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Our sense of the sacred and of spirituality need not depend on belief in the literal truth of any outdated mythic or magical notion from our pre-scientific past.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

    appreciated and agreed!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. integralhack says:

    The straw man continues to be beaten.

  7. 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.

  8. yogijulian says:

    uh huh.

  9. yogijulian says:

    which straw man is that exactly?

  10. @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.

  11. @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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. @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 .

  19. @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.

  20. 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.

  21. integralhack says:

    Well said, Timful!

  22. integralhack says:

    Who is saying "science is the enemy?"

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

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  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

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  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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"?

  39. 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."

  40. Thaddeus1 says:

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

  41. 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.

  42. yogijulian says:

    i am imagining you mean astrology where you said astronomy?

  43. 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.

  44. 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…

  45. 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?

  46. 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.

  47. @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.

  48. @Suri_k8 says:

    Btw suri_k8 = @suri_k8 , same person

  49. Uma Simon says:

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

  50. __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.