When the Morning Stars Sang Together
I like this item of Julian’s, too. He asks what is meant by ‘being religious’.
Yet logos and mythos do not exhaust the meanings of religiosity. There is a third sense, one which I believe is more important and more widely held. This is the idea of having a religious attitude. Attitudes are…deeply important to how we live, for they determine our entire orientation to the world around us. Among the primary religious attitudes are those of awe, reverence, gratitude and humility. What each have in common is that they capture a sense that there is something greater than us, which commands us, and which we cannot control. And it is the perceived absence of these attitudes in atheism that lends it the reputation for arrogance. Yet although religion arguably allows for a more natural expression of these attitudes, they are compatible with even the most naturalistic cosmology.
Indeed. Although I think it’s fair to say that the reason atheism is widely thought to lack those attitudes is that the atheist versions are not personal, are not about an agent or a loved mega-person, and as such, are considered too thin, too impoverished, too abstract, cold, unemotional – unloving, perhaps. I can see why theists would think that – but I think it’s wrong. Just for one thing, I think that view underestimates the intensity of the love it’s possible to have for places, for landscapes, for nature, for the world or the cosmos. They should read some Wordsworth: that might enlighten them. Or Proust. Or they could listen to Gene Sparling’s account of finding the Ivory Bill. No thinness in any of those.
A theist, for example, has a clear object for their feeling of gratitude: the creator God. But an atheist can clearly have a sense of their own good fortune and an understanding that any period of prosperity may be impermanent. Likewise, a theist feels awe and reverence for “creation”, yet as even the atheist Richard Dawkins has described in his Unweaving the Rainbow, almost identical emotional responses to the natural world can be shared by materialist scientists.
Exactly. That’s why I quoted a bit of Unweaving the Rainbow to end Why Truth Matters –
To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously mistaken, so diametrically opposed to my own feelings and those of most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I am wrongly suspected…The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver.
Along with something Matt Ridley said at Spiked:
The one thing I would try to teach the world about science is that science is not a catalogue of facts, but a search for new mysteries. Science increases the store of wonder and mystery in the world; it does not erode it. The myth, started by the Romantic poets, that science gets rid of mysteries was well nailed by Albert Einstein – whose thought experiments about relativity are far more otherworldly, elusive, thrilling and baffling than anything dreamt up by poets. Isaac Newton showed us the mysteries of deep space, Charles Darwin showed us the mysteries of deep time, and Francis Crick and James D Watson showed us the mysteries of deep encoding. To get rid of those insights would be to reduce the world’s stock of awe.
There you go. We do awe.