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Truth and Beauty

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In Ode to a Grecian Urn, John Keats told the world: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

In my state of West Virginia, the main science hall at Marshall University is emblazoned: "Science is Truth. Truth is Beauty." My wife and I love that maxim.

Truth simply means knowledge that is factual, accurate, reliable and supported by evidence that is logical and trustworthy. Supernatural claims of religion don't fit the definition of truth. No serious evidence supports dogmas about gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, prophecies, messiahs, angels, demons, etc.

Science is a never-ending search for truths of every possible type. When breakthrough truths are discovered, they impart a deep beauty for humanity.

Galileo, Copernicus and Giordano Bruno unleashed beauty when they established that planet Earth orbits the sun. The church burned Bruno at the stake for it and nearly did likewise to Galileo, but the beauty of spatial orbits finally was locked into human knowledge.

Charles Darwin also gave beautiful truth to the world when he made it clear that complex living species evolved from simpler ones. The church exploded in wrath, but couldn't suppress his graceful discovery. A century later, more beauty was revealed by identification of the double-helix DNA molecule that makes evolution possible by zipping and unzipping.

Einstein's E=MC2 showing that tiny bits of matter can unleash unthinkable volumes of energy further can be recognized as the beauty of provable knowledge.

Some poetic folks speak of the beauty of the heavens, or the beauty of nature. That isn't my intent. I doubt there's anything esthetic about massive black holes that swallow solar systems to amass gravity that swings galaxies into spirals. And I don't think it's lovely for cheetahs to gut gazelles.

Instead, I think beauty exists in the minds of astronomers who unravel astrophysics and explain the incredible universe. Ditto for all other scientists who fathom the astounding reality that engulfs us.

The issue isn't whether nature is beautiful. Rather, science is beautiful as it provides truth to humanity.

No truth exists in church supernaturalism. Only science can find truth that exudes pure beauty.

Philosopher-engineer R. Buckminster Fuller wrote:

"Up to the 20th century, 'reality' was everything humans could touch, smell, see and hear. Since the initial publication of the chart of the electromagnetic spectrum, humans have learned that what they can touch, smell, see and hear is less than one-millionth of reality. Ninety-nine percent of all that is going to affect our tomorrows is being developed by humans using instruments and working in ranges of reality that are non-humanly sensible."

Scholar Jacob Bronowski said:

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight (more...)

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