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The worship of wonder

April 21, 2010

As I’ve come to realize that the Huffington Post is a haven of crackpot pseudoscience and spirituality — an overdose of liberal open-mindedness, perhaps — I keep an eye on it for examples of the same. I found one today from the vice-president of the BioLogos Foundation, naturally; in itself an extension of the Templeton Foundation, always interested in any scientist who will wax poetic for god’s sake.

Yeah, I’m mocking myself a bit over the liberal part.

So please, tell us how meaningful it all is! And it seems appropriate that Dr. Karl Giberson’s Huffington Post article is about just that.

We do not believe in God because we need to explain this or that feature of the world. That is what science is for. We believe in God because we see something deeper in the world, something that transcends the scientific explanations.

The experience of natural beauty is available to everyone, and only the flattest of souls cannot enjoy scenes like the one outside my window right now.

The interesting aspect to this argument, to me, is that it doesn’t take any faith in a transcendent god-concept to enjoy the wonders of nature, or the complexities of life, that Dr. Giberson spends most of his bandwidth on here. He ends it on a feeling of wanting to give thanks for the day, a sentiment I feel myself from time to time.

Today’s looking like a pretty good candidate, actually. It’s bright out, breezy, not too hot yet. The sights and smells of springtime in the desert are everywhere. I suppose I should be thankful that I don’t have an allergic reaction to it. Ah, but there’s that word again. Thankful. I don’t have anyone to thank, as a skeptic. It’s one of those ‘glad to be alive’ days I have on occasion. But the believer takes that desire to thank somebody and turns it into an organized religion.

The full experience of a new day is a complex mix of wonder and science, facts and beauty, mathematics and color. Science explains much of it, and what is left over is not so much in need of explanation as it is in need of celebration.

My belief in God provides a framework for this celebration. In some way that I cannot articulate, I praise God for each new day, dimly aware that I am sharing the experience with the artist who put it all in place and put me here to enjoy it.

It’s interesting as well how Dr. Giberson refers to this sense of beauty and wonder in regards to the skeptic: “It is what draws people into physics and often turns them into detached and marginally functional mystics, like Newton and Einstein.” Knowing what I know about Newton, I would hardly characterize him as a ‘marginally functional mystic’. He was a practicing alchemist who may have contributed to his own decline through mercury poisoning. Although modern chemistry had its start in this, chemistry does not pursue the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life.

Einstein, well, it depends a lot on which quotes you care for, and I’ve seen him invoked on both sides of this sort of debate.

Getting back to wonder, though, I wonder why it is that believers require this object, this focus for their sense of thanks-giving. I have days like this when I’m glad to be alive; it takes no all-powerful god-concept to take in the day and be happy I was here to see it. I need no such narcissism, no elevation of the self as the penultimate creation of a loving, all-powerful superbeing. And all that just to enjoy a nice day.

You can see this narcissism in the way Dr. Giberson subtly attacks the skeptic: he sees something ‘deep,’ so the skeptic must be shallow; he takes in the wonder, only the ‘flattest of souls’ would think otherwise; he looks at scientists like Einstein and Newton as ‘detached’ and ‘marginally functional mystics’ if they haven’t gone so far as he.

Would the retort ‘piss off’ be too extreme? Shallow, perhaps? Well, you couldn’t call me detached at least. Enjoy your day, doctor. Here’s mud in your eye.

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