FMBR Editorial: Feb, 2003

Science & the Soul

William C. Gough

In my 30's on a business trip to the University of Michigan, I suddenly and unexpectedly met a childhood friend that I hadn't seen for 25 years. As a teacher of religion, he asked me how science could explain things that he took on faith such as Jesus changing water to wine, healing the blind, raising the dead, and walking on water. I said that we couldn't, and that most scientists assume that these are just parables. However, the answer didn't feel satisfactory to me, and I created the intention to seek a bridge between science and religion.

With this intention, many "white crows" began to appear in my life that expanded the boundaries of my perception. William James said: "if you wish to upset the law that all crows are black -- it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white." A series of personal experiences gradually convinced me that there exist aspects of reality beyond what have been typically incorporated into scientific modeling. Although I discovered extensive research data on phenomena outside of the current scientific models, the key influences that altered my beliefs were personal experiences that made me query the foundation of the existing laws of physics, explore the concepts of space and time, and investigate ideas like the soul.

Experience, I believe, represents the foundation for everything we know. Clarence says that "science is based on experimentation." This statement is true. Experiments are the "experiences" of scientists. The root of the words experience and experiment are identical. However, turning experiments into science is an inherently imprecise process. All of scientific experiments depend upon measurements. Measurements provide the data that creates the bedrock that science rests upon. However, all measurements are tentative since they always have a degree of error in them -- a plus or minus. This is due to the inherent limitations of all scientific instruments.

Next, Clarence makes a statement to which I object. He claims that science is based upon proof and that without proof something is just a "fantasy." This represents a misunderstanding of science. Proof doesn't apply in any way to the data that is at the foundation of science. Proof can only exist in mathematics and logic. In science we have data and models but no proof! Skeptics and critics of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) often mistakenly use the argument that there in no "absolute proof." They forget that science is the interplay between data and models. Models/theories are always tentative. In fact, science rests upon a belief system that every model/theory will be superseded. Thus, in effect, every model could be considered a "fantasy." Models or theories proposing the existence of the soul work in the same manner.

A common belief is that reproducible results represent a proof, and a prerequisite for real science. Reproducibility is not a law of nature, nor of science. It is a desirable tenet in science, easiest to achieve in the inanimate material world, but becoming much more difficult as the complexity of the system under study increases -- like in the earth and weather sciences. The belief that consistent reproducibility represents proof arises because of an assumption that space-time forms a closed system. Non-locality shows that it is not closed! This is why science uses statistical distributions as a way to approximate reproducibility.

We don't need a theory about God -- the unknowable. However, the soul, or a person's self-identity, is important. Not because it is needed, but because there exists considerable experiential evidence to support models/theories that encompass the concept of the soul. All models are feelers into our greater understanding of reality -- that is their goal. No irrefutable evidence ever exists; this is why science is an endless quest. Science is a progressive approach to truth. Thus, theories regarding the soul work exactly in the same way that relativity theory worked. Our understanding about the soul will evolve in the future as it has in the past.

Religions are codified attempts to express an understanding of the mystery of the "whole." They can be abused when they become unquestioning or misinterpreted belief systems. An unquestioning belief in science such as expressed by Clarence, represents a "religion" and likewise can be abused. Science provides simplified models to explain the fantastically complex universe just as religions have done in the past. Clarence believes that the marrying of science with spiritual thinking is unacceptable. Such a blend is an integral part of scientific evolution. For example, out of Erwin Schrodinger's study of the sacred Hindu Vedas arose his concept for quantum wave mechanics and his influence on the discovery of DNA. Thus, the underpinnings for much of today's physical and biological sciences has its origin in ancient religious wisdom.

William C. Gough,
FMBR Board Chairman, Feburary 2003

Clarence Mitchell's Letter

The letter from Clarence A. Mitchell, that we published in January, objected to the concept of the "soul" as discussed in my editorial review of a book by Ursula A. Anderson, M.D. I want to thank the readers who sent me comments regarding Clarence's statements and will publish some responses next month. This month's editorial presents my thoughts on science and the soul. WCG

Click to see the original letter 
Click to see the letters of response