Many people mistakenly believe that modern science rules out the possibility of God, soul, spirit, and other supernatural entities. They think that scientists are only interested in the natural world -- this physical universe of space and time, plus everything within it.
Thanks to a link emailed to me by Alex Szeto of the Hong Kong Unitarian Universalists, I was able to read and enjoy "Is Scientific Inquiry Restricted to Nature?" by Tom Clark and Ursula Goodenough (seems like that was the name of a James Bond femme fatale; at least, it should have been).
Actually, Goodenough is a noted biologist with a strong interest in religious naturalism. Wikipedia has this quote from her:
“I profess my Faith. For me, the existence of all this complexity and awareness and intent and beauty, and my ability to apprehend it, serves as the ultimate meaning and the ultimate value. The continuation of life reaches around, grabs its own tail, and forms a sacred circle that requires no further justification, no Creator, no super-ordinate meaning of meaning, no purpose other than that the continuation continue until the sun collapses or the final meteor collides. I confess a credo of continuation. And in so doing, I confess as well a credo of human continuation”.
Nice. Tom Clark is the director of The Center for Naturalism, where Goodenough serves on the advisory board. Here's how the Center's web site describes their approach.
The Center for Naturalism promotes science-based naturalism as a comprehensive worldview - a rational and fulfilling alternative to faith-based religions and other varieties of supernaturalism. The under-standing that we are fully natural beings is the foundation for an effective approach to personal and social concerns, and highlights our intimate connection to the awe-inspiring universe described by science.
Now, this seems at odds with the article's thesis that science is open to the supernatural. But actually, it isn't. Clark and Goodenough say:
It is often said that the scientific enterprise is in the business of studying the natural world, the implication being that there’s some pre-established, pre-packaged thing out there called Nature that scientists get to study, after which there are other domains that scientists don’t get to study and indeed aren’t supposed to study.
In fact, the scientific enterprise is engaged in analyzing anything that comes along using its agreed-upon empirical methodologies, developed over the years as the most effective means to reduce subjective and cultural bias when modeling reality.
If, for example, someone were to come up with a robust God hypothesis that suggested observational tests to evaluate its validity, then rest assured, scientists would be hopping all over it — what better way to the vaunted goal of scientific fame and glory than documenting the existence of God? Indeed, scientists have already applied their wares to testable hypotheses along these lines, such as whether intercessory prayer is effective, and have thus far come a cropper.
Read the entire piece. It's pretty short, and right on about faith vs. facts.
There's no need to choose between science and spirituality. Reality is what we're after. Wherever it leads us, that's where the truth seeker goes. There are, of course, different levels of real.
Imagination is real, but only in the sense of neurons coming up with fantastical notions in a physical brain. So far, this is the best explanation for the God hypothesis. But, hey, one day it could be proven. Science has an open mind, as should we all.
So, could science stumble upon and observationally confirm the existence of the supernatural, or something besides nature? If we define nature as what’s confirmed to exist by science-based inquiry, then it would seem that any confirmed scientific discovery, however bizarre, will get added to the list of natural phenomena. This implies that sticking with science results in naturalism, that only nature exists.
But such is not necessarily the case. Although the God-as-agent hypothesis hasn’t yet panned out, this isn’t because science is biased against the existence of God or the supernatural.
If an observationally robust phenomenon comes along that, for good theoretical or explanatory reasons, forces us to conceptually divide reality into nature and something besides nature, then so be it. We’d have stayed true to the scientific method, unrivaled in giving us reliable models of reality and for scientists in their professional capacity that’s what matters.