Adam Blatner

December 5, 2007

Science can be spiritual. I imagine God thinking/saying: “While mystics have one kind of relationship to me—one that currently seems to be fashionable among some human sub-cultures—, not enough recognition has been given to the special kind of spirituality of many scientists!”

There is a special pleasure in having someone say, in effect, “I really want to get to know you in terms of how you work, how you do what you do. You have created so many wonderful things, and I want to understand your technique, the media you work in, your implements for your art.” In this sense, to seek to know the workings of the Cosmos may be pursued with respect and even reverence for the larger whole that is being investigated piece by piece.

The desire to know the workings of the Divine should be recognized as a spiritual process, then, and I have thus imagined what might be the contents of a “Scientists’ Bible.” For example, the following would be a provisional listing of some of the book’s chapters, with an understanding that this is a work in everlasting progress:

 1. Cosmology continues to be a great mystery: What really happened “In the Beginning”? Was there a before, as some have suggested? Other universes? This chapter also would include the many unanswered questions of how the basic forces of the cosmos differentiated and how they work, how gravity clumped the atoms together, how stars begin to form, and galaxies. Of course, now they think that “dark matter” constitutes over 90% of all matter—what beyond the world is that?? Also, now, they’re suggesting that there’s “Dark Energy” slightly accelerating the expansion of the cosmos.

Perhaps the most delicious part of the mystery is the fine-tuning of the cosmos. If the cosmos had expanded even slightly more quickly, more energetically, by now all would have dispersed too much, the galaxies wouldn’t have formed, nor stars, nor planets. If the cosmos had expanded even a little less quickly, the pull of the aggregate gravity of the cosmos would have reversed the expansion-explosion process and we might be falling back towards a “big crunch”! There are numerous other examples of the fine tuning of the physical forces and other features of atoms so that the stars can engage in fusion dynamics the way they do. (These have been noted in a number of books on the “anthropic principle” and in the “argument from design.”)

Houston Smith, the scholar of comparative religions, noted that the true meaning of mystery shouldn’t be confused with a detective mystery—that kind should better be classified as a problem. A true mystery is one of those kinds of situations where, for every answer you achieve, two or more further questions are generated. This seems to be true throughout the Scientists’ Bible.

 2. The second chapter would deal with chemistry, the complexities and mysteries of how the elements interact. Although we assign positive and negative charges to protons and electrons, we don’t really know what they are, what they’re made of. Indeed, we’ve only really begun to know they exist and understand them within the last century or so! What is that attraction between “positive” and “negative” charges? (There is no actual positive or negative—all we know is that they are opposite, and those words have just been applied arbitrarily.) We don’t know. Is it a form of love and hate? Why does it act that way? We can measure relative strengths of these forces, but don’t know how to find out the “why?”

 3. The third chapter would deal with the complexities of chemistry in large aggregate masses—i.e., geology—, and also the anatomy and physiology of our Sun and other stars. How do crystals form, and under what circumstances. Are there some crystal formations we don’t know about? All there has yet to be learned about earthquakes, volcanoes, atmospheric conditions, meteorology— these researches may be done with a sense of radical amazement, wonder, spirituality. Again, some of the most important discoveries have only happened within the last century, such as the theory of continental drift. Do we have any reason to think that further discoveries are not forthcoming, including discoveries that may well revolutionize our thinking about the fundamental principles of our existence?

 4. A Scientists’ Bible would begin to probe the next complexification of the cosmos, the great mystery of life (i.e., biology). How do certain atoms—mainly carbon, with some hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and a scattering of relatively small number of others—come together to form combinations that come alive? New discoveries in biochemistry, genetics, and microbiology continue to surprise us! It’s also supremely ironic to previous prideful attitudes in humanity to realize that “the least of these” refers not just to poor people, but to what may be considered the “lowliest” of life forms. There we are finding amazing capacities for adaptation and chemical transformations, things tiny germs can do that the best engineers in our own age cannot accomplish. Since God transcends time and space, size is not a measure of beloved-ness.

 5. Evolution, with its ups and downs, also deserves a chapter. (I’ve been told that some theologians reconcile the long history of evolution as expressed metaphorically in the seven days of creation mentioned in the Bible. Each “day” equals perhaps millions or even billions of years—eons. In a related metaphor, each “chapter” in this Scientist’s Bible can represent thousands and hundreds of thousands of books and other media storage devices, being added to every day in the information explosion at the frontiers of science and the humanities.)

Evolution as a general category also includes the wonders of mass extinctions and the waves of resilient life reasserting itself and filling all ecological niches. Scientists might recognize a certain theme that typifies science itself—trial and error, the lab blows up, you dust yourself off, start over again. There is a great vitality to the process of finding out what vitality is capable of when confronted with geological and meteorological catastrophes, asteroid impacts, and the like.

  6. As biology becomes more complex, the next chapter considers the numerous forms life can take, and the myriad sub-forms of ways of adaptation. Just the anatomy of the different forms might be marvelous enough to fill thousands of books, and we keep discovering more. Why is that fly different from a related species, and what does that tiny anatomical difference mean? What is that set of spines on the back legs mean on this ant and why are they there?

J.B.S. Haldane, a pioneer in the field of the life sciences, was asked in the 1930s, based on his studies in biology, what he thought about God. He responded something like, “If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of creation, it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for beetles, because there are so many different kinds

 7. Behavior is also a property of life, from microbes and (though subtle) plants, and more clearly in animals. Behavior expresses something mind-like in living creatures, and these patterns co-evolve with their anatomy and physiology. How do they evolve behavior? What is an instinct? Where and how can such complex patterns be situated in their tiny, almost non-existent “brains”? From the patterns of behavior of the tiniest one-celled animals—how do they know how to search for food?

  8. The great mystery of sex deserves a chapter unto its own! What a complicated way to keep mixing genes, to foster evolution! How do the two paramecium find each other, even when there are more than two different types around? How do they recognize that another paramecium is “not my type”? There are subtle sensitivities we haven’t yet identified, the basis for inter-sexual attraction. We have only recently learned about pheromones and don’t yet know much about their chemistry. (There is growing evidence that humans also put out pheromones, but we don’t really know how we detect them and how this information is processed!)

The whole field of courtship practices and selection of mates, differences in size, anatomy, how sex is done, seems to go on forever. A single scientist could not begin to know all we now know, and the knowledge in zoology and botany and microbiology all seems to be expanding ever more quickly. This expansion of knowledge, this work by millions of scientists world-wide, should also be viewed as a kind of aggregate mental organism, a probing antenna of the human species, trying to feel the edges of how God works.

  9. Other kinds of animal behavior also deserve a chapter, considering the variety and complexity of this subject. Predation and disguise, evolving anatomy and physiology to optimally feed and avoid being eaten, migration and other ways of adapting to weather changes, these and other types of behavior can be amazing complex. The term for the study of comparative animal behavior is “ethology.” Why do some tribes of monkeys handle competition for food differently from other tribes? What are different ways they groom and promote social cohesion? How do social species like ants and bees do their thing? How do birds know how to migrate, or other migration patterns? Again, there are increasing numbers of books, and always they lead to more questions than they answer.

 10. This expands on the previous chapters and addresses the phenomenon of animal communication, noting the way animals exploit all possible sensory niches—and many that we still don’t know about. Can animals be psychic? Do some birds use the stars to navigate by, or magnetic fields? Vision, sound, heat, other subtle dimensions of existence, all seem to be accessible to many animals in ways that humans cannot perceive directly. What does this say about our capacity to know what’s going on? Perhaps a separate chapter might address the more complex arena of social behavior and the “group mind,” if such a thing exists.

 11. A Scientists’ Bible might pause and reflect on the philosophy of science— still a field very much in development. The idea that whole paradigms or models of how the world works can shift has itself been a relatively new development. In the past, knowledge was simply cumulative, but now we are realizing that how we organize and think about knowledge is itself in a process of evolution! Can psychic phenomena be considered seriously by scientists? Why not? It’s rather silly to dismiss that which we haven’t yet learned to explain, especially in light of the way we keep uncovering whole new dimensions of existence—astronomical, microscopic, sub-microscopic, new edges to the electromagnetic spectrum, and so forth. There are lessons here we haven’t yet learned about how we may better wonder.

 12. Back to biology, and more particularly, embryology. How can a single celled fertilized egg (i.e., zygote) manage to grow into anything but a mass of cancer-like amorphous... lump? These little growing cells seem to know how to differentiate so that these go there and those go here and that one knows how to become a liver cell and this one a kidney cell!! How do they know what to do? And the nervous system—how do these communications systems know where to grow? And on and on. It’s worth a section of God’s how-to-do-it Library!

 13. Consider reflective mind. There’s animal behavior, and there’s animal communication, and all the time the brain is becoming more complex; at a certain point, it wakes up a little, begins to sense that “I” exist. What is the sequence? How much is a product of social evolution, tribal evolution? (I suspect there was never a single human, much less a couple. Rather, the process was always at least tribal, and multi-tribal, and species.) We have evidence of tool-making, and fire-making. Where did the beginnings of reflective consciousness happen in this sequence?

 14. Then there’s the mystery of spirituality (which I define as the activity of developing a relationship or deepening one’s sense of connectedness with the Greater Wholeness of Existence): As tribes and tools evolved, there is evidence of burial rituals, the use of paints and special materials. What were they thinking? What was the sequence of formation of concepts of after-life, the first ideas about gods or spirits, and related ideas?

 The paleontologist-philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote of the aforementioned sequence as the evolution of spheres of phenomena—the geosphere giving birth to the biosphere giving birth to the noosphere (the realm of mind) which naturally, at a certain point of complexity, gives rise to the theosphere (awareness of and interaction with the realms of spirit).

Contemporary research has identified certain parts of the brain that seem especially sensitive to the spiritual, to mystical feelings. Is the brain a manufacturer and transmitter of mind, or might it be recognized to be more of an antenna-receiver from another deeper-higher dimension of cosmic knowledge?

15. Other dimensions of mind might be considered as fields of contemplation in their own right, with wonder mixed in along with learning and creativity: music and mathematics come to mind, and perhaps also the other arts, humanities, and types of endeavor.

 16. ESP—extra-sensory perception—opens a controversial topic: the realm of parapsychology and other anomalous experience. We should remember that to cultures that did not have writing as a technology, the use of “talking leaves” by the Europeans or other colonial visitors seemed at first to be a kind of magic. Our more familiar types of knowledge may be restricted by our cultural blind spots. There are innumerable stories of children showing something closer to clairvoyance, remembering past lives, precognition, and other psychic abilities. These tend to be dismissed and subtly discounted, and children seal that part of themselves off.

Consider, though, that many of these fairly well-documented phenomena (e.g., out-of-body experiences, ghosts, mediumship, telepathy, clairvoyance, animal intelligence, precognition, psycho-kinesis, and the like) may be valid and in time will reveal dimensions of our own existence as significant as the discovery of the microscopic world or galaxies beyond our own.

Science as Prayer

Prayer partakes of appreciation, and this may not only be for good fortune to humans, but also of wonder of the beauty and harmony of existence. The Biblical “voice out of the whirlwind” in the story of Job offers a clue. What if contemplating the aforementioned dimensions of the cosmos, and investigating those harmonies, measuring them and wondering at their correspondences, should also be appreciated as a type of prayer. It’s as if we’re saying, “Wow, G-d, I am astonished at how incredible your works are! You do this, and that, and this other, and even more, you do that other, and this deeper part of this, and on and on.”

I confess to not envisioning a God-as-patriarchal “king” but rather as an organism—an admitted metaphor, but a systems-hierarchy that may be better in many ways than the more traditional human-social-power hierarchy. In this, our relationship to God is not as a lowly subject who must flatter and propitiate, petition and mindlessly obey, but rather we may be imagined to be more like multi-tasking cells in relationship to a whole organism. In this metaphor, we are not only capable of muscle-like action (helping to build a better world), but sensory nerve action (to appreciate and enjoy the world’s pleasures) and many other cell-functions.

Science is a method for systematically discovering more about our reality. Science is not the only criterion for interpreting our perceptions and intuitions, but neither should it be dismissed as a profane method. (What is profane and foolishly shallow is that activity of both scientists and non-scientists who take the current models known to science as the only criterion for thinking about reality.) But science, pursued in the right spirit, is spiritual, and the wonder evoked is “religious” in the wider sense used by Einstein and others.


“The world is so full of a number of things...” goes a simple rhyme, “...I’m sure we could all be as happy as kings.” Some philosophers note that reason is as divine a gift as conscience or morality, and we might add to that idea that curiosity and wonder are also expressions of the higher or spiritual realms of the human potential. Add a bit of imagination, and remember that in the history of science, inspiration—that phenomenon of unexplained insight—also remains mysterious. To me, as a physician and scientist, the vast field of science serves as a source of ongoing inspiration. I imagine that the book of nature, alluded to as one of the sources of revelation by St. Thomas Aquinas, has now become amplified a thousandfold or more in variety and depth in light of the discoveries of science since Aquinas’ time. This essay has presented some possible “chapters” in that book, what might be called “The Scientists’ Bible.”

I'm open to your suggestions for additions, corrections, revisions. Email me at adam@blatner.com