“Contemplating the teeming life of the shore, we have an uneasy sense of the communication of some universal truth that lies just beyond our grasp. What is the message signaled by the hordes of diatoms, flashing their microscopic lights in the night sea? What truth is expressed by the legions of barnacles, whitening the rocks with their habitations, each small creature within finding the necessities of its existence in the sweep of the surf? And what is the meaning of so tiny a being as the transparent wisp of protoplasm that is a sea lace, existing for some reason inscrutable to us — a reason that demands its presence by the trillion amid the rocks and weeds of the shore? The meaning haunts and ever eludes us, and in its very pursuit we approach the ultimate mystery of Life itself.”
from The Edge of the Sea
- Rachel Carson (1955)
It is a sense of wonder and amazement and complete humility when faced with nature that I believe truly characterizes the scientist/naturalist. The criticism that the scientific mentality is primarily composed of an obsession to reduce the universe to a “handful of equations that can fit on a T-shirt” is a slander perpetrated by those who see the world as merely the stage for their own ambitions or as the arena of a cruel and capricious deity which demands naught but fawning sycophancy from his worshippers.
The “universal truth” science seeks is the same the artist tries to create and which the theist arrogantly thinks he has finally acquired. But I believe it is the scientist who really comes to grips with it, on an emotional, not rational, level. The anthropocentric myths and cultural artifacts mankind has created to deal with that universal truth seem so trivial and contrived compared to what little we know of the evolution of the Universe and of life itself. As little as science has been able to tell us, it is still so much more profound and satisfying, both intellectually and viscerally, than what we have devised from our own imaginings.
The poetry of Genesis is more of a genuine creation than the tribal and medieval theology of origins that inspired it; and the landscape revealed by even a cursory knowledge of biology (not to mention astronomy and physics) shows us a world of incomparably greater richness, mystery and wonder than the superstitious nonsense we have manufactured to comfort ourselves. The universe the scientists have discovered is simply more convincing, and certainly more beautiful, than the one the priests invented, and in its contemplation lies the true meaning of spirituality.