My Psalms 130, 131
The Soul of Faith; The Soul of Science
It was Aristotle who first said “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” We tend to think of science and religion being two opposing teams but in ancient history one was used to validate the other … and vice verse. The father of geometry, Rene Descartes, is credited with promoting the most commonly accepted definition of the soul. In his Mediation VI, Descartes wrote: “Nature also teaches me, by these sensations of pain, hunger, thirst and so on that I am not merely present in my body as a sailor is present in a ship, but that I am very closely and, as it were, intermingled with it, so that I and the body form a unit.”
While Descartes is acknowledged for his distinction between the mind and the body, his views were not original. A stand found in the teachings and writings of Plato, earlier philosophers had believed that some aspect of the human body survived the death of the body. This everlasting mind or soul described by Descartes would prove most influential on those that followed him, however. Descartes, in his “Discourse” and “Principles” used the Cogito Argument in defending his beliefs as well as his “Mediations”. “I have a clear and distinct idea of myself as a thinking non-extended thing, and a clear and distinct idea of body as an extended and non-thinking thing. Whatever I can conceive clearly and distinctly, God can create.”
Descartes felt the mind – a thinking thing – existed apart from his extended body. Therefore, purported Descartes, the mind was a substance whose essence was thought and therefore distinct from the body. With his metaphysical views, Descartes saw each substance as having a principle attribute that defined or characterized its nature. For the mind it was thought. Science, though, is a discipline which wants evidence. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
Paul Dirac compared science not to religion but to literature in seeking comprehension for our being and our world, along with purposes for each. “In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it is the exact opposite.” Perhaps that is the key to understanding the soul. We need to broaden our horizons and consider things we cannot scientifically prove.
For Descartes, God was a third substance – neither body nor soul but completely interdependent by both. Scientists have made great strides in attempting to prove the existence of the soul. Bodies weighed after death have an unexplained weight. The brain continues to function after a death of the physical body. Is there a part of our existence that transcends our corporal body?
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains. “Matter is that which remains constant in change, while form is that which gives bodies the characteristic properties that they have. For Descartes, however, all body is of the same kind, a substance that contains only geometric properties, the objects of geometry made concrete. The characteristic properties of particular forms of body are explained in terms of the size, shape and motion of its insensible parts (see §11 below). For the late scholastics, the mind is connected with the account of life. On the Aristotelian view, the soul is the principle of life, that which distinguishes a living thing from a dead thing; it is also taken to be the form that pertains to the living body. The mind is the rational part of the soul, that which characterizes humans, and not usually considered a genuine substance, though by most accounts, with divine aid, it can survive the death of the body.”
The mind is ever expanding and changing. Charles Darwin noted “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” The world has a greater chance for peace when we allow our mind to grow, changing preconceived notions as we learn to respect one another and celebrate our differences instead of being fearful of them. “I believe in an immortal soul. Science has proved that nothing disintegrates into nothingness. Life and soul, therefore, cannot disintegrate into nothingness, and so are immortal.” This was the belief of Dr Werner Von Braun, father of the USA’s rocket and subsequent space programs.
The woman who discovered a way to show that which was hidden, the human skeletal system within a living body, Madame Marie Curie described the science of the unknown: “I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale.”
Perhaps the soul is that part of us which believes in impossibilities, in the unseen things such as love and grace. Perhaps one day we will learn that, just as an apple dropped has an unseen pull to the ground from whence it sprung that we call gravity, we too exist on waves of unseen truths and possibilities.
“I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding of a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” (Sir Isaac Newton )
My Psalm 130
I hear my voice, O Lord.
I feel my fear and wait for your calm.
My hope is unseen and yet it breathes in me.
I place an invisible weight of trust in you, my God.
My Psalm 131
As the sun sets and the winds are hushed,
So is my faith in you, Great Spirit.
The air I breathe that gives me life cannot be seen
And neither is my assurance in your love.
Both exist, though, Great Creator.
My soul is comforted knowing that.