Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Science and Natural Mysticism

I’ve been reading Arthur Eddington’s Science and the Unseen World, the 1929 Swarthmore Lecture.

I love this kind of writing and this kind of thinking. These were the kinds of issues, questions, and ideas that set me on fire when I was in high school and college; this was why I started studying science; this was why my science professors kept telling me, with a bit of exasperation in their voices: “you ask philosophical questions!”; this was why I then dropped out of college and wandered about amongst British Friends until I reconciled myself to studying philosophy and religion (at a Quaker college) instead of majoring directly in a science.

Being a philosopher of science, I do still have high regard for science.

So, I would like to offer the following quotations from Eddington especially to any young scientists out there who may feel uncertain about how to understand their faith in relation to their fascination with science.

“The scientist who from time to time falls into [a mystical] mood does not feel guilty twinges as though he had lapsed in his devotion to truth; he would on the contrary feel deep concern if he found himself losing the power of entering into this kind of feeling.”

“In short our environment may and should mean something towards us which is not to be measured with the tools of the physicist or described by the metrical symbols of the mathematician.”

“What I [am attempting] is to dispel the feeling that in using the eye of the body or the eye of the soul, and incorporating what is thereby revealed in our conception of reality, we are doing something irrational and disobeying the leading of truth which as scientists we are pledged to serve.”

(From Arthur Stanley Eddington, Science and the Unseen World, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930, pp. 47, 49.)


  1. Trying to catch up with your blog, I read your quote of Eddington. I thought you would like this interview with Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project.

    It's on the SFGate Finding My Religion column.

    Quote: "Science and religion have long had an uneasy relationship, at best. But Dr. Francis S. Collins believes the two can coexist happily and that a scientist can worship God equally well in a cathedral or a laboratory."

    -- Chris M.
    Tables, Chairs & Oaken Chests

  2. Thank you, Chris M., for sharing this link -- the quote is great, and I look forward to reading through the interview!