Saturday, June 20, 2009

Who Are Your Scientist Heroes of Faith?

A new Twitter friend asked me a question the other day, somewhat innocently I suppose: "Who are your scientist heroes of faith?" In other words, who are the scientists who have managed to integrate their scientific lives and spiritual lives and, in so doing, inspired me in my own quest to do the same?

I had to think a long time about this question because, alas, there weren't many. Or any, if truth be told (which it always should be).

There are scientists who write about science and either spiritual or religious topics, of course. Examples include John Polkinghorne, David Bohm, Fritjof Capra, Ken Wilbur, Arthur Peacocke and Francis Collins.

However, I find the writings of many of these scientists (with the exception of Peacocke and Collins) to be dull and uninspiring and I can't say that I consider any of them to be one of my "heroes." Peacocke's ideas are more interesting than the others (to me) but none of them have inspired me in the way a true "hero" would.

It isn't that I can't name people who have inspired me. I do have heroes and heroines. Carl Sagan, Lynn Margulis, Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong are just a few who lead my list of heroes and heroines.

You might be surprised to see Carl Sagan, an avowed agnostic, on my list, but he was fearless in his pursuit of basic questions about our place in the universe and his work has inspired millions. Merely hearing the opening bars of the Cosmos theme song can spark something like a religious experience for many of us.

Lynn Margulis, who happened to be Sagan's first wife, was also fearless in her pursuit of a theory of life that became known through her work with collaborator James Lovelock as the Gaia Hypothesis. I have closely followed her work, not only because it is extremely interesting from a scientific point of view, but because of her tenacity in pursuit of the truth, even if it upset accepted scientific hypotheses.

Joseph Campbell is on my list for much the same reason as Sagan, although he taught us that we had only to look inside ourselves to see the same majestic universe Sagan saw through his telescopes. And Karen Armstrong, not a scientist at all, but a person who exemplifies the essence of scholarship as a way to know the divine. I never tire of reading what she writes and have every single one of her books.

Who are your scientist heroes or heroines of faith? How do they inspire and lead? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

8 comments:

  1. Joanna Macy, if you can stretch "faith" to include Buddhism

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  2. Yes, a great addition. I love Joanna Macy's work. Thanks, Michael!

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  3. I'd suggest that many scientists who aren't religious, theist, or "of faith" have actives spiritual lives, as well.

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  4. Yes, Mary - so true, and you raise a good point about semantics. The question was posed to me as being about "scientists of faith." This could be interpreted as "religious" but faith doesn't have to be synonymous with theism or religion. Active spiritual lives are, as you say, the key.

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  5. Posted for Sue:

    Tried twice to comment (first time cookies were off) but no luck.
    in the science camp my heros are pierre teilhard de chardin, william james, and neil theise (a liver pathologist, kabbalah student, and long-time meditator). in the broader category of intellectuals of faith are aldous huxley and my current fave, thomas merton.

    sue borchardt
    www.contemplatethis.org

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  6. I would say Raima Larter! And some others I know personally. Candace Pert.

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  7. Aw, geez, Janice - now I'm blushing! :) Thanks for stopping by....

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  8. alfred e. wallace, co-presenter of the theory of natural selection w/ chas. darwin. i don't agree w/ all of wallace's views on spirituality, but he was an honest seeker after truth.

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