Volume 95, Issue 37
Wednesday, November 7, 2001
Forum discusses wonders of universe
First lecture in series debates human understanding
By Tola Afolabi
Developing wonder and appreciation for the immensity of the universe was the focus of the first of nine events in the Veritas Forum series.
The third annual forum opened last night with "What on Earth Do the Heavens Declare? How 'Cosmic Literacy Can Invigorate Science, Faith and Imagination,'" by Dennis Danielson.
Danielson is an English professor at the University of British Columbia and recently published The Book of the Cosmos.
He addressed the vastness of the cosmos and the importance of cultivating an amazement of the universe.
"The more we understand the universe, the more it seems pointless," he said. "Most people, whether they are theist or atheist, Christian or non-Christian, respond with awe and wonder."
"I think that knowledge and a sense of mystery are not mutually exclusive," Danielson said. "Among the philosophers I know, the fuller their knowledge, the more the mystery."
Modern society has failed to consider the cosmos, said Jim Doelman, assistant English professor at Brescia College and responder to Danielson's presentation.
"We have failed as a culture those of us who are not in the field of astronomy to respond in either wonder or despair," he said. "We are not responding either scientifically or imaginatively to what is out there."
"I have not thought of [the cosmos] very much. I am curious about a variety of things, but it struck me that I am not curious about the universe," Doelman said.
The focus should be on understanding the implications of the immensity of the universe, he added.
"What do we need to know to achieve the literacy to make sense of it?," he asked, before explaining humans should be exposed to mathematics, physics, music and poetry.
Although it seems like a daunting task, reading the cosmos may be possible, Danielson said. "When you first learn to read, you start with nothing except for an innate capacity for language."
"The way we learn is to keep trying to do things we think we can't do," he said.
Veritas Forum originated at Harvard University in the early 1990s, said Western chaplain Michael Veenema.
The goal of the forum is to "generate discussion involving people in many university disciplines and also to involve people of different faiths and world views," Veneema said. "University is a place where broad learning and discovery complement each other."
Joseph Choi, pastor of the London Korean Christian Church, said he was glad he attended the presentation, which was similar to those he attended while a seminary student in Toronto. "I appreciated it," he said. "I just came to see what [Danielson] had to say. I found it very interesting and stimulating."
Copyright © The Gazette 2001