A Sense of Awe: science, faith and wonder
September 19, 2011 0

Enchantment of the gaps?

By in contributions

In a comment on “Is awe still possible in a secular age?” (on the ABC Religion & Ethics portal) Harry Kerr offers some thoughts on teasing out the issues involved in “the enchantment debate.” He says:

I think there is room for some serious defining of terms like re/de/enchantment, awe, wonder, secular, transcendent etc., otherwise we end up talking past each other.

Most religious people would now recognise the futility of the “God of the Gaps” approach: when we can’t explain something it must be God. As science advances the gap gets smaller and smaller until we realise that even when there are things we can’t comprehend, we probably will sometime in the future.

There is also an older “enchantment of the gaps.” When people couldn’t comprehend natural phenomena such as thunder, storms, earthquakes etc, they would attribute them to some spiritual power, usually malign. For some these powers dominated the entire natural world. Humanity might be able to placate / get on the right side of them or it might not.

Most people would reject this view of “enchantment.”

The question is : Is enchantment/awe/ the experience of being “moved” an emotional reaction to natural beauty, art, music, love etc which will one day be explained by science? Or does it relate to a power beyond humanity and the known world, a power which relates to the known world and is knowable in it?  (“The beyond in our midst.”)

The word “secular” implies a closed system in which everything can or soon will be explained and understood through science and reason. In human relations the so called “free market” is proposed as a scientific reality against which there is no argument.

Most people then can acknowledge enchantment/awe etc as a dimension of human experience.

Religious people believe that the circle is not closed, that there is a reality, the nature of which is beyond our full comprehension, which is beyond yet present and active in our world. The world is a “holy place” which points beyond itself and bears witness to a deeper reality. This gives rise to awe/enchantment of a different order to the common human experience.

This awe takes hold of us and invites us into a deeper reality beyond what we see.

Thanks Harry for those thoughts.

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