The Awe We All Share

The New York Review of Books recently ran an excerpt from the late philosopher Ronald Dworkin’s forthcoming book, Religion without God, which includes this passage:

The familiar stark divide between people of religion and without religion is too crude. Many millions of people who count themselves atheists have convictions and experiences very like and just as profound as those that believers count as religious…They find the Grand Canyon not just arresting but breathtakingly and eerily wonderful. They are not simply interested in the latest discoveries about the vast universe but enthralled by them. These are not, for them, just a matter of immediate sensuous and otherwise inexplicable response. They express a conviction that the force and wonder they sense are real, just as real as planets or pain, that moral truth and natural wonder do not simply evoke awe but call for it.

Adam Frank thinks Dworkin helpfully pointed toward the common ground the religious and non-religious share, and believes now is the time for people of goodwill to “get creative” in cultivating these similarities:

How does a culture saturated with the fruits (and poisons) of science understand the ancient human longing that is sometimes called religious, sometimes spiritual or sometimes sacred? The route of absolute rejection (taken famously by ) makes for a clean ideology. But it comes at a cost: ignoring the reality of human experience. This is why Dworkin is keen to show that — even for people who call themselves atheist — there remains a sense or a value to the world which bears so much in common with attitudes we call religious or spiritual.