Kevin Sharpe




1 Scientific and Spiritual Thought: Their Mutual Relevance

2 Connection

3 Separation with Connection

4 The Subuniverse Divine

5 It Just Is

6 The Divine Acts?

7 What Does the Divine Do?

8 The Real Divine

9 Mystery

10 The Character of the Divine

11 Freedom

12 Liberation and Values

13 Histories of the Universe

14 Sociobiology

15 Does Morality Come from the Divine?

16 Does Morality Come from Biology?

17 Creating a Morality

18 Suffering and Evil . . . and Humanization

19 Christian Belief

20 Scientific and Spiritual Thought: Open to Change




Can serial killers change their moral attitudes, or are their behaviors irrevocably inscribed in their genes? Weíre not sure. But we are sure that locking them up wonít change them. This type of dilemma isnít unusual for us; value and fact, religion and science, wisdom and technology usually lie on opposite sides of Western civilization. We therefore donít know how to solve some of our serious ills, we donít even know how to go about solving them. We intuitively know a moral right and wrong, but the real situation and the science complicate the case so much that our intuition fails to apply. Is the way forward a fundamentalist withdrawal into the certainty of denying the science and the secular and of defining complex reality as a simple choice? Iím sure itís not. I have long searched for a system of spiritual ideas that confers justice on my experience as a secular and science-oriented person, and on the spiritual tradition in which I immerse myself. I want constructively to resolve this inner tension. The divide between the two cultures splits the experience of many moderns and hinders, I believe, their health and societyís health.

Sleuthing the Divine emerges from my journey. It introduces a scientific way to gain spiritual knowledge. Not only do I cover basic issues that need resolving before such a project can start (What constitutes spiritual knowledge? for instance), but it also uses scientific theories and formulates scientific hypotheses to develop that knowledge. Experience should guide spiritual knowledge.

My intention is not to defend any set of religious beliefs Ė traditional, new age, Eastern, or Western. I develop a way to understand Divinity (or God) without assuming what a tradition would impose. For a model such as I suggest to function as it should, the divinity it depicts must appear real to most people; this is one of my basic requirements for my model. It must also build from science, be scientifically open to experiment and experience, and it must interact openly with the secular lives of most modern people. To achieve this understanding, I use aspects of the physicist David Bohmís idea of the holomovement or implicate order. I develop what I take from him into my own system of spiritual thought. But Bohmís ideas donít take me far enough. I therefore borrow from evolutionary theory to carry the system further into the moral and human dimensions of life.

I attempt:

While this process develops a foundation for many types of spiritual belief, one chapter does show how it applies to Christianity in particular, pointing out what beliefs the foundation can support and what further steps are necessary to make it Christian. The same process also applies to the belief systems of other spiritual traditions.

I wish to acknowledge the assistance of many people. To my wife, Mary Lacombe, I owe a great deal for her personal and intellectual support and challenge. To John Templeton and the John Templeton Foundation, I owe much for intellectual challenge and financial support. My educational institutions, The Union Institute and Oxford University, have provided an environment for exploration and writing. Michael West, Senior Editor at Fortress Press, helped me state my meaning more clearly. Other readers include Ian Barbour, David Blumenkrantz, Michael Corey, Don Dotson, Wim Drees, Ursula Goodenough, Sim Graves, Phil Hefner, Rodney Holmes, David Jones, Gary Lindsay, Charlotte Methuen, Chris Parr, Karl Peters, Ted Peters, Mark Richardson, Michael Ruse, Bob Russell, Mark Schroll, Virginia Slayton, Barbara Smith-Moran, Wentzel van Huyssteen, Janet Ward, and David Wyman.


This book is dedicated to Mary Catherine Lacombe.


At the center of much religious language lies the word God. Yet, that central word carries many and often conflicting meanings. Many of us pass through a religious crisis at some point in our lives, and we easily transfer our conflict to God. Confusion over the word God becomes worse when a religion thinks itself better than the others; some claim a monopoly on the word Ė We have truth! Ė as though they compete for the true God. Think about the following examples. Which most correctly use the word God?

How might someone judge the correct usage? Does a standard exist against which to check it? Who or what is God anyway? Whatís God really like? Where might a person find God? Why do so many people claim to deliver God? And why do people create pictures of God? Lots of God images flutter about with no hard and fast way to decide between them. Somehow, God and the images of God have become separated.

Because of that confusion and because people differ Ė often significantly Ė in what they mean by the G-word, Iím going to stop using it right here. With my decision, I stop clarifying what I donít mean. I look to a fresh start to help answer questions such as those above.

When the meaning of a word becomes too restricted, people often coin new words or resurrect old ones that do not have the problems associated with the word they replace. Iíd rather not surrender the G-word altogether, though. It has too much significance in the lives of people I know; it has been too important in human history and experience to throw away at my whim. Instead, I simply want to look at the "divine being," God, without the limits set by religious traditions, bias, culture, or common parlance.

So, I prefer to use a synonym for it. To be honest, I have yet to find a good alternative to the G-word, as all similar words bring excess meanings, but I opt for the term Divine as the best I can ferret out at present. It too invokes problems Ė think of "Darling, you look divine" Ė but not as many as the G-word; it has fewer associations. This advantage also produces its weakness, however: the G-word holds many meanings without much explanation, and in using Divine, I lose that strength.

I replace other words, too. Tradition would label my work theology, but I avoid that word, as it also carries too much baggage. Instead, I employ terms such as spiritual thinking and spiritual ideas and a system of spiritual ideas. Similarly, I use synonyms for words such as religion Ė but not for spirituality. Spirituality escapes my habit to replace words, because it carries its own proper and frequent use. It has a positive meaning centered on a way of life, which I want to leave untarnished by association with my use of spiritual.

I feel strongly about using alternatives. I write not only for those in an orthodox fold who are interested in other ways to look at the Divine, but also for those interested in spiritual matters and those who have left a fold to search for meaning elsewhere. The words I use try to include them. The name Divine confuses less than God and so should turn off fewer people.

The task I set for myself is to reconstruct the word Divine so it attains significance. This is difficult to do. I canít salvage the word with an instant system of spiritual ideas. Many thinkers, myself included, have wrestled long and hard with this problem Ė and the solutions, I believe, remain sterile. So, I start again.

After much reflection, I start this reconstruction from two points. First, I follow an assumption in trying to understand the Divine: the Divine is real. The Divine exists. But secularization and the rise of modern science have gradually changed the way people think and feel. They have eroded the belief systems of medieval and earlier Christendom, including peopleís sense of reality about that divinity. Whatever picture I come up with, then, the divinity it depicts must appear credible and real for modern, secularized humanity.

Why do I want to picture the Divine as real? Because, to start with, this is a basic property of the Divine, of any properly functioning divinity. Only a dishonest dealer would sell a car "in good working order" when it didnít have an engine. The Divine needs at least the "engine" of reality. Believers accept the reality of their divinity, and thus I make reality a must for what I construe. I shy away from fantasy.

When people ask me if I believe in the Divine, I reply yes without hesitation. I then ask, "What divinity?" I have yet to endow the word with content. My belief in the Divineís reality leaves open what I mean by the Divine; it stops short of explaining what the Divine is. To crave an image that portrays a real divinity assumes nothing further about the Divine.

The second starting point for the new picture of the Divine focuses on the word secular. We live in the modern Western world with all its corruption and inhumanity, idealism and hope. And many of us relish it: the universe, our society, and our lives feel good. Most Westerners place the centers of their realities in the secular present, in that which we describe as "here." We live as secular people; our spiritual ideas must build from the secular "here." Here is exciting and challenging. The answer to inhumanity and to modernityís problems arises, we believe, from the secular here and not from elsewhere. I therefore resist focusing on another world, spiritual or otherwise. The roots of the Divine extend deep into the secular.

With these simple assumptions, and a prying inquisitiveness, I invite you to join me in sleuthing the Divine.

Sleuthing the Divine: The Nexus of Science and Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Augsburg Fortress. This page copyright © 2000 by Kevin Sharpe.

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