Nir Lahav explains what secular spirituality is, and how one can get along very well even without religion and New Age and still feel that we have contributed something in our lives * On Shavuot Eve Lahav will hold a secular 'Tikon Shavuot'
My name is Nir Lahav, I am doing a doctorate in physics on the subject of brain research and I give a series of lectures in the name of science and the study of reality to the general public at movie theaters throughout the country. I am active in the Israeli skeptics organization and in general in science communication. A few years ago I happened to be at the World Atheist Conference in Australia. I really enjoyed it there, I liked that they don't limit themselves only to the subject of scientific skepticism but understand the value contexts that accompany it such as the importance of freedom, equality and liberalism in general. Pretty quickly I came to the conclusion that something is missing both in the organization of skeptics and to a lesser extent in the organizations of atheism - we only "destroy" without building something new.
On the same topic on the science website:
- Nir Lahav/Dea - Why do we need secular spirituality?
- Nir Lahav/Is it possible to have a secular spirituality?
- The divine particle is blocked for the ultra-Orthodox
It is very important to develop a skeptical mindset and it is very important to differentiate between what is real and what is not, but we have to remember that in this way we usually only destroy people's beliefs when they realize that they have done scientific tests and found that there is no real basis for their beliefs. It's quite hard to see how almost every New Age or alternative medicine claim doesn't stand up to the test, but this is the truth. On the other hand, the meaning is very important for human development. We as conscious beings know that in the end we will die and we know that we have tremendous potential and therefore we are looking for how to develop and what to do with our finitude and with the meaninglessness that surrounds us. We are looking for meaning and therefore in my opinion after the demolition something new should be built - meaning should be offered to man based on science and rationalism. I don't think as secularists we put enough effort into creating an alternative. How should one live and how can one reach happiness and meaning even when following the scientific and secular path?
That's why I decided to take the initiative and do it. The name I chose for this is "secular spirituality". I know, a somewhat problematic name, but still... the idea is to show how it is possible to reach a way of life that has meaning and values without the need for gods, New Age or religion. I take secularism in the broadest possible sense - not only is there no infinite intelligent being who created the world, but there is also no first intention and desires in nature. Nature is completely indifferent. Nevertheless, even under these conditions, it is possible to reach personal meaning and spirituality without resorting to mysticism. Just looking at the awe-inspiring beauty of the universe can for example lead to meaning and spiritual experiences without the need for a creator, intention or purpose.
But first of all the question arises, is there even a connection between science and society and between science and values and spirituality?
With the help of science we try to discover facts about the world and thus progress in understanding the reality around us. And really within a few hundred years since the beginning of modern science, we have been able to progress in understanding the universe around us in a fast and impressive way. Science is so effective thanks to the scientific method developed in the last few centuries. At the base of the scientific method is skepticism. To doubt everything and let nature tell us what is true and what is not with the help of an experiment. But is there a connection between science and values and between science and spirituality?
Many will argue that science is not related to social questions and certainly not to values and spirituality. Indeed, science is not about values. A scientific fact that I have discovered does not mean anything of value as long as I have not given it an interpretation. But the situation is not so simple.
We always give interpretations to scientific facts, whether we like it or not. Take for example the theory of evolution. Look at how many interpretations and discussions have developed over the last 150 years because there is a common ancestor between man and chimpanzee. It must not be ignored that as thinking human beings we immediately ask "wait what does this mean?"
What does it mean, for example, about my place in the world and the location of animals if I am descended from animals.
By interpretations of scientific facts I mean that there are consequences for all kinds of different fields to the dry facts we discover and our responsibility is to address the entirety of these consequences. The mechanism of natural selection, for example, mechanistically explains the development of life, without the need for a creator and a master planner. This has consequences for the religion that tried to show in a logical way that we owe God because otherwise how could such a complex life develop (the argument of the watchman for those who know). The discovery of natural selection challenges this argument and shows how complex life evolves from less complex life without the need for an intelligent director. Thus, a dry fact is no longer dry because it has implications for other issues.
It is impossible to ignore the interpretations of the scientific facts and the fact that the discoveries have consequences. Instead, it is useful to give philosophical interpretations that are based on the scientific facts we have discovered. Interpretations that can provide a person with answers to the questions of how to live and how to reach meaning. Since the seventies, by the way, scientists like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dent and more have been trying to do this.
Not only should we not ignore interpretations of scientific facts, but we should also pay attention to the fact that there is a connection between science and values at the level of the scientific method. ZA not at the level of collected facts but at the philosophical level that asks how science works and what are the conditions for scientific investigation to succeed.
For example, in order for there to be a scientific investigation at all, the truth must be placed as an important value to strive for. Otherwise, someone could argue that it is more important for him to feel happy and not the question of what is the truth. He has no problem believing something that is not true just because it makes him feel good. This is fine, as long as we have not placed the truth as a value that is more important to us than other values, such as happiness or meaning.
The problem is that if the truth is not an important value, then it doesn't matter how the person was created for example, each society will invent its favorite story and we will not be able to move towards understanding the real reality in which we live. Instead we will live in illusions.
Therefore the scientific method assumes, perhaps implicitly, that the search for truth is among the most important values. For this reason, the proposal of secular spirituality also starts from the pursuit of truth and only then tries to show that it is possible to reach meaning and happiness even then. Beyond that, the idea in secular spirituality would be to show that it is precisely the pursuit of understanding the truth that can give the greatest meaning.
But let's get back to science, more values emerge from the scientific method. For example, the assumption that man can at all explore and understand nature (and does not need, for example, the help of the Holy Scriptures). If there is not this value of faith in man's ability to understand the reality around him, there is no point in starting and doing science at all. There are several other values that connect to these basic values, for example, in order for scientific investigation to be most effective, every person should be given the ability to investigate. Without freedom to explore, I think science will go away. Without freedom of expression and freedom of research, the scientific method will not be able to operate smoothly and successfully, once censorship and other subjective influences are allowed to prevail over the laws that guide the method. Furthermore, in science ideas undergo changes, fight for their existence and the best (according to the scientific method) wins, so it is clear that the freedom to hypothesize in science, and the freedom to attack models before they are accepted as reliable scientific theory, is necessary. This means, for example, that a pluralistic and even liberal environment in its approach is a basic condition for good and unbiased scientific research. If women have reservations about expression, women will have reservations about skeptical thinking and thus we will destroy the whole system. The claim here is not only that science will flourish under conditions of freedom of expression and equal opportunities, but that without freedom and equal opportunities science will slowly decline until it disappears. ZA that the scientific method implicitly demands values of freedom and equal opportunities for every person, regardless of who they are.
And really, historically, the scientific revolution gave birth to the Enlightenment that paid attention to the values that underlie the scientific method. Modern democracy, liberalism and human rights developed out of the Enlightenment movement. The French Revolution and the US Constitution are examples of this (for more information on the subject: the book Introduction to Modern Philosophy by Professor Yosef Agassi). Historically, we see the strong connection between the scientific method and liberal and humanistic values.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the USA and drafters of the US Constitution, is a classic example of the Enlightenment period in which there is a connection between science and society. He was a statesman, inventor and scientist. The picture reproduces Franklin's famous experiment in which he tied an iron key to a kite and flew it into the sky during a lightning storm. This is how he tried to show that lightning is indeed electricity.
Because it is necessary to take into account the consequences of the scientific facts and because there is some connection between science and values, there is no need to be afraid and to suggest, relying on the scientific method and based on scientific facts, a recommended way of life for a person. Scientific skepticism is very important, it is the best way we have found so far how to know what is true and what is not. But it has consequences. It can destroy the beliefs and meaning of others. If, for example, it turns out that you believe in something that is not true, then according to the value of truth, you should stop believing in it. So, if we destroy beliefs that turn out to be incorrect, then now we also have to offer an alternative. In my opinion it is our responsibility to know not only to question but also to build something new based on the scientific method and expanding it. Just as we expect others to show depth and responsibility and check the truth of the things they hear, so too we need to show depth and responsibility and build a scientific interpretation that will suggest to a person how he should behave and how he can achieve meaning in his life. The call here is to return to the path of enlightenment and continue with it in a way adapted to the 21st century to create a proposal for a complete way of life worthy of a person.
Such an alternative should be based on the imposition of doubt and therefore it should be without mysticism, without infinite intelligent beings who created reality, without a nature with intention, purpose and desires, without absolute meaning, without coercion, without saints and without fixed dogmas that must not be challenged. Secular spirituality is the alternative we try to offer in this group. It does not derive directly from scientific skepticism or the scientific method, but is based on it and adds to it. It is important mainly because if the value of truth is important to us then we need to show how it is possible to reach meaning given this scientific skepticism. How to reach meaning and even spirituality given the truth.
Tikun Shavuot as a sign of secular spirituality
Those who would like to delve deeper into the subject of secular spirituality, Tikkun Shavuot as a sign of secular spirituality. A complete evening of learning into the night that combines lectures and activities on the topic of secular spirituality:
Tuesday 3.6.14, Shavuot evening at a sustainable bar
The correction will begin at 21:00 and will continue into the wee hours of the night in "Bar Kaima" (a place for a tribe) edited by Nir Lahav (founder of a secular spirituality group and the science and research of reality lecture series).
Entrance price: 20 NIS
sustainable (a place for a tribe)
22 Mashbir St. Tel Aviv
For schedule updates, see the event on Facebook -
Tikun Shavuot on the subject of secular spirituality
Look for us also in a secular spirituality group on Facebook