Cosmology and all that … part 3

Cosmology and all that … part 3

Towards a Baha’i Cosmology – Part 3

Stephen Friberg, Aug 8, 2016 …

San Jose Baha’i Center

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?

Looking into the Heavens

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 …

Ptolemaic Universe
Aristotle’s Universe

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.

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3 thoughts on “Cosmology and all that … part 3

  1. Religion often does not temper the innate aggressive tendencies of leaders and their followers. Instead it can lead to centuries of fanaticism, as when the Catholic church, the Eastern Orthodox church, the Anglican church, the Lutheran church, the Reformed church, until about 18th century, banned all rival churches, executed heretics, banned other religions with only a little toleration of Judaism, and even believed in killing alleged witches. That was totalitarianism even worse than we see in some communist countries or in Nazi Germany.

  2. Hi Tom, good to hear from you.
    The unfortunate truth is, that as is the case for all human organizations we know of, religious organizations can become a vehicle for intolerance and fanaticism. The difference is that the moral and unifying teachings of religion – echoed in modern secularism and in the democratic institution of the modern day – are a force that works against that intolerance if taken to heart and if followed.
    The basic message of religion, which of course can be put aside and ignored, is for morality, tolerance, and the advancement of society. But as religions grow old, powerful, and entwined with politics, leaders pursue different agendas and put aside that message. But the spirit persists and returns none the less for often more than thousands of years, the teachings advancing the interests of humanity, albeit it more weakly.
    The Baha’i message is that this religious spirit and moral force is renewed and the forms that the social organizations take are reformed – and we are in the age where that is happening.

    1. That can be seen indeed in the history of Catholicism, as it became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it was of course entwined with politics, and the politics of the Roman Empire was that it was a dictatorship. And then there could have been a desire for revenge against pagans, for all the repression that pagans had imposed on them for the supposed crime of not worshiping the emperor and other gods. And they had emotional disputes with other Christians, which led them to believe other Christians are not saved, but are in dangerous heresies. And then there was the example of some Old Testament verses, so intolerant of polytheism by Israelites, that the law of Moses imposed the death penalty for any Israelite converting to polytheism. So that was a biblical example of religious persecution commanded allegedly by God. So it is then not so surprising that the Catholic church, in alliance with the Roman Empire, outlawed other religions and even other Christian churches and persecuted them, usually successfully exterminated them. They only tolerated Judaism to some extent, maybe because it was a continuation of the Old Testament religion. But they sure made life difficult for the Jews.
      And then when the church split into the Western, Catholic church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church, both inherited that doctrine against freedom of religion. And then Reformation came, Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans became dominant in some countries, and inherited that doctrine against freedom of religion. And then only gradually, with the spread of ideas in favor of freedom, then these Christians started tolerating other churches too, and gradually more freedom of religion came.

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