Investigating Reality Systematically (Part 2 of 3)

In the first part of this series, we established that no sensible conversation about science and religion can take place if it bounces around between cosmological, theological, sociological and epistemological considerations. That first article addresses the knowledge-production process, which starts by comparing the type of search to expect (collective or independent); the kind of knowledge achieved (tentative, never final); and the kinds of literature that seekers might use to prepare themselves to explore reality.

Here we move on to the specifics of each form of investigation: the overall strategy; the instruments we use for observation; the investigative techniques that will help us move into the unknown, and the kinds of evidence that we can gather there.

Step 4 – Both paths use the same strategy: anticipate; take action; perceive effects.

Both paths, whether scientific or spiritual, must begin by articulating their assumptions, because what we presume to be true will preclude our ability to see evidence to the contrary.  Hence the requirement to be a true seeker, asking honest, open questions, free of prejudice about what we might find.

Scientific search will anticipate findings, basing its hypotheses on current theory; it will take action, which may or may not take the format of experiment; followed by perception and observation of the object under study.

Spiritual search will also anticipate discoveries, basing its expectations on sacred writings; will take action, but this time in the form of dialogue with another conscious being; followed by perception of what occurs, but this time in the light of newly-acquired self-awareness. Dialogue between the human seeker and the transcendent Knower is uneven in the absolute, with one knowing nothing and One knowing all. Notwithstanding these absolute conditions, the human seeker has an irresistible curiosity and even a destiny that compels us to know:

How can one who is but Thy creature seek reunion with Thee and attain unto Thy presence, whereas no created thing can ever be associated with Thee, nor can aught comprehend Thee? How is it possible for a lowly servant to recognize Thee and to extol Thy praise, notwithstanding that Thou hast destined for him the revelations of Thy dominion and the wondrous testimonies of Thy sovereignty? Thus every created thing beareth witness that it is debarred from the sanctuary of Thy presence by reason of the limitations imposed upon its inner reality. It is undisputed, however, that the influence of Thine attraction hath everlastingly been inherent in the realities of Thy handiwork… – The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 175.

Step 5 – Instruments of observation

Scientific search requires instruments that extend the human senses such as telescopes, microscopes, thermometers, radiometers, and seismic sensors.

Spiritual search requires the all-out commitment of the seeker, because the instrument of observation is the seeker’s very own perceiving self, his whole consciousness, her entire soul. Fortunately, the seeker’s inner faculties are perfectly suited to look within:   Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 7.

Thou art My stronghold; enter therein that thou mayest abide in safety.  My love is in thee, know it, that thou mayest find Me near unto thee. – Ibid., p. 6.

Step 6 – Investigative Techniques

Scientific search, while at times attempting (in vain) to remain neutral in its influence on the empirical reality being observed, at other times will make an intentional change to some specific independent variable in order to observe any changes that may result to dependent variables.

Spiritual search not only cannot be neutral in its dialogue with the Conscious Mystery, the search requires that the seeker must not be neutral, because the seeker is his or her own instrument of search.  If the instrument of spiritual search is covered in fog, dust, rust or other obscuring imperfections, it will not perceive what is closer to it than its own life vein. The seeker must therefore offer themselves for intentional change to one or all three essential functions: knowledge; will/volition; and action. Becoming thus changed, the human instrument is empowered to discover more:

Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone… In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 51-52.

Man possesses certain virtues of which nature is deprived. He exercises volition; nature is without will. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 80.

Man reacheth perfection through good deeds, voluntarily performed, not through good deeds the doing of which was forced upon him… It lighteth up the world; it bestoweth honour upon humankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 115.

Step 7 – Collection of Evidence

Scientific search collects its evidence by making sensory, empirical measurements such as weight, temperature, radioactivity, and so on.

Spiritual techniques for search provide evidence in the form of personal transformation of the seeker, which is achieved subtly by measureless degrees. Transformation is demonstrated when the seeker (who is themselves the instrument of observation) “bears witness” to the new knowledge they now possess; makes choices or decisions that show a voluntary “submission” to divine will; and undertakes “righteous” (or rightly aligned) actions that serve humanity.  Since all in existence (including humanity) expresses the ultimate Being/ Reality, then the seeker discovers that serving humanity is a way to express loving adoration of that Reality.

The Baha’i teachings describe at least five discrete aspects to the subtle process of spiritual transformation:

  • Purification refers to the deepest functions of the soul tracing inward from observable behavior to speech; preceding speech is thought, but even prior to thought is perception–and the seeker will endeavor to see, hear, and then perceive only God.
  • Alignment means that the seeker will scan around until their sight turns towards God. This turning back from dark to light, (Latin: re-pentir), is referred to by Christians as “repentance.”
  • Magnetic attraction functions as the holding-together effect of love, when the seeker locks onto the object of love without distraction.
  • Movement leaves the old material life behind in favor of the new range of spiritual possibilities, all accomplished by the complementary functions of detachment from the old and attachment to what is newly chosen.
  • Nearness or the approach to Divine Presence is the farthest point from neutral search, because it implies the complete inner renewal of the seeker, and the acceptance that nearness to God can only be achieved in degrees of likeness unto God.

In the final essay in this series, we’ll complete the comparison of scientific and spiritual paths of search by looking at the final stages of knowledge creation: verification/corroboration; interpretation of findings; and application; ending with a summary of the ten-step comparison—and pointing to the purpose of all this newly-formed knowledge.


So... what are your thoughts on this topic?

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