por Almir Del Prette

Science, Religion and Spiritism

From the constitution of a field of knowledge called Science, its conflicts with Religion, about life and the universe, became frequent and shared now more, now less, by the literate world. These clashes did not always occur peacefully even when, as a precaution, some scientists made public their allegiance to religious authorities. History records several emblematic cases, however, we selected only two, considering: (a) the importance of the issues involved; (b) the temporal duration of the conflicts; (c) the long-term outcome of the results of the positions of Science and Religion. We intend to present, thus, a parallel between these cases, with the clashes also experienced when Allan Kardec presented the Spiritist ideas.

1. Geocentrism versus Heliocentrism. At first, the divergence occurred in the scope of Science, since the first paradigm contradicted new discoveries, which could no longer be contested. This crisis of explanatory positions was prolonged and strengthened a new Astronomy, with the Sun at the center of the system. The Earth's location in the central position of the known cosmos, was part of the system elaborated by Claudio Ptolemy, Greek philosopher and mathematician (90 to 100 a / C). His main work, known as Almagest, is considered “the most valuable astronomical knowledge of the time” (1). In that treatise, abundantly illustrated, Ptolemy placed the Earth motionless in the center of the cosmos, with the Sun and the Moon surrounding it. Geocentrism, largely based on Aristotle, was one of the first “maps” of the cosmos elaborated in Astronomy (2). By extension, it provided a resource for the consolidation of Christian Theology on the creation of man apart from other organisms, his destiny, original sin, paradise, purgatory, space of angels in the various heavens, etc., etc. Some of Almagest's illustrations on the position of the Earth and the subsequent theology, largely populated the popular imagination, considering that the Sun is perceived to appear on the horizon, “to travel a length until it is at its peak and then declines on the opposite side". Heliocentrism, a system initiated by Nicolaus Copernicus, received the contribution of other researchers such as Tycho Brahe, Giordano Bruno, Johannes Kepler and Galileu Galilei, who contributed to its consolidation. It is interesting to remember that Copernicus was a Canon and was very reluctant to publish his work The Revolutions, the first impression of which occurred on the day of his death (3). The fact is that the Church was slow to oppose the new paradigm, which only occurred in 1616. However, the clerical reaction took place against Galileo, condemned by the Inquisition to life imprisonment, which was later eased by home imprisonment. This conflict, which lasted for a long time, has an important historical value in the search for the truth.

2. The theory of evolution. Darwin, the author of "The Origins of the Species" had strong ties to the Anglican church. Family members, especially his father, pressured him to pursue an ecclesiastical career. However, what really determined his destiny as a scientist was an unexpected invitation to a long voyage on the ship Beagle, a vessel of His Majesty, equipped for research. The trip, a trip around the world, allowed Darwin a unique opportunity for observation, collection of specimens of flora, fauna and also of fossils. However, there is no evidence that, in this period, he was already thinking about the species transformation process (4). Only after his arrival, describing, classifying and categorizing the entire collection obtained, did the idea of ​​continuous transformation gradually become evident. Darwin (5) was a disciplined, patient and cautious observer of inferences. At the time, there was a favorable climate for a broad theory of evolution. Several scientists did not accept that living beings were just those described in the Bible. The estimate of the age of the Earth was also questioned and, after all, fossils brought information that could not be ignored. In any case, even with great support from notable scientists, it took Darwin a long time to publish The Origins of Species, until he received from a young researcher, Alfred Russell Wallace, in 1858 (6), a report with content similar to what he had prepared. According to Browne (7), afterwards, under pressure from colleagues and friends, he decided to publish “The origin of species”, where the term evolution was omitted. There was a notable reaction, in editorial terms, with the first edition being sold out on the same day of the launch. The theme aroused London society, however the objections came from both religious and some researchers. From then on Darwin, even though very ill, did not fail to respond in writing to his critics, but he avoided debates. As for these, biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) made a point of participating. A famous debate took place between Huxley and Bishop Samuel Owen, at the Museum of Natural History, under the patronage of the British Society for the Advancement of Science in Oxford (8, p.103). At a given moment, the bishop would have provoked the biologist: “Are you related to a monkey by your grandmother or grandfather?” Huxley would have replied: "I would rather have a miserable ape as a grandfather than a man who introduced mockery in an important scientific discussion." Despite all these disagreements with the prelates, Darwin was buried with all honors at London's Westminster Abbey, a place reserved for great historical figures. Already in the following century, Darwin's theory of evolution, thanks to new discoveries, especially coming from genetics and paleontology, underwent enormous transformations, maintaining, however, the initial premise of removing from man the privilege of a special creature, similar to what heliocentrism did with our planet. As Darwin's theory of evolution, and its subsequent update from the middle of the 19th century, denies the biblical version of the History of the world and the appearance of man on the planet, a religious movement, called fundamentalism, started in the United States and spread, notably across the west. This movement intends to return to beliefs, as they appear in the Bible, without interpretive conceptions. Nowadays, now more explicitly, the controversy between evolutionism and creationism gains great visibility, observing that many scientific discoveries are denied, such as the age of the Earth, the existence of pre-flood species etc.

3. Spiritist theories and Allan Kardec. Spiritist phenomena are as old as the presence of man on the planet. Contacts with such phenomena led to different beliefs that, in some way, influenced life and customs. There are several Spiritist theories, some of which are based on empirical research. In summary, some of the themes refer to: (a) previous existence of the Spirit to the body; (b) plurality of incarnations (or reincarnation); (c) habitability of many orbs in the cosmos; (d) communicability between the disincarnated and the incarnated; (e) continuous spiritual evolution. Some of these themes are originally prior to Spiritism, for example, reincarnation. However, the Spiritist Doctrine has its own view of them. In the case of reincarnation, the old doctrines established that the return of a Spirit to a new physical body had, as a scope, the punishment of faults in previous lives. In addition to denying reincarnation as a punitive instrument, in the Kardecian assumptions, the Spirit does not evolve retroactively, so it cannot reincarnate in animal bodies, as Judaism supposes (8). Based on the current definition of Science, Spiritism cannot be understood as one of them, for example, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Psychology, Sociology and others, even considering that many of the Spiritist phenomena have been the object of scientific investigation. For example, tangible appearances were studied by Willian Crookes, an English physicist and a member of the Royal Society of Science (9). Reincarnation has also been the subject of descriptive research (10) with scientific methodology.

Allan Kardec (11) became interested in contact with the spiritual world when he realized that the phenomena called “turning tables” were directed by intelligences that called themselves Spirits. The contents brought by such entities, spontaneously or in response to the evocations made, were diversified and favoring a selection in relation to the themes. Kardec realized that a new world was opening up to him and that he needed an investigative method to better understand it. The method he created established that: (a) the acceptance of new information could only occur if it coincided in its content with that of various Spirits, through different mediums, in different places; (b) all information coming from the Spirits, should be subjected to a careful rational analysis, and may remain waiting for the appropriate moment for its acceptance, regardless of its multiple origins.  Kardec maintained regular contact with the spiritual world for several years, applying this method. On this journey, he published several books that became known as basic works, founded a Spiritist Society, created a monthly journal, the Spiritist Magazine, personally responded to all correspondence received and made trips in response to invitations to orient new Spiritist groups. Although he selected questions, ordered and categorized the answers and messages coming from the spiritual world, Kardec was not simply an organizer of publications, which is undoubtedly the most important task. His work went further. In this sense, we are interested in emphasizing that the designation of the Codifier of Spiritism is not entirely suited to the activities he was engaged in. Although this is not new, we remember that the term Codifier of Spiritism suggests activities to gather in codes, norms or laws, in the Spiritist case, organize a sparse set of information of a transcendental character, classifying and categorizing them. However, his work often went beyond what this denomination communicates, including: (a) thematic analysis and classification of information (messages) brought by Spirits; (b) elaboration of new questions, presenting them to the Spirits in sessions with different mediums: (c) confrontation of possible biases of informant Spirits and fellow students; (d) creation of an investigation method for analyzing the messages of the Spirits, as presented; (e) elaboration of thematic synthesis texts such as, “The Book of Spirits“; “The Book of Mediums”; “The Gospel According to Spiritism”; “Heaven and Hell”; “Genesis” “What is Spiritism”; (f) organization of the Spiritist Society of Paris; (g) launch and direction of The Spiritist Studies Magazine, and so on. The products in terms of the books, the collection of the Spiritist Magazine, and especially his modus operandi, bring his activities closer to those of a researcher in Anthropology, not yet established at the time as Science, or Sociology and Psychology. Camille Flammarion, in a speech at the funeral ceremonial of Allan Kardec, highlights his performance in the scope of the research, calling it "The good sense incarnate" (12). It should be remembered that the journal for the dissemination of Spiritism, founded by Kardec in Paris, received the name: Spiritist Magazine: Journal of Psychological Studies.

With some similarity to the saga of the other researchers listed here, Kardec initially had little support, only receiving more direct collaboration after the formation of the Spiritist Society and the creation of the Spiritist Magazine. Like Copernicus and Darwin, the two researchers cited, the written productions were fiercely contested by the clergy. Although, at the time of the emergence of Spiritism, a clerical reaction was no longer justified beyond the limits of doctrinal discussion. Some clerics, however, adopted unfriendly positions and Spiritist works sent by Allan Kardec to Barcelona, ​​were burned in a public square, going down in History as “Act of Faith of Barcelona”.

By way of conclusion

Two great premises of Spiritism refer us to Copernicus and Darwin. The first is related to the understanding of the Sun, as a star that aggregates other planets in its system, among them the Earth. The new map of the Cosmos at the time, and the developments that followed, served as a basis for the Spiritist theory about habitability in different worlds to be acceptable. At the time, astronomers of respectable position, such as, for example, Camille Flammarion, defended the theory of the plurality of inhabited worlds (13). This agreement on intelligent extraterrestrial life is currently accepted by several scientists, including the Americans Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, who suggested including in the ships Voyager 1 and 2 “a recorded message with technical-scientific information, songs and phrases in all languages ​​spoken on Earth” in search of other civilizations (15).

The other premise, refers to the theory of evolution. In opposing biblical creationism, a considerable number of scientists deny, in principle, a purpose in evolution, assuming that it occurs as a result of the struggle for survival. Spiritism also does not accept the creation story, as narrated in the book of Genesis, considering it as a symbolic message, lacking any interpretations. However, Spiritism has an evolutionary theory of Spirit (14). The spiritual principle would have passages in the three Kingdoms of Nature and, in humanity, it would continue its ascent until the condition of pure Spirit. Considering this premise, it is possible to assume that the properly evolved Spirits would act in nature at different levels of complexity (15). New knowledge brought by Science thus plays an important role in balancing the foundations of the models built, offering subsidies for new models that influence not only scientific thinking, but also beliefs and the way societies organize themselves. Although it cannot be classified strictly as Science, Spiritism played and still plays a similar role, due to its history and ideas contained in its main themes. However, caution should be exercised in order not to fall into idyllic metaphysics or dogmatic pragmatism. When in doubt, follow Kardec and we will be with Science.

I am very grateful to Andre Ricardo de Souza, Lucas Del Prette and Zilda A. P. Del Prette for having read this text and for their suggestions.



1. Freitas Mourao, R.R. The golden book of the universe - Mysteries of astronomy and science. Rio de Janeiro: Harper Collins. 2019.

2. Ditto

3. Moledo, L., & Magnani, E. Ten theories that moved the world. Campinas: Unicamp’s Publisher, 2009.

4. Browne, J. The origin of Darwin's Species. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Publisher. 2007.

5. Ditto.

6. Ditto.

7. Ditto.

8. Miller, J., & Loon, B. V. Darwin for beginners. Lisbon: Don Quixote Publications, 1982.

9. Crookes, W. Spiritist facts. Brasilia: F.E.B. 1976

10. Stevenson, I. Twenty cases suggestive of reincarnation. Sao Paulo. Cultural Diffuser Publisher. 1970.

11. Kardec, A. Posthumous Works. Araras (SP): IDE. 2008.

12. Kardec A. Genesis: miracles and predictions according to Spiritism. Araras (SP): IDE. 1998

13. Flammarion, C. Speech delivered on the Tomb of Allan Kardec. In: Posthumous Works. Araras (SP): IDE 2008.

14. Kardec, A. The Book of Spirits. Macaws: IDE. 2002

15. Freitas Mourao, R.R. The golden book of the universe - Mysteries of astronomy and science (p.462). Rio de Janeiro: Harper Collins. 2019.

16. Emmanuel & Francisco Candido Xavier, On the way to the Light. Brasilia DF Publisher FEB. 1939.


Eleni Frangatos - eleni.moreira@uol.com.br



O Consolador
 Revista Semanal de Divulgação Espírita