Evidential Reformation Integrates Science and Spirituality

I almost didn’t make it to Dhyana Hall to see Rinpoche Anam Thubten this morning. I was in my car, several blocks from home and the part of me that doesn’t want to go anywhere, the part of me that doesn’t want to drive, and the part of me that worries about driving my car all appeared at once, compelling me to glide into the turning lane on the left at Powell and Hollis. I waited for the light, the parts of me that are seeking to connect, to grow, and to meet investors came the fore, speaking persuasively about staying the course.

I was delighted when I Rinpoche said the dharma would be about the integration of science and spirituality. He proceeded to tell a story about growing up in a small village of 7-8 families in Tibet, where they thought every one in the West was scientist. When he later came to the United States, he realized that many people that all Tibetans meditate. Of course, both of these are simply innocent reflections. He went on to say that initially he resisted science but that now he was seeing that science was in fact proving many of Buddha’s teachings, and quite fortuitously the subject of Rinpoche’s teaching, that is, the principle of no self — that is, there is not individual self. Science has not found anything that is uniquely one’s self.

Rinpoche went on to say that he is now realizing that the integration of science and spirituality, namely the revelation of spirituality through science may in fact be the only way to cultural enlightenment. I spoke to him afterwards and recommended that he read Michael Dowd’s book Thank God for Evolution. When he heard the title, Rinpoche erupted in laughter which I joined in. He got it.

It makes me really happy when my teachers begin to overlap and integrate their thinking.

Recently, I got a chance to read Dowd’s Sermon: The Future Is Calling Us to Greatness. It immediately resonated as something for me to integrate into my thinking and my work.

What do I mean by “right relationship to reality, as evidentially known and collectively discerned”? That phrase, “as evidentially known and collectively discerned” is at the heart of what I am calling the Evidential Reformation. And here is how I personally know it is happening.

For nearly two decades I have been privileged to work closely with people of very different backgrounds and beliefs on issues related to human and planetary wellbeing. In 1995-96, after having spent the previous decade pastoring churches in Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigan, I began organizing Jewish, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, and Unitarian Universalist leaders across America on key environmental issues that were coming up for a vote in Congress.

For the next five years I headed up the first government-funded program in the United States designed to help individuals and neighborhoods adopt more sustainable ways of living. And since April 2002 my wife, Connie Barlow, a science writer and evolutionary educator, and I have crisscrossed North America addressing nearly two thousand secular and religious groups, evangelizing the evolutionary significance of religion, the inspiring side of science, and an honorable relationship to the future.

In each of these settings I experienced firsthand what a number of scholars have chronicled independently—namely, that a worldwide movement has been emerging for decades, largely unnoticed, at the nexus of science, inspiration, and sustainability.

While hedonists and fundamentalists are absent from this group, tens of millions of the rest of us now share a striking number of values, priorities, and commitments. These orient our lives in a common direction—regardless of what language we speak and on which continent we reside.

Our religious practices and metaphysical beliefs are all over the map. What we share is knowledge about the greatest challenges facing humanity and a resolve to work together to ensure a healthy planet for our species and the whole of life. We cohere because we are grounded in an evidential worldview interpreted in a variety of meaningful ways. We honor evolutionary and ecological processes at the root of life and human culture. To disregard, to dishonor, these processes through our own determined ignorance or self-focus is an evil that will bring untold suffering to generations upon generations. It is a legacy we denounce. It is thus a call to action.

Now that the threat of climate change is not only undeniable but also manifesting in frightful ways throughout Earth’s lands and waters, the fact that tens of millions of religious and secular people share this common, evidence-based understanding of what’s real and what’s important, and are joining together in just cause, is surely good news.

This is awesome! A movement at the nexus of science, inspiration, and sustainability encompasses everything I need to be nourished. I love the notion that we have widely varying religious practices and metaphysical beliefs, yet we share knowledge of our greatest challenges and a resolve to work together to ensure a healthy planet for all.

Dowd continues on how he has been working with Evidential Reformation in his life:

This is a task I have made my own for the better part of a year now. Let me share the six short declarations I have come to. As you will hear, each statement pairs a secular term with a religious term—which I sense can transcend the theist–atheist divide. See if you agree. Here are the six:

  • Reality is my God, 
  • Evidence is my scripture, 
  • Big History is my creation story, 
  • Ecology is my theology, 
  • Integrity is my spiritual path, and 
  • Ensuring a healthy future is my mission.

I love these and am trying them on for my thinking. The talk speaks to each on individually.

At the end, Dowd quotes Loyal Rue:

“The universe is a single reality—one long, sweeping spectacular process of interconnected events. The universe is not a place where evolution happens; it is evolution happening. It is not a stage on which dramas unfold; it is the unfolding drama itself. If ever there were a candidate for a universal story, it must be this story of cosmic evolution. This story shows us in the deepest possible sense that we are all sisters and brothers—fashioned from the same stellar dust, energized by the same star, nourished by the same planet, endowed with the same genetic code, and threatened by the same evils. This story, more than any other, humbles us before the magnitude and complexity of creation. Like no other story it bewilders us with the improbability of our existence, astonishes us with the interdependence of all things, and makes us feel grateful for the lives we have. And not the least of all, it inspires us to express our gratitude to the past by accepting a solemn and collective responsibility for the future.”

We are all all sisters and brothers, indeed.

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