I am wary of people who have found “the truth”. I believe fundamentalism is a problem, no matter what the flavor. To adhere strictly and literally to any set of unchanging fundamental principles requires that a person cease independent thought and adopt ideas that bear a particular authority’s stamp of approval. When people stop seeking and examining new evidence because they believe they have found the ultimate answers to life’s questions, we can safely assume that they have stopped growing. They have matured as far as they are able, and they have closed their minds. Absolute certainty results in absolute stagnation.
I place my utmost faith in reason and science. I do not believe in supernatural events. But I am certain that science has not resolved everything – far from it. There are many of nature’s most important mysteries that we have not unlocked. Indeed, I suspect that there are questions that science may never be able to answer. And the more we learn, the more we discover that the
universe exceeds the capacity of even our best minds to comprehend it. Newtonian physics was not able to account for everything accurately and needed Einstein’s ideas to make our
understanding more complete. Neither could the general and special theories of relativity explain everything completely, and so it goes. Today quantum mechanics and string theory are at the cutting edge of our knowledge, but can we really consider any of today’s scientific theories to be the ultimate truth? As our powers to observe improve, we find ever better ways to discover phenomena that the best theories cannot explain.
We live in a world that we don’t fully understand. No matter how much we learn, we cannot know everything. It appears that we may never learn the answers to all of nature’s mysteries. And what are we to think about the great unknown beyond the bounds of scientific inquiry? Science asks what and how, but we also want to know why. Why is there something, rather than nothing? Is there some intent or purpose to life and being? Why are we here at all to ask these questions? Science neither asks nor tells us why, and, most importantly, science cannot provide answers that can tell us how to live or love or laugh or grieve.
Science is appropriate for studying the material realm. Medicine, psychology, sociology, and anthropology answer many questions about human behavior, but they can answer only objective questions. They cannot supply the best answers to subjective questions about right and wrong or good and evil. This is the realm of philosophy. Philosophy addresses logic, reason, and knowledge itself. Philosophy uses a methodology to build theories and models that can interpret, explain, and often recommend human social and individual behaviors. Philosophy itself is not altogether objective, although philosophers often claim to be. The interplay between science and philosophy is important, because the interaction improves both. I agree with the ancient Greeks: we should all become philosophers.
In the introduction to her book, The Case for God, Karen Armstrong tells us how the ancient Greeks separated knowledge into two categories, logos and mythos – reason and myth.
Science, mathematics, engineering, cosmology, chemistry, biology, and physics belong to the world of reason.
Intuition, imagination, inspiration, creativity, allegory, and the arts lie within the realm of mythos. Without mythos, reason is cold and uninspiring. Intuition awakens the spirit and provides the spark that stirs the imagination and starts the flow of our creative juices. This pulls reason out of its rut and gets it moving in new directions.
Whether we tend towards logos or mythos, we are best served by finding a balance that works for us as individuals. We should strive to be rational, but not too rational. Dance, music, poetry, and fantasy do not have rational underpinnings, but they help make life worth living. They allow our spirits to take flight and add breadth and depth to our often mundane human existence.
Imagination, mental flexibility, and insatiable curiosity can rescue us from absolute certainty and its resulting stagnation. They can strip away our blinders and allow us to realize that truth is sometimes fleeting. The right answers are where we find them, not where self-proclaimed authorities insist they must be. When we realize that we are no longer children, we put away childish things, but we must never stop growing and maturing and seeking the certainty that we likely will never truly find.
Peters, Cash. “Make a Clean Break from Anxiety.” Spirituality & Health Magazine. March-April
Armstrong, Karen. The Case for God. New York: Anchor Books, 2009.