The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion

The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion

by Ken Wilber

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There is arguably no more critical and pressing topic than the relation of science and religion in the modern world. Science has given us the methods for discovering truth, while religion remains the single greatest force for generating meaning. Yet the two are seen as mutually exclusive, with wrenching consequences for humanity. In The Marriage of Sense and Soul, one…  See more details below


There is arguably no more critical and pressing topic than the relation of science and religion in the modern world. Science has given us the methods for discovering truth, while religion remains the single greatest force for generating meaning. Yet the two are seen as mutually exclusive, with wrenching consequences for humanity. In The Marriage of Sense and Soul, one of today's most important philosophers brilliantly articulates how we might begin to think about science and religion in ways that allow for their reconciliation and union, on terms that will be acceptable to both camps.
        Ken Wilber is widely acclaimed as the foremost thinker in integrating Western psychology and the Eastern spiritual traditions. His many books have reached across disciplines and synthesized the teachings of religion, psychology, physics, mysticism, sociology, and anthropology, earning him a devoted international following. The Marriage of Sense and Soul is his most accessible work yet, aimed at guiding a general audience to the mutual accord between the spiritual, subjective world of ancient wisdom and the objective, empirical world of modern knowledge.
        Wilber clearly and succinctly explores the schism between science and religion, and the impact of this "philosophical Cold War" on the fate of humanity. He systematically reviews previous attempts at integration, explaining why romantic, idealistic, and postmodern theories failed. And he demonstrates how science is compatible with certain deep features common to all of the world's major religious traditions. In pointing the way to a union between truth and meaning, Ken Wilber has created an elegant and accessible book that is breathtaking in its scope.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ever since the Copernican revolution, the battle lines between science and religion have been drawn. In succeeding generations, science and religion have been depicted as two cultural juggernauts slugging it out to establish their ideas as the dominant worldview. In his new book, Wilber (A Brief History of Everything) contends that attempts to reconcile science (sense) and religion (soul) have failed because scholars have not taken into account the fundamental differences between the two. Science, he argues, is a product of modernity characterized by differentiationa spiritless materialism. Religion, on the other hand, is a product of a premodern worldview less enamored of a portrait of reality (viewed as so much soulless matter) and characterized by an emphasis on humanity's connection to a spiritual dimension. Using A.O. Lovejoy's idea of the Great Chain of Being, Wilber fashions what he calls "the Great Nest of Being" in which soul, body, matter, mind and spirit intersect and coalesce. Imitating Plato's scheme of realms of truth, knowledge and reality, Wilber divides his Great Nest into four quadrants, each of which has a subjective, objective, intersubjective and interobjective dimension. Wilber contends that this scheme of unity-in-diversity provides the key to integrating science and religion. As ambitious as it is, Wilber's study is filled with simplistic generalizations ("Modern science and premodern religion aggressively inhabit the same globe, each vying, in its own way, for world domination") and mushy quasi-romantic pronouncements ("Art is the Beauty of Spirit/ Art is in the eye of the beholder, in the I of the beholder: Art is the I of the Spirit."). Moreover, in order to marry sense and soul, Wilber does violence to science by representing it in terms of spirit rather than on its own terms. Wilber's attempt to integrate science and religion is far surpassed by physicist Ian Barbour's trenchant Religion and Science. (Apr.)
Library Journal
This book is an intriguing attempt at finding common foundations or agreements between scientific and religious world views. Wilber (The Eye of Spirit, LJ 2/15/97) relies heavily on traditional philosophers to support his argument for multiple layers of knowing and the potential of empirical science to accept it. At the same time, he suggests that the religious world needs to be open to new ways of spiritual knowledge and validation. Wilber is writing for a popular audience, and his easy-to-read work will likely be compared to Paul Davies's The Mind of God (S. & S., 1992) and Connie Barlow's Green Space, Green Time (LJ 11/1/97). While he has not given us the ultimate answer to the division between science and religion, his book is worth reading. For large public and academic libraries.Eric D. Albright, Duke Univ. Medical Ctr. Lib., Durham, N.C.
Huston Smith
No one has done as much as Ken Wilber to open Western psychology to the insights of the world's wisdom traditions. -- Huston Smith, The New York Times Book Review
Deepak Chopra
"Ken Wilber is one of the most important pioneers in the field of consciousness in this century. I regard him as a mentor. He is a source of inspiration and insight to all of us. Read everything he writes. It will change your life." --Deepak Chopra

Kirkus Reviews
Yet another unsuccessful attempt to integrate all of science and all of religion in one Grand Unified Theory. Wilber has attempted before to wed the warring camps of science and religion (A Brief History of Everything; not reviewed; Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution, 1981; etc.). Here he claims that science is one of the "major differentiations of modernity" that have shattered a previously unified worldview in which all disciplines worked together in the same search for meaning. Today, he says, truth and meaning are distinct; science can provide the former, but religion is necessary to confer the latter. Wilber writes that we need to "integrate the Great Chain [of being] with the major differentiations of modernity," including science. Fair enough, but he never really explains how this is supposed to occur. Blithely brushing aside centuries-old epistemological dilemmas about how we can know the world, Wilber claims that the empirical methods of science can be applied to mental and spiritual experience. The words þexperience,þ þknowledge,þ and þempiricalþ seem to be equated in Wilberþs loose arguments. As for religion, he considers it in terms of þfunction,þ devoid of specific contents, such as the belief that the Red Sea parted for the Israelites or in the virgin birth of Jesus. He never truly defines what he means by religion, which he inexplicably, continually refers to as "premodern." So, too, scientists may quibble with Wilber's vague generalizations about "the scientific method." What kind of science? What types of religion? Wilber's lack of specificity makes this book an exercise in theoretical, purelyacademic navel-gazing. This fusion of science and religion fails to take either discipline seriously as multifaceted, complex sets of meaning. (Author tour)

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The Challenge of Our Times: The Integration of Science and Religion

There is arguably no more important and pressing topic than the relation of science and religion in the modern world. Science is clearly one of the most profound methods that humans have yet devised for discovering truth, while religion remains the single greatest force for generating meaning. Truth and meaning, science and religion; but we still cannot figure out how to get the two of them together in a fashion that both find acceptable.

The reconciliation of science and religion is not merely a passing academic curiosity. These two enormous forces -- truth and meaning -- are at war in today's world. Modern science and premodern religion aggressively inhabit the same globe, each vying, in its own way, for world domination. And something, sooner or later, has to give.

Science and technology have created a global and transnational framework of industrial, economic, medical, scientific, and informational systems. Yet however beneficial those systems may be, they are all, in themselves, devoid of meaning and value. As its own proponents constantly point out, science tells us what is, not what should be. Science tells us about electrons, atoms, molecules, galaxies, digital data bits, network systems: it tells us what a thing is, not whether it is good or bad, or what it should be or could be or ought to be. Thus this enormous global scientific infrastructure is, in itself, a valueless skeleton, however functionally efficient it might be.

Into this colossal value vacuum, religion has happily rushed. Science has created this extraordinary worldwide and global framework -- itself utterly devoid of meaning -- but within that ubiquitous framework, subglobal pockets of premodern religions have created value and meaning for billions of people in every part of the world. And these same premodern religions often deny validity to the scientific framework within which they live, a framework that provides most of their medicine, economics, banking, information networks, transportation, and communications. Within the scientific skeleton of truth, religious meaning attempts to flourish, often by denying the scientific framework itself -- rather like sawing off the branch on which you cheerily perch.

The disgust is mutual, because modern science gleefully denies virtually all of the basic tenets of religion in general. According to the typical view of modern science, religion is not much more than a holdover from the childhood of humanity, with about as much reality as, say, Santa Claus. Whether the religious claims are more literal (Moses parted the Red Sea) or more mystical (religion involves direct spiritual experience), modern science denies them all, simply because there is no credible empirical evidence for any of them.

So here is the utterly bizarre structure of today's world: a scientific framework that is global in its reach and omnipresent in its information and communication networks, forms a meaningless skeleton within which hundreds of subglobal, premodern religions create value and meaning for billions; and they each -- science and religion each -- tends to deny significance, even reality, to the other. This is a massive and violent schism and rupture in the internal organs of today's global culture, and this is exactly why many social analysts believe that if some sort of reconciliation between science and religion is not forthcoming, the future of humanity is, at best, precarious.


The aim of this book is to suggest how we might begin to think about both science and religion in ways that allow their reconciliation and eventual integration, on terms acceptable to both parties.

Of course, this reconciliation of science and religion depends, in part, on exactly what we mean by "science" and "religion." We will actually devote several chapters to just this topic (Chapters 11, 12, and 13). In the meantime, a few crucial points should be noted.

Defining "religion" is itself an almost impossible task, largely because there are so many different forms of the beast that it becomes hard to spot what, if anything, they have in common. But one thing is immediately obvious: many of the specific and central claims of the world's great religions contradict each other, but if we cannot find a common core of the world's great religions, then we will never find an integration of science and religion.

Indeed, if we cannot find a common core that is generally acceptable to most religions, we would be forced to choose one religion and deny importance to the others; or we would have to "pick and choose" tenets from among various religions, thus alienating the great religious traditions themselves. We would never arrive at an integration of science and religion that both parties would find acceptable, because most religions would reject what was done to their beliefs in order to force this "reconciliation."

It will do no good, for example, to claim, as many Christian creationists have, that the Big Bang suggests that the world is the product of a personal creator God, when one of the most profound and influential religions in the world, Buddhism, does not believe in a personal God to begin with. Thus, we cannot use the Big Bang in order to "integrate" science and religion unless we can first find a way to reconcile Christianity and Buddhism (and the world's wisdom traditions in general). Otherwise, we are not integrating science and religion; we are simply "integrating" one narrow version of Christianity with one version of science. This is not worthy of the term "integration," and it is certainly not an integration that other religions would find acceptable.

Thus, those who wish to advocate one particular form of religion -- whether it be a patriarchal God the Father, a matriarchal Great Goddess, a fundamentalist Christianity, a mythological Shintoism, a Gaia ecoreligion, a fundamentalist Islam -- have often taken various modern developments in science and attempted to show that these developments just happen to fit with a (very generous) interpretation of their particular religion. This will not be our approach. Because the fact is, unless science can be shown to be compatible with certain deep features common to all of the world's major wisdom traditions, the long-sought reconciliation will remain as elusive as ever.

So before we can even attempt to integrate science and religion, we need to see if we can find a common core of the world's great wisdom traditions. This common core would have to be a general frame that, shorn of specific details and concrete contents, would nonetheless be acceptable to most religious traditions, at least in the abstract. Is there such a common core?

The answer, it appears, is yes.

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Meet the Author

Ken Wilber's first book, The Spectrum of Con-sciousness, written when he was only twenty-three, was hailed as "the most sensible, comprehensive book about consciousness since William James.  He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Grace and Grit; Sex, Ecology, Spirituality; A Brief History of Everything; and The Eye of Spirit; and his large readership has kept all of his books in print. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

From the Hardcover edition.

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