Martin LeFevre: The Scientific & Religious Mind
The Scientific & Religious Mind
Often I walk over a few words painted in the center of the park road by some cynical philosopher. “Nature is wrong,” the stencil reads. The words are fading away, which brings a smile. Nature will have the last word, whether we heed her or not.
If the human species cannot fit harmoniously on this planet, it will not find its place in the cosmos. So what is the true relationship between thought and nature? I think that’s a more accurate and penetrating way of asking what humanity’s place in the universe is.
Using conscious thought, we are able to unlock the secrets of the universe (not to mention mine the entire planet for ‘resources’). But only with deep humility of thought can one perceive the beauty, feel the mystery, and touch the sacredness in the cosmos.
There is a vast difference between mystery and mysteriousness. What is mysterious can and should be discovered, uncovered, and explained. But the feeling of mystery is the same in all people of all times, whether for the cave artists of Lascaux or the men walking on the moon. Mystery has to do with the infinite, and as such it can only be diminished within diminished minds and hearts.
Real science dispels mysteries while retaining a feeling for mystery. The idea that everything can be explained is anathema not just to a sense of humility and mystery, but also to scientific investigation. The best scientists realize that there are always new discoveries to be made, and they continually ask questions, thereby opening up new areas for inquiry.
Scientific knowledge is rightly an accumulative endeavor, even though entire areas of received wisdom are occasionally overturned by new evidence. Mystery, on the other hand, is a non-accumulative state of being. As such mystery is first and last an orientation to the universe.
True scientists also acknowledge that the mysteriousness of the universe is infinite. That adds to their sense of its mystery, while sustaining a passion for exploring new horizons. But even if all mysteries could be explained, the mystery of being would remain.
‘Higher thought’ is the most powerful adaptation that nature has evolved, and yet it is founded on a principle that is contrary to the essential operation of nature. Thought separates, while nature unfolds seamlessly. Therefore relying on thought to understand humankind’s place in the universe is a logical impossibility.
Besides, in both the scientific and the contemplative spheres, insight emerges between the spaces of thought, not at the logical end of thinking.
Restoring a harmonious relationship between humans and nature turns on our gaining insight into thought itself. The idea of ‘restoring’ is somewhat inaccurate however. Indigenous peoples often had, and have, an intuitive grasp of the limits of thought. But their insights have been expressed within the contexts of their traditions, beliefs, and rituals (which are all products of thought). I know of no ancient or extant culture that is based on direct insight into the nature and limitation of conscious thought.
In any case, we cannot return to the old ways of understanding and keeping balance with nature. Symbolic thought has produced so much disorder and imbalance that the only way ahead now is to go to the root and awaken a deepening insight into thought itself. Then a new kind of culture can and will emerge.
It’s near sunset. Riding the bike to the edge of town, where open fields are rapidly being eaten away by ‘progress’, one can see for miles. The skies are gray and opaque to the west, obscuring the setting sun, though a few remnants of the billowy white clouds that graced the day remain along the horizon to the south.
Toward the foothills, to the north, skies are mostly clear, and the canyon is sharply etched in the fading light. A pheasant, after flying a short distance just above the ground, fans its broad tail feathers and glides to a halt. A pair of Canadian geese flies in low, honking loudly, taking a flight path along a creek nearly overflowing its banks.
Suddenly I see something over the fields I never thought I’d see again—a falcon! It’s a couple hundred meters away, but its distinctive hovering and plummeting flight pattern is unmistakable.
The raptor then flies closer, directly across from where I sit. It hovers for 15 or 20 seconds before dropping, wings motionlessly held back in a ‘V.’ It is an exquisitely and indescribably graceful sight, one of the most beautiful in all of nature.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.