Transcendence and Science (3)

Science and Transcendence

But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated. [1 Corinthians 2: 14].

Despite the popular acceptance of transcendent concepts, the modern scientific perspective remains one of skepticism and even hostility.

Supernatural, mystical and paranormal experiences have few or no tangible handles by which science can grab them, slide then under a microscope, or insert them into a mathematical equation. As a result, many scientists consider transcendence to be mere superstition, intellectual ignorance or fraud — at most a waste of their time.

On the one hand, trained as a physical scientist, I find little to admire about a field that has almost nothing to show after a century and a half of strenuous and diligent effort. … A field that once purported to find treasures, cure illnesses, convey infinite energy, and speak with the dead now craves marginal evidence for a few statistical anomalies in some randomized card tricks. That’s pretty hard to respect. [David Brin, Parapsychology and the Need to Believe in a New Transcendence, Skeptic vol. 9, no. 1].

Translating Transcendence

We cannot measure the Divine. It is beyond calculations and comparisons. When we seek to know sacred matters scientifically and understand them intellectually, we are trying to make the spiritual material, and the Divine mortal. We are trying to translate into earthly language that which transcends the worldly, and is therefore beyond our limited perspective.

You can call transcendence a hole or the whole, either one, because it is beyond words. All that we can talk about is what is on this side of transcendence. [Joseph Campbell].

Scientists seek results they can understand in terms of a reality they can measure. However, human standards of measurement always remain grounded in tangible dimensions.

Everything that science does is tied to the earth. Even when we send exploratory missions into deep space, a cord is tied to the mission, stretching through space conveying back to earth the eagerly expected data.

Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. [C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, p. 3].

Moreover, science assumes and embraces fallibility. It accepts being in a perpetual argument with itself, contradicting, rectifying and reforming truth for a temporary moment.

To the individual believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit there is granted the direct impression of the Spirit of God on the spirit of man, imparting the knowledge of His will in matters of the smallest and greatest importance. [G. Campbell Morgan].

Scriptural Basis of Transcendence

Scriptures are the basis for the universal acceptance of transcendence. They describe experiences such as visions, paranormal events and dream interpretations in sacred terms, immune to attacks from rational inquiry.

When the Lord is known all fetters fall off … From meditation on Him there arises, after the dissolution of the body, the third state, that of universal lordship. And lastly, the aspirant, transcending that state also, abides in the complete Bliss of Brahman … This Brahman alone, which abides eternally within the self, should be known. Beyond It, truly, there is nothing else to be known. [Svetasvatara Upanishad 1:11-12].

And He said, Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make Myself known to him in a vision and speak to him in a dream. [Numbers 12: 6].

For I want you to know, brethren, that the Gospel which was proclaimed and made known by me is not man’s gospel [of human origin]. For indeed I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but [I received it] through a revelation by Jesus Christ (the Messiah). [Galatians 1:11-12].

And it is not given to mortal man that God should speak unto him otherwise than through sudden inspiration, or [by a voice, as it were,] from behind a veil, or by sending an apostle to reveal, by His leave, whatever He wills [to reveal]: for, verily, He is exalted, wise. [Quran 42:51].

Ecumenical Transcendence

Whether in faith healing or answered prayers, mystical encounters or a mere intuitive sense of what feels right, transcendence extends beyond cultural and linguistic boundaries.

. . . there are words for psi experiences in every language, from Arabic to Zulu, Czech to Manx Gaelic. The universality of the words reflects the fact that these phenomena are basic to human experience. And indeed psi experiences have been reported by people in all cultures, throughout history, and at all ages and educational levels. This suggests that the phenomena are basic not only to human nature, but they also tell us something about the fundamental fabric of reality. [Dean I. Radin, Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, p. 6].

Validating Divinity

Ironically, the validation of Divine Reality, today, often relies on scientific and academic verification. To increase credibility and offer certainty, religious scholars use temporal knowledge to buttress spiritual beliefs, applying fallible principles to sacred wisdom. Having lost our spiritual perspective, we ask science to identify God for us.

The very pure spirit does not bother about the regard of others or human respect, but communes inwardly with God, alone and in solitude as to all forms, and with delightful tranquility, for the knowledge of God is received in divine silence. [St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, #26].

The transcendence described in Scriptures has been stripped of religious thought for commercial use, media entertainment and science fiction. As a result, the modern secular mind no longer enjoys a sense of the sacred. In the words of sociologist Peter Berger:

If anything characterizes modernity, it is the loss of the sense of transcendence—of a reality that exceeds and encompasses our everyday affairs. [Peter Berger quoted by John Ortberg in Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus].

Transcendence does fit the skills and interests of the modern scholar. Once a serious calling, an honored vocation and a life’s work, transcendence is no longer a commonly pursued career path.

What a difference between … feeling of unity with God, and the… mathematical calculations on the probable error in telepathic answers about playing cards! What a difference between the medieval monk, who becomes convinced of the mystical sphere because the Virgin appears to him in the clouds, and the modern scholar, who is converted because a pathological woman is able to chat about his personal secrets at the rate of twenty francs a sitting! [Hugo Munsterberg, Psychology and Mysticism].

Nevertheless, the Divine Reality underlying transcendence beckons to all human beings. It is an innate part of our psychological make up, an abiding place existing within our soul. Each of us dreams of reaching that place and experiencing transcendence, in whatever way God wills.

Say: “Believe in it or do not believe.” Behold, those who are already endowed with [innate] knowledge fall down upon their faces in prostration as soon as this [divine writ] is conveyed unto them [Quran 17:107].

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Further reading

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