Friday, June 29, 2007

The unending pilgrimage

As I mentioned the other day, I have been reading Richard Dawkins' fat and always interesting history of life on Earth, The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. And what a grand story it is. It so happens that I also recently took an internet tour of the new Creation Museum in Kentucky, which seems by comparison a drab and paltry account of origins.

On the one hand, we have a saga that sweeps like a mighty river of creation across 4 billion years, culminating (for the moment) in a creature that uses its remarkable powers of discernment and reason to discover and tell the story.

On the other hand, we have a...

Well, never mind, we've gone down that road many times before. I only know that if I were the God who wrote the first chapters of Genesis, I would be supremely jealous of any God who could invent the story recounted by Dawkins. As our author says: "If it's amazement you want, the real world has it all."

The typical Middle-eastern, prescientific creation story told as fact in Kentucky surely cheapens any response to the world that can properly be called religious. The creation tales of our Neolithic ancestors "miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world," writes Dawkins. "They represent a narrowing-down from reality, an impoverishment of what the real world has to offer."

This is not something I choose to debate with anyone. It is simply to state a fact that the 14-billion-year story of creation being painstakingly compiled by science leaves me more breathless with awe than any fairy tale I learned as a child. It is to the God of this grander creation -- who is not a person, who is not this and is not that, whose name we cannot speak and whose nature we do not know -- to whom I pray in the metaphorical language of the Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin: "Radiant Word, blazing Power, you who mould the manifold so as to breath your life into it; I pray you, lay on us your hands -- powerful, considerate, omnipresent, those hands which do not (like our human hands) touch now here, now there, but which plunge into the depths and the totality, present and past, of things so as to reach us simultaneously through all that is most immense and most inward within us and around us." Amen.