Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Serious Cosmological Theology

Today I was reading the transcript of Carl Sagan's Gifford Lectures in the book, "The Varieties of Scientific Experience.” I think Sagan is thoroughly modern, eschewing all notion of faith or belief. However, he helpfully critiques the narrowness of Western-religion's cosmology.

He writes, "The number of external galaxies beyond the Milky Way is at least in the thousands of millions and perhaps in the hundreds of thousands of millions each of which contains a number of stars more or less comparable to that in our own galaxy. So if you multiple out how many stars that means, it is some number - let's see, ten to the... It's something like a one followed by twenty-three zeros, of which our Sun is but one. It is a useful calibration of our place in the universe. And this vast number of worlds, the enormous scale of the universe, in my view has been taken into account, even superficially, in virtually no religions and especially no Western religions." (27).

The immensity of the universe begs the question of the uniqueness of life. And if life is rare, but not unique, what of the arc of the salvific history espoused by Christianity? Does all life inevitably trace this story line? Thomas Paine wrote of this question, "From whence, then, could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the Almighty, who has millions of worlds equally dependent on his protection, should quit the care of all the rest, and come to die in our world because, they say, one man and one woman ate an apple? And on the other hand, are we to suppose that every world in the boundless creation has an Eve, an apple, a serpent and a redeemer?" While Process Theology has enumerable and intractable problems, the tradition has at least taken cosmology seriously. Michael Lodahl, and, of course, Alfred North Whitehead, come to mind. Though, this tradition then usually jettisons the salvific history, for an endless processing history, which seems to reform the very historic Christianity into just another universal (read, ahistoric) religion. In comparison, Radial Orthodoxy has not shown that they are open to accepting modern science. The reunification of faith and reason stops short of evolution. This is a strange demarcation line considering the Catholic Church, which strongly influences R.O., has long held that evolutions and faith are fully commensurable. More broadly, C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy seems to suggest that the chapters of history play out on all planets that inhabit life, and God, rather than abandoning all others for the sake of one, provides His Providence and, ultimately, Salvation, to all.

Perhaps more concerning is the finite-tenancy we have on the Earth. Sagan writes, "Some 5, 6, or 7 billion years from now, the Sun will become a red giant star and will engulf the orbits of Mercury and Venus and probably the Earth. The Earth then would be inside the Sun and some of the problems that face us on this particular day will appear, by comparison, modest. On the other hand, since it is 5,000 or more million years away, it is not our most pressing problem. But it is something to bear in mind. It has theological implications." (20).
Indeed, theological implications abound.

While addressing the important theological questions of ecological-stewardship, some attention should be given to cosmological-theology in general, and cosmological-stewardship in specific. More broadly, issues of eschatology, economy, and revelation all garner relevance in this endeavor.

To end, Sagan has some helpful thoughts: “In fact, a general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the god portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy, much les of a universe.” Here Sagan and I are in complete agreement. He continues, “I don’t propose that it is a virtue to revel in our limitations. But it’s important to understand how much we do not know. There is an enormous amount we do not know; there is a tiny amount that we do.” (30). Christians may respond that what they do know is that God’s creation is good – no matter how vast or how dark, or how empty it might seem to be.


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