RELIGIOUS FAITH, THE UNKNOWN AND SCIENCE
Ever on-going, expanding scientific discovery and understanding:
The old adage 'believe only half you hear' is, of course, not even half adequate as a guideline for making up one’s mind about more difficult or controversial matters of fact. It should rather include what one reads because the tendency to put too much faith in hard print and ignore contrary sources of information, Ideally, perhaps, it should be 'do not go in for believing as such' and using discrimination to examine dispassionately. Reality is not based on conjecture, fictions or great dreams, though many try to see it thus.
Even back in the 1960s and '70s, the natural sciences had not yet secured the huge exponential increases in knowledge that have resulted since computer technology was developed on a wide scale. Rapid changes in cutting-edge scientific theories like astronomy, astrophysics, microphysics, often had the effect of creating further uncertainty, because new theories – often conflicting – about the universe and matter came and went in regular procession – even though the most general theories (relativity, quantum theory) remained largely unshaken by experiment or continued observation. However, what may seem to be the ‘theoretical antics’ of astronomers and physicists still occur today, in such problem areas as dark matter and the disappearance of vast amounts of light which should be there, among other anomalies. Yet these kind of examples are a natural result of operating at the extreme outer rim of accumulated knowledge and using the trial and error of research theory.
More and more uncertainties about the security of scientific knowledge are being removed, and computing has definitely led to a “quantum leap” in most of the sciences. Even the 'inexact' or less experimental and quantitative human and social sciences are improving due to information technology and reduced national provincialism in globalised society. Add to this the fact that there remain issues about the mind and consciousness - also even about soul and spirit – concerning which advances unimaginable before the advent of experimental neuro-psychology and 'live' magnetic resonance imaging are rapidly pushing back the dark frontier of unknowing considerably. There remains evidence of a wide range of what must still be termed extra-scientific or ‘paranormal phenomena' which are not yet satisfactorily resolved by scientific methods and technologies at the current state of the art. Another century of progress in understanding what now seem arcane matters can therefore be expected to resolve many such questions at a fundamental level.
Doubts about the reach of science to cover human questions
The sciences cannot provide anyone with genuine answers to any of the most important human questions; why do we exist, what real meaning does anything have, what should I do? While it is a fact that these are often extra-scientific issues which no special science researches, it would be wrong to suggest that science has not increased the understanding of the human being and life in many important respects. Before modern science, absurd superstitions and religio-mystical assumptions ruled the scene the world over, which is definitely no longer the case to such an extent. Granted, it is a fact that science does not pretend or set out to answer all emotional and existential questions, such as on how best to relate to others, how to develop human understanding, to obtain mental equilibrium and lasting fulfillment. But these are no longer really so-called ‘extra-scientific’ issues, since the expansion of empirical studies through vastly improved information resources are already tackling what once were considered questions only philosophy or religion could answer. The different and very often conflicting religions have occupied the vacuum of our ignorance of the real causes of so many things to fill it with doctrines, moral imperatives and a vast range of beliefs about matters which could not then be tested scientifically. More now than ever, the resources necessary to resolve most question about human life are becoming available - and widely so - creating daily advances into matters which would have been ignored as too vague and uncertain some decades ago.
Without having had such doubts myself about the efficacy of human knowledge and the sciences in solving problems about the human mind and esoteric subjects, as distinct from natural and technical ones, I might never have had reason to take the plunge into spirituality in the attempt to discover what might lie at the bottom of it, so to speak. My attempts to get beyond worldly common sense and knowledge had led me to investigate many cultures and the nature of paranormal (including religious) experiences. Early on, I was attracted to all thinkers and mystics who might be able to explain the experienced using mescaline as are described by Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard and many other adventurous spirits. I became involved in Subud, then Zen Buddhism and began to look closely at a number of supposed spiritual masters and gurus of other faiths – including Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, Trungpa Rinpoche, Maharishi Mahesh yogi, Swamis Narayananda, Prabhupada and his movement. Around 1970, I became personally involved with an Indian Swami from Maritius (Swami Ambikananda) over a period of some 10 years. From him I discovered the irrational mystic 'saint' Shirdi Sai Baba, and eventually progressed to the culminating figure, Sathya Sai Baba, in whom I came to believe as a major spiritual figure, eventually also that he was most likely a divine avatar (some doubts remained due to the nature of the case – for as he said, no one can ever know such a thing except an avatar).
The rejection of belief and mere ‘faith’ wherever possible
I have briefly outlined the process through which I went in my book 'Source of the Dream'. There I stuck as closely as possible to direct reporting of my own outward observations - some of most inexplicable and remarkable events - and of inwardly-perceived phenomena, though I interpreted all in terms of faith and trusting belief in the rightness of Sai Baba’s teachings, which were distilled from Hindu tradition and, until studied in depth, appeared most consistent and penetrating. Though I had already experienced paranormal events in my life - and later in connection with gurus - this increased considerably in connection with Sai Baba. However, I could never entirely relinquish the critical-mindedness which my entire previous education and research had made part of my mentality, though I used all my capacities and knowledge to rationalize them away. Devotee literature is largely worshipful encomium and so is seldom helpful in dealing with the doubts common to most educated people and especially those who, on rational grounds, have abandoned faith in the religion of their youth. My propensity not to take things simply at face value, together with the difficulty of observing Sathya Sai Baba’s activities in much detail or proximity (often private and secret) - as well as most of the circumstances that surrounded him - also caused me a considerable number of doubts. This I know also to have been a common experience among persons who visited him including some of those who had placed a great deal of trust and faith in him over a period of many years. My doubts were eventually justified as a result of my learning facts which convinced me that he was no at all what he claimed to be and be capable of, not by any means. As I once again investigated with a healthy scepticism I learned that he definitively carried out major fraudulence, sexual abuses, was involved in murders and in many other untruthful and highly unsavoury actions too.
On the basis of my lifelong interest in various religions, and later on much deeper involvement in Indian spirituality, I at last arrived at unshakeable convictions that they are all extremely flawed teachings in most respects, all building on major untested and untestable assumptions and demanding faith in what amount only to beliefs and superstitions, often such that defy both fact and reason. Even the moral teachings of most churches and gurus are often impracticable and without sufficient nuance to be properly intelligible and applicable in real life situations.