Not only does today’s science instruct us in how creativity has been baked into the universe from the get-go 13.8 billion years ago, and not only can we say evolution is itself a story of the creativity of the universe, but science itself is a creative enterprise.

Rupert Sheldrake. Photo: Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz,

Recently, in a book called Ways To Go Beyond And Why They Work: Spiritual Practices in a Scientific Age, British biologist Rupert Sheldrake* reflects on experiences such as Sports; Animals; Fasting; Psychedelics; Prayer; Festivals and Kindness.   

He concludes that “all these practices have measurable effects” in our “physiology, breathing, heart rates, autonomic nervous systems, hormone levels, brain activities, mental abilities, feelings, emotions, visual imagery, sense of beauty, feelings of wellbeing, happiness, and compassion.”  Within a traditional religious context, their underlying purpose is to put us “into conscious relationship with more-than-human forms of consciousness,” to feel a connection “to a greater consciousness presence, or being.”  Thus we learn that the ancient practices from spiritual traditions were not without meaning or results. 

“Untitled” Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

Speaking of Kindness, he comments:

“Not all behavior within social species is cooperative: some is competitive, especially in relation to food supplies and sexual partners.  But cooperation is predominant; otherwise the social group would not hold together.  And cooperative behavior is primarily restricted to members of the same social group…acts of compassion to strangers of the same species or from distance species are rare exceptions, which is why they attract so much interest.”  (224). 

Thus Jesus’ teachings of welcoming the stranger—Samaritan women, lepers and other outcasts–would seem to “attract much interest.”

Thomas Hobbes in the seventeenth century taught that individuals are primary (not the cosmos) and while this works well in chemistry, the social application results in a ‘man is wolf to man’ scenario.  Yet, says Sheldrake,

“Wolf pack” Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash

“Hobbes’s wolf imagery ignores the fact that wolves themselves are intensely social creatures with a high degree of cooperation…. Under Hobbes’ influence selfishness and aggression were transformed from moral vices into psychological facts”– the notion that humans are “essentially selfish led to a wide spread cynicism about virtues in general and altruism in particular.” (215) 

Sheldrake believes that a “spiritual evolution is accelerating.”   His work represents that acceleration and sheds light on a whole new era when science and spirituality can work together:

“We are on the threshold of a new era of the exploration of consciousness both through a revival of spiritual practices and also through the scientific study of them.  After several generations in which science and spirituality seemed to be in opposition, they are becoming complementary. Together, they are contributing to an unprecedented phase of spiritual evolution, beginning now.”   

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Celebrating the Marriage of Spirituality and Science: Review of Ways To Go Beyond and Why They Work by Rupert Sheldrake” in Progressive Christianity, September 10, 2019
*By way of transparency, I have written two books with Rupert Sheldrake, Natural Grace: Dialogues on Creation, Darkness, and the Soul in Spirituality and Science and The Physics of Angels.
Banner image: “Teamwork” Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

Queries for Contemplation

Do you understand your experiences with sports, animals, acts of kindness, prayer and festivals, etc. as spiritual experiences that enrich you and expand your heart and sense of courage? 

Do you agree that cooperation and more cosmology and less anthropocentrism a la Hobbes can lessen cynicism in oneself and in culture?  How do you go about making that happen?

Recommended Reading

When was the last time a scientist and a theologian discussed angels together? What are angels? Many people believe in angels, but few can define these enigmatic spirits. Now visionary theologian Matthew Fox and acclaimed biologist Rupert Sheldrake—pioneers in modern religious thinking and scientific theory—launch a groundbreaking exploration into the ancient concept of the angel and restore dignity, meaning, and joy to our time-honored belief in these heavenly beings.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake and theologian Matthew Fox show that not only is the synthesis of science and spirituality possible, it is to be celebrated when one considers the extraordinary insights they have come upon in their work. The chasm between science and religion has been a source of intellectual and spiritual tension for centuries, but in these ground breaking dialogues there is a remarkable resonance between these once opposing camps.

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