There are many gifts that science brings to religion and spirituality, despite the fact that they are often seen by many as in constant conflict. And this gifting is mutual: spirituality also gives to, and challenges, science.
Science and spirituality not only can coexist, but productively inform one another, and make our experiences of life richer when we look at things through both lenses.
Here are five essential gifts that science offers spirituality …
Science can awaken awe and radical amazement in us. To learn that we are a part of a universe 13.9 billion years in the making and hundreds of billions of galaxies in size — and growing — is awesome. To learn how our minds and bodies emerged from much more modest brains in a worm is also awesome.
But why are awe and amazement gifts to spirituality? Because "awe is the beginning of wisdom," as Rabbi Heschel teaches. Awe results in reverence and gratitude and knowing we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
2. Critical Thinking
Science engages one's left-brain, which is a healthy antidote to superstition and fear and myths that may no longer be serving us. "All science comes from God," declared the medieval mystic and spiritual genius Hildegard of Bingen.
To be our most enlightened selves is to employ both left and right brains to the fullest, and science employs the left-brain with its powers of analysis and measurement, and its search for the truth.
3. Facts About Creation
Science unearths facts that tell us more about the universe and about God, and/or about creation — regardless of our belief in God, and regardless of our particular faith and spiritual practices.
Another mystical genius of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas, spent his whole life bringing the best scientist of his day, Aristotle, into the world of faith. Aquinas once said, "A mistake about creation results in a mistake about God." Thus to know the facts about creation is on the one hand to overthrow nonsensical thinking about God but it is also to enter into fuller understanding of God.
Consider, for example, the "scandalous" teaching of Copernicus and Galileo 400 years ago that the earth revolves about the sun and not the sun about the earth. Religion went crazy; but science got its facts right and religion had to learn from science.
4. Ethical Challenges
Science, by finding facts, tells us of the most profound ethical challenges of our time (for example: climate change, pollution, limits of population growth and so on). Religion ought to be about right action and right livelihood and for that it needs the facts that science can examine.
"What does technology have to do with spirituality?" you may be asking. Sure, it makes sense that science leads to technology. And technology can, of course, be a big factor in taking on the ethical issues of our time — from developing alternative energies like solar and wind and thermal that can cut back on global warming to developing more effective birth control.
And spirituality brings its fair share of gifts to science, too. It was Albert Einstein himself who warned us not to trust the intellect too much for values do not come solely from the intellect — even according to Einstein!
Instead, Einstein postulated, our values as humans come from "intuition or feeling which are the same thing." He celebrated "the sacred gift of intuition," the field of the right-brain that true spirituality explores and develops.
Plus, spirituality can offer us inspiration and energy and courage to live those values — and among them might be science. Science and spirituality can enhance each other, if we are open enough to see the light.
This post by Matthew Fox is inspired by themes and ideas explored in The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet, co-authored by Rupert Sheldrake. Copyright © 2014 by Monkfish Book Publishing Company.