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. God is Alive!

    It is sad to me to read comments by those who do not know or understand the true and living God. He IS alive as creator, redeemer and yes, also the judge.

    I pray that each of you find a way to at least find out what He is about. He is more than a force, a scientific calculation or myth. He is as real as matter and has transformed countless millions of lives. Find out who Jesus really is. If you really know who He was and what He did for us, and then you still reject Him, at least you are informed. He changed me and I am "eternally" blessed! If I had to put my faith in Dawkins or Hitchens, I can't think of a more desperate or depraved existence! Good luck with your journeys. Try Jesus – I promise you will not be disappointed.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      Jesus is a figure from ancient story tellers. Just a character in the development of Western mysticism.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      I tried Jesus for 23 years. Then I grew up and stopped believing in fairy tales.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Adam

      –The belief in an agent god is predicated upon insufficient evidence–which is a dangerous precedent.
      –Faith is the declaration of immunity to conversation–which is deleterious to an open society.
      –The argument from personal experience is weak–which is easy to see if one knows something about human psychology and the brain.
      –Dawkins and HItchens do not need "faith" to sustain their ideas–they are carried on by their own merit.
      –Any personal gains you attribute to religious belief does not in the slightest suggest the validity of such belief–I could create a religion right now that would be much more beneficial on a personal and societal basis than Christianity, but that is manifestly untrue.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  2. Icarus Flying High

    Ah Religion...a con man's golden ticket. A gullible man's kool aid. And a plague on the society that blindly follows it.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  3. Adam

    "Wooo woo woooooo woo woo," Chopra suggested. When pressed to defend these ideas within a rigorous intellectual framework, Chopra replied that "woo woooooo woo." After motioning towards a table full of spiritual merchandise, he added: "WOOOOOOOO!"

    February 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  4. LeeCMH

    When Chopra started with, "physical building blocks of the universe have gradually vanished" I could hear a threremin playing.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  5. 8Jah

    In linking biology with quantum mechanics and QM with his hindu-like spirituality Chopra implies that relgion and science are one discipline. This is a bad idea because 1)the physical sciences are objective – they offer no insight into subjective consciousness and thus have nothing to say about the subjective (human consciousness) domain that spirituality serves. 2) Scientific claims addresses the "easy" set of problems: questions that can be tested by experiment. The "hard" problems of philosophy and religion fall outside of this set. It is better to see science and religion as two distinct and important domains of human thought.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  6. Floyd

    "We are conscious beings who live with purpose and meaning. It seems unlikely that these arose form a random, meaningless universe."

    But that's exactly where the Universe came from–physics, chemistry and biology.

    February 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  7. MikeTheInfidel

    In a debate with Michael Shermer and Sam Harris about the intersection between science and religion, Chopra basically dismissed every single god that people have ever worshiped as a sort of primitive fiction that needs to be replaced by his own brand of mysticism. If you're a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or any other sort of god-worshiper, Deepak Chopra thinks you're an ignorant fool, and you should just give up your silly religions and believe everything he says.

    God complex much?

    February 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  8. LeeCMH

    It says in Jibberish 14:13 "..."

    February 15, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Q

      Don't forget Episiotomy 2:12-13, "Blessed are the ignorant, for they shall not know. Blessed are the apathetic, for they shall not care."

      February 15, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      And in Episiotomy 2:13: "And thee widens thine canal to victory."

      February 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Q

      LOL and puckering yeeouch...

      February 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  9. Indyman

    Einstein: "I believe in Spinoza's God." "God does not play dice with the Universe."
    Newton: ""Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done." He was a Rosicrucian, a monotheist.
    Maxwell: A very religious Christian, this fact is often omitted from his biographies. Einstein had a picture of Maxwell in his office.

    There are many more, but these three are the "Trinity" of modern science, if you will.

    I wonder what Shermer would say to these men if he could debate with them.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      He has debated them. What he says is that they're remembered because of their contributions to science, which are unrelated to their religious beliefs.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Indyman

      Shermer had debated with Einstein, Maxwell, and Newton? Is there a Youtube video we can watch. This would be very interesting.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Mike

      Using Einstein as an example works against you. Spinoza's god is essentially Nature, not some omnipotent deity that controls/creates. Thus, that quote is evidence against Einstein's belief in a creator god.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      Religionists use this Einstein quote all the time without realizing Einstein was using the word "god" specific to the context of the conversation and not the Christian deity God.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      He has debated religious scientists.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Indyman

      Mike, using Einstein's quote does not work against me, it works against atheists who are so narrow about their approach to spirit that they use Spinoza's concept of god as form it to fit their "non" theistic view. I'm well aware of Spinoza's god, I've studied Spinoza. I don't believe in a personal god, and neither did Einstein. But none of you have commented on Newton's or Maxwell's beliefs. Especially Maxwell who was very religious.

      By the way, I'm not an Atheist and I'm not not an Atheist. I will not fit in any of the categories created by Atheists or Religionists. I'm neither.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  10. AWMessenger

    "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their own craftiness'; and again, 'The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.'" 1 Corinthians 3:19-20

    "...the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Corinthians 2:14-15

    "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' Psalm 53:1

    "Fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is favor." Proverbs 14:9

    "A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart." Proverbs 18:2

    "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise." Proverbs 12:15

    "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.'

    "Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

    "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

    In short... it is of no surprise to God that atheists think believers are foolish. In like fashion, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' Psalm 53:1

    To each his own, choose this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house, we will serve [and follow the wisdom of] the LORD [Jesus Christ].

    February 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      We don't care what your book says. Quote it at us all day long, but you're not going to threaten us into believing in your invisible space wizard.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Mike

      Just to point out some irony. I've heard many Christians complain (sometimes legitimately, sometimes not), that they are ridiculed and persecuted for their beliefs by atheists, agnostics, etc. However, as evidenced in your post, atheists are pretty much called stupid by the sacred texts themselves!!!! This is exactly why it's not the content of the complaints themselves that drive me crazy, it's the blatant hypocrisy therein.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • AWMessenger

      You guys prove my point very well. Thanks for the input.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Colin

      Hey man, I can quote to you from Tolkein's "Fellowship of the Ring" right back at you if you want? They're both famous works of Science Fiction / Fantasy.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Steve

      Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your A $ $ !

      February 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  11. AJ

    "The real goal of a new science will be to expand our reality so that spiritual truths are acceptable" – For as long as spiritual truth means "God did it, so let's stop looking for answers", then "spirituality" and science will conflict. Even if you are talking general spirituality, it is not good enough to get to difficult problems and just stop looking because it is in "the spiritual domain". I don't think scientists have a problem with spiritual. If the research supported the spiritual then scientists would embrace it. Maybe at some point spirituality comes into science, but only if it becomes provable. Outside of that, the two conflict because sprituality impedes the scientific quest for truth.

    "We are conscious beings who live with purpose and meaning." Proof please. Just because you perceive that you have meaning and purpose does not make it so. If the Earth was destroyed by a meteor tomorrow, would your perception of human purpose and meaning change? Pretty tough to have purpose and meaning when you don't exist anymore.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • 8Jah

      Def: Consciousness is subjective awareness of an experience. looking at the sky I am subjectively aware of the color blue. I am therefore conscious. I am consious that I need purpose, for whithout it why should I go on. Purpose eminates from meaning. Therefore I need purpose and meaning. To the extent that others are like me, they are conscious and need both meaning and purpose. QED

      February 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • 8Jah

      SHould have added: consciousness, purpose and meaning are no less real because they are subjective. Science exists in our minds as well – it is our objective understanding of the universe. Think that science won't also die if a meteor takes out the human race? The thought that science exists independent of people is itself unscienctific as it cannot be tested. Take home point – the subjective matters.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  12. Karl

    Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man—state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  13. Colin

    I don't understand what's so wrong with this man. "Noisy Atheists?" How about "noisy Christians?" Correct me if I'M wrong, but do I have to hear my president say "God bless America" every time he delivers a speech to me? As an atheist, the only "noisy" groups I have any contact with are the religious.

    Come on Chopra, you're full of garbage.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  14. Dave

    People have the right to believe in gods, spirits, thetans or any other fairy tales they like. But Chopra's use of pseudo-science to justify that belief is just insulting.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Well put!

      February 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      Not to mention that, no matter how much he acts like he's standing up for you, if you believe in those things, he thinks you're wrong and you need to believe what he says instead.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  15. Pedro

    I used to listen to Deepak Chopra,Wayne Dyer, Joseph Campbell and now I feel like I've outgrown them. Now I listen to Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Neil Degrasse Tyson. When you start seeing everything based on science, the whole world starts to make more sense. Even though you may not know the answers to many things, you'll start to feel comfortable not knowing them instead of making up stories or speculating on things.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • thorrsman

      Evangelical Atheists.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Militant Agnostic

      I don't know...
      and NEITHER DO YOU!


      February 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Although I never have been persuaded by pseudo-science, the real scientists like Dawkins, Tyson, Hawking, etc. have transformed my worldview into a very positive and inquisitive one, ruled by reason, truth, and scientific curiosity. The New Atheists don't profess to know everything, but rather beautifully illustrate the grandeur of nature and the awesome power of the laws of the universe. Religion and sky fairy mythology are antiquated supernatural explanations for things we understand much better now as a culture and even as a species. Unfortunately, human nature is not immediately accepting of that which contradicts what many want to believe is true, based on childhood indoctrination and tradition. Only time will tell if humanity is able to snap out of its collective stupor or if it is doomed to premature extinction. No fairy tale books are ever going to disprove evolution, and no amount of wishful thinking can stop the onslaught of climate change. Science can explain the truth best, but it is up to the individual to make the most of their brief time living on this little rock flying through space. So, to all of you, of any faith or non-faith, have a good and responsible life, because it is the only one you'll ever have.

      February 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  16. Wonder Woman

    I have a question not a comment. Do those of you that do not believe in God ever have a deep down feeling that there is some higher power?
    Just wondering

    February 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Mike

      No, I really don't. I do feel awestruck at the amazing intricacies of the natural world, but that's about as close at it gets.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Mark Eagleton


      February 15, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • MikeTheInfidel

      Apart from the fundamental forces of nature, nope. And they're not really "higher".

      February 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • pinkocommie

      Not at all.

      February 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  17. LeeCMH

    While Chopra tries to generalize God (deity?, universal force?), I am sure all you true Christians know that if you don't accept the lord Jeeeesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, you ain't nothin'

    February 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • thorrsman

      Your post indicates a lack of belief. Why don't you simply state such, rather than pretend to be other than what you are?

      February 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • LeeCMH

      Sarcasm yes. Pretense no.

      February 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Barry Ziegler

    He uses the phrase "noisy atheists". Classic Greek illogic. "If one cannot attack one's opponent's argument, attack one's opponent personally." We rarely hear form the atheists. We are bombarded with theologic messages everywhere.
    This suggests that the author needed to use an illogical tool to make his point.

    Be careful what you choose to believe.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  19. Hopfrog

    I really can't say I know much about Chopra. But I kind of understand the "noisy atheist" thing. It can be as annoying as a noisy christian, or noisy anything else. Nobody says we all have to agree or that we should. That doesn't mean that we should constantly troll our opinions and view points with ridicule and inflated claims. I would think that most of us have friends who are Athiest, Religious, Agnostic, or whatever, but we manage to remain civil as we discuss such things. Anything else just comes across as self righteous or snarky, and that shuts down the discourse immediately. So is the goal to discuss or stroke an ego? Let's face it, that behavior isn't regulated to any one viewpoint.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • 8Jah

      couldn'a agree more

      February 15, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  20. Maurice

    Jesus did say "the kingdom of God is with in"
    This he said referring to himself.
    He started his ministry to mankind by
    Preaching "repent! for the kingdom of heaven
    is at hand" in order to access his kingdom repentance is a must.

    February 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.