What would spiritual scepticism look like?

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“Diving the light from the darkness” by Tony Lobl

It seems society’s sceptics may have recently enlisted a Royal recruit: The Duke of Edinburgh.

During the Queen’s state visit to Berlin Prince Philip told a German medical student that if he had the choice he “wouldn’t see any doctors at all,” because “they all give you different opinions.”

Top marks to Med student Bastian Rosner for his good natured response.

“I thought it was hilarious. He clearly doesn’t trust doctors but he looks well on it,” The Sunday Express reported him saying later.

There is, of course, a more serious side to the comment made by the Queen’s consort.

While doctors are rightly recognised as striving to help humanity, what does it say that even the best physicians can hold differing views about a case? Couldn’t that constitute reasonable grounds for a Duke-like scepticism about medical science?

Perhaps. But while scepticism is the lauded attitude within scientific methodology, feeling sceptical about the merits of science itself seems to be verboten.

That even concerns a growing chorus of scientists, who have their own reservations about the failure to use the scientific method to test some very basic beliefs of modern science which they consider unproven.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, a particularly staunch critic on this point, addressed a recent THEOS event in London. The bestselling author of “The Science Delusion” outlined “ten scientific dogmas” he claims have never been proved scientifically, including the idea that matter is unconscious and the belief that mind is in the brain.

To the neutral observer, Sheldrake’s comments were about science, based on science, and made by someone who clearly loves science. Yet his views have often earned him the opprobrium of peers who he, in turn, accuses of holding to a “conservative”, rather than a scientific, scepticism.

In 2012, The Guardian wrote of Sheldrake as a “heretic” who had been “at odds with scientific dogma” for three decades, today he’s far from a lone voice. He and seven others recently co-authored a manifesto for a post-material science that has been launched with a seal of approval from “over 130 scientists, doctors and philosophers”.

As fellow scientist David Pruett observed in the Huffington Post: “The authors of the manifesto are all scientific mavericks whose viewpoints are not mainstream. It’s worth noting, however, that neither were Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, or Einstein mainstream. All challenged the scientific status quo, and all were eventually vindicated by the canonization of their once-radical views.”

Perhaps the best known of these “maverick” manifesto authors is Dr Larry Dossey, physician and bestselling author, who recently critiqued “the doctrine that the real world consists simply of the physical world”, something he termed “physicalism”.

Based on decades of research, Dr Dossey questions the assumption we are “complex lumps of matter guided by the so-called blind, meaningless laws of nature”.

Rather, we are “imbued with something more” – the “consciousness, mind, will, choice, purpose, direction, meaning and spirituality … that says we are connected with something that transcends our individual self and ego”.

He added: “Every decision we make is influenced by how we answer this great question: Who are we?”

An earlier “maverick” voice on health and healing – whose views continue to influence scientific thinking – would have concurred with these points. In the 19th and early 20th century Mary Baker Eddy boldly stood for what she called “a higher order of Science”, one that was “revolutionary in its very nature”. Why? Because it says to the five material senses “Having eyes ye see not, and ears ye hear not; neither can you understand.”

You could call this a more spiritual approach to scepticism – being consciously sceptical about all that the material senses report to us. But it was based on a most un-sceptical view of reality – one starting from the premise that we each have an underlying spiritual identity sourced entirely from divine goodness.>

“The true theory of the universe, including man, is not in material history but in spiritual development,” Eddy wrote in her key “textbook” of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Is there any “empirical” evidence for such a claim? Yes, there is. Not lab-tested, but life-tested. As Boston University Professor Jon Roberts onceput it, Eddy offered “the evidence of people’s bodies that had been healed through her methods”.

Are there grounds to be sceptical about such claims? Of course. The assertion that spiritual means alone can heal the body certainly can’t be accepted on faith alone.

But should sceptical equal dismissive? No, because many today struggle within a medical system that by its own admission doesn’t have all the answers. So rather than rejecting a different paradigm which many claim has worked for them, each individual can put it to the test for themselves.

That’s what I did three decades ago, when introduced to Eddy’s ideas. As a graduate mathematician, I brought a healthy scepticism to what she termed “Mind-healing” (where the capital ‘M’ denotes the divine Mind).

Yet the evidence of being healed through a better understanding of God – sometimes quickly, sometimes after much prayer and persistence – was conclusive enough for me. And it launched me on a deeply satisfying journey of spiritual discovery and practice that has lasted for over three decades.

Practicing healing on the basis of a “divine Science” might relegate me to the outer fringes of those pushing for a “post-material science”, who are already considered on the periphery by many. But surely all would agree that science is about digging until we honestly – and open-mindedly – uncover and prove what is actually true.

To that end I support use of the scepticism inherent in the scientific method. But please don’t ask me to be sceptical about the healing possibilities of divine Love that I have seen proved in my own experiences of healing.

This article first appeared in The News Hub entitled, “Do we need a healthier model of scientific scepticism?

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