From October 2000 to spring of 2002 I took sabbatical to research and write a non-fiction book about the relationship between spirituality and globalization – examining the intersection between personal transformation and the transformation of the world.  I called the book The Chrysalis Age. As part of that book I wrote a short dialogue between Science, Religion, and Spirituality. The book never found a publisher, so I am in the beginning stages of editing it down and indie publishing it.

I was thinking about the book and that dialogue the other night and I wondered about Stephen Jay Gould’s phrase “Non-Overlapping Magisteria” which he uses to suggest that Science and Religion operate in separate realms that need not be in direct conflict with one another. Essentially, Science investigates the external world of facts and process, and Religion investigates the internal world of morals and meaning.

Which left me wondering where Spirituality falls in that map of understanding.  And then, I started wondering what the essential questions were that are posed by Science, Religion, and Spirituality and how the those questions relate and how they create conflict between these three realms of inquiry. If we put Science and Religion in two separate boxes, does Spirituality sit in a box between them, mediating their differences, or does it have one foot in both boxes, or does it refuse to sit in a box at all?

Richard Dawkin’s critique of the Non-Overlapping Magisteria proposition points out that the belief in a supreme supernatural being is outside the realm of morals and meaning and squarely in the middle of the realm of how the universe works and why. In fact, it seems to me that the realm of morals and meaning was largely divorced from religion by Enlightenment Philosophy. So, do we need to add a fourth category of Philosophy to the equation?

Also, do we have to differentiate between Religion and Spirituality? I think we do, and I think that difference can be summed up as Theology vs Mysticism. I think of theology as the rules and rationalizations of a belief system and mysticism as a trans-rational experience of reality (see an excerpt from The Chrysalis Age  –Transformation and Transcendence for a more in depth definition of spirituality).

Some central questions for each realm (off the top of my head and without research to support them):

Science Religion:  Philosophy: Spirituality:
– How does the universe work?

– Why does it work the way it does?

– How did the universe come into being?

– How did life originate in the universe?

– What is consciousness and how does our brain create/experience it?

– What is the ultimate nature of reality?

 

– How did the universe and life come into existence?

– Assuming there is a divine supernatural creator(s) of the universe – what obligation to we owe that being(s)?

– What should our relationship be with such a supernatural being(s)?

– Based on what we believe about this supernatural being, how should we live our lives personally and collectively?

– Based on what we believe about this supernatural being, what actions are moral and which immoral?

– How should we live our lives personally and collectively?

– What actions are moral and which immoral?

– What is the ultimate nature of reality?

– What is that nature of art and beauty?

– How can the results of scientific inquiry (ie. technology and knowledge) be used to benefit humanity?

– How can scientific knowledge be used to inform ethics?

 

– What is the ultimate nature of reality?

– How can we know/experience this ultimate nature of reality directly?

– How can we find inner peace (become more patient/ loving/ compassionate, etc)?

– How does a direct experience of the ultimate nature of reality suggest we should live our lives?

– What does a direct experience of the ultimate nature of reality suggest are moral and immoral actions?

 

 

I find that an interesting (if partial) list of central questions. Obviously, some of those questions occur in more than one realm of inquiry – which is the source of the tension between them. The cause of that tension is the means of inquiry that are used to examine the questions of each realm.

Science relies on the examination of factual evidence, observation, and predictive reasoning to prove or disprove a hypothesis suggested to answer a central question. Religion relies on a host of things to try and answer its central questions: insight, visions, traditional stories, inductive reasoning, etc. Philosophy tends to rely on deductive reasoning and observation. And Spirituality relies largely on direct inner experience.  No wonder they can find it difficult to play nice.

Of course the most interesting question to me is how can I explore these issues and the relationships between these realms of inquiry in the science fiction and fantasy I write? A month or so ago I wrote a couple of blogs on how to explore religion and spirituality in science fiction and fantasy.

To me, these questions raise another question in relationship to storytelling: How can my characters explore these questions? Importantly, which realm the characters explore the question from it will impact not only how they investigate those questions, but how they will interact with and conflict with other characters. The nature of how the questions are posed in each realm and how they investigated has an impact on how much conflict there will be between one realm and another and within realms. Conflict is the heart of drama. For instance, while it is not uncommon for people in the realm of Science to disagree with one another, they don’t launch wars and murder other scientists based on these diverging opinions. Yet in the realm of Religion, this sort of violent conflict has historically been common place.

It gives me a lot to think about. Not really for The Young  Sorcerers Guild series, but definitely for The Starship Destiny series, and to a lesser degree, The Wizard of Time series. It will also have a huge impact on an epic fantasy series I’ve been plotting out for the last year or so. However, I doubt I’ll have time to write that for a year or two, so I have plenty of time to think about these questions some more.

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