According to my grandmother, Mary Frances Kelly Fausel, storytellers in Ireland captured the imaginations of their audiences by opening their stories with, “Once upon a time, long, long ago, longer than I can tell you and longer than you can tell me and, ten times longer than anyone can tell the both of us, there was…” Well have I got a story to tell! Some call it the Great Story, others The New Story, and still others the New Cosmology. Whatever you call it, it has the potential to change our vision of God and the Universe. At least it has for me.
The Great Story is not a story that I made up, but one I leaned from studying the works of some of the greatest scientists and theologians, and from reflecting on my own experience, as I searched the literature of the post Hubble telescope cosmology, and worked at finding my place in this awesome Universe.
The Universe that we are part of is profoundly different from the small and simpler world in which our ancestors lived. If we clung to the stories they told to explain their world, we would still believe that: the earth was flat; it was the center of the world; the sun and moon and stars orbited around the earth; the earth was created by God in six days and on the sixth day God was so tired he had to rest. We would also believe that: God created two humans (Adam and Eve) in His image and likeness and, they did not evolve over a period of billions of years but on the sixth day, they with all the other creatures that would inhabit the earth, were created as we know them today; Adam and Eve were thrown out of paradise where they lived, because they committed a sin by eating an apple, all their progeny inherited their sin; and according to St. Augustine, their sin was passed on to us through the male’s semen.
How do we know all these “facts”? In the words of a comforting child’s hymn, “For the Bible tells me so.” Not surprisingly the renowned scriptural scholar Father Raymond E. Brown, SS has a different opinion of the creation of the first man and woman. According to Father Brown, “Today no serious theologian accepts this understanding of how (man was created), because of the scientific evidence favoring evolution …”.
I can understand how our ancestors believed that story. They obviously didn’t have the benefit of the scientific information that we have today. They were primitive, uneducated people who couldn’t even imagine the billions of years it took for the earth and humans to evolve. Nor could they imagine the vastness of the Universe that our little planet is part of. What is hard for me to understand is that there are people living today that still believe the stories our ancestors leaned and cherished. I’m not judging them, it just difficult for me to comprehend how they still can take that story literally, in the face of what we have learned from science.
I agree with Michael Dowd, when he wrote in his book, Thank God For Evolution, “Creation and evolution are one and the same. Science and religion go hand in hand. One without the other leaves humanity lost in the literature, searching in vain for answers to post-modern problems in ancient religious texts written when people believed the world was flat. Only by looking through evolutionary eyes can we see our way out of the current global integrity crisis that is destroying economies and ecosystems around the world.”
The Great Story is an invitation to a journey that no previous generation could even envision. As mathematician/cosmologist Brian Swimme states in his book Journey of the Universe that he co-authored with Mary Evelyn Tucker, “We are the first generation to learn the comprehensive scientific dimensions of the Universe story (The Great Story). We know that the observable Universe emerged 13.7 billion years ago, and we now live on a small planet orbiting our Sun, one of the trillions of stars in one of the billion of galaxies in an unfolding Universe that is profoundly creative and interconnected.” Wow! I find it difficult to imagine billions and trillions of anything. If it were not for the space telescopes like the Hubble (1990) and Spitzer (2003) that brought us back photographs and videos of our expanding Universe, I probably would still be watching the sun “rise” in the East and “set” in the West, without ever figuring out that we were orbiting the sun and not vice versa.
The more I learned about our expanding Universe and my relationship to it, the more I needed to question my vision of God. To paraphrase scripture, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought like a child, (Italics are my addition) I believed like a child, I prayed like a child, I reasoned like a child’. But when I grew up, I spoke and thought critically as an adult, I understood and took responsibility for the primacy of my conscience, and I prayed with a new vision of the Universe and God. I put away childish ideals. ” (I Corinthians 13:11) Now I no longer: pray as a child as I did when I used to invoke God’s intervening power to help me hit a homerun, or get good marks on my report card; nor am I governed by blind obedience by any authority figure; nor a victim of a unpredictable God, who governes by guilt and shame.
I became more conscious of Jesus’ words that “The Kingdom of God is within us.” God was no longer a “looking down on us”, punishing God. To use metaphorical language, God is: energy, light, compassion, justice, love, etc. My first choice is that God is best described by the metaphor, Love.
This new vision of the expanding Universe is described in the Great Story, and the vision of God as Love, is described in both the Gospel of John, and derived from metaphorical language. This makes more sense to me than relying on the stories of our ancestors.
I welcome your thoughts on this blog on the Great Story. For more information I suggest the following links on my website under the title of Creationism and Evolution. Scroll down to Resources for Further Study. There are 17 annotated references. I particularly recommend: #4 Michael Dowd’s website. He is the author of Thank God for Evolution; #15 is the website for Connie Barlow’s The Great Story.
Also here is a Power Point of, Our Place in the Universe. From, “Pearson Education, Inc.” Published as Addison-Wesley.