Is there an imperative



Surprisingly, I think there is. I set out looking for some, any, objectively1 supported moral values. The simple question was, is there any objective way to determine that one decision, action or behaviour is in some sense better or worse that another? Most philosophical or religious moral and ethical systems start from assertions that are taken to be ‘natural’ or ‘self-evident’. I challenged those assumptions because it seemed to me that what one person or culture sees as natural or self-evident is not necessarily what another person sees as natural or self-evident.

At first it was discouraging to find survival, of the individual and also the species, as an emergent value.2 To find randomness and uncertainty so central to the universe was profoundly disturbing.

To realise that our human unprogrammed social behaviour is also an emergent structure with survival value, reinstated all those moral and social values that I did not find in the rest of the universe.

A second important realisation was the relativity of this view: relative because it is necessarily a human viewpoint and relative because it is a personal viewpoint. Relativity allows both variety and validity, but places absolute values out of the domain of discourse. Absolutes might exist (there are a few, a very few, in science) but they are not usually relevant to ordinary every day living.


At this point I see no inherent conflict between Science and Religion, but my image of the nature of a God has changed radically from the medieval idea of a white bearded man on a golden throne somewhere above the clouds minutely controlling the world for my benefit.

Now I see God as an entity with two very different faces, not unlike the two very different faces of my inner and outer person. One face I see in the physical and natural world. I know God through nature as I know an artist or a scientist through their work. I know God also through the behaviour of other people.

The other face of God is the person, other than myself, that I experience subjectively and spiritually.3 This face I experience as I experience my inner self.

To know and understand God I must study and understand the physical, biological and physiological world around me. I must also look inwardly at the person that I am or at least that I believe myself to be and at that other benevolent and supportive guiding entity that I recognise as the inner face of God.4

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+3 What does Science have to contribute to Quakerism?
Fundamentally science is a method for finding out the truth about the physical (and chemical and biological and social) world in which we live. It does his by building theories, making predictions and testing them in a controlled way either in a laboratory or in the field. The theories are always tentative and only accepted and believed until they are proved to be wrong. The facts gained and the theories constructed form a body of knowledge that can be trusted and relied upon to a known extent.

Notice the spiritual words used here: truth, trust, belief, reliability. They are all about out subjective experience of the world. The idea of knowledge, theory and testing can be explored in the subjective world of spiritual experience.

Since we live in and are part of the real physical world, it seems reasonable to allow the knowledge gained by scientific enquiry that pertains to human behaviour and experience to bear upon our personal thoughts and feelings. This will enrich our mystical experience understanding.

In my view, admitting science into our spirit opens the possibility of learning, teaching, education in spiritual matters and, more importantly, in our personal behaviour patterns and social relationships. A mystical approach does not have this same power.

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