Cosmology and the Moral Imagination

A recent New York Times story on the birth of the universe produces awe and amazement. “It’s not every day that you wake up and find what happened one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the big bang,” quipped a prominent cosmologist (Science, 3/21). New discoveries of undulating gravitational waves appear to confirm the “wild theory” that at its beginning our universe instantly inflated a trillion, trillion times in size from a “subatomic quantum speck.”

Equally exciting for my money is the fact that humans like us have performed this magnificent feat of discovery. Through rationality, experimental observation, years of intellectual labor and flashes of intuitive insight, scientists have made an astounding leap in human knowledge.

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I also envision this expanding scientific worldview as eventually having indirect effects on our moral imagination. In debates over abortion, for instance, the embryo has been discounted as having less value because of its miniscule size and brief existence in time. Yet compared to the universe as a “subatomic quantum speck” and a “trillionth, trillionth, trillionth” of a second old, a zygote is gigantic. Embryos also can be valued for their potential and dynamic organized energy toward development, now that this drive marks all known reality.

Will not our human perspective on number and the value of human life also be changed in the new cosmology? Against the backdrop of a universe filled with billions and billions of galaxies—and who knows how many possible alternate universes—it appears that instances of human life are uncommon. Given this precious rarity, each human life—from embryonic to elderly, from hardy to fragile, from healthy to diseased—can be valued and protected. Gazing beyond the stars we see life on earth with new eyes.   

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Bruce Snowden
3 years 8 months ago
Staggeringly exciting and next to the Good News, the best news since God said, "Let there be light" setting out on its evolutionary journey not yet complete, an expanding universe a trillion million times larger than its "subatomic quantum speck" origins, showing the unfathomable majesty and omnipotence of God! Theologians may now say not haughtily, but with great humility, "We told you so!" And by the way, zygotes taking their usual swim can sing splashing wildly, "Free at last! Thank God we're free at last!" To which the whole world should in adoration bow saying, "Amen!"
Stanley Kopacz
3 years 8 months ago
Let's give credit to the Belgian priest George Lemaitre for the theory of the primeval atom. Fred Hoyle, the physicist who supported the now defunct steady-state theory, disparaged it with the term "big bang", which stuck. Hoyle must have thought it was a papist plot, given the originator.
J Cosgrove
3 years 8 months ago
For those interested, a fascinating video was produced about 6-8 years ago titled, "Privileged Planet" It is available as a series on youtube. Here is part one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnWyPIzTOTw or you can buy the DVD. http://www.theprivilegedplanet.com This is a presentation of the extreme unlikeliness of a planet like Earth and its incredible suitability for life. By chance or by design?
Stanley Kopacz
3 years 8 months ago
I remember the Drake equation which just cascades probabilities. How many suns? Lots. How many suns have planets? We now know lots. How many are in the "goldilocks zone" where water is liquid? Not a few. But now, we have other requirements. A need of an axis-of-rotation stabilizing moon. A certain amount of carbon and other elements and molecules. Tectonic plate movement. A magnetic field. Drakes's equation gets a whole new bunch of factors. What do we do with this as a religious question? Which is more consistent with a loving God? A universe with life as common and abundant as a Star Wars movie or extremely rare or even unique? Somehow, I think both scenarios are, but if we ever find out one way or the other, it WILL affect our view of God.
J Cosgrove
3 years 8 months ago
it WILL affect our view of God
I have been considering this idea off and on for about 25 years. I doubt that God will ever allow certainty. If we had certainty there would be no need for faith and life would be meaningless. We will always be on a knife's edge with one side saying there is no God and the other side saying there must be a God. Of course on that side where there must be a God there will be the further mystery of what does God want. On the other side is nothingness.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 8 months ago
This reminds me of a joke told by Ronald Reagan. A farmer owned some land that had never been developed down by a river. It was overgrown with various kinds of shrubbery -- prickly, entangled stuff. He worked hard to clear it, and then he planted it. He was so proud of what he had accomplished that on Sunday after church he invited his pastor to come see it. When the pastor saw it, he was so impressed that he said "Praise God, look at those tomatoes and all that zucchini. And over there, I never saw so much lettuce. Truly, God is amazing. God is great". The farmer, having become somewhat quiet, interrupted with, "Pastor, I wish you had seen it when God was doing it by himself". Let's not forget that without human effort, there is lot of suffering and a lot of life lost on a regular basis, despite how grand and impressive its very existence is.
Stanley Kopacz
3 years 8 months ago
What bums me out is that a lot of the suffering and death is the result of a LOT of human effort.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 8 months ago
True. Sometimes the intentions are good and there are unintended consequences, but all too often there is blatant disregard for the welfare of others and intentional harm done.
J Cosgrove
3 years 8 months ago
There have been volumes written on suffering and death. It is usually under the discussions of evil. "Evil" is actually a term that has no good definition though we use it all the time. Evil has been divided into two areas, moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is where harm or discomfort comes to others through an act of the will. This is further broken down into intentional acts of harm or unintentional acts that harm inadvertently. Natural evil is harm that comes from acts of nature such as a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, tsunami but things such as disease or injury from accidents not caused by human actions. Natural evil is used by many to challenge the notion of a God, that is why would a good God allow such things to happen.

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