Not long after Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion, another great scientist Rupert Sheldrake published The Science Delusion. Earlier this year Dawkins published Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist. On November 2nd Sheldrake published Science and Spiritual Practices. It would be hard to find two more eminent scientists with such diametrically opposed world views. Dawkins is a materialist neo Darwinian rationalist (wow!). Some now refer to him as a scientismist, because he has gone far beyond the practice of science to an ideology of science . Everything in life can be reduced to the machinations of matter; there is no consciousness apart from brains, no intelligence apart from matter. Sheldrake, on the other hand, believes consciousness pervades the universe. All the great spiritual traditions have borne testimony to this; and science, the sort of science he does, affirms it.
In reading Sheldrake’s new book, I immediately thought it would be of interest to Open Sanctuary. Sheldrake, as a young man, went to work in India as a plant physiologist. He was an atheist at the time. There he met the great Benedictine Bede Griffiths and lived in his ashram for about 18 months. Finding a sense of relationship with God, he was baptised by the Church of South India and has been an active member of the Church of England ever since. He wrote his first significant and controversial book, A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation while living in the ashram. He was immediately ostracised by scientists like Dawkins. But although he has embraced the tradition of his childhood in his everyday life, he has also embraced all spiritual traditions as part of the spiritual reality and world in which we all now live. He is spiritually universal in that sense; something I like to think I aspire to. He acknowledges Bede Griffiths as a major influence in his life. He is a modern scientist for whom God and Consciousness are at the centre of the Universe, present in all the great traditions. For Sheldrake God is natural; so he avoids the nature/supernature dichotomy so beloved by both scientific and religious fundamentalists.
His new book is the first of a planned two books on Science and Spirituality. He covers such topics as Meditation and the Nature of Minds, the Flow of Gratitude, Reconnecting with the More-Than-Human-World, Relating to Plants, Rituals and the Presence of the Past, Singing Chanting and the Power of Music, Pilgrimages and Holy Places. He writes in a very direct and easy to read style, covering a wide area with an economy of words.
He also has the gift of looking at something from a quite different angle. For instance in discussing sacrifice in religion, he writes: Although the idea of substitutionary sacrifice seems nonsensical from a modern, secular point of view, it now happens on an unprecedented scale. This sacrifice does not take place in public, like traditional religious sacrifices, but behind closed doors in scientific laboratories. Within the US alone, about twenty five million vertebrate animals are killed each year in biomedical research…….. They are sacrificed on the altar of science for the good of humanity. Indeed, the technical term for the killing of these animal victims is ‘sacrifice’. A search on Google Scholar for scientific papers containing the phrase ‘rats were sacrificed’ brings up about 68,000 results, and ‘mice were sacrificed’ about 108,000.
My plan at the Discussion Forum is to talk about the book generally and then focus on one or two of his ideas, including some of his suggestions for spiritual practice which we will try out there and then.
Could I recommend this book as a Christmas gift for yourself? For ebook downloaders, it is on Amazon. It might be worth dipping into it next year for further Discussion Forums.