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Reason and Wonder: Bridging Science & Spirituality

“We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story,” wrote the late cultural historian Thomas Berry. “We are between stories.” The old religious story of divine human origins ignores the scientific facts of evolution and Big Bang cosmology. The modern scientific story sticks to the facts but is devoid of meaning. It’s like having two parents, one of whom tells us how special we are and the other how ordinary. Which are we to believe? Must we make, in the words of Ilya Prigogine, Nobel laureate in chemistry, “the tragic choice between an antiscientific philosophy and an alienating science?” Perhaps no “tragic choice” need be made, because, despite centuries of animosity between science and religion, at root they are siblings. Both originate in the experience of awe. Our classroom journey therefore will seek to harness our innate sense of wonder to help reconcile head with heart. We’ll start by reviewing the development of modern science through the unfolding of three successive “Copernican” Revolutions, each with earthshaking philosophical implications: the cosmological revolution of Copernicus, Galileo, and Einstein; the biological revolution of Darwin and the genetic code; and the quantum revolution of Planck, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, and many others. Whereas the cosmological and biological revolutions drove a wedge between science and religion, the quantum revolution holds the promise of a new, integrative story regarding the place of humans in the cosmos. Early proponents of the still unfolding new story include Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, and Brian Swimme, among others, as well as a number of organizations such as the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), the Science and Medical Network (SMN), and Science and NonDuality (SAND). Indeed, the instructor spent 12 years researching and articulating the new story in Reason and Wonder (2012/2015), of which world-renowned religions scholar Ursula King wrote: “Following this intriguing tale opens up a vision of true audacity and grandeur that will change your thinking forever.” Participants are invited to share in a collective journey of wonder, myth-making, and reconciliation. The only prerequisite is curiosity.

DAVE PRUETT is Professor Emeritus of Mathematics & Statistics at James Madison University (JMU). In addition to three decades of mathematics teaching, Dave has a decade of aerospace-related research experience at NASA’s Langley Research Center. He is also the author of Reason and Wonder (Praeger, 2012), the outgrowth of an award-winning JMU Honors seminar that explores the nexus of science and spirituality. Since his retirement in 2012, Dave has taught or team-taught a baker’s dozen of Lifelong Learning courses.

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