Leiden Law Blog

Why science needs spirituality

Why science needs spirituality

In previous blogs I have referred to the research of Steve Taylor, a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University who has published a number of very interesting and popular books. In his most recently published book, Spiritual Science, he points out – as indicated by the subtitle – that ‘science needs spirituality to make sense of the world.

A non-religious spirituality

Being an academic, Taylor is very aware that many secular scientists today (and many people in general as well) cannot take the theme of spirituality very seriously. They often automatically connect it with religion and consider it something that they – modern, rational people – fortunately have left behind for good. For Taylor, however, spirituality is not necessarily connected to religion. He considers himself an atheist and a scientist who wholeheartedly subscribes to the scientific idea of evolution, but has also come to realise that we need spirituality to make our lives meaningful. As all academic researchers – including legal scholars and criminologists – are engaged in the scientific approach to life, I think there is a good reason to pay special attention here to his new book.

Harmful consequences

Taylor considers the materialist worldview, which many people still consider their normal worldview, very limited in scope, because it makes us look at the world as separate entities – with us ‘in here’ looking at the world ‘out there’ – creating an uncomfortable sense of isolation and lack. And to compensate for feeling incomplete, a mere fragment of the whole, we are driven to accumulate possessions, wealth, status and power. In this worldview, all things, including living things, are just chemical machines and natural phenomena are just objects with a utilitarian value, entitling us to conquer and colonise the natural world. So, despite all the comfort modern life has given us, it has caused and is still causing a lot of serious harm – to ourselves, to others and to the natural world.

The failure of materialist science

And it is not only harmful. It also fails to make sense of phenomena like near-death experiences, awakening experiences (Taylor’s term for intense experiences which wake us up from the ‘sleep’ of our ordinary awareness), and extra-sensory experiences. Materialist science often tries to explain these experiences (away) as mere hallucinations or sometimes even attempts to ignore them completely. Yet they have proven to be genuine and meaningful to the people experiencing them. Near-death experiences and awakening experiences frequently have a life-changing effect. The mind opens up to an awareness of interconnectedness, in which a kind of force is experienced that pervades everything. Taylor calls this force spirit-force, which is central in his notion of spirituality: ‘Spirituality wakes us up, opens us to the aliveness and sacredness of nature, and reconnects us to the world.’

From an indigenous worldview to quantum physics

He considers the defensive position of materialist science understandable, however, because these experiences turn its central idea upside down: the assumption that consciousness is produced by the brain. But he found out that they only make sense when consciousness is considered primal to matter and expressed through the brain. This is the position that is voiced by the ‘spiritual alternative’, which has been around for a very long time: ‘The idea that the essence of reality is a non-material spiritual quality is one of the most-common cross-cultural concepts in the history of the world.’‘Almost every indigenous group in the world has a term that describes a spiritual force or power that pervades all things, and constitutes the essence of all things.’ In Western philosophy it was also still acknowledged; for instance, in Plato’s concept of the anima mundi. In a separate chapter he shows that this ‘ancient’ spiritual concept of reality is even confirmed by the findings of quantum physics: researchers from Max Planck to David Bohm have provided scientific evidence that matter is not primal and basically all forms of life are interconnected.

Intensified awareness

Spiritual science also makes it clear that evolution has not just been a physical development: it has been a development in awareness as well. And this insight radically changes the notion of who we actually are, as individual beings and collectively as a species. Individually we are rediscovering that our true nature is really much more cooperative and empathic than competitive and warlike. Taylor illustrates this, for instance, with the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in 2017 in Manchester, his hometown, which killed 22 people and injured more than 500: it also led to a huge wave of empathic behaviour, with many people spontaneously offering help. He offers more hope: he believes that as a species we are developing in the direction of a more intense form of awareness, in which awakening experiences and the like are becoming much more common. In this process ‘self-evolution’ is significant: the more we manage to evolve ourselves – through various spiritual practices – the more we help others to evolve as well.

Legal implications

Although Taylor doesn’t focus on the legal world in his book, there are some important links. In a previous blog I have shown that crime can be considered ‘a short-cut to get what you want’. In other words, crime subscribes to the accumulation of possessions, wealth, status and power, mentioned earlier. This is the materialist practice of many law-abiding people – but criminals do it only with a lot less patience and with no regard for others. Coincidently, Colin Wilson, a researcher whom Steve Taylor has known personally and still admires a lot, inspired me to write that blog. Another link is that the development of human rights and particularly the call for the extension of these rights to animals and even to the entire natural world – to turn them from objects into subjects – shows that our innate sense of interconnectedness is being taken more seriously in the legal world as well.

Of course this brief sketch cannot do justice to the rich content of Taylor’s book. Reading it can really broaden one’s horizon!.

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The painting on top is by Eliz O'Sullivan and is called 'A New Dawn' .

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