Wednesday, July 19, 2006

And speaking of Weinberg...

In the last chapter of his book, Dreams of a Final Theory, the Nobel-prizewinning physicst Steven Weinberg writes:
I have to admit that sometimes nature seems more beautiful than strictly necessary. Outside the window of my home office there is a hackberry tree, visited frequently by a convocation of politic birds: blue jays, yellow-throated vireos, and, loveliest of all, an occasional red cardinal. Although I understand pretty well how brightly colored feathers evolved out of a competition for mates, it is almost irresistible to imagine that all this beauty was somehow laid out for our benefit. But the God of birds and trees would have to be also the God of birth defects and cancer.
Weinberg cautions that the more we refine our understanding of God to make the concept plausible ("God is beauty," "God is love," God is the foundational principle of the universe, " etc.), the more the exercise seems pointless.

And, of course, he's right. But still the religious naturalist finds much to stoke his awe in the hackberry tree. We encounter there, gape-jawed and silent, the universe of birds and birth defects, trees and cancer, quarks, galaxies, earthquakes and supernovas -- awesome, edifying, dreadful and good, more beautiful and more terrible than is strictly necessary. What we find in the hackberry tree strikes us dumb, beyond words, beyond logic. What shall we name it? Any name is idolatrous.