One of the biggest ongoing debates in the last two centuries is definitely the one between the conflicting views of faith and science.
For too long now it seems that these views are not only irreconcilable but mutually exclusive. In simplistic terms, faith is commonly associated with the belief in a divine power which is not grounded in the senses, experience or reason. Science, on the other hand, is associated with the objective inquiry into the nature of the universe through experimentation, critical assessment, logic and reason.
Mixed messages of faith:
I was brought up in an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic country with a very fine line of divide between church and state. As a young inquisitive mind growing up in that cultural background I had learned to despise all those authoritative arguments about faith, dogma, and the narrow worldview of catholic doctrine they used to teach us at school.
I remember arguing with the priest that use to teach us religion class (which was compulsory of course) about the irrationality and blindness of dogma and he’d always answer with the same old answer – “It’s a matter of faith”. I used to hate that answer. I thought it was such an excuse for an answer when you don’t have enough reasons to back your arguments.
This is what mostly creates the conflict between reason and faith. It’s the reluctance of some people to have faith understood and assessed with a more evaluative undertone. They say that’s impossible because reason and faith are incompatible. Faith is faith and that’s the end of it.
Faith has another side though – a much more positive one which I have come to understand under a different light.
A broader understanding of faith:
I have described the dark side of faith as that irrational and dogmatic standpoint sometimes verging on fundamentalism and intolerance at its extreme fringes.
The thing is that faith is very often associated with religious loyalty rather than spirituality. It’s about the faith in God, the teaching of the scriptures, deities or the sacred laws of some religion or other. This again can be dangerous and self-defeating because people having faith in this sense run the risk of attaching themselves to some idea which is not authentically their own but as portrayed by the religious institution they belong to.
But I think that there is another aspect of faith which needs to be understood: One which is more religion-neutral in the sense that it shares a common characteristic amongst different faiths.
Faith is when your heart and mind are set firm in some direction even though the feedback you get from your current circumstances point elsewhere.
This is what is called a leap of faith. It is the ability to leap beyond the walls of your current reality and keep your mind and heart focused on a different one even though it is incredibly hard to do considering that circumstances can be pretty adversary at times.
Ask and it will be given to you:
Another important thing about faith which is very often not considered is that people of faith have the implicit understanding that their consciousness, through their prayers, believing, asking or wanting is a determining factor of how things unfold in their lives.
That is to say that one’s beliefs and intentions affects the way the future unfolds in the physical world. Their asking initiates a process which is then answered to and taken care of by that divine force they have faith in – God, the universe, etc.
In the words of Luke the evangelist: “Ask and it will be given to you…”
Experiments in Faith and Intention:
If you ever heard about the Intention experiment , you would have already guessed where I am getting at.
The intention experiment is probably one of the largest and most interesting experiments happening at the moment. Thousands of people from around the globe are participating in this collective experiment in which the participants are asked to focus their intentions at the same time on a particular object or outcome such as the healing of an organism.
The experiment started with small objectives such as having a hundred meditators focusing their mind on a picture of a plant’s leaf in a laboratory thousands of miles away. Special measurements and photography then verified if there were any positive effects on it which in almost every case it resulted that it did.
Then the website started putting up cases every week of people having some sort of problems such as terminal illnesses and participants enrolled in the experiment are asked to put their focus on the person with the intention to heal him/her.
McTaggart’s idea is based on her scientifically oriented inquiry about the power of intentions as she studied and interviewed master healers, Quantum physicists, Buddhist monks and Qi Gong masters around the globe. Her findings point at the astounding relation between consciousness and the universe and to the increasingly popular notion that consciousness affects matter. (The experiment became also part of the main plot in Dan Brown’s latest book ‘The lost symbol’)
Having faith in the laboratory:
One thing which would be very interesting to find out in such experiments is whether people with a strong faith are better ‘intenders’ than those that are non-believers. A controlled experiment such as in the ones carried out in the intention experiment can be set up and the data properly analyzed to check out for any significant results.
I have a feeling that such experiments would show that people with strong faith have a significantly higher success rate at intending an outcome than those that do not or the control group.
But this is not all there is to it. It would clearly show an important feature of faith which has been disregarded – the idea that faith is deeply tied to the phenomenon of consciousness and like consciousness it stands the chance of being understood in a richer and more holistic way as our view of science evolves.
The old view of science is dying:
Back to Science. In the post-war era a strict view of science known as the ‘classical view of science’ emerged. This view, which is now making way for a broader and richer paradigm, can be summarized in the three following relevant points:
- The world of objects and natural phenomena are separate and independent from us, the observers.
- Only knowledge ultimately based on empirical observation is scientifically valid and the data extracted is objective and value-free.
- Any phenomena can be explained by reducing it to the lowest-level material processes such as chemical and physical processes – a view known as reductionism.
The great scientific leap forward:
Since the birth of Quantum Physics till present, new evidence has shown that all the three points above are wrong. Physicists studying phenomena down at the level of the smallest particles in the universe have realized that:
- Our mere observation influences the outcome of the experiment. Hence consciousness is intrinsically interdependent with the physical world.
- Knowledge and data are not completely objective and value-free since our subjectivity plays a part in it.
- There are other dimensions of reality apart from our 3-dimensional physical one and hence our understanding of phenomena cannot be reduced to only those dimensions.
New bridges are being built:
What was once a big rift between Science and faith will start to narrow down. As paradigms change and old views are abandoned, both sides are starting to move towards each other until the conflict will start to ease and the line of divide blurs out.
On the one hand, faith is standing a better chance of being understood as a natural rather than super-natural phenomenon and its relations to consciousness given wider attention.
On the other hand, the general scientific view has been changing in the past few decades from one in which reality is flattened to its underlying physical and chemical processes, to one in which the conscious effect of the observer on reality is embraced.
Time will tell.
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