The Science & Spirituality Series Part 2: What Has Science Been Lacking?
I love having real, deep conversations about the interplay between spirituality and science. My hope is that this series of articles can open more of these spaces via the comments section and via the in-person conversations I hope it will inspire. You can find part 1 of this series here.
As long as you can engage respectfully, your thoughts and perspectives on these shares are very much welcomed and encouraged.
Can science explain everything, or are there truths beyond scientific understanding?
Frankly, I believe we still have a long way to go before we can answer this question. Although science has uncovered vast knowledge about our world, I believe a lot of its potential (even without expanding its current form) remains untapped.
And I trace that back to the fact that throughout history, the social activity of science has partially blinded itself, by excluding the experiences and perspectives of people who lacked power: such as those of people belonging to certain racial and ethnic groups, and those of women.
In this article, I will focus on the historic exclusion of women from scientific education and activity.
Though we’re much closer today to equal opportunity and equal treatment in scientific careers across genders, the issue of sexism in science is not yet resolved. For specific cases of historical exclusion, as well as instances of sexual harassment enduring to this day, you can check out the “Skeletons In The Science Closet – Real Sexism & Fake Skepticism” podcast episode I recorded with Craig Weiler: Youtube and Spotify.
"Dee Dee! Get out of my laboratory!". But in real life.
Centuries of expressly forbidding women from studying science or working as scientists left lasting blind spots and, as a consequence, some poorly drawn (and even dangerous) conclusions across the sciences, lingering to this day.
Traditionally, laboratory studies worked only with male lab rats. This was meant to give more standardised results, without scientists having to account for the hormonal life cycles of female rats.
That’s great for developing more predictable results. It’s not so great if you’re a female rat or, by extension, a female human being to whom lab results and field work are meant to apply. (source)
It’s now widely acknowledged that countless women with heart disease have been misdiagnosed in emergency rooms and sent home, possibly to die from heart attacks, because for decades what we know now wasn’t known: that they can exhibit different symptoms from men for cardiovascular disease. (source)
We landed the first person on the moon in 1969, but the anatomy and nerve pathways of the clitoris were only fully anatomically mapped in 1998 (by two women), with the full MRI of the clitoris only reported in 2005 (Kudos to one of my friends for pointing this out to me).
As to the historic scientific stance on the clitoris?
“In 1545, when we still believed the sun revolved around the earth, a French physician dissected the clitoris. Titling it “membre honteux,” or “the shameful member”, he deemed its single use urination. Prior to this ~groundbreaking~ discovery, a 1486 guide to finding witches declared that clitoral tissue on a woman was the indication of a witch. In the 16th century, Vesalius, “father of modern anatomy”, claimed the clitoris didn’t exist in healthy women and was only found among hermaphrodites.” (source)
Yeah, it is.
These views may sound silly now, and in hindsight, clearly informed by “lazy, antiquated stereotypes about what men and women are” (source). Yet, what were the real-life consequences of asserting that “clitoral tissue on a woman [is] the indication of a witch”?
They didn't call it a clitoris. Medical examiners called it a "devil's teat" (…) The belief that the clitoris fed the devil continued into the sixteenth century. In 1593, Alice Samuel was accused of witchcraft, stripped naked, and examined for the devil's teat. Unfortunately, the witch hunters found her clitoris, and Alice was hanged for witchcraft. (source)
There is much to suggest that the witch-hunters were no less scientific than those who opposed the belief in the existence of witches (…) the witch-hunters were practising bad science (…) We argue that the reason they [the witch-hunters] should be judged irrational has less to do with the direct relationship between their evidence and their theories, and more to do with the ways in which emotions like fear and hatred provided the context within which they interpreted the evidence available. (source)
In 2022, fear and hatred continue to fuel horrible acts of violence towards women and girls worldwide:
When we fail to confront them, stereotypes linger. The fear and hate they inspire, fester: poisoning how we think, how we treat one another, what – and who – ends up mattering in our eyes.
Across their lifetime, 1 in 3 women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner. (source)
Science has been developed against the backdrop of misogyny; misogyny which persists up to the 21st century.
This led to a crippled science. This tragic historical context is poisoning how we view the experiences of women and girls, what we perceive to be “normal” in the lives of women and girls, and what we envision to be possible for the lives of women and girls.
Women and girls are being pathologised, discredited, mocked, humiliated, gaslit and then diagnosed as mentally ill. Women are being told that their psychiatric disorders are so incurable that they would be better off euthanised. All the while, the ‘end mental health stigma’ brigade fail to understand the history and context of psychiatry, or the systems of oppression they are supporting. (Dr. Jessica Taylor, source)
So, coming back to the original question this article kicked off with –
“Can science explain everything?”
I don’t think so, no. Not in its current form.
Historically, science has been seen – and promoted – as an impartial, objective activity.
That objectivity is an illusion – science is a human activity, and as all human activities, it’s vulnerable to biases and stereotypes, personal and societal.
So instead of pretending scientists are immune to biases and stereotypes, we need to address them head on. Something that can help dissolve stereotypes is exposure to diverse environments. Furthermore:
“Science is a collective effort, and it works best when scientific communities are diverse. The reason is simple: heterogeneous communities are more likely than homogeneous ones to be able to identify blind spots and correct them.” (source)
In the next article, I will share more on how failing to identify and correct these blind spots can lead to dogmatic thinking in science, and some of the implications this has had on understanding spiritual experiences through a scientific lens.
To be continued!
Normal Is for Surviving, Abnormal Is for Thriving, and You Get To Have Both – A personal share about balancing science and spirituality in my own life.
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