Our brains and our hearts are what guide our lives. Our brains help us learn and seek the truth, while our hearts allow us to connect to one other. Indeed, both love and truth are two of the great mysteries of life, and both can involve a scientific understanding and a religious experience.
As part of Sinai and Synapses’ series “More Light, Less Heat,” Jonathan Morgan and Reverend Doug Hammack share how both religion and science have influenced their personal experiences of both love and truth.
Jonathan Morgan is a doctoral student at Boston University and a Sinai and Synapses Fellow. His curiosity centers on questions of human nature and flourishing, but ventures from there to explore many wide-ranging topics: with a team of medical anthropologists, he is researching experiences of depression and its relationship to religiosity and spirituality; with the Neuroscience and Religious Cognition lab Jonathan explores the neural underpinnings of self-control, values, and religion; and with colleagues at exploringmyreligion.org, he is researching the complex dynamic between how we process information and how we live out our religiosity.
Here, he talks about his upcoming wedding, and how both science and religion are deepening his understanding and his experience of love.
Doug Hammack is the lead minister at North Raleigh Community Church, an unconventional minister leading a non-traditional church. Disillusioned with American Christianity after years in a mega-church, he started North Raleigh Community Church to seek out a better way. He and the community have worked hard to rework Christian life and retell the Christian story. He is also the author of the book Rethinking Our Story: Can We Be Christian in the Quantum Era?
In this video, he talks about how three physicists have enriched his faith by forcing him to rethink what “truth” truly is.
Hi, I’m Jonathan Morgan. I’m a Ph.D. student at Boston University, where I study psychology of religion.
So I think often the relationship between religion and science is pictured as really fraught, and just full of conflict. But I think it can help if we take it out of abstract terms and bring it down to a personal level, to experiences and values that we all might have.
So, for example, this coming summer, I’m going to be married to an amazing woman (hey, Mary Kate!), and our relationship and love are really important parts of my life. And I study psychology, which means I can think about this in terms of the biology of love. I can think about dopamine, estrogen, testosterone playing a role in the early attraction. And think about oxytocin, vasopresin, playing a role in long-term bonding. On a psychological level, I can talk about different attachment patterns, stages of development, and healthy behaviors that lead to a long, lasting relationship.
And I think all of this information is incredible, it’s wild that we know this stuff, and wonderful. It can lead to better lives and better relationships.
I’m also a religions studies scholar, which means I’m aware of religious traditions that describe love as the most powerful force in the universe, yet that is also paradoxically self-giving and humble. I read Muslim poets who are just wonder-drunk with their love for the cosmos and for God. I’m aware of the way religious traditions have crafted rituals that really tap into the power of a community coming together to witness two people committing to try and abide in this love.
I think that religion is incredibly effective at capturing this sort of mysterious contours and the power of love. And my point is just that either of these accounts — the religious account and the scientific account of love — are kind of hollow without the other one. Neither one by itself can really tap into the richness and depth of this experience of love that we all have.
So when I think of religion and science, I think of just these two traditions of inquiry that have different perspectives that can help each other, that can supplement each other, and shed important light on beautiful and important experiences that we all have.
My religion has been deeply affected by three physicists.
Bohr, Niels Bohr, taught me that the chair that I sit in isn’t solid. I sit in it, but it’s not solid. That taught me that the perceptions that I have that seemed so real, so solid, are often illusory. The reality that seemed so solid, isn’t.
Einstein taught me that my clock ticking way over here and yours over there are different, but both true, which taught me that my perceptions of reality are relative to where I’m standing when I have those perceptions.
Heisenberg taught me that uncertainty is baked right into reality. I can know where a particle is, but not how fast it’s going. So 50% of my reality is inaccessible to me at any given time. So it’s not just “not known,” it’s unknowable.
So truth, these scientists taught me, is not the way my religion taught me that truth is. Truth is often illusory, truth is relative to where I’m standing, and a lot of truth is inaccessible, and always will be. But the religion that I grew up told me that truth is fixed, that there is a one and true version of it, and that we had it. So there was some mystery in the religion I was taught, but very little uncertainty.
And so as a young man, I configured my religious life and my spiritual life accordingly. So you can imagine how disorienting it was to discover that the universe doesn’t work that way, doesn’t work the way my religion taught me that it did. So disorienting, in fact, that I was tempted (as many are) to abandon religion altogether.
But it’s turned out, through the years, that religion is quite amenable to uncertainty. So amenable to multiple dimension of truth, to fuzzy truth. In fact, the idea that truth is fixed, that truth is certain, that had actually been a limiting factor on my spiritual journey.
So these physicists have given me access to a spiritual journey that works with the idea of an ineffable, uncontainable, transcendent Divine. It has given a spiritual journey that has a God that is bigger that I can contain my fixed ideas. A Divine that is always morphing my understanding.
So rather than a fixed version of a one and true Truth, mine has become an always-deepening experience of a reality that is bigger than I can contain, which has served as an invitation to deeper and deeper experience of life and light and truth and goodness.
So what these scientists have given me is a gift. They have given me more allies and fewer enemies, because other truth-seeers, they see something that I don’t see, and vice versa, which has been deeply freeing and deepening. It has given me a much more profound experience of the Divine. So I’m grateful.
I’m grateful, and I’m enriched.