14th July 2021

Science, we sometimes hear it said, has given us a picture of the universe so vast that we humans are reduced to insignificance, along with the values that are so precious to us: goodness, truth and beauty, not to mention faith or a sense of the divine. We find ourselves in a material cosmos of atoms and molecules, infinitely empty space and impersonal forces sweeping the galaxies, blind to us and uncaring about our existence. This sounds coldly rational and grimly realistic. In fact it is deeply irrational. It posits an unbridgeable dichotomy between ourselves and the physical universe, when in fact we are as much a part of it as anything else in it. Goodness, truth and beauty are in the fabric of the universe because they are part of us, who are part of that universe. The American Christian thinker and prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson writes in her book The Givenness of Things: ‘It is an error of much scientific thinking to extrapolate from our radically partial model of reality, a model curtailed, unaccountably and arbitrarily, by the exclusion of much that we do know about the fabric and fine grain of the cosmos in which we live and move and have our being… I invoke the stuff of Being because we are made of it.’

At which point, we can turn to Psalm 8, and with the psalmist be awed by the stars into a sense of our seeming nothingness, and then marvel at ourselves as human beings, even as little children endowed with no less reason for wonder than the highest heavens.

Keith Clements