Spirituality and Science Part 1: The Basis of Scientific Materialism

The above picture of a Giordano Bruno woodcut from a 19th century science text, depicts the quandary of the 21st century spiritual seeker functioning in the current scientific materialism worldview. Modern day seekers of the spiritual feel like they are living a dual, schizophrenic lifestyle. We live in a world where materialism and scientific objectivity rule, and the world of the spiritual is forever separated by a barrier that only a few mystics seen to be able to penetrate. Seeing beyond the veil to live in both worlds seems an impossibility.

For most, the religious experience consists of going to church, hanging up our coats and brains in the narthex, receiving our weekly dose of religion, and then collecting our coats and brains to spend another week in the “real world”. That time of the spiritual can be very uplifting, but when the work week closes in, a little voice in our head tells us it’s just not the “real world”. How can we possibly identify with the worldview of Jesus, Moses, Buddha, or Krishna? A view where mysticism, mystery, and miracles are a way of life.

Today “Bruno’s barrier” depicted above seems almost impenetrable and the other side unattainable.

Science Is Founded On Assumptions Accepted On faith

Is there a difference between material reality and spiritual reality? There is—and can only be—one reality. Those versed in the science of religion, and those versed in the science of materialism, simply use different methods to explore the same reality. Material scientists discover its properties through rigorously controlled experimentation and call it reality. Spiritual scientists discover its properties through rigorously controlled transcendent experience and call it Reality. I have come to appreciate that the findings of the science of religion and the findings of the science of materialism, together combine to give us the most complete view of reality.

Scientific materialism rests on the belief that everything there is or ever will be springs from the interactions of matter and energy, and from absolutely nothing else, but is this so? Make no mistake: The idea that everything that is and ever will be springs from the interactions of matter and energy, and nothing else, is a belief, not a proven fact.

Not one of religion’s core beliefs—miracles, life after death, heaven, God, or the possibility of personal transcendent experience—has been ruled out by science. Rather, it is the widespread acceptance of scientific materialism’s (unproven) beliefs that has made many people think so.

However, there is a way to restore the balance between the material and spiritual worldviews, but is it possible to make Bruno’s barrier disappear? To do so we need to better understand the strengths and limitations of scientific materialism. Both science and spirituality have the same ultimate goal, to discover the Truth (with a capital T) about our reality, world, and self.

The weakness of any worldview is in the assumptions that it must use to “bootstrap” the creation of it’s core ideas. The scientific method needs a metaphysical background in which it formulates it’s theories.  These faith statements are a necessary set of assumptions that form the basis for hypothesis development. The primary worldview derived from these assumptions is Scientific Materialism. This science worldview is solely derived from five basic assumptions about reality and they are all difficult, if not impossible, to test by experiment. As such they are taken on “Faith” as a given. Yes, even scientists have their own set of dogmatic faith statements. Combine these five assumptions and you get the metaphysical framework that is the basis for all hypothesis development in the scientific materialism worldview.

  1. Objectivism – This assumption states that the only reality of significance, the objects we perceive as the physical universe, exists “out there” beyond human subjective minds.
  2. Metaphysical Realism – This assumption states that the objective universe “out there” can be known by the subjective human consciousness. The human mind is separate and not part of the material universe.
  3. The Closure Principle – The assumption which denies the possibility that anything other that material influences can effect any aspect of the natural world.
  4. Universalism – An assumption that declares that all rules and “laws” are universal in that they are the same in every  location and aspect of the universe. 
  5. Physical Reductionism – This assumption reduces all of the universe to physical entities and interactions that can be taken apart and dissected to the smallest level of measurement.

Assumption number 3 is the assumption that is frequently employed to attack religion and spirituality as being impossible and absurd. Not many people understand that this linchpin of evangelical materialism is only an assumption (a Scientific Faith Statement). An even less known fact is that over the past 120 years, all five of these assumptions have been challenged by numerous experimental results.

While the materialistic worldview worked well under the Newtonian paradigm, inconsistencies and contradictions occur within modern quantum field theory. All five materialistic assumptions fall afoul of quantum theory, where there is no “world out there” and the conscious observer is an integral part of the system. Where space-time is not just a stage where things happen, but an actual medium permeated by the zero point field energy and numerous other quantum fields that, when “excited” by a conscious observer, create all the particles in the universe. In other words, matter is secondary because its only an excitation of a quantum field. Matter is an illusion caused by human senses and a conscious mind interacting with quantum fields. Physics is becoming spiritual.

Not a fan of assumption 2 above, metaphysical realism

It is not anti-scientific to question the established worldview, but actually central to the process of science itself. At the heart of the scientific method is a spirit of creative and open-minded inquiry. Ideally, science is a process, not a religion or a belief system. Individuals that preach scientific theories as undisputed, proven scientific dogma, are making faith statements in the Religion Of Science. Whatever worldview replaces scientific materialism in the future will certainly have room at the table for the spiritual, thereby eliminating Bruno’s veil to make way for one unified and holistic universe, where the material and consciousness work together to define “Reality”.

So What Is Science?

Science is a “Method of Inquiry” first attributed to Francs Bacon. Science is not the vast collection of data and results that the method generates. The first thing taught to any student participating in a school Science Fair is… “Never, ever use the phrase: My data have conclusively proven that…..” Why? Because the scientific method can not conclusively prove anything true. Your data may support your hypothesis, but it can never prove it. Every scientific theory, no matter how “successful” is only a reproducible experiment away from being shown false.

How Science Gets and Tests Ideas

1) Inductive Reasoning – used for developing a testable scientific theory.
2) Deductive Reasoning – used for testing an existing scientific theory.


The Inductive Approach

Example of Inductive Reasoning

1. Observation
Elephants depend on water to exist
2. Observe a pattern
All observed animals depend on water to exist
3. Develop a theory
All biological life depends on water to exist

A conclusion drawn on the basis of an inductive method can never be proven, it can only be invalidated by observation or experiment.


The Deductive Approach

Example Of Deductive Reasoning
• All dogs have fleas (premise)
• Benno is a dog (premise)
• Benno has fleas (conclusion)

Based on the premises we have, the conclusion must logically be true.
However, if the first or second premise turns out to be false, the conclusion that Benno has fleas cannot be relied upon.


When conducting deductive research, you always start with a theory (the result of inductive research). Reasoning deductively means testing these theories.

1. Start with an existing theory
All biological life depends on water to exist

2. Formulate a hypothesis based on existing theory
All land mammals depend on water to exist

3. Collect data to test the hypothesis
Study all land mammal species to see if they depend on water3.

4. Analyze the results: does the data reject or support the hypothesis?
All land mammal species in the study do depend on water = support hypothesis

The conclusions of deductive reasoning can only be true if all the premises set in the inductive study are true and the terms are clear.

Science is like the American Legal System – What Is Truth?

Criminal Trial – Conclusion of the jury must be “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” (Certainty)
This is not possible for science to achieve

Civil Trial – Conclusion of the jury must be that the “Preponderance Of The Evidence” proves the case – This is the way science works

What Is Scientific Proof

A scientific experiment always tries to disprove the hypothesis, never can it prove the hypothesis true. The most sacred statement in science is, “an experiment can ONLY prove a hypothesis false, it can never ever prove anything true.” The most cherished scientific theories are always just one experiment away from being thrown in the trash can or modified to agree with the data. Any scientist stating that, “Science has conclusively proven that…..”, needs to find a new vocation. Regrettably, scientists are only human, and they tend to teach and promote successful theories as if they were unassailable God Given Truth. Bruno’s veil is actually one of human pride, and not one of undisputed fact.

Science today has a double meaning depending on how you use the word. In one case it can refer to the information generated by a particular scientific field; however, its proper meaning refers to the “scientific method”. The scientific method is a workflow for gaining information about the universe. It was “invented” by Francis Bacon when he realized that the world could be investigated through the use of observation and measurement.

Technology Is Not Scientific Proof

Many people are aware of the proliferation of consumer products spawned by technology, which are derived from numerous scientific theories. This gives people the false impression that the theories behind these products must be solidly proven and represent a true and accurate representation of reality. Not so!

Lets consider two very successful physics theories that make statements about the metaphysics of reality. Newtonian mechanics, excellent for making pool shots, targeting artillery, and understanding how objects in the universe move. Although still taught in schools, Newton’s theory was literally replaced, about 115 years ago, with relativity theory and quantum mechanics. Scientists consider Newtonian mechanics but a crude approximation of the far more accurate quantum and relativity theories. These two theories, quantum mechanics and Newtonian mechanics, describe two very different philosophical realities for the universe.

Newtonian Ballistics

Newtonian theory has the universe as a clockwork mechanism that starts from a set of initial conditions and is slowly winding down, independent of any conscious observer. It is a rigorous slave to the equations until the final heat death of the universe. There is no free will, consciousness, subjectivity, spirituality, or creativity in the Newtonian worldview. Here the only role for God is as creator, the entity that winds the clock, sets the equations in place, and then retires to hospice care for the duration. A very depressing worldview.

Today’s modern worldview has scientific information take precedence over all other worldviews, including the spiritual. Scientific materialism paints our reality with so called proven “facts” which have replaced the spiritual worldview of many people. As a result of this, many seekers have abandoned a spiritual mindset and are leaving religious pursuits in droves. This is unfortunate and unwarranted.

Modern Quantum Field Theory gives us room for the subjective and spiritual. It can accommodate all of Newtonian physics and still has room for the consciousness of the subjective observer to play a necessary role. We will look at several key quantum theory experiments that call scientific materialism into question.

While the materialistic worldview worked well under the Newtonian paradigm, inconsistencies and contradictions to Newton’s Laws occur within modern Quantum Theory.

The Ever Changing Quantum Foam Of Empty Space

All five materialistic assumptions fall afoul of Quantum Theory, where there is no “world out there” and the conscious observer is an integral part of the system. Where space-time is not just a stage where things happen, but an actual medium permeated by the zero point field energy and numerous other quantum fields that, when “excited” by a conscious observer, create all the particles in the universe. (OK, a bit oversimplified and grandiose, but the thought’s useful).

We will discuss in more detail of how quantum field theory relates to spirituality in future parts of this series.

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