philosophy, science theory, spirituality

Darwin and Chopra’s Pick Up Basketball Game

Written by Lee Schneider, founder of DocuCinema.

Comments on last week’s 500 Words ran the spectrum from “you freaked out Dad,” to “I’m concerned about your mental state.” It got me thinking about which side I was on in the science-spirit game.

bball_5_04610009Say you’re on West 4th Street in NY. You’re choosing sides for a pickup ball game between the New York Logics and the California Intuitives. The guy leaning on the fence has a great jump shot and is obsessed with hard data. He goes to the Logics. The guy in three point land always makes the right move without thinking about it. He’ll play for the Intuitives. Easy choices? Before I push the basketball metaphor and tear a ligament, consider a crossroads I found myself in a few years ago.

I was making a documentary for the History Channel about the Shroud of Turin, interviewing investigators who wanted proof that the Shroud was the true burial cloth of Jesus. One reputable researcher told me, “if you do the experiment that way, you don’t get the result you want.” The result you want? I realized the guy was no longer a scientist even though he called himself one. He wasn’t playing for the Logics. He’d been traded to the Believers. Thing is, however, other Believers have been pretty good scientists. Francis Bacon, originator of the scientific method, was a Believer. Isaac Newton worked on biblical numerology when he wasn’t working with calculus. This is where the dividing line gets fuzzy.

Charles Darwin was cozy with the Church. According to a piece in Seed Magazine Darwin was close friends with his local pastor, John Brodie Innes. They served on various committees and church-funded groups, including the Sunday School. “We often differed,” Darwin wrote to Innes, “but you are one of those rare mortals, from whom one can differ & yet feel no shade of animosity.”

Innes wrote of Darwin: “He is a most accurate observer, and never states anything as a fact which he has not most thoroughly investigated … He follows his own course as a Naturalist and leaves Moses to take care of himself.” Walking in this crossroads of science and spirit you might encounter Deepak Chopra, who seems a little pissed off at science lately. Dr. Chopra recently wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, an article reprinted on, about what he calls science’s “diabolical creativity.” The atom bomb, Thalidomide, DDT and hormone-injected meat are all on Dr. Chopra’s “Bad Science” list. He says scientists shouldn’t act like they are above morality.

That’s a tough one. You place limits on research and the free flow of ideas isn’t so free any more. This sort of action produces not Bad Science but Bad Religion: Believers vs. Infidels, Crusades, Holy Wars, regimes that suppress the rights of women. Moral absolutes might feel good to some but do they help investigators get at the truth?

Maybe, in truth, the truth is blurry. Creationists hate Darwin, but in truth he was involved in Church affairs because he knew it was good for the community. Truth is Chopra thinks from the heart, but he has years of medical training and has a scientific mind.

What team do you play for? Or do we need to choose up sides at all?

Stay curious and see you next Thursday.


5 thoughts on “Darwin and Chopra’s Pick Up Basketball Game

  1. Jeff Schneider says:

    It is possible, although I can’t prove it, that you’re having too much fun writing this!

    Bear in mind that the true scientist plays for the seekers – actually driven by the desire for knowledge and understanding. It’s those guys playing for power that may take that knowledge and try to extort advantage from it. The scientist has no interest in building the bomb, just in proving whether it would work or not.

    • Thanks for your comment! It’s true that the pure science scientists are driven by the opportunity to peek under the hood of the universe to see if they can discover how it works. Many great things have come of this. But their work gets morally muddy when there is an outward force, such as war, driving the investigation. Example: the atom bomb. Even before World War II there was an established scientific passion and effort to grasp the atomic weak and strong forces holding matter together. But this rather abstract work became urgent toward the end of WW2, when scientists like Einstein and Teller realized that the Russians were going to get their own bomb into production. I once screened a tape of Edward Teller talking about this and was totally won over by his compelling arguments for the bomb and why it saved the world. It was a classic example of scientists (and nations) playing for power. But as situational ethics, it worked for me, which was kind of scary. Teller was a fascinating power player anyway.

  2. Lotta says:

    I love your first blog-entries, Lee! I converted a long time ago to the intuitives, but I still operate primarily in the world of the logics. Having that said, I refuse to have to make that choice. I need to operate in both worlds to be happy and I believe this blog can act as a crucial bridge-builder between the worlds/teams. My uncle, a Professor in Astronomy (not Astrology;-)) has told me that most astronomers turn religious/spiritual after doing a gazillion mathematical calculations on the stars and still ending up with more questions than answers. Finally, Newton believed that any true science had to be experienced instead of just observed. I concur. I believe it’s time for the teams to learn from one another…

  3. Lotta, thanks for commenting! I’m looking forward to keeping up this conversation. E.O. Wilson is a scientist I want to cover in later writing – a great example of a scientist who sees the spiritual side of his work.

  4. Peter says:

    There are no “pure” scientists nor “pure” spiritualists. Who can separate themselves from innate human traits, e.g. ego and bias (certainly Deepak has never checked his ego nor his appreciation for money at the door)? Raw data gets processed towards an intended outcome and even “unbiased observation” is in fact biased by the observer (sorry Darwin).

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