Some secular-minded folks find the ideas of religion and spirituality unappealing because they think they are simply too practical to find the concept of religious belief appealing in their own lives. For some, the idea of some kind of deity in the sky or higher power guiding our lives is a little too far-fetched to hold any merit.
But for some scientists, the mysteries of the universe often offer up enough wonder and glory to serve as a type of religion on their own.
There is so much of the universe left unmapped and unexplored: as far as we know, it is boundless and infinite. Whenever we do explore out into the universe, we uncover all kinds of wonderful new things, such as the existence of chemical patterns that could suggest a type of life, or planets in other solar systems roughly the same size and dimension as the planet earth.
One doesn’t even have to look as far as the solar system to feel a sense of wonder and power close to having a religious experience. Biologists often find the actual existence of life just as mysterious and fantastic as any creation story involving gods or mythology. Earth is so far the only planet that we know of that supports life, and the fact that life managed to evolve from single-celled, asexual organisms to the complexity we see around the globe today is nothing short of miraculous.
Many scientists have professed this kind of spiritual feeling for their scientific pursuits. Often they claim to be atheist or agnostic but feel that the wonders on Earth and in the heavens are pretty much all you need to have faith and feel a sense of awe.
Renowned cosmologist, astrophysicist and scientific believer Carl Sagan spoke on this topic often, most famously in his nonfiction book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.
“‘Spirit’ comes from the Latin word ‘to breathe,’” he wrote. “What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin. Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word “spiritual” that we are talking of anything other than matter (including the matter of which the brain is made), or anything outside the realm of science. On occasion, I will feel free to use the word. Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the modern version of Sagan and a student of the late astrophysicist, has been known to share similar sentiments regarding the majesty and mystery of the cosmos.
“It’s quite literally true that we are stardust, in the highest exalted way one can use that phrase,” he wrote in Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion and Survival, a paper penned for the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. “I bask in the majesty of the cosmos. I use words, compose sentences that sound like the sentences I hear out of people that had revelation of Jesus, who go on their pilgrimages to Mecca.”
It appears that Tyson and Sagan share a wonder for the universe that is akin to religious feeling, even though they mostly shun religion because of the doors it closes to understanding and asking questions.
The mystery and wonder that the universe provides is enough for many to feel closer to some kind of god or spirit, even if they don’t have any sort of religious belief.
To attain your own sense of wonder with the world, learn about the expansive universe or the origin of life on Earth. It will give you a completely new perspective on the importance of understanding the world around us.