Friday, May 23, 2008

Reason? Or the Whole Life Experience?

How many of are making journeys of the spirit? In February the Pew Forum reported that 28 percent of American adults had left the faith of their childhood--44 percent, if you included migration among Protestant denominations. Many ended up in other faiths, but 16 percent ended up in none. The amount of movement was staggering.

To hear the neo-atheists tell the tale--Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others--the only journey worth making is the one from religion to science. You "break the spell" of religion by embracing reason and evidence. If it sounds like a head trip, it is; and nothing could be farther from the truth.

People travel, not heads. Research I published decades ago, as scientific as you can get, showed that "pre-intellectual" or "a-rational" factors were the keys to transitions involving religion. The whole person made the journey, not just the faculty of reason. The whole life experience shaped the outcome.

The book containing this research will be re-issued this fall by Transaction/Aldine. The subjects were 100 young adults raised Catholic, 50 of whom remained in the church and 50 of whom did not. The two groups had received identical exposure to the church. The two acknowledged the same "evidence" about it. But now they construed that evidence in opposite ways. It wasn't a question of reason. Something came before reason. Something lay outside of it.

You can read a summary here, but the biographies of two famous scientists make the same point. When Charles Darwin boarded the Beagle at the age of 22, he was a firm believer in Genesis and had in fact completed studies for the ministry. Later in life he became an agnostic. He abandoned religion not because of any evidence he found on the Galapagos nor because religion was incompatible with his theory of evolution. Though he had given up a belief in creationism, Darwin left religion only when he beloved daugher Annie fell ill and died. He could not reconcile the loss with Christianity's claim that a good and loving God cares about every hair on our head.

As director of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins led a scientific journey comparable to Darwin's. Yet his religious journey was nearly the opposite. At age of 22 Collins was an atheist, the son of freethinkers. He entered medical school and a few years later began having bedside conversations with sick and dying patients. Many were deeply religious and, despite their terrible suffering, they were at peace "Suddenly all my arguments [for atheism] seemed very thin," Collins wrote in The Language of God. "I had the sensation that the ice under my feet was cracking.'' He began an intellectual search that led to C.S. Lewis and ultimately to Christianity, where his faith survived a trauma, though not a death, involving his daughter. This was a journey of reason, science, evidence and . . . bedside conversations. Not a head trip, but a whole life experience.

The Metanexus Institute likes to talk about "the whole story of the whole cosmos for the whole person." If you tell such a story, it will come from everything that's happened in your life.


Note: You can read the tales of science-spirit journeys by clicking here. They've been submitted by readers, and most (but not all) are about traveling from Old to New. You're more than welcome to add to the collection.

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COPYRIGHT (C) 2008 JOHN N. KOTRE

1 comment:

Emmanuel J. Karavousanos said...

It is tragic we humans have not recognized the importance of looking at familiar things, obvious things, and things already known to us. Analyzing things we already know is a must if, like Socrates, we are to ever know the self. There is a basis, a very solid basis, given to us to examine familiar things. These are prominent names and include Oliver Wendell Holmes JR., who wrote, "we need education in the obvious more than investigation of the obscure." Alfred North Whitehead wrote that "familiar things happen and mankind does not bother about them." George Bernard Shaw gave us, "No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious." Psychologist Gustav Ichheiser's words echo those of others, "Nothing evades our attention as persistently as that which is taken for granted." Hegel said, "Because it's familiar, a thing remains unknown." Twenty-five hundred years ago Heraclitus wisely spoke to us with these words: the unapparent connection is more powerful than the apparent one. We, each of us individually, from within the self, must look at the familiar, the obvious and the known in order to reach what has been termed as ultimate reality. Science and religion do, do, do come together. In the realm of consciousness, science asks questions and with faith, insight arrives in time. Yes, science and religion are both needed to arrive at the insight we seek.

Emmanuel J. Karavousanos