On the divide between science and spirituality

This article will be a bit of a personal rant. Some frustrations which I need to vent concerning the huge walls that seem to exist between the world of science and the world of spirituality.

Walls which I think need to disappear. Right now. For there is so much out there that badly needs to be understood, and we are only ever going to succeed at that if we all work together to make it happen, if all of us can agree to have an open mind when we encounter things that fall outside of our frame of understanding.

Let me make clear that this is not intended as a rant against scientists who fail to understand us. For I don’t think it is quite that simple – I see obstacles on both sides that need to be cleared away. In this article I will focus mostly on what I think we can do ourselves (simply because I am aware of my limitations: you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink).

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I am writing this as one who has a background in hard science (to be precise, I am a mathematician, holding a PhD in mathematical logic – essentially that means that a bunch of people decided to give me a diploma that states I am a rational person). And indeed, if there is one thing which I personally cannot stand, then that would be a worldview that is full of internal inconsistencies. The biggest horror to me are attempts to gloss over this issue by using intentionally vague and wooey language.

At the same time, I am currently finding myself forced to acknowledge the existence of gods and spirits, the fact that magic seems to work, and that consciousness is a much weirder thing than I had ever considered possible, to name just a few things. It is a realization that came gradually, where my personal experiences have forced me to back down, step by step, from my initial skeptical position, until at some point I realized that I found myself somewhere in the deep forest. At some points, I’ll admit, it has been a struggle to maintain my sanity amidst all of that.

And I realize that classical science dismisses all of my/our experiences as nonsense, and it makes me very sad. Because for me the fact that there is so much out there that we barely understand, mostly means that there is a lot of work to be done. Our level of understanding of many of these things is probably somewhere at the level where classical scientific understanding of natural phenomena found itself in the middle ages. But we are only ever going to improve that if we work together. Start conversations, be willing to all learn from each other rather than all sitting on our own little islands surrounded by high walls of prejudice or feelings of personal superiority.

And I mean this last remark in all possible directions: scientists vs us, and us talking amongst each other).

For one, we have to admit that sometimes we can make it fairly hard for scientists to take us seriously, by talking pseudoscientific nonsense ourselves. If you do not properly understand a scientific theory, or know the correct way to use certain terms, then please stay away, or learn how to use the language properly first. You are not adding to your credibility by quoting quantum-physics as an explanation for a phenomenon, if you do not properly understand quantum-physics first. All you are doing is to make a complete fool of yourself, and making the boundaries with classical science even higher.

As I said, I am writing this as a mathematician. I regularly come across sites that use mathematical terms in a completely wrong way. For me that makes these texts completely illegible, and almost impossible to comprehend. And most of all, it makes it very, very difficult for me to take the writers of these texts seriously. And remember that I am not even a skeptic. I am completely open to accepting the esoteric experiences they are trying to describe as valid. Now, just imagine what a real skeptic would do… They would probably see you as laughingstock.

So please, do not try to make your experiences more credible by using difficult words you do not understand. For it does not work and there is no need to. Instead, try the exact opposite: make things as simple as you possibly can. State your experiences and your understanding of them in the plainest possible English. You will find it to be an exercise that is ultimately far more rewarding, as trying to do this will also force you to dig for deeper understanding yourself.

Keeping it simple will also help us with internal conversations between different niches within paganism and alternative spiritualities. Because it will help us to recognize all the many things we have in common. For we may differ in our understanding of things, and the theological conclusions we draw, but ultimately we are all basing ourselves on the same thing: our personal experiences of the divine, magic and the spirit world. And even if we believe in different gods, or disagree about their nature or their number, we all strive to communicate with them, and in doing so, struggle with the very same issues: how to get that communication as clear as possible, and how to discern between true communication and wishful thinking. And so, instead of all reinventing things for ourselves, and all making the same mistakes, shall we start having a conversation?

The same holds for magic and energy work. There is a lot of experience out there. But it is extremely fragmented, as it is divided up between people in different traditions who do not habitually talk to each other. What would happen if we would all start to take down the woo and the layers of secrecy that we have accumulated, and instead would start sharing experiences and learn from each other? Take the different pieces of the puzzle and start connecting them?

Let us not wait for the scientists to come round to accepting us. Let’s be proud of what we all are doing and build up our own science, until the evidence becomes so overwhelming that it simply cannot be ignored anymore. That is how we all have the keys to change the future. What it will require from us all is to have the courage to openly speak of our experiences, even if they risk being misunderstood. To have the humility to listen to and learn from different points of view, even if they radically differ from our own. To not be afraid to ask ourselves critical questions, and not to shy away from trying to understand the why of things. To be willing to sometimes back down from our high horse and admit that we got it wrong.

Let us all work together in reminding classical scientists of what a true scientific attitude should be like.

We will continue this discussion in the next post.

5 comments

  1. Massive applause!

    I wrote my MA dissertation on Pagans and science and put it up on academia dot edu. I also turned the more digestible bits of it into a chapter in my book All Acts of Love and Pleasure: inclusive Wicca .

    This is such an important topic. Both sides need to understand that there are multiple perspectives on it in both science and religion.

    Liked by 1 person

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