The World Beyond Our Fives Senses
Science fiction cannot match weird happenings that occur to many of us. Yet we routinely dismiss them rather than face the wrath of our doubting friends and neighbors. Still, too, some scientists insist that the brain must be responsible for déjà vu sensations, forebodings of harm or death involving loved ones, and psychic abilities of some young children. These examples are but a few of the events that increasingly challenge medical science researchers to study. But academic funding goes to research proposals that avoid so-called religious or spiritual implications.
However, one noted theologian echoed a hope for strengthening the supposed bridge between science and religion. In his book Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief, the renowned world religions scholar Huston Smith makes four points in his Epilogue, “We Could Be Siblings Yet,” in which he describes a “distinctive sensibility” of “religious sense:”
What and Why?
First, “the religious sense recognizes instinctively that the ultimate questions human beings ask — What is the meaning of existence? Why are there pain and death? Why, in the end, is life worth living? What does reality consist of and what is its object? [These] are the defining essence of our humanity. They are not just speculative imponderables that certain people of inquisitive bent get around to asking after they have attended the serious business of working out strategies for survival. They are the determining substance of what makes human beings human.
Are Answers Possible?
Second, “[this] religious sense is visited by a desperate, at times frightening, realization of the distance between these questions and their answers. As the urgency of the questions increases, we see with alarming finality that our finitude precludes all possibility of our answering them.
Third, “the conviction that the questions have answers never wavers, however, and this keeps us from giving up on them. Though final answers are unattainable, we can advance toward them as we advance toward horizons that recede with our every step.
We Still Hope
Fourth, “finally, we conduct our search together — collectively, in congregations, as you [scientists] do in your laboratories and professional societies.”
Could Proof Forever Escape Science?
Obviously the common denominator for possible answers to existential questions is that proof may forever escape science — at least by traditional methods. Recognize that all experiences that are often called “paranormal” have typically been personal — until recently! Now group experiences are being reported. An example is Glimpses of Eternity: Sharing a Loved One’s Passage From This Life to the Next. But both individual and group events still must be classed as “experiential.”
A New Kind of Evidence
Fortunately, however, science is increasingly acknowledging the need to respect the value of “experiential” evidence. An online publication from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) entitled “Understanding Evidence Part 1: Best Available Research Evidence.” It defines experiential evidence: “This type of evidence is based on the professional insight, understanding, skill, and expertise that is accumulated over time.”
A Pure Mystery Defines Who We Are
“To better explain the scientific situation we find ourselves in, it is as if we have discovered a wholly new type of substance that we can neither account for nor even explain in terms of anything we have ever seen and dealt with before in science…it is a pure mystery we know exists and defines who we are.” These excerpts are from Sam Parnia’s 2013 book Erasing Death: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death.