Agreement on our place in the Universe?


Last October I wrote about the book, The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams. You can read my original post here and you can find the book’s website here. Well, I finished that book and then read, Thank God for Evolution by Michael Dowd ( his book’s website is here ). I found both books interesting, but I my purpose today is not a book review. You are all smart folks and can read the books for yourselves. But I do want to think a little more about the main themes of these books.

What I found intriguing about both books is that the authors, each in their own way, believes that as modern humans we lack a unifying belief about our place in the universe. Furthermore, this lack of a common understanding of our place and our role in the cosmos presents significant problems for us. Both books offer their own suggestions for a unifying cosmology for modern humanity.

In my October post I raised the question, “… is it possible for all of us to agree on what our place in the universe is? Can we get post modern people to all agree? Can we get post modern people to agree that we should all agree?… I’m also intrigued by the author’s claim that a new cosmology is crucial to our future.  What would the outcome be if we embrace a new cosmology? What might happen if we don’t?”

I have been thinking some more about these questions. Honestly I just don’t see how there can be one unifying view about our place in the universe and its meaning. While we need to be mindful that science has not fully explained everything about the origins of the universe and life on earth, there is much we do know. The big picture “facts” are not in dispute by most of us.  But the meaning…. why there is something rather than nothing?…. why are we here?…. what does our existence mean?… Is there a divine mind, maker, or organizer?  I’m not sure we can reach consensus about these questions.

This is an illustration by Adolf Schaller from the Hubble Gallery (NASA). It is public domain.I find it awe inspiring  to listen to a physicist talk about the Big Bang. It’s fascinating to hear a biologist speak about DNA or about vision and the development of eye.  The science is incredible.  But science doesn’t give meaning.  Making meaning out of the cosmos might involve reflection on what science has discovered, but making meaning is simply not the task of science.

Philosophers, theologians, and regular people all strive to make sense, to give meaning to our lives and to the universe. As much as I love my Buddhist friends and my agnostic relatives and my Christian friends and relatives, I don’t see how we can all have same answer to the questions of meaning and purpose.

For people of faith, God is the one who gives meaning and purpose to all that is. For Christians, our belief in Jesus shapes our understanding of God and meaning and purpose. Our beliefs shape our understanding of who we are as human beings  and why we are alive. To put it bluntly, Jesus is at best irrelevant to the atheist and he is crucial for me. I can’t figure out how to reconcile this, and it’s not that I haven’t tried. ( If someone out there has the answer- one that doesn’t turn Jesus into just another nice guy and one that doesn’t try to sneak God past the atheists as some vague cosmic consciousness- please let the rest of us know.)

So what to do? Are we doomed to argue endlessly about this? Perhaps.  I don’t think we can find a single worldview, unless some of us are willing to give up our current beliefs.

Until somebody comes up with a better idea, I suggest we agree to disagree.  However, just because we don’t have agreement on who, if anyone, created us and why; that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can agree on.  It seems to me, much more helpful to find our areas of agreement. Not that this is all that easy either. But surely we can agree on a few things.

Things like, people should have clean water and enough to eat. People should have adequate housing. People should Matthew Herrick, Chemonics, Inc.not live in fear for their lives and safety. Children should have an education. People should be able to have jobs that pay a living wage and that are honest and safe work. 

Now I know, we can quibble, and even fight about what constitutes adequate housing and enough to eat. We can seriously disagree on how best to provide education and jobs. And the reasons I think people should have clean water and enough to eat may be different than your reasons. We can each have our worldviews. We can each honor our beliefs about meaning and purpose by what we do and how we live.

Perhaps we don’t need to have agreement about why there is something rather than nothing. Perhaps it is enough to work for the good of those we share the planet with. Perhaps if we are seriously and intentionally about the task of caring for each other and our planet, perhaps we will discover something about purpose and meaning.

Perhaps. I’d like to know, what do you think?


A Note to the Reader: This week we passed the 5000 view mark on this blog and I just want to say, Thank you. Thank you for reading and spending time here.

5 thoughts on “Agreement on our place in the Universe?

  1. Nancy,

    Thank you for your heartful, thoughtful post!

    I fully agree with you. What I try (perhaps not effectively) to say in my book, “Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World”, is that we can agree on the facts and will necessarily have different interpretations. I see this as both inevitable and a really good thing.

    In any event, keep up the great reflecting and writing!

    in Christ,

    ~ Michael

    If any of your readers wish to learn more the God-honoring, Christ-edifying evolutionary perspective I offer in my book, I suggest this page on my website as a good place to start:


  2. Thanks Nancy for this thoughtful piece, although “thoughtful” doesn’t sound forceful enough.

    Earlier to a friend, I wrote about Calvin’s double predestination – it’s the weakest link in his logic … he failed to honor a boundary.

    I see you walking right up to the boundary, and then stopping, respectfully. What with all our various world-views … perhaps the universe is governed by some vast unification theory … but maybe faith isn’t.

    Maybe Matthew 25 gives some way through … when all else is said and done, what did we do when we saw someone hungry? Even those who responded (the sheep) didn’t know it was Jesus they were serving.

  3. the way i feel when i see the word ‘feel’ might not be the same for you. But the essence is entangled as one.
    similarly science and being are one as the organic whole.
    still the learning continues.
    connection is the catalyst.

  4. if there is a possibility of a question, then one must accept so that it is understood that the very question will have its branches. Who is asking, whom it is addressed, the source of the question etc. the mind ‘thinks’ that an answer can attached to it which may or may not become something like a universal theory.the mind ‘thinks’ that an answer can cut all its branches all at once.

    if there is a possibility of a question, then one needs to accept the flow. Feel the silence.

    So, if there is a possibility of a question, then one needs to accept the connection with the whole and ‘take a walk’.

    every moment is connected. comparison of connection is all mind can play with at the most.
    there is ‘so much’ to learn. when one is connected with the WHOLE then time ‘disappears’. moments are stream of span, indivisible.
    then the notion of time in mind shows its real color. that it is mechanical.

    Similarly humans also have its branches in a form of ‘body skin mask’. the task is to remove the mask all at once.
    then one is being self and joins the flow. then word ‘shape’ loses its essence because you are shapeless the way existence is shapeless!

    if one cuts all the branches then one is simply against the flow. it has to merge on its own.
    then naturally one experiences the catalyst in the form of ‘feeling’, compassionate. And the natural electricity has merged ‘hydrogen’ and ‘oxygen’ to form ‘water’.

    Similarly the question-answer needs to to dissolve in each other .
    experiencing the bigger picture is the default state. one is ever ready to jump out or in any moment. consciously fragile. this is the very cup which needs to be filled.
    you know very well that the fragile conscious cannot take much so you draw a line. Its simply a repetition.
    The true direction is directionless. That is why there will be a possibility of a question.
    Question will merge with the ‘witnessing’ and the answer is here.

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