Section 11: Religion and Science
(revised Dec., 2010)
John A. Gowan

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So far as we know, man is the only species with a spiritual or religious sense, and it is universal in human culture. Spirituality is surely an emergent property of the ability of our minds to think abstractly, symbolically, imaginatively, and self-reflexively. The spiritual world is an ideal world, a world of our imagination and speculation. Our foreknowledge of death, our excellent memory, our close-linked family and social life, all contribute to a very real sense of a spiritual realm, a realm of the ancestors, where all who live will someday go - much as the past is a real place in memory and the future is a real place in our imagination. We continuously die to the present moment, accumulating a growing "karmic" history, while a future of unknown but diminishing length stretches before us. Our lives are exercises in abstraction; spiritual awareness is forced upon us by the simple experience of time, by the reality of yesterday and tomorrow, and the mysteries of birth and death.

Because spirituality, and its social manifestation, religion, grows out of the capacity of our minds for abstract thought, at its base it is allied with our capacity to do science and mathematics, which likewise has a social expression in the school, academy, and university. Indeed, for most of history the University and the Church were one and the same, and we are still trying to disentangle them. Just as we are the only religious species, so too we are the only scientific species. Religion has long been used as a basis for social organization, usually combined with a secular establishment composed of king and military. Religion is intuitive and emotional, and while science is rational, it, too, has intuitive and esthetic roots. And science, these days more so than religion, has been embraced by the secular component of society, most especially by the king and military, who find it good for the economy and for weapons. Religion has always been a competing, if not the only, form of government. Where there is a multiplicity of religious sects, it is more difficult to sustain a religious state; but even in America, religion still manages to tax the faithful either through the collection plate or by actual tithing, and to control their behavior, beliefs, and loyalty by stick and carrot. Communist governments have not welcomed these competing ideologies, and have banned them, but while the organized social form of religion can be banished, the innate spiritual awareness of humanity cannot.

Science sees religion as a silly, unthinking, outmoded, old-fashioned superstition which it seeks to replace with a reasoned view of life, and wonders and frets that religion persists. But religion's tenacity is no mystery. Religion survives because it makes people feel good about themselves, it gives them hope for their own future and hope for their families' future. Religion makes people feel important. The Universe and humanity and the individual are all made more significant if there is a God in Heaven, instead of the Cosmos being just a vast collection of stars and atoms, as some scientists will have us believe. Humanity will never trade self-esteem, a meaningful role in the Universe, and the promise of eternal life for mere technical knowledge. Science has got to offer something more appealing and significant than a quantitative assessment of nature. It's like telling a person the chemicals in his body are worth 98 cents on the open market and expecting this information to compete with someone else telling him his immortal soul is worth everything to God in Heaven.

Science fiction ("Star Trek", etc.) has been far more successful than science, in terms of public acceptance, because it has in fact suggested that humanity might indeed have a meaningful role in the future as explorers and colonizers of the galaxy. Science should focus on this "new frontier", and let people know that in terms of information content, a human being is not insignificant, but is the equivalent of any (abiotic) astronomical body; that information and consciousness, not size or entropy, are the significant evolutionary parameters of the Universe.

Our spiritual awareness is, at its root, our intuitive sense of connection with the Cosmos; the "Spirit" of the Cosmos can be said to be the sum total of its connections. Obviously, science is just the rational side of this coin. Therefore, if science can lead us into a rational appreciation of our cosmic connections (much as Carl Sagan and Teilhard de Chardin tried to do), it will greatly strengthen the appeal of science and our appreciation for it. The military appreciates weapons; the king appreciates the economic potential of science; the public appreciates the medical, technical, and entertainment advantages of science. But science has so far failed to make us feel important or more connected to the Universe. Science has itself to blame for refusing to confront the "big" human questions - the meaning of life and death, the meaning of existence and the Cosmos, the reality of God, the soul, life after death, etc. Science needs to address these question, insofar as it can, if it is ever to compete with religion for the hearts, minds, and emotional lives of humans. To simply walk away from these questions, as science has always done in the past, is to vacate the field of inquiry of greatest interest to humanity, to simply hand victory to religion in these philosophic matters, to admit defeat when it comes to the issues of greatest human significance and interest, needlessly diminishing the power and prestige of science. General Systems is a perfectly rational framework within which these questions can be addressed, insofar as the rational mind can address them at all.

The very broad view of General Systems offers a more suitable approach to this problem than the traditionally narrow methods of science, which tends to restrict itself to questions answerable through repeatable experiment, and acceptable to the peer review censors of academic journals.

The models I have used, and the references to religion, mythology, and occult or mystical traditions I have made, are all attempts to demonstrate and to forge links between our rational and intuitive perceptions of cosmic connection, ancient and modern, spiritual and scientific. There is more than one way to experience and understand our unity with the Cosmos; all perceptions of connection are important, whether intuitive or rational, and need not conflict with each other.

Humanity is the Universe awakening to itself, exploring its potential for experience in the information domain. When measured on the scale of information - which is the chief evolutionary axis of the Universe - humans individually and as a species are the equal of stars and other astronomical objects. Our mission as a species is to colonize our galaxy; our unique contribution is to bring a perceptual capacity for aesthetics, spirituality, and understanding to the Cosmos. These higher perceptions are based on the emergent capabilities of the biological realm, which through its genetic system and the evolution of large, highly organized, multi-cellular organisms, social systems, ecosystems, and the abstracting, symbolizing, and technological abilities of humans, has created a unique conservation domain for information. Humans are not just another social animal, nor are we an accidental production of nature. We are the (local) eyes, ears, and mind of the Cosmos; we are the purposively evolved seed of Gaia, her dispersal agents, whose reproductive mission is to spread Earth-life throughout the Galaxy. The legend of Noah's ark is in fact a visionary realization of our future galactic role, fulfilling the reproductive imperative of Gaia.

De Broglie Matter Waves and the Evolution of Consciousness

In 1923 Louis de Broglie introduced the notion of matter waves, the particle-wave duality of matter which is the reciprocal extension of the notion of the particle-wave duality of light. The wave nature of matter is evidently a "memory" of its origin in light, much as the particle aspect of light prefigures its capacity to create matter. Such dualities are part of the connective tissue of the Cosmos and its two principle energy forms, free and bound electromagnetic waves and particles. The lighter the particle, the more strongly is its wave nature expressed. The wave nature of electrons is very pronounced, as is famously demonstrated by the interference phenomena of the canonical 2-slit experiment of quantum mechanics. In the extreme case of neutrinos, which apparently have a tiny mass, their wave nature completely dominates their particle nature. However, as particles become heavier and more massive, their wave nature becomes rapidly overwhelmed until for ordinary macroscopic masses to which we are sensible it is completely obscured.

The rise of consciousness and intelligence in large biological organisms can be seen as a direct reassertion of the wave nature of matter even in large masses; for surely our thoughts, intuitions, and inspirations are nothing if not part of the wave nature of both light and matter, and therefore constitute our true connection and medium of communication with the Cosmos - whether rational or intuitive. The evolutionary goal of biology can indeed be seen as the reestablishment of the wave nature of matter in macroscopic masses. This is perhaps the only explanation in purely physical terms for the existence of the biological information pathway. In terms of natural connectivity, this explanation is completely consistent with the development of life through the 4x3 fractal algorithm, through matter's search for antimatter, and with the biological destiny of humanity as the reproductive seed and dispersal agent of Gaia. The connectivity of the Universe is the essence of its physical nature and is what we perceive as its "spiritual" nature; our consciousness, intelligence, perception, and rational and intuitive awareness is part and parcel of this connection and of an evolving cosmic self awareness - and not just here on Earth, but everywhere in the Cosmos that suitable conditions for life exist. Truly it is by means of thought that we will travel the Universe, whether rationally in our spaceships, intuitively in our dreams, imaginatively in our art forms, or spiritually in our awareness.

When science, rather than science fiction, has learned how to transmit these ideas to the people, it will have begun to compete with religion for the hearts as well as the minds of the public.

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Teilhard de Chardin - Prophet of the Information Age
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