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If Ethics is Water, Science is a Stone

An oft-quoted idea of Albert Einstein’s is that while religion without science is blind, science without religion is lame. These days he might say that while there are quite a few blind religionists, we are not without our lame scientists either.

The “religion” that is blind without science is of course religious institutions. Since organized religions are not dedicated to the scientific method to arrive at material knowledge, religious leaders and believers must depend on science to understand the workings of the cosmos. That includes comprehending its age and the origins of life.

To Einstein, religion at its best was synonymous with teaching ethical living while eschewing scientific statements. That is religion’s true mission as it is a singular purpose science cannot fulfill. Religious writings repeatedly fail the test of science, but it was no matter to Einstein since ethical principles could still be extracted from myths. We are no less the keepers of our brother and sister human beings because the sons of Adam are as mythological as their father.

As such, the Mormon religion has no place in claiming an ancient language existed that never did, anymore than does creationism have a place in cosmology courses, because no ethical principle is at stake if “reformed Egyptian” was never uttered or if the world is five billion years old. Another way of putting it is that science is obliged to show that Jesus is a character of fiction and religion is obliged to spread the inclusive teachings of Jesus, and neither should be bothered by the work of the other since Jesus’s teachings are not at all invalidated by Jesus’s lack of historicity, and vice versa.

Because of scientific blindness emerging from organized religion, wherein the history and divinity of the messenger becomes more important than the message, Einstein was painfully aware of how far short religions fell from their calling. He noted that unless religious leaders dispensed with the neither scientific nor ethical notions such as of a monotheistic personal God or “Chosen People” status, they would not only fail their mission but do harm to the public.

So Einstein stressed that ethics, not precisely organized religion, was the real “religion” that gave legs to lame science. He acknowledged that while ethics might be taught by a centralized religion, it exists independent of all religions and no religion has a monopoly on it. Ethics free of scientific statements (as opposed to organized religions that might be tempted to confuse their myths for scientific statements) without science is never blind. One need not know the age of the universe or the origins of life to be ethical; but scientific advancement without a guiding ethical principle is humanity’s worst nightmare. We must avoid what Martin Luther King referred to as the “guided missiles and misguided men” syndrome.

Humanity thus needed a system of thought outside of science but also in keeping with reason (thus disqualifying authoritarian revelation) to understand ethics because science alone would always draw an ethical blank. The scientific method could say nothing regarding ethics or arrive at a standard of good because all ethical standards -- including the one that says science itself is an ethical imperative -- are at bottom arbitrary. Right and wrong are simply not within the purview of science.

There’s something other than ethics -- or the same thing we routinely call a different name -- that science also can’t detect or measure: the self. The one mystery of this cosmos that science can never know is self-awareness. There is no material explanation for, or even a scientific measurement of, the self. Science can never directly measure a sense of self, which is prior to sensory stimulation, thought, feelings, and volition -- namely, all the basic tools of material science. Science can only measure the secondary footprints of the self, which yet remains eternally invisible and unknowable.

We all know a sense of self -- no one denies that -- but that knowledge is not material science. It is intuitively based on our capacity to look within, which is as much to say it is mystical knowledge since it is utterly independent of empirical data. While religions are full of unscientific miracle stories that predominately inculcate a superiority complex instead of inclusive ethics, nothing is a miracle to the material scientist; but because there is awareness in the cosmos, the cosmos is a miraculous wonder to all of us when we take a moment to consider it. A cosmos without self-awareness makes more sense to science -- in fact, it's the only cosmos of which science is aware! A cosmos with self-knowledge changes everything.

It is no coincidence then that science is lame precisely when it comes to knowing the self and knowing right from wrong. Ethical knowledge and self-knowledge are two ways of talking about the same thing. The sense of self and the sense of right and wrong reflect each other. The narrower the self, the more distorted the standards of right and wrong will be. The more expansive the self, the more right and wrong will reflect universals and not be laden with conditioning arising from geography, epoch, culture, religion, etc. Just the belief in divisive eternal apotheoses is enough to warp every ethical sensibility in this temporal world.

This is also why our sense of time and sense of self/ethics are connected. Narrow self breeds narrow time frames, like beginning and end times, but more than that the narrow self will interpret memories with an extreme defensiveness, always inclining to bolster its little world view and myopic view of selfhood. The future memories of such a narrow self will similarly fail to deviate from the comfortable confines of the self’s parameters.

With past and future so entirely constrained, it is no wonder that the sense of right and wrong will be severely warped. The narrow self is unable to entertain an unfamiliar yardstick for right and wrong when these determinations are rigidly predefined to yield a good that is equivalent with whatever supports its belief system and worldview and bad as whatever challenges them. Thus is born all degrees of crusaders, racists, misogynists, gay-haters, end-time believers, and suicide bombers -- i.e. divisive selves.

Scientifically exposing religion’s dark underbelly and the mythic status of Yahweh, Jesus, and other cultic god delusions is vital if the human race is ever going to outgrow the infantile stage of divisive monotheism. But even infants have a self that requires nurturance that science will never satisfy. Of itself, science can never provide the satisfaction to be had by even the primitive worship of a mythic image of God. The scientists that would protest to this statement have simply failed to ask themselves if it was the scientific method and the resulting material knowledge, or their own sense of self projected onto the vocation of science, which brought them personal reward.

Worshipers project their selves onto their professed gods and find solace, and scientists do them same with their profession. At bottom, a similar process is underway: a focal point of concentration is established, allowing the self a space to revel in itself. The danger of divisive mythic images of god is clear: the sense of self affirms its own narrow divisive parameters in the process of attentive worship in order to bolster itself. The danger of science without expansive ethics is also clear: scientific minds unethically hire out their attentions to the highest bidder in order to materially bolster themselves, fighting like mercenaries in technological wars on battlefields of pharmaceutical sales and arms races.

Scientists can rightly protest that advancing technology is not true science, just as sincere seekers of a larger self will protest that organized religions have distorted the timeless teachings of the intuitive mystics of all cultures that investigated the realm of cosmic self-knowledge (much as modern scientists investigate the cosmic realm of material knowledge). But when the atom bomb or suicide bomb drops, who has time for excuses?

So any scientist’s reference to a god or selfish gene is thus belittling and intellectually dishonest, not to mention hypocritical. The sense of self is not limited to religionists, or humans for that matter, and the worship of a personal god is simply a primitive and easily accessible expression of a developing self. The reference carries with it the generally accepted monotheistic definition of god, meaning it criticizes what certainly demands critical analysis -- the worship of an exclusive idea of god that merely bolsters the narrow self -- but it does not appreciate the positive use in historic mythic symbols of expansive principles (of which scientific investigation is also one) as focal points of concentration, so long as the respective mythic images do not devolve into exclusive cults (of which there certainly have been a few in the history of science).

Of course, no scientist will ever find a selfish or god gene. Self-awareness is not simply a process that is far greater than the sum of its parts. It is a substance far prior to all parts that can never be localized in a test tube. The self finds itself in everything because, at bottom, the cosmos is made of the substance of awareness. This is neither a scientific statement nor a statement of faith, but rather an intuited position taken by the rare modern and ancient mystic, after long decades of inward exploration using ascetic and mystical methods -- methods that require far more discipline than is required by the scientific method. In any case, we can more easily believe in the fabled Yahweh than that scientists, by virtue of the tools of material science, are free of a sense of self, narrow or otherwise. If there is dogma in religion, there is as much in the field of science because the self will be inclined to defend its belief systems and theories everywhere.

Carl Sagan once unscientifically suggested that instead of worshipping a nonexistent god, we can look upon ourselves as the cosmos’s experiment at understanding itself. This was his attempt at expansive ethics, but science training does not imply intuitive training. Though he properly posited awareness on the part of the cosmos (we’re living proof of it!), he presumed the cosmos is aware enough to conduct experiments in monkey minds to know itself, but not aware enough to know itself directly. True to the form of the cosmically central omnipresent self, the statement places the self of its speaker -- the scientist -- at the center of purpose in the cosmos and material science as the highest cosmic expression, just as religionists place themselves at the center of existence and their rituals as the highest expression of holiness. Can’t we see a pattern here? Don’t we all appear to belong to the same religion of selfhood?

And if Sagan is right, someone ought to tell the cosmos, which can and will eventually ruin its experiment with a mindless meteor. And where does the cosmos eternally store the data of this mundane experiment? What great victory is it to the cosmos that a complex organism residing on one world discovers a minor atmospheric detail of another? And how does discovering every little fact of the cosmos, as if that were even possible, add a whit to an ethical understanding of a larger self when the two are not mutually contradictory? Indeed, how does finite material knowledge even translate into direct knowledge of the cosmos, and why would the cosmos only be interested in indirect dualistic material knowledge and not direct nondual self-knowledge?

Francois Voltaire didn't believe that undermining an unethical religion required replacing it with anything else, but the history of religion proves otherwise. Sagan was wise in trying, but the idea is to replace it with the real "religion" to which we are all ideally bound: expansive ethical principles. Einstein intuitively voiced those principles succinctly and perfectly: "The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self." The degree to which we are free from conditioned ideas of self, not how much material knowledge our species accumulates, is the sole measure of our ethical and cosmic success as human beings. This means that we are all, not merely the scientists among us, at the center of place and purpose in the cosmos, with that purpose being self-expansion. This ultimately requires liberation from a narrow Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, American, male or female, black or white, gay or macho, dog lover, parent, or rich and famous self that conditions our hearts and minds with divisive and exclusive ethical perspectives. Even a human self, as divided from an animal or alien self, must be overcome. This is the process that deserves the name “spirituality.”

Science is itself not, nor can it deliver, the religion of expansive ethics or provide the intuitive methods of self-knowledge anymore than can organized religion deliver scientific theories. To find that expansive identity, no scientific degree is needed. No religion is necessary either, and most are better avoided these days. All we need do is tend to the seed of self-expansion by looking within (“intuit”) to the soil in which it grows: our hearts. Surely, no god -- monotheistic or pantheistic -- would make it any more complicated than that.