Cosmology and our View of the World
Theories of Creation Lead: Erik Wochholz
Summary by Evan Czyzowski:
How do we account for the origin of mankind and through what avenue do we use to embark on this search? The question of origin is discussed in two main divisions—scientific explanations and religious meaning. Our discussion begins with the assertion that all creation stories are just simply myths trying to explain our existence. This view that all creation stories are just myths seems fundamentally flawed when applied to both scientific creation stories and religious creation stories.
Religious Creation Stories
Religious creation stories can never be labeled as just myths for the reason that they are meaningful. The story of one’s creation is something that many people do not take lightly. The purpose of a religious creation story is to provide meaning in one’s life, which is exactly what these stories provide. Whether or not one believes in certain creation stories of various religions is irrelevant here, what does matter is that such stories do provide meaning to many people’s lives and thus cannot be called just a myth. However, religious creation stories, when viewed in a broader sense can be called mythology. What is meant by this previous statement is that all religious creation stories, whether they be Taoist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, etc., are attempting to provide some meaningful explanation for the origin of the universe. Whatever the religious denomination, there is a sense of the mystery of being in each religion and the creation story sheds light to the origins of a meaningful existence.
Scientific Accounts of Creation
Science also provides us with stories that attempt to explain the origins of the universe. Unlike religious creation stories, which search for meaning through the story, science seeks to prove a subjective, factual explanation. Because science gathers factual proof for its explanation is the reason why it can not be labeled as a myth. The Big Bang theory, for example, is a scientific explanation for the origin of the universe that can not be viewed as a myth for two reasons. First, the Big Bang is a model that is trying to test a theory and thus not a myth. Secondly, the theory is based on something, namely that it rests on the assumption that there is something, and thus it is not trying to provide the answer to The Absolute in the way that religion is trying to do. In other words, it is not an ultimate explanation, there are always more questions, for instance, what did the singularity some out of?
There is, then, a distinction between the goals of science and religion. But what is often misunderstood is that the two come into conflict with one another, but this is not the case because the aim of each is different. While science will explore and examine how the universe works, the spiritual and religious dimension of life explores the meaning and purpose of life. Therefore the two cannot contradict one another because they are searching for different things. That is why the Bible, The Koran, The Torah, and other religious texts cannot be read as facts. A factual, literal interpretation destroys the purpose of them because it removes the metaphor and thus loses value and meaning—which is the entire point of religion. In that capacity, scientific criticism of religious texts cannot be done in any credible way because of the different objectives of science and religion. They work in tandem with each other and one cannot replace the other.
To say that the two do not conflict is not the same as saying that the two do not cross paths because they do. Science and religion are not searching for the same thing, but they do however seem to find the same thing, namely the mystery of being. No matter which way we approach the universe, we are confronted with our limitations as humans and find the same sense of mystery. Both scientist and theologian are faced with questions such as, "Why is there something and not nothing at all?" In other words we still have a sense of awe and wonder—isn’t it strange that we even exist. In this sense of mystery that science has brought us to the point of religious experience. Science has provided a new narrative (Big Bang Theory) of a sweeping creation theory but it continues to leave us wondering.
A question that is asked time and time again is "Are the religious creation stories true?" In order to answer this question we must keep in mind that because of the different aims of science and religion, this question cannot be answered with scientific proof. The answer is not a scientific truth but rather an interpretive truth. This means the question must be approached with religious aims in mind. Let us first back up and explore what a creation myth is. The myth seems to be an expression of value judgments and so we run into trouble when trying to find a "moral of the story." The real principles embodied in the story are much richer than the logical deduction of taking values from the story. The creation myth is very special and has an inexplicable power and value much greater than the story itself. It is our best way to express the infinite mystery of being, in a finite way. Things will be left out of the story because the finite will never fully express the infinite and thus creation stories cannot be reduced to scientific truths. There is something more, beyond than what is embodied in a myth. And so myths and religion will not explain to us how things work or about raw nature, but since they are an expression of our value judgments, they do tell how we should live to maintain a meaningful life. The test for determining the interpretive truth of a religious myth can be found in how we apply those values to our lives and how we live our lives. The answer to the question of, "are they true," can be answered by asking the question, "Does the myth provide you with a meaningful experience?" If the answer to that second question is, "yes," then it is true for the individual but it is also important to note that this is not a settled matter. Debate of this continues.
Where then do we look to find the Absolute Truth? We look to both science and religion because there is no absolute truth, rather it is relational. Paul Brockelman explains this by stating, "The former [science] without the latter [spirituality] leads to a soulless and self-centered form of demoralization; the latter [spirituality] without the former [science] leads on the contrary to a spiritual life of naive magic." Religion and science complement each other and together they become a relative truth. Science will continue to make discoveries but it can not solve everything. There will always be a sense of mystery beyond what can be explained—it is this boundary where religion plays its role.
May 7, 2001