War of the Worldviews: Science vs. Spirituality Hardcover – Large Print, Feb 2012
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Here is a sample of the subjects:
1. How did the universe emerge?
2. Is the universe conscious?
3. What is life?
4. How do genes work?
5. What is the connection between brain and mind?
6. Is there a fundamental reality?
Following is how the book flows.
Deepak presents an essay on a particular subject outlining his predominantly personal views on religion and spirituality. I say personal, because he gives very few references for what he states. I sympathize with this because it's difficult to pin down spiritual beliefs to any single scriptural passage or spiritual founder. People from various faiths and within various denominations have different ideas about Scripture and the Divine. So Deepak cannot really speak for all religion or all spirituality.
However, he writes intelligibly and intelligently. What he says makes a lot of sense. For instance, he says that spirituality did not begin with God. It began with consciousness. On the surface, this may seem like a stretch or overly intellectual. But it isn’t. Spirituality, as distinct from religion, is certainly more mystical, abstract, and intellectual. This is broadly true for all faiths.
Moreover, in ancient yoga 3000 years ago, the question the Indian mystics asked was not “who is God?” It was “who am I?" (ko ham, in Sanskrit.) This is the angle Deepak takes.
On the other side, essays on the same subjects are written by the physicist and atheist Leonard Mlodinow. It does not even seem that both of them had read each other’s essays and really answered each other’s points. So the essays are non-confrontational and quite friendly. The reader is left to decide how to meld the two worldviews.
In the same vein as Deepak's, not all physicists, scientists, or atheists share the same worldview either. So Mlodinow, like Deepak, speaks mostly for himself and a certain sector of like-minded people. Mlodinow writes lucidly and honestly. I myself believe in God. But I still find that Mlodinow’s articles are intellectually honest. He is not a militant atheist. He is not rude, sarcastic, or obnoxious. He’s careful and perceptive.
In fact, Mlodinow goes on record saying that “While science often casts doubt on spiritual beliefs and doctrines insofar as they make representations about the physical world, science does not – and cannot – conclude that God is an illusion.” (Pg. 256) I think that says it all.
This book comprises a compilation of beautiful essays by two brilliant thinkers in two opposite fields discussing overlapping subjects of dispute and interest. Dive in and enjoy!
Full disclosure: I am a peer-reviewed researcher and author on this subject as well as emerging connections between ancient yoga and the Bible. Sanjay C Patel
Chopra’s basic position is that there is a consciousness in the universe that all human beings can and should connect with. He makes it clear that he is talking about spirituality and not religion and a God who is the creator of all things. He criticizes Mlodinow and science for its focus on material matters and its reliance on proof before accepting something as true and real. Mlodinow, of course, takes the opposite perspective, providing rational, science-based, explanations for earthly phenomena. He says that science can and has been shown to be wrong and thus corrects itself, whereas there is no way to examine or correct the idea of a universal consciousness.
My own, biased view, is that Mlodinow wins this debate easily. For example, he says that we do not need an external and conscious universe to make our lives meaningful. Our life is as meaningful as we choose to make it. He agrees that the universe does have a pattern—the laws of physics, but why nature follows such laws is still a mystery. His issue with Chopra is whether or not something consciously designed this pattern. Further, he says that science cannot say that there is or is not a consciousness in the universe. The concept is simply beyond our understanding and Chopra’s insistence that there is a consciousness is based purely on faith. Chopra, he says, attributes positive human values and behaviors, such as love and kindness, to this universal consciousness, but fails to also attribute negative values and behaviors, such as violence and hate, to it as well. If there is a consciousness, Mlodinow says, it is responsible for both aspects of human behavior.
I think this book is well worth reading and you may well have a different viewpoint depending on your orientation. Chopra says that religion is dying out in favor of spirituality, but Mlodinow counters by pointing out that religion still plays a powerful role in the world. I see Chopra’s perspective as a kind of Eastern mysticism, while Mlodinow is practical and provides real answers to life’s mysteries. I rate this book at five stars because it does help you think through what are life's more important questions. At the same time the discussion misses a key point, namely that science and spirituality (religion) are about two different things and, seen in that light, there is no need for disagreement between the two.