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. Brent ABQ

    Chopra is a peddler of pseudo-scientific jargon and wishful thinking. He doesn't understand quantum mechanics, please go find out about critical thought. It helps you discern the truth from the BS.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Reality


      If you have not already done so, please watch Julia Sweeney's monologue "Letting Go of God". You are one of the "stars" in the show.

      To wit:

      "I was so intrigued with this quantum mechanics that Deepak refers to over and over and over again in his books, that I decided to take a class in it.

      And what I found is-Deepak Chopra is full of sh__!"

      Julia Sweeney, Letting Go of God

      (Ex-Catholic) Julia Sweeney's monologue "Letting Go Of God" will be the final nail in the coffin of religious belief/faith and is and will continue to be more effective than any money-generating book or your "Ultimate Happiness Prescription".

      Buy the DVD or watch it on Showtime. Check your cable listings.

      from http://www.amazon.com

      "Letting Go of God ~ Julia Sweeney (DVD – 2008)

      Five Star Rating

      February 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  2. AJ

    Same BS, different package. Why does a website like CNN give this guy any attention. He is a scam artist, and is making tons of money out of it. If you know anything about science, specifically physics, your ears bleed when you hear him talk.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  3. Dee

    The Sikh religion... based on spirituality.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  4. Wile E. Coyote

    Both extremem sides fo the debate could have been labelled "noisy", but it doesn't advance the discussion to lob insults at one side or the other. For a much "quieter" and more interesting read on the same subject, one would do better to check out Alan Watt's "The Book". Mr. Chopra's arriving at the party a bit late.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  5. Lenny V.

    I want to know what Guru Pitka says on this matter.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  6. Colin

    Actually, by and large, you can "toss the question out the window". When someone asks nonsense like "ïs the Universe conscious" one is immediately outside the rhelm of science and into pseudoscientific nonsense. Pretty soon one bumps into the inevitable barrier that has destroyed organized religion for any intelligent person – that of being able to demonstrate and repeat results that prove the thesis proposed.

    In the absence of that, this is all mind candy. Whistful fancies for Californian flower people and evangelical Christians.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  7. Nathan H

    In stead of trying to appease the religiously minded why don't we just call religion and spirituality it by there rightful name – philosophy. Philosophy is a powerful tool but in and of itself it provides no answers, only more questions. Science is the only true form of knowledge.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  8. anonymous


    Unitarian Universal churches fit closest to my deist beliefs because they emphasize rationality and skepticism and they are open-minded and encompass many faith traditions (Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, and more).

    February 15, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  9. Janet

    Bunch of "new" agey nonsense. Some people belong to a future time where the worth of their ideas can be fully appreciated. Deepak Chopra is not one of them; he should just go back into 1970's where he might be appreciated by potheads.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • bob

      Oh no Janet, he can stay right here- instead of pot, now we have an even more brain-addling, fuzzy-logic inducing stimulus- we call it the "internet". Chopra will do just fine peddling his wares here.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  10. Carl LaFong

    Does life have meaning? Is there an order to the universe? There is if you choose to, there is none if you choose not to.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Sorry God :/

      There is no order to the universe, nothing is perfect. And because of that imperfection, we are able to live today.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  11. Madzagyg

    The last sentence in this article reveals the author's purpose and untrustworthy bias.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  12. JCM

    This sounds alot like an idea postulated in the 1987 Hugo award winning science fiction novel "Hyperion" by Dan Simmons. In book four of the Hyperion cantos series, "The Rise of Endymion", Simmons goes into great detail decribing the "void which binds" and how humans physically and spirtually interact with the structure of the universe.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • error 303

      Excellent, excellent book.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Nonimus

      Agreed, excellent science-fiction.
      I suppose the same could be said for Chopra's ideas.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  13. DeathStalker

    Darwin theory is still just a theory.

    Darwin's Theory of Evolution is a theory in crisis in light of the tremendous advances we've made in molecular biology, biochemistry and genetics over the past fifty years. We now know that there are in fact tens of thousands of irreducibly complex systems on the cellular level. Specified complexity pervades the microscopic biological world. Molecular biologist Michael Denton wrote, "Although the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing less than 10-12 grams, each is in effect a veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machinery built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world." [5]

    And we don't need a microscope to observe irreducible complexity. The eye, the ear and the heart are all examples of irreducible complexity, though they were not recognized as such in Darwin's day. Nevertheless, Darwin confessed, "To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

    February 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Mike of Reason

      Give up on the Behe pseudo-science. Irreducible complexity is complete nonsense. Read a science book instead of a religious book posing as one.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Colin

      Another talking snake theorist...

      February 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • DeathStalker

      So Mike, Darwin's Theory is not a theory but fact?

      February 15, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Janet

      "Darwin theory is still just a theory."

      And it will always be one, for there's nothing in science beyond "theory". Theories don't "grow up" to be anything else. The computer you type your nonsense on is built thanks to the enormous success of Theory of Electromagnetism, which is "still" also a theory. Theory of Evolution has been just as successful, and it won't be anything else either. The fastest way, in my experience, to spot idiots is to hear them say "but but but.. ToE is STILL a theory".

      February 15, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • DeathStalker

      Now are you trying to tell me that no theories have ever been proven to be facts?

      February 15, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Colin

      @Janet, well said., PS: Marry me.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Colin

      Deathstalker – no, what she is saying is that the term "theory" when used in this context means something entirely different to "just a proposal" which is how you creationists like to present it. There is another theory I would like to draw to yoiur attention. It is the theory of gravitation. Try jumping out of a building and arguing that it is "just a theory".

      February 15, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Nonimus

      @Death Stalker,
      In Science a Theory doesn't get promoted any higher when it's "proven." A theory is a explanation of how the world works based on facts, laws, observations, testing, and verification. nationalacademies.org/evolution/TheoryOrFact.html

      Denton is making assertions; I don't see any evidence.

      Your out-of-context quote from Darwin is actually one of the examples for quote-mining on Wikipedia, have a look:

      February 15, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Ken

      I recommend either "The Blind Watchmaker" or for a trip back through the entirety of evolutionary time "Ancestor's Tale" both by Richard Dawkins. Or pretty much anything by Darwin, Gould, et al...

      The evolution of the eye has been explained in excrutiating detail (not to mention other "irreducibly complex" systems).

      Alas, religion is simply try to grow like a weed in the voids science has not yet filled.

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

      When Darwin's theory becomes a Law let me know. Theories can become facts or laws so most of these comments about the theory is just semantics.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Nathan H

      Is there ever going to be a discussion about evolution where someone does not bring up the "just a theory" argument?
      The theory of evolution is not "just a theory" it is a "scientific theory", the difference is paramount. In science a theory implies the "how" of a process it does not necessarily imply that the theory as a whole may be right or wrong. At this point the theory of evolution has been so thoroughly confirmed it is for all intensive purposes a fact. Our questions now (and going forward) are with regards to the smaller details. Whether or evolution occurred and continues to occur is a question that was answered a very long time ago.

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


      No, no, no, no, no, no! Theories cannot become laws. They are two completely different things! To put it simply, laws are descriptive, they describe what happens. Theories explain WHY that thing happens. For example, there is a law of gravity AND there is a theory of gravity. The law of gravity says that if you jump of the top of the Empire State Building, you will fall towards the center of the earth until you hit the sidewalk below. The theory of gravity EXPLAINS why you fall. To say the theory of evolution is not fact because it is not a law is at best a complete misunderstanding of what these words mean and at worst a deliberate deception.

      But, if it will make you happy...the theory of evolution is supported by the various laws of genetics (e.g., mutation, recombination, etc.).

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

      Deathstalker, theories and laws are categorically different. Laws are statements about observations. They are not explanations (in the scientific sense). Laws simply succint ways to express certain useful observations. There is no such thing as Law of Electromagnetism, for instance. But there are many laws, such as Ampere's Law, Kirchoff's Law... etc, that are observational and are explained by the *Theory* of Electromagnetism. In that sense, theories are grander than laws. It sounds terribly ridiculous to any scientist to hear the assertion that theories grow up to be laws, so before making a fool of yourself as such, I suggest educating yourself firts.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • AmazedinFL

      This is a problem with many creationist arguments, particularly "it's just a theory". They're based on a lack of the most basic, fundamental understanding of what scientific method truly is (the reason why the idea of "the science of creationism" is an oxymoron–it is in no way, shape, or form based on true scientific method and therefore is, by definition, not 'science'). Terms like "scientific theory" and "law" are indiscriminantly thrown around by those who have not bothered to look up those terms and therefore completely misunderstand their meanings.

      Thank you for those here who have bothered to look up the basic meanings of those terms and correct the misinformation here. For those with that knowledge, it is a no-brainer that a theory (an explanation of why something happens) can never 'graduate' into a law (the observable fact that the theory seeks to explain the reason for/mechanism behind). It's about as nonsensical as arguing that an apple can become an orange–or that an orange is 'better' than an apple because of its color.

      February 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  14. OprahChopra

    All that Deepak says picked right from the Bhagvad Gita. Don't know why people spend money buying his book whereas you can get all he says from 1 source.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  15. 5 to spare

    Terms like "mind", "intelligence", "design" are used without enough context in this article as to be considered careless. Their lack of precision encourages unproductive discussions. There is still very little here that provides any experimental information or methodology to test his statements other than "people still feel this way, despite science". Looking for meaning in life is a human trait that won't ever go away. How we look for it is important.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  16. Unknown

    Wow, ancient pagan monism/pantheism is making a comeback!

    February 15, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  17. Darryn Foley

    The problem we have here, is that without a "creator", current scientific theory of the universe's creation would require MAGIC to explain the existance of the universe. Google "gravitron", then explain to me how an undiscovered, unmeasureable, massless, 2 spin is not... magic. I'll tell you how... it's postulated that this "particle" exists. Not proven. You know what "postulate" means in the scientific world? Google it. postulate: "to assume". In other words "we don't know, but we assume, without any concrete evidence".

    In other words, if there is no creator, then current scientific theories of the creation of the universe, requires magic.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • 5 to spare

      Lack of a good theory to explain creation, means only that, there isn't a good theory. In effect the possible explanations are still expansive, not limited.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Janet

      "Gravitron" is not postulated, but gravitons are predicted. See, theories make predictions and you test them. Many of the elementary particles were first predicted, and then detected (though it can work in reverse too, you observe one, and then figure out the mathematical model describing it). That's how science works. If you predict and detect, kudos, the theory gains more respect. If you predict and cannot detect, you backtrace and try again.

      Name a single thing religion has predicted.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  18. Stu

    This is woo woo science at it's absolute worst. The real goal here is for Chopra to make boatloads of cash by preying upon a whole class of people in whom the educational system has failed to instill a knowledge of and love for the scientific method, rational empiricism, and skepticism.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Abudu Rahman

      I think you mean make "more" boat loads of money. This guy is a charlatan, Hollywood, wannabee trying to establish his own brand of Scientology to make millions to maintain his luxurious lifestyle so that he won't ever have to really work.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • bob

      couldn't agree more. And I wish some other people on this board would stop pretending to be scientists.

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

      Abudu, frankly, if I had his ability to bu11sh!t, I wouldn't want to do any real work either. But alas, bu11sh!tting is an art form and not everyone succeeds at it.

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

      It is a shame that you take this heavily conditioned narrow-minded approach. It is this very perspective that stops the expansion of human conciousness and confines it to merely the quantifiable facts and figures that the 5 senses can compute. Do not limit yourself by giving yourself a strong definition. The educational system is in fact the very thing that causes this narrow mindedness, so the educational system could also be blamed for the exact opposite to what you say. It is archaic and could certainly benefit from an overhaul. Let's bring freedom to chose who you are to the curriculum. Allow for new experiences, be open to different viewpoints and expand your love of everything.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  19. Logan in Utah

    Once again the difference between science and religion is demonstrated here. Science looks at all the evidence then tries to come to a conclusion based on the existing facts. Religion comes to a desired conclusion then cherry picks the facts in support of it.

    I respect that we are all seeking answers to the same questions. But the facts show that the scientific method is the best tool we have on the path to true human enlightenment.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Darryn Foley

      That's not true. Current scientific theory of the "universe creation" couldn't answer it using observation and 'existing facts' – so scienctists "created" these magical particles called "gravitrons" to support their theories.

      That's the complete opposite of what you are stating. I should know. I'm a scientist.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Nathan H

      @Darryn Foley
      Pretending to be a scientist is just low. It is obvious that you do not know what you are talking about.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • bob

      Then you are a poor scientist Daren. Scientific method seeks to propose testable hypotheses, and then seeks to TEAR DOWN that hypothesis by controlled experiments. When a series of controlled experiments fails to refute a model, and instead supports it, then the theory stands- for the moment. Unfortunately, we in science have come to design experiments which support our pet hypotheses, rather than refute them, but that's a theme for another day. In any case, the current theory of singularity/big bang to explain the observable universe is just that- a theory that is supported by our current knowledge, and is not significantly refuted by existing experimental evidence. Unlike religion, science does not claim to "know" how the universe was created, it only offers plausible theories & models, which can either later be improved or destroyed as evidence dictates.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Mike

      Darryn Foley,

      Yes, even the existence of those particles are based on observation. You're forgetting about prediction. Scientists don't "create" particles such as gravitons, hadrons, bosons, photons, etc. They hypothesize the existence of such particles in such a manner that if X is true, then Y should be observed. Of course, Y can never prove X, only be consistent with it. However, not Y falsifies X. I'm not a physicist, but to my knowledge, all the observations and mathematics regarding these particles have been "Y," and not "not Y." Thus, the existence of these particles are the best current explanation of Y, pending an alternative explanation that explains Y better in the same, testable manner. That is science, a rigorous investigation of testable theories and hypotheses, nothing like "creation."

      February 15, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Abudu Rahman

      Bob said "Unlike religion, science does not claim to "know" how the universe was created, it only offers plausible theories & models, which can either later be improved or destroyed as evidence dictates."

      Hell Bob, a crackhead can do that. As A matter of fact, you can hit any bar tonight and the average drunk can tell you that. Most science doesn't last for long because it's constantly changing everyday. It's all theory and theories are changed all the time. My religion I know has stood the test of time and no matter how much the West has dumped on it, it'll be here long after we all pass and it will be even more domonent.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Janet

      LOL at Darryn pretending to be a scientist. "Gravitron"?? Come on, at least copy paste the damn word from somewhere.

      I don't understand these nutjobs. If you so despise science, why pretend to be a scientist? What you are doing is exposing your inferiority complex.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Noah Fence

      Science doesn't provide knowledge, and anyone who believes that it does is committed to a philosophical framework as troublesome as any religion! Dismissing questions on the grounds that they cannot be answered by science is as ignorant as dismissing scientific discovery because it doesn't mesh with the Bible. Many scientists are guilty of playing the layperson with a faux aura of certainty, when a casual stroll down philosophy lane reveals the foundation for that certainty as shaky. I believe there are questions science cannot answer, but it doesn't mean there is no answer or that it isn't worth thinking about.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • SaneAtheist

      Pardon me but since you claim to be a "scientist" I feel I should clarify something for you. First off they are called gravitons, not "gravitrons" (perhaps you're getting them confused with a recent science fiction movie?) and they aren't "magical" they are hypothetical, much like they way gluons were at one time hypothetical, now we know they exist through experimentation and observation.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • AmazedinFL

      @Abudu: a 'crackhead' didn't create the electricity that powers your home or any of the modern devices that you use every day. Nor did your 'superior' religion. They were based on scientific knowledge attained through the scientific method that you so clearly despite and of which you clearly have so little understanding. If you so despise science, why don't you give up your electricity, your car, your air conditioning, and every other modern device you have that you owe entirely to science–which is where you would be right now if you only had your religion.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  20. susanna king

    Deepak Chopra is just another salesman for spiriituality which is the modern name for religion. After the twehtieth century and whats happening in todays world its very hard to believe in much of anything let alone in God

    February 15, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Ken

      Chopra is nothing short of an idiot. One day we all will stand before God to account for our lives here on earth sadly it seems that Chopra is sending himself straight to hell.

      February 15, 2011 at 11:33 am |
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