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Science and Spirituality

For many, science is a process of dispassionate observation, discovery and logical deduction. Although logic is fundamental to science, many philosophers and historians of science have recognized that the beliefs and perspectives of the scientist influence observations. For example, there was a time when eugenics was thought by most scientists as a logical solution to the problem of perceived genetic flaws in the human population; the culling of certain people or at least their sterilization was seen as reasonable as the selective breeding of domestic animals. The outcome of that logic is known to all. Lest we think our times are immune, the current conclusion by many in forest science that clear-cut logging is a good solution to the future of forests, the view of natural resources as nearly endless and the belief in the value of neoliberal economics are further examples of views that are based in a certain level of logic that reflects a certain world view. This, of course, has been known for a long time. As early as 1739 the Scottish philosopher David Hume argued, and I think correctly, the reason alone can lead to devastating consequences. 

Further to this, we live in an age of great practicality and technological sophistication, with a very real danger that this is also reflected in the strong majority of our science. Much of science is now driven by “show me the money” (i.e. with potential for profit, human health benefits, ease of management and other direct needs). As such, even our universities, once the bastions of independent thought, are now often driven by the need to obtain grants, which are nearly always caged in terms understood by bureaucrats.

It has been noted by many students of the scientific process, that views on beauty, the drive to search for “truth” in its deepest sense, the experience of enthusiasm and even love for the arena of nature being studied are often vital components of innovative discoveries. A deep curiosity and what drives and directs it underlies all new insights as to how nature is constructed, functions, and its history.  It is these drives that result in the thousands of hours of pursuit needed to develop the skills and abilities of the so-called expert or scholar.

I consider it very unfortunate that science is often taught from elementary school to graduate school as facts to be memorized and regurgitated. It is true, that the chemical bonds of a certain compound can be determined or a new species described in a formulaic manner. However, to cultivate creativity and curiosity in students they need to learn that science is fundamentally a way of looking at the world, a very powerful way, and that great discoveries in the past were a process of repeated trial and error. So too, we believe that we know a great deal about our world but the reality is different. We mostly don’t know how communities of organisms are organized, nor how many species live on our planet (probably more than 3 million insects are undescribed!). As such, students need a background that encourage creativity –an understanding of philosophy, the value of playing a musical instrument or some other artistic endeavor, of play, of reading broadly (not Google searches!), volunteering, of our human relationships and more. More balanced lives can lead to greater creativity in many people. 

It is in this light that I here discuss some of my own biases.

Like you, my life is multifaceted. Much as I love my work on the systematics of biting midges (no-see-ums) and other flies, I have other parts of my life that also make it rich. I am married for many years (48!) to a remarkable woman, Annette Borkent, who has a project (after 32 years of being a maternity nurse) teaching and assisting new parents in our local community and another in Guatemala teaching traditional midwives (both projects have blossomed so others are involved). I have three remarkable and interesting grown children who are all married and enjoy two granddaughters. I play classical guitar, often with Annette who plays flute. I love going with her on extensive kayaking trips, both freshwater and ocean here in western Canada (after years of backpacking) and regularly go for day hikes.  Biking is part of our regular life here in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

Another major component is a spiritual journey that has been important since I was a child. Much as it seems unpopular and paltry to many, especially according to the press, I am a follower of Jesus and called myself a Christian, although I often semi-jokingly say “NOT like those ones” (you know what I mean). I see my world through the lens of a belief in God and particularly through the rich and complex Judeo/Christian tradition that also requires study and pursuit and seeks to integrate all aspects of one’s life. I have tried, I think with some success, to integrate my work with my faith and this part of the website shares some of my thoughts and perspectives that might be helpful to others, also on a spiritual journey.

In November, 2021 I gave a Zoom presentation that is available as a YouTube, providing some perspectives a person of faith might have regarding the Creation and especially regarding evolution, a contentious issue for some Christians.

Here is a book that I have written, that I hope can speak to anyone with a spiritual perspective, although much of the vernacular is in the Christian terms I know. The principles, I believe, are broadly true and I have merely presented this as the ‘truth’ that I know.  I hope it might be useful and provocative. In case anyone uses a given chapter for discussion, I include some questions that a group might consider as a way of sharing their experiences and perspectives.