Science and Spirituality

By Sir John Templeton, Chairman, The John Templeton Foundation

What a joy it is to explore with the Unity family hopes for progress in learning more about spirituality as we look toward the twenty-first century!

In 1992, I retired after a 50-year career of helping investors manage their money in order to devote my time to encouraging the pursuit of new spiritual information. The annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion began in 1973, with Mother Teresa of Calcutta as the first recipient. And in 1987 the John Templeton Foundation was established to bring scientists and theologians together to foster the acquisition of new spiritual information through scientific research.

It appears that the Creator has brought humanity through long stages of evolutionary development-first, as physical beings; then, as conscious beings; and finally, as spiritual beings with enormous potential for whatever God has in store for creation in the future. Until the emergence of human beings on the face of the earth, evolution on this planet proceeded routinely, unfolding the rich complexity of mineral, vegetable, and animal life. Now, with human intelligence capable of studying the Creator and the creation, evolution no longer travels only on its own path. Possibly, it was God’s plan that one day humankind would serve as useful tools for creative purposes.

With the advent of intelligence there came also a strong sense of curiosity, a need for us to understand. Thus was born science-first, perhaps, in Greek and Egyptian medicine; then, in Arabic astronomy and mathematics; and finally, in the full flowering of empirical science in the West since 1800.

In my lifetime, the acceleration of learning through science has become breathtaking. More than half the discoveries in natural science have been made during the twentieth century, and it is estimated that at present the amount of new information is doubling every 2 years. Not only is the rate of our learning accelerating, but along with it has come a new awareness of just how big and complex the universe is. Most scientists are now willing to admit that they never will reach the end of learning, and some are even talking about other sources of truth-philosophy and, especially, theology-as crucial components in the search to comprehend reality. A new kind of humility has begun to express itself as we recognize and worship the vastness of God’s creation and our small place in the cosmic scheme of things.

Humility-The Key to Progress

In fact, humility is the key to progress. Without it we can be too self-satisfied with past glories to launch boldly into the challenges ahead. Without humility we may not be wide-eyed and open-minded enough to discover new areas for research. If we are not as humble as children, we may be unable to admit mistakes, seek advice, and try again. This humble approach is for all of us who are not only concerned about the future of civilization but also want to help. It is an approach for all of us who are not satisfied to let things drift and who want to channel our creative curiosity and enthusiasm toward helping build the kingdom of God.

Through humility we can begin to get expanded perspectives on the infinity of God. Also, in humility we learn from each other, for it makes us open to each other and ready to see things from another’s point of view and to share ours with another freely. By humility we avoid the sins of pride and intolerance and avoid all religious strife. Humility opens the door to the realms of the spirit and to the acceleration of research and progress in religion.

I have called this new kind of humility, this new awareness of the unlimited, all-pervasive, all-encompassing creative spirit “humility theology.” Perhaps, with this guiding principle we can begin a new phase of evolution, a spiritual exploration using the tools of science that have been so productive in the physical sphere.

But, as we embark on this search for new spiritual information through scientific research, we encounter a stumbling block-egotism, the closed-minded attitude of those who think they know it all. Natural scientists, by and large, have overcome this hurdle. They are more openminded. They research the natural wonders of the universe, devising new hypotheses, testing them, challenging old assumptions, competing with each other in professional rivalry. The physical future of human civilization is in their professional hands, guided by relatively tolerant and open minds.

This is not always equally true concerning our spiritual future. Some theologians, religious leaders, and lay people can be blind to the obstacles they themselves unconsciously erect. Many are not even aware that the spiritual future could, or should, be better than anything which has ever been before. Many do not realize that spiritual reality can be researched in ways similar to those used by natural scientists. Some do not want even to consider the possibility of a future of progressively unfolding spiritual discoveries.

Why not? Many devoutly religious people are not devoutly humble. They do not realize that their worldview may be limited. Some are not open to suggestions that their personal theology might be incomplete. Some do not yet entertain the notion that other religious people can have valuable insights to contribute to expanding the understanding of God and God’s creation. When people take a more humble attitude, they welcome new ideas about the spirit just as they welcome new scientific concepts about how to cure headaches, how to heat and cool their homes, or how to develop natural resources.

The Search for Spiritual Truth

To aid in the new search for spiritual truth, the John Templeton Foundation has expanded in scope, with the formation of a research center for the acquisition of new spiritual information. The new center has been named the Humility Theology Information Center and has as two of its major endeavors the development of a series of research programs and a close working relationship with an advisory board of prominent scientists and theologians interested in the progress in new spiritual information and research. An operating approach of the center is the application of empirical and statistical scientific methods to the discovery and testing of new ideas on spiritual information and concepts.

To heighten awareness of the potential importance of progress in additional spiritual information and research, the Templeton Foundation has sponsored academic programs to stimulate the teaching of hundreds of university courses in science and religion, worldwide lecture programs organized around the concept of humility theology, and prizes for articles on humility theology published in science and religion journals. In addition, essay contests have focused on “laws of life”-universal spiritual laws as described in Worldwide Laws of Life, which is a compilation of two hundred laws and proverbs from nearly all the religions that are deeply embedded in human history.

Recently an essay contest on humility theology began with thousands of college and university students who have participated in award-winning academic courses on science and religion. These various educational programs may provide a solid foundation for future scholarship and rigorous research in this new interdisciplinary field of progress in religion.

Current efforts to encourage rigorous scientific research programs have involved donations to two major initiatives. One is the encouragement of research about spirituality’s benefits to health. Two research organizations are currently active, the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR) and the Mind-Body Medical Institute of Harvard Medical School.

The NIHR is developing a network of highly competent research fellows whose research programs will be enhanced through various foundation funds and other sources. The Mind-Body Medical Institute is also developing a major intellectual network and is helping graduate programs in a number of major medical institutions.

Both NIHR and the Mind-Body Medical Institute have convened highly successful conferences of respected researchers and health-care providers to emphasize the opportunities for a major impact on disease through spiritual therapies. These conferences are developing into a regular yearly series. In addition, medical school education is being impacted through a program of prizes awarded by NIHR for courses in medicine and religion.

Everyone is invited to join in this spiritual journey, with humility theology as an inspiration for accelerating progress. Perhaps we are at the beginning of a great period of spiritual renewal, in which science will join with theology to bring vast, new revelations to augment what we comprehend of God from the wonderful, ancient Scriptures.