The Story of the Universe

After our February 12 discussion Barry Turner writes,

Thank you to John Horsley for a very intriguing glimpse into the science of evolution since Darwin himself. John mentioned very briefly that what he was saying to us was about the science of natural selection and the origin of species, but not about a sense of meaning that we might attach to the process.

I wanted to make a few comments related to Johnson’s several sections in chapter 4 related to ‘A Cosmic Lens’ (Beasts, p. 111-117).  To quote her, “In our day philosophers of science call upon the wider framework of cosmology and astronomy, themselves exploding with new discoveries, to arrive at a deeper grasp of evolution’s significance.” (p. 111)

In a few pages Johnson puts the discussion of evolution into a larger framework of the story of the universe, as we know it today. When you begin to look at the larger framework you begin to have what looks like a narrative development or ‘story.’  Story is what we humans do to speak of the meaning of things, our lives, our families, our history, etc. To tell a story is to speak of a beginning, a progressive development of the world, people and places, building to a conclusion. This begins to cross the bridge from science to theology, from information to meaning. And so it gives Johnson a logical transition to the second part of her work, which is to relate a Christian theology to our new understandings today about evolution.

I highly recommend a work by Paul Brockleman, Cosmology and Creation: The Spiritual Significance of Contemporary Cosmology *, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999. Brockelman addresses the Big Bang as a myth, in the best sense, a fully realized creation story, one that for all its scientific origins, has the power to transform us spiritually.

Brockelman argues that we have isolated the scientific and the spiritual, the head and the heart, for so long that we have begun to lose the mystical sense of our place in the universe. But science today has advanced far beyond the mechanical view of nature propagated by the Enlightenment. He says that the cosmology of the Big Bang has fostered a new way of understanding existence itself. He examines creation myths of the past and says that the 13.7-billion-year tale of the universe embraced by scientific cosmology serves precisely the same purpose; it bears a close resemblance to the classic creation myths, and it can likewise transform our inner relation with nature. It’s both a scientifically accurate understanding of the entire universe and a spiritual vision of a wider order of being to which we all belong.

We are living in a time when this new ‘story of origins’ is replacing our older myths of origin and is the best way we have of speaking in our whole human context about a spiritual transformation possible in our time. This ‘Great Story’ is a new way we can tell our human story, and it can re-connect us to Spirit.

*  Paul Brockleman, Cosmology and Creation: The Spiritual Significance of Contemporary Cosmology, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999. Brockelman is University Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of New Hampshire. 


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One thought on “The Story of the Universe

  1. Reading Johnson’s lyrical narrative of the History of the Universe was the best short account I’ve ever read. Scientific accounts such as the ones used in school compare poorly. They seem designed to make the subject as boring as possible. Perhaps this is out of an abundance of caution to avoid any suggestion of a spiritual presence, but it drains the life out of the material.

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