What is truth? This is an important question, but an even more interesting question is how do we decide truth? Some people think of truth as objective, and measurable. In our Western culture, we hold scientific inquiry as the ultimate mechanism by which we gain this knowledge. But in our daily actions, it is often our emotions, memories and past experiences that drive our behavior. And beyond that, aren’t there ways of conceptually understanding the world through story that is just as meaningful? If truth can only be known through what is replicated and reproduce through the scientific method or based on what the five senses can tell us, aren’t we dismissing the core of our spiritual/emotional nature?
Some think these two paths to truth are in direct contrast to another and many of us are desperate to find a way for them to fit neatly together. Let’s consider for a moment that we do both, science and spirituality a disservice when we want them to converge. Perhaps, they are parallels paths and they both provide us with truth. Each one giving us a different offering and a way to understand the universe and each equally important to our navigating our lives with meaning. They are the masculine and feminine aspects of our nature, and just like the yin/yang, they were meant to complement and not converge.
What Spirituality Tells Us?
Spirituality is our connection to what is meaningful in our lives. And an understanding that this meaning is connected to something that is larger than the individual. For some, this is God and others could describe it as oneness. But, regardless of the language, it is about our relationship to ourselves, our communities and our universe. Through the use of story, meditation, and direct mystical experiences, people deepen their awareness of a shared universal consciousness. These truths are not easily quantified or explained as a string of data, but they help us to understand who we are to one another and more importantly who we are to ourselves.
What Science Tells Us?
Science, on the other hand, is riddled with doubt and skepticism by its very nature. It aims to be faithless and only infer knowledge from observation and experimentation of the physical and the natural world. It tells us how our world operates within the confines of time and space and gives an accurate way to measure and predict the universe’s behavior. Our scientific knowledge has given us huge advances in technology, extended our lives and allowed us to build the infrastructure of our modern world. If science tells us of ‘the how’ or gives us the mechanism by which things work; spirituality sheds light on ‘the why’ or the purpose for our being here.
Each path to truth has its limitations and it is important to understand them. Science does a great job explaining to us the actions of a single ingredient or the statistical truths of large populations, but it can’t tell your story. And more than that, it doesn’t know the story you tell yourself. There are many aspects of the mind/body relationship, our subconscious mind, and our relationship dynamics that can’t be measured and accounted for. All of these factors contribute to our unique biochemical make-up. In a very real sense, our stories shape our biology.
Seeing the world through a spiritual lens only, also has its limitations. It can find itself entrenched in dogma and rigidity in the case of organized religion. It can also fail to explain why something manifests the way it does on the material plane. It has been used as a way to control others as well as an opportunity for some to give away their power and/or responsibility. We can miss out on actionable steps that greatly improve our physical lives if we are too focused on waiting for a sign.
Analytical & Conceptual
For example, let’s take the creation story. There has been a huge debate about it being addressed alongside the evolution in science class. Opponents consider it anti-science and many Christians believe it should be a critical part of our education. So while the creation story does not belong in a science classroom, it still has value to our human experience. In the Native American culture or African folk traditions, they both used mythology or metaphor to describe their world. They have passed on their origins, their philosophies, and the wisdom of their ancestors through the use of storytelling. Maybe these hold just as much value and importance as knowing the chemical constituents of the Big Bang.
Neither view can fully encompass humanity’s truth, but if we stop moving from a place of either /or and move into the space of both/and, the world does not have to be reduced down to the sum of its parts. Can we live in a world that can appreciate and see the value that science has to offer, but understand that story and myth speak to a part of us that can’t be reached by data alone? Let’s let them co-exist and not be so eager to abolish or combine them. Data is great, but we won’t change the world without a new story. Conversely, a new story can only be implemented with the technology and innovations that science provides.