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My Take: Space travel is a spiritual experience
July 6th, 2011
12:54 PM ET

My Take: Space travel is a spiritual experience

Atlantis' journey to Alpha, the international space station, will be NASA's 135th and final mission in the space shuttle program, which began 30 years ago. Tune in to CNN's live coverage of the launch Friday, starting at 10 a.m. ET on CNN, CNN.com/Live and the CNN mobile apps. Then check out "CNN Presents: Beyond Atlantis" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

Editor's Note: Madhu Thangavelu conducts the Space Exploration Architecture Concept Synthesis Studio at the University of Southern California.

By Madhu Thangavelu, Special to CNN

Religion and scientific pursuits parted company centuries ago, at least in the eyes of the public.

Everyone knows the story of Galileo, who stood by his empirical evidence of the Copernican, sun-centered view of our solar system even under the threat of death by the church’s preferred method for punishing heresy: burning at the stake.

The church confined Galileo to house arrest for the rest of his life.

America's Space program, then and now

And yet for millennia, religion was the primary purveyor of science, especially astronomy. That’s evident in the symbols and images projected in cathedrals and mosques and temples all over the world. For a long time, the heavens belonged to God and religion, and scientists from Newton to Einstein have framed scientific inquiry as a divine investigation.

It’s worth noting that the term “big bang”, though coined by astronomer Fred Hoyle, was conceived by a clergyman, Monsignor Georges Lamaitre of Belgium.

Today, human space activity offers an important venue for exploring the potential for meaningful relationships between science and religion – or at least science and spirituality.

Religion stripped of all customs and liturgical practice may be called spirituality. It’s the wonderment that explorers feel when they are exposed to nature’s secrets and to new dimensions of human experience.

Photographing the end of U.S. shuttle program

While robotic spacecraft roam the solar system, sending back images from far-off worlds, the yearning of humanity to be physically present there is what drives NASA and others to pursue space exploration. Without a vibrant human space activity component, NASA may not have a reason to exist.

As the Atlantis space shuttle prepares for its last mission on Friday, the private sector will probably now lead the way in manned space flight.
Space explorers continue to seek an intense spiritual experience and are willing to risk their lives for it, and I’m confident that that will continue to drive space travel innovation.

We call this new group of adventurers “space tourists,” but they’re mostly spiritual pilgrims seeking to experience and appreciate man’s place in the universe.

On the shuttle, the spiritual experience begins at liftoff. With their eyes on the glass cockpit and their ears tuned to mission control above the roar of those mighty engines, the crew is praying for a successful and smooth launch.

That’s because, despite checks and cross checks and counter checks, despite the best efforts of ground crew and controllers, many things can still go wrong in such a complex system.

A space town's goodbye

The monitoring of the final minutes before launch are so rigorous and intense that the entire sequence is handed off from the crew to a set of computers. When your life is in the hands of machines, prayer is important.

As the boosters fall off and the ride becomes much smoother, astronauts start to see nature’s spectacle through the windows. Their eyes, though fixed to the mach numbers steadily climbing higher than twenty times that of a speeding bullet, are gripped by the awe of the space environment.

A few minutes later, after the final thrust that puts them into orbit, the engines shut off and their bodies released from the force of gravity, the crew is overtaken by the awesome majesty of the Earth’s disc. They are experiencing a spiritual awakening that words cannot express.

Their bodies, meanwhile, are adjusting to an environment without gravity.

Upon arrival at the International Space Station, the first thing they do is look out at planet Earth. The space station sports an Italian-made cupola, a large and exquisite window that looks toward planet Earth, and it is perhaps the most aesthetic component of the entire facility. What domed cathedral could substitute for this “live Earth” for a ceiling?

The International Space Station crew spend a lot of their free time just looking out from the cupola and marveling at the dynamic colors and drama the Earth gliding below them offers, as the day becomes night and back again, all in a matter of minutes, as they orbit the planet.

I have had astronauts stare me in the eye when I pose the question, “How does it feel to be walking on the surface of the moon?”
Well, you really have to be there to experience it, they say.

While in space, their sensory systems are turned up to highest alertness levels, heartbeats racing like athletes during peak performance, and they are soaking in terabits of information. The rush of data is simply too hard to debrief, in technical terms, prose or poetry.

Though they are fully aware that Newton and Kepler’s laws of gravity and motion guided them there, some have told me that their minds gravitate toward their religious traditions’ scriptures.

Most crew of space missions come back changed forever. Astronauts do not see national boundaries, they do not see warring nations, and they rarely notice the ravages of humanity and industry on the face of the planet.

All they see is a stunningly vibrant planet, lots of rich blue-aquamarine ocean, virgin white snowtops on chains of mountain ranges and puffs of cloud cover as the continents whizz by below them in absolute silence. No one is asking them for country of origin or standing in line for visa verification.

They see the whole world as one giant, harmonious living entity. They are immersed in warm and caring embrace; a feeling of oneness with nature is inescapable. From orbit, the idea of a common humanity becomes reality.

If that’s not a spiritual awakening, what is?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Madhu Thangavelu.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Opinion • Spirituality • Technology

soundoff (211 Responses)
  1. DiamondSky

    All the pioneers of modern science were either Christians or theists. The definite creation theory puts everything into right perspectives. Watching the precious blue planet of ours, humans should remember what evil mankind has been doing on this tiny spot in the universe. "A feeling of oneness with nature" or "the idea of a common humanity" does not solve problems on earth – it only encourages to accept the human evil as a fate – but acknowledging the Creator God and admitting humanity's evil does.

    July 8, 2011 at 4:21 am |
  2. chloe

    That's one way of looking at it. But really this passage is a philosophical opinion. And opinions are irrelevant, unscientific, and a dime a dozen, as exemplified by this long list of subjective comments that sprout amusing but inconsequential arguments. Seems like a waste of time to me.

    July 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Rhonda

      Is your opinion any more valid?

      July 8, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Chloe

      @Rhonda: Not really. It's just that his tender little ego was begging for my opinion. But now I understand the purpose of this article. He's trying to be persuasive, to keep space exploration going in the US. I think that's valid.

      August 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  3. awesome surfer

    that was some cool beans. It was like I was surfing to the moon dudes. good job Dude Madhu

    July 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  4. Robert

    Great post Madhu. As always, I enjoy pieces.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  5. Muneef

    The Big Bang Theory Confirmed*
    [21:30] Do the unbelievers not realize that the heaven and the earth used to be one solid mass that we exploded into existence? And from water we made all living things. Would they believe?

    [21:31] And we placed on earth stabilizers, lest it tumbles with them, and we placed straight roads therein, that they may be guided.

    [21:32] And we rendered the sky a guarded ceiling. Yet, they are totally oblivious to all the portents therein.

    [21:33] And He is the One who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon; each floating in its own orbit.

    [21:34] We never decreed immortality for anyone before you; should you die, are they immortal?

    [21:35] Every soul will taste death, after we put you to the test through adversity and prosperity, then to us you ultimately return. 

    All Messengers Ridiculed

    [21:36] When those who disbelieve see you, they ridicule you: "Is this the one who challenges your gods?" Meanwhile, they remain totally heedless of the message from the Most Gracious.

    [21:37] The human being is impatient by nature. I will inevitably show you My signs; do not be in such a hurry.

    [21:38] They challenge: "Where is that (retribution), if you are truthful?"

    [21:39] If only those who disbelieve could envision themselves when they try to ward off the fire – off their faces and their backs! No one will help them then.

    [21:40] Indeed, it will come to them suddenly, and they will be utterly stunned. They can neither avoid it, nor can they receive any respite.

    [21:41] Messengers before you have been ridiculed, and, consequently, those who ridiculed them incurred the retribution for their ridiculing.

    Priorities Confused
    [21:42] Say, "Who can protect you from the Most Gracious during the night or during the day?" Indeed, they are totally oblivious to the message of their Lord.

    [21:43] Do they have gods who can protect them from us? They cannot even help themselves. Nor can they accompany one another when they are summoned to face us.

    [21:44] We have provided for these people and their ancestors, up until an old age. Do they not see that every day on earth brings them closer to the end? Can they reverse this process?

    [21:45] Say, "I am warning you in accordance with divine inspiration." However, the deaf cannot hear the call, when they are warned.

    [21:46] When a sample of your Lord's retribution afflicts them, they readily say, "We were indeed wicked."

    [21:47] We will establish the scales of justice on the Day of Resurrection. No soul will suffer the least injustice. Even the equivalent of a mustard seed will be accounted for. We are the most efficient reckoners.
    -------
    Verse 21:30 translation of the Arabic word for the big bang as per Arabic-English Dictionary is; (to unsew,un-st-itch,rip open,tear,rend,slit open). 

    -Another translation of verse 21:30
    Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe? (30)

    -Another translation of verse 21:44
    Nay, but We gave these and their fathers ease until life grew long for them. See they not how we visit the land, reducing it of its outlying parts? Can they then be the victors? (44).

     

    July 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  6. Justin McCarthy

    I think the writer expressed a valuable perspective on our aspirations in space. The impetus to know more, to be more, to understand more and to experience more may indeed be a spiritual/religious drive. It manifests differently for different people. Some, in the form of religous fervor and others in the focus of intellectual pursuit and understanding or the "peak" experience of perfect physical execution in athletic performance .

    The space effort is both an individual and collective drive. Some are offended at the mention of God or spirituality in the context of that effort. Yet, for some reason humanity has an inclination toward religious/spiritual expression or impulse. Its expression has evolved over time as our intellectual understanding of the universe has expanded.

    I see no reason why being launced into space could not trigger some form of "transcendent" experience. The sheer intensity of the endeavor and the overwhelming expanse of the universe juxtaposed against our own insignificance and the diminutive vulnerability of our planet seems tailormade for a spiritual experience. Afterall, what is a spiritual experience; but possibly a radical change in perspective or consciousness.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  7. Muneef

    British Actress Inspired by Prophet's Life
    Myriam Francois-Cerrah Embraces Islam
    'Sense and Sensibility'

    Say (O Prophet!): The evil and the good are not equal even though the excess and abundance of the evil may impress you. So, O people of understanding, be mindful of your duty to Allah that you may succeed." Al-Qur'an, 5:100

    “The two feet of the son of Adam [human being] will not move on the Day of Judgment in front of Allah until he is asked about five things: about his life, and how he spent it? And (more specifically) about his youth, what did he consume it in? And about his money, how did he earn it? And on what did he spend it? And how much did he act upon what he knew?” Hadith

    http://www.onislam.net/english/reading-islam/my-journey-to-islam/contemporary-stories/452274-british-actress-inspired-by-prophets-life.html

    July 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  8. Rev. Rick

    As a former conservative Christian, I have no problem with atheists wanting to remove all references to "religion" from public view as very weak attempt to supress it. But you never will. As with anything that is supressed, it simply goes "underground" into hiding and continues to spread. It morphs into other forms, such as a nebulous "spiritually" that is difficult to define, but you will never be completely rid of it. And as long as there is freedom of expression, you will be forced to deal with religion or spirituality in some form or another. And as humans, as we eventually spread our species across the galaxy, religion and spirituality will follow us. In the co-ming centuries, long after you and I are dead, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists will show up on world after world. Perhaps they will be in smaller numbers, and perhaps there will even be new "religions" that are spawned as a result of space exploration. But like it or not they will be there. With apologies to Sam Harris, you really do need to come to terms with that.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  9. El Kababa

    We are not going to ever get out of our solar system. Interstellar travel is impractical because it would take decades or centuries to get there and come back. What if Columbus arrived back in Spain today after spending 500 years crossing the Atlantic?

    In our own solar system there is radiation, hot rocks, cold rocks, and vacuum. Robots are the logical space travelers. Humans are better suited to living on the ocean floor than going into space.

    July 7, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Laughing

      That's as.suming we won't make any breakthroughs in technology to allow us to travel through intersteller space or create a warp drive or something of that nature. You analogy to columbus is sort of correct but it would be as if Columbus tried to sail across the Atlantic in a dinghy, it was only once we built ships that could withstand the ocean that we were able to cross the atlantic, same holds true for space.

      July 7, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • El Kababa

      A warp drive is like pixie dust or a magic flying broom. It contradicts what we believe about the universe.

      July 7, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Laughing

      Eh, sort of, if we are able to warp time and space around a vehicle with the strength of say, a large star, it could be possible, and that's all you need, is the possibility right? Since a warp drive implies that the physics and laws of space and time would also be warped in such an event it is theortically possible, though I will grant you that we are far, far ,far from any sort of idea on even how to do such a thing.

      You are right that it's impracticle for man to travel through intersteller space, but that doesn't make it impossible, does it?

      July 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Artist

      We owuld have to master traveling faster than the speed of light. Then have to somehow protect our bodies from turning into energy while travleing faster than the speed of light. If our bodies did turn to energy then we have to have a way of reorganizing at destination point. Meaning we would have to have a catchers mit at the end. We could not be self contained and also be able to reorganize our atoms from within our own space as we are traveling because the mechanism used would also turn to energy. Perhaps in 50,000 years a (god/more advanced being than ourselves) might make it back from his/her/it solar system to check on us?

      July 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ Artist

      A warp drive is supposed to sort of sidestep all those problems because with the warp drive you wouldn't be traveling at the speed of light, you could be traveling at the speed of lets say, a regualr spaceshuttle, but the drive would warp time and space around the shuttle to make it zip along those edges so we'd reach our destination a lot quicker then at the speed we were traveling.

      We could also try and travel through a theoretical wormhole, and come out on the other side (deep space 9 style) but that involves not being spagehtified in the process, which is pretty tough.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Rev. Rick

      El Kababa said, "We are not going to ever get out of our solar system. Interstellar travel is impractical because it would take decades or centuries to get there and come back." -–There is a flaw in your logic: There will be those explorers who leave us for exploration who don't intend to come back. And as someone else pointed out, newer and faster propulsion systems will eventually make it more practical and "time" will no longer be an issue.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Ykcyc

      I was thinking of a magic carpet, flying at a speed of light. It would only take us 100,000 years to reach the edge of our galaxy and the same amount to come back. I wonder if there will be anything left to come back to? Anyway, the magic carpet is the way to go, you space travelers.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Maybe WE aren't, but when and if the silicon based "collective" intelligence system(s), (robots), figure out how to harness the energy of singularities, (and there is no rush, with a few billion years left for Earth "life", providing the Pink Monkeys don't do anything stupid), the worm hold might take you anywhere pretty quickly. Sort of a pessimist eh ?

      July 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      sorry, should be "worm hole"

      July 7, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  10. humtake

    Great article! It's great seeing the perspective of space exploration through many different views. I wish more people could come up with unique ways to describe their love for the unknown and their passion for exploration.

    July 7, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  11. Reality

    From Professor Madhu Thangavelu:

    "While robotic spacecraft roam the solar system, sending back images from far-off worlds, the yearning of humanity to be physically present there is what drives NASA and others to pursue space exploration. Without a vibrant human space activity component, NASA may not have a reason to exist."

    A response:

    NASA will continue to exist because they have shown that we do not need humans to explore the universe. We have learned and continue to learn more from NASA's orbiting telescopes and rovers than we ever have or will learn from manned explorations to the Moon. And we definitely don't need to send a few men and women to Mars when we have sent and will continue to send rovers and satellites to gather scientific information at a fraction of the cost. And indeed I get very "spiritual" when I see the faces and success of the NASA and JPL engineers and scientists as they see their creations land and/or circle our planets knowing full well that said success is due to my support via my tax dollars. Great and continuing science, education and entertainment for less than $60 per taxpayer per year.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  12. Matt Henderson

    Why must religion have a monopoly over having a sense of wonder?! We can all have wonderful moments in our lives where we realise the size of the universe, or how amazing nature is- but having to attribute that to a god, or a kind of ill-defined spiritual world is totally unnecessary. Totally unnecessary, and actually it detracts from the meaning of the experience. "The Universe is so huge, I can barely comprehend how tiny we are... ... and it was all designed for us humans, I am a special."

    Does the writer of this think he is being insightful?! All he is doing is demonstrating the ignorance that science cannot have anything to do with 'numinous' experiences. Neurology is quickly coming to a satisfying understanding of this.

    July 7, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  13. Rick

    I have literally never had a spiritual moment. It's a made up concepet that can't be proven, explained, or accurately defined.Who are these drama queens who experience spirituality.Oh yeah. Religious freaks.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • Broden

      Rick. I just had 2 this morning. Now I would liek to beat you over the head with a pony. Next time dont try to steal a peice of my thunder and satan will sing a happy whale song.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • Rhonda

      Because you have not had nor can you understand a 'spiritual experience' it must not be real. How many other things are not real because of those reasons.

      July 7, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  14. Scanland

    "A few minutes later, after the final thrust that puts them into orbit, the engines shut off and their bodies released from the force of gravity, the crew is overtaken by the awesome majesty of the Earth’s disc."

    Actually, that is not true in terms of gravity nor is it true in terms of the attention of the crew.
    They are plenty busy making sure everything is working correctly. They are not "overcome". Hell, they might not even be able to see it without looking at a monitor.

    What a bunch of mystical claptrap. This ignoramus clearly wants space to be "spiritual", but it is not.
    The whole article is a desperate attempt at injecting ignorant mysticism into everything.
    Space does not wrap you in a fuzzy warm blanket of love. Space is hard vacuum filled with hard radiation.
    It can kill you with ease. That's not love, that's space.
    What a pathetic article.

    July 7, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • svi

      Nuggets like this help me stay out of the liquor cabinet.

      July 7, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Scanland

      You are either very tiny or your liquor cabinet is very large. LOL

      July 7, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • Hoggle

      Does pessimism pay well??

      July 7, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • Rev. Rick

      When the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks a lot like a nail.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  15. tallulah

    When I think about religion and space exploration, I always end up thinking of the monk Giordano Bruno, who in the 1500's theorized (correctly) that the sun was a star and that the stars were suns. Naturally the catholic church burned him alive when he wouldn't recant.

    I think that space exploration is the furthest thing you can find from spiritual. While I believe it gives a sense of wonder, I think the main purpose is to satisfy intellectual curiosity. The means to get into space are purely scientific. Mathematics, physics and experimentation got man into space, not prayer. Perhaps some would choose to go into space for spiritual reasons, but I would hope that until space travel is available for everyone, the seats would be saved for those trying to learn data about the universe to share with everyone, not people trying to learn about themselves.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Scanland

      I agree. I would feel grateful to be able to go into space, but mystical forces are not going to protect me from hard radiation.

      July 7, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • perspective

      Isn't it possible that they could be experiencing both the satisfaction of intellectual/scientific curiosity and the enlightenment of self-awareness at the same time?

      July 7, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  16. Odessa

    ? Anything we experience is spiritual. Space reminds us of God's greatness and His wonders in the most visible way. Yet the grand size of the universe tells only a tiny fra-ction about God. Humans must worship God, as it is the right and fit thing to do and we are so designed by the Creator. Our true worship delights God and our spirits, our hearts cannot be content until we worship Him. God accepts humanity in Jesus alone. Trusting in Jesus equals acknowledging God for who He is.

    July 6, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Free

      Odessa
      "Anything we experience is spiritual."
      But it depends on what you mean by 'spiritual', right? Many people feel that any intense emotional reaction to something can be described as being a spiritual experience, like being moved by a particularly beautiful piece of music, or encountering a whale in the wild. Such feelings do not need to be religious in nature.

      "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality." Carl Sagan

      Sagan was a spiritual man, and an atheist.

      "Space reminds us of God's greatness and His wonders in the most visible way."
      Do you mean space's vacuous nature?

      "Humans must worship God, as it is the right and fit thing to do and we are so designed by the Creator."
      If God designed us to worship him then why do so many people feel it's a completely useless thing to do? Free will? Then we weren't designed to worship God in that case.

      "our hearts cannot be content until we worship Him."
      Trust me, I'm pretty content without worshipping him.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:13 am |
  17. TheyNotHim

    Frankly, the luse of space dwindled because it was not obtainable by the vast majority of us. Still today, traveling even to LEO costs $200,000, a sum not even close to affordable to the vast majority of us. So, as soon as you bring that down to the price of a commercial airliner, then the dream will be fulfilled...

    July 6, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Broden

      So not true. Flying to Paris is cheap these days. Has everyone been to Paris? Have people lost interest in Pairs because they cant go? Taste the freakin rainbow jeez.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  18. A thought...

    Well, I think one of the the key concepts in this article is the distinction made between spirituality and religion. My experience, limited as it is. is that spirituality and religion are two very different, sometimes mutually exclusive things.

    As with scientists, the spiritual seeker is not bound by the doctrine and dogma of religion and does not allow someone else to dictate to them what is true. Like scientists, the true spiritual seeker goes where the evidence, the actual experiential knowing, takes them – regardless of how challenging or frightening that reality may be.

    It is very unlikely that most of us will ever see the planet from outer space. But there is a journey of inner space that all of the wisdom teachers have spoken of. We are all capable of making that journey. Part of what makes being an astronaut an extraordinary experience is absolute presence in this moment, not taking your life for granted or assuming that you will be alive tomorrow, and understanding the rich privilege to be part of and to witness this universe.

    That is the essence of the spiritual journey – to be right here, right now and to experience this moment as it truly is.

    July 6, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @A thought

      Namaste.

      Peace...

      July 6, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Scanland

      Bare-bones spirituality should be called something else. The mind expands with information and processing ability. Our self-awareness includes the awareness that our thoughts inhabit physical bodies with organs that do not function correctly all the time. Imagination and speculation are useful and enjoyable. What is there in a belief in a "soul" or "spirit" when it may just be a form of dimensional energy? Perhaps there is a form of dimensional energy that functions as a reference for most others, or as a direct manifestation of referential information?
      Then all the information of a person's self-awareness would have a chance at being persistent, as "time" is also a form of dimensional energy, but perhaps that would require more dimensions. There could be more than sixteen, but dimensional "math" is tricky stuff. I can't do it. All I can do is think and use my imagination to try and figure things out.
      I guess this is just a roundabout way of saying, "I question your use of the word "spiritual.""

      July 7, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Broden

      try this Google Earth. Look for me, Broden, I am the Sky dont ask why.

      July 7, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  19. GuestWhat

    la vie e Gaia!

    July 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Broden

      PIZZA

      July 7, 2011 at 2:54 am |
  20. Colin

    Theists regularly try to lay some claim to scientific progress by pointing to scientific achievements made by, or contributed to by theists. The author did it here with the comment, "the term “big bang”, though coined by astronomer Fred Hoyle, was conceived by a clergyman, Monsignor Georges Lamaitre of Belgium". Similar assertions are often made that Newton, Mendel and others were theists.

    They are undoubtedly correct that virtually all pre-1900 scientific breakthroughs were made by people (Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists) who believed in sky-gods and life after death to varying degrees. But that is not at all supportive of the view that any (or one particular) religion is correct or that there is a god, life after death, or reincarnation etc. Until 1900 virtually all people were theists believing in a god or gods.

    The big difference between scientific progress and religious beliefs is the way they are arrived at. Science depends on rigorous experimentation, strict methodology and taking nothing as true simply because we want it to be. Religion depends on pure faith, hope and wishes, totally unsupported by empirical evidence. I know of no scientists, believer or not, who claims his breakthrough came from, or was aided by his religious beliefs. None say they prayed and god gave them the answer.

    The noted scientists who believed made their breakthroughs despite, not because of, their respective religions. I doubt any of them would be believers today, given the freedom to doubt they would now have and the access to knowledge they would now enjoy. That is probably why about 95% of scientists in Western societies are now atheists.

    No, my Bible-cuddling friends. You cannot claim credit for breakthroughs made by rejecting your methodology. Science is reality. Religion is simple philosophy for small minds. It is science with Down syndrome.

    July 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • James

      Wow. "Science with Down syndrome." I mostly agree with you, but even I think that's harsh. Not to mention offensive. You must really, really hate religion. And people with Down syndrome.

      July 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • GuestWhat

      Philosophy, it's been said, it the highest form of Science.
      apageinthelife blogspot com ufo human link

      July 6, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Scanland

      Said by philosophers, no doubt. Just another way to avoid having to deal with real facts. You can't philosophize science. Science is a method and a field of endeavor. It is not philosophy. They are very different.

      July 7, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Broden

      No matter what when you cover a dolphins eyes it still sees

      July 7, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Hoggle

      Ummmm science grew out of Philosohpy. They were one and the same plus our life philosophies influence our science: what we study, how we present the results, and whether or not it becomes accepted by the community. Guys you all really need to do some research. There are scientists that have actually studied spiritual experiences and how they increase blood flow to parts of the brain that deal w/ memory and reasoning skills. Many Eastern scientists are deeply spiritual people 'cause it helps them conceptualize things in a new way. It's only in the west that we have this divide. It's funny listening to you guys though.

      July 7, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Anti-Hoggle

      You're listening to us? Can you tell how many fingers I am holding up in your direction as well?

      July 7, 2011 at 8:44 am |
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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.