific method.

  13. ValCarruthers says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  14. I agree with much of what Julian writes, here and elsewhere. It's very close to my view of science and spirituality.

    But I also think the whole picture is more complicated than that, and I don't feel at all comfortable prescribing it for everyone.

    What if it were scientifically proven that people who seriously believe in some sort of magical thinking are happier, live longer and reproduce more reliably than those who don't.

    See what I mean? Now it gets tricky.

    Adherence to strict scientific thinking wold be proven by science to be counter-evolutionary.

    That's an extreme example, of course, just for illustration. But possible everyday cases of this logic abound.

    My parents would not have necessarily been better off, or I a better person, if they were not devout Catholics, for example. (My aeronautical engineer father was obviously no science slouch, by the way.)

    Unscientific belief itself is probably critical for many people's well-being, in ways that may eventually be scientifically proven itself someday.

    That doesn't lead to any particular conclusion except that, even if Julian is absolutely right about the science, it's not necessarily best for everyone to be just like Julian.

    Bob W. Associate Publisher
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    Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

    • yogijulian says:

      totally reasonable line of inquiry bob! (and let me assure you i have said nowhere that anything should be prescribed for everyone!)

      in fact we both know there is research that shows that there are numerous measurable benefits to having spiritual community. BUT ALL of these benefits can no doubt be experienced from community that is compassionate without being irrational or organized around anything supernatural.

      further – we can point out myriad ways that community and culture organized around superstition and supernatural authority are deeply problematic and bad for the health of human beings! i would argue that at bottom this comes down to a simple statement: it actually matters whether or not something is true. the amount of energy we have to expend defending lies and the amount of additional distorting of reality necessary to do so is in the end catastrophic, fragmenting and annihilating.

      we make a mockery of science, reason and indeed philosophical and spiritual traditions that value truthfulness when we say that believing and perpetuating untruths is harmless and doesn't really matter!

      i think too the crucial distinction is this: magical thinking and mythic literalism are coping mechanisms, they are defenses against facing reality directly and honestly. no amount of tolerance or multiculturalism should confuse us about this – there is no motivation to stay bought into these kinds of beliefs unless they are a way of trying to cope with something otherwise thought to be unbearable….. but rather than serving as a defense against our feelings about reality, spirituality should i think help us to make peace with reality – and not by denying it or telling us pretty lies!

      i stand by the position that psychological and spiritual health lies in the direction of relinquishing defenses and coping mechanisms b:

      a) becoming more resilient in the face of our existential reality
      b) healing the trauma and suffering underneath our defensive beliefs
      c) developing a connection to resources that are real rather than based in fantasy, denial, dissociation and other defenses

      my sense is that the more integrated we become by using effective spiritual practices, reasoning coherently and being engaged in dealing with reality the more we wake up and become aware of what we really are, what is really going on and from that place we are more honest, compassionate, creative, alive human beings.

      meditation and yoga should be in service of this kind of integration.

      i know this may seem radical, but really all it is doing is charting a course beyond superstition, regression and fragmentation – and if that is not the purpose of self-development, philosophy, psychology and spirituality i am at a loss for what to say!

      along with many other public thinkers i also feel it is a kind of covert condescension to say that while we know something is silly and superstitious other people may "need" it and so we should play along and not point it out.

      • Well and eloquently argued, Julian. And I have no doubt about all the harm that can come from irrational beliefs.

        My problem is that, for me, love and goodness trump scientific vs. unscientific as values, perhaps even irrationally so. For me, love and goodness themselves are beliefs that I could try to justify scientifically, but not very well.

        I'm far more impressed with a religious believer who's loving and good than I am by a scientifically-minded spiritualist who isn't.

        And any serious student of history knows that a highly scientific society does not necessarily lead to love and goodness (Nazi Germany being the most extreme example).

        Bob W. Associate Publisher
        facebook, twitter, linkedIn
        Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

        • integralhack says:

          Well said, Bob!

        • yogijulian says:

          let me once again state – as i have done in the article and numerous other places, that i am not arguing for a purely scientific cold emotionless unimaginative rigid worldview – au contraire to the max!!!

          evoking nazi germany is i think incorrect in this regard because this was a society massively heated up on hitler's hysterical over the top religious speeches about the volk, the reich, purity, racial superiority, destiny etc and probably about as far from authentic rationality and respect for evidence as one can imagine.

          while i understand your point, the barbaric nature of nazi rhetoric and behavior has nothing to do with this conversation at all, and needlessly perpetuates a fallacy less level headed people enjoy spreading that i think we should nip in the bud.

          (i think we also just proved godwin's law by the way: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law)

          i would suggest that love and goodness are 100% arguable in both philosophical and scientific terms – and in fact that is where we are headed….

          my through-line here is INTEGRATION – science is just one way of finding out what is true with regard to claims in the empirical domain.

          logic and reason do not rely solely on evidence but should be informed by it.

          psychology and spirituality need not rely on evidence alone – but similarly should be informed by it if they are to be most effective.

          i stand by the philosophical position tat truth, beauty and goodness are interdependent aspects of one whole – and that science, spirituality/psychology, reason and art are likewise different aspects of one whole.

          that whole (and our awareness of/relationship to it) is best served by an intelligent integration of all domains.

          what underlies all of this for me is an intensely passionate curiosity about how to reconcile and integrate these different modes of inquiry in the most elegant, honest and accurate way!

          i found that if i was truly honest with myself maintaining a spiritual metaphysics based in dishonesty was an expression of a deep seated lack of faith that reality was beautiful and meaningful on its own terms without painting the lilly as shakespeare called it.

          because conversations about truth and reality often go the direction of meaningless metaphysical speculation let me be clear about the facts i think really matter and are central to the kind of integrated spirituality i am proposing/discovering:

          1) we are biological organisms that are related genetically to all other life on earth.
          2) we are in a vast universe that began 13.75 B years ago and is expanding and cooling uniformly.
          3) consciousness is a product of biological evolution and gets more complex and more self aware the more brains become more complex.
          4) we do not live in a demon haunted world. there are no disembodied beings, no ghosts no literal deities and there has never been a single case of a mind without a body.
          5) we die at the end of our lives when our bodies break down and take with them everything we think of as "i."
          6) love, passion, creativity, joy, communion, bliss, ecstasy, insight, compassion, healing etc are all expressions of neurochemistry and can be worked with via intentional practices, breath, movement, focus etc..
          7) we can more honestly and effectively integrate the domains of science, spirituality, art, psychology etc by being honest about these facts.
          8) in addition to cultivating more skillful responses to life, and creating more opportunities for authentic love, freedom lies in coming to terms with what we wish were not so, but in fact is the case.
          9) we perpetuate dishonesty about these facts as a way of shielding ourselves form feelings about our biographical and existential reality we find overwhelming. integrated spirituality should help us deal with these feelings in order to be more free, open, grounded and less invested in distorting reality.

          • yogijulian says:

            one more thing: many a religious/spiritual believer thinks they are being loving and good when for example:

            they don't spare the rod because the bible says it will spoil the child.
            they send their gay child to a jesus camp to try and make them overcome their sinful ways.
            they strap explosives to their body and get on a plane as a way to further the arrival of a blessed islamic caliphate on the planet so that all may know allah.
            they explain to their children that evolution is a lie and that to go to heaven they should be abstinent sexually until they get married and should therefore have no need of sex education about contraception etc….
            they tell their friend who was raped that they created this reality themselves and need to take responsibility for it if they want to learn the lesson.

            i could go on as i am sure you know – but my point here is that underneath all of these painful lies about the nature of being human are powerful beliefs that are irrational and untrue, plain and simple.

            all of the suffering generated by these untrue beliefs would be alleviated if we lived in a country where

            critical thinking
            respect for evidence
            lucid logical reasoning
            psychological awareness and
            substantive spirituality were widespread aspects of education.

            several of these are more highly prized in countries like the scandanavian and western european ones where much of this kind of suffering no longer is anywhere near as prevalent as in religious countries like the USA and middle east.

            the enlightenment was not only a step forward for science and reason, but for compassion and love as well – let's not forget this inextricable set of relationships!

          • Thanks, Julian. I truly enjoy reading and pondering your deep and thorough responses.


    • Jack says:

      One problem with believing superstitions–even if they make us "happier" (happiness as it is commonly pursued is itself a mythological disease of our modern times) or improve our immune systems or reproductivity (wait, isn't the world's overpopulation attributed to the possible soon demise of our species?)–is that it is superficial, and while it may have benefits, magical thinking and religious superstition (the invisible spiritual "happy pills") are also at the root of delusional thinking that perpetuates horrible crimes against humanity and nature.

      And yes, science must be ethical and moral, which is why we need, beauty, compassion, art, and both unconditional and conditional love.

  15. yogijulian says:

    it makes me a little nutty (and sadly disappointed) that anytime i point out the problems with pseudoscience or the necessity of accepting science as the best way we have found for evaluating empirical claims it is an almost knee jerk assumption of most people that i am lobbying for science to the exclusion of philosophy, art, psychology and spiritual practice! i am most certainly not.

    i am saying when the question is an empirical one we should use science to evaluate it – and that a contemporary integrated spirituality cannot be at odds with science if it is to remain sane.

    MOST spirituality falls into the trap of being unintegrated and frankly a bit insane in its assertions about the nature of reality.

    i put this down to a few causes:

    1) idealization and romanticizing of ancient cultures
    2) fear that if one were to be scientifically honest and rational all spirituality would be killed (not true!)
    3) the blight of postmodern relativism and political correctness creating a soup of confused waffling in which it is not possible to make distinctions regarding truth and falsity

  16. Let's try a different tack, Julian.

    My idea of the relationship between science and spirituality is identical to Albert Einstein's.

    And yes, I explicitly relate this to the most ancient yoga philosophy, to the extent that I boldly titled my blog on this Albert Einstein As Yoga Sage. You can see it at http://bit.ly/dABrNG.

    If you agree with Einstein, then we are in complete sync. If not, then we can agree to disagree.

    On the surface, what I see missing in your analysis is any sense of the wondrous, mystical, and unfathomable that is at the core of Einstein's still very science based spirituality.

    But if I have misunderstood you, I apologize, and your agreement with Einstein's words here will clear that up in a jiffy.

    Actually, the text of my blog is not so long that I can't just copy it here:

    Albert Einstein as Yoga Sage

    Did you know that Albert Einstein had a very Yogic point of view?

    Actually, this is true of many advanced physicists and other scientists, even if they don’t actually practice or study Yoga. They are simply overwhelmed with what they have seen with their own eyes and minds, and come to the same conclusions as the early Yoga sages.

    Here’s a typical Einstein quote:

    A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

    This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty

    Does that sound like the Yoga of the Upanishads or what?

    By the same token, the ancient Yoga sages saw themselves as early scientists. They openly rebelled against the overly elaborate, ritualistic, and irrational religious thinking of the time in favor of direct experience and experimenting with states of mind.

    They defined spirituality in the same way Einstein did – absolute wonder in face of the unfathomable universe. Yoga is, in many ways, a scientist’s vision of spirituality.

    The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the source of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.

    To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.

    (Albert Einstein – The Merging of Spirit and Science)

    Thanks for the great discussion.

    Bob W. Associate Publisher
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    Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

    • yogijulian says:

      actually just saw this comment and its great detail bob!

      i actually do agree with the general tone of einstein's statements here – but feel (as do many) that his use of terms like god has been confusing and that he later clarified what he did and din't mean….

      i also think he was a pantheist of sorts and pantheism doesn't add up to me – though i understand its allure and the states of mind in which it appears to be intuitively correct.

      i think too that there is a lot of pantheist/idealist metaphysics in indian mysticism and i think it is largely incorrect, though makes for a good poetic description of certain powerful subjective meditative states!

  17. yogijulian says:

    the kind of pseudoscience that inspired this article:

    • yogijulian says:

      chopra is dug deep into the postmodern relativist dual strategy of critiquing so-called "scientific materialism" as if it is this outdated and failed narrow perspective on reality while simultaneously touting a "new paradigm" that is more pseudoscience than anything else and tries to use scientific means to justify unlikely beliefs.

      he is stuck in the place so many intellectual spiritual folks get stuck i, namely:

      they very much want to hold onto some concept of god (and of course the related longing to be themselves immortal), but have moved beyond conventional religion. rather than crafting a spirituality that has moved beyond belief in god, they try to find a way to make contemporary knowledge, science, etc fit around a contorted, convoluted notion of god as either:

      1) a pantheistic/idealist consciousness that is in all things as the animating presence and/or
      2) as a related dualist concept of consciousness as the true self that is somehow transcendent of the body and not rooted in biology

      this is then given support by appeals to quantum physics anomalies as somehow proving or suggesting that there are in fact other dimensions in which god may exist hidden from us, or that time and causality are illusions, or that the experience of being here and now is just a reduction in consciousness form being everywhere and always, prior to the big bang, transcendent of matter etc…

      unfortunately big thinkers like ken wilber have given chopra a lot of ammunition because they too are caught in this quandry of trying to integrate science and spirituality but not yet being ready to give up on supernaturalism/pantheism/dualist concepts of consciousness.

      my experience is that either spiritual folks:

      a) just get immediately sarcastic about how you can't prove love or beethoven or ethics scientifically and then draw a false equivalency with supernatural beliefs therefore being immune to scientific examination – or
      b) they go right to the relativist who are we to say what is true or false game, or
      c) they start talking about nazi germany being an example of a culture based in reason and science – which is mind-blowingly bizarre and perhaps indicative of the level of fear around having to accept reality, or
      d) they enact this chopra-esque, wilber-inspired, pseudo-intellectual trip about the limits of so-called scientific materialism, the supposed possibilities of a mangled understanding of quantum physics, it being reductive and narrow to claim that consciousness is a biological phenomenon etc

      it is a very tough thicket to clear in order to start to find a way forward.

      the fire that cuts through it all is a simple one though – we are biological creatures who die at the end of our lives. accept it, celebrate it and live fully in the fleeting and therefore even more precious poetry, love, beauty and reason of what it is to be the unique creatures we are!

  18. \mb says:

    OK. Aside from Chopra, aside from Wilber, aside from bad gurus, aside from the 2012 hoopla, aside from the misappropriation of quantum theory to pseudo-scientific ends, aside from spiritual materialism and scientific materialism, aside from magical thinking of all stripes, aside from our cultural taboo on considering mortality, aside from the all the pitfalls of western folks adopting eastern philosophies, aside from Oprah, you state this:

    "2) as a related dualist concept of consciousness as the true self that is somehow transcendent of the body and not rooted in biology"

    Does that mean your opinion of Advaita (real Advaita, e.g. Nisargadatta, not westerners sitting around endlessly talking about nonduality) is in your opinion, pure bunk then?

    Because certainly that view holds that consciousness (maybe not "little" individual consciousness, but a "big" consciousness that all us little individuals are part and parcel of) is existent prior to body, prior to world, prior to thought.

    Just thought I'd ask – I'm sure you'll have strong opinion!

    • yogijulian says:

      thanks for asking mb – yes absolutely i think it is outdated indian idealist (in the philosophical sense http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_idealism) – and i would go so far as to say total bunk.

      i would also say that anyone who is interested in an honest, integrated, contemporary spirituality should take neuroscience and evolutionary biology more seriously and realize how massively improbable it is that consciousness in any meaningful sense is possible without an embodied brain.

      for a long time i too was taken in by the mistaken claim that because this is an ancient philosophy and because it comes from the east, and because supposedly its veracity can be discovered directly via mediation it must the be the ultimate truth about the nature of reality.

      a few yeas ago i realized this was not particularly different from claiming that god the father was waiting for us in heaven but only if we gave our hearts to jesus in deep and fervent prayer.

      don't get me wrong – i think meditation is one of the most powerful tools we have for transforming our inner lives, but it should in my opinion never be used in the service of an a priori supernatural metaphysics.

      advaita is so sophisticated and such a ind fuck that it keeps a lot of us more intellectual and radical spiritual seekers entranced, often for a long time….. but at the end of the day i think the brain state it is inviting us into is more valuable and meaningful than the metaphysical baggage it is asked to carry.

      i also think advaita is usually used in a way that both butchers psychology and encourages a very unhealthy dissociation, and also gives people permission to enact the tricky task of being anti-intellectual while being smugly superior.

  19. Here's another relevant blog I wrote on this subject. There is really nothing new about this whole God vs. no God debate. It goes back to ancient times itself.

    “God” or “Reason” — Is There Really Any Difference?

    Some of the ancient Yoga sages believed in a very personal God and others believed in an impersonal God, or God as simply the life-force of the universe.

    Many religious thinkers define God as “that which is unknowable, but which drives us towards love and goodness”.

    Given this definition, almost everyone believes in God. In the end what matters most is that we all agree there IS some universal drive toward making the world a better place, not where that drive comes from.

    The result is the same, whether one believes it comes from an unfathomable life-force or a personal divine being, or even just highly developed molecules. All are equally mysterious, all can legitimately be called “God”, and all lead us to love, goodness and morality.

    The sages who wrote the ancient Yoga texts were themselves in disagreement about God. Their debates are evident in the three major Yoga texts, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutra, and the Upanishads.

    In the end the texts themselves allow for the entire spectrum from secularism to traditional religion. That’s one of the things that makes them so amazing and enduring.

    In the time of the Yoga Sutra (about 2400 years ago) the sages couldn’t agree on whether or not there was a God, and if there was a God, was it a personal God or an impersonal God. So Patanjali cleverly wrote the Yoga Sutra to appeal to all these sides.

    Yoga was itself a comparatively rational attempt to deal with all the irrational Gods and rituals of the Indian religious culture of the time. It was quite rebellious in that it wanted to learn about consciousness from direct experience rather than the ancient Vedic hymns and priests.

    The more scientifically-minded sages simply made everything they couldn’t accept as reality into a metaphor and moved on accordingly. That’s what they did with the entire pantheon of ancient Gods — they made them into powerful metaphors of our inner struggles.

    And that’s what each of us individually should do today when the texts challenge us with concepts we can’t accept as literally true — turn them into powerful metaphors. The essential message will remain the same.

    Bob W. Associate Publisher
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    Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

    • yogijulian says:

      i believe in god by none of those definitions and have no use for the concept whatsoever. i think that in every case better, more specific and more accurate words are preferable!

      personifying an unknowable force that is somehow the agency behind our shared desire to love and be good seems mildly poetic, but frankly unnecessary. i think we find better explanations for what drives us to love and goodness (as well as what makes some people sociopaths) in evolutionary biology, neuroscience and psychology!

      i also would suggest that the essential message of religious symbols changes a great deal when we make the shift from thinking they are literally true (evangelical christians, islamic jihadis, christian scientists) to thinking of them metaphorically (unitarianism, joseph campbell )

      i think it actually matters a great deal whether or not one thinks there is a conscious intentional being, a plan, a disembodied force for good in the universe or not.

      the reasons i think it matters are:
      a) i think what is true is kinda important
      b) i think it is a foundational belief about the nature of reality and so affects everything else we think and feel
      c) i think it makes a huge difference in terms of our ability to grow up psychologically and deal with our emotional core in a way that either does or doesn't make us integrated, liberated existentially honest human beings.

      so far, since we developed the scientific method, 400 years of searching has not found any such thing…

      we can however talk about human empathy, reason and ethics, and the drive toward greater fairness, kindness and love, but of course not in a vacuum that separates it from man's inhumanity to man and our ability to enact great cruelty, often in the name of delusional beliefs that are an attempt to deny reality.

      we can talk about the challenge of moving beyond egocentric values to ethnocentric values to recognizing the human race as one tribe, to ultimately taking responsibility for our place on the planet in the larger family of living organisms.

      if we are going to get into universals, we can talk about the place that religion has held in all societies at a certain stage of their development:

      1) as a way of explaining things that could not be explained
      2) a way of creating social cohesion
      3) as a way of supporting law and order
      4) as a psychological defense against facing the unfortunate realities of death, suffering, injustice and randomness

      and we can talk about how the enlightenment began the process of setting human beings free from both the need for superstitious beliefs and the power it gave priests and monarchs over the poor and low caste masses.

      but once we can explain things better using science and reason, then old religious explanations must be relinquished, once we have moved beyond stone age societies we can find social cohesion and legal/ethical standards in ways that do not require supernatural threats, and once we have enough self-awareness to do inner work and face our existential fears we can free ourselves of consoling lies and face reality…… in fact i think it is a spiritual imperative that we do so!

      we can also talk about spiritual experience is universal and actually transcends religious belief systems or superstitious supernaturalism, because it is a product of brain function. further, that spiritual experiences exist on a spectrum that runs on one extreme from schizophrenic hallucinations, temporal lobe epileptic seizures and OCD or manic ritual preoccupations to on the other extreme states of sublime, integrated, compassionate and grounded embrace of our existential situation as it is.

      • Ah, but in my judgment you do believe in God, Julian, as expressed in your own words.

        Your God is "human empathy, reason and ethics, and the drive toward greater fairness, kindness and love".

        That's exactly the way my more religiously minded friends and even my Orthodox Jewish son and my Roman Catholic sisters define God. Exactly that!

        There's no particularly provable scientific reason to believe in these things. But you do.

        They are your God.


        • yogijulian says:

          i think perhaps my entire attempt to discuss the relation of the domains of science, philosophy and spirituality then is lost.

          as i explained above: human empathy, reason and ethics, and the drive toward greater fairness, kindness and love are all understandable (in fact understood better) without recourse to any supernatural concept or belief.

          because i value and appreciate and even hold them as the most important principles in life does not make them my "god."

          i would suggest there is a difference between the having no values and having values on the one hand versus having a god or having no god on the other.

          i have no god, nor any need for the concept or belief – but of course i do have values. do those values have something in common with the values come people associate with belief in god? sure – does that mean they are my god? absolutely not!

          i fact my values explicitly hold that belief in god is more often than not a actually a drawback with regard to actualizing those principles!

          as i have tried to gesture towards: it is not that there is hard scientific evidence and then *everything else* is just stuff we believe on faith – so that if i don't have hard science behind something i believe it is the SAME as believing something supernatural!

          this is a REALLY common fallacy…..

          there are multiple domains of reality – but reality does not include anything supernatural, and love, ethics or reason are not the same as superstition simply because they are outside of the domain of pure empiricism.

          reasoned can be informed by science but often makes no mention of it, relying instead on rational thought and logic. BUT when an argument asserts something that is at odds with established scientific evidence it should be obvious how this is resolved. period. i fail to see how anyone could disagree with this…

          interpretation of art or philosophy or mythology can have even less recourse to scientific evidence – but we can nonetheless agree that there are better and worse, deeper and more superficial, more and less accurate interpretations. AND when an interpretation asserts something that is at odds with established scientific evidence it should be obvious how this is resolved. period. i fail to see how anyone could disagree with this…

          being able to feel love, adore music , enjoy dance, practice meditation, do yoga, value reason, truth, beauty and compassion as i do in no way means that i am therefore religious – as if someone with no religious belief or need for god would not be able to celebrate these aspects of life, or as if someone who values evidence as a way of settling empirical questions therefore is now not allowed to weep when listening to beethoven!

          • Hi, Julian.

            The problem I see is that your definition of how religious people think is narrow in the extreme.

            The fact is that many highly religious people think just like you do. They just choose to define it in different terms than you do.

            Many highly religious people are also highly rational and scientific in their thinking, as much as you yourself are. Einstein thought of himself as highly religious. (Still waiting for your thoughts on the Einstein quote, which will tell us whether we really agree or disagree.)

            So defining all religious belief and all talk of God as supernatural is very far off the mark, at least in my experience with highly intelligent, highly religious people, including the ones on my own family.

            So in my opinion it would be more useful for you to critique the varieties of religious experience and practice, and talk about which ones lead to your values and which ones don't, rather than inaccurately force all religion into the same narrow box and declare it all to be off track.

            It's not really a God vs. no God argument. It's a what leads to the values you hold and what doesn't argument. You'll find there are religious practices that do and scientific practices that don't.


            Bob W. Associate Publisher
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            Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

          • yogijulian says:

            i totally hear you bob, but i think if we are honest being religious without having supernatural belief is a bit like being married while sleeping with whomever you like. i mean, fine, call that religion if you want to, but it represents a tiny, tiny minority of people who identify that way.

            those who maintain a kind of abstract philosophical sense of spirituality without the supernaturalist faith are most likely just calling themselves religious for cultural reasons and are too polite to acknowledge that they actually find religion a bit silly.

            as for the narrow box: well, religion by definition is literal belief in a supernatural deity. that is off track, and i don't find there to be anything narrow about saying so.

            and while i deeply value ethical principles and guidelines i don't think the fact that some religion leads people to discover and embody these means that the question of whether or not there is a god is rendered unimportant!

            one can live the examined and indeed spiritual life via ethical philosophy, appreciation of art, meditation and intimate relationships without believing anything improbable if not basically impossible about reality. in fact i think it becomes more possible to so in the absence of ludicrous metaphysics!

            while i appreciate your ecumenical pragmatism, i still think it matters what is true because truth, beauty and goodness are inextricably intertwined.

          • yogijulian says:

            hey bob – just so you know i find you to be an eminently pragmatic, brilliant and warm human being. i think i get where you are coming from on an interpersonal level – and appreciate how you are conveying it…

            in some ways wish it was in my nature to follow your philosophy, as it is very inclusive and generous, and focuses more on the practical details of how we treat one another, putting contentious topics aside in order to all get along and find commonalities…

            however i am looking at this through a very particular lens: i am fascinated with how it is possible to express and live a spirituality that is not at odds with science, because such an integration would evolve us to a next level of depth and honesty.

            i think the psychological piece is HUGE here and facing our existential fears (ie accepting death) is in many ways the key.

            that's just what i am turned on by right now…

          • I actually understand that, Jullian. And personally, like I have said, I agree with the vast majority of what you write about the nature of rational spirituality.

            My trouble is not with that, but rather that I can't so roundly dismiss the many highly religious people I know, who, in substance, have a similar spirituality to yours, but choose to couch it in highly metaphorical religious terms.

            I don't see these types as a tiny minority at all, like you do. In fact, in the Jewish tradition I'm most familiar with, even though I'm not Jewish myself (but was for awhile by conversion and raised three Jewish kids) it is most certainly the vast majority.

            The Jewish tradition is, I would say not at all based on a literal God. Metaphysical discussions about the nature of God are considered useless, almost like in early Buddhism. It's more like "we all know what we must do to be good people. Let's just declare that to be God and go from there." God is all about values, not anything the slightest bit supernatural.


            P.S. I refer you to Heschel, whose view are mainstream Judaism, and very similar to Einstein's. His book of excerpts is even called "I Asked for Wonder".

          • Julian, to the most truly religious people I know of, like Einstein, the definition of God includes the words "unknowable and unfathomable", which obvious means unprovable, and is pretty similar to your a priori belief in ""human empathy, reason and ethics, and the drive toward greater fairness, kindness and love".

            It also includes an abundance of "awe", "wonder", and "amazement" which I don't see much of in your concept, but perhaps you feel that and just aren't expressing it. To Einstein, as you can see from his own words, these are the inexorable result of being a true scientist.

            I find myself wanting to suggest you get out and talk to a wider variety of religious people and ask them to describe their idea of God to you, but that would probably be overly snide, and probably wrong in that I must assume you have already done that in any case.

            Religion is not by definition a literal belief in a supernatural deity, unless one defines supernatural deity as broadly and unfathomably as Einstein does, in which case it would be correct. But then, that broad a definition of supernatural would render most of what you have written about supernatural wrong, too.

            Please just tell me whether you agree with Einstein or not. He's not sacrosanct if you don't. No problem. But it's not complicated to me. What I quoted in my previous comment pretty much says it all. It's what I believe, too.

            And none of this denies anything you said about the terrible effects of SOME religious and supernatural beliefs.

            Enjoying this discussion. If you like what Einstein wrote, then we're just talking the semantics of whether he should be calling what he believes "God" or "religion", but we agree deeply in substance.

            If you don't agree with Einstein, then like I said, we can just agree to disagree, and both be better off for our discussion, I'm sure.


            Bob W. Associate Publisher
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            Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

          • yogijulian says:

            bob – i find that einstein's position on religion and god is often misrepresented, and at the very least is controversial… so i am not sure what to agree or disagree with in that regard, though i find you bringing this down to whether or not i *agree with einstein* almost as problematic a tactic as your indirectly aligning scientific mindedness with nazism earlier in the thread!

            from this page on einstein <a href="http://(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein):” target=”_blank”>(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Albert_Einstein):

            "The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. … For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong … have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything “chosen” about them."


            "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it"


            " I am fascinated by Spinoza's pantheism, but admire even more his contribution to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, and not two separate things"


            "I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment"

            like most scientists in the late 1800's and earlier 1990's god was still very much on the table and so they used a lot of god language, as even hawking did in his earlier work – this is no longer the case now, as the cultural climate has changed.

            what's more i do feel free to disagree with einstein on the matter of religion in other places, even if he was a genius in physics. i disagree with francis collins on the matter of religion, as he is a born again christian – in spite of him leading the team that cracked the human genome!

            we can agree to disagree on whether or not it is a key aspect of religion to believe in a supernatural deity. i think it most definitely is, and someone who does not believe in a supernatural deity is not religious by any commonly accepted definition of that word.

            i am very familiar with the mystical position that god is defined as the unknown or unknowable, i just don't find it necessary or appealing to me anymore.

            i am also bummed that you perpetuate the fallacy i pointed out earlier of equating reasonable positions on empathy, ethics, beauty etc with supernatural belief because both are supposedly "unprovable" – makes me think you haven't actually read or taken in the very specific and nuanced ways i have tried to address this …

            i fear we may have come to the impasse.

          • Yes, an impasse for sure, Julian. But I've enjoyed the ride, nonetheless.

            I withdraw the Nazi sentence as being useless through what I see as your gross misrepresentation of what I said. Just delete that sentence so it doesn't get in our way.

            I am actually aware of all the Einstein quotes above. This is the way a great many religious people see their religion, not a tiny minority as you have stated, to the extent that you can't stereotype and pigeon-hole religious people as you like to do.

            I think the question of whether his words in my previous comment resonate with you, or not, is a useful one. But if you don't choose to deal with that, no problem.

            Thanks again for the discussion.

            Bob W. Associate Publisher
            facebook, twitter, linkedIn
            Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

          • P.S. Even the nuns in habits who were my teachers for the first eight years of my education, and who, in general would be perfect examples of all bad things you attribute to religion, and whom I grew to hate for that when I grew old enough to think for myself…even these nuns, when pressed as to what God really was, because he's not really some guy sitting up on a cloud, right…even these nuns would eventually simply and plainly answer:

            "God is Love."


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  22. @karlerbsf says:

    Interesting and compelling topic well handled. I too explore the unnecessary conflict between spiritual understanding and science. I think in these times of polarized cultural and political tensions and conflicts in the US, this topic is even more important to have often and openly. I just wrote a piece here in Elephant Journal on Belief and Knowledge and getting beyond the divisive power of belief. I look forward to more dialog with your insights.

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  24. Auki says:

    In my experience, spiritual realities may be sensed & discerned only within an open human heart. One may never convince someone who swears by "science" & rational thought alone that God, Angels or other transcendant realities exist.

    The above comments are the same old polarized "atheists vs. believers" argument that happens all over the web. I'm on board with science of all kinds, global warming science in particular…. right up until they try to tell me that God does not exist…. then they lose me completely!

    Julian strikes me as the kind of guy with whom it would be impossible to win any kind of argument. The fact that he does not believe in God or any kind of disembodied spiritual entity tells me he is basically a secular humanist who calls himself "spiritual." Needless to say, I won't be buying his book.

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