A Sense of Awe: science, faith and wonder
August 21, 2011 13

An invitation

By in main posts

Welcome to “A Sense of Awe,” a discussion about science, faith and wonder. Please look around and join the conversation.

This weekend I’ll be heading south to the cooler climes of Tasmania seeking re-enchantment. I’ll be attending a conference put on by ISCAST, a group of mostly scientists who are also Christians. The conference, which prompted the idea for a radio program, is called “Disenchantment: Faith and Science in a Secular World.”

In Tassie I will be on the look-out for ideas and material for an ABC Radio National Encounter program due to go to air in November. I wonder if you’d care to join me?

No, I can’t take you to Tasmania. But I’d love you to join the conversation as we explore the issues of disenchantment and re-enchantment. I hope we can generate an interesting dialogue and I look forward to your help as I plan the program.

In Tasmania I will be talking to the main speakers:  Nancey Murphy is a philosopher of science and theologian and Denis Alexander is a molecular biologist and directs the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge. Professor Murphy holds an unusual position for an orthodox Christian believer; she is a physicalist and rejects dualism, the idea that humans are made up of two types of substance, usually described as mind and body. So she doesn’t believe in the soul! We’ll hear more of her views down the track.

The aim of this site is to complement the Encounter program in two ways. Firstly, it is an opportunity to broaden the canvas of an audio program by engaging in discussion and exploration of the issue online both before and after the program airs.

Secondly, this forum will contribute to the program as we explore the issues and work with the material. Before A Sense of Awe (the radio program) is sealed in its digital package this blog will offer a means of contributing, not only to the discussion, but also to the final form the program takes. Perhaps all my best ideas will be overturned and the finished product will look (well, at least ‘sound’) very different to what I imagined it might.

Please note that the discussion will be strictly moderated in order to promote a respectful, serious conversation. More details of the moderation guidelines can be found on the ‘About‘ page.

So… let’s get the discussion going. Let me ask: What are the main issues concerning the relationships between science, religious faith and re-enchantment in a secular age? And what sort of discussion should I take up with Nancey and Denis when I have an hour or two with them in Tasmania this weekend?

To stimulate further thought, there is an introduction to the topic on the ABC Religion portal called “Is awe still possible in a secular age?

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COMMENT on this post

13 Responses to “An invitation”

  1. Paul Desailly says:

    Great program but demonstrably incomplete – just check for your self at the UN and in the law of our country – in that all concerned accepted a priori 3 Abrahamic Traditions. In fact 4 and 5 exist. Moreover, only the sacred texts of the Babis and the Baha’is were penned by the respective Founders and ergo faultly interpretation and manipulation become impossible when true consultation occurs. While physical proofs will never exist because faith would then be unnecessary logical proofs, yes proofs, as to the existence of God abound in the Baha’i writings which is as one should expect for Jesus said . “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12)

  2. sysyphus says:

    Perhaps we all experience a sense of awe at various times and to varying degrees. The question as to whether that sense has a metaphysical underpinning or not is, as far as I can see, an undecidable question in principle, because there is no conceivable empirical observation which could verify or falsify any position we could hold regarding it.

  3. AlabG says:

    Which is more awesome? The majestic mountains or the little kid in the foreground? Or the juxtaposition? Awe requires a certain reflection and receptiveness – not confined to the religious (indeed some forms of religion are not open to such approaches) and it can be overlooked in some pursuits of science – intent on the next discovery ahead of competitors. So we need to train ourselves to be open to the sense of awe – or do we need to rediscover what we had as kids but was socialised out of us by our adult pursuits?

  4. Roger Rickard says:

    I don’t think scientists will ever lose a sense of awe, as Sentinel mentioned above, awe is something we all experience. However I think a scientific worldview—one dominated by empiricism and one whose sole definer is the supposition that everything has a physical explanation—undermines human experience and removes meaning from ‘awe’. This is the worldview held by most of us. The issue is not a lack of awe, but a preoccupation with the material world. In a world where the material is king, awe is but a lowly peasant sometimes sought if required.

    Even as we look in awe at the stars, beneath our feet our world is eroding from our own narcissism and pragmatism. We are simply too busy, and too distracted to stop, be in awe, and let that awe filter into our deepest parts, and challenge our faith.

  5. rebuildit says:

    So those guys in white coats are still looking for the ‘God particle’ underground at CERN.
    They thought they had but didnt find it. Why?
    Not why they didn’t but why were they looking?
    Do they think that God has particles?

    Awe is our motivation unless we have stopped asking.

  6. johnw says:

    I have always been interested in the interplay between science and religion. My current view is that religion can play no part in the explanation of the physical world – except possibly through it’s various roles as social dynamite.

    When I stand in awe looking at a mountain, it is awe of the physical process that made it, not religious awe. Pretty dogmatic, eh

  7. Peter Grant says:

    Great initiative Chris! A few thoughts. I wonder if novelty and fascination have become our substitutes for awe. And have we shifted our gaze from the natural world onto the things that we have invented?

    Try this two-part test. (1) How many native plant or animal species can you name from your own heighbourhood? And how many informative sentences could you string together about those species? (2) How many brands of cars, tools, appliances or TV programs can you name? And how many informative sentences about them could you put together?

    To me, being open to the non-human world helps allow an openness to the transcendent, and to awe. Whereas a concentration on the things we make and do tends to shut out awe.

    Glad to hear you’re coming to (wonderfully natural) Tassie! I look forward to hearing more.

  8. Kessellman says:

    Hi Chris,

    Congratulations. This is a great idea.

    I think Nancey Murphy’s rejection of dualism is an important one and a view I share. Dualism seems to me deeply embedded in culture and particularly in orthodox christian circles. There’s important history here but i’ll leave that to someone better qualified to explain. My interest in this stems from the problems I encounter as a Psychotherapist. I find it can be a belief that for many is an obstacle to healing. “Awe” is a “subjective” and experiential idea to explore. I would like to see/hear some thoughts from Nancey, Denis and others on the topics of Complexity, free will/determinism, sin, moralism and perversion to name a few!!

    • Veronika says:

      And I would like to know with what Professor Murphy replaces the soul? As an orthodox Christian, she must believe in life after death and what part of the person, if not the soul, transcends (or descends) after death?

      • Roger Rickard says:

        This is an aside from the discussion, but because you asked. Many orthodox Christians do not hold to a dualist point of view. The Bible itself never separates a person from their soul. The Christian gospel believes that Jesus was the first resurrected from the dead, and that all who believe will be resurrected from death also (body and soul together), when in the end heaven is on earth. The idea that heaven is transcendent only is not really biblical, and the ‘intermediate state’ is too complex a discussion for now. I hope that helps.

  9. Sentinel says:

    Hi Chris,

    I think this is a major challenge that scientists face: dealing with the awe that is inherent in human experience, while also trying to confine thinking to the materialist (and physicalist) worldview that is a pre-requisite of science.

    Whether it’s the wonder of a new baby being born, a sunrise, the stars, whatever: we are all susceptible to the experience of awe. But as scientists we make sense of this from within a scientific worldview, so we must either acknowledge it (and live with the paradox) or ignore it (and live with the denial).

    You might find some of the ideas in this post useful:

  10. Julie Kemp says:

    I’m all for awe!
    Life experience for me confirms it.
    Now in my 60’s with registered nursing [general, midwifery, mental health], broad travel [outback Australia, South America, PNG and UK/Europe], academic [fine arts/art history and law] and general life experience awe has been a saving grace in my times of despair from severe ill health and deep losses, as well as deeply engaging me in a vast number of joyous moments. I wonder about whether whatever has been the agent experience, the actual moment of joy or transcendence (or whatever could be the word) always seems to be the same! I think that is most excellent, if not telling.

    • Sue says:

      Yes, Julie! On my blog travels this morning I came across a site listing the beginning to a whole lot of books. I’m reminded of the beginning of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, where “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

      I feel the same way about joy and about despondency. The joy always feels the same. It feels like it is stepping into a very full golden void, a non-dualistic space where I feel what I like to call the golden thread, the connection between everything.

      Love this discussion, I think it will be very fruitful.

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