Knowledge inspires awe, hope and positive action

This week’s meditation for the Faith & Values section of the Hickory Daily Record (July 7, 2018) was written by CVIC Board member and President of the Hickory Humanist Alliance (a CVIC group member), William Keener.

Humanists believe the good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge, but we also find inspiration in knowledge. While always tentative and subject to revision based on new evidence, human knowledge can inspire not only awe and wonder about our universe and our place in it but also hope for our own species’ ability to learn and solve problems. In this way, our knowledge can inspire positive action, guided by knowledge, to improve the human condition. On an individual level, knowledge of the risks associated with bacterial infections inspire us to take action guided by knowledge (antibiotics). And knowledge of the risks associated with preventable diseases inspire us to take action guided by knowledge (vaccinations).

This perspective is not unique to secular humanists or medical interventions. Many people with religious faith are also inspired to take action in other areas based on human knowledge. Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian, the daughter of missionaries, and the wife of the pastor of an evangelical church in Texas. She’s also a climate scientist who writes about “why a changing climate matters to real people, how we’re going to solve it, and what faith has to do with fixing this global challenge.” And Francis Collins is a “Bible-believing Christian” as well as a physician-geneticist who led the Human Genome Project. In an editorial for CNN in 2007, he noted that “evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.”

While some find certain scientific findings heretical and refuse to accept them, too many others accept the findings but see them as cold and impersonal facts about our insignificant lives in a vast universe devoid of ultimate meaning. But for secular humanists, we are the agents who create meaning. And evolution shows us how we are connected to all life on Earth. From the birds and the bees that pollinate the dandelions in our yard to the dolphins at the beach and our beloved pets, we all share a common origin. One of the most awe-inspiring things that I’ve learned from science is how humans, and almost everything else in the universe, is made by stars. Aside from the hydrogen and helium created at the origin of our universe, all other elements – from the calcium in our bones to the iron in our blood – were formed in the nuclear furnaces of stars and blasted out into the universe in massive explosions, which we call supernovae, when stars die. As Carl Sagan once said, we are literally “star stuff, contemplating the stars…We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” What could be more inspiring, and meaningful, than that?

William Keener is the President of the Hickory Humanist Alliance and a member of the Board of Directors of the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council.

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