Concerning Consecrated Science

The suspect wonder of the new cosmology

Authored by: Lisa H. Sideris

The Routledge Handbook of Religious Naturalism

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138292079
eBook ISBN: 9781315228907
Adobe ISBN:


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The astronomer Carl Sagan once predicted that a religion inspired by scientific knowledge of the universe would eventually emerge to rival the traditional faiths. Such a religion, he proposed, “might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths” (1994: 50). Sagan’s prophecy contains an implicit assumption that science is better positioned than traditional faiths to elicit a powerful response of awe and wonder. Though more elegantly expressed by Sagan than by some of his colleagues, the assumption itself is not unique. It is something of a set piece in the science-religion debate. Richard Dawkins, in characteristically strident tones, often promotes the power and authenticity of scientific wonder over and above religion’s vastly inferior offerings. “Science provides the most stupendous sense of wonder at the universe and at life, something that eclipses the meager, puny, paltry, little sense of wonder that any religion has ever managed to muster” (Dawkins, in Burstein and Keijzer 2009: 240). Edward O. Wilson, another outspoken and visionary biologist, exhorts us to look to the sciences for “richer material to work with” because “the real world, the universe—from black holes to the origin of consciousness—offers far more complex and grander themes than does traditional theology” (Wilson, in Barlow 1997: 27).

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