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Discovering Our Story

Friday, November 13, 2015

Science: Week 2

Discovering Our Story
Friday, November 13, 2015

Today we are realizing that “science and religion are long lost dance partners,” to use Rob Bell’s words. Ilia Delio writes, “Raimon Panikkar said that when theology is divorced from cosmology, we no longer have a living God, but an idea of God. God then becomes a thought that can be accepted or rejected rather than the experience of divine ultimacy. Because theology has not developed in tandem with science (or science in tandem with theology) since the Middle Ages, we have an enormous gap between the transcendent dimension of human existence (the religious dimension) and the meaning of physical reality as science understands it (the material dimension). This gap underlies our global problems today, from the environmental crisis to economic disparity and the denigration of women.” [1]

Stephen Hawking, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, believes humans have an innate drive to make sense of the world. But, he says,

Up to now, most scientists have been too occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the universe is to ask why. On the other hand, the people whose business it is to ask why, the philosophers [and, I would add, theologians] have not been able to keep up with the advance of scientific theory. . . . If we do discover a complete theory [of the universe], it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God. [2]

Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Swimme have helped our generation rediscover our common narrative, our shared cosmology. They write:

Just as we are realizing the vast expanse of time that distinguishes the evolution of the universe over some 13.7 billion years, we are recognizing how late is our arrival in this stupendous process. Just as we are becoming conscious that Earth took more than 4 billion years to bring forth this abundance of life, it is dawning on us how quickly we are foreshortening its future flourishing. We need, then, to step back, to assimilate our cosmological context. If scientific cosmology gives us an understanding of the origins and unfolding of the universe, philosophical reflection on scientific cosmology gives us a sense of our place in the universe. [3]

I regret to say that there has been a massive loss of hope in Western history, a hope still so grandly evident in people like Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, and Bonaventure. (Are not the World Wars of Christian countries a clear sign of this loss? Genocides are surely a symptom of deep self-loathing and fear.) Bonaventure’s God was so much bigger and more glorious than someone to be afraid of, or the one who punished bad guys—because his cosmos was itself huge, benevolent, and coherent. Did his big God beget an equally big and generous cosmos? Or did his big cosmos imply a very big God? You can start on either side. For many in our time, an initial reverence for the universe leads them to reverence whoever created this infinity of Mystery and Beauty. [4] We must now admit that it did not work very well the other way around. Those focused primarily on talking about God somehow couldn’t see a universe as holy, as big, and as good as the one who supposedly created it.

May this awe and reverence lead us to care for each other and our common home quickly, before we run out of time.

Gateway to Silence:
Co-creating wholeness

[1] Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), ix.

[2] Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, A Brief History of Time (Bantam Dell: 2005), 142.

[3] Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Swimme, Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael P. Nelson, eds. (Trinity University Press: 2010), 412.

[4] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 168-169.

Image Credit: Hildegard von Bingen, “The Universe” (detail), Scivias Codex, c. 1165.
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