Sunday, May 15, 2011

Science vs. miracles

I recently started reading about "A Course in Miracles." It is both a book and a community of people. It gets a lot right about what spirituality means AND has managed to become somewhat mainstream! Quite an accomplishment in our age. Here are some thoughts I had about how "A Course in Miracles" bridges the gap between spirituality and scientific literalism:

I believe that science potentially can explain the cause of every event. Keep in mind that science still knows relatively little about our minds, our consciousness, and our cultures.

What are miracles? “Miracles are expressions of love.” Simple. But aren’t miracles supposed to feed the 5,000 and turn water into wine? That’s what orthodox Christianity says, isn’t it? Yes and no.

The traditional, orthodox Christian view is that miracles are events that reveal God. Before the days of widespread scientific literacy, the average farmer had a literal, concrete conception of spirituality. He would see a diseased person get well, a healthy person become diseased, crops mysteriously go bad or do well--all of which, he believed, points to God’s active participation in the world. Science, of course, shows there are unmysterious explanations for crops, disease, and the weather. So as scientific literacy spreads, a literal conception of spirituality necessarily fades.

The thing is the Fathers of modern science believed that science did reinforce a spiritual view of reality. In addition to the simple spirituality of the average farmer, a sizable community in the upper classes of Renaissance Europe believed in a deeper, more sophisticated spirituality beyond the world of crops, disease, and weather. Paracelsus, Tycho Brahe, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and Jan van Helmont all studied alchemy as a spiritual discipline. However, the divorce of spirituality and work during the industrial revolution tore the legs out from under Europe’s spiritual tradition. Gradually a literal view of reality, which the scientific community’s emphasis on empiricism and careful precision inescapably favors, took its place at the front of culture’s consciousness.

A scientific, literal view of the world puts into question the role of religion. Churches have two ways to respond--assert the validity of traditional religious symbols or to adapt church theology to the scientific, literal worldview. Many churches adapted by preaching a religious literalism that values the history of religious stories over their spiritual symbolism. That takes us to our present-day conception of miracles as extremely rare, scientifically-implausible occurrences.

But religious stories are meant to endow life with a deep spiritual symbolism. We are to believe out of faith and love, not out of duty or fear. “A Course in Miracles” boldly declares that the world’s literal way of thinking is illusory. There is a greater reality that is spiritual in nature. Our true selves are created in God’s image, which is love.

Now, look back at the orthodox definition of miracle: “miracles are events that reveal God.” Any expression of love is an overcoming of our short-sighted ego, and allows the image of our creator to shine through us.

Science explains a lot about the world, but tells us little about our true, spiritual selves. Miracles are in fact natural, everyday expressions of love, and not the rare, scientifically implausible events that that a literal theology represents them as. God is love, and as the Course says, “everything that comes from love is a miracle.”

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