Type, Science, Religion, & the Meaningful Life

By Dr. A.J. Drenth

All forms of life can be viewed as possessing certain values. Trees, for instance, display a valuation of light by growing in ways that allow them to absorb optimal sun. Similarly, bacteria exhibit values through their permeability to certain types of molecules and impermeability to others. Hence, values appear closely related to the satisfaction of basic organismal needs.

The ability to discern truth is also critical to survival. If we cannot discern between innocuous and poisonous substances, for instance, we put ourselves at risk for serious illness, or even death.

Meaning is another essential feature of life, especially for human beings. Without it, we can become depressed and lose “the will to live,” the desire to meet even our most basic survival needs. Humans seem unique in our desire to understand our meaning and purpose as individuals, as well as the “meaning of life” in general. However, the way we identify and secure meaning varies widely across the personality types.

Personal Meaning: Individualism (IN Types) vs. Collectivism (ES Types)

For Extraverts (E), the degree to which their lives feel meaningful depends largely on their ability to assimilate to the outside world. They, along with Sensing types, are less concerned with “discovering themselves” than they are with plugging into satisfactory work, relationships, and communities. For ES types, cultivating a meaningful life is not premeditated in the way it is for IN types. Meaning simply emerges during or after acting.

While not ignoring the external world, Introverts (I) and Intuitives (N) seek to know and understand themselves apart from the world. They naturally emphasize their distinctness and individuality more than they do their collectivity. Consequently, they often feel it necessary to improve their self-knowledge before they can act with any degree of confidence or conviction. This is why they are often more interested in studying typology than ES types are.

“The Meaning of Life”: Science & Religion

When people inquire into “the meaning of life,” they are generally curious about two things: the nature of reality and the purpose or intention behind that reality. To understand the different ways people approach these matters, we must not only consider personality type, but also culture and history.

With the emergence of science and scientific explanations, an increasing number of people began to question the existence of God. As science explained more and more of the world’s workings, with breathtaking technological advancements to boot, the ostensible need to invoke supernatural explanations became less and less.

Despite its explanatory and pragmatic powers, for many, the scientific worldview also seemed to sap the universe of any larger meaning or purpose, proving incapable of supplying a meaningful overarching purpose or “meta-narrative” for human existence. Science cannot fully address meaning-drenched questions like “Why are we here?” or “Why is there something rather than nothing.” This created an acrimonious divide between science and religion, one which has compromised our collective quest for truth, meaning, and harmony.

More specifically, those in the religious camp can be seen as refusing to relinquish their need for ultimate meaning. They refuse to consent that human existence is in any way arbitrary or accidental. In order to preserve and protect ultimate or absolute meaning, as embodied in their religious traditions, they dismiss science or other forms of knowledge/ criticism they perceive as threatening. In my view, the problem with this camp lies not in their desire for ultimate meaning, a desire which seems ubiquitous to humanity, but in their decision to close themselves off to certain elements of reality (i.e., science). As mentioned earlier, apprehending and embracing truth is critical to the survival of all forms of life. How else are we going to find balance with our environment if we aren’t approaching it honestly and realistically?

In the other camp are those who try to supplant religious explanations with scientific or psychological ones, while trying to assuage their spiritual longings through art, culture, moral/humanitarian initiatives, etc. They may cling to a mechanical worldview, while working to debunk or disregard spiritual/metaphysical concerns or explanations. Much like the religious camp, the scientific camp can be seen as closing themselves off to certain aspects of reality. Namely, they embrace a restricted version of empiricism (i.e., the scientific method) while downplaying other varieties of empirical evidence. One of their major assumptions (or biases) is viewing consciousness as a mere by-product of complex material arrangements (e.g., the brain) rather than a fundamental feature of the universal fabric. They privilege the “external and” “objective,” what can be observed or measured from without, over and against “inner” and “subjective” methods and experiences. As I have written elsewhere, this sort of reductionism seems more common among Te types, who are wont to elevate conventional scientific methods above other epistemologies. While both reductionism and “scientism”  have been combatted by many “continental” philosophers,  Ken Wilber is one of the most accessible and prolific writers on these matters.

Final Thoughts

It seems unreasonable to expect ES types, who are naturally outwardly oriented, to function like IN types when it comes to increasing their self-knowledge and self-awareness. Similarly, it is unfair to expect INs to simply plug into the world without first working to understand themselves as individuals. Moreover, those searching for ultimate or religious meaning cannot be expected to renounce their quest and accept a purely mechanical or spiritless worldview. Likewise, science junkies should not be forced to embrace a spiritual worldview. To bridge these divides (or at least reduce animosity), we can all work to recognize our own biases, many of which relate to our personality type.

Related Posts:

How the Fi-Te and Ti-Fe Function Pairs Explain Broad Typological Differences & Biases

Extraverted Thinking (Te) vs. Introverted Thinking (Ti): Science & Philosophy

The Role of the Inferior Function in Religious Participation

Personality Junkie Home Page

Notes:

1. One thing I omitted from this post, which certainly influences one’s values and worldview, is one’s degree of personal growth and development. While there are multiple taxonomies related to human development, one of the most useful I’ve encountered is Ken’s Wilber’s take on “Spiral Dynamics,” which is nicely summarized here. Personality type development, as described in my type profiles, will also influence values and worldview.

2. One group that I failed to mention in this post is that of the “post-modernists.” Both scientists and spiritualists are alike in their belief in the existence of, as well as in their ability to apprehend, absolute truth. Generally speaking, the only absolute truth that post-modernists embrace is that of relativism. They believe that even if absolute truth exists, we simply have no way of knowing it with any degree of certainty. While remaining neutral with regard to spirituality, typology can be viewed as falling somewhere in between the scientific and post-modernist perspectives. It is scientific in its ability to objectively and accurately make classifications and predictions, while post-modernist in its recognition that much of what seems true to us is largely attributable to the lenses of our own personality type (not to mention those of our surrounding culture).

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