Time, The Refreshing River: Joseph Needham

Across his life the bio-chemist Joseph Needham moved from orthodox Christianity to a more universalist spiritual stance, much influenced by the tranquillity of Confucianism. At the same time he retained faith in what he called “creatureliness, the unescapable inclusion of humanity in space-time, subject to pain, sorrow, sadness and death” [Time, The Refreshing River, 1943, p.65]. 

Needham on “The Great Amphibium” and the “Numinous”

In his book of 1931, The Great Amphibium, the scientist and historian of Chinese science Joseph Needham complained that science and materialism neglected issues such as God, Freedom and Immortality: “It is worthwhile to persist in trying to communicate the incommunicable and to speak the unspeakable”. He described religion as “numinous experience”: “Not how the world is, but that it exists at all in the form which we know, is the mystical. Scientific thought stands completely helpless before that profound element of arbitrariness which characterises the world… the world itself is at bottom alogical, arbitrary, inscrutable, affording no possible answer to the question why it should be as it is and not otherwise”. Does this seem like Zen to you?

The Illimitable Dazzle of the Universe: Priestley

J.B. Priestley was not religious, but he yearned for a deeper and richer reality in life.

“I happen to believe there are levels of being in this universe far higher than ours, which at its best is probably near the bottom of all lists. I can imagine, if only vaguely, that highly conscious love may exist on such levels of being in blazing magnificence. But only after aeons of conscious effort…[We might do better to] imagine ourselves among indifferent stars and terrible dark spaces, so many helpless little creatures – but still capable, if we choose and try hard, of creating unwavering, unshakeable conscious love. To create it and sustain it, against heavy odds, may be what this universe is all about, may fit some secret pattern behind the illimitable dazzle of its particles”

[“Over the Long High Wall”, 1972,p.32].