Are spirituality and science incompatible?

I don’t know how often this topic has come up here before, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the past few weeks and I wish to have a discussion (not neccessarily a debate, but I thought this would be the best place to talk about it.) For some reason, at this time in my life, I’ve been thinking a lot about human existence, the meaning of life, what seperates man from beast, and various other existentialist thoughts.

I was raised in a not-very-religious household and never grew up with any kind of spiritual indoctrination. In school, I was always good at science classes (even though my real strengths were the humanities) but I never really understood the science. I was good at it in a rote, memorized way, not on any deeper level - I was good at internalizing rules and terms and systems of organization, but not good at really appreciating them for being anything else. The basic concepts of chemistry, physics and especially astronomy were always esoteric and confusing and made me have existentialist thoughts when I tried to understand them. Nevertheless I’d always thought that just because I didn’t understand science didn’t mean it wasn’t the answer to all of mankind’s problems, and that in the hands of “real” scientists, somehow the secret to human existence would eventually be unlocked.

I consider myself a spiritual person (more in the cosmic, all-encompassing-energy, Buddhist-esque vein than anything stemming from Western religion.) Once a friend and I were talking and he brought up the atom bomb, and pointed to this little spoon on the table and said, “something tinier than that spoon, something so tiny that millions of them are contained within the spoon, has the power to destroy an entire city. Isn’t that insane!” I thought, well, maybe it sounds insane, on the surface, but to me what it really means is that there is this incredible, powerful energy flowing through everything, that exists within every person, animal, plant, non-sentient object, and molecule of dust on the entire planet. And that’s not really all that different from Eastern religions’ belief in an all-encompassing life force free from the “self.”

I’ve recently been doubting that science does hold all the answers for mankind, and that science is simply an extention of what religion is - an intense human desire to know the unknowable and to figure out the meaning of our existence. Both are eteological - they seek to explain. Science, I thought, is just a series of classifications, of names, of taxonomies. We humans think that by having a Latin name for every little thing, by having a mathematical formula for every single event, that we really understand it - but all those animals, plants, and natural + physical phenomena were all there before man was around to make up languages and give them all names and classify and organize them. Scientists can research, experiment - even create new beings through cloning. But each door we unlock leads to a hallway filled with more locked doors. Each mystery we solve leaves hundreds unanswered.

Right now I’m almost 19 years old, done with my first year of college, unsure of my life’s meaning and direction and where I am headed, and desperately seeking some answers to these existentialist questions. Some of my peers are spiritualists who throw themselves into meditation and reflection, and while I’ve considered (and would be willing to explore) Buddhism, Hinduism, zen medidation, and all that, I still don’t know if it’s the solution to my quandaries. With every new scientific report I read about in the news, whether it be about astronomy or the human brain, confuses me and scares me. It scares me to think that there are billions of stars and planets and galaxies out there, that the “universe” is “expanding” or “contracting,” and that all of it is there to serve no greater purpose. That there is no reason for physical existence. I want to believe in a greater force, but I don’t know what greater force to believe in.

I have been where you are, and by the time my angst maxed out at age 18, I was yearning for oblivion. It almost got me killed. I was so pissed off at the idea that you are born, slog through decades of boredom/misery/whatever, then you die…for what? Of course I didn’t have many sympathetic listeners, and wasn’t much fun at parties…but I will never forget the pain and isolation. Now I liken it to being in labor. That’s as far as my proselytizing goes for the moment. Just know this: I have no respect for people who DON’T go through what you are going through now, and persist to the other side. You will find purpose if you are willing to look for and hear the truth. Never, never stop looking for answers or let anyone tell you you are wasting your time. Trust me, all joy awaits you.

What I find refreshing here is that you have the nads to admit you don’t have all the answers, something rare in a 19 yr old. :slight_smile: Have you read The Tao of Pooh? No, not being facetious.

I’m not very good at religious/spiritual discussion, but here is a link I think you’ll find entertaining and maybe enlightening:

This topic is covered often but has little hope of reaching a conclusion. Science and spirituality are as compatible as you let them be. Often it may seem that religion (moreso than spirituality) and science are mutually exclusive but you may be hearing only the most extreme voices. I think this may come from the two extreme positions that nothing is unknowable and that the unknowns can only be explained by God and in fact prove God’s existence. I believe that both those positions are faulty but they aren’t your only options.

There is a continuum of beliefs that allow many of us to spritiuality and even religion in our lives and have no conflict with science. I am a Christian but that term is too broad a brush to describe my faith. I believe that God created the universe but I don’t believe that the creation account(s) in Genisis are anything more than an allegory for the hebrews who were its audience. I do believe my life has meaning and I don’t think that cold science can take it away from me. I like to quote a line from a movie, “Look at all the stars. You look up and you think, “God made all this and He remembered to make a little speck like me.” It’s kind of flattering, really.”

No doubt you are being bombarded from a lot of directions, often with ideas that have an agenda behind them, so I can understand this being a somewhat scary time in your life. Don’t let anyone tell you what to believe including me. Learn all you can about everything you can, science and sprituality but learn to be a critical thinker. Faith is by definition beyond reason but there are a lot of con men out there. Seek God and let that give you peace in life in whatever form you find him.

I don’t believe I have ever read a more compelling post. I too am lodged somewhere between “science” and “spirituality.” Yes, I believe the two can nicely complement each other if the devotees want it to be.

There is a force running through all existence, I am wondering if you feel it. It comes from within your being and spreads out to embrace all creation. So, look within, it is not necessary to study with any religious group. All you need is yourself to understand. I think you are more than half-way there now.

Llife does have purpose and meaning, it is mainly doing what you are already doing, learning, observing, feeling the depth and breath of the joy of life. No need to fear or tremble, the closed doors you see quickly open to the honest, humble seeker. The knowledge not lost on death, for mankind is eternal.

The force, the creator, the Oneness is defined by its intrinsic essence which is love. A love all encompassing and brighter than a hundred suns.

Thousands have experienced it, in visions, near death experiences, and many other forms of spiritual experiences. It is real, waiting to be discovered.


I’ve been through something akin to what you seem to be going through, so just let me say:

I get the impression that for you science seems to be something that is worthless, rasing more questions than it can provide answers for. It’s something that just cannot understand. For me, the Eastern spiritualism is something that, try as I might, I just don’t get. What I do get is science (mostly physics, chemistry, and astronomy). For me, the fact that science opens up so many new doors is something that attracts me to it. The idea of unlimited exploration is one that simply appeals to me. Simply put, find out what best suits you as an individual and stick to that.

BTW, I am a Christian (though not the most devout) and that does not conflict at all with the science. In fact I talked with my minister a few weeks ago, and he was talking about how his interest in physics.

I don’t think science is worthless. It’s just that it seems to me that a lot of science is just more names and terms for stuff that’s already there, but we don’t really know how it got there. And I do think it leaves many questions unanswered, along with the many questions that it does answer.

We “know” how the brain “works,” but we don’t know how it produces the phenomenon we know as consciousness and how that ties into the greater forces at play in our universe.

They are not at all incompatible. They have different purposes. Use science to examine the universe. Use spirituality to examine reality.

Is the “universe” not real?

Ah, I see.

The names and terms are what we use to classify what we know. If not for the names and terms we would not be able to reach a deeper understanding. We need to have a way to communicate the ideas, hence names & terms. You only barely scratch the surface of what science is in high school and basic college classes, so it would be difficult to go deeper, espicially if your brain isn’t “wired for science.” The basic classes only teach you the terms, etc.

Using your example, we do not know enoughhow the brain works. We are trying to do so, so that we can figure out how to reproduce it. They don’t teach you that in the basic classes. Nor do they teach you the methods scientists currently use to find out more about the how the brain works.

My earlier recomendation still stands, however. Find out what best suits you as an individual and stick to that.

Not if we’re talking about theoretical science (which is a big part of cosmology.)

I don’t see the distinction you’re making between theoretical science and other forms. Care to expound a bit?

Well let’s just cut to the quick then shall we? Here are the questions I would venture to guess are bugging the OP:

What is the meaning, purpose, objective of Life?

What happens when I die?

Science can’t address them. Thus Lib’s remark:

“Use science to examine the universe. Use spirituality to examine reality.”

Eh, pretty disappointing. He does not lay out what specifically made him believe.

Then he adds:

In line with the theme of duality of interpretations, an additional question should be “what was it in me that wanted it to make sense?”.

‘allegedly’ being the key word.

His further screed is all about how he discovered the ‘Truth’ that was right in front of him. And how Logic was inapplicable to spiritual matters (that certainly doesn’t jive with many theologians and also Lib who have attempted logical proofs of God). I suppose true religious conversions, if they exist, aren’t communicable. We’re back to square one: Faith.

This just sounds like a revisionist rearrangement. What is the difference between universe and reality?

No, he’s transparent and detailed in his description. You didn’t get it, that’s all.

Read in its entirety it’s even better.

By asking that question you are deliberately ignoring the the author’s previous paragraphs detailing the process. What was in him that wanted it to make sense was the realization that his life was crap, his deceptive debates with Christians were only diversions, and that he had deliberately and hypocritically closed his mind to an honest consideration of the Bible as any thing other than crap.

blah, blah, blah. It’s your straw man summary that’s pretty disappointing, eh.

This however, is a fun debate: TENNIS COURT: Johnny Skeptic and Hired Gun Exchange Fire In The Back Streets of TWeb

That’s simple. The universe is what you see. Reality is what is actually out there.

Actually, science does adress quite adequately the second question, with all the gory details. It’s only because people insist on assuming that there must be something else occuring, without the slightest shred of evidence, that it appears to many as an unanswered issue.

Yes, and all he reveals is an hatred and a desire to disprove it. Not everyone who doesn’t believe has a dogmatic need to keep it that way.

And all he found out was you could either ‘make sense’ of it in one framework (allegory, spiritual meaning, “actual content of words”) or have it be ‘nonsensical’ in another framework(literal meaning, consistency). He also expounds that he had reasons that made him want to believe it, and reasons he didn’t. Again, he doesn’t tackle whether he believes it makes sense because he wants to i.e. the opposite side of the coin with the other side being dogmatic skeptical mode. IOW, is a True Believer ready to the possibility that the Bible is false, literally and spiritually?

Then you are claiming that one can, after all, sense or analyse what is “actually out there”.


That is if one does not have one’s head stuck so far up one’s posterior that one refuses to consider the possibility that something exists beyond one’s current limited frame of reference.