Chapter Summary: This chapter concludes the book with a brief summary. Lastly, various futures are described.
Years ago I began recording the thoughts and ideas that make up the world view presented in this book. These thoughts and ideas represent my effort to make sense of my life, the world, and my place in it. They aren’t dogma—not even for me—and are subject to change and modification. In fact, I don’t consider this book entirely finished. I plan to continue working on it—clarifying, refining, and perhaps adding some new material—until I feel it’s the best I can do.
Yet as I review what’s written, I’m satisfied. I’ve more or less said what I wanted to say. And more. For at times, in writing down A, B, and D, I’ve realized C was missing or badly thought out. This prompted me to think and read more about C. As a result, I’ve explored a few topics I hadn’t previously thought about, or had thought about only vaguely.
Even though I’ve said most of what I wanted to say, I haven’t necessarily said it as well as it can be said, or cast it in the most direct, lucid prose possible. No doubt by many standards I’ve failed miserably.
Strange how when we seek mere entertainment and diversion, we demand perfection. We have no place for the slightly off tune singer, the ham actor, the bush league baseball player. How much less is there for the amateur philosopher and writer? On the other hand, notice how when the thing is of real importance we tolerate the less than perfect. A young boy runs up and says “Mister, your car . . . down hill . . . car . . . rolling!” Do we correct his sentence structure, giving him a lesson in subjects, verbs, and objects? Or do we understand what he is trying to say and act appropriately?
Not that I have contempt for the art of writing. I’ve tried to write the best book I could. But I’m not an accomplished writer, philosopher, scientist, mystic, metaphysician, etc., and I’m sure it’s shown at times.
So the only important criterion for me is this: is what I’ve said true? Obviously you must answer that question for yourself. Whatever your answer, I hope you’ve found what’s been said worth the reading.
Let’s close by briefly reviewing what’s been said, and entertaining a few speculations.
In the first part, we examined two different ways of knowing, two different epistemological methods: the scientific way of knowing and the revelational way of knowing so often used by religion. We found the scientific way of knowing superior.
Then we investigated science’s domain of knowing, focusing on an entity which science believes is eternal. We saw how this entity deserved to be called “the eternal substance” and many other names. Then we saw how religions apply many of the same terms to God. Yet religions often speak of God in an entirely different way, as a Person. So we decided to use two distinct terms—“God who is a Person” and “God which is not a Person”—to label these two very different ideas of God. We then introduced a class of persons, the mystics, who seem to have direct experience of God, and demonstrated how many of them have experienced the God which is not a Person.
Next, we discussed how applying the scientific way of knowing to the religious domain would create a scientific religion, and saw that such a philosophy and way of life would be fully science and fully religion, even though it wouldn’t contain any dogma or Gods who are actually Persons.
In the second part, we began constructing a world view, based on the declarations of the mystics, compatible with science, yet religious in the deepest sense. We saw how the universe can be seen as a “mode of light” or in various dualistic ways. We adopted the yang/yin model, an inseparable dualistic model where entities exist “in themselves” as modes of light, but may be seen by the observer in various dualistic ways. We then discussed our own personal identity, and examined the surprising mystical idea that our deepest self is either the Ultimate Ground of Existence, or doesn’t really exist. We came to a similar conclusion about Gods who are Persons. We also saw that relating to the God which is not a Person as if It were a Person is very similar to regarding God as an actual Person. We saw that the idea of Gods who are Persons may have originally derived from the God who is not a Person. Finally, we discussed various concepts—component entity, relative and absolute existence, actions, voidness and emptiness—which apply in general to the universe, ourselves, and Gods who are Persons.
Part III concerned the practical application of the ideas we’d developed. We saw how a person could decide to make gnosis one of their life’s goals. We described some of the values, ethics, and morals that might follow from such a decision. Then, we discussed some of the practical acts and attitudes such a person might adopt, the actual way of life they might follow. Next we discussed the ultimate goal of such a path, union with God. Finally, we wondered if science could ever objectively measure the mystical evolution of an individual, and if a scientific religion could ever be an exact science.
There is a certain satisfying symmetry in coming full circle, arriving at journey’s end to the point from which we began. The feeling is one of returning, of coming home, and yet may also be one of seeing for the first time what was previously present, but unnoticed. To conclude in this manner, to reach the point from which we began, I’ll offer an historical parallel, a modest outline not of “the shape of things to come” but merely of “the shape of things which may come.”
About two thousand years ago, people in the lands around the Mediterranean sea were under Roman rule. These peoples spoke different languages, had different cultures and customs, and were mostly free to follow their own religious beliefs and practices. These practices included: the worship of Mithras, who was born on December the twenty-fifth, whose holy day was Sunday, the day of the Conquering Sun, and whose followers celebrated a Eucharist feast; the worship of Osiris who was born in a cave and died for the salvation of his people; and the worship of the virgin Earth Mother and her son, the vegetation that dies each winter only to rise from the dead the following spring. These peoples shared the common Roman political and economic system, and a common Greco-Roman culture. In the Roman State, Egyptian and Greek, Syrian and German could travel, communicate and trade.
A few hundred years later, they shared a common religious system as well. There had formed a new sacred revelation, which included many older writings and many contemporary ideas and insights. Religions based on this scripture still exist, and are called Christian.
The state of the world today is in many ways similar.
True, a single world government doesn’t exist as it did then. But common problems, such as the containment of nuclear weapons and the protection of the world’s single ecosystem, often compel cooperation between governments. Our economic systems are closely linked too; most nations, their differing political systems notwithstanding, trade and communicate extensively. More and more, we live in a “Global Village.”
And just as the Greco-Roman culture existed throughout the Mediterranean world, the culture of science and technology can be found today the world over. Science’s values, methodology, and world view are found everywhere and possess a unity which transcends national boundaries. A discovery by a French, Russian, Chinese, English, Hungarian, or American scientist, once verified, is accepted by scientists everywhere. The scientific world view and some of its practical consequences—electricity, radios, televisions, automobiles, trains, telephones, computers—are ubiquitous.
We are currently in an era of increasing scientific knowledge and technological progress, an era which began about the time of Newton, a few hundred years ago. Historically, we know that such eras don’t last forever. What happens when they end? Examining a similar time about 1,000 years ago may offer some clues.
From about 700 to 1100 C.E., Islamic civilization experienced a ([D10],240) “vibrant awakening,” a ([D10],240) “flowering of science, literature, and art.” In fact,
[o]nly at the peaks of history has a society produced, in an equal period, so many illustrious men—in government, education, literature, philology, geography, history, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, philosophy, and medicine—as Islam . . . ([D10],343)
in that period. Islamic scholars knew ([D10],329) the earth was spherical; one proposed ([D10],328) in 1122 C.E. a theory of universal gravitation, anticipating Newton by many centuries; another ([D10],329) wrote a botanical reference which remained the standard for 300 years; yet another wrote ([D10],330) “the most complete treatment of agricultural science in the whole medieval period.” And Omar Khayyam wrote the Rubaiyat, a book of poetry still in print 900 years later.
Art, literature, and science thrived. But traditional religious faith did not.
Often, a scientific world view and an orthodox religious world view don’t mix. As a consequence, science may suffer. For example, in Islamic Spain
[s]cience and philosophy . . . were largely frustrated by the fear that they would damage the people’s faith. ([D10],305).
Certainly, religions have sometimes made room for science; but usually at their own expense. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, now teaches its scriptures are not necessarily free from errors in natural science. How much greater was the belief of the common man and woman in God and religion before this was so!
Conversely, when science does advance it’s often at the expense of traditional religious faith. The increasing acceptance of a scientific world view is often accompanied by a growing disbelief in the orthodox God or Gods. Science either promotes no religion at all, or in effect promotes a practical atheism which
. . . consists of ignoring or neglecting any relationship to God in one’s actions, or in living as if God did not exist . . . Practical atheism, therefore involves the orientation of one’s life exclusively toward the attainment of earthly goals. ([N05],v2,259).
The spread of science is often accompanied by a lessening of religious belief or, if you will, by conversion to the only religion which science, however indirectly, promotes—de facto atheism, an atheism in practice if not in theory.
Eventually, religion reasserts itself. The need for religion has been, and probably still is, inherent and primal. The need for an all-embracing world view that makes sense of it all, for comfort in time of sorrow, for self-transcendence, can be pushed aside for a while, but sooner or later becomes irresistible. An example, again from medieval Islam, will be useful.
Ghazzali, who we met earlier, studied ([D10],331) philosophy, law, and theology, eventually achieving great renown in law. Then he ([D10],331) “lost belief in the capacity of reason to sanction the Mohammedan faith” and had a mental break down. A mystical experience, however, restored his faith in traditional Islam and led him to teach that
. . . reason leads to universal doubt, intellectual bankruptcy, moral deterioration, and social collapse. ([D10],332).
His teaching pleased many people who were troubled by their age’s increasing skepticism and agnosticism toward religion. So successful was Ghazzali that
[w]hen he died (1111), the tide of unbelief had been effectually turned. ([D10],332).
After him . . . philosophy hid itself in the remote corners of the Moslem world; the pursuit of science waned; and the mind of Islam more and more buried itself in the . . . Koran. ([D10],332).
Evelyn Underhill writes:
. . . the great periods of mystical activity tend to correspond with the great periods of artistic, material, and intellectual civilization. As a rule, they come immediately after, and seem to complete such periods . . . When science, politics, literature, and the arts . . . have risen to their height and produced their greatest works, the mystic comes to the front . . . It is almost as if he were humanity’s finest flower; the product at which each great creative period of the race had aimed. ([U01],453).
Indeed, in Islam after Ghazzali
. . . the field of religious thought was yielded to Sufi monks and saints. . . . Sufi devotees now abandoned family life, lived in religious fraternities . . . Some by prayer and meditation, some by ascetic self-denial . . . sought to transcend the self and rise to a . . . unity with God. ([D10],332).
But if it’s true that mystical periods often conclude and complete golden periods of material, artistic, and intellectual progress, then it’s just as true that they often precede dark periods of material, artistic, and intellectual regression; that they’re often watershed events, separating periods of progress from periods of decline. So a question naturally follows: is it possible that an outbreak of mystical activity can somehow cause a decline in material, artistic, and intellectual activity?
I think not. I believe rather that the incompatibility of a scientific and religious world view forces the choice of one at the expense of the other. Like Ghazzali, an entire civilization can chose science and reason for a while. Eventually, however, the need for religion becomes desperate. The scientific civilization “breaks-down”, decides that “reason leads to universal doubt, intellectual bankruptcy, moral deterioration, and social collapse” and turns to God. For a while, perhaps, that civilization enjoys the best of both worlds; its new-found interest in God, and its old, established, not yet fully renounced concern with science give it a wonderful balance. Eventually, however, it falls. Unable to balance science with a concern for God, it loses its scientific ability.
Eventually, after hundreds of years, an exclusively religious orientation proves as unsatisfying as an exclusively scientific orientation. Art, literature, and science struggle to reassert themselves.
And so the cycle begins again. We limp with one leg, then the other, unable to walk on both, except during brief transition periods. Science and religion, it seems, form an unstable balance: we continually fall into an acceptance of one at the expense of the other. A balanced, whole-hearted belief in both seems difficult—as it should be if they’re basically incompatible ways of looking at the world.
For a long time we have been accustomed to the compartmentalization of religion and science as if they were two quite different and basically unrelated ways of seeing the world. I do not believe that this state of doublethink can last. . . . ([W03],xviii).
We stand with many centuries of scientific progress behind us. Is it time now for older religions, with their frozen scriptures and time-bound belief systems, to reassert their influence in everyday life? Or is the world approaching the creation of a new religion, a religion with a still growing and pliable set of “revelations,” a religion better able to incorporate contemporary wisdom?
. . . It must eventually be replaced by a view of the world which is neither religious nor scientific but simply our view of the world. . . . ([W03],xviii).
Suppose the future holds a new religion, one which will achieve dominance in our world, just as Christianity achieved dominance in the ancient Roman world. If this new religion isn’t compatible with science, then one or the other will suffer. If the new religion triumphs at science’s expense then another “dark age” may follow.
If, on the other hand, the new religion is a scientific religion, then we would finally have an integrated, harmonious world view. We would finally walk on both legs. Science and religion would be integrated, not merely in a state of “peaceful co-existence,” but truly united. There’d be a deeply scientific world view which was at the same time deeply religious.
. . . More exactly, it must become a view of the world in which the reports of science and religion are as concordant as those of the eyes and the ears. ([W03],xviii).
Perhaps then the cycle of scientific progress at the expense of religion and religious faith at the expense of science would end.
And so we conclude by coming full circle, by arriving at the last quote of this book which was also its first. Yet now the quote serves not as introduction and foreshadowment, but as warning, prophesy—and challenge.