(HOST) This week VPR is bringing you a sample of essays written by Vermonters for “This I Believe”, the national radio series exploring principles and values that guide our lives.
Dale Long is a technical expert for Homeland Security – and a serious musician. He believes in maintaining a creative balance between science and spirituality. Here he is with his essay for “This I Believe.”
ESSAY: Why are we here? This is a timeless question that expresses a fundamental human desire to understand our existence and value relative to the rest of the universe. We are often tossed between knowledge and ignorance, the real and the imaginary, the certain and the uncertain. I believe the answer to “why are we here” lies in finding our balance between all the conflicting theories and beliefs we encounter in life.
Why am I here? I remember clearly the first time I had a real sense of my place in the universe. I was forty-two years old and had just bought our family a telescope. The astronomy software that came with the telescope said we’d be able to see Saturn that same night. I’d never seen a planet with my own eyes before, just pictures. We located a bright dot in the sky where Saturn was supposed to be and lined up the telescope. Saturn came into focus, looking like a tiny round ball suspended inside a small flat washer, nine hundred million miles away.
As I stepped back from the telescope to let the children have a look, I realized my whole view of the universe had just changed dramatically. On an intellectual level, I had always known that the twinkling lights in the sky were stars and planets. But at some primal level I had never really believed they were anything but pinholes in the roof of the world. After seeing Saturn, I could not deny any longer that planets, stars and galaxies were real. The universe is a miracle of Creation that stretches to as close to infinity as mankind will ever comprehend. It was an awesome feeling. I got to savor the moment for all of five seconds until the children bumped the telescope and I had to line it up again.
Because of my experience with that telescope I believe I understand why scientists like Copernicus and Galileo risked imprisonment and death for reporting the results of their astronomical discoveries, and it was for the same reasons prophets like Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed risked imprisonment and death for preaching their faith: They had discovered something wonderful and wanted to expand human understanding. Both science and spirituality have advanced human civilization, science by showing us how the universe works and spirituality by helping us find our place within it.
Many people seem comfortable with where they are and will resist any attempt to dislodge their current views of reality, either spiritually or scientifically. But I believe mankind will only continue to make progress by seeking out and embracing new knowledge, wisdom and insights with both science and spirit in tandem. Science without a sense of wonder about the miracle of creation is sterile; spirituality without science is merely wishful thinking.
Why are we here? Maybe it’s simply to find a balance between what we believe and what we perceive. I believe I can live with that.