An Evidence-Based Emergence

Science: Old and New

An Evidence-Based Emergence
Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Rev. Michael Dowd is an evidential mystic and eco-theologian who has earned the respect of Nobel laureate scientists, many religious leaders, and little old me. Michael and his science-writer wife, Connie Barlow, show how a sacred-science view of reality can inspire people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs to work together in service to a just and thriving future for all. Dowd writes:

Religion is undergoing a massive shift in perspective . . . as wrenching as the Copernican revolution, which required humanity to bid farewell to an Earth-centered understanding of our place in the cosmos. The religious revolution on the horizon today might well be called the “Evidential Reformation.” We humbly shift away from a human-centric, ethnocentric, and shortsighted view of what is important. At the same time, we expand our very identities to encompass the immense journey of life made known by the full range of sciences. In so doing, we all become elders of a sort, instinctively willing to do whatever it takes to pass on a world of health and opportunities no lesser than the one into which we were born. . . . .

An evidential worldview has become crucial. We now know that evolutionary and ecological processes are at the root of life and human culture. To disregard, to dishonor, these processes through our own determined ignorance and cultural/religious self-focus is an evil that will bring untold suffering to countless generations of our own kind and all our relations. We must denounce such a legacy. Ours is thus a call to . . . sacred activism. [Twenty-five] years ago, Carl Sagan both chided and encouraged us in this way:

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed.” . . . A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge. [1]

I [Dowd] submit that the “religion” of which Sagan spoke has been emerging for decades, largely unnoticed, at the nexus of science, inspiration, and sustainability. Rather than manifesting as a separate and competing doctrine, it is showing up as a meta-religious perspective (. . . an insight discerned by Thomas Berry). Such an evidence-based emergent can nourish any secular or religious worldview that has moved past fundamentalist allegiances to the literal word of sacred texts.

I, Richard, agree with Michael Dowd that healthy conversations between science and faith have been taking place for decades, but I mourn the fact that they have been on the margins of both the academy and our churches. I rarely bring science into my Sunday sermons, perhaps because I assume it’s not what people want to hear. However, if we truly want to be a part of the “Evidential Reformation,” we must each do our part to understand and share the ways science and our faith affirm one another.   

References:
[1] Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (Random House Publishing: 1994), 50.

Michael Dowd, “Evidential Mysticism and the Future of Earth,” “Evidence,” Oneing, vol. 2, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), 15-18.

Image credit: Chestnut Trees at Jas de Bouffan (detail), Paul Cézanne, 1880/1891. Minnesota Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the old times, our elders say, the trees talked to each other. They’d stand in their own council and craft a plan. But scientists decided long ago that plants were deaf and mute, locked in isolation without communication. . . . There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right—the trees are talking to one another. —Robin Wall Kimmerer
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