Instructions to appreciate the wonder of science are everywhere. There’s the Wonder season organised jointly by the Barbican and the Wellcome Trust which starts tomorrow; the Science Museum’s World Wonders Trail; the parliamentary select committee report on introducing wonder to the national curriculum; and the 2011 TED conference titledThe Rediscovery of Wonder. But am I alone in finding this cheerleading problematic?
It’s ironic that the public engagement with the science crowd is so pro-wonder, because they’re so anti-religion. “All the great religions have a place for awe, for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation,” writes Richard Dawkins. “And it’s exactly this feeling of spine-shivering, breath-catching awe – almost worship – this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide.”
“I’m an atheist,” said maths professor Marcus du Sautoy when he took up the Charles Simonyi chair in the public understanding of science at Oxford. “But for me the important thing is the wonder of science.” Advocates for science can’t seem to give up on religion’s selling points: the awe, transcendence, and worship.
Maybe this awe is little more than the opening of new pathways in the brain because of a new experience. The experience of otherness or vastness?