The Reciprocal Relation Between Science and Revelation
Go to Part 1 of this article
Professor of Psychology, University of Hawaii
There are two issues to be resolved:
One: Can science be expected to concern itself with spiritual things such as regeneration, salvation, influx, miracles, conjugial love, Sacred Scripture, the laws of Divine Providence, and so on?
The 'Strong' Version: If these are real things happening to people on earth, then it is a matter for science inasmuch as science is the scientific investigation of real events.
The 'Weaker' Version: Science and religion are uses for different aspects of human knowledge and understanding -- science for this world and religion for the next; or, science for the outer, temporary, natural life and religion (also theology) for the inner spiritual life.
Two: Can Revelation be expected to concern itself with natural things such as facts about history, chemistry, and biology or psychology?
The 'Strong' Version: Spiritual truths about faith are rational (Nunc Licet) and we can understand them to the extent that we have acquired an external rational mind. The Latin Word cannot exist as a document separate from culture and history. In order for the Writings to be believable, understandable, and lovable to the modern mind, they must be written in a scientific style, that is, the level of thinking of the external rational mind. Without history, psychology, medicine, geography, etc., which make up so much of the Writings, they could not have been written and presented to the modern mind as a religious document to be honored as Divine. The Writings are therefore a source of both religious and scientific revelations.
The 'Weaker' Version: As a matter of principle, revelation avoids dealing with scientific issues to avoid conflict between new scientific discoveries and old outdated principles of science which would get stuck in the literal of the Word. The Writings appear to depart from this principle in some places where illustrations or examples are given from common scientific knowledge, and some of these are indeed outdated in the light of modern science. However, these minor examples do not affect in any way whatsoever, the validity of the spiritual explanations or doctrinal principles laid out.
These two issues have been debated in exchanges that appeared in New Church Life and the present installment will, I hope, clarify and strengthen the principal issue which is, I believe, that science and religion are reciprocally and inescapably interdependent. One important implication is that science education is an essential component of rational literacy, that is, of mental skills needed to understand the literal of the Writings. Readers will no doubt make up their own minds as to whether or not the "strong version" is more valid and desirable than the "weaker version." The arguments I present try to show that the stronger version is valid.
Acknowledging the Writings in the contemporary modern world requires familiarity with rational concepts. Modern science, which includes science education, supplies the content of this external rational mind, as well as its mode of reasoning and making decisions. This is why the language of revelation must necessarily include scientific concepts for the elucidation of spiritual truths. "Doctrinal matters...would not be at all received, and thus no respect would be entertained" were it not integrated and made consistent with "natural things," that is, science (see AC 2553). It is thus necessary for the Writings to be grounded in modern scientific ideas, else they would not continue to be acknowledged and studied by succeeding generations.
What about those who feel that the threefold Word contains outdated, hence erroneous, statements about natural or historical things? Let's wait to see if anyone can actually come up with proof of such errors. This is not a simple matter for scientific proof is normally by probability. Thus, one can point to the moon exploration in the space age and point to the LOW probability that there could be life there -- low but not zero! While we are waiting for proof, therefore, we can retain the idea that Earths in the Universe is a scientific revelation, as well as a spiritual one, in its more internal sense.
Even if proof were found of some scientific statement in the Writings, it does not invalidate, ipso facto all other scientific statements in the Word.
Pre-modern versus Modern Minds
Pre-modern science is non-mechanistic: the Deity or Spirit rules by fiat, by a command or the motion of a finger, and all obey, both animate and inanimate. The pre-modern concepts of the Apostles could not accommodate to or fathom a spiritual kingdom "within themselves"; this remained a mystery, hence a barrier to their understanding, acknowledgment, and love. The Writings reveal that their concretized, sensuous, semantic framework could not admit that the Lord and the Father were one Person; or that they are to forgive others because their act of condemnation is from the hell within them; or that they were to rule no one in the Lord's heavenly Kingdom.
John could write about the mysterious Logos being One with God, but was not able to acknowledge and see the inner meaning of Exodus or the Psalms. Paul was the brilliant Talmudic architect of a new Jadaeo-Christian doctrine of salvation in Christ that stimulated nearly two thousand years of scholarly activity in theology, philosophy, education, politics, music and art, yet Paul was not capable of believing his own rhetoric because his ideas were pre-modern. Though he preached universal love, in practice, he and his followers insisted more on faith and matters of Church, and his views on women were more cultural than spiritual. More than fifteen hundred years of intellectual development had to happen before the modern mind was reborn in the objectivism of Renaissance art and mechanistic empiricism. (This will be discussed further in connection with the diagram below.)
The significance of the Second Advent for Science
The intellectualism of the Second Advent conforms to the evidential rationality and empirical methodology of modern science. God rules through intermediaries and nothing unconnected can exist or function. God governs and manages by ordered sequences arranged in hierarchies that are discoverable and usable as explanatory concepts for observable phenomena. The entire Writings are made of interconnected and consistent explanatory systems. This is not different from the handbooks or textbooks of mature sciences. The actions of God in human behavior are in accordance with discoverable laws of precedence, such as the issue of which actions are more harmful than others (e.g., "imputation" see CL 524:4), or when the Lord permits events that otherwise He does not will Himself (see DP 249).
Divine Providence is not magical or unknown, but is presented in scientific terms that help explain in a rational way natural events in the world such as evil, crime, luck, accidents, evolution, instinct, using only the logical exposition of operational "laws" of Divine Providence. This is how I see the meaning of Nunc Licet applied to science.
Traditional vs. New Christian Mentality
The old Christian Church retains pre-modern explanations of salvation, regeneration, and prayer. The principle of vicarious atonement of sins through spilling of the blood of Christ on the cross, is an explanation of salvation that can no longer be accepted by modern scientific minds. Indeed, "blind faith" is called for, which darkens the understanding. No inner confirmation or agreement is possible, only an outward, literal and ritualistic acknowledgment.
In contrast, the Swedenborgian description of the process of salvation, is modern and mechanistic in the sense that it gives the etiology, diagnosis, and symptoms of the mental changes that constitute sin and regeneration. Salvation is not by fiat, but by the slow, tortuous, biological process of the struggling individual as-of-self, called regeneration, and which can be witnessed and recorded through one's perceptions, reflections, and the retrospective illustration (or insight) with which the Lord gifts the repentant and regenerating individual while studying the Writings.
As another example, take the scientific concept found in the Writings that affections and thoughts are spiritual substances (not physical, temporal), and are arranged in certain shapes according to their quality (e.g., whether good or harmful). Let's call this the "spiritual biology" premise. To be able to see or comprehend this scientific concept, one needs to operate cognitively at the external rational level, which is the modern standard in society today. At the pre-modern level, the spiritual biology hypothesis appears difficult to believe, and easy to dismiss as poetic expression. Indeed, most scientists today dismiss the scientific truth and reality of a dual universe as religious sentimentalism or, sometimes, as psychosis.
Going still deeper (or higher), the internal rational level of thinking allows one to see from this spiritual biology premise, that the self is immortal and lives as a fully functioning person in the spiritual world. Thus, internal rational ideas (e.g., heaven and hell as eternal habits of mental states), are grounded in scientific, or external rational concepts (e.g., thoughts and feelings are shaped, non-physical substances). Imbuing New Church mentality with early science education thus becomes even more imperative now than it seemed half a century ago, as argued by Bishop George DeCharms who predicted that faith in the Writings will be threatened unless Nunc Licet scientists, or dualists, construct sientific esplanations of miracles reported in the Word.
Science Education and Understanding the Writings
The two parts of the rational mind, external and internal, are thus interdependent. Spiritual truths from revelation, now being rational (no longer natural), cannot be fully understood without the development in each individual, of the external rational mind. Science and science education are the means by which the external rational mind of the modern individual is built up. Science and science education teach us the skills of critical thinking without which rational faith is impossible (only a blind, persuasive one). Without this scientific foundation, spiritual truths cannot be fully understood rationally, and without this rational understanding of spiritual truths, there is for us no regeneration, no conjugial, no heavenly life.
I would predict that those who have not been exposed to science education, may have a certain handicap to overcome when coming into contact with the Writings (which may then appear "hard to read" or "inconsistent"). One antidote to finding the Writings hard to understand is, I think, the improvement of one's literacy skills, both scientific and humanistic. There is a built in reciprocity between science and revelation. Science needs revelation because the external rational is "in appearances of good and truth" (AC 2516), and cannot discover the inner states of people. Only the internal rational, or spiritual, can receive facts about the inner world of spirit. Scientifically viewed, revelation is empirical data from the inner world; revelation is thus a new kind of scientific methodology. At the same time revelation needs science because the internal rational is grounded in the external rational, or scientific, and spiritual truths such as the doctrine of faith, cannot be given or fully understood without these rational scientific externals. Viewed from revelation, science is data from the external world; science is thus the basis of religion, and its containant, as the natural world is the basis and containant of the spiritual and celestial.
Scientific Paradigm Shift to Dualism
In order for science to realign itself with religion, it must become dualist, that is, it must acknowledge and apply the reality of revelation as a source of data on spiritual phenomena. Because this intellectual evolution is inevitable, as foretold in the Writings, dualist concepts must gradually appear, first as maverick proposals, but eventually establishing themselves as mainstream scientific theory. One such unusual but solid proposal comes from no less an expert in neurobiology and neuroscience than Nobel Prize winner Sir John Eccles, who defines two types of neuronal events in the brain, one strictly neural (NE) and the other mixed mental-neural events (MNE). MNEs fire either from NEs or MEs; the latter are mental events such as "attention or intention." Eccles reviews positive physiological evidence that convince him that MNE neurons exist and can be fired by purely mental events (MEs) such as attending to some thought or intending some action.
The recognition by a leading scientist of the existence of non-physical events (MEs) interacting with physical events (NEs) through an intermediary substance (MNEs) is proof that science is well on its way to dualism, that is, to the recognition of the reality of two worlds, one physical, the other non-physical, or spiritual. After recognition comes application, and soon dualist theories in physics, biology, or economics will be incorporating in their formulae and models such constants as the Law of Correspondences, and such variables as discrete degrees or acquired hereditary character traits.
The Writings are the Word:
Secular and Religious View
Dr. Wilson Van Dusen raises several important issues in his reply to my analysis of religious vs. secular Swedenborgianism. At issue here is the way one can mean that the Writings are the Word. I believe that the same analysis applies once again, and I'd like to show that there is a secular and religious way of conceptualizing Revelation or "the Word." According to Van Dusen, "A definition of the sacred is that it is true for everyone. That is what makes it sacred. Because of this I see the Writings as the Word." Note that there are three steps presented here for the secular proof that the Writings are the Word:
(i) The sacred is true for everyone.
(ii) The Writings are true for everyone.
(iii) Therefore the Writings are the Word (sacred).
This order appears inverted when compared to the religious proof found in Swedenborg:
(i) The Writings are the Word by historical fact (Second Advent).
(ii) That is what makes them sacred and true for everyone.
(iii) Therefore the Writings cannot be compared to any other work.
Note that the religious view on the Word does not permit proof that it is sacred because it is true. Yet this is precisely the assumption in statement (i) of the secular view. This is an inverted position. The assumption in the religious view is that the Writings are the Word, and the conclusion is that the Writings are sacred and true for everyone. The assumption in the secular view is that the Writings are true and sacred, and the conclusion is that the Writings are the Word.
There is a similar distinction one can point out in Dr. Van Dusen's use of the concept "universal":
"I, in contrast, see over and over in the Writings that they are clearly referring to the universal. Because of my personal love for the universal I am inclined to seek it everywhere, while Leon James feels bound to the Writings as the only truth."
The secular view on the idea that the Writings are universal, for all people, is that all who are good and love truth for its own sake are spiritual and entitled to heavenly life. However, the religious view found in Swedenborg is that the Writings are universal, for all people, so long as these two essential conditions are met:
(i) they accept the Writings (Heavenly Doctrine) as the Word.
(ii) they then suffer themselves to be regenerated by the Lord.
Without these two necessary conditions, the view one has of "universal" is natural or external rational, not yet spiritual or internal rational.
There is some danger that the exposition, side by side, of a religious and a secular view, might lead some to conclude that the religious view somehow denigrates the secular. Dr. Van Dusen refers to this several times in his reply. To quote just one example: "Under Leon James' definition a few thousand people on earth are spiritual and the vast majority, over 5 billion people are not." It is revealed in the Writings that no one is spiritual! Not one, not a few thousand. Yes, the entire population of earth is secular. This is what made the Second Advent necessary at this time in the history of the race. All spirituality had been lost and whatever books were extant in the libraries and archives of the world, none of them were spiritual. This fact is asserted many times in the Writings.
One can therefore say from the religious point of view, that only the Writings of Swedenborg and the Bible are spiritual and all other books are natural. To show that this is not a dogmatic attitude that excludes non-Swedenborgians, I quote from several passages from the Writings:
Religion...is not a stumbling-block to those who believe that all things are of Divine Providence. These inquire wherein this Providence lies....Of the Lord's Divine Providence...religion was raised up for the wiping out of the idolatries of many nations...[Even] polygamy is not a sin with those with whom it exists from religion...[though] they remain natural and do not become spiritual...[and] after death they have a heaven of their own and there have delight in enjoyments according to their life....For every nation the Lord provides a universal means of salvation....In whatever religion people may live they can be saved....Since, then, everyone in every religion knows the evils and falsities from evils that must be shunned, and having shunned them knows the goods that must be done and the truths that must be believed, it is clear that this is provided by the Lord as the universal means of salvation with every nation that has any religion....Christians see this from the Word, Mahometans from the Koran, and Gentiles from their religious principle.
It was told me that there is a book among the Mohammedans which is common in their hands, in which some pages were written by correspondences, like the Word with us; from which pages there is some light in the heavens. Knowledge and consequent acknowledgment of God are not possible without revelation...; for it is by the revelation given to the human race that the individual is able to approach God and to receive influx, and thereby from being natural becoming spiritual...The primeval revelation extended throughout the world; but it was perverted by the natural mind in many ways, which was the origin of religious disputes, dissensions, heresies, and schisms...the natural mind is not capable of any perception of God, but only of the world. Consequently ... the natural self is opposed to the spiritual self, and ... they contend against each other. This explains why those who have learned from the Word or other revelation that there is a God, have differed and still differ respecting the nature and the unity of God. (CL 342, 348; LJP 98; TCR 11(4), 833; AE 1180)
Thus, the conclusion that the Writings and the Bible are the only spiritual books is not my personal conclusion. It is not my declaration that so and so is secular and not religious. No one can make that declaration about anyone, except the Lord. Instead, the religious view is a declaration that without acknowledging the Lord in the Writings and regenerating, one is advancing a secular, non-spiritual view. Contemporary psychology books about human growth, personality adjustment, or psychological functioning are not yet spiritual since they are dealing with mental phenomena strictly from the external rational perspective, which is always secular.
This is true, in my estimation, even of "Christian Pastoral" counseling and therapy today since these are based on the views and theories of secular psychologists such as Freud, Rogers, Erikson, or Ellis, to which a religious context is given by treating God as a topic in the therapy session, and by using Bible passages for comfort and homework. The core psychology of the therapy, however, is not the process of regeneration through temptations, but secular views on motivational conflicts, unresolved developmental stages in childhood, or emotional maladjustment. With the future expected advent of dualist psychology, internal rational concepts and methods from revelation will create psychological theories and explanations that are spiritual, such as the idea that mental health is a function of the growth of the internal church within each individual through the marriage of good and truth.
Is Science Limited?
In his response to my article on secular and religious Swedenborgianism, Mr. Bedford echoes the general belief that the task of science is a limited one and cannot be expected to include the investigation of natural events that are spiritually revealed such as New Testament miracles, the Virgin Birth, the process of regeneration, and life on the moon. Investigating miracles and the Incarnation scientifically is not appopriate, according to this view. Only natural facts discovered by observation, can be scientifically investigated.
As a practicing scientist for thirty-five years, and an active contributor to the research in my field of Psychology, I am well positioned to observe and understand what the scientific method is and what can be investigated scientifically. Thus far, I have not seen any scientific evidence showing that science is necessarily limited in its scope, or that it is not capable of investigating some natural fact or topic, such as the influence of spirits on our thoughts and emotions. Science, as I have known it, has no mandate for ignoring mechanisms of influence observable in this world, such as our actions.
The belief that science is limited or impotent in some ways is therefore not a scientific fact but an opinion or point of view that someone might come to adopt. It is equally possible and scientific to take another point of view on science, or within science, as I have done. This is the point of view that science is a tool of the rational mind and is shaped by it. Rational investigations form the content of modern science. Science grows and changes, sometimes in explosive or revolutionary ways, but it never lets go of the rational method. This is the essence of science.
In the religious perspective of the new Nunc Licet mentality, there is only a methodological or technical separation between New Church theology and science, between New Church ministers and dualist scientists. Science is 'dualist' when it adopts the premise that the spiritual (or "mental") world is as real as the natural (or "physical"). With this premise in the background, dualist scientists are given the professional and methodological warrant to construct theories and models about natural events which include spiritually revealed concepts.
New Church Ministers as Scientists
In order to see the similarity between dualist science and New Church rational intellectualism, symbolized by the phrase Nunc Licet, consider General Church sermons. My content analysis shows that they make assertions about psychological and economic facts, about human nature, about why there are sociological differences among peoples, about how the cognitive and the affective mind interact, about physiological correspondences, and many more. Sermons actually contain a lot of facts about our daily life and earthly environment. In that sense they are observational or empirical. Being empirical is an essential component of science because it forces scientists to make testable assertions about our environment.
Similarly, assertions about people's life and conduct which are made by ministers in their sermons, are empirical statements or hypotheses since their validity may be argued and shown to be valid or invalid. Sermons are not true because they were written by accredited ministers or because they are based on the Writings. Blind faith fosters dogma or mystery; rational faith, on the other hand, offers us a methodology of invalidation, by which we can judge according to our understanding, whether we should assent or dissent. This capability of showing that an explanation is wrong, is another essential component of science.
It is clear then that the intellectual process New Church ministers perform when creating a New Church sermon is essentially the same as the intellectual process scientists perform when creating a scientific theory or model. The common basis is the rational mind operating on empirical observation. New Church theology (unlike non-Swedenborgian theology).is a purely rational system that invokes science as a constant tool and companion for establishing valid theories by which to understand the entire created universe. My first reaction to reading Swedenborg's Arcana Coelestia fifteen years ago was to see it as the science textbook in psychology that I've been searching for. I referred to the Writings as "an eyewitness report of the spiritual world by an empirically oriented psychologist." Of course I was committed to a paradigm shift in science from materialism to a dualist recognition of the reality of the spiritual world. To a scientist who is committed to dualism, Swedenborg's Writings appear as scientific works.
Why the Writings Contain Scientific Revelations
The fact that Swedenborg described himself as writing revelation ("the Heavenly Doctrine") and not merely psychological or biological science, does not in and of itself disqualify the Writings from being considered valid scientific works. Swedenborg has been and will be claimed by both theology and science. The fact that Swedenborg reports on historical and empirical events occurring in the spiritual world does not disqualify his explanations and principles as unscientific. Being a dedicated and competent scientist, he could not compose as-of-self theories and principles that were disconnected, contradictory or purely speculative. It is clear to me why the Second Advent had to be engineered intellectually by a competent modern scientist like Swedenborg. He was skilled in writing about the spiritual world within, as would a modern scientist and methodologist in the dualist paradigm. This had not been accomplished before in the history of recorded publications.
Swedenborg is the architect of a scientific revolution, a paradigm shift which may be called Nunc Licet, which has fashioned for scientists of the modern era a new methodology which may be called dualist science. In this new point of view, the universe is dual: natural and spiritual. We are born into the state of dual citizenship. Modern scientific methods up to Swedenborg were inadequate in handling the spiritual half of this universe. The common and honorable thing to do for the architects of the modern era such as Newton and Leibniz, was to acknowledge the universe as God's omnipotent Work and then go on with a mechanistic model that simply ignored the reality of God's providential intervention in all matters large and small.
This schizoid approach has not changed in later centuries in such scientists as Darwin or Einstein who continued the practice. A pessimistic attitude of scientific limitation grew as a result of this inability to handle spiritual phenomena. It is an attitude that is greatly in vogue today, as I pointed out above. It brings about a state of intellectual schizophrenia, such as thinking, "I will operate as an un-Godly scientist in my publications and in my teaching, but at home with my children and on Sunday, I will be a Godly citizen and family person." Swedenborg discovered a valid and scientifically workable solution to this painful and unhealthy intellectual state of affairs.
Swedenborg's Dualist Science
Swedenborg's solution is simple but effective: Be a dualist scientist rather than a schizophrenic one. This means to integrate in our scientific theory the natural world and the spiritual world. Swedenborg showed how to do this by doing it. For instance, he did not just go on talking about the soul, spirit, heaven and hell like a fiction writer, story teller or uneducated disturbed person (or "mystic"). Instead, Swedenborg laid the scientific foundations for defining heaven and hell. They were not places, but mental states (as explained by the Lord in the New Testament -- but was it understood then by the pre-modern mind?). Swedenborg didn't just talk about the spiritual world like theosophists or spiritists do; he defined the spiritual world scientifically so that it can be understood by any rational person of any culture or future century.
A few months prior to my stumbling upon the Writings in our university library, a student in my class asked, "Dr., J, you mentioned the spiritual self a few times. Just what is spiritual?" Later that day I had to admit to myself this very depressing thought: I don't think I answered that question honestly. I don't think I know what spiritual is -- as a psychologist.
I was then being a schizophrenic scientist. I was unable to define what is spiritual within my science. Yes, I knew I could say, Spiritual has to do with God, sin, evil, salvation, heaven and hell. I was stuck in the old paradigm framework. As a psychologist, I did not know what spiritual is.
All at once, practically overnight, reading Swedenborg gave me the scientific tools to define spiritual within the science of psychology, which is the language of my intellect by training and avocation. Today, when asked by psychology majors what the spiritual is, I have a good answer: "Spiritual refers to your mental functions, such as the affective (will, feelings) and the cognitive (thoughts, understanding). These are substantial and make up what you are in the afterlife." How more simple can it be? Your thoughts and feelings -- these are the objects in the spiritual world. What is the spiritual world made of then? I can easily answer: its substance is from the spiritual sun and is called good and truth, good streaming into the affective organ and truth streaming into the cognitive organ.
The Mental Spiritual Connection
Today I make an additional distinction between mental and spiritual, so that some types of mental operations are natural or external rational, and some are spiritual or internal rational. Ideas and feelings constructed out of sensory input remain natural, as for instance the difference between "lunch" and "dinner," or the relation between seconds and minutes. In contrast, ideas and feelings are spiritual when all natural sensory aspects of it have been stripped, and what remains is universal, internal rational, spiritual or celestial. Examples include such concepts as heaven and hell, regeneration, marriage of good and truth, as-of-self, conjugial love, the Divine Human, and many more that can be found throughout the Writings of Swedenborg.
Swedenborg was given to work out many scientific details about the mental/spiritual connection. My years of study have only brought more and more awe to my scientific mind. The task of building dualist science is only now commencing. Important pioneers in this scientific endeavor are, in my view, New Church ministers who as a group are creating a large database of sermons which will be eagerly consulted by future graduate students in biology, psychology, economics, archaeology, medicine and other sciences. Their integrity as ministers in their priestly or religious service is not contradicted by their integrity as 'Nunc Licet' scientists dedicated to the validity of their statements about people, society, history, and the world.
In an insightful paper, Dr. Horand Gutfeldt celebrates the demise of two totalitarian systems that were created by an exclusively materialistic (anti-spiritual) perspective: German National Socialism upon which Hitler's Third Reich was founded, and Bolshevik Leninism-Stalinism in Russia. Fortunately, the tendency of contemporary science to affirm extreme materialism (or physicalism) has now, according to Gutfeldt, begun to change, as evidence of which he mentions Swedenborgiansim, humanistic psychology, New Age spirituality, transpersonal psychology, near-death experiences, post-modern re-enchantment of science, noetics, and parapsychology. Perhaps these interests and movements are not all equally spiritual, but they at least join common ground in affirming the inner spiritual jointly with the natural, as opposed to a belief in the merely outer natural alone, without the spiritual.
Dualist Science and the Writings
In his Response, Mr. Bedford says that it might be best for the sake of human frailty to have science remain ignorant of spiritual things. After all, he asks, is there not a danger here; were scientists to get hold of the knowledge of how the Lord made Himself be born as a Virgin's Child, they might trample on it and misuse it. Also, Mr. Bedford cautions us, "spiritual things are not subject to systematic natural study" and "Not all real things are subject to scientific study." He states that "Science is limited to those things that are controllable, reproducible, and observable." Finally, he announces the ultimate demise of science: "Soon, scientists and non-scientists alike will see the limitations of the scientific method and look for greater enlightenment elsewhere."
There is a legend about science that is being fostered by many high school teachers and some university professors. I've received it, you've received it. Mr. Bedford resonates to this legendary picture when he writes, "Science is limited to those things that are controllable, reproducible, and observable." Or in the following, "We cannot change our concept of what is going on today because of a single anomaly reported two thousand years ago." For according to this legend, "If we did, we would be abandoning the basic, well established and well-founded methods used successfully by science over the last several hundred years." It is time we exposed this legend about science.
The fact is that science is a social activity and a profession, and "normal science" is what scientists do. And in actual life, scientists do investigate phenomena that they cannot control, reproduce, or observe. Think of the Big Bang or of the first so-called primordial protein cell that came into being, or hurricanes and earthquakes and mutations and missing links and ultra-small particles that are too weak or exist too short a time to be measured directly. Most of these natural phenomena are not controllable, reproducible, or observable. Yes, all sorts of other, indirectly related things are indeed observable: the path of racing sub-atomic particles, or the color shift in a star galaxy, or the burnt our remains of an object. And it is from these other facts that scientists infer the character of the Big Bang or the Missing Link or the Disappearing Mesons. It is not the case that everything that science investigates or makes theories about is reproducible, observable, or controllable. Some things are, but not others. I believe we can expose and oppose this falsified legend about science.
From my perspective of three decades of scientific work, I offer the following definition as a more valid and realistic assessment of science:
Everything and anything is the proper object of scientific study. Anything that is anything is grist for the scientist's analytic tool. Nothing that is something is excluded from the purview of scientific thinking. This is true as long as scientific methods are used to study whatever is under investigation. All scientific methods are rational; no method of reasoning that is not rational can be part of science. Rational methods must involve a stated process of verifiability which can be followed by others as a group or profession. Verifiability requires that others be given the means to inspect the logic of all statements and concepts used.
This position gives science its proper sphere. I believe that limiting science would doom it. Science is our racial and cultural as-of-self by which we are given to understand the Lord's creation and what our place is in it. Revelation by itself is not sufficient to open the rational mind. If it were, the Lord would have been able to open the interior rational minds of the apostles and disciples during the First Advent. The opening of the interior rational had to wait until modern science permeated the general level of intellectual orientation of our planet. To be educated came to mean to know science. This is why the as-of-self architect of Nunc Licet rationality had to be a modern scientist writing for the future modern mind that is capable of encompassing such notions as the Divine Human, the internal sense of the Word making one with regeneration and with the history of human evolution, the rational understanding of correspondences, to mention but some of the ideas that could not be received by the non-modern mind. Even the modern mind is resistant to the new Revelation as evidenced by the general historical practice in the sciences of excluding the works of Swedenborg. However I am convinced that a gradual process of change has already taken hold and will continue and thrive unstoppably.
Science is thus necessary to open the external rational mind, and this in turn is necessary for the opening of the interior rational mind. In a sense, there are no non-scientists in the modern era. Every individual living today is surrounded by the scientific model, whether or not one had access to college or graduate school. The external rational mind is the modern mind and only in this mind can the Writings of Swedenborg live and thrive. Science will thus continue to be the vehicle and tool for the rational mind.
It is necessary for dualist science to grow and strengthen so that Revelation can be understood, accepted, and used as a source of knowledge. True, as Mr. Bedford reminds us, we need to stay humble and not imagine that we can discover everything through our science. But we will stay humble if we are good scientists, like the Angels, who know much but attribute all to the Lord. We need not fear that scientists will trample or misuse the Virgin Birth or other miraculous events we uncover since the Lord, through the Cherubim, protects both the Word and the individual from entering deeper than can be honored.
Bishop George De Charms wondered whether science should attempt to offer an explanation for particular miracles reported in the Word:
After careful considerations in the light of the Writings we have come to the conclusion that the discovery of such an explanation is not only possible but necessary. Indeed, we believe it is coming to be increasingly imperative: this because a simple faith in the miracles of the Word, based on ignorance of how they are performed, cannot be maintained indefinitely in the face of the skepticism that is so completely capturing the minds of people in our modern age. ... The knowledge of how these wonders are performed is therefore important to our spiritual life because it helps us to understand the laws of the Divine Providence."
In other words, natural facts from Revelation (miracles), are to serve as data for scientific theories. Dualist science, which I predict for the future, will incorporate this methodology. Understanding better how the Lord governs and manages "will make His immediate presence and protection more real to us" (p.219). The current distant view we have of miracles requires merely "a blind faith that the miracles of the Word are real because they have their origin in God. We have no rational grounds on which to defend this faith against ... powerful attacks ... unless we can form some idea of how these wonders were performed" (p.220).
Mr. Bedford recounts a common legend in New Church folklore, namely that "Only when he [Swedenborg] left the scientific method behind did he see God." I believe it is important to resist the idea that the Theological Writings of Swedenborg left science behind. The fact is that it is hard to find a chapter, or even a page, in any one of the books of the Writings that does not contain some historical, natural, or scientific information. This is also true of the Old Testament and New Testament. Swedenborg has never left science behind because science is the cognitive architecture that is the foundation of the rational mind. Science is all over the pages of Revelation.
We don't actually know the limits of what scientific information may be contained in the Writings. Recently, Leon Rhodes brought to my attention the work of Christen Blom-Dahl who claims to show that the Writings mention scientific facts of a biochemical nature which were not discovered until decades and centuries later. Blom-Dahl finds many such instances in the Writings where the Grand Man and its anatomy and physiology are discussed, so that it becomes "firmly established that Swedenborg has recorded in reliably dated papers empirically unattainable scientifical information with an anticipative anachronism of up to two centuries." One example from morphology is "the axlelike or alternatively oblique coiling of the combined RNA-and-proteinstrand of the rabies virion -- SD 4708m-4709m," and other shapes mentioned in SD 2866 and 4361. A second example from physics and astronomy are the descriptions of shapes of atoms and their orbital electrons in AC 1624, 1531 and HH 118, 159. See his full report published on the Web under the title The third Source
There are still other possibilities not yet discovered by scientists or New Church ministers relating to the inner meaning that lies hidden in the Threefold Word. It is possible that the Writings contain series of meanings at several levels of depth. I have worked on taxonomic frameworks for feelings and thoughts as a psycholinguistic research project based directly on passages of the Writings. I think we ought not to take premature positions on how information in the Writings may be limited. Instead, we ought to go with the affirmative principle of assuming for the Writings a potential as an infinite source of facts for scientists for the entire future yet to devolve.
It is sometimes argued that the Old Testament cannot be trusted as a scientific source of information, and that Creationism is a religious and political issue, not scientific and educational. We know from Revelation in Swedenborg that chapters 1 through 11 of Genesis were not written in historical descriptive language, but were composed allegorically. They are thus filled with secret correspondences (arcana) to scientific facts about the mental development and evolution of the human race (church). Creationism is anti-scientific not because it is based on Revelation, but because it is based on a false and incorrect view (literal, non-allegorical) of the early chapters of the Book of Genesis. If we focus our attention on the historical, descriptive, and physical information in the Old Testament, we find that it is full of scientific and natural facts about the world (e.g., agriculture, animal husbandry, jurisprudence, botany, geography, geology, and more). For the science of psychology and political science, the Threefold Word reveals the scientific fact that God intervenes in the behavior of individuals and the affairs of state. I am still searching for a single passage in the Bible that gives us fallacious information about people and things on earth. I do not expect to find any. In the Writings the scientific fact is revealed that many earths in the universe are inhabited (e.g., HH 417; SD 3245).
The use of the word scientific in relation to God may not be familiar to materialistic science but, as a practicing scientist, I insist that factual data about the mechanism of God's intervention on earth, is properly scientific within the dualist paradigm of science, now evolving. I get the impression from some of Mr. Bedford's statements that his thinking is not all that far from what is being proposed here. For instance, when trying to get into the spirit of Nunc Licet science, he wonders how to start the process:
"Where would we begin an investigation into the molecular biology of Jesus Christ's conception? ... Did conception start with Mary's ovum reproducing its own set of chromosomes and then splitting, or did another set of independent chromosomes arise from the mass of chemical precursors already present? We do not even know if Jesus Christ's cells were haploid or diploid."
I believe that asking these questions is a start. They presuppose that the event happened and that science can investigate it. This is precisely the attitude I think we need in order to succeed in developing the new scientific methodology. Mr. Bedford is pessimistic right now because of the thought he formulates that revelation has no information on these matters. But wait: we do not know this. We do not know what scientific information lies hidden in revelation. There is a long future ahead for the human race on earth, as we know from the Writings. And the Writings are the last written formal Revelation to be given. This means it is supposed to last for thousands and millions of years of scientific history. Surely it is easy to think that a continuous and unending source of information lies hidden there and will be gradually extracted over the millennia and eons of scientific work.
Four Ways of Intellectualizing About God
In previous installments, I have tried to show that science and revelation are not merely compatible, but interdependent. To help put things in perspective, I present the following diagram which outlines four different ways civilizations have dealt with the human race's relationship to God and His Creation:
Click here for Picture
The four corners are jointly defined by two bi-polar dimensions. The Personal-Impersonal continuum distinguishes between human activities that focus specifically on individual experience versus collective discipline. The Subjective-Objective dimension separates individual expression versus group consensus. Art is in the Subjective/Impersonal corner, meaning that it deals with God and His Creation in terms of individual expression (subjective) through a collective discipline or form (impersonal). Science also deals with God and the world through a collective discipline (impersonal), but through a group consensus or methodology (objective). Spiritism lies in the Subjective/Personal corner. This means that its relation to God and the universe is an individualistic expression (personal) based on individual experience (subjective). Religion is in the Personal/Objective corner and deals with God and His Creation as an individual experience (personal) aligned with a group consensus or faith.
The diagram also helps one see the relation between the four corners of intellectualism. Horizontal contrasts are between individual versus group focus. Thus, spiritism and religion both involve individual experiences (personal), but spiritism is justified as an individualized expression or purpose (subjective), while religion is a group creation to serve all its adherents (objective). (It is easier to see and enjoy these relations if the reader looks at the diagram while reading each sentence in this paragraph and the next, and verifies its reference visually.) Note that diagonal contrasts differ on both dimensions simultaneously, so their distance is greatest from each other. For instance, science is more distant from spiritism than it is from religion. Similarly, art is closer to science than to religion.
These relations which the model suggests, are just scientific hypotheses that need to be investigated. Perhaps ANC students and researchers might find this an interesting project to pursue. For instance, consider recent new age spiritualistic experiences which I have seen widely discussed in the media, including near death experiences, Raymond Moody's latest project on his "psychomanteum," extraterrestrial abductions, psychic powers of prediction or telepathy, apocalyptic visions, and so on. All of these phenomena are individual expressions (subjective) based on individual experiences (personal). This fits the spiritism corner, which thus highlights the fact that they lack the safety and corroboration of group consensus (objective) and collective discipline (impersonal). From a Swedenborgian perspective, spiritism is not recommended and is considered dangerous to the spiritual welfare of the person (e.g., AE 1107).
Note how the diagram shows that spiritism is the only one of the four corners that has all its borders within the Personal/Subjective frame. It has neither collective discipline (impersonal) nor group consensus (objective) and thus the individual is left unprotected from fantasy, delusion, illusion, fallacy, narcissism, and other spiritual viruses. Swedenborg's Writings, in contrast, fit the Religion/Science corners, as the diagram shows. As religion, the Writings are the Latin Word, the Heavenly Doctrine for the New (universalized) Church, focusing on individual experiencing of salvation (personal) yet grounded in group consensus (objective) such as the literal of the Word or membership in some Specific New Church. As science, the Writings present an empirical description of the standardized spiritual development of all people collectively (impersonal) couched in rational arguments verified by group effort and consensus (objective).
The diagram also suggests a way of making sense of religious cults which can be viewed as ideas or principles that slide toward the left, from religion to spiritism. One example might be the nationally advertised "Prayer Lines" to which people call in and for a fee, have other Christians pray for them and their troubles. This practice converts the objectivity of religion based on group consensus to the subjectivity of spiritism based on individual expression, whim, or special 'gift.'.
Note art's position in the Subjective/Impersonal corner of the diagram. This may seem surprising at first, given the long standing tradition of art and music in religion. One's view of God through art is indeed an individual expression or vision (subjective), as is evident in the artist's unique style and meaning, but at the same time this artistic depiction of God or God's creation, is standardized, and coerced by a collective discipline (impersonal), such as the medium of the work of art, or the contemporary age, school, or genre involved. On the other hand, one's view of God through religion is not through the Church's collective rituals, which people treat as symbols, but through felt individual experience (personal) interpreted through the consensual doctrines of the group (objective). The diagram thus shows that art is impersonal while religion is personal, and that art is subjective while religion is objective.
What then explains the close connection between visual art or music and the Christian religion? One would have to investigate this issue for an answer, but in the meantime, the diagram suggests that religion, which is objective, may seek an alliance with art or music which are subjective. In other words, music and art are ways of introducing a subjective element in religion which otherwise remains strictly objective.
Some scholars today recognize that the split between science and religion has been artificially, and unjustifiably, engineered by "liberal theologians [who] redescribed theology in such a way that science became irrelevant to it" (p.41). Margaret Wertheim elaborates on Nancey Murphy:
"From the late 18th century, religion was reformulated so that rather than having "cognitive content" it merely "had to do with symbolic expressions of human values and that sort of thing." In other words religion was disconnected from the domain of empirical knowledge, and conversely, science was disconnected from the domain of morality and spirituality. That split has not only proved psychologically dissatisfying to many people, according to Murphy it is philosophically insupportable. Now however, she says, "we're at a position where we've got the intellectual tools to argue that theology and science should not be kept in water-tight compartments, and in fact that they really can't be" (p.42) (emphsis added).
The words "now however...we've got the intellectual tools" are uncanningly similar to Swedenborg's announcement, well known to all New Church people, of "Nunc Licet -- It is now permitted to enter understandingly into the mysteries of faith" (TCR 508). The intellectual tools that integrate religion and science have been fashioned by the mind and effort of 18th century scientist-theologian Emanuel Swedenborg.
When Prophecy Fails Science
There is one more serious issue raised by Mr. Bedford. Referring to my article that promotes a distinction between religious and secular Swedenborgianism, he states:
"I wonder, does my reluctance to force science into compliance with the notion that there are men on the moon merit my removal from the "religious perspective." My less strident personal perspective allows me to see Swedenborg's 'mistakes' as possible errors in fact, but allegories to truths. After all, Swedenborg did not write the Second Coming to teach chemistry, biology, or physics. He delivered God's Revelation so that we can become more like children of God. Can I be placed in one of James' camps now?"
I do not mean or intend any personal judgment. This is to me a definitional issue. Take the position that says that Swedenborg was duped by spirits who falsely persuaded him that they are from the moon. This speculation is unacceptable. Swedenborg had constant access to angels and wrote only what the Lord permitted. His perceptions were thus objectified by the presence of angels and spirits with him and he was thus protected from falling into subjectified delusions created by insane spirits. Here is a crucial point that we all need to examine within ourselves. Surely we do not want to question the Virgin Birth or the splitting of the Red Sea on account of some argumentation that seems logical from current theory in biochemistry or geology. The Virgin Birth did happen. The splitting of the Red Sea did occur. Water did turn into wine. The Normal Curve of Probability and Randomness retains its bell shaped curve only because the Lord operates on coins and atoms to conform to the curve. Hence it is the scientific argumentation denying these things that needs to improve. We need to find scientific explanations for every event revealed in the Word. Thus, when prophecy fails science by contradicting it, it is science that needs to be forced into realignment with prophecy. This is because prophecy or revelation, when true or genuine, is reality, while science that contradicts reality must be corrected.
And so, it is by definition and not by my personal judgment, that Mr. Bedford finds himself in the secular camp. I trust however that the arguments I have outlined would make it easier for him to cross sides. We need to first win the battle for science within the Swedenborgian camp, and then we can be successful in exporting Nunc Licet science to the mainstream of scientific activity.