Science as Religion
Updated: May 2, 2019
We have the ability to re-mystify science.
It has become imperative to look at what science has become in the present age, what it means to a lay person, and its function in society. Some may find such a discussion unnecessary, ignorant, or even insulting. But as should become clear, such reactions further point to what science has become: A religion.
To fully understand what is meant by “science as religion,” we first must look at how the religions – especially the so-called “World Religions” (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) – came into being through culture and society. Most religions – at least, true religions – did not come to exist through authority structures telling common people what to believe (that is what they became later). In their genesis, religions had their humble beginnings in people who sought Truth, who explored reality with honest curiosity. They explored with the tools they had – psychological, ritual, energetic – and through the cultural and societal structures they lived in, often breaking through these structures.
To give quick, simple examples: The great yogis of Hinduism abandon family life and responsibility to explore techniques such as physical asanas and breathing to alter perception, discovering hosts of realms and deities, as well as deep truths about Self. As Hinduism became dogmatic and overly ritualized, Buddha and his followers rejected this authority and found meaning in Compassion; these monks used forms of meditation to pierce the veil of Illusion. The prophets of Judaism found Truth in their relationship with the Divine, communicating with this divinity; the trance state of prophecy connected them with something beyond themselves, where they Saw and spoke about their perceptions. When Jewish authorities were enforcing the Torah without understanding its Truth, Jesus embarked to re-connect with the Divine through Love; his disciples and early ascetic followers carried on this heart connection. As Christianity became doctrine, The Prophet Muhammad rekindled the connection to Allah with Word; great Muslim mystics and poets continue the connection to the Divine through language and dance.
And similarly, with the dogmas and power structures of various religions firmly in place, modern science came into being. Let us not forget that like all great religions, science’s early leaders were scorned, mocked, and put in physical danger because of their teachings. They challenged the status quo, and did so because they had discovered something True, something about the nature of reality that could not be kept quiet – it had to be shared.
The violent reaction to science came from its challenge to the Christian authority, but more than that it was because it challenged the culture’s assumptions. The assumptions taught by cultures and societies are the very basis of the individual’s learning; without them, the whole structure of one’s life world falls apart. All of the World Religions have placed primacy on non-physical worlds – hence Hinduism’s goal of leaving the physical body, Buddhism’s quest break the cycle of Samsara, Judaism’s waiting for the next world, and Christian and Islam’s heaven (this may not have been the teaching of the religion’s founders and mystics, but it is what the religions have become). Science turned all that on its head: The physical world became primary, and by observing the physical world could reality be made sense of. Just in this one aspect, science has done humanity a great favor. It brought focus onto the physical reality in which we live, and is continuing to discover incredible Truth through its process.
However, just like what has occurred with other religious ideology over time, scientific concepts have become a cultural assumptions. Where before non-physical realities were assumed to be the basis of reality, now the physical world has become the basis of reality (for example, the Big Bang created the universe), and to be considered “real” something must be measurable through scientific tools.
Let us pause. To say science has become a cultural assumption is not to say that the real scientists, the seekers of Truth, are saying that they know everything about the universe, nor are they trying to use their knowledge for power. Actual scientists will tell you that all is theory, and even those things that have been demonstrated over and over again (such as gravity) still contain within them deeper truths we have yet to unlock. We will expand upon the depths of theory later, but for now let us note that the average lay person takes the word of science as the basis of Truth, or disregards it as all “unproven.”
Continuing, then, we can say that science has been corrupted by the same forces that have corrupted all religions: Assumptions and belief. Because of how science has been taught to the masses, the general public (at least in many cultures, now), assume the physical reality to be the base of the universe. And many believe that if it can’t be tested and “proven” by science, it isn’t real. On the flip side, there are those who cling to the beliefs of other religions, and reject science because it conflicts with these beliefs (Christians rejecting evolution and global warming, for example). However, even those who ideologically reject science live a life that places the physical reality at the base: The acquiring of physical objects is considered wealth, authority over large numbers of people (such as leading a company or being a politician) is considered power, wars are started to gain physical resources or land. Regardless of where one’s ideology lies, our assumptions and beliefs – whether conscious or unconscious – place the greatest importance on the physical.
So the problem lies not with science, nor with any of the religions: The problem lies with each one of us. We are so eager to accept what we are told, and to turn anything into a hard, immovable fact – even if those telling us insist it is only a theory, and encourage us to question their findings, to test it for ourselves. Yet over thousands of years we continue to grasp for infallible truth, something we can point to, hold onto, and use as a base of to build our life world around.
People have done this through religion’s belief systems for thousands of year. By believing that the world was created by a non-physical God, the world was found to be inferior. Now, by believing the world was created through physical forces, non-physical worlds have been rejected as false. But humans live both a physical and non-physical existence. We have bodies, yet emotions, psyches, and subtle energies are also apart of us. To embrace our reality, we must engage the physical and the non-physical.
We need not reject science as failed, or strike out to found a new religion – quite the opposite. By returning to the heart of science – or any other religion – we can begin to question our beliefs and assumptions. We do this through probing the mysteries of life, by not taking any one else’s word for it, but seeing for ourselves what is True. All the great religions, science included, can give us some tools with which to do so – microscopes, asanas, parables, telescopes, meditations. But the work must be our own. By undoing our assumptions, we can continue to learn about the physical and non-physical, the relationship between the two, and how to balance these aspects of ourselves.
The mental prisons of assumption and belief can be broken through what science knows in practice as theory. Though proven through scientific methods, a theory does not become immovable fact – yes, it becomes a reference point for other studies, something one can return to as pre-determined. Yet, nestled in the meaning of theory is the reality that nothing can ever be assumed to be infallible, that no concept, regardless of how often it is proved, can be held as self-evident. There is always space for a theory to be uprooted. This notion can be found hidden through all religions, kept alive by their mystics: All is in flux, nothing known can be considered Absolute.
We have the ability to re-mystify science – not just for scientists, but most essentially for lay people. Light, from a scientific perspective, is an incredible thing to contemplate: Light reflects off of all the physical objects we see around us, and although our eyes do not see its particles, only because of light do we see anything at all. We can say that light is carrying information to us, it is communicating to us. Yet the light itself is formless, able to mold itself to what it encounters.
Through such contemplation of what science has discovered, as well as further scientific study, science becomes religion in the truest sense. It engages the physical world, using physicality as a basis for probing into the mysteries of reality. There need not be such hostility between science and the World Religions (nor World Religions with each other, for that matter), because all are explorations of reality using different tools. There is even room for their techniques to be used in tandem, or combined to create new techniques. In doing so, we continue the unfolding of cosmological discovery, a constant journey of realization.