Why Science Doesn’t Destroy Wonder

One of the arguments made by many people, from fundamentalist Christians to pagan, new agey types, is that science somehow destroys the “magic” of the world and robs us of our sense of wonder. That argument has never made sense to me at all. Robin Ince gives a TED talk on why it’s nonsense.


About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • Vall

    “Understanding does not remove the wonder and the joy.”

    I agree completely. If I understand something, it adds to my wonder and joy. Even if I don’t understand completely, I am proud of the fact that one of my fellow humans figured something out.

  • d cwilson

    Which is more wonderous? That the atoms in our body were forged in the heart of a supernova or that we are golems made of clay that a sky-fairy breathed on?

  • http://rockstarramblings.blogspot.com/ Bronze Dog

    A common response when I find out how something works or how it came about: “Wow! That’s even cooler than what I was imagining!”

  • Larry

    Understanding the science of how and why a rainbow appears in the sky does nothing towards removing the appreciation of its beauty. In fact, it elevates it. If you need to believe that some sky fairy put it there, I truly pity you.

  • eric

    I suspect that its not complete nonsense. Pointing out that scientists (and others) continue to find wonder in explanation does not refute the notion that for some people it causes a loss of wonder.

    Rather, both claims together are perfectly consistent with there being people for whom understanding removes wonder, and people for whom it doesn’t, and the ones for whom it does rarely become scientists.

    Now, we can ask the psychological question as to why some people feel a loss of wonder when given an explanation. But when you’ve got a group telling you that’s how they feel, I think its somewhat silly to try the counter-argument ‘no you really can’t/ought not feel that way.’

  • Chiroptera

    One of the arguments made by many people, from fundamentalist Christians to….

    I have to admit that I associate this reasoning with the New Agers. I don’t hear too many fundamentalists making this argument exactly. That might just mean that I don’t know the right fundamentalists, though.

  • http://rockstarramblings.blogspot.com/ Bronze Dog

    It’s pretty strong with newagers, but I’ve encountered my share of Christian Fundamentalists who think that way. I really can’t understand their mentality.

  • schism

    Pointing out that scientists (and others) continue to find wonder in explanation does not refute the notion that for some people it causes a loss of wonder.

    I suspect this stems from people conflating wonder with reverence. Science absolutely destroys the latter, as the realization that nature simply operates on laws and probability leaves nothing to revere. That doesn’t preclude being impressed that it does, in fact, operate.

  • The Lorax

    People, people.

    Why even debate this issue when xkcd has already solved it?


    Match, point, over.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Understanding does not remove the wonder of “why the hell doesn’t everyone else get this?”

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    That was very funny and enlightening, thanks!

  • Crudely Wrott

    Wonder minus insight equals wondering poorly.

    Wonder plus insight equals wondering wisely.

    Wondering poorly equals stasis.

    Wondering wisely equals progress.

  • Michael Heath

    Wonder doesn’t even really get going until we begin to perceive reality; initial wonderment is mostly infantile where the ignorant don’t even know what they don’t know.

    A good analogy I use is about a hobby of their’s others finding boring. For example, I appreciate why people who don’t golf regularly don’t like to watch golf on TV – they find it boring, “grown man chasing a little white ball”. They’re missing most everything that’s going on unless they’ve practiced for countless hours, gotten lessons, had good and bad days and shots – often with no discernable pattern, competed – especially having to make a tee shot off the 1st tee with a crowd, or a tight tee shot or a four-footer to win the match (especially when playing with a partner – for money), or a flop shot to an elevated tee from the rough with a tight-lie.

    I find bowling a bore, yet when I watch it with a relative whose a tourney-grade bowler with 200+ average, he provides me a window that helps me appreciate all that I can’t even imagine perceiving without him. (I note he’s ‘tourney-grade’ because there are a lot of 200+ bowlers where their average comes only from their home alley; maintaining such an average across a lot of different alleys is a far more impressive feat because conditions vary.)

  • kermit.

    Nearly all the adults I knew as a kid were either school teachers or Southern Baptists. If I expressed wonder in some way at the world around me, I was told that I should thank God for creating it. In fact, these occasions seemed to be an opportunity to relentlessly express our piety by worshiping the Loving Parent in the Sky, who would be furious if we didn’t. I learned in time to just keep my observations to myself. They never actually seemed to look at what I was talking about or pointing to, anyway.

    At least my parents bought me books and let me read others from the library, as well as wander about the woods. Toadstools and toads; polliwogs, feral apple trees, rattlesnakes and daddy longlegs, clouds and sunbeams filled much of my free time. That, and books. School was mostly OK, but church was downright dreary.

    When I started reading science books I realized that not all grown ups were insane. I also knew immediately that the scientists and science writers I was reading shared my wonder at the world. It’s not people who love nature that think biologists routinely fake data, or climatologists entered that field for the wealth and power it brings. People who think that way do not love nature themselves, and find little in the world around them to be fascinating. They find the idea of people largely motivated by wonder to be incomprehensible.

  • carolw

    I was reminded of the wonder of simple scientific investigation as a child when I was home over the holidays and came across the microscope my sibs and I used to play with. We spent hours looking at ditch water, and hovered around like little ghouls waiting for our dad to cut himself working on the car so we could look at his blood. I took it back with me rather than have it go into the garage sale.

  • rork

    God did it all and its so wonderful might feel nice, but the real thing is more inspiring by far. I have developed eyes that constantly and easily see overwhelming beauty out in the green world, much more so than if I didn’t know of some of the interconnectedness, evolution and co-evolution, and cellular biology “miracles” of all the organisms, or the workings of ground water and weather cycles. It’s pearls before swine to some. We aren’t even nearly seeing the same thing.

    Or you can use golf and bowling as examples.