Following on from my last blog, I want now if I may, to address and to ‘articulate’ what I perceive to be a variety of well-known and acknowledged ways of identifying and evaluating spirituality. Firstly, there is what we might call the evidential approach. This can best be articulated in response to the following question. What acceptable and reliable evidence is there for the very existence of spirituality, as an acknowledged phenomenon within man? Questions of this nature turn on and are answered with reference to the actual evidence available to us, be it internally or externally acquired. Let me explain what I mean.
If, to begin with, we take up the “internal evidence” line of enquiry, we shall find that there is no insufficiency of answers to our question, as set out above. Surely, almost all of us are aware of those seemingly ever-on-board experiences in the form of what we might describe as “innate responses”. Another word sometimes used to describe this kind of response is awareness that is given a’priori. This is a Latin word for “what is before”, i.e. already there, in the sense that none of us can ever remember being without it (even though later on in life we may choose to dismiss or deny it). This it is that gives rise to all those so familiar questions such as, where did I come from? Why am I here? For what am I destined? In short, it accounts for and describes our ongoing quest for meaning and purpose in life.
This – what we might rightly refer to as a basic and fundamental “human drive” – appears therefore to amount to a desire for meaningful existence in thought and life. At times, it cuts right through such issues as cause and effect and encourages us (as already hinted in the early part of this blog), to search for complex “intra”, i.e. within ourselves, as well as “inter”, e.g. between ourselves and our environment or others) relationships. This approach emphasizes the present and dynamic nature of actual experience and it also provides vital feedback in the form of the meaning and purpose of what otherwise would be regarded as inexplicable events. So much then for our brief reference to evidence, which is perceived internally.
The external dimension in answer to our question is likewise not hard to trace. Social scientists known as anthropologists, i.e. who carry out human field· studies, have monitored similar as well as diverse patterns of human behaviour of worship and sacrifice, both within primitive tribes and more complex societies. Their work has contributed much to man’s thirst and search for knowledge in this regard. Another great landmark found its identity and expression through the painstaking and systematic studies of Charles Darwin in such works as “The Origin of the Species…” and “The Descent of Man”. Indeed, it was this, in every sense, pioneering approach that provided the very first soundings of a likely evolutionary explanation for the emergence of man.
Darwin’s genuinely ground-breaking work opened up rich veins of inquiry, not only for anthropologists and those working in other scientific disciplines on the origin and development of man but also for the ordinary ‘man in the street’. It dramatically moved things away from explanations having – as they had had in the past – their origins in complex theological and philosophical theorizing, and tended to identify – and where feasible locate – actual and successive periods and stages, through which man had already passed and is currently passing, on the road to species and personal development and – presumably – fulfilment.
On the other hand, this by no means meant that interest in and concern with spirituality ceased to have significance once scientific answers had been, at any rate partially accessed. Indeed and in many ways, it served only to sensitize and sharpen their acuity. It is noteworthy that whilst science can and does define/describe pathways and processes, it is and will forever remain incapable of pronouncing adequately on the purpose of things. It is, of course, perfectly legitimate for scientists – be they physicists, biologists, chemists or whoever – to state that there is (or allege that there is not) a deeper lying purpose for whatever is the subject of their scientific analysis and description. What they cannot do is proceed further – say – to a point of requiring faith in for example pure chance, as opposed to faith in a Creator. In matters of this kind, science is – and must remain – entirely neutral. (C)SB.