Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pretty sure

I had an essay about contemporary cosmology (big bang, string theory, multiple universes, all that jazz) in the Spring issue of Notre Dame Magazine. In the current Summer issue, a reader writes:
I enjoyed this excursion into the weird world of astrophysics in "Unreal." How many dimensions? But the author, Chet Raymo, steps once or twice through the portal to philosophy, and there, he is lost. Astronomers as the new theologians! This is just wrong. Knowing the far-off origins of the visible universe tells us nothing about "who we are." We gain no information from it that enables us to live better lives or know what constitutes a good life. Nada.
The first questions in the old Baltimore Catechism (if I remember correctly) were "Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here?" Before I decide why I am here, I want to have the most reliable information I can get about who I am and where I came from, and I'm pretty sure that means paying attention to modern cosmology, evolutionary biology and neuroscience. We have enough strife in the world based on archaic religion-based cosmologies.

In the same issue as the reader's letter, the poet and essayist Nancy Mairs has an essay called "Letting Go of God" that suggests an appropriate spirituality for one who embraces the theological implications of our "far-off origins" and biochemical natures. She concludes: "I'm pretty sure that the cosmos is meaning-less in any human sense of the word, without purpose or consequence. It is not for. It is. Yahweh, in Hebrew Scripture: I Am. What God offers is not significance for a chosen few but mystery for whoever chooses to see it, an inexhaustible source of devout astonishment." Kudos to Notre Dame Magazine for publishing Mairs' refreshing -- and thoroughly heretical -- essay.