Saturday, July 02, 2005

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans

posted by Chet at 5:53 AM UTC

Visitors to this site will be aware of the lively theological discussion that's been going on in Comments between Barry, Geoff, Teresa, and others. I've stayed out of it, not because I think it uninteresting, but because I have enough chance to have my say.

What all the participants seem to have in common is respect for reliable scientific knowledge of the world and a sense that the universe -- in Geoff's phrase -- "hums and bristles with mystery."

Like the great majority of people in the world, a few commenters want to give a name to the mystery, and to claim a personal relationship with its source. But most of us who have joined the discussion are content to say "I don't know." We agree with the philosopher Karl Popper: "The more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific, and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance. For this, indeed, is the main source of our ignorance -- the fact that our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite."

We resist using the G-word if for no other reason than that it carries a historical burden of idolatrous baggage. We reject all dogmas and formulations, especially those that project a human face or personality onto what is so clearly transhuman. We pray, if reverent attention to "what is" can be called a kind of prayer, but we expect no response. We celebrate by engaging joyfully with the universe as it presents itself to our senses, never forgetting the apparently infinite mystery that lies just beyond the limits of our knowing.