Science and Religion
by Henry Swift (


the two most powerful forces of history, science and religion, settle into relationship with each other." Alfred North Whitehead

"There is a desire to find the connections between different parts of society, in our civilization, science and religion being the two large subdivisions that need to be reunited." Vice-President Albert Gore.

Fifty-seven years ago I received the Ph. D. degree in physics from the University of Iowa. Soon thereafter, I clearly recall sitting at my desk looking out the window at the engineering building across the street, and thinking to myself, "engineering is merely the application of the principles of physics, and reason can solve all problems, so I now am totally prepared for life." How naive that 26 year-old was on both counts!

But this philosophy worked well for over a decade, as I supervised research and development on equipment for military applications and started a family. Then in midlife, I found myself in a deep depression that prevented me from doing productive work. Life had lost its meaning and there was no color in the world --- just shades of gray. I even recall briefly considering the other option to living, but having a family quickly destroyed that thought. My situation started a forty-year search for myself, which only ended only 9 years ago with acceptance of the teachings of the ancient Indian philosophy called Advaita Vedanta. I eventually learned that religion was the missing factor in my life -- the higher factor than my personal will. I tell this story not that my life is of be of interest, but because it indicates that I have thought a lot about the foundations of my professional field of science, as well as of religion.

Most religions ask us to have faith in God, and all our problems will disappear. But what if one doesn't believe in God, as their creeds say we must, to be saved? It is impossible to change from disbelief to belief by an act of will. Perhaps one can by some sort of self-hypnosis come to accept such a belief, if such a creed is injected early in life before the mind becomes capable of thinking.

Philosophers who have studied such questions for many years tell us that the existence of God can neither be proved, nor disproved. So, since the scientist seems to have replaced the priest in our current society as the authoritative source of truth, shall we turn to science for the answers to our most important questions? Let's look into that a bit.

Some scientists were not as fortunate as I in getting the message early on that something was wrong in their lives. Instead, they went through life carrying the hubris that I had at age 26. Consequently they make pronouncements about non-scientific aspects of life that they really know nothing about. This arrogant attitude has been called "scientism"; it is an "ism", or belief system, just as communism or fascism are, and has in common with them that it is both destructive and dangerous to society. Scientism says, for example, that extra sensory perception and reincarnation are merely superstitions, and can't be so, merely because science cannot explain them!

Does science guarantee unimpeachable answers to our important questions? In answer, we note that the metaphysical basis of science for 400 years since Galileo has been that materiality is all there is. Thus all else must arise from material stuff. But what about consciousness?

Consciousness is the one and only thing that we all know exists - with total certainty. It is also the defining characteristic of life; the difference between an alive person and a dead body in its coffin. But no one knows what it is; it is a HUGE problem, an impossible one for the thinking mind! Many biologists and neuro-physiologists believe that consciousness arises from the complexity of brain tissue. But they have yet to locate the site of consciousness anywhere in the brain, and they never will, because they are stuck with believing everything must arise from material stuff. That belief is based, however, only on metaphysical faith, just as religion is!

To take another approach, there are many anomalous phenomena that science cannot explain. Four of these areas are:

  1. The birth of a musical genius like Mozart, who is reported to have composed his first symphony at age 6, -.unless he learned music in a former life. His mother surely didn't teach him music. And his inherited genes were merely instructions for his body to manufacture proteins, not to do musical composition. But then, how do we explain reincarnation- another mystery?
  2. A neurophysiologist in Mexico City named Grinberg-Zylerbaum (1994) wired two subjects to record their brain waves, and asked them to meditate together until they felt to be in communion. He then placed them in separate rooms that were shielded to prevent any possible communication by electromagnetic means. When he caused a light to flash in view of one of the subjects, the brain waves of that subject showed a responsive pulse, as expected. What was interesting, however, was that the brain waves of the other subject also showed a corresponding pulse at the same time, demonstrating direct brain to brain influence, as the second subject could not see the light, or know its timing! This was mental telepathy, if you will, which science cannot explain, and therefore disbelieves!
  3. Princeton University has experimented in their laboratories on anomalous phenomena for several years. They used the proven randomicity of radioactive emissions to construct an electronic random number generator, or (RNG). The RNG generates a random series of yes's and no's at a high rate of 10,000 per second. They then asked subjects to try to cause the machine to deviate from randomicity; i.e., to cause either an excess of yes's, or no's. And people could do it! The amount of shift was small, being only a 1% deviation from randomicity but the high data rate enabled a statistically significant comparison to be made in a reasonable time, and with an astronomically high confidence level that the effect measured was genuine. Jahn & Dunne (1987), describes these data in detail in a recent book, Margins of Reality . It leaves no room for doubt that a person's intent can indeed influence the operation of an electronic machine. How can that possibly be? Nobody knows!
    Here is something even more incredible! A man named Schultz ran a RNG machine and recorded the yes/no results on paper, which he locked in a safe. Two months later he asked one of his subjects to try to influence the machine back in the past, at the time when he had recorded to machine's results. Amazingly the subject did exactly that! But what was indeed also interesting was that if anyone had opened the safe and looked at the record during the interval, the effect disappeared! This experiment showed action of intent back into the past! How can that be?
  4. The paleontological record shows the expected small step by step changes that we expect from Darwin's evolutionary theory of the survival of the fittest. In addition, however, the record shows large changes, jumps or gaps in the record that Darwin cannot explain. This has been called spontaneous evolution. Aren't these phenomena proof that the creationists know of what they speak? That consciousness (i.e. God, if you prefer that word) had a role here?

Clearly something is badly wrong with the way we see our world and our relationship to the world around us. That error is reflected in our current materialistic science that has ignored consciousness for 400 years. Our current science deals only with relationships between material entities. Science knows why the planets travel elliptical orbits around the sun. NASA scientists can even plan the course of a spaceship that "sling-shots" around the sun on its way to visit the outer planets, take pictures from a preplanned distance, etc. and have it come out exactly right! Science, having been barred from study of man's inner world in order to keep peace with the church in Galileo's time, developed its knowledge of the outer world of man, and the applications of this new knowledge has transformed our world with the ensuing flood of technology. We must not, however, be seduced by this wonderful technology into thinking we no longer need religion; that material goods will make us happy, as promised by the advertisers. But current science is mute about our inner world of thoughts, and feelings, the place we live! Shouldn't a complete science speak to that also?

The religious contemplatives of the east have studied consciousness in detail for several thousand years, through meditation, or looking inward. The training they underwent to qualify for such investigations was more rigorous than that required in the West to train a Ph.D. physicist to qualify him to study the phenomena of the outer world.

Until about six years ago consciousness was ignored in the West because its study was not considered to be scientific; there was no way to objectively study consciousness, because it is pure subjectivity! One could not isolate or measure it, or apply any of the standard methods of science to learn about it. So they left its study to psychologists and philosophers, who were as baffled by consciousness as the scientist.

The Science of Isaac Newton described a world whose future was precisely predictable from the state of the present. Thus there was no role in this kind of universe for either man, or God. There is an opening now, however, in the new science of quantum mechanics. This 70-year-old theory has been one of the most successful in science. It precisely explains many phenomena, ranging from the origin of the suns' heat, to allowing us to confidently design transistors, etc. Quantum mechanics differs from Newton's ideas in that the future is not determined totally by the past. Instead, there is room for consciousness to have a causal influence on the future.

Science has been denying, or sweeping under the rug, anomalous phenomena such as were listed earlier. But when the bump under the rug gets so large scientists start to trip over it, it can no longer be ignored. Then a correction to our views will be forced to occur. This is in accord with the history of science, as described by Thomas Kuhn in his classic 1950's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. This new view must combine the spiritual wisdom of the East about consciousness, with the scientific wisdom of the West, in this author's opinion.

A candidate for this new view was proposed by Professor Amit Goswami of the University of Oregon in 1989. It surely is no coincidence that a man raised and educated in India, who taught university physics for 30 years in the West, should create and develop this new science, which is wholly compatible with the 1000-year-old philosophy/psychology from India called Advaita Vedanta.

Goswami's revolutionary new theory currently meets with "stone-wall" resistance within the scientific community, but is receiving positive response among psychologists and some others. This revolution, when it occurs in spite of the scientist, will be more momentous than the Copernican Revolution. All previous scientific revolutions were in our thinking about the universe, e.g., due to Copernicus we now think the earth revolves around the sun, which is a change in thought. In contrast, the new revolution involves a change in man's being. The Unitarian poet E.E. Cummings concisely summarized the problem by writing, "if you can be, then just be! If you can't, then cheer up and continue to go on doing to other people until you drop!"

A marriage of the wisdom of the East about our inner world of consciousness with the scientific wisdom of the West about the outer world now seems to be within reach. A revolution in inter-disciplinary thinking will be required, however, especially in the West, which will drastically revise philosophy and psychology, as well as science. This revolution will be more momentous that the Copernican revolution, as it has to occur in the psyche of man. We have met the enemy, and he is us!

Therefore, future scientists may have to be trained not only in science, but also be students of their inner spirituality.

There are a number of signs of the impending emergence of this upcoming revolution. A new professional journal of philosophy was established in 1994, called the Journal of Consciousness Studies. In the common man's experience there are hundreds of books in bookstores now on spirituality, and an increasing turning for guidance to the churches, and particularly to spiritual leaders from the East. There is a recognition consensus that something is wrong in our world, with its inter-religious conflicts, and the increasing occurrence of senseless violence. We now seem to be lost in a puddle of chaos, but I see light at the end of the tunnel; the dark before the dawn.

This light will come from the spiritual wisdom of the east, when combined with the science of the West. This new Science Within Consciousness (to be contrasted to the current science without consciousness extends the purview of science into the life sciences and, to its credit, provides credible answers to three of the four of the anomalous phenomena listed earlier. The current strong prejudice, however, against allowing religion into science, a hangover from science's stressful emergence from under the domination of the church in Galileo's time, is a large historical factor in preventing its acceptance. But we must have confidence that truth will eventually prevail, to make us free.

I shall close with a poem for which I am indebted to author Peter Russell who included it in a previous issue of the SWC bulletin. It is by Christopher Fry from his play of that name, and was written at the end of the Second World War. It is so relevant.

A Sleep of Prisoners

So the human heart can go the length of God,
Dark and cold we may be,
But this is no winter now.
The frozen misery of centuries,

Clocks, breaks, begins to move
The thunder is the thunder of the flows
Thank God our time is now,
When wrong comes to face us everywhere.
Never to leave us 'til we take the greatest stride
Of soul man ever took.
Affairs are now soul size,
The enterprise is exploration into God



1) Jahn & Dunne, (1987) Margins of Reality: The Role of Consciousness in the Physical World, Harcourt & Bruce.

2) Helmut Schmidt and Henry Stapp, PK with Prerecorded Random Events and the Effects of Preobservation, Journal of Parapsychology, Vol.57, December 1993.

3) J. Grinberg-Zylerbaum et al, (1994) The Einstein- Podolsky- Rosen Paradox in the Brain: The Transferred Potential, Physics Essays, Vol.7, number 4, 1994.