War of the Worldviews

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War of the Worldviews is Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodonow the differences between science and religion. Mlodonow doesn’t see God as being the creator of the universe, and sees science as testing hypotheses before accepting any mistaken ideas. Chopra doesn’t defend traditional religion, and doesn’t condmn science, except for being too narrow. There are a lot of interesting topics in the book.

I’ve never seen the necessity of a divorce between science and religon, and neither did George Gurdjieff, who became interested in science as a young boy. But he witnessed several events that would usually be considered supernatural: someone praying for rain, and rain coming; a faith healing; and someone being raised from the dead. He found that not only did science not explain how these things happened, but  didn’t try to. He decided that science’s view was incomplete (but not invalid, as far as it went), and sought a more complete view.

In this book Chopra argues that the whole universe is conscious. Mlodonow takes a more limited view: consciousness only in entities that can be demonstrated to react to stimuli. He sees human consciousness as being confined to the brain, while Chopra sees the brain as tapping mind throughout the universe. There are comments we can make on both sides. Mlodonow says that brain-mapping research of the past couple of decades strengthens his case. Apparently there’s no evidence (so far) of people receiving stimuli from outside sources, except through the five senses. On the other hand, the big bang theory of the beginning of the universe, supported by evidence that stars and galaxies are receding from each other, presumes that within a very small area, smaller than a molecule, was the potential that produced the entire cosmos. How could this primordial potential be described? Sir James Jeans is quoted as say, :The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.”

Intelligent design might be a great description of how the universe works, if that term weren’t identified with the Fundamentalist notion that every word of the Bible is literally true. There’s too much evidence to counter that. The world wasn’t created 6,000 years ago, with phony dinosaur bones to confuse people. But evolution is no longer an automatic process either, at least not for humans. Chopra describes the steps: 1. The opening. 2.Revising the meaning of life. 3.Becoming part of the plan. 4. Walking the path. 5.Illumination. To summarize his view, we may have an experience of an unusual consciousness, motivating us to search. If we undertake such a search, we may find something that causes us to revise our view of reality, leading us to work on harmonizing our lives with whatever we find. It takes a lot of work to change our behaviors into what they ought to be, but if we can successfully do that, we have the potential to become illuminated, and much more than we ordinarily are. That’s his view, and presumably, his experience. I have little or no experience of that, but it makes sense to me. So many problems of the world can be traced to people having no satisfying aim, other than short term satisfaction of their desires. This often leads to conflict, since my desire may conflict with yours, and even damage you in some way. If, on the other hand, we take the path of responsibility and duty, we may still have conflicts, but they’re likely to be more fruitful.

Chopra speaks of being asleep: allowing our desires and habits to dominate our lives, and in this he agrees with Gurdjieff, who talked of people ordinarily seeing things upside down, and behaving like machines. To live fruitfully, one must become master of one’s self (though many people prefer to master other people), and if one can do this, life can open up in perhaps painful, but also exciting ways. As one of my friends put it, “Being right isn’t the point. Being is the point,” and I think both Gurdjieff and Chopra would agree. Mlodonow wouldn’t, entirely. For him, science is the way we find out if ideas are mistaken or not. It’s not that he entirely disagrees with Chopra’s worldview, but that there have obviously been mistaken ideas in the past that have caused a great deal of suffering. That’s where the divorce between science and western religion came from: the church (the Catholic church in particular, but not just them) claimed to have all knowledge, or that all people needed to know, was in the Bible. Science proved the first idea to be mistaken: the creation story in Genesis has elements of truth in it, when it says that the world was created in stages, but evidence shows that each stage was much longer than a “day.” So take the Bible for the poetic or mythological truth that it often is, but not literal truth.

Albert Einstein was one of the great scientists who believed that science and religion ought to complement each other, rather than conflict. Science understand how things work in the physical, exterior world. Religion, at its best, knows more about the interior world, and there’s no reason why it can’t be approached with a scientific attitude. Western religions have tended to take the approach of belief, maybe Christianity in particular, but I think also Judaism and Islam. At least some forms of Buddhism have preferred the approach of practice: practice certain disciplines, and experience the results. Then you can think or talk about them. The Buddha is said to have discouraged speculation about God or the gods, in favor of concentration on practical discipline to find out for one’s self. Aleister Crowley, whom many consider to have been a Satanist (and who seems to have been a gifted but flawed individual), seems to have had a similar viewpoint: “Our aim is religion, our method is science.”

Mlodow points out that even when people disagree with science’s findings concerning evolution or global warming, believe in science when it doesn’t contradict their faith. Science has become a powerful tool, often misused, but vastly expanding our knowledge of the world and universe. Religion, or spirituality, as Chopra prefers to say, has its own contribution to make. Any human institution can become corrupt, and often have. The contribution that the correct practice of spirituality can make is to produce people who are incorruptible, know that they have responsibilities, and fulfill them as best they can. Organized religions have largely failed to do this, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, and with the problems of the world apparently snowballing, incorruptible people with real knowledge will be needed to help the human race survive.

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