There’s a line from Coldplay’s “The Scientist” that pops in my head from time to time. Nothing seems to prompt it. The line just comes: “Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart.”
As I sit with the words now, I notice why they speak to me. A lover of math and physics, questions of science have engaged me from the very beginning. At first it was dinosaurs, fossils, rocks, mountains, stars, planets – big, physical, earthy things. As I grew and learned through the complicated processes of science, the whole world became an infinitely complicated, continuously unfolding window into God’s creative mind. From the quantum entanglement of paired photon particles to the unimaginably long process of creation through evolution that could selectively form the creatures of this mysterious and complicated world, I stand in complete, utter fascination.
Yet, as captivated as I am by science, its questions are not enough. For me, asking the probing questions of science isn’t about head knowledge, it’s about heart knowledge. The created world and all its mysteries, when uncovered and understood, stir in me deeper mysteries, mysteries of a different category and question. At some point I moved beyond asking what and how to asking why and what does it mean.
As we celebrated Pentecost, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded that the gifts we have been given are of both head knowledge and heart knowledge. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, strength, piety, and fear of the Lord – these challenge and equip us to probe deeper, scientifically and metaphysically, into the mystery of being.
Of all the gifts, fear of the Lord might sound the most antiquated, but it may also be the most relevant for today’s ongoing conversation with secularism. Understood as “wonder and awe”, rather than fear, this gift certainly explains my shift in focus from science to faith. And, I’m certain, explains the drive of so much scientific research today.
Wonder is the starting point for two difficult conversations – one between science and fundamentalism and the second between faith and active secularism. Both the agnostic physicist and the pious mystic share the gift of a profound wonder and awe at the created world, whether or not they both believe the world had a creator.
As we celebrate the gift of Pentecost, and as we give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s continued work, let us take time to wonder with someone about the intricacies of creation – whether it be through the eyes of science or the eyes of faith – and let us hope that this gift of wonder can begin a creative conversation of a different sort.
Mark Bartholet is the Pastoral Associate for Faith Formation at St. Peter Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC.