My Take: Science and spirituality should be friends
February 15th, 2011
07:00 AM ET

My Take: Science and spirituality should be friends

Editor's Note: Deepak Chopra is founder of the Chopra Foundation and a senior scientist at the Gallup Organization. He has authored over 60 books, including The Soul of Leadership, which The Wall Street Journal called one of five best business books about careers.

By Deepak Chopra, Special to CNN

For most people, science deserves its reputation for being opposed to religion.

I'm not thinking of the rather noisy campaign by a handful of die-hard atheists to demote and ridicule faith.

I'm thinking instead of Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution has proved victorious over the Book of Genesis and its story of God creating the universe in seven days. Since then, God has been found wanting when measured against facts and data. With no data to support the existence of God, there is also no reason for religion and science to close the gap between them.

Yet the gap has indeed been closing.

Religion and spirituality didn't go away just because organized religion has been losing its hold, as suggested by showing decades of  declining church attendance in the U.S. and Western Europe.

Despite the noisy atheists, two trends in spirituality and science have started to converge. One is the trend to seek God outside the church. This has given rise to a kind of spirituality based on personal experience, with an openness to accept Eastern traditions like meditation and yoga as legitimate ways to expand one's consciousness.

If God is to be found anywhere, it is inside the consciousness of each person. Even in the Christian West we have the assurance of Jesus that the kingdom of heaven is within, while the Old Testament declares, "Be still and know that I am God."

The other trend is a growing interest by scientists in questions about consciousness.

Twenty years ago, a respectable researcher couldn't ask daring questions such as "do we live in an intelligent universe?" or "Is there mind outside the body?" That's because materialism rules science; it is the core of the scientific worldview that reality is constructed out of physical building blocks - tiny things like atoms and quarks - whose motion is essentially random.

When you use words like "intelligence" and "design" in discussing the patterns in nature, immediately you are tarred with the same brush as creationists, who have hijacked those terms to defend their religious beliefs.

But time brings change, and next week my foundation is hosting a symposium in Southern California where the gap between science and spirituality will be narrow somewhat, not on the basis of religion but on the basis of consciousness.

Outside the view of the general public, science has reached a critical point. The physical building blocks of the universe have gradually vanished; that is, atoms and quarks no longer seem solid at all but are actually clouds of energy, which in turn disappear into the void that seems to be the source of creation.

Was mind also born in the same place outside space and time? Is the universe conscious? Do genes depend on quantum interactions? Science aims to understand nature down to its very essence, and now these once radical questions, long dismissed as unscientific, are unavoidable.

My conference, called the Sages and Scientists Symposium: The Merging of A New Future, is only one in a wave of gatherings through which hundreds of researchers are working to define a new paradigm for the relationship between spirituality and science.

It is becoming legitimate to talk of invisible forces that shape creation - not labeling them as God but as the true shapers of reality beyond the space/time continuum. A whole new field known as quantum biology has sprung up, based on a true breakthrough - the idea that the total split between the micro world of the quantum and the macro world of everyday things may be a false split.

If so, science will have to account for why the human brain, which lives in the macro world, derives its intelligence from the micro world. Either atoms and molecules are smart, or something makes them smart.

That something, I believe, will come down to a conscious universe.

Agree or disagree, you cannot simply toss the question out the window. It turns out that the opposition of science to religion is a red herring. The real goal of a new science will be to expand our reality so that spiritual truths are acceptable, along with many other subjective experiences that science has long dismissed as unreliable.

We are conscious beings who live with purpose and meaning. It seems unlikely that these arose form a random, meaningless universe. The final answer to where they came from may shake science to its core. I certainly hope it does.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Deepak Chopra.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Leaders • Opinion • Science

soundoff (1,568 Responses)
  1. Bob.

    > When you use words like "intelligence" and "design" in discussing the patterns in nature, immediately you are tarred with the same brush as creationists, who have hijacked those terms to defend their religious beliefs.

    If you use arguments such as "It's obvious" or "You wouldn't mistake a watch on a beath as getting there randomly" you will be lumped. However, if you say "Based on my knowledge of the world, I cannot see how this would have come about naturallY" that's a whole different kettle of fish.

    If you're asserting design, you better have some evidence. Otherwise, expect to be lumped together with the people who don't either. Ie, Creationists.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  2. Deepak Chopra

    This guy doesn't understand science at all. CNN is trash.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  3. conradshull

    This is not too deep (ak) Chopra. The Catholic Church has no beef with science.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  4. steve

    Bad CNN, bad. (wicked Zoot,evil Zoot...lol)

    February 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  5. Patty

    Stop trying to compare God with Science. God is incomparable.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  6. Bob.

    > That's because materialism rules science; it is the core of the scientific worldview that reality is constructed out of physical building blocks – tiny things like atoms and quarks – whose motion is essentially random.

    The author is either lying or ignorant. There is no scientific worldview. It's what science is and isn't able to do. Science as a method comment on items that lie outside the natural world, if they do exist or dont'. It's simply incapable of doing so.

    A blind person from birth cannot comprehend colours. It doesn't mean that they have an "non-colour" worldview, it simply means they are incapable of knowing what colour sare.

    Science validates things in the natural world. That is it's purpose and that's where it should be applied.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  7. mrgmorgan56

    The answer is no. Religion is for weak minded fools.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  8. newt

    Just cause you got "deep" in your name don't make your thoughts so. If there be intelligence in the universe you can bet us Earth Worms got no access to it, and wondering about it dont make us spiritual.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  9. davidprz

    Chopra is a crackpot....I'm surprised CNN gives any attention to him

    February 15, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • MJB

      "Crackpot" is right! Why they are giving him front-page (so to speak) coverage is beyond me.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  10. FriendNdeed

    Dudes! The word "Spiritual" means "relating to the breath of life". Period! That's been the standing definition of "spiritual" for centuries. If you are are alive and breathing, you are spiritual. Boom! End of subject. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something. Which brings me to the subject of this article........ what is he selling?

    February 15, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  11. Kurt

    I have rarely seen such a load of utter nonsense on this site. Shame on you, CNN....please get back to reporting actual NEWS someday.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • MJB

      How right you are!!! I do so wish CNN would remind itself periodically that it is a *NEWS* organization and not People magazine or Religion Lite!

      February 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  12. T3chsupport

    It can really go either way. What can't be proven can't be proven, so you have to go with your gut feeling. Some people have absolutely no gut feeling, and some have an overwhelming one. But no matter what, you can't prove that there's not a knowing force behind all of science, physics and evolution included, but you also can't prove that there is. Trying to make others unhappy with their choices just because they aren't your choices will only make you unhappy yourself. You won't change anyone's mind, and there's no reason you should. Regardless of what side you're on, you don't have anything more substantial than the other side does.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • DeathStalker

      I disagree on one point you can change peoples minds. That happens quite often but other then that your are mostly correct. My only point in any of this is I hope there is something out there far more intelligent then the smartest person to have ever lived. And that they know of our existance and hope someone proves it in my life time.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  13. someoneelse

    I think the biggest fallacy is that even if evolution (and somehow the entire tool of science) prove to be incorrect, that DOES NOT prove any of religion's theories.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Sorry God :/

      its 2011, its time to wake up and smell the pu55y – Religon is a sham used to get your money. How much money have you given to your church. Why do you think your religion is right compared to other peoples around the world.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • CSmith

      No one is saying it does. Likewise, proving all those things does nothing to disprove God (a claim atheists often make).

      February 15, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  14. runner305

    Maybe Snake Plissken is God in disguise! "The more things change, the more they stay the same"

    February 15, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  15. Carolyn

    Aaah the atheists trolls are back. Face it you'll never win.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  16. Adam

    The universe is not random. It is confined by its own natural laws which place constraints on its "randomness" by taking the role of a guiding hand that people like to label "God". The laws of nature are your true God(s).

    February 15, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Floyd

      Not right, Deepak.
      Science is based on reality.
      "Spirituality" is based on hand waving about things that don't exist.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm |

    Consciousness requires a minimum of the following: 1. A power supply (meaning food, photosynthesis, etc.). 2. Interconnecting electrical or neural elements. 3. An ability to perceive the outside world 4. The ability to moderate and learn from those interconnecting neural or electrical elements.

    Without those attributes, consciousness cannot exist. It is important to realize that this INCLUDES machines and computers. But life after death, without those elements, is impossible. Thus...no life after death without technology. ergo. No god.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • CSmith

      There are so many problems with that logic that I won't even start on the process. Suffice it to say, that's not the definition of consciousness.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • ktisis

      Sanjose: Interesting list of preconditions for consciousness, based completely upon conjecture and bias. Consciousness is immaterial in and of itself, you are merely describing our support systems in experiencing consciousness. Intelligence is an immaterial concept, as is logic. It cannot be reduced to mere support mechanisms. It's similar to the DNA conundrum, DNA is both the message and the language. It contains the data to construct living belngs in the form of billions of nucleotides in very specific sequences, yet there is an immaterial "language" that has to interpret those specific codons for protein synthesis. But the conundrum is, which came first? Obviously the language of DNA (immaterial) has to exist to interpret the nucleotides. But there has to be DNA to interpret for it to be meaningful. The language had to be designed first, and consciousness likewise, must be an immaterial concept that exists before the mere physical support systems to enable our experience of it.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Minos

      San Jose Mike, don't make the mistake of confusing your AA in Electronics for an education in the deeper questions of life, meaning, and consciousness. Your "Popular Mechanics" magazine word view just isn't cutting it on this subject. You're embarressing yourself, the City of San Jose, and the Radio Shack store where you built your career and reputation. We look forward to hearing from you on the next do- it-yourself short wave radio building blog.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  18. Ezra

    "If so, science will have to account for why the human brain, which lives in the macro world, derives its intelligence from the micro world. Either atoms and molecules are smart, or something makes them smart."
    Huh? Computers are "smart" , live in the macro world adn rely on elections at thier base. SDoes that make electons smart?

    Secondly, even if their is more to quantum interactions and less randomness in the Universe than science currently knows, this has nothing to do with human invented religions or any gods. Sure, science does not have all the answers, but just making up stuff and claiming them to be the answers – which is the method of religion – is not likley to get us closer to the truth. Once again it;s the "god of the gaps" – anything we cannot explain yet, must be God.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Minos

      Well Ezra, if computers really rely on "elections", they're a hell of a lot smarter than I gave them credit for! I had no idea.

      Your computer analogy actually does more to support Depak's point than refute it. He states that he believes that a universal consciousness imparts order and mind to the material world - including the human brain. With computers, human concsiousness / intelligence designs CPUs, memory, hard drives and the SW that enables practical applications to be run on top of the HW stack. The human mind is obviously behind the creation, development, and use of computers - just as perhaps a universal intelligence / consciousness is the source of being and the material world at large. It is the hight of ignorance to dismiss this plausable hypothesis off hand in the name of science, which of course should remain open to such possibilities until such time that hard evidence is produced to refute the theory. Let science takes it's natural course and it will lead, slowly but surely, to ever more profound discoveries and conclusions. If we shut the inquiry down in favor of angrily promoting subjective opionions, we end up imprisoned in petty, polarized, and shallow world views like that of the science bashing fundamentalists and the sour puss nay saying athesists. Two peas in the same (enclosed) pod.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  19. Sean

    HAHHAHHA this article made me laugh a lot. Thank you.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  20. Pete H

    1. I have problems with an author who says the Bible is wrong and then, in the space of a few paragraphs, says it's right.
    2. I don't know whose church Mr. Chopra is getting his numbers from, but mine is outgrowing its walls, as are many others in my area.
    3. God DOES exist in each of us. It's called the Holy Spirit. This was in print, in the Bible, long before New Age religion had its epiphany. Trouble is, the Holy Spirit calls people to come together; not to isolate themselves. When they do come together, a church is formed. That's just the way it goes. Of course, people have had an unfortunate tendency to reinvent the wheel every few generations since the dawn of time. You would think that evolution would have fixed that genetic flaw by now.
    4. Creationists didn't "hijack" the terms "intelligence" and "design" to "defend their religious beliefs." Far from it. They always knew there was intelligence and design to the universe. No; Darwinists simply condemned themselves with their own words. Please, put the blame where it belongs.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Adam

      Yup! Everyone knows it all started with a talking snake in a tree.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • swk14

      Exactly Adam! Talking snakes, arcs with every animal ever made plus dinosaurs, forbidden apples, vigin (haha sure) births, walking on water....It's all so clear and simple. Those damn scientists don't know anything!!

      February 15, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • CSmith

      That's because the author is largely writing about things he doesn't know anything about. On the one hand, not much of quantum physics poses a problem to the materialistic world view (which has expanded to allow energy to be just another form of matter), and the bits that do are far from certain. On the other hand, what really DOES pose a problem is the realization that INFORMATION (something distinctly not matter or energy) has as real an influence on our reality as matter and energy do. I don't know of any scientists who are seriously asking things like "Was mind also born in the same place outside space and time? Is the universe conscious?" Primarily because there's no conceivable way to test these ideas, which makes them just a new kind of religion.

      Even more, he's discounted entirely any attempt to align scripture and science, such as the idea that relativistic time could explain the '6 days' of creation (from the perspective of the Big Bang, we're nearing the end of the 6th day of the universe).

      And no, Jesus doesn't say that the Kingdom of Heaven is 'within us'.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Desi

      Chopra is a self-styled Guru and another fraud praying on gullible people in tradition of all the Swamis and Babas India's produced. It's a booming business in India.
      Having said that, the notion of god residing in all, living and non living, is very old in Indic tradition- which goes back at least six millenniums of our recorded history.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Minos

      Early Christians knew full well that Genesis was not a science text. They read this incredible ancient literary text as an epic poem and saga that expressed timeless themes of truth in rich, metaphorical language. The fundamentalist movement, that led to reading the text as literal science, is very new on the scene and a direct result of the uneducated / ignorant mob of folks gaining access to the Bible without any theological or scientific education whatsoever. The printing press and Reformation conspired to create the ugly and shallow new habit of individuals, and then large congregations of believers, to read epic poetry as literal prose - missing the beauty and grandeur of the work and making the mockery of Biblical faith (some flavors at least) by pitting science against religion. Then our equally shallow and ignorant atheist friends (Dawkins, Hitchens, et al) came out swinging mad at all people of spiritual faith by pigeon holing and stereotyping them all as backwater fundamentalists. The polarization created by these two extremist groups of numb skulls (alive and well in this blog) needs to be put aside once and for all so that a mature and wise dialogue between religion and science can once again thrive and enrich humanity as Dr. Chopra's article promotes.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
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