Here’s a simple way of determining whether you’re scientifically or religiously inclined: how do you feel about doubt? If you’re opposed to doubt, or even, well, doubtful about doubt, then you’re a religious sort. If you’re open to doubt, then you’re a scientific type.
I got to thinking about the pros and cons of doubt after thumbing through the August 2005 issue of “Spiritual Link.” This magazine is published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), an organization based in India that also is referred to as the Science of the Soul or Sant Mat.
I came across an article titled “Enough with the Questions.” These quotations sounded out of place for a group that claims to practice a spiritual science:
Our whole system of education trains us to question and to analyze, and then even when we’ve accepted an idea, to go back and question and analyze it some more. We consider this to be scientific, and therefore admirable. In the case of satsangis [RSSB members], idiotic more like!
So if we have the misfortune to be afflicted with a so-called enquiring mind, we need to tell ourselves: just stop! Enough with all the questions! Enough with the endless analyzing…Doubt is a cruel, destructive thing. It eats away at the very foundations of our faith, at our confidence in ourselves, and at our very trust in our Master.
Here’s one thing that I have no doubt about: I heartily disagree with these sentiments. For I’ve cast my lot with science rather than religion. The anonymous author (all articles in Spiritual Link are unsigned, another sign that RSSB is unscientific) espouses a point of view that is thoroughly religious.
Just have faith: don’t question, don’t analyze, don’t doubt. Do what you’re told until your last breath, regardless of what you experience through your doing.
Meditation is the centerpiece of RSSB spiritual practice. I consider that meditation can be a genuinely scientific means of investigating the as-yet unsolved mystery of what ultimate reality consists of.
But the article’s author advocates a decidedly unscientific attitude toward meditation: “Let us not allow our lack of visible results to become a reason for doubting our Master.” (Who is considered to be a human embodiment of God; thus to a believer doubting the Master is the same as doubting God).
Courtesy of geologist Greg Anderson, here’s a nifty schematic diagram of the scientific method (scroll down the page a little ways to see it). Notice all the loops? That’s the essence of the scientific method: hypothesis testing, feedback, experimentation, learning through experience and observation. A scientist is continually adjusting to what reality is teaching him or her, not sticking blindly to an article of faith that is impervious to being falsified.
Wikipedia says, “Falsifiability is an important concept in the philosophy of science that amounts to the apparently paradoxical idea that a proposition or theory cannot be scientific if it does not admit the possibility of being shown false.”
For example, if you claim that all sheep are white, this assertion would be meaningless from the standpoint of science if there was no possibility of ever seeing a non-white sheep. One verified black sheep would demolish the claim, even if millions of white sheep had been observed previously.
This is one reason the scientific method has so many feedback loops. Doubt, which is closely aligned with falsifiability, is ever-present in science. A scientist never stops doubting that more and better truth can be found. Anderson says:
Something important to keep in mind. Despite all the constant checking and rechecking which goes on, you can never be 100% certain you are right. There is always at least a little bit of doubt out there; you can never be entirely sure that someone, somewhere, will find a piece of data which kills off a previously wonderful idea. On the other hand, you can sometimes be sure you are wrong.So if you seek to know reality, either physical or spiritual, embrace doubt. However, if you’re content with dogma, belief, and theology, then by all means shun doubt and cling to blind faith. See how far it gets you.
Along these lines, here’s an interesting blog post by Ellen Beth Gill on “Karl Popper, Falsifiability and Intelligent Design" that discusses the utterly unscientific nature of intelligent design/creationism.
I like the tagline of Gill’s weblog: using my free speech while I still have it. You go, girl!
I think there is a spectrum of inclinations between reason and emotion as well as between intellect and intuition. Furthermore, the position that one assumes can change depending upon his or her results in whatever endeavor they are engaged. For example, I am an electrical and mechanical engineer. On one occasion I was asked to investigate a problem in which a process was shut down due to an electrical problem. As I walked out to investigate the situation it occurred to me as to what the problem was, even though I was not the least bit familiar with the process or the equipment. It was just a feeling, but naturally I investigated my hunch first and as it turned out I was correct and the process was put back in working order promptly.
While my intuition is not always 100% correct it is often right on the money and that makes me a pretty good trouble shooter in my profession. In this example if I had been wrong in my hunch, I would have resorted to a more scientific approach.
In the case with Sant Mat, or any other religion or philosophy for that matter, if one practices and has the expected results then they have few doubts. However, if they do not have results, and we assume they are practicing their meditation, then doubt creeps in and they become more skeptical and perhaps more scientific in their outlook.
So I think the results one is getting in any particular endeavor more often determine or reflect where ones sits in that spectrum between absolute faith and absolute doubt. Thus my inclination toward the faithful is generally - "Hey, if they seem sure of the way things are, well, probably they're right."
Posted by: ET | December 08, 2005 at 12:21 AM
Thanks for the kind words. Great site.
Posted by: Ellen | December 10, 2005 at 07:14 PM
The reference from "Spiritual Link" is not understood correctly.
What it suggests is that asking questions beyond a limit is not worth its time. Instead of spending time on never ending questions, if people start investing time on meditation based on faith then the questions might not be relevant at all after seeing the inner spiritual progress.
Try to check the meaning of mysticism. Dictionary will state that its beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension.
:-) So one needs to have faith when its beyond understanding. Else spend the whole life in vague searches and questioning.
Parents must have felt the same at times about the questions of their children. Parents try to answer but they know that children have not understood completely and they also know that when they grow they will understand. And children do learn the answers later because they grow and learn based on the faith on parents and their answers.
Posted by: trying_to_answer | January 01, 2006 at 01:14 PM