The soul of science
In popular thought spirituality and religion go hand in hand while science is a discipline and way of thinking that sits outside, and well away from, either of these soulful ways of being. In reality though the separation of science and the grouping of spirituality and religion may not be genuine, or at least may not be the entire story. Certainly, according to a new study, that is how scientists see things.
For the new research 275 natural and social scientists from elite universities around the world were interviewed. What emerged from these interviews was how scientists view the connection, or otherwise, between science, religion, and spirituality.
The terms that scientists most frequently used to describe religion were â€œorganisedâ€, â€œcommunalâ€, â€œunifiedâ€, and â€œcollectiveâ€. By contrast spirituality was described as â€œindividualâ€, â€œpersonalâ€, and â€œpersonally constructedâ€.
Interestingly, 26 per cent of these â€œatheist scientistsâ€ said that they have a spirituality that is consistent with science. According to the researchers these spiritual atheist scientists are seeking a core sense of truth through a spirituality that is generated by, and consistent with, the scientific work that they do.
These spiritual atheist scientists (can we dub them â€œspathsâ€?) see both science and spirituality as meaning-making without faith. The survey showed that this is why they see science as consistent with spirituality but not religion since they see religion as requiring buying into an absolute without â€œempirical evidenceâ€.
What this suggests is that â€œspiritualityâ€, or asking the big â€œwhy am I here?â€ type questions, infiltrates both religious and atheist thought.
One very important finding from the survey was that although scientists view spirituality as more individual than religion, it does mean focusing on the â€œselfâ€. In fact â€œspathsâ€ see themselves as more connected to the world around them than their non-spiritual colleagues. The spiritual element of their world view shapes their motivation for what they do, providing a goal to help others.
For instance, the non-spiritual scientist might be focussed purely on her or his research at the expense of student interaction while the spiritual scientist will be looking to support struggling students and improve the world into the bargain.
The value of these kind of studies is not to present a new â€œcorrectâ€ view of things but to open us up to new ways of thinking and being. In a Western world that is struggling with adherence to organised religion the ideas expressed around spirituality in this study may represent a guide to the first steps toward the future shape of our societal soul.