International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion

by Ken Wilber

Introductory Essay by Henk Barendregt

Science discovers truth while religion generates meaning. Ken Wilber appreciates the depths of both types of human endeavour but also sees their limitations. It seems difficult – nearly impossible – to get the two together in a fashion that find both acceptable. After discussing and analyzing unsuccessful historical attempts to do something about this – romanticism, idealism, and postmodernism – he proposes a convincing way by which the integration can take place.

Scientific insight and technology brought us into the modern era with a radical new worldview. It also helped to develop democracy and supported societies in which science is no longer impeded because it clashes with the prevailing view of religion. The state and church in the modern West have become separated so that disagreeing with the religious authorities is no longer treason (a political crime), but at most heresy (a religious crime). But science is value-free; it does not say what ought to be, but what is.

Religion is able to provide meaning and values. It has a wider view on reality, reaching from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit. Wilber calls this the Great Nest of Being [8]. But the rise of modernity caused the Great Nest of Being almost to disappear. Indeed, science speaks only about things. In particular, it does not recognize anything unless it can be reduced to matter. An anti-scientific attitude of religion has resulted.

Therefore, modernity has brought us dignity but also disaster. Three attempts have been made to overcome the disaster. Romanticism is the retrograde movement 'back to nature'. But one does not want to go back to pre-modern times. Idealism described the world coming from the mental and spiritual. Wilber asserts that idealism fails because it does not give any instruction on how to develop mind, as is done in yoga and the meditative traditions. The postmodern approach states that human knowledge is an interpretation. There are the religious and the scientific interpretations. Both are equally valid. But the proponent of such postmodern theories, claiming that all is relative, do not admit the relativity of their own arguments.

Wilber calls for both camps to yield a little bit for the sake of integration. Science needs to admit that there is something like interior experience, as it is based itself on mathematics, which is created by mind (interior reasoning). Religions, while continuing to embrace the Great Nest of Being, need to agree that their foundation, based on myths (like the immaculate conception), has served a historical purpose but at present makes no sense. And, finally, the most important concession consists of admitting that the scientific method of 'injunction, apprehension, confirmation' [202] is valid. Wilber argues that the founders of the great religions all adhered to these principles.

Finally, science must recognize not only mind as a source for rational thinking, but also soul, as a way to face our relation to God [the universe, suffering], and spirit [pure consciousness]. Wilber holds that such a recognition cannot be forced, it must be experienced.

This well-written and easy to read book ends with the suggestion that the integration of science and religion brings together the enlightenment of the West and the enlightenment of the East.