Posted by: dacalu | 8 August 2011

Note on the “World”

I just read a great interview with Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow, about Carl’s thoughts on religion and science.

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2006/11/07/4351130-gospels-of-science

It was very insightful, but there were a couple things that troubled me. Ann says (and I think many people feel this way):

– When science began to deliver these revelations about the true grandeur of the cosmos, that it was so much greater than anyone imagined, the religious authorities didn’t say, “This is great! Not just one world? Are you saying there are billions and billions of worlds? Why, that’s fantastic!” No. They said, “We want to keep this local. We want to maintain this local conception, because we want to keep things small.” –

That’s just not the case. The Medieval cosmos was immense and then, as now, Christians maintain that humanity is an insignificant part of that cosmos – except for the almost paradoxical love of God for us. God deigned to love humanity in spite of our insignificance. It is true that the humanism of the Renaissance and Enlightenment focused on humanity, but that was as much secular (and anti-religious) philosophy as it was theology. Religion traditionally has a very big idea of the universe. It’s the excessive ego of humanity that has been challenged by 19th and 20th century science. I think it should be challenged, and for expressly religious reasons. We are not that important. So no, it is not the size of the universe that troubles fundamentalists (and humanists) but the relative unimportance of humans in that universe. I would not lay that bias generally at the feet of religion or at the feet of atheism.

Ann Druyan also says:

– Our view of God is too small. We see God as this punitive force. The creator of all the galaxies and all the parts of the universe that we haven’t even been able to comprehend yet … the idea that this God is concerned with what we eat on certain days, and who we sleep with – we have to give that up. The evidence for that is nonexistent. –

I think I agree with that – sort of. Our idea of God is too small, and I don’t think God is nearly as persnickety or punitive as some propose. I do think God, quite counter-intuitively, does care about us as individuals. A “theistic” God, a personal and interventionist God need not be punitive or petty. And once again, millions of Christians for thousands of years share this idea with me. Greek theologians viewed God very nearly as an impersonal universal force with the exception – and they knew it was an exception – of Jesus Christ. Medieval Christians were so convinced of God’s great transcendence and universality that they had to construct elaborate ways for us to communicate with God through intermediaries (saints and angels). Once again, let us not lay the micromanaging God of late European Protestantism at the feet of all religions, or even all Christians.

At the same time, I do think that our individual choice of what to eat and who to sleep with do matter. They don’t matter because God will punish us if we choose wrong; they matter because they affect (and effect) who we are, how we live, and whether we grow. I think God does care about that and about us, not as a micro-manager or as a warden, but as a good counselor or loving parent.

Religion has become way too small for many people, both people of faith and people of reason. We need to change that, as I think Carl Sagan hoped to, but I have grave doubts that cutting off things to think about (the supernatural) or ways of thinking (the religious) can help anyone expand their thinking. A bigger cosmos, a bigger God, a bigger better life will require seeing how religion and science can both increase our awareness of a universe that is infinitely more surprising and strange than we could have imagined.

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Responses

  1. As Anselm said, “God is that of which nothing higher can be conceived.”

    Jeremiah referred to humans as “grasshoppers”…hoppin’ around. Jesus spoke of his intimate love for us.

    Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, as he re-entered the earth’s atmosphere after walking on the moon, had a theophany of experiencing universal connectedness. He eventually founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, to explore consciousness.

    As I read your science piece above, the word “conscience” came to mind; for me, mind, body, spirit, science, religion go together.

    For me, regarding science and religion, there’s no east and west, this or that, separation or polarity between the two. I wish I knew better how to explain but I’ve never understood what all the fuss is about between science and religion, i.e. belief in God. For me it’s always been a knowing that it’s all the same.


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