Though the rain didn’t begin until late morning, by mid-afternoon the park that runs along the creek through town had already returned to its creatures. A light, almost imperceptible drizzle fell as I walked along the redolent paths, devoid of people except for a couple of kids riding their bikes home from school.
The beauty of a place always surprises me on a rainy day. Spoiled by sun most of the year in California (even during a normal rainy season one can usually expect two or three clear days a week), most people stay indoors when the weather turns inclement. I almost did as well today, but am glad I didn’t.
There is a special kind of solitude in being alone in nature on a rainy day, the kind of aloneness in which something ineffable within and beyond nature is palpably felt. Without experiencing that essence on a regular basis, it is impossible to remain inwardly alive in a world like this.
A doe and her fawn are standing leisurely in the middle of the stream, and are surprised by the human walking by on the bank above them. The fawn seems unafraid, but follows its mother as she effortlessly bounds up the steep bank on the other side. Even in nature, fear has to be learned, though every creature on earth has reason to fear man.
A couple minutes later, a large woodland hawk swoops over and lands right in front of me, perching on a branch of an oak tree overhanging the park road. It is completely at home. One sees them regularly and hears them often in the park, but not with such a sense of ownership of the place. Today in this college town, the raptor has full tenure.
The drizzle stops, and I sit at a picnic table, pads from my daypack protecting my butt from getting soaked. As one grows fully present, the oaks, sycamores and everything around become very vivid.
Walking again more slowly and consciously, I drink in the rich smells of new growth released by the rain. The sublimity sets a slower pace, experienced first as reverence and then as awe within one. It seems to emanate from the earth itself.
When the mind and heart effortlessly grow quiet, one comes into contact with the numinous silence that precedes and encompasses the sounds of nature, and the noises of man.
There is something unnamable beyond thought, but thought must be deeply still to contact it. Using words, it’s difficult, but not impossible, to give even an intimation of the sacredness that lies beyond all conceptions.
There is no personal God or separate Creator, nor, in the words of British evolutionary biologist and zealous atheist, Richard Dawkins, “any kind of supernatural intelligence that designed the universe and everything in it.” But that does not mean we must be, as he reactively and conversely says, “wholly mechanistic when talking about life.”
As a long-time student of human evolution, there are many things that Dawkins says with which I agree. For example: “religions have miserably failed to do justice to the sublime reality of the real world.” I also share his outrage at the fact that “teachers all over America are being prevented by intimidation from teaching the facts of evolution.”
But Dawkins, who started something called “The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science,” is wrong when he declares that religion and science “are about the same thing…both aspire to explain the universe, explain why we’re here, the meaning of life, and the role of humanity.” That statement shows that he neither understands neither the scientific mind nor the religious mind.
Dawkins derides the “voguish movement among many scientists” which holds that religion and science are about different things, each having their place. Whether there is “intelligence somewhere at the root of the universe” is a scientific question, he dogmatically pronounces. How can science find out if there is cosmic intelligence by hubristically believing it can take apart the universe? The universe is not a machine.
“I put a probability value on the question of God,” Dawkins adds. Applying the same tool that insurance companies use with actuarial tables to the most important question a human being can ask is not the approach a serious person takes.
Like many less learned and articulate people, Dawkins confuses religions with religiosity. There is a vast difference between the comforting belief in a separate, personal God, and the awareness of a creative, immeasurable intelligence that pervades nature and the cosmos.
The methods of science are important tools, but they don’t apply to the first work of the human being—to fully awaken the potential for awareness that the universe evolved in the human brain.