*Toward a Fluid Dance in Seamless Dress: The Field of Pre- and Perinatal Development Challenges Researchers to Integrate Scientific and Spiritual Orientations
Axness, Marcy Wineman, Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health
ABSTRACT: Under exploration is the response of humankind to mystery relative to the historically sharp distinction between scientific and spiritual ways of knowing. The evolving image of a dancer in a half-male/half-female costume serves as a metaphor for the rapport between these two basic research orientations, and for how they might be reconciled-in the interest of both research and the researcher. Findings from the highly interdisciplinary field of prenatal and perinatal development illustrate the need for an integrated approach to understanding "reality". As Sir Ian McKellan notes, "With the eclipse of God by the advent and ascension of reason and science, there is no seeming tolerance for the unexplained, which in earlier centuries would have been relegated to 'the work of God'. Religion is the answer given in various cultures to those vulnerable areas of life that are not understood, the so-called Divine Mysteries."
There is a tango-dancer costume I have seen in which the wearer bears all evidence of being a man when seen from one perspective (sporting a dashing tux) and all evidence of being a woman when regarded from the opposite side (in her exotic red dress and stockings). I find this costume, and the dance made inside of it, a good working image for my understandings of the rapport between scientific and spiritual conceptual frameworks. Like a working title, a working image is a decent place to start, but it will likely need some added nuance, some tweaking, down the line.
The response of humankind to mystery, it seems to me, lies at the heart of this age-old dance. How comfortable are people as individuals, and as a society, existing without "bottom line" explanations for who they are, how they are, why they are? Historically, the comforting notion of "God's doing" once explained the deeper mysteries of life, those gaps of phenomena left unexplained by science (hence the term, "God of the gaps"1). However, as humankind progressed in its technology, education and sophistication, the large swaths of life unexplicated by medieval science became increasingly more difficult to discern; the "God-gap" narrowed with each growth-spurt of the upstart disciplines of empirical fact-finding and reality-defining, i.e., modern science. Whitehead's "God-shaped hole"2 was getting backfilled by men and women in lab coats.
What was happening to the experience of mystery in human life? Over the centuries since science sprouted the buds that now have become muscled, expert limbs, human beings have been deeply challenged either to embrace or abandon some primary and profound mysteries about themselves, their world, and their place in that world.
"In mystery," said Matthew Arnold, "our soul abides."3 Arnold is a fitting man to quote, since he was a leading poet and critic during the same time that Darwin was writing On the Origin of Species, which of course became not only his own landmark work but, with The Descent of Man, established a primary foundation of the modern scientific understanding of the human animal which lead to a century and a half of polarity between science and religion. Sadly, Darwin's evident internalization of that dichotomy, through which he felt he had to choose between a spiritual life and a scientific life, led him to write, twenty-five years later, that he had lost his enjoyment of the natural scenery, poetry, literature, and the music he once had loved: [M]y soul is too dried up to appreciate it as in old days. . . . I am a withered leaf for every subject except Science.4 Darwin felt he had become "a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of a large collection of facts."5
Darwin conjures for me the image of a man whose theory developed a potent and powerful life of its own, with which Darwin felt incapable of reconciling, throughout his later years, his growing ambivalence surrounding the subject of chance, God, and "this immense and wonderful universe."6 It is poignant to consider the limitations of thought from which Darwin despite all his brilliance and thoughtfulness seemingly suffered, in light of how some later theologians and scientists, via a process view of theology, would come to regard evolution as inherently and deeply imbued with the Divine. …