Science, Religion, and Human History

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Modern science is primarily mechanistic and reductionistic: cause and effect is the basis of all its explanations. Most of its practitioners, and many others interested in it, see reality as entirely material. What can be seen and measured (or at least logically inferred) is seen as all there is. I think much of this is a reaction against organized religion and the concept of the “supernatural”.
Some religious believers are just the opposite, believing in “supernatural” explanations for everything, and refusing to accept scientific explanations, though these are usually accurate in science’s area of expertise. I think both worldviews exclude too much, and some scientists, and others, agree.
In a conversation with an adherent of science I argued that it was possible to take a scientific approach to religion, and cited a quote that Sufis (usually thought to be connected with Islam) had done so, testing various “spiritual” practices, accepting those they could verify, and rejecting those they couldn’t.
The science adherent seemed to have trouble with that concept, apparently assuming that all science must always be the same. Archaeological discoveries seem to disprove this, though few acknowledge that.
Colin Wilson, in Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals, tells of a conversation with an archaeologist in Egypt, who said there was a ritual that had to be performed three times to “activate” a certain temple. When asked, “Like turning on an electric light?”, the other replied, “EXACTLY like turning on an electric light.”
An example of this is an experiment performed in the Great Pyramid. A man stretched a sheet of plastic over a sarcophagus, put sand on it, and turned on a sine wave generator connected to a small loudspeaker. The sand arranged itself into shapes of Egyptian religious symbols: an ankh, a Pharaoh’s headdress, and Eye of Horus. Was this magic, or technology? Arthur C. Clarke observed that a sufficiently high technology is indistinguishable from magic. In this case, I suspect the cause was an acutely developed science of acoustics used throughout the pyramid. As far as I’m aware, we have nothing as sophisticated in this area.
Chandra Bose, an Indian scientist, did a series of experiments showing consciousness in metals. Not only metal fatigue (a fairly common concept), but metal “laziness”.
Clive Backster, in the 1960s attached pickups like lie detectors on plants, and got electric responses to various stimuli. The only problem with that was that other scientists couldn’t replicate the experiments. According to a recent article in the New Yorker, though, consciousness in plants seems to be demonstrated in other ways. Plants can, to some extent defend themselves against predators, for instance, by making their leaves taste bad, or emitting a smell that brings predators to prey on the predators. They also seem to exhibit choice in which way their roots are going to grow. We can’t ordinarily see these things because they happen so slowly, but consciousness seems to be everywhere.
I told the science adherent of a friend who happens to be a professional scientist living in Trinidad, who also has been involved in the local Vodoun religion. I had heard, some years ago, an interview with a man who was both a priest and a scholar of Vodoun, who said that the “gods” of Vodoun were unlike the transcendent God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but more like humans: some mostly good, some mostly bad, but all more powerful than humans. I eventually wrote my friend about this man, and my friend agreed with his assessment. I don’t think mainstream science accepts these “gods” as existing, let alone deeming them worthy of investigation. Since my friend accepts their existence, I will too, unless proven mistaken. I find it interesting that my friend, with his scientific background, has room in his worldview for these “gods”, whether or not he has any explanation for them. In our conversation about this he described himself as being both an atheist and a polytheist.
The above is an example of a subject science doesn’t usually address. Many more are found in ancient history and prehistory. The general narrative of human development is that nothing we can recognize as civilization began before about 8,000 BC, about the time the cities of Jericho and Catal Huyuk in Turkey were built. They were agricultural civilizations, and no high civilization is thought to have come earlier than them.
But Wilson cites a La Quinta disc, which he says is dated at over 100,000 years old, and employs measurements also used in megalithic architecture found in much of the world. These measurements are interesting because they are based on accurate measurement of the earth a very long time ago. They survived in (among other places) the English measurement called the rod which, when multiplied by itself, equals a kilometer. When multiplied by the Golden Section (1.618), the result is 320, the number of rods in one mile. The Golden Section is particularly interesting in itself because it is a proportion found in much of nature, including the human body.
Similarly, the acre was based on a decimal fraction of the square of the Earth’s radius, and certain ancient weight measures were based on the density of water and gold. Graham Hancock adds that the Great Pyramid is (among other things) a representation of the northern hemisphere of the Earth, to the scale of 43,200 to one (a scale with its own significance). Building the pyramid to such a precise scale required complex mathematics, as well as technology we know nothing of today.
Another example of sophisticated knowledge is the Ninevah number, a very large one, found on a clay tablet in the ruined city of Ninevah. It is particularly interesting because the length of the Great Year of the precession of the equinoxes divides into it equally. This Great Year refers to the sun rising into a particular constellation at the spring equinox, and the amount of time it takes for the constellation to precess around the zodiac until the sun rises in it again. The number of years that takes is just under 26 million.
Even more interesting is that the periods of all the astronomical bodies of the solar system divide equally into the Ninevah number when they’re translated into seconds. This means that at a very early date humans had not only accurately measured the Earth, but knew how the solar system was constructed, and the length of the orbits of not only the planets, but their satellites. This suggests they must have had telescopes at a very early date–unless they had some other method of obtaining such knowledge. Remember that Ninevah was destroyed near the end of the 8th century BC, when Assyria’s neighbors allied against her.
One or two of these examples might might be coincidence. A whole series of them indicates a high civilization much earlier than we usually think. We tend to assume a high civilization must look like ours, employing technology we’re familiar with. I think that suggests a lack of imagination on our part.
Schwaller de Lubicz, who studied ancient Egypt in great depth, said, “Egyptian science, Egyptian art, Egyptian medicine, Egyptian astronomy, were not seen as different aspects of Egyptian life; they were all aspects of the same thing, which was religion in its broadest sense. Religion was identical with knowledge.” And added, “…over four thousand years, ancient Egypt did not ‘have’ a religion as such; it was religion</in its entirety”. This is underlined by ancient Egyptians having no word for religion.
I think above examples show that neither extreme adherence to religion (at least the dogmatic kind) nor to science is accurate. Religion’s vision gets lost in foolish beliefs when without rigor. Modern science often loses its vision in details. A wider and deeper view is needed in both cases. That’s the reason for seeking a higher consciousness. Such consciousness doesn’t mean just changing ideas, but awareness, providing a better, because more complete, perspective.
Both religion and science have become institutionalized. Ideally, science is open to challenge, but that Egyptian archaeologists have failed to plausibly explain the building of the Great Pyramid, among other things, shows the discipline’s inability to analyze the data either widely or deeply. New ideas have mostly come from outside the field.
Institutions become dogmatic, and their beliefs abstract. When we look at the world (or a field of study) as if we already know it, it doesn’t seem alive. But there are other ways of seeing. Some are achieved through use of hallucinogens, but there are exercises that can have the same effect.
One might call the difference between views mechanistic vs intuitive. One might be defined as seeing details without an accurate big picture; the other as seeing a big picture without necessarily knowing a lot of details. One method isn’t better than the other: both are needed to complement each other. This is where science and a LIVING religion can and should reconcile.

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Supernatural?

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Supernatural is a kind of catchall term that includes superstition, fakery, general religious beliefs, and perhaps some phenomena which many of us either don’t recognize or have no provable explanation for. Some believe in it quite devoutly, others reject it entirely, while some are skeptical to one extent or another.
I tend to believe in the “supernatural”, as something we can’t ordinarily perceive, but which influences our lives and environment in ways not easy to trace. Some believe in it a lot more than I do, others deny that it exists entirely. I’m not sure just why I find ideas or claims believable, while I disregard others, but some seem like obvious fakes, or just coincidences. But to me, there are claims for the supernatural that seem more plausible.
Is it just that I’m gullible? I probably am, but am not sure that’s the case here. Did my religious background predispose me to such belief? That’s quite possible too. I became disenchanted with religion, but not because the faith I grew up in was a bad experience.
That said, I think I see why some dislike religion in some of the same ways I do myself. Some species of religion are very dogmatic and intolerant. Few if any philosophic systems take in all the phenomena of the universe, but fundamentalist religions (as well as other systems) exclude WAY too much. Remember Aldous Huxley’s description of the human mind as a “reducing valve”. There’s too much information coming at us. We can’t respond to it all, so our minds exclude a lot of our experience, and much of what it excludes is unimportant, but can we certainly say that ALL of it is? If we feel our lives are meaningless and boring, maybe we’re excluding information that we need.
So let me share some experiences personal to me. About fourteen years ago I woke up with a particular song in my head, one by The Band, which I had been familiar with for a couple of decades, but had never listened to closely. I decided to buy the CD it appeared on, and listened to it with great attention. A month or two later I met the woman who later became my wife. Did the song have anything to do with that? I wouldn’t definitively assert that it did, but it felt that way to me.
Two or three months ago I had a similar experience. I was washing my hands, and my wedding ring came off. As far as I can remember, the first time it had come off since I put it on. When it came off, purely by accident, as far as I could tell, my immediate thought was, “Maybe this is an omen”, though I didn’t take that thought very seriously. It was, however, only two or three weeks later that I met a woman with whom I entered into a relationship. So was that an omen? I don’t think that can be proven in any scientific sense.
There’s more to the story, though. My new lady friend told me that she had asked the “universe” for a male friend who was tall and intelligent. I’m taller than average, how intelligent I am is open to debate, and she just told me part of her original request was for a good kisser (which I don’t remember her mentioning before). In any case, when we met we immediately saw something in each other (I’m not sure either of us could put a finger on just what), and became intimate quite quickly. The first night we spent together was very enjoyable, but I think both of us had our doubts about a new relationship. One is inclined to question whether one is making a mistake or not in that situation.
As I was driving away I put on a Neil Young CD, and the first song I heard was one called I Believe in You. The chorus was, “Now that you’ve made yourself love me/Do you think I can change it in a day?/How can I place you above me? /Am I lying to you when I say/That I believe in you….” The message seemed very personal to me: that I had the choice of throwing myself into the relationship and believing in my partner, or withdrawing, and losing a potentially meaningful experience, which I have often done. I decided that pursuing the relationship was a chance I couldn’t pass up.
Can this series of experiences be classified as “supernatural”, are they just coincidental, or is it something else? Again, I don’t think that can be proven in any scientific way, but one event is coincidental, while a series of events may possibly be a pattern, even if one can’t define their relationship in any very clear way. Could they be called Jungian synchronicity? Or archetypal? The pattern I think I see may be merely delusion, but it doesn’t FEEL that way. When I listen to, or think about the song it packs a very deep emotional charge for me. But in scientific terms, I don’t think that proves anything. I don’t see how the experience could be replicated, for instance. Science, as we know it in the west, is oriented around material phenomena, and if the experiences described involve materialism, it is only in the very widest sense.
I don’t see these events as causal. Did my ring falling off cause me to meet the person I did? Doesn’t seem likely. Did meeting her cause my ring to fall off? That would mean a future event caused a past one. Our distant ancestors might have no problem believing this; I don’t think modern science would agree.
But do future events (or potential events) cast shadows into the past? Our distant ancestors believed in oracles, and if they did indeed work (even occasionally) I suppose this was how they did. Can I explain it in greater detail? No.
But if my perception and interpretation of this experience has any validity, I think it indicates that the science we know is unable, or finds it very difficult , to evaluate certain sorts of perception. The universe falls into patterns, some extremely complex. My friend and I agree, I think, that our mutual experience feels benevolent rather than random. Where this benevolence comes from, I am unable to explain. I could attribute it to God, but that would only be speculative on my part. To say that there is a realm of possibility that sometimes opens doors which we may happen to perceive, and which we can take advantage of, feels a bit more accurate, but remains a vague description, which I’m unable to clearly define. How does such a realm (if it exists) operate, and how is it possible for us to contact it? There may well be “spiritual” or “religious” practices or exercises that make this possible, but I am unaware of having practiced any.
Another somewhat similar experience came when I began my career as a nurse. I wasn’t at all sure that I could become competent, and had to concentrate very hard to do so. After some time I noticed that my perspective had changed. The process of concentration had removed my focus from my own petty problems, so I saw things differently. I didn’t continue that concentration, though, and slipped back into self-absorption. Old habits die hard, and it’s very possible to lose the ground one has gained.
The material world, which we all perceive in more or less similar ways, though our ideas about it may vary widely, is amazing enough. It’s incredibly complex. I see life, and especially conscious and intelligent life, as fantastically improbable, but it is omnipresent on this planet, and based on relatively simple forms which have diversified unbelievably. If there is a “supernatural” world that causes or complements it, that is still more amazing, and may be as “natural” as the world we ordinarily see, just more difficult to perceive. There are many “spiritual” conceptions that, if valid, indicate fully as much complication as the “natural” world.
What seems unfortunate to me is that humans seem compelled to argue about whose version of reality is true. Organized religion has been often used to support powerful people instead of those in unfortunate circumstances. Charlatans of all sorts have promised everyone the moon, on the theory that there’s one born every minute. Sadly, this is more often true than not. But that doesn’t prove that humans don’t have more possibilities for perception and achievement than we ordinarily think. Not everyone hungers for a life of meaning beyond simply making a living and taking care of one’s family, but some do. George Gurdjieff, about whom I’ve written elsewhere, said of the system of thought and practice he taught, that it was most attractive to people disappointed with life. Some of his own students were very successful in the world. A.R. Orage owned a literary journal in England, P.D. Ouspensky had been a successful journalist and author who had attracted hundreds to his lectures, J.G. Bennett had been in charge of Intelligence for Great Britain in Turkey and much of the Middle East after World War I, and employed his scientific training in the coal industry later. Margaret Anderson published James Joyce and other avant garde authors. Despite their success in the world, they were attracted to a teaching that promised a deeper experience and purpose. Whether they achieved that experience, only they could answer, though any of us can speculate as to whether they were deluded or not.
You can also decide for yourself whether I’m deluded in my interpretation of my own experience.