Towards a Baha’i Cosmology – Part 3
Stephen Friberg, Aug 8, 2016 …
I’ll be giving a series of talks on cosmology and the Baha’i Faith at the San Jose Baha’i Center on Sunday, Sept. 11th, Sunday, Sept. 18th, and Sunday Sept. 25th. It is the adult class, and typically 12 or so people are there. We have good discussions!
The title will be “Beyond Materialism: How Cosmology Makes Us Confused and What To Do About It“. Part 1 will cover past and present cosmologies around the world, Part 2 will be about how the Baha’i Writings address questions of cosmology, and Part 3 will discuss implications for a future world society.
Here is the abstract:
Central to discussions about the universe and our place in it are questions about cosmology: What is the nature of the universe? How did it start? What is its meaning? What is the source of its laws? Has it always been here? How did life arise? Where does consciousness and the mind come from? Does the universe have a purpose?
In the past, cosmologies included both the material and the spiritual aspects of life, but modern cosmologies focus on the material aspect only, creating considerable confusion. Here, we briefly survey how the Bahá´í Writings answer questions about cosmologies and consider some of the implications for the future.
Is Cosmology Important?
There is a fundamental question about cosmology – an “elephant in the room” type of question – that must be asked right off. Is cosmology important?
I think that the answer is that cosmology is not directly very important, at least to most people on earth. It doesn’t matter to us in any practical way if the universe was created 13.8 billion years ago or the earth 4.5 billion years ago. That’s probably why so many Americans don’t really care whether life is 10,000 years old or 3.7 billion years old.
But cosmology does matter indirectly, both emotionally and intellectually. In effect, it is our mental picture of everything that is. And, as such, it influences us about what we think is meaningful and important in life. And I think it usually does this in a way that short-circuits reason and our thinking processes. Like the animal aspects of our life – our biological impulses and our sociological impulses – it underlies much of our conscious and unconscious comprehension of what is going on. This, I think, is the major reason it is important: it affects, both in negative and positive way, our ways of acting and thinking.
I am saying that in the same way that our animal biology supplies the “biological substrate” of our individual and social lives, so our worldview or cosmology provide us with a “consciousness substrate” of our lives. It is the picture of the world as created by our imaginations.
Some implications …
If this is correct, it means a lot. It helps explain, for example, how ideological perspectives of the Islamic State and militant atheism, although different with respect to the existence or non-existence of God, can have such similar polarizing consequences. The cosmologies that inform each of them are both worldview maps residing in identical parts of the brain, and therefore tend to generate a similar spectrum of responses.
[Note: A hard truth, one that seems incorrect to many secularists, is that secular and atheistic ideologies in the form of nationalism, scientific racism, and communism have been much more violent than their religious counterparts if we look at the record of violence, war, and class conflict over the last dozen or so decades. It is likely that religion in many cases tempers the innate aggressive tendencies in leaders and their followers and that the weakening and the withering away of religion, as in Germany at the time of the World Wars, may loosen moral restraints against the “might is right” arguments of the nationalists, communists, and their fellow travelers.]
It helps explain, as another example, why modern Westerners and their cultures are so materialistic. Our modern cosmologies – our worldviews – are predicated on a scientific worldview that rejected the Aristotelian cosmology embraced by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity and replaced it with a Newtonian world view that describes the universe as both a vast mechanism and as an empty space admixed with matter that interacts randomly to form us.
This worldview ignores us, our concerns, and things like how we interact with and comprehend the universe. It is, I think, a transitional worldview, one that naively views science as replacing religion, its cosmology still modeled on Aristotelian views that the heavens are where the divine resides. As we shall see, evolution shows a different, much more dynamical picture, one that includes the complexity and uniqueness of who we are as an important additional factor in the universe.
Of course, this raises additional questions. We will explore those later.