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Cosmology and creation : the spiritual significance of contemporary cosmology
Brockelman, Paul T.
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New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
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xii, 194 pages ; 21 cm
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1450 Lexile.
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BL226 .B76 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Big Bang is a myth, says Paul Brockelman in this fascinating look at the spiritual side of modern cosmology. But it is a myth in the best sense--a fully realized creation story, one that, for all its scientific origins, has the power to transform us spiritually. In Cosmology and Creation, philosopher and religious scholar Brockelman seeks to bridge the gap between the scientific and the spiritual, to bring together (as he puts it) the head and the heart. We have isolated the two realms from each other for so long, he argues, that we have begun to losea mystical sense of our place in the universe. But Brockelman believes that contemporary physics has advanced far beyond the mechanical view of nature, as propagated in the Enlightenment; the cosmology of the Big Bang has fostered a new way of understanding existence itself. To illustrate, heexamines creation myths of the past, showing how they transcend simple explanations of the world to provide a deeper understanding of what our lives mean. And the fifteen-billion-year tale of the universe embraced by scientific cosmology serves precisely the same purpose, Brockelman claims; it bearsa close resemblance to classic creation myths--and, indeed, it can transform our inner relationship with nature. The new scientific cosmology, Brockelman argues, offers something never before seen in human history: a scientifically accurate understanding of the entire universe and a spiritual visionof a "wider order of being" to which we all belong. Passionate and provocative, Cosmology and Creation promises to spark a lively debate about the new links between science and religion.

Author Notes

Paul Brockelman is University Professor of Religious Studies and Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of a number of books, including The Greening of Faith: God, the Environment, and the Good Life. He lives in Durham, New Hampshire.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The December 1998 cover of Scientific American worried about a "Revolution in Cosmology," but as the astrophysicists sort out problems with the big bang theory, Brockelman explores the religious implications of the idea that the universe emerged out of an infinitely small, dense, and hot singularity. Basically, he contends it's a good myth in the technical sense that every creation myth explains humans' emergence out of the cosmos, and the moral obligations attendant to that fact. Heavily quoting philosophers, Brockelman posits two generic attributes of religion: an ineffable mystery surrounding the cosmos' originating force as narrated by the creation myth and our attitude of wonder toward what that force hath wrought. Contemplating whether God is "outside" or immanent in the universe, Brockelman steers the discussion into the whole existence-of-God megillah, obviously not with the intent to solve it but to consider ethical ramifications of big bang cosmology. Posing big questions about ultimate reality, Brockelman's nondenominational approach widens this work's appeal to philosophically minded readers. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

"For too long," writes Brockelman (The Greening of Faith), "science and religion have lived in separate and often antagonistic worlds." He argues that this separation has grown from falsely dividing humankind into groups of thinkers and knowers (science) and spiritual and moral agents (religion)Äyet each group sets out to discover meaning and purpose in the universe. In addition, he contends that religion often blames science for robbing people of their awe and wonder for the majesty of the universe. Brockelman's thesis is that the scientific cosmology developed over the last 50 years or so by physicists can be regarded as a creation myth that "reveals a wider reality to which we belong, a reality that is ultimate and against which we can see the significance and purpose of our own lives." The author begins by examining creation myths from various religions in order to show that the cosmology of the Big Bang contains many of the elements of these myths. He then proceeds to demonstrate that humans feel connected to the universe because our stories, a key element in mythologies, are embedded in the story of the universe, even today's new scientific cosmology. As a result of his investigation, Brockelman concludes, "the new scientific cosmology shows us a universe in which we have an origin, an inclusive home, and a meaningful destiny." Far from deadening our wonder for the universe, science, the author says, reanimates the wonder and the awe with which we look at it. The book serves as an excellent introduction to the dialogue between science and religion, offering a passionate plea for the integration of science and religion. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Religion and Ultimate Reality It seems that all too often we are spiritually asleep, alienated from what is ultimately real in life because we are so busy with our daily tasks that we cannot "see" it. This divorce from what Havel calls "a wider order of being" leaves us in a state of demoralization and distress, longing for something more, spiritually hungry for a reconnection with that ultimate reality. In actuality, when we do become aware of it, we find that we are "in" it as particular forms and modes of it. That ultimate reality is one, and everything that exists is an aspect or form of it since each and every entity precisely "is." It is the business of our various religious traditions to awaken us to that ultimate reality. As cultural historian Thomas Berry and physicist Brian Swimme put it, communion with the mysterious forces that animate the universe "through the story of the universe [a culture's fundamental creation myth] and ceremonial interaction with the various natural phenomena was the traditional way of activating the larger dimensions of our own human mode of being." It is in fact interesting that as far as we know virtually every human culture that has ever existed has developed creation stories which explain how all of reality has come to be just as it happens to be. These stories provide those cultures with a sense of a larger whole to which they belong.     All religions are aimed at transforming how we see our lives and thus how we live them out. Most of us seem to view reality in terms of our immediate wishes and desires. It's as if each of us thought he or she was what is fundamentally meaningful and ultimately real about living. Our moral stance and behavior, of course, reflect this attitude insofar as they seem rooted in egocentrism if not outright narcissism. As Buddhists would say, we become attached to ourselves as if, somehow, a particular "me" is infinite, eternal, and what ultimately counts in life.     All spiritual traditions involve disciplines and tactics to awaken us to a wider reality beyond ourselves. Often that wider reality is the community of others, a love and caring and compassion for fellow human beings, whether on the personal, community, national or even species level. This way of seeing life, although certainly wider and more meaningful than egocentrism, is not yet ultimately real for those traditions.     For many people, most of the time, that's as far as it goes. But once again the great world religions call for more. The more ultimate and encompassing reality is not this or that person, this or that tribe or people, this or that nation, or even humanity as a whole. Rather, it is nature in its entirety--or rather the fact that nature actually is--that is the ultimate and profound reality from which we emerge and in which we live out our allotted times.     Now, the history of how humanity has envisaged nature is an interesting one. Indigenous peoples tended to see it as kindred spirit, related to and involved with the human tribe or community, but obviously more than just that community.     Classical Persian and Greek Gnosticism saw nature in just the opposite way. Nature was not ultimately real, but a fallen state of materiality and flesh that separates us from an ultimate heavenly reality. Life, for them, became a monstrous nightmare, a vale of tears to be escaped from as quickly as possible. In short, nature was seen as a prison which holds us back from our true destiny beyond.     At other times and in other traditions, human beings became so involved in scratching a living from nature that it often seemed merely a backdrop to their practical efforts to survive. That appears to be true for classical Judaism and Christianity. Aside from a few biblical references to the glory of God as manifested in nature and to God's command to act as responsible stewards over it, nature seems to have been either a threatening force or all but irrelevant to human history and redemption. This attitude fed right into the European Enlightenment and consequent industrial revolution, which seems to conceive of nature as simply a conglomeration of natural "resources" put here for our practical utilitarian use. Nature, then, was merely of extrinsic value, a lot of things to make our lives easier and to facilitate our salvation.     More recently, of course, there has been a renewed interest in nature conceived of as the "environment." Nature in this view is simply the other--the rest of reality that is beyond ourselves. Implicit within this view is that human culture is something different, nonnatural, something outside and beyond it--something special completely outside the original and real nature. This leads to a rather romantic attitude toward nature which wants it to be conserved in its primitive state from the depredations of human culture.     This is a rather narrow and perhaps even dangerous conception of nature. It still seems to make human ends the meaningful point of life, and it thinks of nature as simply the esthetic means to achieve those ends.     My point is that the great spiritual traditions urge us to see a more ultimate and meaningful reality beyond the individual, the culture to which he or she belongs, or even nature pictured as a utilitarian backdrop to the human endeavor. Those traditions express this in different ways, but in effect they are all saying that ultimate reality is something to which both the natural environment and human cultures belong. The renowned philosopher of religion John Hick, for example, argues that the various world religious traditions share a sense of transcendence of the ego point of view and its replacement by devotion to or centered concentration upon some manifestation of the Real, response to which produces compassion/love towards other human beings or towards all life.     Whether expressed as Brahman, the Tao, the Dharmakaya, or the Trinity, this ultimate reality to which we are called is neither a thing (nor all of those things) nor a person, but a transcendent and encompassing power-to-be in which everything is. It liberates and transforms human beings by freeing them from the shackles of their own--personal or cultural--self-centered passions and desires. In order to become the body of God, St. Paul tells us, we must die unto ourselves so that Christ may live in us. And to achieve Nirvana, Buddhists tell us, we must be attached to nothing except the strange and empty "thatness" (Tathata) of all reality.     The fundamental awareness of this ultimate reality in the various religious traditions is not an explanation or hypothesis, nor is it a mere belief in the existence of a God or First Cause outside and beyond nature, but a nonconceptual experience which religious scholars refer to as mystical.     Scholars such as Fritzhoff Shuon and Huston Smith believe that the mystical experience constitutes the fundamental core of the various religious traditions. It is, then, not a philosophical conception or hypothesis, but an experiential awareness of and identification with the inexplicable and transcendent reality or actuality of everything that is, including oneself. That reality--by whatever name--is ineffable, not reducible to any sort of verbal or other representational understanding. Knowledge about it is not the same thing as the reality itself. Whatever knowledge we may have about it is--as contemporary scientists might say--simply a model of it which should never be confused with the reality itself. Furthermore, it is experienced as an interconnected and interdependent whole or one. It is not itself a thing or identical to things, but is perceived inevitably accompanying those things (including the whole set of such things which we call "nature") as their remarkable and miraculous power-to-be. As the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart put it, "God in things is activity, reality and power." Lao Tzu expressed the same thing when he said "from wonder unto wonder existence unfolds."     Not to be experientially aware of this ultimate reality is from this spiritual point of view to exist in a sort of numbed and unawake (slumbering) state. That numbed state is a kind of illusion ("maya" in Hinduism) or ignorance ("avidya" in Buddhism) in which a person loses sight of ultimate reality in favor of dealing with and caring about isolated parts of reality as if they were ultimately real. Thus, for the most part we live unaware of the single and mysterious ultimate reality which--again inexplicably--astonishingly happens to be.     Our spiritual traditions have precisely called us to wake up and open ourselves to that wider reality to which Havel refers, and they have developed a variety of tactics and disciplines to facilitate that process, and thus to transform how we actually live. The fundamental moral stance which flows from such a spiritual transformation is that all of life, being in fact a mode and manifestation of that ultimate reality, is holy and thus intrinsically valuable. Love and compassion now are not limited to other human beings, but find their objects in all of nature in so far as it is. We are and we do what we most care about.     I have argued elsewhere--as have others--that religion has to do with interpretive understanding rather than empirical hypotheses or matters of fact, an interpretive understanding based on direct mystical experience rather than explanatory models and belief systems. That is, religion involves an interpretive understanding of life as a whole and the human role and destiny within it rather than rational and/or scientific explanations of things. To quote theologian Langdon Gilkey: Religion asks different sorts of questions [than science], questions about meaning. Thus religious myths, symbols, doctrines, or teachings answer these sorts of questions. Why is there anything at all, and why are things as they are? Why am I here, and who am I? Who put me here and for what purpose? What is wrong with everything, and with me? And what can set it right again? What is of real worth? Is there any basis for hope? What ought I to be and do? And where are we all going? ... Religion, in other words, tends to answer--or to try to answer--our ultimate questions: questions of ultimate origins (where did it all come from?), of ultimate worth (what is the point or meaning, the why of life?), of ultimate destiny (where are we all going?).     These all-inclusive interpretations of what it means to be are made available through stories, particularly creation or cosmogonic myths that relate this life to sacred origins or an ultimate order of being. In short, creation myths make available a wider and deeper reality beyond self-centered or anthropocentric concerns, a reality which provides an interpretive understanding of life and how to live in the light of it. In his analysis of the implications for theology of contemporary cosmology, physicist and theologian Ian Barbour writes that the function of [religious] creation stories is not primarily to explain events in the distant past, but to locate present human experience in a framework of larger significance. Creation stories manifest the essential structure of reality and our place in it. They provide archetypes of authentic human life in accord with a universal order. They are recalled and celebrated in liturgy and ritual because they tell us who we are and how we can live in a meaningful world.     In fundamental ways myth and science seem to meet different needs. Myth and the spiritual aspect of our lives provides a broader meaning in life, while scientific understanding is about how things work. If scientific hypothesis and explanation are the vehicles for genuine understanding of how nature works and thus for the human need and ability to find some control and security within nature, mythology and stories are the vehicles for spiritual insight and development in human life. The former without the latter leads to a soulless and self-centered form of demoralization; the latter without the former leads on the contrary to a spiritual life of naive magic. As Havel noted, it is the former possibility that seems to prevail in our modern industrial and consumer societies. In our haste to gain security we have sacrificed spiritual vision and connection. We lack an appropriate balance of these two basic needs in ourselves. Our human nature cries out for both security and spiritual depth, not one to the exclusion of the other.     This schizoid breach between science and religion has been a deep and abiding problem in our modern world, influencing how we think about ourselves and how we behave in life. It shows up in the Cartesian dichotomy between matter and spirit (or soul). This in turn has led us to think that we are more than and hierarchically beyond mere matter and nature insofar as "we" are the result of an infusion of "soul" substance at our conception. Nature is turned over to science and religion is left with what remains: the immaterial soul and an increasingly abstract God who is thought of as before and outside nature. The split between science and religion is hardened: Science deals with objective knowledge, and the realm of mere subjective value and meaning is all that is left for religion. Thus our scientific and technological modern culture appears to be nihilistically adrift in a purposeless universe while our religion seems to be a collection of ad hoc claims based on no evidence at all or simply dogmatically asserted to be revealed by God.     As many feminists have observed, however, human nature contains the need for both science and religion, the head and the heart--real understanding that can provide some control and security in a not always hospitable nature as well as a certain reverence and appreciation for life, the male side of life if you will, as well as the female. The balance between these two human needs certainly began to be upset during the development of the early church (if not earlier), a development which emphasized conceptual understanding as true or false "beliefs," an increasingly abstracted and withdrawn Father god, and a hierarchical church organization dominated by men. This imbalance grew deeper with the Enlightenment and modern success in scientifically (and politically) dominating and controlling both nature and nonwestern peoples (through colonization) in the succeeding centuries. We have inherited from this imbalance a kind of cultural schizophrenia in which we find it nearly impossible to live whole lives inclusive of both our heads and our hearts. Willy-nilly we reduce ourselves to one or the other, but hardly ever both. But because of changes in our understanding of the religious side of our lives and parallel changes in our understanding of the scientific side that have accompanied the truly revolutionary developments in cosmology and biology, we may now be on the threshold of an era in which we might right the balance and, here is the hope, become whole again.     We seem to be moving toward such a balance of these needs. Science and religion--albeit not identical endeavors--are no longer enemies of one another, nor even incompatible. They seem in fact to have entered into a profound and helpful conversation--something our European tradition has not seen for three hundred years. Religious Symbols Because myths are made up of symbols and indeed function as symbols, we need to say a few words about religious symbols before continuing our exploration of myth.     Symbols are necessary and universal aspects of spiritual life. I don't mean by symbol, here, something which is merely symbolic--that is, "not real." If it is alive in a human culture, a religious symbol doesn't represent or stand-in for something else, as the word "God" is so often taken to name and represent some other (than the word) reality. Rather, living symbols are like windows through which humans encounter what is for them ultimately most real and meaningful about life. I am claiming that the sacred in various traditions is encountered always and only through religious symbols.     Such religious symbols can be sounds, words, things, images, moods, metaphors, or persons. The White Mountains of New Hampshire or the Grand Canyon in Arizona are of course highly symbolic for many people, material symbols through which people encounter what is ultimately holy and meaningful for them. Clearly, cities such as Jerusalem, Mecca, or Rome are symbolic for millions. The river Ganges is deeply symbolic for Hindus. Waves on the ocean become symbols for certain Mahayana Buddhists, as does the yogic mantra, Om Mane Padme Hom. Indeed, yoga is a behavior which is highly symbolic, especially in its highest stages. "Reason" is surely symbolic of what is ultimately powerful and significant about human life for many humanists and rationalists. And, of course, Jesus is symbolic for Christians in so far as they see in and through his life what is ultimately meaningful about human life and destiny. Dutch theologian and New Testament scholar Edward Schillebeeckx emphasizes this symbolic nature of Jesus as the Christ by calling him the "face of God." Symbols of various kinds, then, are the means through which human individuals and cultures discover or encounter and take on an ultimate interpretive understanding of life.     Myths themselves, and particularly creation myths, are made up of symbols and are themselves--if they are still vital--symbolic in this sense. They are symbolic windows or narratives which disclose or make available an ultimate vision of life as a meaningful whole and our role and destiny within it. Creation Mythology "Mythology" comes from the Greek word "muthos" which means a story or something told or said. A story involves a series of actions which, like the notes in a melody, are individually significant only in so far as they are interrelated parts of a meaningful whole. The plot makes the individual actions or events more than a mere chronicle by tying them together into a particular meaningful whole. Narrative, then, is especially suited for providing an all-inclusive sense of religious significance because it permits us to see the diachronic events involved in creation as parts of a synchronic, meaningful whole. In other words, creation myths afford a vision of the parts of creation by linking them to a narrated whole that includes them.     Myths are stories about the sacred and the relationship of the world and human beings to it. Mythology bifurcates reality into two levels: a transcendent or deep level of meaning (heaven, the abode of the gods, sacred reality) and the separated, dependent, lesser, and ordinary world of nature and the human community as it is presently constituted. As David Klem notes in his 1986 book, Sacred myths speak of the acts of divine beings in setting the goals for human beings, the meaning of human suffering and trials, and the sequence of life stages through which every individual must pass. Myths intend the integration of individual and collective life within the sacred order of being. Individuals and cults internalize the mythological narrative, allowing it to shape their lives.... Ritual reenactment of myth ensures the public, social status of the myth and enables the internalization of meaning. Because of public ritual, myths are not just stories, but are scripts for performance.     The divine level is considered "real," indeed "reality" itself. It is perfect, eternal, stable and unchanging, holy, and of fundamental and ultimate significance; the ordinary world is as it were less real, imperfect, temporal, and changing, and dependent upon the Sacred for both its existence and whatever meaning, order, and success is achieved within it. Mythology--creation mythology in particular--discloses a human awareness of a transcendental reality beyond this world, but reflected within it, what Emerson called "a world elsewhere." Joseph Epes Brown, the anthropologist and friend of the Lakota holy man, Black Elk, put it this way: It is often difficult for those who look on the tradition of the Red Man from the outside or through the "educated" mind to understand that no object is what it appears to be, but is simply the pale shadow of a Reality. It is for this reason that every created object is wakan, holy, and has a power according to the loftiness of the spiritual reality it reflects. The Indian humbles himself before the whole of creation because all visible things were created before him and, being older than he, deserve respect.     The writer T. C. McCluhan describes the Australian aboriginal notion of Dreaming this way: The Dreaming is the other world. It is an everlasting and hallowed world that is peopled with great mythic spirit beings. "It is a big thing; you never let it go.... "It is "like engine, like power, plenty of power; it does hard work; it pushes," explained one Aboriginal. The Dreaming gives meaning to life, bestowing upon it depth and resonance through memory. The Dreaming is the ground of being. It is also known as the Law: the generative principles of past, present and future; the body of ethics and the code of life. It has been called the "plan of life." In other words, The Dreaming gave order to the world and laid down the Way (of the ancestors) for humans.... The Dreaming is the period at the beginning of time when enduring shapes took form, enduring connections were established, and enduring events and exploits happened.     We should note, however, that although it is sometimes pictured as such this transcendent reality or "world" is not literally located somewhere any more than are Plato's ideas. If it were, it would be finite since only finite things can be spatially located. Rather, it is transcendent in that it is metaphysically other and more than this finite world in which we find ourselves, not reducible to it. It is a deep structure or metaphysical order beneath or within nature, always accompanying and apprehended with finite things, but itself not one of them. It is non finite ( in finite), then, and as such is thought to be the power, source and ground of being of all the finite creation that is. It is religiously experienced in wonder and awe as the mystery or miracle of being, not this or that finite entity, but the strange and wonderful power of things to be, the mysterious (inexplicable) fact that anything is at all. The well-known theologian Leonardo Boff declares that such mystery is not an enigma which, once explained, disappears. Mystery is the dimension of depth to be found in every person, in every creature, and in reality as a whole; it has a necessarily unfathomable, that is inexplicable aspect.     In his history of Gnosticism, G. Filoramo provides an interesting example of this sort of bifurcation of reality in a creation myth of origins. The fundamental myth of Gnosticism was to trace back the emergence of this life of embodied and thus "fallen" existence to the divine "light" which is its origin and which constitutes its "pleroma" or fundamental and divine substance. The point of such a creation story is not disinterested contemplation, but immersion in the vital, throbbing reality of origins, the ability to tune into the divine energy, to allow oneself to be penetrated by it to the point where one is possessed and transformed by it.... Myth thus acquires the function of salvation. It describes the way of salvation, reminding the Gnostic of his true origins and showing him how to escape from the cosmos. But above all, like all myth, that of the Gnostics is essentially a story of origins: there lies the key of all that one thinks one possesses. But the "origins" of the cosmos coincide with the pouring forth of Being.     In the words of the ancient Gnostic Theodatus, the fundamental knowledge (gnosis) reveals "who we are, what we have become, where we have been cast out of, where we are bound for, what we have been purified of, what generation and regeneration are."     Another typical creation story is the Huai-Nan Tzu from the Han period (206 BCE-220 CE) in China. It is a mixed Taoist and Confucian story. Notice the way in which the story discloses how multiplicity and difference (heaven and earth, yang and yin) emerge from a primal unity, and that the purpose of the story is to connect "the true man" with the original and formless "Great Beginning." Before heaven and earth had taken form all was vague and amorphous. Therefore it was called the Great Beginning. The Great Beginning produced emptiness and emptiness produced the universe. The universe produced material-force which had limits. That which was clear and light drifted up to become heaven, while that which was heavy and turbid solidified to become earth. It was very easy for the pure, fine material to come together but extremely difficult for the heavy, turbid material to solidify. Therefore heaven was completed first and earth assumed shape after. The combined essences of heaven and earth became the yin and yang, the concentrated essences of the yin and yang became the myriad creatures of the world. After a long time the hot force of the accumulated yang produced fire and the essence of the fire force became the sun; the cold force of accumulated yin became water and the essence of the water force became the moon. The essence of the excess force of the sun and moon became the stars and planets. Heaven received the sun, moon, and stars while earth received water and soil. When heaven and earth were joined in emptiness and all was unwrought simplicity, then without having been created, things came into being. This was the Great Oneness. All things issued from this oneness but all became different, being divided into the various species of fish, birds, and beasts.... Therefore while a thing moves it is called living, and when it dies it is said to be exhausted. All are creatures. They are not the uncreated creator of things, for the creator of things is not among things. If we examine the Great Beginning of antiquity we find that man was born out of nonbeing to assume form in being. Having form, he is governed by things. But he who can return to that from which he was born and become as though formless is called a "true man." The true man is he who has never become separated from the Great Oneness.     Of course, the Genesis account of creation similarly traces back (and thus accounts for) the multiplicity and different forms of creation to a single and ultimate unity, God. In Genesis 1:1-23 we have the first version of the story, that of the so-called Priestly ("P") source. In this telling, the earth was initially formless and void, and God goes through the seven days of creation by naming different aspects of creation, starting with light and darkness (opposites like yin and yang). In the second version (Genesis 2:4-23) which has been edited together with the earlier story, God is like a potter who first fashions Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes life into his nostrils, and then goes on to place him in the Garden of Eden. This is the Jahwistic ("J") narrative source, and the rest of Genesis through book 11 simply recounts the emergence and chronological development of human life. Thus, "J" is accounting for both the emergence of a multiplicity of things on the earth from God as well as the shadowed aspects of this life such as a sense of estrangement from God, alienation between humans, the host of languages which divide and separate us, and so on. The Priestly Source, thought to have been written in the fourth century BCE, integrates this narrative into the later Jewish epic recounted in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the chronicles of Samuel and Kings in order to found the second temple and its Priestly school upon the divine origin and history spelled out in Genesis. In other words, the Second Temple and its priesthood constitute the sacred foundation of post-exilic Israel, in effect thought to have been established since creation on the ultimate and fundamental reality and authority of God.     The Code of Hammurabi makes the similar point that the great king--with the aide of Marduk--founded his temple culture in Babylon at the time of origins. This tying of the culture to the original gods is common and many scholars think that it represents an effort to project the cultural order back to the divine origins. New Testament scholar Burton Mack points out that the motivation for doing this was certainly not a trivial one for "it made them right, legitimate, centered, and at home in the world."     Again, the point of these creation stories is to connect this life with the fundamental, ultimately real divine origin , thereby interpretively seeing and understanding human life, our sense of estrangement, and especially our need for salvation, in the light of that origin. In the myths of creation of the cosmos, religious traditions express their understanding of the ultimate meaning of the world and of human existence. They tell of the role of gods and goddesses in creating and sometimes even dying through sacrificial dismemberment to make the entire world holy. They describe how the world (oceans, land, mountains) came to be. And they separate the reality into different realms.     The ancient Chinese creation story of P'an Ku is just such a myth that connects the heavens with the earth and which, through the sacrifice of P'an Ku, sacralizes the earth.     Initially, all there was was a chaos in the form of an egg. P'an Ku was born from that egg, and for 18,000 years (that is, for a long time) he grew, pushing heaven which was considered light up and earth which was thought to be heavy down, thereby separating reality into two planes. The light was yang (male) and the heavy was yin (female). Thus, a single reality (the egg) became differentiated into two, and from such a differentiation ultimately the entire earth emerged. When heaven and earth are fixed, P'an Ku dies and sacrifices parts of his body to make up the earth: his head becomes mountains, his breath clouds, his voice thunder, and his arms and legs the four quarters of the universe. Thus, the story outlines how the diverse life we know emerges from the ultimate unity and how it actually mirrors that unity.      Creation mythologies, then, manifest a haunting awareness of transcendent, ultimate, originating reality reflected in the lesser (because merely reflected) visible universe. This world is a "sacred cosmos"--a meaningful and ordered universe--to the degree that it reflects that deeper, sacred reality. The creation stories narrate how an original one creatively evolves into the manifold of diversity and fecundity that characterizes present life. The Grammar of Interpretive Understanding I like to call this bifurcation into two levels the grammar of human interpretive understanding and meaning . "Grammar," of course, refers to the formal rules of a language whereby the various parts of speech are arranged in order to constitute meaningful discourse. In a parallel way, the grammar of interpretive understanding comprises the rules or structure of myths that permit them narratively to disclose an ultimate all-inclusive meaning to life as a whole. The grammar consists of the bifurcation of reality into two levels, and it is through this double structure that human beings frame ordinary life with an interpretive vision of what life is all about and thereby construct the various human worlds or cultures in which they actually live. The grammar functions by helping us to "see" that ordinary life and world "as" a dependent reflection of the sacred other. The "as" constitutes the interpretive understanding of nature and our lives "seen" as a meaningful whole.     Essential to this process of "seeing ... as" is metaphor, or rather, as we shall see, double metaphor: As linguistic philosopher Max Black has put it, metaphor involves using a conventional image drawn from ordinary life as a screen through which to see another. Thus, in metaphor we apply one aspect or characteristic of experience to another on the grounds of shared similarity in order to gain a fuller understanding of the meaning of the latter. For example, to say, as does Plato, that conceptual understanding is a kind of "seeing" by the mind uses an ordinary form of bodily perception to illumine and comprehend the analogous experience of conceptual understanding .     In his Report to Greco , Nikos Kazantzakis, known also for his novel The Last Temptation of Christ , makes available to the reader an interpretive understanding of God and life as a whole (including human life) by, first, picturing God metaphorically as a merciless and demanding Cry and, secondly, understanding human life in the light of that cry as a painful response and emergence. Blowing through heaven and earth, and in our hearts and the heart of every living thing, is a gigantic breath--a great Cry--which we call God. Plant life wished to continue its motionless sleep next to stagnant water, but the Cry leaped up within it and violently shook its roots: "Away, let go of the earth, walk!" Had the tree been able to think and judge, it would have cried, "I don't want to. What are you urging me to do! You are demanding the impossible!" But the Cry, without pity, kept shaking its roots and shouting, "Away, let go of the earth, walk!" It shouted in this way for thousands of eons; and lo! as a result of desire and struggle, life escaped the motionless tree and was liberated. Animals appeared--worms--making themselves at home in water and mud. "We're just fine here," they said. "We have peace and security; we're not budging!" But the terrible Cry hammered itself pitilessly into their loins. "Leave the mud, stand up, give birth to your betters!" "We don't want to! We can't!" And lo! after thousands of eons man emerged, trembling on his still unsolid legs. The human being is a centaur; his equine hoofs are planted in the ground, but his body from breast to head is worked on and tormented by the merciless Cry. He has been fighting again for thousands of eons, to draw himself, like a sword, out of his animalistic scabbard. He is also fighting--this is his new struggle--to draw himself out of his human scabbard. Man calls in despair, "Where can I go? I have reached the pinnacle. Beyond is the abyss." And the Cry answers, "I am beyond. Stand up!" All things are centaurs. If this were not the case, the world would rot into inertness and sterility.     We have a double metaphor here through which we catch a glimpse of what is ultimately meaningful about life and of our own role and destiny in the light of it. By seeing God as a primordial and demanding Cry, we come to see life as a whole and our own human lives in particular as a struggle and response to that Cry. It is this "seeing" and then "seeing ... as" which constitutes the explicit interpretive understanding Kazantzakis is making available to us in the story. Notice, by the way, that the double metaphors are related through a story (remember, myths are stories)!     There are, of course, numerous other examples of this grammar of interpretive understanding in the world's long list of creation myths. We often see God (or goddess) pictured as a fertile mother earth. And thus human life is seen over against that as a kind of fecund birthing. In the Bible, God is metaphorically "seen" in a variety of different ways: as lover, as shepherd, as conquering general, as sovereign king, or as "daddy" (Abba) for Jesus. Each of these images is a metaphor which then leads to seeing our ordinary, everyday lives metaphorically as like a loved one, a senseless but obedient sheep which needs protection, as a loyal footsoldier in God's army, as a loyal subject in God's Kingdom, or as a beloved child of his caring father. The familiar image of Christ Pantokrator expressed in the mosaics of fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-century romanesque churches is another such metaphor. Just as Caesar is the distant but all-powerful ruler of the Roman Empire who rules with his council of landed gentry (lords), so the metaphor asserts that Christ is a sort of cosmic Caesar who, with his council of saints, rules the entire universe. This life, then, is interpretively "seen ... as" a sort of patient serfdom, not unlike that of the serfs who served on their lord's estate and whose lives were shaped by their lord and transcendent Caesar. Various metaphorical images of ultimate reality thus lead to the variety of interpretive understandings of covenant and faith within the biblical traditions.     But, beyond the metaphors, what is this sacred reality? We cannot directly answer that question. We can say, however, that it is not a finite entity of any kind, which is to say that it is not an "it." As such it is not a determinate something, but a transcendent and indefinable, ultimate ground of being, a power of all things to actually be which can only be experienced mystically and expressed symbolically and metaphorically. It is what is ultimately real, the ground and foundation of all that is, indeed reality as such rather than explanatory cognitive models of it. For human beings who encounter it and identify with it in the mystical experience of wonder and awe, it is that which is most meaningful about life and the focus for religious yearning, discipline, and destiny.     Through creation stories, we see that the eternal sacred breaks into ordinary space and time to found and permeate human worlds with meaningfulness. Cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz states this classically in his influential essay, "Religion as a Cultural System." [S]acred symbols function to synthesize a people's ethos--the tone, character, and quality of their life, its moral and esthetic style and mood--and their world view--the picture they have of the way things in sheer actuality are, their most comprehensive ideas of order.     Human cultures are symbolic in so far as they are founded upon and embody a systematically interrelated set of ideas about the meaning of life. By telling the story of the relationship of the ordinary and the sacred level beyond it--and by actually performing the story in their public rituals--human communities transform a mute and meaningless nature into a symbolic, human world that is meaningful in so far as it is understood to be derived from and reflective of an absolute reality beyond it. Such myths, then, lay out the divine origins of this life, explain or otherwise rationalize the existence of suffering and evil by placing it within a more inclusive story, and finally provide an all-inclusive vision of the human role which has evolved out of that original and ultimate reality.     The great historian of religion, Mircea Eliade, claimed that for primal cultures, creation mythology recites how nature and the tribe come to be, how something was accomplished, began to be . It is for this reason that myth is bound up with ontology; it speaks only of realities.... Obviously these realities are sacred realities, for it is the sacred that is preeminently the real .     Creation myths, then, narratively connect us to a wider, significant reality to which we belong. They are not hypotheses at all, but interpretive understandings of our lives in the light of that wider order that inform us about how to live meaningfully. The truth they seek in this process involves the existential question of how to live fully and deeply rather than the kind of hypothetical truths involved in scientific understanding and explanation of nature and ourselves as entities who have evolved from it.     This interpretive understanding of life entails a religious imperative for a human community to live focussed upon that ultimate reality or sacred ground of being from which the entire manifold of what is has evolved and that as such is fundamentally holy and meaningful. Such myths, then, contain an implicit demand for people to shift their attention and lives from the unreal to the Real, from self-centeredness in the here and now to a centering on the eternal order of being that underlies and encompasses all that is: to actually live differently and thereby become their true selves. People seek to walk a sacred path in life with their minds and hearts fixed on that sacred power-to-be. In a very real sense, mythology shapes and structures people's everyday behavior by helping them to notice the difference between what their ordinary lives are like and what they might or ought to be like, thereby enabling them to interpretively understand their lives in the light of that spiritual imperative. Above all, these founding myths are all-inclusive and synthesizing narrative interpretations of what it means to be, ways of seeing our human lives and the goals we seek to achieve within the encompassing and ultimately meaningful broader reality of which we are a part. As stories, creation myths are uniquely qualified to provide such an inclusive understanding precisely because they are able to stitch together episodic events into a single meaningful whole. We tell stories to feel at home in the universe. Such mythology is essential to human life for it is the way we answer the questions we have always asked nearly fresh from the womb: "What's going on?" "Where did we come from?" "What are we doing here?" "Where are we headed?" "How ought we to live?"     Traditional creation mythology, then, is a story about the whole of reality that: (1) manifests and makes available to human consciousness a wider and deeper reality than our ordinary reality; (2) discloses that all of reality is a single, meaningful and inclusive whole from which all the different aspects of the cosmos are derived (it is both one and many); (3) manifests the worthiness and intrinsic value of that wider reality in so far as it is seen to be fundamental, ultimate--that without which the dependent aspects of nature would neither be nor be as they are; (4) shows precisely how all of nature is dependently derived from that one; (5) divulges our rootedness and connectedness to the larger life to which we belong by showing specifically how we belong to it and by showing what our role and destiny is within it--i.e., shows us how we fit into life; (6) stirs feelings of reverence and awe by inducing a sense of wonder ; (7) stimulates a sense of gratitude not only for the seemingly gratuitous gift of life but for being aware of it and the wider reality to which we belong; (8) teaches us to be more humble and less self-centered in the face of such an immense reality; and finally, (9) transforms the lives of those who are touched by the story by inducing them to live in the light of the ultimate reality it narratively makes available. Myth, especially creation myth, is a script for ritual performance in which the participants internalize the meaning of life that the myth narratively discloses and are thereby transformed. In short, creation mythology induces in those for whom the myth is vital and alive a deep sense of reverence for a holy reality which grounds and sustains both nature and human culture.     What we need to do now is to outline the story of our universe as it is contained in the new, scientific cosmology that has emerged over the past fifty years. My contention here is that this cosmology is not only a scientific understanding of our universe but also a religious creation story which, like all creation stories, displays the unfolding of a great mysterious reality with immense significance for our lives today.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Introduction the Unfurnished Eyep. 3
I This Side of Paradise Creation Mythologyp. 17
2 The New Cosmologyp. 41
3 Wonder and the Miracle of Beingp. 65
4 The Transcendence of God in Naturep. 81
But Does God Exist? 5p. 97
Conclusionp. 113
6 Lavita Nuova (life Tranformed)p. 115
7 Here's the Storyp. 141
8 Within Sight of the Promised Landp. 153
Notesp. 179
Indexp. 187