Salutations to the One without colour or hue, Salutations to the One who hath no beginning. Salutations to the Impenetrable, Salutations to the Unfathomable … O Lord, Thou art Formless and Peerless Beyond birth and physical elements. … Salutations to the One beyond confines of religion. … Beyond description and Garbless Thou art Nameless and Desireless. Thou art beyond thought and ever Mysterious.27

Some people believe that the aspect of the divine that they perceive is the only one. Others feel that there is one being with many faces, that all religions come from one source. Bede Griffiths (1906–1993), a Catholic monk who lived in a community in India attempting to unite Asian and Western traditions, was one who thought that if we engage in a deep study of all religions we will find their common ground:

In each tradition the one divine Reality, the one eternal Truth, is present, but it is hidden under symbols. … Always the divine Mystery is hidden under a veil, but each revelation (or “unveiling”) unveils some aspect of the one Truth, or, if you like, the veil becomes thinner at a certain point. The Semitic religions, Judaism and Islam, reveal the transcendent aspect of the divine Mystery with incomparable power. The oriental religions reveal the divine Immanence with immeasurable depth. Yet in each the opposite aspect is contained, though in a more hidden way.28

Ritual, symbol, and myth Why are rituals, symbols, and myths important in religions?

Many of the phenomena of religion are ways of worship, symbols, and myths. Worship consists in large part of attempts to express reverence and perhaps to enter into communion with that which is worshiped or to request help with problems such as ill health, disharmony, or poverty. Around the world, rituals, sacraments, prayers, and spiritual practices are used to create a sacred atmos- phere or state of consciousness necessary to convey the requests for help, to bring some human control over things that are not ordinarily controllable (such as rainfall), to sanctify and explain the meaning of major life stages such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death, or to provide spiritual instruction.


When such actions are predictable and repeated rather than spontaneous, they are known as rituals. Group rituals may be conducted by priests or other ritual specialists or by the people themselves. There may be actions such as recita- tion of prayers, chants, scriptures or stories, singing, dancing, sharing of food, spiritual purification by water, lighting of candles or oil lamps, and offerings of flowers, fragrances, and food to the divine. Professor Antony Fernando of Sri Lanka explains that when food offerings are made to the deities:

Even the most illiterate person knows that in actual fact no god really picks up those offerings or is actually in need of them. What people offer is what they own. Whatever is owned becomes so close to the heart of the owner as to become an almost integral part of his or her life. Therefore, when people offer something, it is, as it were, themselves they offer. … Sacrifices and offerings are a dramatic way of proclaiming that they are not the ultimate possessors of their life and also of articulating their determination to live duty-oriented lives and not desire-oriented lives.29

Music, chants, and other kinds of sound play very significant roles in religious

Father Bede Griffiths emphasized the common elements found in all religions.

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rituals, whether it is the noisy bursting of firecrackers to scare away unwanted spirits at Chinese graves or choral singing of Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy) in a sublime composition by the eighteenth-century composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Ethnomusicologist Guy Beck identifies many purposes for which sacred sounds may be used in religions: to ask for favors or blessings, to ask forgiveness for sins, to praise and thank the Creator, to chase away demons, to invoke the presence and blessings of deities, to make prayerful requests, to develop a mood of inner quietude or repentance, to purify the worshiper, to paint pictures of a future state of being, to create communion between the human and divine worlds, to teach doctrines, to create states of ecstasy and bliss, to empty and then fulfill, to invigorate, and to express jubilation.30 The effects of sounds on mind and heart are so touching that sacred texts or messages are often chanted or sung rather than simply read or recited. Speaking from a theistic point of view, nineteenth-century musicologist Edmund Gurney reflected:

The link between sound and the supernatural is profound and widespread. … If we are believers, then we can believe that the spirit is moving us in our ritual music. Ritual sound makes the transcendent immanent. It is at the same time ours, our own sounds pressing in around us and running through us like a vital current of belief, molding us into a living interior that is proof against the unbelieving emptiness that lies around.31

Paintings and other forms of art have also inspired religious experience. John Damascus of Byzantium (c. 675–749 CE) proclaimed:

Paintings are the books of the illiterate. They distract those who look at them with a silent voice and sanctify life. … If I have no books I go to church, pricked as by spines by my thoughts; the flower of painting makes me look, charms my eyes as does a flowering meadow and softly distils the glory of God in my soul.32


What religions attempt to approach may be considered beyond human utter- ance. Believers build statues and buildings through which to worship the divine, but these forms are not the divine itself. Because people are addressing the invisible, it can be suggested only through metaphor. Deepest consciousness cannot speak the language of everyday life; what it knows can be suggested

Places of worship are often designed as visual symbols of religious ideals. The Baha’i Temple in New Delhi was crafted in the shape of a lotus, symbol of beauty and purity rising divinely above stagnant water, and its nine-sided structure symbolizes the unity of all world religions.

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only in symbols—images borrowed from the material world that are similar to ineffable spiritual experiences. For example, attempts to allude to spiritual merging with Ultimate Reality may borrow the language of human love. The great thirteenth-century Hindu saint Akka Mahadevi sang of her longing for union with the Beloved by using powerful symbolic language of self-surrender:

Like a silkworm weaving her house with love From her marrow and dying in her body’s threads Winding tight, round and round, I burn Desiring what the heart desires.33

Tracing symbols throughout the world, researchers find many similarities in their use in different cultures. Ultimate Reality is often symbolized as a Father or Mother, because it is thought to be the source of life, sustenance, and protec- tion. It is frequently associated with heights, with its invisible power perceived as coming from a “place” that is spiritually “higher” than the material world. The sky thus becomes heaven, the abode of the god or gods and perhaps also the pleasant realm to which good people go when they die. A vertical symbol—such as a tree, a pillar, or a mountain—is understood as the center of the world in many cultures, for it gives physical imagery to a connection between earth and the unseen “heavenly” plane. The area beneath the surface of the earth is often perceived as an “underworld,” a rather dangerous place where life goes on in a different way than on the surface.

Some theorists assert that in some cases these common symbols are not just logical associations with the natural world. Most notably, the psychologist Carl Jung (1875–1961) proposed that humanity as a whole has a collective uncon-

scious, a global psychic inheritance of archetypal symbols from which geographically separate cul- tures have drawn. These archetypes include such symbolic characters as the wise old man, the great mother, the original man and woman, the hero, the shadow, and the trickster.

Extended metaphors may be understood as allegories—narratives that use concrete symbols to convey abstract ideas. The biblical book attrib- uted to the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel, for instance, is full of such allegorical passages. In one he says that God’s spirit led him to a valley full of dry bones. As he watched and spoke as God told him, the bones developed flesh and muscles, became joined together into bodies, and rose to their feet. The voice of God in the scripture explains the allegorical meaning: the bones represent the people of Israel, who have been abandoned by their self-serving leaders and become scattered and preyed upon by wild beasts, like the sheep of uncaring shepherds. God promises to dismiss the shepherds, raise the fallen people and restore them to the land of Israel, where they will live peacefully under God’s protection (Ezekiel 34–37). Such allegories may assume great significance in a people’s self-understanding.


Symbols are also woven together into myths—the symbolic stories that communities use to explain the universe and their place within it. Like many cultures, Polynesians tell a myth of the world’s

{Teaching Story box deleted}

This symbolic representation of a World Tree comes from 18th-century Iran. It is conceived as a tree in Paradise, about which the Prophet Muhammad reportedly said, “God planted it with His own hand and breathed His spirit into it.”

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creation in which the world was initially covered with water and shrouded in darkness. When the Supreme Being, Io, wanted to rise from rest, he uttered words that immediately brought light into the darkness. Then at his word the waters and the heavens were separated, the land was shaped, and all beings were created. Myths may purport to explain how things came to be as they are, perhaps incorporating elements of historical truth, and in any case are treated as sacred history.

Joseph Campbell (1904–1987), who carried out extensive analysis of myths around the world, found that myths have four primary functions: mystical (evoking our awe, love, wonder, gratitude); cosmological (presenting expla- nations of the universe based on the existence and actions of spiritual powers or beings); sociological (adapting people to orderly social life, teaching ethical codes); and psychological (opening doors to inner exploration, development of one’s full potential, and adjustment to life cycle changes). Understood in these senses, myths are not falsehoods or the works of primitive imaginations; they can be deeply meaningful and transformational, forming a sacred belief structure that supports the laws and institutions of the religion and the ways of the community, as well as explaining the people’s place within the cosmos. Campbell paid particular attention to myths of the hero’s journey, in which the main character is separated from the group, undergoes hardships and initiation, and returns bearing truth to the people. Such stories, he felt, prepare and inspire the listener for the difficult inward journey that leads to spiritual transformation:

It is the business of mythology to reveal the specific dangers and techniques of the dark interior way from tragedy to comedy. Hence the incidents are fantastic and “unreal”: they represent psychological, not physical, triumphs. The passage of the mythological hero may be overground, [but] fundamentally it is inward—into depths where obscure resistances are overcome, and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified, to be made available for the transfiguration of the world.34

Absolutist and liberal responses to modernity How do absolutist and liberal interpretations of a tradition differ? Traditional religious understandings are under increasing pressure from the rap- idly growing phenomenon of globalization. Complex in its dynamics and mani- festations, globalization has been defined by Global Studies Professor Manfred Steger as “the expansion and intensification of social relations and conscious- ness across world-time and world-space.”35 Local cultures and community ties have rapidly given way to hybrid homogenized patterns that have evolved in countries such as the United States. “McDonaldization” of the world, fueled by ever faster and more accessible means of communication and transportation, transnational corporations, free trade, urbanization, and unrestrained capital- ism, has made deep inroads into traditional local cultural ways. As a result, there is increasing tension between those who want to preserve their traditional ways and values and those who open doors to change.

Within each faith people may thus have different ways of interpreting their traditions. The orthodox stand by an historical form of their religion, strictly following its established practices, laws, and creeds. Those who resist contem- porary influences and affirm what they perceive as the historical core of their religion could be called absolutists. In our times, many people feel that their identity as individuals or as members of an established group is threatened by the sweeping changes brought by modern global industrial culture. The breakup of family relationships, loss of geographic rootedness, decay of clear behavioral codes, and loss of local control may be very unsettling. To find a stable footing, to attempt to preserve their distinctive identity as a people in the face of modernity and secularization, some people may try to stand on selected religious doctrines

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or practices from the past. Religious leaders may encourage this trend toward rigidity by declaring themselves absolute authorities or by telling the people that their scriptures are literally and exclusively true. They may encourage antipathy or even violence against people of other religious traditions.

The term fundamentalism is often applied to this selective insistence on parts of a religious tradition and to highly negative views of people of other religions. This use of the term is misleading, for no religion is based on hatred of other peo- ple and because those who are labeled “fundamentalists” may not be engaged in a return to the true basics of their religion. A Muslim “fundamentalist” who insists on the veiling of women, for instance, does not draw this doctrine from the foundation of Islam, the Holy Qur’an, but rather from historical cultural practice in some Muslim countries. A Sikh “fundamentalist” who concentrates on externals, such as wearing a turban, sword, and steel bracelet, overlooks the central insistence of the Sikh Gurus on the inner rather than outer practice of religion.

A further problem with the use of the term “fundamentalism” is that it has a specifically Protestant Christian connotation. The Christian fundamentalist movement originated in the late nineteenth century as a reaction to liberal trends, such as historical-critical study of the Bible, which will be explained below. Other labels may, therefore, be more cross-culturally appropriate, such as “absolutist,” “extremist,” or “reactionary,” depending on the particular situation.

Those who are called religious liberals, also sometimes called progressives, take a more flexible approach to religious tradition. They may see scriptures as products of a specific culture and time rather than the eternal voice of truth, and may interpret passages metaphorically rather than literally. If activists, they may advocate reforms in the ways their religion is officially understood and practiced.

While absolutists tend to take their scriptures and received religious traditions as literally true, liberals have for several centuries been engaged in a different approach to understanding their own religions and those of others: historical- critical studies. These are academic attempts to reconstruct the historical life stories of prophets and their cultures as opposed to legends about them, and to subject their scriptures to objective analysis. Such academic study of religion neither accepts nor rejects the particular truth-claims of any religion.

Non-faith-based methods of exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of texts) reveal that “sacred” scriptures may include polemics against opponents of the religion, myths, cultural influences, ethical instruction, later interpola- tions, mistakes by copyists, literary devices, factual history, and genuine spiritual

Angels Weep

Wherever there is slaughter of innocent men, women, and children for the mere reason that they belong to another race, color, or nationality, or were born into a faith which the majority of them could never quite comprehend and hardly ever practice in its true spirit; wherever the fair name of religion is used as a veneer to hide overweening political ambition and bottomless greed, wherever the glory of Allah is sought to be proclaimed through the barrel of a gun; wherever piety becomes synonymous with rapacity, and morality cowers under the blight of expediency and compromise, wherever it be—in Yugoslavia or Algeria,

in Liberia, Chad, or the beautiful land of the Sudan, in Los Angeles or Abuja, in Kashmir or Conakry, in Colombo or Cotabato—there God is banished and Satan is triumphant, there the angels weep and the soul of man cringes; there in the name of God humans are dehumanized; and there the grace and beauty of life lie ravished and undone.

Dr. Syed Z. Abedin, Director of the Institute for Muslim Minority Affairs,

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia36

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inspiration. This process began with historical-critical study of the Bible at the end of the eighteenth century and has expanded to include scriptures of other traditions, such as the Holy Qur’an of Islam, the Dao de jing of Daoism, and Buddhist and Hindu texts.

One area of research is to try to determine the original or most reliable form of a particular text. Another focus is ferreting out the historical aspects of the text, with help from external sources such as archaeological findings, to determine the historical setting in which it was probably composed, its actual author or authors, and possible sources of its material, such as oral or written traditions. Such research may conclude that material about a certain period may have been written later and include perspectives from that later period, or that a text with one person’s name as author may actually be a collection of writings by differ- ent people. A third area of research asks, “What was the intended audience?” A fourth examines the language and meanings of the words. A fifth looks at whether a scripture or passage follows a particular literary form, such as poetry, legal code, miracle story, allegory, parable, hymn, narrative, or sayings. A sixth focuses on the redaction, or editing and organizing, of the scripture and the development of an authorized canon designed to speak not only to the local community but also to a wider audience. Yet another approach is to look at the scripture in terms of its universal and contemporary relevance, rather than its historicity.

Although such research attempts to be objective, it is not necessarily undertak- en with sceptical intentions. To the contrary, these forms of research are taught in many seminaries as ways of reconciling faith with reason. Nevertheless, such analyses may be seen as offensive and/or false by orthodox believers. In any case, they are not perfect, for there are gaps in the available data and they can be interpreted in various ways. Scriptures also serve different purposes in different traditions, and these differences must be understood.

The encounter between science and religion What major positions have emerged in the dialogue between science and religion? Like religion, science is also engaged in searching for universal principles that explain the facts of nature. The two approaches have influenced each other since ancient times, when they were not seen as separate endeavors. In both Asia and the West, there were continual attempts to understand reality as a whole.

Historical background

In ancient Greece, source of many “Western” ideas, a group of thinkers who are sometimes called “nature philosophers” tried to understand the world through their own perceptions of it. By contrast, Plato (c. 427–347 BCE) distrusted the testimony of the human senses. He thus made a series of distinctions: between what is perceived by the senses and what is accessible through reason, between body and soul, appearance and reality, objects and ideas. In Plato’s thought, the soul was superior to the body, and the activity of reason preferable to the dis- traction of the senses. This value judgment dominated Western thought through the Middle Ages, with its underlying belief that all of nature had been created by God for the sake of humanity.

In the seventeenth century, knowledge of nature became more secularized (that is, divorced from the sacred) as scientists developed models of the uni- verse as a giant machine. Its ways could be discovered by human reason, by studying its component parts and mathematically quantifying its characteristics. However, even in discovering such features, many scientists regarded them as the work of a divine Creator or Ruler. Isaac Newton (1642–1727), whose gravi- tational theory shaped modern physics, speculated that space is eternal because

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it is the emanation of “eternal and immutable being.” Drawing on biblical quo- tations, Newton argued that God exists everywhere, containing, discerning, and ruling all things.

During the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, rational ways of knowing were increasingly respected, with a concurrent growing scepticism toward claims of knowledge derived from such sources as divine revelation or illumi- nated inner wisdom. The sciences were viewed as progressive; some thinkers attacked institutionalized religions and dogma as superstitions. According to scientific materialism, which developed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the supernatural is imaginary; only the material world is real.

The old unitary concepts of science and religion received another serious chal- lenge in 1859, when the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882) published On the Origin of Species, a work that propounded the theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin demonstrated that certain genetic mutations give an organism a competitive advantage over others of its species. As evolutionary biology has continued to develop since Darwin through genetic research, it shows that those carrying advantageous genes statistically produce more offspring that survive to breed themselves, so the percentage of the new gene gradually increases in the gene pool. Evolutionary studies are revealing more and more evidence of what appear to be gradual changes in organisms, as recorded in fossil records, foot- prints, and genetic records encoded in DNA. According to evolutionary biology theory, over great lengths of time such gradual changes have brought the devel- opment of all forms of life. The theory of natural selection directly contradicted a literal understanding of the biblical Book of Genesis, in which God is said to have created all life in only six days. By the end of the nineteenth century, all such beliefs of the Judeo-Christian tradition were being questioned.

Science and religion: recent developments

However, as science has progressed during the twentieth and twenty-first cen- turies, it has in some senses moved back toward a more nuanced understand- ing of religious belief. Science has always questioned its own assumptions and theories, and scientists have given up trying to find absolute certainties. From

Mapping of human DNA reveals that its six-and-a-half-foot- (two- meter-) long chain, carrying trillions of times more data than a computer chip, is super-dense, folding without tangles into the nucleus of a cell that is only one- fifth the width of a human hair.

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contemporary scientific research, it is clear that the cosmos is mind-boggling in its complexity and that what we perceive with our five senses is not ultimately real. For instance, the inertness and solidity of matter are only illusions. Each atom consists mostly of empty space with tiny particles whirling around in it. These subatomic particles—such as neutrons, protons, and electrons—cannot even be described as “things.” Theories of quantum mechanics, in trying to account for the tiniest particles of matter, uncovered the Uncertainty Principle: that the position and velocity of a subatomic particle cannot be simultaneously determined. These particles behave like energy as well as like matter, like waves as well as like particles. Their behaviors can best be described in terms of a dynamic, interdependent system that includes the observer. As physicist David Bohm (1917–1994) put it, “Everything interpenetrates everything.”37

Our own bodies appear relatively solid, but they are in a constant state of flux and interchange with the environment. Our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and skin do not reveal absolute truths. Rather, our sensory organs may operate as filters, selecting from a multidimensional universe only those characteristics that we need to perceive in order to survive. Imagine how difficult it would be simply to walk across a street if we could see all the electromagnetic energy in the atmos- phere, such as X-rays, radio waves, gamma rays, and infrared and ultraviolet light, rather than only the small band of colors we see as the visible spectrum. Though the sky of a starry night appears vast to the naked eye, the giant Hubble telescope placed in space has revealed an incomprehensibly immense cosmos whose limits have not been found. It contains matter-gobbling black holes, vast starmaking clusters, intergalactic collisions, and cosmic events that happened billions of years ago, so far away that their light is only now being captured by

The Hubble space telescope reveals an unimaginably vast cosmos, with billions of galaxies in continual flux. The Eagle nebula shown here is giving birth to new stars in “pillars of creation” which are six trillion miles (ten trillion kilometers) high.

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the most powerful instruments we have for examining what lies far beyond our small place in this galaxy. We know that more lies beyond what we have yet been able to measure. And even our ability to conceive of what we cannot sense may perhaps be limited by the way the human brain is organized.

As science continues to question its own assumptions, various new hypoth- eses are being suggested about the nature of the universe. “Superstring theory” proposes that the universe may not be made of particles at all, but rather of tiny vibrating strings and loops of strings. According to superstring theory, whereas we think we are living in four dimensions of space and time, there may be at least ten dimensions, with the unperceived dimensions “curled up” or “compact- ified” within the four dimensions that we can perceive. According to another current theory, the cosmos is like a soccer ball, a finite closed system with many facets.

New branches of science are finding that the universe is not always pre- dictable, nor does it always operate according to human notions of cause and effect. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann says that we are “a small speck of creation believing it is capable of comprehending the whole.”38 And whereas scientific models of the universe were until recently based on the assumption of stability and equilibrium, physicist Ilya Prigogine observes that “today we see instability, fluctuations, irreversibility at every level.”39

Physicist Hans-Peter Dürr, winner of the Right Livelihood Award (often described as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”), describes the dilemma that these discoveries pose to human understanding:

We found out that matter is not existent. At the beginning, there is only something which changes. How can something which is in-between create something which can be grasped? … We are part of the same organism which we cannot talk about. If I explain it, try to catch it with language, I destroy it. The Creation and the Creator cannot be seen as separate. There is only oneness.40

The most beautiful and profound emotion that we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness. … A human being is part of the whole. … He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. … Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole [of] nature in its beauty.

Albert Einstein41

In the work of physicists such as David Bohm, physics approaches metaphysics—philosophy based on theories of subtle realities that transcend the physical world. Bohm described the dimensions we see and think of as “real” as the explicate order. Behind it lies the implicate order, in which separateness resolves into unbroken wholeness. Beyond may lie other subtle dimensions, all merging into an infinite ground that unfolds itself as light. This scientific theory is very similar to descriptions by mystics from all cultures about their intuitive experiences of the cosmos. They speak of realities beyond normal human perceptions of space and time. The Hindu term “Brahma,” for instance, means “vast”—a vastness perceived by sages as infinite dimensions of a Supreme Consciousness that started without any material and then Itself became the Creation. In the realization of Guru Nanak, first of the Sikh Gurus, God is “Akal Murat”—Reality that transcends time.

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When Science Approaches Religion

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies (b. 1946) has won the Templeton Prize, a prestigious international award for contribution to thinking about religion. He suggests that science approaches religion when it asks fundamental questions:

If you are a biologist and you get stuck, you might go to a chemist to help you out. If a chemist gets stuck, you might get a physicist. If you’re a physicist and you get stuck, there’s nowhere to go except theology, because physics is the most basic science. It’s at the base of the explanatory pyramid upon which everything else is built. It deals with the fundamental laws of nature. And that inevitably prompts us to ask questions like, “Why those laws? Where have they come from? Why are they mathematical? What does it mean? Could they be different?” Clearly these are questions on the borderline between science and philosophy, or science and theology. The early scientists perceived this natural order and its hidden mathematical content, and they thought it derived from a creator-being. What happened in the centuries that followed was that science accepted the existence of a real order in nature. You can’t be a scientist if you don’t believe that there is some sort of order that is at least in part comprehensible to us. So you have to make two enormous assumptions—which don’t have to be right. But to be a scientist, you’ve got to believe they’re true. First, that there is a rational order in nature. Second, that we can come to understand nature, at least in part. What an extraordinary thing this is to believe in! There is a rational, comprehensible order in nature. Science asserts that the world isn’t arbitrary or absurd. If I use the word “God,” it is not in the sense of a super-being who has existed for all eternity and, like a cosmic magician, brings the universe into being at some moment in time on a whimsical basis. When I

refer to “God,” it is in the sense of the rational ground in which the whole scientific enterprise is rooted. The God I’m referring to is not really a person or a being in the usual sense. In particular, it is something that is outside of time. That is a very significant issue, and one on which there can be a very fruitful exchange, in my opinion, between physics and philosophy. Almost all of my physics colleagues, and scientists from other disciplines, even if they would cast themselves as militant atheists, are deeply inspired by the wonder, the beauty, the ingenuity of nature, and the underlying, law-like mathematical order. It could be that there are some things that are simply going to be forever beyond scientific enquiry—not because we’re lacking the money or the expertise or something of that sort, but because there are inherent limits to how far rational enquiry can take us. If science leaves us with mystery, is there a way that we can come to know about the world, about existence, not through scientific enquiry but through some other method? I’m open-minded as to whether that is the case. I’m talking here about revelatory or mystical experiences, where somehow the answer is grasped—not through rational enquiry, nor through experimentation, but by “knowing” in some internal sense. Nothing I have said deals with the sort of issues we struggle with in daily life, which are ethical and moral issues. The weakness of restricting to a God who’s just some sort of abstract, mathematical, rational ground for the world is that it doesn’t provide us with any sort of moral guidance. Most people turn to religion not because they want to understand how the universe is put together, but because they want to understand how their own lives are put together, and what they should do next. You don’t go to a physicist to ask about right and wrong.42


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Science is moving beyond its earlier mechanical models toward more dynam- ic biological models. For instance, James Lovelock has proposed the Gaia Theory of the earth as a complex, self-regulating organism of sorts, but he does not see it as the work of any Grand Planner. He explains:

Gaia theory sees the earth as a complete system made up of all the living things. … The whole of that constitutes a single system that regulates itself, keeps the climate constant and comfortable for life, keeps the chemical composition of the atmosphere so that it’s always breathable. [The earth] is not alive like an animal. What I am implying is alive in the sense of being able to regulate itself. It’s a system that evolved automatically, without any purpose, foresight, or anything. It just happened and has been in existence now for about three and a half to four billion years.43

In the United States, the conservative Christian community has objected to mechanistic scientific theories of biological evolution, preferring Creationism, the concept of intentional divine creation of all life forms. Intelligent design theory has been cited to support the religious concept of Creationism. According to intelligent design theorists, scientific discoveries of the complexities and per- fections of life can be said to prove the existence of an Intelligent Designer. For instance, if the weak force in the nucleus of an atom were a small fraction weak- er, there would be no hydrogen in the universe—and thus no water. Biologists find that the natural world is an intricate harmony of beautifully elaborated, interrelated parts. Even to produce the miniature propeller that allows a tiny bacterium to swim, some forty different proteins are required.

The intelligent design movement concludes that there must be a Creator. However, science is a method of proposing testable hypotheses and testing them, whereas the intelligent-design hypothesis is not testable. In 2005, the judge in a landmark case in Dover, Pennsylvania, ruled that intelligent design could not be recommended to ninth-grade biology students because intelligent design does not qualify as science—unless the definition of science is changed to include supernatural explanations—and because the First Amendment of the Constitution prevents government officials from imposing any particular religion or religious belief.

In the current dialogue between science and religion, four general positions have emerged. One is a conflict model, which is most apparent in issues such as creation, with some scientists rejecting any form of supernatural agency and some religionists holding onto faith in a Creator God whose existence cannot be proved by scientific method. A second position is that science and religion deal with separate realms. That is, religions deal with matters such as morality, hope, answers to philosophical questions (“Why are we here?”), and ideas about life after death, whereas science deals with quantifiable physical reality. In this posi- tion, a person can live with “two truths,” and neither side is required to venture into the other’s domain. A third position is that of dialogue, in which scientists and religious believers can find common ground in interpreting religious propo- sitions as metaphors and bases for the moral use of scientific research. Claims to absolute truth are softened on each side. A fourth position is that of integration, in which science and religion overlap. One example is illustrated by the boxed excerpt from physicist Paul Davies; another is what is sometimes called “creation theology,” referring to scientific enquiries by people who believe in a creative deity or deities. Environmentalist Ellen Bernstein explains this exploration from a Jewish perspective:

Creation theology refers to any kind of reflection on God and the world as a whole, or the elements of the world. It is interested in the nature of nature, and the nature of humanity, and the interplay of the two. It understands God as the continual, creative Presence in the world. … Jews who accept the logic of evolution theory should be relieved to learn that embracing a theology of creation in no way requires a suspension of rational thought or scientific integrity.44

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At the cutting edge of research, scientists themselves find they have no ultimate answers that can be expressed in scientific terms.

Women in religions How are women today challenging the patriarchal nature of many institutionalized religions? Another long-standing issue in the sphere of religion is the exclusion of women in male-dominated systems. Most institutionalized religions are patriarchal, meaning that men lead like father figures. Women are often relegated to the fringes of religious organizations, given only supporting roles, thus reflecting existing social distinctions between men and women. In some cases, women are even considered incapable of spiritual realization or dangerous to men’s spiritual lives. Founders of religion have in many cases attempted to temper cultural restraints on women. Jesus, for example, apparently included women among his close disciples, and the Prophet Muhammad gave much more respect to women than had been customary in the surrounding culture. However, after the found- ers, the institutions that developed often reverted to exclusion and oppression of women, sometimes giving a religious stamp of approval to gender imbalances.

Although women are still barred from equal spiritual footing with men in many religions, this situation is now being widely challenged. The contemporary feminist movement includes strong efforts to make women’s voices heard in the sphere of religion. Women are trying to discover their own identity, rather than having their identities defined by others, and to develop full, purposeful lives for themselves and their families. Scholars are bringing to light the histories of many women who have been religious leaders. Feminists are challenging patriarchal religious institutions that have excluded women from active participation. They are also challenging gender-exclusive language in holy texts and authoritarian masculine images of the divine. Their protests also go beyond gender issues to question the narrow and confining ways in which religious inspiration has been institutionalized. Many Buddhist centers in the West and some in Asia are run by women, and female scholars are having a major impact on the ways that

Even when denied access to public leadership roles in religions, women have been spiritually influential as mothers, nurses, Sunday-school teachers, and the like.

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Buddhist teachings are being understood. At prestigious Christian seminaries in the United States, women preparing for the ministry now outnumber men and are radically transforming views of religion and religious practice. Many women are deeply concerned about social ills of our times—violence, poverty, ecological disaster—and are insisting that religions be actively engaged in ensuring human survival, and that they be life-affirming rather than punitive in approach.

Even in traditional roles, women are redefining themselves as important spiritual actors. Buddhist practitioner Jacqueline Kramer observes:

The life occupation of mothering and homemaking has been both glorified and demeaned, but seldom has it been seen as the valid spiritual path it can be. Yet, the practices the mothers engage in, day in and day out—selfless service, generosity, letting go, developing a deep love for all beings, patience, faith, and mindfulness—are the way of practice for monks and nuns of all the world’s wisdom traditions.45

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