From Science to God
Metanexus: Views 2003.03.31. 3375 words
The earliest religions, remarks today’s columnist Peter Russell, probablydate back to the time when human beings became aware that they were aware,and recognized that other people were aware. It was then only a small stepto suppose that other creatures were also aware. Looking into the eyes of abear or a crow, it was not hard to imagine that ‘in there’ was anotherconscious being. The same, it was assumed, applied to plants, and naturalphenomena such as rivers and mountains. They too had their own souls orspirits.
Moreover, Russell adds that the existence of such spirits explained manythings to which early peoples had no easy answer. Why rains fell. Whyvolcanoes erupted. Why people fell sick. Why accidents happened. If a rockrolled down the mountain, injuring one of your tribe, it was possiblybecause the spirit of the mountain was angry. So you might try to appease itin some way-make an offering perhaps, or pray for forgiveness.
Actually, even Mr. Spock might agree that such would be a logical move.
Furthermore, as Russell notes, if you had grown up in one of thesetraditions, its various beliefs would have been taken for reality. It wouldhave constituted the paradigm of your culture; not a scientific paradigm,but a paradigm nevertheless-the worldview that shaped your perception ofreality. Day-to-day experiences would be understood within that framework.Any anomalous observations-offering sacrifices to the mountain did notalways prevent rocks falling on people-would be ignored, or incorporated insome way within the prevailing worldview.
Ah…the problem of the paradigm, and the work and necessity of the paradigmshift. Read further to explore how such shifting is necessary for scienceand spirit to meet.
Today’s column is the final in a five-part series of excerpts from PeterRussell’s book, From Science to God: The Mystery of Consciousness and theMeaning of Light. Russell, M.A., D.C.S., F.S.P., is a fellow of theInstitute of Noetic Sciences, of The World Business Academy and of TheFindhorn Foundation, and an Honorary Member of The Club of Budapest. As astudent, he studied mathematics and theoretical physics. Then, as he becameincreasingly fascinated by the mysteries of the human mind he changed toexperimental psychology. Pursuing this interest, he traveled to India tostudy meditation and eastern philosophy, and on his return to the UK andtook up the first research post ever offered in Britain on the psychology ofmeditation.
Russell’s principal interest is the deeper, spiritual significance of thetimes we are passing through. He has written several books in this area —
The TM Technique, The Upanishads, The Brain Book, The Global Brain Awakens,The Creative Manager, The Consciousness Revolution, Waking Up in Time, andFrom Science to God. As one of the more revolutionary futurists PeterRussell has been a keynote speaker at many international conferences, inEurope, Japan and the USA. His multi-image shows and videos, The GlobalBrain and The White Hole in Time have won praise and prizes from around theworld. In 1993 the environmental magazine Buzzworm voted Peter RussellEco-Philosopher Extraordinaire of the year. And for more information aboutRussell and his work, visit:.
–Stacey E. Ake
Subject: From Science to God, Part 5/5: The Meeting of Science and SpiritFrom: Peter RussellEmail: <[email protected]>
The Meeting of Science and Spirit / God is a pure no-thing, / concealed innow and here; / the less you reach for him, / the more he will appear.–Angelius Silesius
The earliest religions probably date back to the time when human beingsbecame aware that they were aware, and recognized that other people wereaware. It was then only a small step to suppose that other creatures werealso aware. Looking into the eyes of a bear or a crow, it was not hard toimagine that in there was another conscious being. The same, it wasassumed, applied to plants, and natural phenomena such as rivers andmountains. They too had their own souls or spirits.
The existence of such spirits explained many things to which early peopleshad no easy answer. Why rains fell. Why volcanoes erupted. Why people fellsick. Why accidents happened. If a rock rolled down the mountain, injuringone of your tribe, it was possibly because the spirit of the mountain wasangry. So you might try to appease it in some way-make an offering perhaps,or pray for forgiveness.
If you had grown up in one of these traditions, its various beliefs wouldhave been taken for reality. It would have constituted the paradigm of yourculture; not a scientific paradigm, but a paradigm nevertheless-theworldview that shaped your perception of reality. Day-to-day experienceswould be understood within that framework. Any anomalousobservations-offering sacrifices to the mountain did not always preventrocks falling on people-would be ignored, or incorporated in some way withinthe prevailing worldview.
As cultures evolved, so did people’s views of these spirits. Not only dideach animal and plant have its own spirit, so did entire species. There wasan oak deva, a bear deity, a crow god. Other natural phenomena had their ownruling spirits-the god of thunder, the spirit of the wind, the goddess ofthe earth.
These beings did not dwell within the physical form of a particular plant oranimal, but often lived up in the sky, on the tops of mountains, or in someother faraway place.
This shift from spirits within natural forms to supernatural (abovenature) gods and deities signified a new religious paradigm, that ofpolytheism, or many gods. As with the spirits of earlier religions, theexistence of these gods explained many things. In Greek mythology, Apollorode across the sky carrying the sun in a chariot drawn by four flyinghorses. Hercules held the world aloft. Cupid made people fall in love. Thesegods often had very human characters; they could be kind, ambitious,quarrelsome, jealous, angry, or wise. Some were evil, others were forces forgood.
They also took an active interest in human affairs, taking care of people inneed, and administering a degree of cosmic law and order. Those who behavedbadly the gods would punish, either in their own lifetimes or in theafterlife-which by then had gathered its own rich mythology-while those whoshowed due repentance for misdeeds would be forgiven.
The next paradigm shift was the reduction of many gods to one almighty God.Around 600 BC, in Persia, a young man named Zarathustra (said to be born ofa virgin) began preaching that there was one true God. There were stillvarious angels, archangels, and a devil, but there was only one savior-AhuraMazda (the Wise Lord). Zarathustra’s teachings gave rise to the religion ofZorastrianism (Zoroaster is Greek for Zarathustra). It is only a minorreligion today, but it paved the way for the major contemporary monotheistictraditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In these monotheistic religions God was a unique, absolute, personalbeing-the supreme intelligence, omnipotent and omniscient. He (for God wasusually cast in male form) had not only created the natural world, butcontinued to watch over it and take care of its peoples.
Love took on an increasingly important role; not emotional romantic love,but devotional love. Love God and God would love you in return. Love foryour fellow human beings was likewise important-although many found itdifficult to practice this with those who worshipped some other God.
Along with the transition from polytheism to monotheism came the emergenceof atheism, or no God. It might seem contradictory to have a religionwithout a god, but several major traditions have arisen around this theme.
In India, in the sixth century BC, a young prince named Mahavira becamedisenchanted with his traditional Vedic religion, which advocated thesacrifice of innocent animals, the performance of meaningless rituals, andthe belief in fictitious man-made gods. Renouncing the grand lifestyle ofhis palace, he wandered penniless for thirteen years seeking a better way.Then one day, engrossed in deep meditation, he experienced a unity with allcreation and a liberation from worldly woes. He consequently proclaimedhimself Jina, the Conqueror-the conqueror of the mind, that is-andencouraged his followers, the Jains, to attain a similar liberation throughrighteous living, non-violence and harmlessness.
Shortly afterwards, another Indian prince, Sidhartha Guatama, likewise leftthe luxury of his palace and set out to find a way to end suffering. Sixyears later, in deep meditation, he too attained liberation, and was calledBuddha-the awakened one. Buddha realized that suffering was bothself-created and unnecessary, and began teaching others how to wake up andfind true freedom.
During the same period, two atheistic religions arose in China. Like Jinaand Buddha, Lao Tse and Confucius both taught that people could discovertruth and find inner peace without believing in any deity. They, too,advocated lives of simplicity, virtue, honesty, and above all, kindness.
This fourth religious paradigm had to forsake some of the benefits providedby a benevolent deity. There was no longer any supernatural agent in humanaffairs; your destiny was now in your hands. But much of the rest remained.Love, kindness, and right living were important; salvation from thesufferings of the world was still possible. In a sense there was still evena devil, but now the devil was within oneself. The goal was to liberate themind from its self-imposed limitations-from desires, attachments, delusions,and false sense of self.
ALL IS GOD
Along with the various polytheistic, monotheistic and atheistic religions,another recurrent spiritual theme has been pantheism, meaning God is all.Pantheistic ideas have appeared from time to time within most cultures. Thesufi mystic Ibn al-‘Arabi wrote:
God is essentially all things… The existence of all created things is Hisexistence. Thou dost not see, in this world or the next, anything besideGod.
And Meister Eckhart preached that
God is everywhere and is everywhere complete. Only God flows into allthings, their very essences … God is in the innermost part of each andevery thing.
In Western philosophy pantheism came to prominence in the early nineteenthcentury in the writings of Georg Hegel, who held not only that all existenceis God, but also that the whole of history is part of God’sself-realization. Similar sentiments are found in the twentieth-centuryphilosophies of Alfred North Whitehead, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and SriAurobindo.
Einstein was a pantheist. He may not have believed in any conventionalnotion of God, but he did believe that a spirit is manifest in the laws ofthe Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face ofwhich we with our modest powers must feel humble.
Pure pantheists believe that God is the essence of all things. Others,called panentheists (meaning God is in all rather than God is all),believe God is in all things and also beyond them. Some pantheists believein the reality of the material world; others think it is illusion. Somebelieve in the existence of individual souls; others do not. But they allreject the notion of God as a separate, supreme, supernatural being, thecreator of the world and judge of human affairs.
Many people today are probably pantheists without realizing it. Having nochurch, no holy text, and no gurus, pantheism is not as visible as otherreligions, nor is it something you formally join. But many of those who haverejected their traditional monotheistic religion, yet still retain a beliefin some deeper divinity, would probably find themselves sympathetic topantheist ideas.
With pantheism, religion has almost come full circle. The first religionsheld that all things had an inner spirit; but they projected very humanqualities onto these spirits. The pantheist also sees spirit in everything,but a divine spirit rather than one with human qualities and frailties.
Clearly, pantheism is not so very different from the panpsychism discussedin Chapter Three. Indeed, if we identify God with the faculty ofconsciousness, then the view that consciousness is in everything becomes theview that God is in everything.
The worldviews of science and spirit have not always been as far apart asthey are today. Five hundred years ago, there was little difference betweenthem. What science there was existed within the established worldview of theChristian church. Following Copernicus, Descartes and Newton, Westernscience broke away from the doctrines of monotheistic religion, establishingits own atheistic worldview, which today is now very different indeed fromthat of traditional religion. But the two can, and I believe eventuallywill, be reunited. And their meeting point is consciousness. When sciencesees consciousness to be a fundamental quality of reality, and when religiontakes God to be the light of consciousness shining within us all, the twoworldviews start to converge.
Nothing is lost in this convergence. Mathematics remains the same; so dophysics, biology, chemistry. The shift may throw new light on some of theparadoxes of relativity and quantum theory, but the theories themselves donot change. This is a common pattern in paradigm shifts; the new model ofreality includes the old as a special case. Einstein’s paradigm shift makesno difference to observers traveling at everyday speeds; as far as we areconcerned Newton’s laws of motion still apply. In a parallel way, makingconsciousness fundamental does not change our understanding of the physicalworld. It does, however, bring a deeper appreciation of ourselves.
The same applies on the spiritual side. Much of the wisdom accumulated overthe ages remains unchanged. Forgiveness, kindness, and love are as importantas they ever were. Many of the qualities traditionally ascribed to Godremain, they being equally applicable to the faculty of consciousness. Thedifference is that spiritual teachings and scientific knowledge now share acommon ground. This too often happens in paradigm shifts. Newton broughtterrestrial and celestial mechanics under the same laws. Maxwell integratedelectricity, magnetism and light in a single set of equations. With theshift to a consciousness metaparadigm-the paradigm behind the paradigms-theintegration goes much further. It is the two halves of humanity’s search fortruth that are now brought under the same roof.
THE GREAT AWAKENING
Throughout history, there have been those who’ve discovered there is muchmore to consciousness than most of us realize. This individual self, theytell us, is not our true identity. Moreover, it has shortcomings. If this isall we know ourselves to be, our actions are misguided, and we bring muchunnecessary suffering upon ourselves. To free ourselves from this handicap,we must complete the second half of our inner journey and discover the truenature of consciousness.
In the past, becoming more self-aware was essential for one’s personalsalvation.
Today it has become an imperative for our collective survival.
Our knowledge of the external world has grown far faster than our knowledgeof ourselves, bringing with it an unprecedented ability to control andmanipulate our surroundings. The technologies we now have at our disposalhave amplified this potential so much that we can now create almost anythingwe dream of.
Unfortunately, however, technology has also amplified the shortcomings ofour half-developed sense of self. Driven by the dictates of a limitedidentity, and by our belief that inner well-being depends upon externalcircumstances, we have misused our newfound powers, plundering and poisoningthe planet so much that our collective future is now at stake.
We have reached what Buckminster Fuller called our final evolutionaryexam. The questions before us are simple: Can we move beyond this limitedmode of consciousness? Can we let go our illusions, discover who we reallyare, and find the wisdom we so desperately need?
These questions face us everywhere we look. Our degradation of theenvironment is forcing us to examine our priorities and values. Ourdisillusionment with materialism calls us to ask what it is we really want.
The ever-accelerating pace of change demands we become less attached to howwe think things should be. Our personal relationships are challenging us tomove beyond fear and judgment, to love without conditions. Social problemsoften reflect the meaninglessness inherent in a materialist worldview, whilevarious political and economic crises reveal the short-comings of ourself-centered thinking. From all directions, the message is wake up!
A SPIRITUAL RENAISSANCE
Never before has the pressure for a spiritual renaissance been so strong;and never before have the possibilities for such a renaissance been sogreat. Today we are not stuck with the spiritual tradition into which wewere born; we can draw from the entire spectrum of the world’s wisdom. Wecan learn from cultures as far apart as Tibet and Peru; from traditions asdifferent as Buddhism, Christianity and Shamanism; from teachings given inthe forest thousands of years ago, and from contemporary masters.
Not only is the potential for inner awakening unprecedented, so is thenumber of people seeking it. Social researchers have found that ten per centof the American population is now actively engaged in some form of innergrowth-with similar trends in other developed countries. The bestsellerlists are dominated by books on spirituality and personal growth. Meditationand yoga instruction are to be found everywhere. Movies incorporatemetaphysical themes in their plots. Magazines regularly run special featureson various aspects of this renewed interest in spiritual affairs. Almosteverywhere one turns, inner development has the limelight.
Furthermore, the quality of the teachings can now be preserved in ways notpossible before. In the past, as spiritual teachings were passed on fromperson to person, translated into different languages, and absorbed byforeign cultures, some of the teaching was inevitably misunderstood or lost,while other bits were added. What remained was usually a poor rendering ofthe original inspiration.
Today things are very different. We don’t have to rely on hearsay; we canspeak directly to almost anyone, anywhere. We can tune in to a satellitebroadcast of a seminar taking place on the other side of the planet-andrecord it for later viewing. We can listen to tapes in our cars. We cansearch the Internet and draw on the insights and realizations of countlesspeople whom we may never meet or know. For the first time, the essentialspiritual wisdom is being made globally available.
I believe we are in the early stages of what could become the greatestspiritual renaissance in human history. If we make it through these troubledand uncertain times, and discover the wonder of consciousness, the historybooks of the future will look back on the early days of the third millenniumas the Great Awakening-the time when humanity as whole finally realized whatsaints, mystics and rishis have been pointing towards for centuries.
When we do finally awaken to our true nature, our world will change in waysthat we now can hardly imagine. Five hundred years ago, Copernicus could nothave foreseen the full impact of his new model of the universe. Today, wecan have little appreciation of how the world might be when generations havebeen brought up knowing that consciousness is primary, and that each andevery one of us is very holy.
One thing we can say: it will be a much kinder and wiser world. It will be aworld in which it will be natural to have the compassion of St. Francis, theinsights of Ramana Maharshi and the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. Freed frommany of our delusions about our selves, and from much of our fear andjudgment, we would no longer cause each other unnecessary suffering. Innerwell-being and happiness would became the true measure of social progress.
By today’s standards this might sound like Heaven on Earth. But isn’t thiswhat spiritual teachings have always prophesied? When we realize the errorsof our ways, let go of our attachment to the material world, and transcendour self-centeredness, then darkness will give way to light. God’s presencewill be apparent everywhere. And our hearts will be at peace.
This publication is hosted by Metanexus Online https://www.metanexus.net. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Metanexus or its sponsors.
Metanexus welcomes submissions between 1000 to 3000 words of essays and book reviews that seek to explore and interpret science and religion in original and insightful ways for a general educated audience. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. Please send all inquiries and submissions to. Metanexus consists of a number of topically focused forums (Anthropos, Bios, Cogito, Cosmos, Salus, Sophia, and Techne) and periodic HTML enriched composite digests from each of the lists.
Copyright notice: Except when otherwise noted, articles may be forwarded, quoted, or republished in full with attribution to the author of the column and Metanexus: The Online Forum on Religion and Science. Republication for commercial purposes in print or electronic format requires the permission of the author. Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Metanexus Institute.