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Can Science & Spirituality go together?
Posted: 30 August 2007 10:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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I think if you look in a thesaurus under spiritual, awe, and inpiration, you’ll find dozens of non-theistic words that would do the job quite well without doing a violence to our vocabularies.

Occam

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Posted: 30 August 2007 10:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Has the potential to lead from semanticide into a collective verbicide. Or vice versa.

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Posted: 30 August 2007 11:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Personally, I don’t think it’s that much of a shift to simply start saying ‘experience.’ You had a profound ‘experience’ at the rocky beach, a profound ‘experience’ in the like-minded gathering of people, or at the top of a mountain or skyscraper.

This ‘human need for spirituality’ is something I’ve never seen proved, only given undue credence, and something which I, personally, stand in living counterargument to. I don’t find myself to be a less social or functional person for not having had (or sought) ‘spiritual’ growth. In fact, I tend to find such concepts to be largely meaningless.

I think before we start hashing the definitions of words and pondering rehabilitation of our vocabulary, we should be asking if this is a valid mental architecture in the first place, or if the experiences had by those who claim ‘spirituality’ have any merit aside from psychosomatic.

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“Isn’t it enough to know that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it as well?” - Douglas Adams

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.” - Carl Sagan

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Posted: 30 August 2007 11:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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We’re studying Wordsworth in one of my English classes and some of the students wondered about his secular usage of religious words.  Yes, he was a different time, but it seems to me that we could possibly take back some of that.  It wouldn’t hurt to look at some of his poetry to get an idea of what I’m talking about.  From “Growth of a Poet’s Mind”:

OH there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
      A visitant that while it fans my cheek
      Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
      From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.

According to the prof, he’s not calling on god or any supernatural being but rather nature and in this cast the breeze.

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
      Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought
      That givest to forms and images a breath
      And everlasting motion, not in vain
      By day or star-light thus from my first dawn
      Of childhood didst thou intertwine for me
      The passions that build up our human soul;
      Not with the mean and vulgar works of man,
      But with high objects, with enduring things—
      With life and nature—purifying thus               410
      The elements of feeling and of thought,
      And sanctifying, by such discipline,
      Both pain and fear, until we recognise
      A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.
      Nor was this fellowship vouchsafed to me
      With stinted kindness. In November days,
      When vapours rolling down the valley made
      A lonely scene more lonesome, among woods,
      At noon and ‘mid the calm of summer nights,
      When, by the margin of the trembling lake,            420
      Beneath the gloomy hills homeward I went
      In solitude, such intercourse was mine;
      Mine was it in the fields both day and night,
      And by the waters, all the summer long.

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WRITTEN AS A SCHOOL EXERCISE AT HAWKSHEAD, ANNO AETATIS 14 :

“AND has the Sun his flaming chariot driven
      Two hundred times around the ring of heaven,
      Since Science first, with all her sacred train,
      Beneath yon roof began her heavenly reign?
      While thus I mused, methought, before mine eyes,
      The Power of EDUCATION seemed to rise;
      Not she whose rigid precepts trained the boy
      Dead to the sense of every finer joy;
      Nor that vile wretch who bade the tender age
      Spurn Reason’s law and humour Passion’s rage;          10
      But she who trains the generous British youth
      In the bright paths of fair majestic Truth:
      Emerging slow from Academus’ grove
      In heavenly majesty she seemed to move.
      Stern was her forehead, but a smile serene
      ‘Softened the terrors of her awful mien.’
      Close at her side were all the powers, designed
      To curb, exalt, reform the tender mind:
      With panting breast, now pale as winter snows,
      Now flushed as Hebe, Emulation rose;                20
      Shame followed after with reverted eye,
      And hue far deeper than the Tyrian dye;
      Last Industry appeared with steady pace,
      A smile sat beaming on her pensive face.
      I gazed upon the visionary train,
      Threw back my eyes, returned, and gazed again.
      When lo! the heavenly goddess thus began,
      Through all my frame the pleasing accents ran.

You get the idea that he’s praising science and education in a “divine” way.  I also realize he was a poet and as such he has some leeway with words as well as creativeness, but even so, I was sitting in class and thought, “why couldn’t we take some of this creativity back again?”  Why couldn’t science be majestic truth?  Why can’t the heavens just mean space?  Ok I’m taking some creative liberalism here, but it is just a few random thoughts I was having in class today.  Then again, it may just be that as a writer I can see the use of being creative with words.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 30 August 2007 11:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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It’s not as though this somehow can’t be so, rather that there are people who will not let it be so, who will interpret such writings through their lens just as we do through ours. Where we see a secular praise of the wind, they see a literal ‘blessing’ from a deity in the form of a pleasant breeze.

Sooner or later this line of semantics will need to be confronted, or you will have the kind of out-of-context nonsense that plagues authors such as Dawkins and Harris, as well as the deliberate misunderstandings that went along with Einstein and Sagan and Darwin.

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“Isn’t it enough to know that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it as well?” - Douglas Adams

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.” - Carl Sagan

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Posted: 31 August 2007 12:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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Mary Wollstonecraft was raised Anglican, but as a “radical descenter” she was considered an atheist as an adult.  In the first line of “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” she says, “AFTER considering the historic page, and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits”.  She does not mean “spirits” in a religious way here.  She does similar in various other places too with other words.

Her daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wrote some very interesting stuff too, besides Frankenstein, but I can’t find any text of her poems or “The Last Man” to know how she phrased her words.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 31 August 2007 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Ex Lege Libertas - 30 August 2007 11:29 PM

It’s not as though this somehow can’t be so, rather that there are people who will not let it be so, who will interpret such writings through their lens just as we do through ours. Where we see a secular praise of the wind, they see a literal ‘blessing’ from a deity in the form of a pleasant breeze.

Sooner or later this line of semantics will need to be confronted, or you will have the kind of out-of-context nonsense that plagues authors such as Dawkins and Harris, as well as the deliberate misunderstandings that went along with Einstein and Sagan and Darwin.

I happen to live in the Bible Belt, but attend a Secular university.  Even so, the other students saw the secular use of Wordsworth’s words.  So, the educated will see the secularism and not the literal meaning.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 31 August 2007 02:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Mriana - 31 August 2007 12:06 AM

I happen to live in the Bible Belt, but attend a Secular university.  Even so, the other students saw the secular use of Wordsworth’s words.  So, the educated will see the secularism and not the literal meaning.

I don’t think your singular experience defines the experience for everyone. Further, the fact that the ‘educated’ will recognize the difference does not make it part of our common parlance, nor change it’s meaning in any significant sense. In fact, the only thing I can see that doing is further separating the ‘educated’ from the ‘uneducated’ (words that I hesitate to use, as merely attending a university does not make one educated, nor does not attending one make one uneducated), and making the communication and sharing of ideas that much more difficult.

The other students in your story likely saw the use of it because they, too, were attending a secular university - and to have specifically chosen such a university in the Bible Belt is to have made a cognitive decision to avoid spiritual underpinnings. Is it any wonder they perceived things as you did?

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“Isn’t it enough to know that a garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it as well?” - Douglas Adams

“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.” - Carl Sagan

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Posted: 31 August 2007 04:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Hi,

I just want to stress the opposite site: spirituality and science go together even better then spirituality and religion. If we see as one of the aspects of spirituality ‘living in the truth’, then I think science is a very good companion for a spiritual life. I do not say that religion does not search for truth at all, but most of religious life seems to be based on wishful thinking, which is quite opposite to ‘living in the truth’.

There is a lot more to say about this, but I am supposed to work for my boss now…

GdB

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“The light is on, but there is nobody at home”

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Posted: 31 August 2007 07:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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GdB - 31 August 2007 04:11 AM

Hi,

I just want to stress the opposite site: spirituality and science go together even better then spirituality and religion. If we see as one of the aspects of spirituality ‘living in the truth’, then I think science is a very good companion for a spiritual life. I do not say that religion does not search for truth at all, but most of religious life seems to be based on wishful thinking, which is quite opposite to ‘living in the truth’.

There is a lot more to say about this, but I am supposed to work for my boss now…

GdB

In order for this to be true we have to accept that there is some “truth” to spirituality to begin with. “Living the truth” is a nice platitude, but what ‘truth’ exactly are you living?

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“We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.” - Carl Sagan

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Posted: 31 August 2007 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Calling it spirituality doesn’t do violence to the language. On the contrary, it’s using the word in every sense in which it is usually intended, except one. Scientific naturalists can use the word “spirituality” to describe how people experience certain things. All we remove is the supernatural.

My naturalistic definition of spirituality includes three elements:
1. A sense of heightened vitality;
2. A sense of internal integration, which we might call wholeness;
3. A sense of external integration, which people usually call connectedness.

New-agers often distort the third element, claiming relationships between ourselves and stardust (e.g.) that aren’t based on fact. We needn’t do that.

A scientific naturalist can express and appreciate our relationship to stardust by observing that like the stars and all the debris still traveling through space, we are also products of the natural forces that set the whole thing in motion. Most of us accept the big bang as the most likely explanation for how all this “got started,” but whether the big bang is our explanation or not (and even if we say the big bang doesn’t answer the ultimate questions), cosmology is still within the purview of scientific naturalism. In addition, I would emphasize our relationship to other living beings, and observe that other people are having experiences similar to mine.

All we add to this is a sense of awe and wonder, mystery (which we might define as a sense of excitement about what we do not yet know, and eager anticipation that by pursuing science we may one day know more), enthusiasm (the root words are en and theos, from the Greek, meaning “in God”; no reason to be put off by that, like many other words it has a mainly secular meaning today) and all the other decidedly naturalistic and human values that lead to a vibrant, active, productive, creative and exciting life.

There’s nothing in it that conflicts with our commitment to scientific naturalism. On the contrary, with spirituality at some level, scientific naturalism has no purpose and lies dead in the water.

Stop ceding awe, wonder, a sense of mystery, enthusiasm, joy, etc., to the theists!

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Posted: 31 August 2007 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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I agree with PLaClair.  I really don’t see why we can’t use the word and redefine it.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 31 August 2007 09:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Previously I had quoted from Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon Haunted World, where he brings out the original meaning of the word “spirit”. It is the same with this quote from Wiki:

“The English word “spirit” comes from the Latin spiritus, meaning “breath” (compare spiritus asper), but also “soul, courage, vigor”, ultimately from a PIE root *(s)peis- (“to blow”). In the Vulgate, the Latin word translates Greek (πνευμα), pneuma (Hebrew (רוח) ruah), as opposed to anima, translating psykhē. The word was loaned into Middle English via Old French espirit in the 13th century. In India Prana means breath.

The distinction between soul and spirit became current in Judeo-Christian terminology (e.g. Greek. psykhe vs. pneuma, Latin anima vs. spiritus, Hebrew ruach vs. neshama or nephesh; in Hebrew neshama from the root NSHM or breath.)”

So, as I understand it, the original intent of the word appears more secular. I could see why it gained acceptance from it’s original form to become “supernatural”. After all, breathing is the how we survive, this concept must have been extremely powerful for the main reason that the assurance someone is dead was their ceasing to breath. It would then be a vital force ( which from Online Etymology Dictionary is : “of or manifesting life,” from L. vitalis “of or belonging to life,” from vita “life,” related to vivere “to live,” ). Life is given, life is taken away or in this case, “spirit”.

The word “spirit” and many recent discussions could be a lesson in “meme” theory to some extent. In cultures, or communities, the “spirit” is “re-memed” for the sake of the sacred, thus creating a retention to the “meme”, in fact rather powerfully, since its power is undeniable, through replication, it is sought again to enter another culture or community to regain the original “meme”, in essense to “re-meme” the “meme” that has been “re-memed”.

O.k., enough of my nonsense, back to the regularly scheduled program.

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Posted: 31 August 2007 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Here’s an article written by a friend of mine who is a Humanist (and of course and atheist). It concerns spirituality, which I think fits this topic well:

Why Atheists Can Still Be Spiritual

If you are out there lurking about on the board, many thanks for letting me borrow this.  smile

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Mriana
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Posted: 31 August 2007 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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zarcus - 31 August 2007 09:05 AM

So, as I understand it, the original intent of the word appears more secular.

I agree with you Zarcus.  It’s not as if we are trying to “change” the meaning of the word, we are restoring the REAL meaning of a word which has usurped by Chrisitians and made to apply ONLY to religion.  Religious and spiritual are related words, but they are not literally synonyms.

And I don’t think the word “awe” covers the whole thing, either.  When I sit with one of my cats in my lap, I sometimes sink into a nearly Zen-like trance, his purr becomes my breath, and we are together one animal.  This is not logical, but it is what it feels like.  I would call that “spiritual”.

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