Hope is found in more than science
By Kurt Armstrong | Wednesday, September 14, 2011
In our global-minded, multicultural society, we've been told that all the grand narratives are dead, and good riddance. The meta-narratives that enslaved our imaginations were contrived, localized, xenophobic tales that served the status quo and preserved systematic injustice. Regardless of their influence on communities, families, cultures, institutions, and yours and my mental health and spiritual wellbeing, they were all rotten to the core, and in the name of freedom and progress, we jettisoned the lot of them.
Journey of the Universe seeks to insert a new narrative into the meta-narrative void (assuming there's any room left, what with nationalism, economics, entertainment and consumer fads having taken up nearly all the vacant space.) Co-authors Swimme and Tucker, both interdisciplinary lecturers, offer an easy-to-digest, humanities-tinged version of the origins of the universe. Along the way they tack on a thin poetic reflection on the dazzling wonder of the cosmos with the hopes that, stunned by the wonder of the universe, we'll all start behaving ourselves.
Over and over the authors point to the creative power of the universe, from the formation of galaxies to the assembly of DNA in our cells. They seem convinced that their book-length anthropomorphism will make us mindful of our relationship to the stars and trees and bugs and everything else in the universe, and that we'll stop killing each other and destroying the planet.
This book offers little in the way of genuine science to hold your attention. And if Journey of the Universe were simply a sentimental reflection on the universe, I could simply pass it over. But I think this book is deliberately misleading because it completely ignores the accumulated wisdom of the old-fashioned narratives and what they tell us about the perennial, pernicious issues of the human condition, things like violence, cruelty, greed, and (gasp!) even sin. The doe-eyed sense of wonder these authors think will help us be better people looks pretty pathetic when you line it up against the headlines of the newspaper.
Not only that, but if the authors are going to boast about the glories and wonders of science, they'd better come clean about the ugly side of science as well. For all the benevolent powers that science has bestowed upon the human race, there are plenty of reasons for us to beg forgiveness for what we have unleashed upon the Earth. If Swimme and Tucker think science can help induce the wonder that will save us, they better not forget that science has helped get us into so much trouble in the first place.
Like the authors, I too see that we humans are in a bad place, and we've made Earth a pretty bad place, too. And like them, I feel the enchantment of the stars and the cosmos. But the notion that we can prop up our dangling hope with the wonder and power of science requires a blatantly myopic view of science, history and human nature. If this is the best sort of hope we can muster for ourselves, we're in serious trouble.
Kurt Armstrong reviews books for ChristianWeek and is the author of Why Love Will Always Be A Poor Investment (Wipf & Stock).
JOURNEY OF THE UNIVERSE