Sometimes, when discussing the possible existence of God (or Gods), there is the question: “Where is the evidence God exists?” One problem with that question is that different groups (believers and non-believers) are seeking different kinds of evidence. It’s a bit like how different groups — often the same two groups — get stuck on meanings of the word “theory.”
Evidence can be probative, circumstantial or even merely suggestive. When it comes to the question of God, some require probative evidence to prove God’s existence. Others, believing faith is central to belief, require only circumstantial or suggestive evidence.
Here are some thoughts about evidence I find suggestive.
Have you ever been out on a clear night, far from the city lights, and seen the sky filled with more stars than you can even begin to count? As you stood there gazing upwards, did you feel your heart soar? Did you — maybe for just a moment — find your breath taken away by the sheer size of the universe?
Why do we feel awe? What is that about?
Have you ever listened to a piece of music that reached deep inside you, grabbed your heart and squeezed tears from your eyes? Have you ever found a piece of music so filled with life and joy that you couldn’t not — at the very least — tap out the beat with your fingers or feet?
Why does music move us so? Why is it loved the world over?
Why is music so closely tied to our joys, our sorrows, our struggles, our celebrations and our worship? (As to that last, besides liturgical music, there are school songs, sports songs and even songs about money.)
The universality and power of these things begs explanation.
Many — some require all — of our behaviors have an evolutionary explanation. Our appreciation of human beauty seems well grounded in evolution. Studies show that good genetics correspond with people most consider “beautiful.”
Even the appreciation of land — the good feelings we get from a lush forest or fertile plain — point to evolved understandings long ago encoded in our genes. The tribe can prosper here.
But if you’ve ever stood in the stark, forbidding emptiness of Death Valley and thought, “Wow! This is awesome!” you know that appreciation of the land can be transcendent. I would imagine one gets a similar feeling standing at either of the Earth’s poles or on the top of Mount Everest.
Why is a beautiful sunset breathtaking? Where is the evolutionary grounding for that? Given predators who hunt at night, given that humans don’t see well in the dark, isn’t fear or insecurity the likely primitive encoding for the coming of night?
Children often need a nightlight; many adults fear the dark. Shouldn’t a sunset seem an ominous omen — not something we watch with such evident pleasure? But crowds gather daily at Mallory Square to festively celebrate and watch the sun set into the Gulf.
Even the sunset seems transcendent.
Awe seems connected with our intellect and our emotions.
It often stems from our understanding. Engineers feel awe when regarding a designed thing that seems to embody all the perfections of elegant design. Those who deeply understand the language of a given art feel awe regarding the works of the truly skilled artists of that art.
Those who love the idea of space and space travel feel the awe of an Apollo or Shuttle launch. One vacation my then girlfriend and I visited “the Cape” and watched a Shuttle launch in their IMAX theater. I was so moved I couldn’t speak for five or so minutes afterwards.
The experience was transcendent. I can only imagine how profoundly affecting seeing the real thing would have been. (Those who have been there almost universally report the sense of awe.)
As humans we conceive of many things that seem absent in the animal kingdom: justice, equality, religion, morality, art, mathematics, science.
Humans question; we alone ask, “Why?”
So perhaps awe is a product of human intellect, a thing we made up.
But why? Those things I listed above can all be seen as useful social tools (although art might be the joker in that deck). Given the conscious awareness of self, extending that to the awareness of other, one can create an account for equality, justice, and morality.
The driving forces behind religion, mathematics and science are too obvious to mention. Their useful value to society is well-established.
Art may be connected to awe; certainly great art can awe us. Perhaps art actually springs from our sense of awe. (Which connects well with my definition of art as an intentional expression of ones interpretation of existence.)
So why can we feel awe? Is it just a product of our intellect? Or is it suggestive there is something very special going on here?
Maybe our ability to feel a sense of awe is a way God says: “Hello, World!”
Life is often recursive. I’m in awe regarding my ability to feel awe.
I leave you with two things I think are totally awesome: