Faith in the Cosmos

Faith in the CosmosLaura and I had only been married about three years when Carl Sagan first appeared on our little portable color television in the original PBS series, ‘Cosmos’. The screen may have been small but his vision of the universe (in both the micro- and macro-scale) opened our eyes to greater horizons and perspectives.

Decades and four children later, we were living in Flagstaff, Arizona and had the opportunity to hear Dr. Sagan speak at Northern Arizona University. It was thrilling to be in the auditorium, see him in person and hear him speak. Then, during the question & answer period, a young man took the microphone and began asking Dr. Sagan a rather long and rudely pointed question involving faith, God, creationism and the universe.

“I don’t understand the question,” Dr. Sagan said responded with genuine concern. He struggled for several minutes with the young man, trying to understand what what he was asking. Dr. Sagan was a brilliant scientist with a gift for explaining the complexities of the universe in terms the rest of us could understand … but the young man at the microphone was speaking in a language that was foreign to him.

Closing Doors

On reflection, the impasse on that day in the college auditorium continues to this day with the new incarnation of Cosmos with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. The humanist/scientific viewpoint of the series has raised the ire of those holding to their religious/faith viewpoint and vise versa. Both sides lay claim to ‘the Truth’ as though it were a contest which must be won by defeating the other’s viewpoint.

Laura and I consider ourselves as honoring the Truth wherever it is found, whether that is the discoveries of science (truth which is observable) or through discoveries of faith (truth which is beyond observation). This is a fundamental tenant of our faith: “We believe all things, we hope all things … If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” We believe that all truth — whether observable or not yet observed — is one. Science has often talked about discovering the unified field theory or the Theory of Everything. We believe that any complete theory of everything encompasses both science and faith.

However, we find puzzling the bias of both the humanist/scientific community and the religious/faith communities. I read an interesting article on my church’s website which noted that in the early history of discovery science and faith worked together in their quest to uncover truth. Only later did both science and faith become dogmatic — restricting their fields of inquiry to specific doctrines. Both became exclusive rather than inclusive of the other viewpoint. The explanation that God simply created the universe, Dr. Tyson said during Cosmos, was the “closing of a door. It doesn’t lead to other questions.” My son Jarod pointed out that this actually makes for poorer scientists because his point cuts both ways: that by tossing faith and God out of any consideration simply because those things are not scientifically observable was just as much a ‘closing of a door’ as ignoring science. Cosmos is wonderful but it has an undeniably ‘scientific’ and ‘humanistic’ bent. That is to be expected from a science-centered program just as you would expect a different viewpoint from My point is that discrediting either science or faith is limiting for both sides; closing off lines of inquiry as being ‘unacceptable’, ‘wrong’ or ‘heretical.’

Cosmos, Science and Faith

I see no contradiction between the wondrous science displayed in the new ‘Cosmos’ series and that of my faith. Perhaps that is because the doctrines of my faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, fit so well with scientific inquiry. By example, this passage from LDS scripture is illustrative as in it God speaks to Moses:

And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.
But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.

— Pearl of Great Price / Moses 1:33 & 35

Does the universe being 14 billion years old preclude a creator God? No … and I find it especially intriguing that there may be infinite universes in existence beyond our own does not discount a Creator either. Does the idea that our species came into existence just moments ago relative to the age of the universe mean that a loving God did not direct it? Not to me; in fact wouldn’t it be marvelous if that were the point of that 14 billion years — not just for our world but for uncounted other worlds down the ages of creation. Does the archeological age of the earth being about 4.5 billion years disprove the chronology of the Old Testament that may (and that’s something of a question, too) place Adam and Eve only about 7 thousand years ago? Not to my mind because the accounts in the Old Testament are a work of faith rather than science and I do not discount the possibility that an extraordinary event may have taken place at that time.

So I go to church every Sunday morning and watch Cosmos every Sunday night.

I don’t claim to know which of these apparent discrepancies will be proven out in time. I am not a trained theologian nor a degreed scientist. However, as long as our search, whether in faith or scientific method is for truth, then it seems to me that both sides should stop looking at this search as a competition for a supremacy of one ideology over the other.

Truth is truth … and its discovery lies within the province of both the mind and the heart.

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