“Last week saw the opening of my first ever science-faith gallery exhibition. The space is a white-walled corner of my church, set aside for creative members of the congregation to display their handiwork. The pictures were all provided by members of the church who are scientists and engineers. Our aim is to showcase some of the beauty we see in the course of our work, and communicate how it helps us to worship God. The people involved have all given me permission to share their images and text here. I hope you enjoy this very diverse collection of images from a wide range of scientific disciplines, and can identify with some of the thoughts they have expressed about science and worship.”
More here from Ruth Bancewicz at Science and Belief: http://scienceandbelief.org/2016/02/04/wonder-and-worship-beauty-in-science/
From the John Templeton Foundation:
Philosopher Immanuel Kant famously remarked that two things filled him with awe and wonder: “the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me.” While some will understand this meaning, the nature of awe remains something of a mystery to most. “The field of emotion research is almost silent with respect to awe,” note psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt in a 2003 paper. “Few emotion theorists consider awe in their taxonomies, and those who do have done little to differentiate it from other states.”
See here at The Guardian.
NASA announces the discovery of the first earth sized planet in the ‘habitable zone’ of a star. Now ask yourself, why do we find that interesting? For the same reason it would be interesting if we bumped into a fellow countrywoman/man in the backblocks of a distant country? Or because it provides evidence that there might be other life out there? How’s this for a theological argument; “the God of the Bible is creative in abundance so it would seem on the face of it, highly likely that there would be life elsewhere in the universe”? More on the possibilities and implications can be found here at the ISCAST.org (Christians in science) site.
This site opens your eyes to the very small and the very large. Interestingly, human beings are right about the middle of the scale of the universe. It’s here.
Look back in time 13.2 billion years. This is the XDF: a 23 day exposure photo into the depths of time and space. And below is a photo taken last week as the Cassini space probe looks back towards Earth through the rings of Saturn. On the right is a zoom in on the earth and the moon. (More here.)
David Bentley Hart is a prominent Eastern Orthodox theologian. In this video he talks about being, consciousness and bliss, and beauty as the knowledge of God.
This 15 minute TED talk is by Denis Dutton, philosopher of aesthetics. With the help of fascinating ‘live’ illustrations he says that beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder but that humans are hard-wired by evolution to seek beauty. His is clearly a naturalistic explanation that does not consider religious or transcendent explanations or connections with the sense of awe.
I find the idea of the multiverse difficult to swallow. The what? The idea that there are billions of parallel universes like our own (only different!) seems a faith step to me (which is not a comment on whether it should be believed). But apparently the Everett interpretation of quantum theory says just that. (QT is one of physics’ fundamental theories—the other is relativity if I understand the lie of the land correctly.) This book review starts off at a sort of comprehensible level. Read the first paragraphs slowly to get a taste of the extraordinarily non-intuitive reality in which some scientists think we live and move and have our being. Amazing!
This footage of the northern lights was filmed on 17 March near Gullfoss and Skaftafell in Iceland with multiple DSLR cameras. The northern lights, or aurora borealis, is one of the most sublime and magnificent natural phenomena on Earth. The glow is caused by high-energy electrons colliding with oxygen atoms and nitrogen molecules.
Here’s the 2min video at The Guardian.
“The world is an astonishing place,” says Thomas Nagel, atheist and significant 20th century philosopher. “That it has produced you, and me, and the rest of us is the most astonishing thing about it.”
Nagel is the author of a much talked about book called Mind and Cosmos. Why much talked about? Because Nagel is an atheist and the subtitle of his book is Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Ouch.
The abuse that Nagel has received at the hands of his atheist ‘friends’ who are also naturalists is not pretty. This article has the details.
You may remember that Nancey Murphy tried to convince Denis Alexander that Gothic cathedrals are more awesome than the wonders of nature. But I’m on Denis’s side.
In fact, so much so that I’m heading off this week with four sons to brave the wilderness of Southwest Tasmania. For those in the know: we aim to climb Federation Peak and traverse the Western Arthur range; Australia’s most awe inspiring bushwalk according to some.
So it’s time to wind down the conversation here—although the site will remain for some time. Please continue to participate in similar conversations at the main Encounter site: abc.net.au/rn/encounter
Many thanks to those people who have contributed articles and comments to A Sense of Awe. I hope the conversation has encouraged you to ponder the things that matter.
The writings of Albert Einstein, the 20th century’s best known and perhaps greatest scientist, are a treasure trove for quotable quotes. He has been used by the religious, by atheists and by philosophers of science of all stripes, as an ally in their various causes. But however one defines his religious views, there is little doubt, that for Einstein, awe and mystery lie at the heart of the scientific endeavour.
In 1932 Einstein wrote “My Credo” and read it for a recording to benefit the German League of Human Rights. It ends with the following words:
The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.
Einstein’s Credo can be found here where you can also listen to a recording (in German of course!)
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The heavens declare the glory of God, said the Psalmist.
And mathematician John Lennox says at the end of the recent Encounter program: I’ve got a telescope in my garden and one of the things I love to do is go out and just let the night sky, the galaxies, the Orion nebula, have an impact on my mind. I find that awe inspiring. Just to contemplate what the astronomers have revealed to us about the immense size of the universe. I find that very healthy. It’s a good thing to do.
This video from NASA on the ABC site is food for thought. It’s not the looking out at the universe described above, but a look at the earth from space and more likely to provoke a little cosmic introspection.
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In my non-ABC life I am currently thinking about the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. He’s a thinker who wants to challenge the history of Western thinking in its naive belief that we can simply take hold of reality and describe it as it is. In doing so we eliminate the mystery of ‘Being’ and we live without thinking about the most fundamental levels of what it means to be a human being.
The following piece of writing, which I wrote for another context, is not for everyone. But in some ways it complements Sarah Tomasetti’s piece on her experiences as an artist. It also challenges naive assumptions about the ‘objectivity’ of science which takes so much for granted. (Meanwhile, do join the discussion about the radio program; it’s all happening here.)
Now, for those who ponder the mystery of Being; an introduction to Martin Heidegger: his life, his Nazism and his obscure but profound philosophy.
My philosophical quest in search of the nature of knowledge has recently led me down a slippery trail into my own Mines of Moria, the eerie world of raw truth. It is here, in this obscurity that lies beyond words, that the ghost of Martin Heidegger looms: certainly one of the 20th century’s brilliant minds, and a philosopher with a damning relation to the Nazi party.
This morning “A Sense of Awe” (the radio program) went to air at the (ungodly?) hour of 7am Sunday morning. We hope a vigorous conversation will ensue; this site is the place to contribute. Please get involved by leaving your comments here.
If you haven’t heard the program, you can find times of further broadcasts or an audio download at the Encounter page for the program. You can also read the transcript, but of course if you read it you’ll miss out on Pink Floyd, Vangelis, Pärt, the Bloody Beetroots and all the other subtle and not so subtle WAV file splices.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Sarah Tomasetti is a Melbourne landscape artist and kindly agreed to write a piece for A Sense of Awe about her experiences. Sarah gained a professional qualification in fresco painting in Italy in 1995. Her work is held in a number of collections including Artbank, Macquarie Bank, National Australia Bank, BHP, Grafton Regional Gallery and in private collections in Australia and overseas. (Click on the images to enlarge them.)
Like many artists before me, I am compulsively drawn to the great wild romantic landscapes of history. I am intrigued by how we need this sense of something extraordinary that lies beyond ourselves, how we have sought this through encounters with the natural world, and how, in turn, landscape painting has historically charted our cultural relationship to nature.
I recently revisited Fiordland in New Zealand and walked the Milford Track. On the fifth day one emerges at Sandfly point to take a boat across Milford Sound, the site of Von Guerard’s famous late 19th Century painting of the same name. From roughly the same viewpoint I embarked on further studies of The Lion, an iconic rock that rises with stately certainty from the tannin tinged waters of the Sound.
Kayaking close to the base, one is struck by the vertiginous nature of the granite sides that continue uninterrupted below the waterline. There is nothing resembling a shore or even so much as a foothold in a rock face carved out by a glacier. In the presence of such scale I am reminded of Kate Rigby’s conclusion to her book Topographies of the Sacred, that ‘there is something we might carry forward from romanticism: the art of dwelling ecstatically amidst the elemental, the uninhabitable, and the incomprehensible.’ *
Painting The Lion felt, in some symbolic sense, like coming home, in the sense of engaging with the deep human wish for eternal, unchanging presence; for many found in faith, in nature, or the celestial realm of the sky. The Lion is in reality a dark form, covered in deep brown and green foliage. That this painting emerged a silvery blue suggests the domain of the spirit, perhaps an interior but not visceral place.
I think this reverie I find myself in has deep roots in the human psyche but there is something else intruding now – what is it? Awe has always sat close to a tremor of fear, but this is different, something more like dread. To speak of unchanging presence in nature would seem to be an unparalleled luxury in the 21st Century when the dire predictions of climate change add up to no less than the potential apocalypse of our time. How much more contemplation can we afford? What have we done?
Making a radio program is not as simple as doing an interview and sending it into the airwaves. Let me share some secrets…
You wouldn’t believe the torrent of unacceptable vocal habits that pollutes the audio landscape. Unless of course you’ve had the joy of editing a WAV file.
This past week I’ve spent lots of time at the ABC in Southbank, Melbourne with WAV files passing before my eyes on a computer monitor. It’s part of the cost of cleaning up interviews into a product fit for public consumption on a national broadcaster.
Everyone makes a program differently, but this time I made a full transcript of my interviews (which you may have read here) and then planned the program using the transcripts. But of course only a small part of hours of interviews will find its way into the final 48min program (48min 28sec to be precise!)
That’s where the WAV files come in.
Four audio files associated with A Sense of Awe are now available to download and listen to. The first three (in highly edited form) will contribute to the radio program that goes to air on November 6. The files are:
3. A further interview with Denis Alexander (available here 15Mb 30min).