Once upon a time, I had a forum friend who called himself Mycroft (a reference to Sherlock’s allegedly smarter older brother). He was an atheist (still is as far as I know) and we spent pleasurable hours discussing belief, certitude, faith, reason and other subjects of interest to both of us.
Well, at least I found the discourse pleasurable. I’m pretty sure Mycroft found it frustrating at times because I refused to “color inside the lines” of religion that he was accustomed to.
One day Mycroft asked me: “So, is there a specific religious way of exploring reality?”
What a fascinating question. Given the context in which it was set, Mycroft was asking how exploration and faith integrated or coexisted. Obviously, the definition of faith (or anything else) depends on what dictionary you use. The Oxford defines faith thusly:
1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something. 2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
• a system of religious belief
- a strongly held belief or theory
The operative meaning of “apprehension” is to understand or grasp. There is nothing in the Oxford definition that restricts the faithful to believing something for which there is no proof, nor is the mechanism for “spiritual apprehension” defined.
I would say there are as many different ways of spiritual exploration as there are scientific ones. I’m not even sure I could state positively that scientific methods relied less on intuition than spiritual ones do. Science, after all, is the realm in which people like Einstein have “aha!” or “Eureka!” moments that catalyze their exploration of a particular aspect of reality. I think the difference between scientific and spiritual exploration lies, in part, in what sort of evidence the explorer accepts as valid.
After opining that faith through reason is not really faith at all, since faith must necessarily be blind to reason, Mycroft said: “So, if a believer concedes that he can’t hold some part of the belief system for true, he’s not a believer…”
How so, I asked. Why wouldn’t the response be (as in a scientific process) “I don’t know exactly how that works. Let’s keep exploring.” I can accept as fact that God created the universe(s) (which Bahá’u’lláh describes metaphorically as “He said BE, and it was,”) yet say, I don’t know exactly what mechanisms went into that happening. That’s the province of science which is, according to the scriptures of my Faith, a tool for discovery that is as much a product of God’s operation as spirituality.
“Scientific knowledge is the highest attainment upon the human plane, for science is the discoverer of realities. It is of two kinds: material and spiritual. Material science is the investigation of natural phenomena; divine science is the discovery and realization of spiritual verities. The world of humanity must acquire both. A bird has two wings; it cannot fly with one. Material and spiritual science are the two wings of human uplift and attainment. Both are necessary…” — Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 138 (23 May 1912, Cambridge, MA)
“The virtues of humanity are many but science is the most noble of them all. The distinction which man enjoys above and beyond the station of the animal is due to this paramount virtue. It is a bestowal of God; it is not material, it is divine. Science is an effulgence of the Sun of Reality, the power of investigating and discovering the verities of the universe, the means by which man finds a pathway to God”.—Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 112
Yes, Abdu’l-Bahá actually said that—science is divine. Frankly, the dichotomy between science and religion and their respective processes of exploration seems artificial to me for I can also say, “I believe that love really can destroy hatred,” admit to not understanding the mechanism by which that occurs and resolve to explore it. That is not, perhaps, the province of science, but it’s still a worthy study.
Looking at it another way, one can do rigorous, rational exploration of spiritual human reality or one can indulge in superstitious dogma. Likewise, one can do rigorous, rationally sound exploration of physical human reality or one can indulge in pseudo-scientific “beliefs”.
Next time: My friend Mycroft on Science as savior