An Atheist in Awe

English: Loch Awe from the A85.
Loch Awe from the A85. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Staks Rosch (Dangerous Talk) recently posted about one of the most puzzling misunderstandings some religious believers seem to have about atheists: that we do not experience every bit as much awe and wonder in our surroundings as they do. My experience has been similar to his in that I have actually found that my feelings of awe and wonder of the universe increased since I set aside god-belief. Yep, that's right. I have experienced the sense of awe some religious believers refer to as part of "spirituality" more as an atheist than I did as a Christian.

Instead of telling myself that the beauty of nature is the work of some sort of god, I am free to consider the science behind it. And while I do not assume this will be true for every atheist, I certainly feel closer to nature and in greater awe of the beauty around than I ever did as a believer.

Here's how Staks put it:
Our understanding doesn’t diminish our sense of awe and wonder; it adds more layers to our feeling of awe and wonder. I am in awe of our human ability to learn and understand. How wonderful is it that we live at a time in history in which science and technology allows us to understand so much more than we once did.
Yep. When I see a rainbow, I am struck by its beauty. My enjoyment is not diminished in the least by the fact that I do not imagine a pot of gold at the end.

I imagine most of you have seen at least one interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Doesn't he strike you as someone who is almost bursting with awe and wonder? I get that impression every time I see him on TV. Don't you suppose that a big part of this comes from what he knows through his application of the scientific method? Good scientists seem to have this sense of awe and wonder in abundance.

Although many atheists are reluctant to use the term "spirituality" to describe our feelings of awe and wonder, there may be some advantages to doing so. After all, this sense of awe is an important part in almost all definitions of spirituality, and spirituality is quite distinct from religion. Perhaps spirituality would be one way we could connect with some religious believers, as they might realize that we are not so different from them after all and that giving up god belief entails giving up quite little.