I don’t know about any mantle-carrying on my part, but I do think secularists would do well to move away from the tactics of the “new atheists.” Don’t get me wrong, much of what they as individuals have done, both in their respective professions/disciplines, and in defending reason and science, is laudable and important, but it doesn’t have to come at the price of our civility and our empathy for those who seek and find answers to the grand questions of life beyond the material. I think it’s time for renewed understanding or at least friendship across this aisle. Science does not have to be the enemy of religion, and spirituality does not have to be the enemy of science. They don’t even have to be in tension unless we insist that they be.
Just yesterday I was poring over DNA sequences from the Neanderthal genome. Scientists frequently get so immersed in our analyses that we forget how amazing it is that we’re even able to do this kind of work. Here I am scanning through As and Cs and Gs and Ts from a species that has been extinct for 35,000 years as easily as we pop open the hood of our cars. It’s F$#@ing AMAZING! When it dawned on me that I was doing something that was not even conceivable just ten years ago, I had to sort of pause and take stock of how incredible that was. I found myself daydreaming about what this man’s life had been like, etc. He had hopes and dreams. He had relationships. He may have had children. He certainly had friends. It was a spiritual experience, I would say. I’ve included a screen shot of some of the raw data from the Neanderthal genome project below. It’s mesmerizing to think about where this DNA sequence came from.
We can defend our belief that science should inform public policies around climate, education, medical research, and so on, without insisting that spirituality has no place in the modern world. Perhaps the key is to understand how science itself can be a form of spirituality. It may not check all the boxes, but it certainly checks some of them. It brings people together, it evokes a sense of awe and transcendence, and it is a way to explore and engage with the grand questions, some of which we may never fully know the “right answers” to. Maybe these questions are about finding meaning, rather than being right. Rather than insult others beliefs, maybe we can just explain how we find meaning and celebrate our shared humanity and how wonderful it is that we can even ask these questions together.
Peace and love to you all.