Believers in the supernatural, do you feel a bit more cramped today? Like there's less room for your beliefs to roam unquestioned?
You should, if you've been following the out-of-body news. Scientists have been able to induce out-of-body experiences in healthy people. They didn't need to nearly die on an operating table and look down at their bodies from an external vantage point.
All it took was some virtual reality goggles, a camera, and a stick.
Now, this is just a first step toward understanding out-of-body experiences. It doesn't rule out the possibility that human consciousness is able to exist separate from a body.
And heck, in-body experiences aren't completely understood either – how the brain manages to create a sense of self separate from the world.
Nonetheless, this is one more in a long line of scientific advances that have the cumulative effect of painting religious, spiritual, mystical, and metaphysical belief systems into an ever smaller corner.
Big Bang cosmology explains the universe's creation (though not completely). Evolutionary theory explains how complex life forms arose on Earth (though not completely). Quantum physics explains how all the somethings in existence can be founded on essentially nothing (though not completely).
I had to add the (though not completely) qualifiers to head off anti-science types who would be quick to tell me, "But Brian, there are a lot of gaps in scientific knowledge."
Yes, admitted. By both me and scientists.
However, there's a big difference between the empty spots scattered around the large expanse of Knowledge that's been painted by science, and the utterly blank unfinished corner that Religion has been crowded into.
By which I mean, in case this metaphor is getting too metaphorical, that science has pretty darn good explanations for almost everything that religious belief systems take on faith to be supernatural or metaphysical.
So what's a believer to do? One option is to shut your eyes, put your hands over your ears, and mutter "You don't exist, you don't exist" to scientific knowledge. This is the fundamentalist approach, both Western and Eastern.
After a book I wrote about karma and vegetarianism, "Life is Fair," was published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) I got an email from an anxious RSSB initiate. He didn't like all the mentions of evolution in the book. He said that if evolutionary theory were true, it would destroy his faith in the RSSB teachings.
I found this very strange. Isn't the spiritual quest supposed to be in the direction of reality? How could learning more about what is real be destructive of spirituality?
To me, science is the best friend of someone sincerely seeking spirit. For if you believe that spirit (a.k.a. shabd, in the Indian vernacular) is the essence of the supreme being, it isn't going to be explainable by science – even though spirit/shabd is considered to be the ultimate source of nature's laws.
A similar argument can be applied to Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other sort of belief in an other-worldly God. If your God or Supreme Being is reducible to material explanations, then this divinity isn't very spiritual, is it?
Paint away, science. Confine my religious beliefs into the smallest possible corner.
This should be the prayer of every spiritual seeker. For every time a metaphysical belief is explained by science, you've got less room for fantasy, dogma, imagination, and blind faith to operate. You've getting shoved in the right direction: toward inexplicable Mystery.
I wish I could say something about that mysterious corner of existence that most strongly resists science's knowledge painting brush. But if I could, it wouldn't be what it is.
Emptiness. Wonder. Awe. Ignorance. Confusion. Paradox. Not-knowing.
Even here though, science is able to throw hints in our direction. No matter how small that unexplained corner of the cosmos seems to be, almost certainly it's way larger than we can even begin to imagine.
There's plenty of room to roam there, for those unafraid of bursting religious fetters.