This series from John Chuchman has been inspired by a group of people in Montana who, in turn were inspired by the American Catholic Council last year to make a difference. Today's commentary fits in so well with the conversations we've been having on Catholica this past week seeking to jettison our "excess baggage" and worn out nostrums in search of a spirituality and theology that can speak to us today. What we are learning through Quantum Physics, Cosmology and the Evolution of Life, and even the complexity of our own physiology and neurology, forces us to re-visit many of the fundamental beliefs handed down from our ancient forebears who had no access to this knowledge.
Series Navigation: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V
Part IV: Challenges – The New Cosmology and Evolutionary Biology
Modern science and the scholarship of many fields
are prompting critical examinations
of many long held religious beliefs and doctrines.
In just the last 50 years, astronomy has discovered that our universe began
with the so-called Big Bang explosion about 14.5 billion years ago.
Moreover, our universe is still expanding.
In other words, creation is still underway.
Our universe consists of billions of galaxies
and each galaxy consists of billions of stars.
Our planet Earth, our special home, formed about 4.5 billion years ago.
It is an ordinary sized planet that revolves around an ordinary star (our sun).
Except for being our sun, it is like billions upon billions of others stars.
We are awestruck
by what has been revealed by the Hubble telescope
and we should be.
We are equally captivated by what particle physics tells us
about the subatomic world,
a world that is in us and all around us but completely invisible.
In recent years science has been taking us on a journey
full not only of surprises but also of mystery.
Cosmology on an unimaginably large scale
and elementary particle physics on the incredibly small scale,
have gradually laid bare to us the spectacularly beautiful structure
of the universe in which we live.
Its sheer size makes us aware of our own tininess.
On the linear scale of size, we are insignificant –
a speck of dust in a vast galaxy,
which is itself, scarcely more than a speck in the universe.
We exist between the incredibly small and the incredibly large dimensions
revealed to us by nuclear physics and astronomy, respectively.
Just what are we human beings?
And what is this universe?
Is it really our home, or are we just tiny transient beings
that it has happened to throw up as matter and energy,
mindless to exploit the inherent potential in the laws of nature?
None of us faces these questions dispassionately.
The universe is far too awe-inspiring for that.
Nor do we face them disinterestedly.
We cannot remain untouched by such questions - after all, we are here.
And so our minds insist on asking
about the nature of our relationship to the universe.
Science is changing the way we think about ourselves
and about our place in the universe.
As we ponder these unavoidable questions,
we may feel our religious and spiritual grounding shifting from under us.
The field of evolutionary biology
describes and explains the origin of life on earth
and how an evolutionary process generates multiple and diverse life forms,
including our own species.
Microscopic organisms appeared on our earth about 3.5 billion years ago.
About 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period,
there was a dramatic increase in the number and complexity of life forms.
The first mammals appeared about 55 million years ago
and the ancestors of modern humans arose
somewhere around 2 million years ago.
Our own species, Homo sapiens (modern humans)
appeared around 200,000 years ago.
To offer another perspective,
we can say that there have been approximately 10,000 generations
of anatomically modern man
and 100 generations since the birth of Christ
and just 25 since the invention of the printing press.
We humans have been around for only a small sliver of the earth's history.
We are definitely the newcomers to our Earth.
We did not evolve from chimpanzees but we share common ancestors.
Our DNA is 98.4% exactly like the chimps
and 97.7% like that of gorillas.
Most of us want to believe that we humans are very special
and that the world could not possibly do without us.
As a matter of fact,
other highly developed forms of life managed without us for millions of years.
On the other hand, maybe we are special;
perhaps our earth and its life forms have been preparing for our arrival.
For individuals who are immersed in a religion that reads Genesis
and other books of the Bible in a literal fashion,
the new cosmology and evolutionary biology
pose many intellectual and spiritual problems.
In addition, advances in scriptural scholarship, theology, archaeology,
and cultural anthropology yield new ways of understanding
the social, religious, political, and cultural context of first century Palestine
and the life and teachings of Jesus.
These and still other domains of research
challenge Christians to look more critically at their notions of God,
their understanding of Jesus, and various Christian doctrines.
Love, John Chuchman
If you are impatient you can read the full text of this series on John Chuchman's blog.
You might also like to read the original documents from which these reflections are extracted
on the American Catholic Council website HERE.
Series Navigation: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V
The background used to support John Chuchman's reflection has been sourced from stock.xchng one of the sources for free images on the net provided by people who voluntarily upload their work for others to share. Daniel Cubillas who is located in Spain provided today's image. A gallery of Daniel's freely available images can be found at: www.sxc.hu/gallery/dcubillas. The image used in the headline is sourced from the ex-christian net website: new.exchristian.net/2011/02/loving-father.html
John Chuchman is a bereavement counsellor. He is a graduate of John Carroll University and former Ford Motor Company executive (1959-1992). He has been a Hospice volunteer since 1990. John has received Pastoral Bereavement Counselor certification and a Certificate in Spirituality (Kino Institute of Phoenix, Arizona.) In 2000, he was awarded a Master of Arts degree in Pastoral Ministries from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. His website provides information about his regular retreats and information about his books. he also writes a "Poetman" blog which you can find on the website or via this link: [Visit John's blog] | [Visit John's website]
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[Index of Commentaries by John Chuchman]