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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: and his YouTube channel.



The Integral Foundation of Religion and Science

Joseph Dillard

In this essay I will make the case that most of the conflicts among competing theories regarding the relationship between religion and science dissolve when they are approached through an appropriate moral lens.

Frank Visser's essay as a catalyst for this assessment

We can conclude that morality, rather than higher states of consciousness, is fundamental to religion.

Thanks is due Frank Visser for creating his well-organized ChatGPT assessment of important contemporary theoretical positions on the relationship between science and religion. Chatbots have the advantages of both thoroughness and succinctness. They regularly bring up perspectives and considerations that I have not thought of. Therefore, I find such assessments both insightful and helpful.

Reading over these fundamentally different positions between science and religion provoked me to ask, “How does my own perspective fit in?” “What is my framing in relationship to these various perspectives?” Visser's essay has generated a greater degree of clarity for me regarding my assumptions, so that I can assess their validity, keeping those which make sense and have utility while jettisoning those that do not. My reason for sharing my own response is to encourage you, the reader, to continue that process for yourself, by accessing yet more grist for the mill regarding this important question—the relationship between science and religion.

Why the relationship between science and religion matters[1]

The relationship between science and religion is important for philosophical, cultural, educational, societal, and spiritual reasons. Both provide comprehensive understandings of worldviews. Science does so by providing a framework for understanding the natural world through empirical evidence, observation, and experimentation. It seeks to explain the "how" of natural phenomena. Religion does so by addressing the "why" questions related to meaning, purpose, and ethics. It provides a moral and spiritual framework for interpreting human existence and the universe. A harmonious relationship between science and religion can lead to a more comprehensive worldview, where scientific understanding and spiritual insights complement each other, enriching human experience.

As Wilber makes clear, the distinction between science and religion is a relatively recent development, largely a product of the 18th century European “enlightenment.” And even thereafter, scientific pioneers were deeply religious, like Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, and Gregor Mendel, who saw their work as exploring the wonders of creation from a deistic or theistic perspective.

Religion has historically provided ethical frameworks and moral guidance that have influenced scientific research and application. Issues like genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and environmental conservation raise ethical questions that benefit from religious and philosophical perspectives. For example, the Catholic Church's teachings influenced the moral and ethical considerations of scientists like Galileo and Copernicus during the Scientific Revolution. The Hippocratic Oath outlines guidelines for medical practice, including principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, patient confidentiality, informed consent, protection of human subjects, and the ethical use of medical technology. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, teach principles of stewardship, emphasizing humanity's responsibility to care for and protect the natural world. Religious teachings on stewardship have influenced environmental ethics, prompting discussions on sustainable development, conservation efforts, and the ethical implications of scientific advancements in areas such as genetic engineering and climate change mitigation. Religious traditions also often emphasize the sanctity and dignity of human life, influencing ethical considerations in genetic research and biotechnology. Debates on issues such as embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and gene editing have been informed by religious perspectives on the moral status of embryos, the boundaries of human intervention in nature, and the potential risks and benefits of scientific advancements.

Religious teachings on compassion, justice, and community responsibility have inspired charitable land humanitarian efforts, including the establishment of hospitals, clinics, and social service organizations. Religious institutions have played significant roles in addressing public health challenges, promoting healthcare access, advocating for social justice, and providing moral guidance on issues such as poverty, inequality, and access to healthcare.

Many scientific organizations and research institutions have developed codes of conduct and ethical guidelines for researchers, drawing on principles of integrity, honesty, transparency, and respect for human dignity. Religious teachings on virtues such as honesty, integrity, and respect for human life have influenced the development and implementation of ethical standards in scientific research, fostering responsible conduct and accountability among scientists.

By integrating religious values and ethical principles, scientists have been prompted to consider the broader societal and ethical implications of their work, leading to more responsible and ethically grounded scientific practice. Collaboration between scientific progress and religious ethics can ensure that technological and scientific advancements serve the greater good and respect human dignity and the environment.

Integrating discussions of science and religion in educational curricula fosters critical thinking and open-mindedness. Students learn to appreciate different perspectives and develop a nuanced understanding of complex issues. Promoting dialogue between science and religion encourages mutual respect and tolerance. It helps bridge gaps between different communities and reduces conflicts arising from misunderstandings or perceived incompatibilities. For many individuals, both scientific inquiry and religious belief contribute to a sense of wonder, curiosity, and fulfillment. Balancing scientific and spiritual dimensions can lead to a more holistic personal development. In diverse societies, fostering a respectful and collaborative relationship between science and religion can promote social cohesion.

Spiritual reasons why the relationship between science and religion are important

Religion often addresses fundamental questions about the purpose of life, the nature of existence, and humanity's place in the universe. Science, by expanding our understanding of the natural world, can provide a foundation upon which religious and spiritual insights build a more profound sense of meaning. For many, integrating scientific discoveries with spiritual beliefs leads to a more unified understanding of reality. This synthesis can help individuals feel that their intellectual pursuits and spiritual quests are part of a coherent whole. The natural world, as revealed by science, can inspire profound awe and wonder, which are deeply spiritual experiences. Understanding the complexity and beauty of the universe can enhance one's appreciation of a higher power or the divine. While science explains many natural phenomena, it also reveals the vastness of what is yet unknown. This sense of mystery can deepen spiritual reverence and a sense of the transcendent, encouraging humility and a recognition of the limits of human understanding.

Religion provides moral and ethical frameworks that guide human behavior. When informed by scientific understanding, these ethical principles can be applied more effectively to contemporary issues, such as bioethics, environmental stewardship, and social justice. Scientific insights into issues like climate change or public health can evoke a moral and spiritual call to action, rooted in religious teachings about caring for creation and loving one's neighbor. Engaging with both science and religion can foster personal growth and transformation. Scientific understanding can encourage critical thinking and curiosity, while religious practices can nurture compassion, inner peace, and a sense of connectedness.

Many religious traditions emphasize mindfulness and contemplation, which can be complemented by scientific studies on meditation, mental health, and well-being, promoting a balanced and fulfilling life. Religious communities often provide support, a sense of belonging, and a framework for communal life. When these communities embrace scientific knowledge, they can address practical needs and challenges more effectively, fostering solidarity and collective resilience.

Science and religion together can reinforce shared values, such as the pursuit of truth, the importance of compassion, and the commitment to justice, thereby strengthening communal bonds and cooperation. For individuals who feel a spiritual calling to scientific work, integrating their faith with their professional life can be deeply fulfilling. Seeing scientific research as a form of spiritual service or stewardship can imbue their work with greater purpose and dedication. Spiritual beliefs can inspire scientists to pursue their work with passion and commitment, driven by a sense of higher purpose and the desire to contribute to the greater good.

How is the relationship between science and religion relevant for Wilber's Integral AQAL?

Integrating religious and scientific perspectives allows for a more holistic understanding of human experience. Both science and religion contribute to human development by offering frameworks for understanding the world and guiding ethical behavior. Integrating scientific and religious perspectives helps map the complex terrain of human growth across different dimensions. While science primarily focuses on the exterior “It” and “Its” quadrants, studying objective phenomena and collective systems, religion often addresses the interior “I” and “We” quadrants, exploring subjective experiences and collective beliefs. Integrating science and religion allows for a more balanced analysis that considers both subjective and objective aspects of reality, leading to a more holistic understanding of human experience.

In addition, science and religion both play significant roles in shaping values, ethics, and cultural norms. Integrating scientific and religious perspectives helps identify shared values and principles that can inform ethical decision-making and promote cultural harmony and understanding.

Integral AQAL encourages a "transcend and include" approach, which means transcending limited perspectives while also including their insights in a larger framework. By transcending the perceived conflict between science and religion and including their complementary insights, Integral AQAL fosters a more inclusive and integrative worldview that honors the richness of human experience.

How do we deal with these multiple conflicting positions?

In Visser's essay, ChatGPT differentiates eight distinct perspectives on the relationship between science and religion:

  1. conflict,
  2. independence,
  3. dialogue,
  4. integration,
  5. complementarity,
  6. fusion,
  7. scientism
  8. religious scientism.

Each has its legitimate purposes and applications. However, to so note risks a descent into a tepid mish-mash of theoretical relativism and post-modern contextualism, due to the relativizing of the usefulness and validity of these different perspectives. This is a conceptual danger and potential drawback of multi-perspectivalism. Still, to recognize the important and legitimate contributions of each perspective is to take as a starting point an integral position of cognitive multi-perspectivalism.

Once that basic position is established it is important to point out that some perspectives are more relevant/legitimate than others, based on what needs, intentions, and assumptions are preeminent. The problem here, of course, is that we are very rarely aware of, much less clearly enunciate, the assumptions that underlie our preferred perspective on the relationship between science and religion. When we do not surface and table our biases, we are easily driven by prepersonal motives, beliefs, and assumptions that we defend as rational, if not trans-rational. This is a common but quite understandable error, and indeed, quite difficult to avoid. How exactly are we to completely surface the subjective factors that generate our preferences and beliefs? We can try; we can work at it. However, those who speak with dogmatic confidence out of the belief that they have successfully done so are likely fooling themselves while creating an echo chamber of similarly deluded groupthink. Therefore, I approach the determination of the “best” approach to understanding the relationship between science and religion with both a lack of confidence and some degree of humility.

Being a WILP (my term for a Western Integral Liberal Progressive) myself, I am on the whole biased toward Wilber's conclusions—to err on the side of multi-perspectivalism and “holism,” aligning with both the integration and dialogue theses. However, I differ in some significant ways that I want to explain, in hopes of receiving feedback from you about how you digest my conclusions and perspective.

What is most central and valuable about religion?

I differ with Wilber on what is most valuable and essential about religion, and this is important in terms of just what we are comparing and contrasting when we talking about the relationship between science and religion. Wilber focuses on spirituality as the core of religion, and within spirituality, its transpersonal and mystical aspects. These are the aspects of religion Wilber emphasizes in his The Religion of Tomorrow (TROT), his most recent exposition on religion, as of this date.

In TROT, Wilber goes to great lengths to explain the nature of subtle, causal, and non-dual mystical states and to correlate them with similar levels of transpersonal development, leaving the strong impression that he predicts human evolution into these states. These state openings eventually turn into levels of stable development. That is for Wilber the future of religion.

I have significant questions regarding that vision of human evolutionary unfoldment. Where is the evidence that accessing these mystical states generate evolution into corresponding transpersonal stages? I can make a case that doing so moves us forward in the line Wilber calls “spiritual intelligence” and even the “self-system” line, since we tend to identify with that self that experiences transpersonal experiences. I can also support Wilber's contention that enlightenment is associated with high development on the cognitive line, based on his premise that “the cognitive line leads” in individual development.

However, is there any necessary or inherent correlation between advancement in these lines, and/or mystical experiences, and morality? Wilber clearly believes that there is. He thinks access to these higher states is correlated with greater compassion and a greater likelihood that we will “wake up, grow up, clean up, and show up.” I ask, “Where is the evidence that this is more than “hopium” or wishful thinking?

Wilber insists that the empiricism of the “Eye of Spirit” demonstrates, based on the consensual testimony of those who have had mystical experiences and who rate high on the lines of cognition, self-system, and spiritual intelligence, that such individuals are also moral actors. However, where is the evidence of this conclusion, particularly in the face that a number of “enlightened” individuals highly praised by Wilber, who have been exposed as being morally flawed? Are they exceptions? Are they just “rude boys?” Are they simply using upaya, “skill in means,” from an enlightened perspective reflecting an Absolute Truth that transcends the province of social norms? This is the interpretation conveyed by my reading of Wilber's perspective.

Has Wilber ever effectively addressed the issue that those who he pronounces as “enlightened” can still be immoral or amoral? His most valiant attempt is to defend their transpersonal level of development while ascribing their immoral behavior to a “dominator” rather than a “growth” hierarchy within some high level of development. In effect, the “shadow” side of a high level of development has shown its ugly face, but that doesn't change the fact that overall, in terms of level of development, these people are actually of high transpersonal development. Really? Is that a realistic and accurate interpretation?

Well, yes and no. It depends on who you ask and who is and is not affected by unscrupulous behavior. If you are a True Believer, that is, a member of some ingroup that wants and needs to believe that people, groups, and nations remain at a high level of development, regardless of how reprehensible their behavior may be, then you will share Wilber's conclusion. But what about outgroups, like prisoners, Russians, Chinese, or Palestinians? What about the perspective of those on the receiving end of abusive behavior of gurus? Is it just their karma that they are abused, ignored, discriminated against, or murdered? Is their abuse simply dharma in action? Do they “need” to be abused as part of their awakening and growth process? How empathetic is that sort of justification?

The basic reason why Wilber's defense of unscrupulous behavior by “enlightened” individuals is flawed is because he fails to recognize that while the cognitive line leads in individual development, the moral line leads in collective development, that is, in objective, “its,” external collective relationships. The failure to recognize this reality leads to a false attribution of level of development, based on personal, in-group, and intentional assessments, and a discounting of interpersonal, out-group, and behavioral assessments, including social norms, national, and international law, which are informal and formal codifications of morality.

What is morality?

Models of morality are broadly categorized by ChatGPT into three main approaches: normative ethics, meta-ethics, and descriptive ethics.

Normative ethics

Normative ethics focuses on establishing how we ought to act and what moral standards should guide our behavior. Major theories include Utilitarianism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics.

Utilitarianism holds that actions are morally right if they promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. The focus of utilitarianism is on the consequences of actions. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are major proponents of this variety of normative ethics. This resonates with Wilber's “Basic Moral Intuition,” which is “a person's intuition to protect and promote the greatest depth for the greatest span. Also summarized as the depth of “I,” extended to the span of “We,” embodied in an “it” objective state of affairs.”[2] ChatGPT summarizes Wilber's moral imperative: “Wilber's moral imperative emphasizes the importance of fostering personal and collective growth, aligning individual actions with evolutionary principles, engaging in integral life practices, and contributing to a global awakening toward higher levels of consciousness and integration. It calls for a holistic approach to ethical living that integrates insights from diverse disciplines and spiritual traditions, ultimately promoting the flourishing of individuals, societies, and the planet.” There is indeed a great deal to appreciate about such a perspective.

Deontology, espoused by Immanuel Kant, views morality as based on a set of rules or duties. Actions are morally right if they adhere to these rules, regardless of the consequences. Group norms are informal, assumed rules and duties that exist within all cultures and societies while laws are formal, objective codifications of morality.

Virtue Ethics proposes that morality is about developing good character traits (virtues) and living a life in accordance with these virtues. Focus is on the moral character of the individual rather than on specific actions. Major proponents are Aristotle and Alasdair MacIntyre. Confucianism would also appear to fit best in this understanding of morality.

Contractarianism, advocated by Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls, states that moral norms derive from the idea of a social contract. Individuals agree to certain rules for mutual benefit, balancing individual rights with social responsibilities. While Kant's deontology does not differentiate among possible divine, natural, or social sources of sets of rules and duties, contractualism clearly associates morality with social expectations and obligations.

Care Ethics emphasizes the importance of interpersonal relationships and care as a fundamental aspect of morality. Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings are proponents of care ethics, which provides a more personal and subjective definition of morality: “What behaviors do I experience as caring?”


The second major model of morality, meta-ethics, explores the nature, origins, and meaning of ethical concepts, rather than prescribing how to act. Major meta-ethical approaches include moral realism, moral anti-realism, moral relativism, moral subjectivism, emotivism, and prescriptivism.

Moral realism holds that moral facts exist independently of human beliefs or perceptions. Morality is objective and discoverable through reason or experience. This is essentially the position of Dharma, or The Ten Commandments, not in regard to the contents, proclamations, or edicts themselves, but rather emphasizing the source of morality. Plato and G.E. Moore are proponents of this theory. The core idea is that you are moral when you align yourself with some objective, divine, or cosmic order.

Moral Anti-Realism, espoused by J.L. Mackie, denies the existence of objective moral facts. Morality is seen as a construct, either subjective or relative to cultures or individual preferences. Morality is, from the perspective of moral anti-realism, an evolutionary adaptive mechanism that is a response to personal or collective influences. I hear this as more of a behaviorist approach to understanding morality.

Moral Relativism holds that moral principles are valid relative to specific cultural or individual perspectives. There are no absolute moral truths that apply universally. Richard Rory and Gilbert Harman are proponents. Moral relativism is moral-anti-realism on steroids. It denies any foundational and universal moral standards at all.

Moral Subjectivism is the theory that moral judgments are statements about individual preferences or emotions. Philosopher David Hume took this position. What is “right” or “wrong” is determined by individual attitudes. Moral subjectivism is different from moral relativism in that subjective individual attitudes can agree on what is moral and what is not, meaning that when such agreement exists among individuals, morality is no longer relative within that community of agreement.

Emotivism, espoused by philosopher A.J. Ayer, holds that statements express emotional reactions and are not about facts. Saying something is “wrong” is akin to expressing disapproval. However, behaviors, such as acts of kindness or abuse, are “facts” in the eyes of social norms and law, implying that morality, while definitely having a preferential and emotional content, is factual within an objective, exterior collective context.

Prescriptivism, represented by philosopher R.M. Hare, proposes that moral statements function as imperatives or prescriptions, guiding actions rather than describing facts.

Descriptive ethics

Descriptive ethics involves the empirical study of people's moral beliefs and practices, aiming to understand how people actually behave and think about moral issues. Varieties include cultural anthropology, psychology of morality, and sociology of morality.

Cultural Anthropology, represented by Boas and Geertz, examines the diversity of moral beliefs and practices across different cultures, often highlighting the variability and contextuality of moral norms. While Wilber views culture, anthropology and morality as interior collective “values” disciplines, it is important to remember that as holons, each of these realms possess four quadrants, only one of which is interior collective. This consideration matters a great deal in our understanding of morality, in particular, as we shall see.

The psychology of morality, represented by Lawrence Kohlberg and Jonathan Haidt[3] examines the psychological processes underlying moral thinking and behavior. It includes studies on moral development, such as Lawrence Kohlberg's famous stages of moral development, and the role of emotions in moral judgments. Wilber largely follows Kohlberg, meaning that he largely equates morality with judgment and intention rather than behavior and objective behavioral assessments.

The sociology of morality explores how moral norms and values are influenced by social structures, institutions, and group dynamics. It considers the impact of socialization, power relations, and societal changes on moral beliefs. Émile Durkheim and Max Weber belong to this theoretical school. Humanity is currently experiencing major societal impacts on its collective conception of morality, largely initiated by the clash between democracies that espouse and support humanism and universal human rights while at the same time militarily, economically, and informationally supporting the genocide of Palestinians.

Experiential morality

While each of these perspectives make significant contributions to clarifying what morality is and is not, in our relationships with one another, we intuitively ask basic questions of one another all the time: “Am I being respected, even if there is disagreement?” “Is there reciprocity, that is, fairness, in the exchange of ideas or services?” “Is there empathy, that is, a sense that my value as a person is recognized?” “Is there trustworthiness?” These questions are moral, in that they are how we determine whether any relationship or transaction is beneficial or detrimental, that is, “good,” or “bad.” Regardless of what theoretical framing we use to understand morality or the motivating forces behind moral decision making, interpersonally, in our everyday, mundane experience, these questions are what matter in the realm of morality. If others do not pass these “sniff tests” regarding matters of personal or economic significance to us, we are highly likely to regard the other as either amoral or immoral. Such conclusions are rarely global. We typically continue to relate to people in areas where they are trustworthy and reciprocate regardless of how untrustworthy and selfish they may be in this or that particular area. For example, abused spouses often stay with abusers for various important reasons: they love them or are economically dependent on them.

What is the foundation or core of religion?

Again, it depends on who you ask. Within Hinduism there are different margas, or paths to enlightenment and liberation. Bhakti marga emphasizes devotion as the foundation of religion. Karma marga emphasizes behavior, “right action.” Janna marga emphasizes the accumulation of wisdom. Raja marga focuses on meditation and the purification of consciousness. However, foundational to all of these, in every religion, is some understanding of what is moral and what is not. These definitions can and do differ within and among religions, but moral expectations function as “rules” for interaction with others as well as pre-requisites for higher level development.

Many moral principles can be named, and four of them mentioned above are respect, reciprocity, trustworthiness, and empathy. These appear to be universal and can even be found in rudimentary form in the animal kingdom. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume their foundational nature, not only for human interaction, but more specifically, for both religion and science.

While that argument can more easily be made for religion, it is more difficult to make it for science. Clearly, people like Dawkins, Gould, Coyne, and even Wilber, want to differentiate strongly between religion and science, and place morality in the values realm associated with religion. However, how is this not a false distinction leading to unresolvable debates and conflicts among the various normative, meta-ethical, and descriptive perspectives on morality enumerated above?

We can conclude that morality, rather than higher states of consciousness, is fundamental to religion from our response when a venerated religious or spiritual teacher or leader is determined to be immoral in our eyes. The ability of True Believers to ignore or minimize such behavior is very high, due to the Halo Effect and the strength of our belief system to maintain itself. They minimize or discount the immorality of abusive behavior by those with whom they identify. To do otherwise is to question their own morality, since they identify with those they idealize. To question their morality creates cognitive dissonance that can provoke an existential crisis, something most of us avoid in any way we can.

What is the foundation or core of science?

The common answer, as we can see by reviewing the three modes of knowing described in Wilber's Eye to Eye and The Marriage of Sense and Soul, is empiricism. However, that is the method, not the purpose of science. Most sources state that the purpose of science is to establish factual knowledge, to continuously challenge and revise it. But if we enquire further, isn't the more fundamental purpose of science to establish trust, so that we know what to believe and what to do? And isn't trustworthiness a moral issue? If we don't trust the data, if we don't trust the scientists that espouse it, more facts, more empiricism are unlikely to re-establish lost trust. Confidence in the trustworthiness of science and scientists is foundational, and the accumulation of facts via empiricism are designed to gain and build trust.[4]

Trustworthiness as the fundamental moral standard shared by religion and science

Wilber's holonic model has the capability to address the shared moral foundation of religion and science, but doesn't do a very good job of consistently doing so. On the one hand, Wilber is clear that science includes an interior collective value sphere, just like religion. On the other hand, Wilber wants to consign religion to the interior quadrants and the higher state access he associates with spirituality to the interior individual quadrant. To further muddy the waters, Wilber insists that spirituality exists in all four quadrants. Wilber addresses the importance of compassion, of waking, growing, cleaning, and showing up, in addition to his Basic Moral Intuition. He also explicates Kohlberg's stages of moral judgment and uses those findings to conclude that people with demonstrably high levels of moral judgment are more moral. Is that a realistic conclusion? As I have explained elsewhere, I don't think so.[5]

AQAL has relatively little to say about law, which is the expression of morality as codified norms in the exterior collectives of society. While Wilber views justice as an interior collective value, justice is in itself a holon, and its exterior individual and collective consequences for individuals and society are not theoretical or primarily interior. They are behavioral, potentially serving up financial, physical, and social punishments to scientists, politicians, CEOs, pundits, priests, and gurus alike. The results of transgression of norms of justice are also similar for religion and science: a lack of trust, credibility, and moral standing.

Regarding the relationship between science and religion, trustworthiness is therefore the most important common factor for most people. That is because it involves validity and honesty. Reciprocity is a measure of trustworthiness, among other things. Morally, regarding issues of trustworthiness, religion and science share common ground.

Implications for the various positions on the relationship between science and religion

What are the consequences for the relationship of science and religion when we recognize the common moral foundation of both? We find that each of the theories noted by ChatGPT regarding the relationship between religion and science is flawed to the degree that they do not take into account that basic reality.

The conflict thesis, that states that science and religion are fundamentally at odds and cannot be reconciled, is only partially true, because on the level of morality, religion and science are not in conflict because both require a moral foundation of trustworthiness.

The independence thesis, that states that science and religion operate in completely separate domains, is clearly inaccurate in that both obviously operate in the moral domain. To ignore that reality is essentially to espouse an amoral position—that morality doesn't matter in regard to assessing the relationship between science and religion. Most people would beg to differ, based on their personal experience.

The dialogue thesis states that science and religion can have constructive dialogues and can inform each other. While they are distinct, there are areas of mutual interest and complementary. This perspective has merit, because it allows room for the debate among views on the relationship between religion and science to be reformulated based on a common moral interest.

The integration thesis, that states that science and religion can be integrated into a coherent system of thought, also has merit, because on a moral level, they are integrated. However, Wilber does not, to my knowledge, recognize or address this level in either The Marriage of Sense and Soul or his other writings.

The complementarity thesis, that states that science and religion address different aspects of the same reality and, when combined, offer a more comprehensive understanding of the world, also has merit, in that both clearly enhance human relationships and provide a more comprehensive understanding of the world.

The fusion thesis states that the boundaries between science and religion can be blurred or even merged. It involves incorporating scientific concepts into religious beliefs or vice versa. This approach has merit to the extent that demonstrations in science and religion are perceived as both honest and verifiable. Wilber understands the importance of verifiability for credibility of spiritual claims, which is why he creates an approach to empiricism that includes an “Eye of Spirit,” in which credibility is established based on the consensus of those who access transpersonal mystical states. However, Wilber does not appear to take the step of linking verifiability and credibility to morality.

Scientism states that science is the ultimate path to knowledge and that it can, or eventually will, explain everything, rendering religious explanations obsolete. This approach has merit to the extent and so long as a scientific claim regarding matters deemed religious are viewed as verifiable and credible and therefore trustworthy. The problem is that many people do not accept that conclusion, which points to morality as the determining factor regarding the relationship between science and religion. Scientific data can be trustworthy while the uses to which they are put are untrustworthy. A relevant example is the ongoing debate over AI, which boils down to, “yes, the data that produces it, as well as the data that it produces, are powerful and fact-based, but can we trust AI?”

Religious scientism states that religious beliefs can or should be subject to the same empirical scrutiny and methods used in science. This idea has merit to the extent that we consider verifiability as essential to credibility and trustworthiness, and then view those factors as moral. If we do not value verifiability, or if we view credibility and trustworthiness as scientific rather than religious concerns, then religious scientism will have little or no merit.


Because moral credibility is vital for science as well as religion, we cannot reasonably conclude that morality belongs to one domain over the other.

How important is morality? Honesty is the basic capital of human relationships. When it no longer exists, the foundation for interaction dissolves.[6] When we do not approach both religion and science in ways that recognize that our truth claims in either area are filtered through a common moral lens, not only by both scientists and “religionists,” but by humanity in general, we can make sound arguments that will still be unconvincing. This is the problem that Wilber ran up against by endorsing or defending various new age gurus—DaFree John, Andrew Cohen, and Marc Gafni, and again in the “Wyatt Earpy” episode, in which he essentially blew off his critics and declared that, if they didn't agree with his position, it was because they simply were not evolved enough. That may or may not be true, but it is not an effective moral position, because it does nothing to build validity or credibility in Wilber's audience. In fact, it is a misdirection and avoidance tactic, which leads people to be suspicious and ask, “Is there really any evidence? Have I been accepting as true information or beliefs that may not be?”

The relationship between science and religion becomes clear when we recognize that both domains are based on morality, in that their credibility is based on the validity of their truth claims. This insures their trustworthiness. That is a moral issue, because if we do not trust someone in relation to this or that competency, theory, or belief, we either distance ourselves from them for protection or else create some sort of protective boundary in the relationship. We don't loan them money or discuss religion or science, like covid, if our trust in their motives or “facts” has been broken.

Morality, not transpersonal states and stages, are the ground of religion, spirituality, science, and human relationships for most but not all people, most, but not all of the time. The actual religion and science of tomorrow are first and foremost going to be grounded in a broader and deeper moral awareness than we commonly experience today, rather than in the quest for higher states and stages, as Wilber suggests. Both religious and scientific domains require a shared moral foundation because they both depend on common rules and expectations governing human interaction. The establishment of moral credibility is not more important for one than for the other. Before and during the early days of civilization science and religion were fused; they were not differentiated. What did exist were those fundamental moral questions mentioned above. What has happened is that both science and religion have largely lost their foundational anchoring in morality, and along with them, so have large portions of society, politics, and contemporary civilization.

Regarding religion, morality has been largely assumed and gone unquestioned. Priests, llamas, rabbis, and gurus were of course “holy men;” they were spiritual and their morality was assumed. Proof of common and widespread pedophilia has had far reaching negative moral consequences for religion and spirituality. At the same time, proof of scientific findings slanted to please corporate employers or other funding sources has damaged the moral credibility of science. Because moral credibility is vital for science as well as religion, we cannot reasonably conclude that morality belongs to one domain over the other, as do those who want to ascribe morality to the “values” sphere and then associate morality with religion rather than science.

All of us share a fundamental common humanity, with social roles of worker, parent, priest, scientist, or politician stacked on top of that. While race, gender, wealth, power, status, and narratives can obscure and mislead regarding our common humanity, finally we learn to differentiate in what areas others are trustworthy and which areas we had better avoid. For example, I support and advocate for AQAL and integral in general. I highly respect for Wilber for his intelligence, insight, commitment to various integral life practices, and obvious love and support for his deceased wife. That, despite his moral deficiencies, that are tragically self-sabotaging. I can make that judgment because the same is true for me: I have moral deficiencies and in my life they have been tragically self-sabotaging. So none of us need to pose as morally virtuous, but on the other hand, we need to not pretend that people do not judge us based on their perception of how moral our behavior is or is not. If it doesn't affect them directly, people have an ability to overlook obscene levels of immorality, such as Donald Trump and Joe Biden exemplify. However, if the impact of the behavior of others is personal and significant, or if we personally identify with the abuse suffered by another, we are likely to draw a moral conclusion.

Religion and science are united through morality with all other realms of human behavior. The key is to ask, of both our public and private lives, “How are outgroups, that is, those who do not share my worldview, likely to view the morality of my behavior? Are they likely to view me as respectful? Do they judge my communication and behavior as demonstrating reciprocity? Do they experience me as empathetic? Am I, in their assessment, trustworthy in areas that are important to them?”

For the most part, others don't care, as long as we aren't disrespectful, non-reciprocal, non-empathetic, or untrustworthy in ways that impact them directly and significantly. We generally can and do expect a lot of amorality and even immorality from one another, factor it in, and carry on, in both scientific and religious realms. That will surely remain the same in both the science and religion of tomorrow.


[1] This essay contains a great deal of content generated by ChatGPT. In order to support flow and ease of reading, I have elected to integrate the GPT input into my text rather than provide it verbatim, at the expense of sacrificing clarity as to what is my contribution and what is that of ChatGPT. This is a compromise between thoroughness, on the one hand, and conceptual exploration, largely directed by my choices, on the other. I have confidence that most integral readers will be able to discern when I am adding commentary and questions to direct and amplify content provided by ChatGPT. To assist in that effort, I have attempted to personalize my own thoughts and contributions. I have also taken the liberty of altering ChatGPT wording for ease of reading and enhancement of the relevance of its important contributions.

[2] "Basic Moral Intuition", Glossary, Integral life.

[3] Jonathan Haidt's psychology of morality, particularly as outlined in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012), focuses on understanding the underlying psychological mechanisms that drive moral reasoning and behavior. His theory is known as the Moral Foundations Theory (MFT). MFT proposes that there are several innate, universal psychological systems that form the foundation of our moral reasoning. These systems are shaped by both evolutionary processes and cultural influences. Haidt and his colleagues identified several core moral foundations:

  1. Care/Harm:
    —Description: This foundation is based on our ability to feel compassion for others, especially those who are vulnerable or suffering. It evolved from the need to care for offspring. —Moral Virtues: Kindness, gentleness, nurturing.
  2. Fairness/Cheating:
    —Description: This foundation is concerned with justice, rights, and equality. It involves the desire to maintain fair relationships and reciprocity.
    —Moral Virtues: Justice, equality, trustworthiness.
  3. Loyalty/Betrayal:
    —Description: This foundation focuses on the importance of group loyalty and patriotism. It is about standing with one's group, family, or nation.
    —Moral Virtues: Loyalty, patriotism, self-sacrifice for the group.
  4. Authority/Subversion:
    —Description: This foundation deals with respect for tradition and legitimate authority. It is related to the need for social order and hierarchical structures.
    —Moral Virtues: Respect, obedience, deference.
  5. Sanctity/Degradation:
    —Description: This foundation involves feelings of sanctity and purity, often in relation to religious or cultural beliefs. It is about avoiding contamination and living in a noble way.
    —Moral Virtues: Purity, sanctity, piety.
  6. Liberty/Oppression (added later):
    —Description: This foundation is about the desire for freedom and resistance to oppression. It reflects a drive to protect oneself and others from domination.
    —Moral Virtues: Liberty, autonomy, resistance to tyranny.

Key Aspects of Haidt's Theory:

  1. Moral Intuition and Reasoning:
    —Haidt argues that moral judgments are primarily driven by intuitive processes rather than deliberate reasoning. Our moral intuitions are quick, automatic responses to moral situations, and reasoning often serves to justify these intuitions after the fact.
    —This is summarized by his metaphor of the "elephant and the rider," where the elephant represents automatic, intuitive processes, and the rider represents conscious, rational thinking.
  2. The Social Nature of Morality:
    —Haidt emphasizes that morality is inherently social. Our moral intuitions are shaped by social interactions and the need to navigate complex social environments.
    —He posits that moral systems serve to bind individuals into cohesive groups, fostering cooperation and social harmony.
  3. Cultural Variability and Commonality:
    —While the moral foundations are universal, their expression and emphasis can vary significantly across cultures. Different societies may prioritize different foundations based on their specific cultural, historical, and environmental contexts.
  4. Moral Pluralism:
    —Haidt's theory supports the idea of moral pluralism, recognizing that multiple, sometimes conflicting, moral values can coexist. This pluralism can lead to disagreements and conflicts, particularly in politically and culturally diverse societies.

Application to Political and Religious Divisions

- Haidt uses MFT to explain why people with different political and religious views often have deep-seated disagreements. For instance, he argues that liberals tend to prioritize Care and Fairness, while conservatives give more weight to Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity in addition to Care and Fairness.

- This framework helps in understanding the moral underpinnings of political ideologies and the reasons behind the moral convictions of different groups.

By exploring the psychological basis of morality, Haidt's work provides a comprehensive framework for understanding how and why people differ in their moral perspectives and behaviors, and how these differences influence social and political dynamics.

[4] ChatGPT: “Loss of trust in science can have detrimental cultural and social effects, leading to a variety of consequences that undermine public health, environmental protection, technological advancement, and societal progress. Loss of trust in vaccine safety and efficacy has led to outbreaks of diseases such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough, particularly in communities with low vaccination rates. Vaccine hesitancy contributes to decreased herd immunity, putting vulnerable populations, such as infants, elderly individuals, and those with compromised immune systems, at risk of serious illness or death. Skepticism or denial of climate change science has hindered efforts to address the urgent need for carbon emissions reduction and adaptation measures. Delayed action on climate change exacerbates environmental degradation, leading to more frequent and severe natural disasters, loss of biodiversity, and disruption of ecosystems. Misinformation about health issues, such as COVID-19, has led to ineffective public health measures, the spread of conspiracy theories, and resistance to evidence-based interventions such as mask-wearing and vaccination. Disinformation campaigns funded by vested interests have sowed doubt about established scientific findings, such as the safety of GMOs or the link between tobacco and cancer, leading to confusion and distrust among the public. Skepticism toward emerging technologies, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), nuclear energy, or artificial intelligence, can impede technological progress and innovation, hindering solutions to pressing societal challenges. A lack of trust in technological advancements can stifle investment and economic growth in industries that rely on innovation, potentially exacerbating social inequalities and limiting opportunities for prosperity. Loss of trust in scientific institutions and expertise can erode confidence in democratic decision-making processes, leading to polarization, populism, and a decline in social cohesion. Skepticism toward scientific consensus can lead to weakened regulatory oversight of industries, such as pharmaceuticals, food safety, or environmental protection, resulting in increased risks to public health and safety. Loss of trust in science can deepen cultural divisions and polarization, leading to the rejection of evidence-based policies and the entrenchment of ideological echo chambers. Skepticism toward scientific consensus can stifle open discourse and critical thinking, hindering constructive dialogue and collaboration on pressing societal issues.”

[5] For example, see Dillard, J., Just How Moral Are Integralists? Eric Weinstein's 4 Quadrant Model and the Kohlberg-Wilber Effect; Dillard, J., The Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy Part 1: Why you aren't as ethical as you think you are; Dillard, J., The Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy Part 2: Why your level of moral judgment does not predict your morality,

[6] Caitlin Johnstone has provided a vivid picture of how that is currently occurring on a civilizational level:

“One by one, the US empire is discrediting all of its own arguments for why it should lead the world. All the violence, tyranny and injustice it claims to be keeping at bay with its globe-dominating leadership is being inflicted by the empire itself, in more and more brazen and egregious ways each year.…

…every point which could be used to bolster that argument is being rapidly eroded by the US itself. The US is making the world a much more violent and dangerous place. The US is assaulting freedom by perpetrating and facilitating more and more injustice and authoritarianism. The US is undermining international law by constantly violating it. Every argument that could be made for the merits of US global leadership gets weaker by the day.

As the US backs Israel in routinely committing horrifying massacres in Gaza, it's clear that the US cannot claim to be making the world a more peaceful and harmonious place.

As the US and its allies recklessly ramp up nuclear brinkmanship with Russia over the failing proxy war in Ukraine, it's clear that the US cannot claim to be making the world safer.

As the US denounces the International Criminal Court for applying for arrest warrants of Israeli officials, and supports Israel in dismissing the orders of the International Court of Justice to cease its assault on Rafah, it's clear that the US has discredited its claim as the upholder of the “rules-based international order”.

As online censorship and banned pro-Palestine slogans are increasingly normalized throughout the US-led western world, it's clear that the US has discredited its claim to being a protector of the freedom of speech.

As the US inflicts violent police crackdowns on anti-genocide protesters on university campuses nationwide, it's clear that the US has discredited its claim to being a protector of the freedom of assembly.

As the US backs Israel in murdering a historic number of journalists and shutting down Al Jazeera, while itself imprisoning Julian Assange for journalistic activity exposing US war crimes, it's clear that the US has discredited its claim to being a protector of the freedom of the press.

As the US supports its proxies in Kyiv canceling elections in Ukraine while providing military assistance to most of the world's dictatorships, it is clear that the US has discredited its claim to being a major promotor of democracy.”

Johnstone, C., The US Is Discrediting All Arguments For Why It Should Lead The World,, May 28, 2024.

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