In our previous post we highlighted some interesting and in fact crucial questions posed by Prof Michael Sandel. What is a ‘social contract’? What are our rights and responsibilities? How do kindness, generosity and philanthropy benefit ourselves as well as others?
Today we’re asking what is the ultimate source of our values, and what inspires us to be virtuous in our day to day lives? Why do we strive to overcome egocentricity and to manage or even master our destructive emotions?
3Di will continue to stress the importance of our human ‘metaphysical’ intelligence which we prefer to call “Spiritual Intelligence” – even though the word ‘spiritual’ seems to be somewhat problematic for a lot of people. That’s OK – ‘metaphysical’ means the same thing. Although the word metaphysical is also problematic for a lot of people.
Of course some people prefer to avoid metaphysics altogether – and let’s face it, it’s not yet a subject in our national curriculum. It certainly ought to be. If it’s OK to talk with children about God then it’s OK and in fact necessary to talk with them about their sense of awe and wonder, a sense of the sublime, states of grace and feelings of transcendental bliss. Religious people frame these matters within a religious understanding and associate them with whatever they see as God. Spiritual intelligence is NOT, however, the exclusive preserve of people of faith.
The following thoughts were inspired last weekend by an article in the Observer newspaper –
As human knowledge expands, some claim science has the answer to the deep questions in life. But what of the mystery of existence?
Jeff Forshaw is professor at the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Manchester.
In this article Professor Forshaw stakes out the middle ground between the hard-core physical scientists who take an atheist stance and tend to ridicule the idea of a ‘spirit’ or a ‘soul’, and their opponents who claim that God alone was the creator of the universe and everything it.
As a scientist, I like to feel as if I am exploring a cosmic mystery of the greatest significance. I am awestruck by the beauty that saturates the laws of physics and suppose that what I am doing is rather more than merely helping to solve an elaborate crossword puzzle. Or perhaps I am just too optimistic – brashly engaging in an ultimately futile attempt to lift my spirits in the face of a meaningless and eternal oblivion.
By overstating science’s power and not acknowledging its limitations, we risk fostering the growth of a religion-substitute, with the scientists as high priests.
The questions that science can tackle are nonetheless limited in scope. For most people, the deep questions of science do not shape their lives. For example, science does not touch on whether the universe has any point to it and it cannot even hope to answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing.
Awestruck as I am by the laws of physics, no amount of wishful thinking can allow me to make the mistake of supposing that a law by itself can ever create anything. In addition to being unable to conjure up material existence, the laws of physics cannot create meaning either.
The importance of science lies not only in fighting ignorance and the building of better theories – it is important too because of the way it inspires glory and wonder. In that regard, at least, science and religion are united.
So why is 3Di so sure that we all possess spiritual or metaphysical intelligence? Our view is that this is the only possible source of our values, and the ultimate force that inspires us to understand and practice human virtues. Whether or not this ‘source’ and this ‘force’ is God-given or God-created seems relatively unimportant – simply a matter of belief, if you like, which some of us feel is necessary in our lives and some do not. What actually matters is that spiritual intelligence exists, it’s a key intelligence, and like all the other intelligences it can be nurtured and developed. In fact it must be nurtured and developed if we’re to become the best people we can be, and able to work together to create the societies and civilisations we aspire to having. How else can we respect and honour this incredible planet we happen to live on in this amazing universe?
Of course there are those among us whose values are worse than neanderthal, and would happily use clubs and spears to make their way in the world if they could get away with it. [With respect to Neanderthals – who may well have lived in sophisticated and spiritual groups and used weapons only for defence and for hunting.] These days the worst elements in our societies use techniques for pursuing their spiritually-barren agendas that are somewhat more sophisticated and for the most part are unlikely to land them in prison, although there are plenty of crooks who overstep the mark and actually violate the law as well as dishonour the spirit of the law. These are the people who lack spiritual intelligence. Some of them are psychopaths whose brains seem to lack the capacity for spiritual values and the practice of virtues. For the most part, however, these are people who are low in spiritual intelligence because their education has been inadequate and their teachers have failed them – often both at home and at school.
Spiritually barren homes and schools are difficult and potentially dangerous places which do society no good whatsoever. The big question is, what do we do about them? Let every school think carefully about how it provides for the development of spiritual intelligence – the development of values and virtues – in everything it does, and let every parent also think seriously about the values and virtues they pass on to their children.
Atheists, people of faith, scientists, teachers and parents – we can surely all work together to ensure that future generations grow up with a healthy and strong spiritual or metaphysical intelligence that can act as a guiding and balancing force for our intellects, our instincts, our personal desires and needs, and our relationships.