Science in Christian Perspective
Science and Spirit: A Regress Report
P.O. Box 4308 Berkeley, CA 94704
WALTER H. HEARN
762 Arlington Ave. Berkeley, CA 94707
From: JASA 26
(September 1974): 105-110.
Walter R. Hearn:
Some ASA members feel that although our Christian commitment deeply affects our personal participation in science, we want science itself to remain an essentially impersonal enterprise. Particularly in the publication of scientific work we support efforts to maintain the greatest possible objectivity, even though publication in that format renders our work indistinguishable from work done by non-Christians. If that makes published science seem philosophically barren, so much the better. An objective, mechanistic science makes a less attractive idol to worship, and leaves a spiritual vacuum for us to fill with our testimony of wholeness we find in Christ but not in science. Science without philosophical trappings may be more capable of being put to destructive use. If so, then theology and philosophy must be strong in their own right to cope with science. But at least an uncluttered science will also be strong and reliable when we want to put it to constructive use.
On the other hand, some believers yearn for a kind of "takeover" of science by Christianity. Truth is one, they emphasize, and should not be fragmented. They feel that scientific work done by Christians should be intrinsically different from that done by nonbelievers. To examine our motives and dedicate our abilities to God, and to reflect on the significance and application of our research, are not sufficient. In this view, science should be distinctly Christian in its content, not merely in our contemplation of it.
In one of these views, science, philosophy, and religion are woven into one rope of truth as independent strands. The other wants to see philosophy and theology woven into the science strand at the beginning, or perhaps wants truth to consist of only a single strand.
In the early days of science, papers were dedicated Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. Perhaps the greatest scientific papers written in those days expressed Christian commitment or at least theistic bias. But more recently I recall reading Russian biochemical literature of the Stalinist era, with its testimonials that must have made communist hearts swell with pride. The scientific work thus glorified by association was sometimes so poor as to make me wonder if scientific quality were not inversely proportional to ideological content.
Today one need not go back to an earlier period, or learn to read Chinese, to see efforts to "colonize" science in the name of philosophy or theology. Occultism and psycho-spiritualism, recognizing the rationality and objectivity of the scientific mind-set as a barrier to their advance, now seek to join and subvert what they cannot overcome. Theosophy and anthroposophy from European roots, American parapsychology, and Eastern religious movements all seem anxious to show that "true science" supports their claims.
Further, they seek a kind of metaphysical enlightenment of science by spirit. For example, Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophieal Society, taught that "psychic powers could be used with scientific precision to restore humanism to a materialistic world." According to the Society's literature,
competent scientists who have trained themselves for the pursuit of inquiry, not only through natural scientific research hot also by the spiritual scientific method, may discover solutions of problems that cannot be completely solved by either method alone. Such scientific research, conceived in the light of anthroposophical conceptions of the realm of nature, is being conducted at the Goetheanum and by individual scientists throughout the world.
(The "Goetheanum" is anthroposophy's international headquarters in Switzerland.)
My introduction to anthroposophy (which I still have trouble pronouncing) came when I gave an ASA lecture on "Science and Reality" at U.C. Berkeley in February 1973. I compared my scientific way of looking at the world with my Christian perspective, arguing that a scientist who is a Christian has an advantage in seeing the world from two different viewpoints complementary to each other. A young "evangelist" for anthroposophy in the audience expressed surprise that any educated Christian still thought there could be two ways of looking at the world: after all, Rudolf Steiner had brought science and spirit together in his writings before his death in 1925.
Recently I have also become acquainted with the founder of "Basic Energy Concepts," an offshoot of the "Inner Peace Movement." Charles Mulcahy left an engineering career to travel around giving lectures on techniques for stirring up such psychic phenomena as precognition and clairvoyance. To hear him discuss "spirit" as an analogy to "energy," one could get the impression that science has established our psychic oneness with God and the cyclic reincarnation of human beings on earth, in which he firmly believes.
University scientists, government agencies, and business executives have begun to dabble in "psychic research." This is documented in a three-page article, "Why Scientists Take Psychic Research Seriously," in Business Week (26 January 1974, pp. 76-78). The researchers interviewed are convinced that everyone possesses some dormant psychic powers that can be developed. A lot of other people with various theological axes to grind are convinced of the same thing.
Believers in false religions may misuse science. In my opinion, if believers in "true religion" try to commandeer science for our own ends, we risk ending up with a pseudo-science. Even when making valid theological or philosophical points, we must be careful about using analogies from science, lest we "swear falsely" in the sense of Matthew 5:33-37. When those who oppose our faith stretch science to fit their own presuppositions, we legitimately cry "foul!" Let us not be guilty of the same kind of distortion. Perhaps as we Christians see science being misused by other "faiths," the Lord will help remove the beam from our eyes so we can go after the speck in theirs. (See also "PseudoScience and Pseudo-Religion" by R. H. Bube in Eternity 1974.)
When posters appeared all over the Bay area announcing "SCIENCE AND SPIRIT EXPOSITION: Two Days of Astounding Films, Lectures, and Exhibits," I asked David Iladdon of Berkeley to attend that "exciting, informative introduction to world-wide scientific inquiry into parapsychology, ESP, and the occult," and to report what's going on to Journal ASA readers. Haddon's undergraduate work at U.C. Berkeley and Santa Barbara earned him a B.S. in civil engineering, but he also has an M.A, in polities and literature from the University of Dallas. He is currently on the staff of the Christian World Liberation Front, researching, writing, and counseling on various forms of occultism. He is the author of two extensive articles on Transcendental Meditation: "Thou Shalt Not Think" (His, December 1973) and "New Plant Thrives in a Spiritual Desert" (Christianity Today, 21 Decemher 1973).
Exhibits at the Science and Spirit Exposition hosted by the Theosophical Society at San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts, November 24-25, 1973, covered a wide range. Schematic diagrams of "Kirlian" photographic equipment and finished photographs of "auras" taken by student researchers at U.C. Berkeley were on sale. So were slick commercial occult objects like the Pyramid Energy Generator and the $25 Cheops Pyramid Tent for meditating, by Pyramid Products, Inc., of Glendale, California (see "Modern Living," Time, 8 October 1973, p. 104). But the standard occult practitioners of palmistry, astrology, and the Tarot were also represented.
Lecturers included Roy Eugene Davis, an American disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda; Dr. G. Patrick Flanagan, 28-year-old electronics whiz and pyramidologist; Dr. Marcel Vogel, ex-IBM materials scientist turned man-plant communicator. and Kendall Johnson, researcher in Kirlian photography at the UCLA Department of Medicine. Most of the other participants represented Eastern religious and occult therapy groups.
Films shown at the Exposition included the TV documentary, "In Search of Ancient Astronauts," produced by Erich von Daniken, author of Chariots of the Gods; a Soviet film, "Psychokinesis in Russia"; and the Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine's "Introduction to Acupuncture" and "Faith Healing and Psychic Surgery in the Philippines." Ex-astronaut Edgar Mitchell's Institute for Noetic Sciences provided two significant films: "Inner Spaces" and "Ultimate Mystery."
There were exhibits by yogis and other overtly religious groups. Representatives of Sun Myung Moon's Re-education Foundation (Unification Church) and of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Student's International Meditation Society/ International Meditation Society (SIMS/ IMS) were notably present although they took no part in the formal program. SIMS in particular uses scientific studies to present a system of yoga as a nonreligious technique of self-improvement. Their approach reflects the general attitude of the Theosophical Society sponsoring the Exposition. The theosophists seemed eager to seize upon any research by scientists into the area of parasycholngy as verification of their traditional pantheistic position outlined in the books of Madame Blavatsky and C. W. Leadheater.
During a lunar mission, Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell performed mental telepathy experiments (not authorized by NASA) in collaboration with some ESP enthusiasts on earth. In the film "Inner Spaces," narator Mitchell advocated the intuitive power of mind as a direct way of gaining knowledge. The movie recounted observations made on the ability of successful business executives to predict computer-generated random numbers, the effectiveness of water dowsers in discovering underground pipes and deposits, unconscious telepathic communication, and astral projection. Following all this "evidence for the existence of a realm of spirit" came scenes of the paths to religious experience of the Orient: meditation, chanting, and ecstatic dancing. Mitchell asserted the universality of this kind of experience in world religions,
Believers in false religions may misuse science If believers in "true religion" try to commandeer science for our own ends, we risk ending up with a pseudo-religion propped up by a pseudo-science.
concluding on the note that the objectivity of science and the subjectivity of
religion must now merge.
Mitchell's other film, "The Ultimate Mystery," began with a statement of the purpose of his research on nnesis, which is to "gain new insights into that ultimate mystery of the universe, the nature of consciousness. I believe we will discover that through consciousness, feelings and thoughts connect all living beings." Mitchell is refreshingly frank to state the expected result of his investigations before they are completed. But selection of the nature of consciousness as the "ultimate mystery" itself virtually implies the expected answer: the ultimate nature of the universe is the impersonal consciousness of pantheism.
The content of "The Ultimate Mystery" was accurately described in its billing:
A look at recent scientific data supporting the age-old claim of mystics that there is a oneness in all things. Sequences include demonstrations of consciousness in plants and bacteria, acupuncturists and healers at work, enzymic changes caused by healers' hands, and new visions of the powers of consciousness.
Among the lecturers, the real crowd-pleaser was Patrick Flanagan with his account of using pyramidalshaped devices to preserve food ("by mummification"); to improve the flavor of food, wine, and tobacco; to sharpen razor blades; and to improve the meditations of meditators. Flanagan said he discovered a physical explanation for the "bio-cosmic energy" properties claimed for the pyramidal shape. His forthcoming honk would reveal the explanation and spell out applications of his discoveries for food preservation without energy expenditure. According to Flanagan, the Egyptian pyramids were primarily initiation and meditation chambers for occult religious practices.
A lecture by Marcel Vogel illustrated how Exposition participants in general regarded scientific verification of spiritual hypotheses. "Man-Plant Communications" was described in advance as covering "the fusion of science and religion: the use of plant forms in developing expanded awareness of consciousness." Vogel rejected the idea of anthropomorphic consciousness in plantsunless projected there by man. He understands clearly what science is about: "precise measurement with known series of variables." What he is doing is not science "in any accepted sense" because "the compexity of consciousness always leaves the variables pendant or changing." He has become less concerned about the repeatability of the experiment than about the effect of the experiment on his own consciousness.
It does not disturb Vogel, for example, that the U.C. Santa Cruz physicist who tried to duplicate his experiments in man-plant communication failed until he came to work jointly with Vogel. "I have not tried to repeat these experiments that were done in 1971, and deliberately so," said Vogel, "because I've realized the significance of the experiment, which produced 'the first explicit pictures in graphical form of thought spectrograms.'" Vogel has been "assiduously studying ever since to build a storehouse now of physical knowledge of past minds in my own brain case." The past minds Vogel cites include the Austrian occultist Rudolf Steiner and theosophists Blavatsky and Leadheater.
The primary lesson I have learned these last years is that in order to do any form of research along this line one must learn to clear one's conscious, rational, reasoning mind. This, of course, is the primary teaching of meditation. For this reason I took up yoga and learned the practices of yoga.
From this point, Vogel's lecture declined (or ascended) into an account of his projecting himself into plants, and of his admittedly dangerous experiences working with Indian charmers calling down nature spirits.
Perhaps few fellow scientists would take Marcel Vogel seriously, but essentially the same viewpoint was presented in more credible form in the Edgar Mitchell films. Indeed, the selfconsciously scientific approach of the Student's International Meditation Society to the yogic technique of clearing the mind of rational thought (Transcendental Meditation) has gained considerable acceptance among scientists and other academics. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi himself, with his bachelor's degree in physics and his status as Yogi (i.e., one who has attained union with Grid), stands as the prototype for the convergence of Western science and Eastern religion proposed by Mitchell. In the Maharishi's own words:
The discovery of the field of this one basis of material existence will mark the ultimate achievement in the history of development of physical science. This will serve to turn the world of physical science to the science of mental phenomena. Theories of mind, intellect, and ego will supercede the findings of physical science. At the ultimate or the extreme limit of investigation into the nature of reality in the field of the mind will eventually be located the state of pure consciousness.-The Science of Being and the Art of Living, p. 32.
Common to most participants in the Science and Spirit Exposition, then, was the conviction that universal consciousness unites all things, that man's purpose is to attune himself to this consciousness by altering his mind through meditation, and that science has already verified, or soon will verify, the existence of this universal consciousness. The tendency of scientists ond others who begin the spiritual discipline of Eastern meditation in any of its manifold varieties, and then adopt its pantheistic world view; is to seek its verification in scientific research.
That no amount of empirical research can verify any interpretation of the infinite and the impalpable seems to escape the altered consciousness of researchers who adopt the experiential practices of Eastern religion. Scientists who are Christians should be aware of the tendency to colonize science for essentially religious purposes by those committed to the pursuit of the Absolute by means of the powerful techniques of oriental mysticism.
Walter R. Hearn:
The 1973 "Science and Spirit Exposition" described by Haddon recalls some of R. H. Bube's observations on the decline of scientific prestige.' False claims for science (as the only road to truth or way of salvation) and the aloofness of scientists towards humanistic and ethical concerns, Rube said, are driving people away from a rational approach to life, toward nonrational or even irrational approaches. He cited growing interest in astrology, scientology, witchcraft, drug-use, and Eastern religions as evidence of the drive toward the non-rational and irrational.
The intensity of this drive strikes us forcefully when we see it grip someone with extensive scientific training and experience. Haddon's report on what is happening to Marcel Vogel is a clear-cut example. Making sense to other scientists while he communicates with plants is no longer of much concern to Vogel.
An attempt to introduce the irrational into scientific thought itself can be seen in a paper by Charles T. Tart, an associate professor of psychology at U.C. Davis.2 Writing in Science (16 June 1972) on "States of Consciousness and State-Specific Sciences," Tart chides scientists for almost totally rejecting "the knowledge gained during the experiencing of altered states of consciousness." The altered states of consciousness (ASC's) of interest to him include those of auto-hypnosis, meditative states, lucid dreaming, marijuana intoxication, LSD intoxication, self-remembering, reverie, arid biofeedback-induced states.3
Tart wants more scientists to get into these states and putter around developing "state-specific sciences" while there. He seems to be especially interested in the marijuana-induced state.4 Tart is sure that "many young scientists" who have experienced certain ASC's will be capable of investigating the phenomena of ASC's in a manner "which is perfectly compatible with the essence of scientific method."2
Tart argues that if a meditating or stoned scientist talks nonsense, the rest of us shouldn't conclude that he is not making sense in his own state of consciousness. To Tart, physicists don't make much sense talking about "numerous invisible entities" that sound mystical to a psychologist. Since it generally takes four to ten years of training to produce a physicist who can make sense out of physics, we shouldn't be surprised if replication is slow in coming to state-specific sciences. It may take many "trips." And even if we could observe two scientists simultaneously stoned into the same state and communicating their science to one another, the shift in "logical framework" from their ASC to our state of consciousness might make their communication seem "deteriorated."2
There are other problems, the author admits. When stoned (or meditating, or dreaming), the scientist may give up the questioning attitude necessary for scientific investigation; in such a state, "one's experience is that one is obviously and lucidly experiencing truth directly, without question." Enhanced vividness of perception may also cause problems: "If one can conjure up anything one wishes, how can we ever get at truth?" Bad trips may produce "pathologies of cognition." But exceptionally good trips may also hinder scientific activity1 have generally held that science activity if the stoned investigator comes to prefer ecstasy to analysis. communicated by a Christian should be Furthermore, warns a footnote, indistinguishable from ordinary science.
A state-specific scientist might find his own work somewhat incomprehensible when he was not in that state of consciousness because of the phenomenon of state-specific memory-that is, not enough of his work would transfer to his ordinary state of consciousness to make it comprehensible, even though it would make perfect sense when he was again in the ASC in which he did his scientific work.2
A state such as alcohol intoxication might cause too much mental deterioration to permit development of science within that state. "There have been cases where scientists, after becoming personally involved with ASC's, have subsequently become very poor scientists or have experienced personal psychological crises," but Tart thinks such unfortunate consequences might be avoided by "proper training and discipline." Of course, "the ASC's resulting from very dangerous drugs (heroin, for example) may be scientifically interesting, but the risk may be too high to warrant our developing state-specific sciences for them."2
Tart thinks that "practically all the religions we know might be defined as state-specific technologies, operated in the service of a priori belief systems." He has nothing against religious and mystical groups, but he suspects them of developing "compelling belief systems rather than state-specific sciences." He is worried that "the immense power of altered states of consciousness" may be left in the hands of religious groups, when science alone can "improve our human situation."
(Even a stoned science? No doubt his unquestioning faith in science comes from Tart's own a priori belief system, which does not seem particularly compelling to me.)
It took a full year for other (stunned?) scientists to respond to this bizarre paper. Four letters to the editor and Tart's reply to them appear together in the 8 June 1973 issue of Science.5 Albert B. Booth of Jekyll Island, Georgia, includes a fable about an animal in the jungle of life whose perceptions are distorted by eating "goofyberries." On seeing a lion, he unfortunately perceives it as a small, funny pussycat who wants to play with him. As the hungry lion crouches to spring, the hapless experimenter's last words are "Oh, this is such great fun!" From evolutionary considerations, Booth warns that "the probability is enormous that all altered states of consciousness are defective," citing the relation between drunken driving and highway carnage as a reminder. It is "suicidal" to handicap the senses and data processing equipment that enable us to see the world as it is. There are no "free trips." To this, Tart replies: A sensible animal should know better than to eat goofyberries in the presence of lions.5
(But will we still be sensible after eating goofyberries? "That's no lion! That's a friendly little pussycat. And the more gnofybcrries we eat, the friendlier he gets! Here, kitty, kitty ..........")
A strong caveat also comes from Chauncey D. Leake, distinguished pharmacologist at U.C. San Francisco's school of medicine. Leake argues that guidelines for scientific effort "generally agreed upon by scientists" are adequate for the rational explanation of altered states of consciousness.
Tart's proposals, however sincere, add merely confusion, fallacious reasoning, and semimystical hope to the orderly, though slow, process of reaching tentative explanations and understandings of how our complex brains function. Irrationality is incompatible with scientific endeavor, except as a phenomenon to be explored rationally.
To Leake, Tart's state-specific sciences imply "an esoteric in-group of specialists with an unintelligible jargon who would tend to indulge themselves in emotionally oriented irrational speculation."5
(Not a bad prediction of the stance of many participants in the Science and Spirit Exposition, according to the report by Haddon.)
In reply, Tart comments that it is only a value judgment that our "ordinary, normal, so-called rational state of consciousness is the best one for surviving on this planet and understanding the universe." He argues that the existence of nuclear weapons and bacteriological warfare gives reason to question that assumption. He thinks it is hardly scientific to define our own ordinary state of consciousness as normal "and that of everyone else whose behavior displeases us as abnormal or altered ."5
Reading this exchange, I find myself immediately siding with Chauncey Leake. Then I find myself wondering how other ASA members would respond. For Leake, rational explanations, even of human phenomena, "tend to be in terms of physics and chemistry, since these scientific disciplines have optimum measurable precision." Tart says he doesn't think much of physics and chemistry for describing states of consciousness. Many Christians likewise seem suspicious of attempts to give biochemical explanations for human activity, particularly for mental or "spiritual" activity. And what of Christians who want "our" science to be different from worldly science? Tart's "state-specific sciences" would also be different from this worldly science. What if he had been talking about Christian ("spirit-filled") science instead of Eastern ("meditating") science?
I have generally held that science communicated by a Christian should be indistinguishable from ordinary science. Perhaps that means that I don't expect my "spirituality" significantly to alter my state of consciousness or to shift my "logical framework." Do I thus give rationality undue priority over true spirituality? Christians should conduct themselves "wisely toward outsiders.6 To me this means guarding against any deterioration of communication caused by a shift in logical framework. It seems to me that a Christian's science, even more than his Christian life, should make sense to ordinary people in their ordinary state of consciousness.
We expect our preaching of Christ crucified to be "folly" to pagan scientists.7 But shouldn't our science make sense to them?
1Bube, R. H., "Whatever Happened to Scientific Prestige?" Journal ASA 23, 7 (March 1971).
2Tart, C. T., "States of Consciousness and State-Specific Sciences," Science 176 (No. 4040), 1203 (16 June 1972).
3Tart, C., Altered States of Consciousness': A Book of Readings, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1969.
4Tart, C., On Being Stoned: A Psychological Study of Marijuana Intoxication, Science and Behavior Books, Palo Alto, 1971.
5Cowan, T. M.; Leake, C. D.; Booth, A. B.; Sarles, H. B., Tart, C. T.," Letters on "State-Specific Sciences," Science
180 (No. 4090), 1005 (8 June 1973).
6Colossians 4:5, RSV.
71 Corinthians 1:18-31, RSV.