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  • Rick Bonetti

Evolution of Science & Religion

I recently watched the 1997 movie Contact, which I thoroughly enjoyed for the third time. The movie has a subplot about an evolving relationship between two characters and their perspectives - Dr. Ellie Arroway (science) and Father Palmer Joss (religion). Jodie Foster's character represented the persistent pursuit of truth solely through reason, measurable evidence, and data, while Matthew McConaughey's character also valued profound, personal, subjective experiences that could not be put into words. Ultimately these different approaches came together as Ellie expresses in awe: "They should have sent a poet... I had no idea.!" Palmer Joss later asks Ellie: Do you love your father? Can you prove it?

Fundamentalists, whether scientific, religious, or political, are sure of their perspectives - they are certain, fixed, and dogmatic in their static beliefs and can be combative in their attitudes if someone disagrees. They are not open to a healthy evolution in a new understanding. If their identity is tightly bound to their beliefs they become defensive, and unable to appreciate another's experience.

It is my hope that science and spirituality (if not individual religions) can come together in a new third story if both are understood as "evolutionary" - open to change and transformation.

Optimally science is constantly changing with new information, but it has little to say about kindness, compassion, tenderness, forgiveness, consolation, inspiration, patience, friendship, humor, beauty, art, and creativity, which are more in the domains of spirituality or religion. To come together, science needs to accept the validity of certain personal spiritual experiences of the ineffable rather than dismiss them as misguided delusions. On the other hand, much of the problem with science accepting what is unprovable or unexplainable is the insistence by some religious believers on magical, mythical, or supernatural explanations of subjective phenomena. Religious institutions too must evolve and embrace truths supported by evolving scientific evidence.

100 years ago Pierre Teilhard de Chardin coined the term the Noosphere. This evolving planetary mind is due to technological improvements in communication and higher levels of consciousness. We are in the midst of a Major Evolutionary Transformation (MET), as profound as abiogenesis, eukaryogenesis, sexual reproduction, multicellularity, and consciousness itself. Technology is augmenting our bodies into cyborgs and hybrid-humans. Ilia Delio sees humanity evolving to hyper-personal, "posthumans" that are gender fluid, racially neutral, and interspiritual - second axial conscious persons who are at home with networked relationships, horizontal vision, and virtual reality (Re-Enchanting the Earth, p.218-9).

"We are becoming increasingly wired together and in the not too distant future, our electronically embedded lives will be integrated circuits of seamless connections, the singularity predicted by Kurtzweil."

Is it possible to have an evolution of religion with a new understanding of "God" more as an activity or process (a verb), a becoming, the energy of love, an integral reality rather than an ontologically distinct "other" (a proper noun)? And as Ilia Delio asks: "Can we envision a new type of religion in a hyper-connected world without institution?"

"Christianity was originally a new religious sensibility centered on being a person in community, a religion without institution." ~ Ilia Delio

.In her August 13, 2023 Rebirthing Religion blog post Ilia Delio writes: "Teilhard de Chardin clearly saw the problem of religion in relation to science over a hundred years ago. He turned religion on its head by seeing religion as the inside story of the universe, that is, as a natural and essential aspect of evolution. Religion is as important to the flow of evolution as are the mechanisms of Darwinian evolution. Matter is bifacial and religion and science are two aspects of the same whole grounded in an irresistible power of love."

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