The Awakening Universe

I couldn’t find a copy of this on the internet that wasn’t dubbed or subtitled into some foreign language, but a Catholic nun, at the conference I was at on the weekend, showed this to us. Tell me what you think of it. It is in two parts here:

For a slightly more orthodox reflection on the same subject, listen to Fr Mitch Pachwa’s interview on EWTN with Fr Robert Spitzer.

Update: Incidentally, it was a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre, who first came up with what was later called “the big bang theory” (he called it the theory of the primeval atom). See: This is a fact that is conveniently forgotten by many who oppose religion and science. Of course, as Fr Spitzer points out, the big bang theory – as opposed to the previous theory of the infiniteness of both time and space – opens the door to the religious question in cosmography once more.

For myself, I remain in complete wonder and awe at two events that for me BEG the “God question”:

1) The “Big Bang” itself. What caused it? Why did it happen? As the classical philosophers put it “why is there something and not nothing”?
2) the emergence of life from an inanimate universe. No one has ever been able to explain (they skip over it even in the Amazing Universe video – but it is regularly ignored in most school science classes) the process by which something which was inanimate crossed that defining line between dead matter and living cells.


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11 responses to “The Awakening Universe

  1. mdhoerr

    What I think of it? I felt like I’d been time-warped back to the seventies.

    So it’s only in the past ten years we’ve discovered how big the universe is? Really? So there are billions of galaxies instead of what? not billions of galaxies? And this matters how?

    Everything else was the same old same old big bang theory from my college days back in the late seventies (one of my two degrees was in Physics). Yes, I knew that according to the big bang theory, everything started out from a tiny dot of matter. Yes, I knew galaxies came from that, suns from galaxies, planets from suns. Sheesh, this is first semester freshman astronomy.

    Yes, I knew about how the universe had to expand at the right speed, neither too fast or too slow. And the earth has to be just the right distance from the sun. Heck, that’s true all over the place, not just cosmology. The conditions for life are pretty amazing. And what precisely is new about any of this? That we’ve got a bigger number for how many galaxies are out there?

    The ancient Greeks knew the universe was so huge it couldn’t be imagined by a human mind. They knew the correct size of the earth (and I measured it the same way they did in my astronomy class) and they knew the stars were large bodies so far away they were pinpricks of light. I should look up again just how far away they thought the stars were. I’m sure it’s probably a few orders of magnitudes less than we’ve been able to calculate now, but really, they knew the stars were unimaginably far away.

    Is all of this amazing? Sure. Is this new? Heck no. The only thing I take away from this is that people study neither science nor history.

    • I was told by the nun that the makers of this “documentary” had intended those who saw it to make the religious connection, but did not mention religion because they made it for a secular audience. However, the result (as both a rabbi and I agreed at the conference) was that it ended up sounding like a rehash of 70’s new age thinking (all that “consciousness of the universe stuff”). As the Rabbi said: It was like Psalm 8, but instead of saying “Look at this wonderful world, how great must the Creator be” it ends up saying “look at this wonderful world, how great must we be!”

      • Fr John Fleming

        Actually it was Julian Huxley who spoke about man as the universe coming to a consciousness or awareness of itself, an idea subsequently picked up by Pierre Teillard de Chardin.

        As I stated in my PhD thesis many moons ago:

        Father Denis Edwards, following Karl Rahner, sees “the human person … as the cosmos come to consciousness of itself.” Edwards acknowledges that this line of thought can be traced back to Julian Huxley via Teilhard de Chardin. This new anthropocentrism, says Edwards, “differs from traditional anthropocentrism because it is profoundly relational. It views human beings as intimately related to the Earth and as ‘companions’ to every other creature.” Edwards does not develop the practical implications of this sort of theology, but he does note that some, “unjustly” in his view, “criticised the evolutionary work of Teilhard and Rahner as being naively optimistic.” However Wildiers, in his introduction to de Chardin’s work, contrasts the “gradual process of degradation (entropy) and disintegration” of matter, which radically affects the animal and plant kingdoms, with the evolutionary history of mankind. He notes the extinction of many species and that there is no sign of new species appearing.
        “Man, on the other hand, moves steadily onward and upward. As a species he shows no trace of any loss of vital energy. Numerically, he is still on the increase. His mental activity and his urge to expand are always intensifying. Of all sources of energy in the world he is the most dynamic … Through man as the highest and central phenomenon that world evolution has produced that same evolution is bound to follow its ascending course … Within the framework of the fundamental laws of nature man is the architect of to-morrow’s world.”
        Ehrenfeld identifies “absolute faith in our ability to control our own destiny” as “a dangerous fallacy”. Humanism is based upon the “principal assumption, which embraces all of our dealings with the environment, and some other issues as well”.

        In short, be very careful of this universe coming to an understanding of itself in man. It can easily lead to the kind of humanism in which man now directs the course of evolution!

  2. mdhoerr

    Hmm. Your link just lands me on a search page (looks like you can’t bookmark a specific search result). For those who’d like to find Frs Pacwa and Spitzer, here’s what you need to search on:
    Program Name: Faith and Science
    Series Name: EWTN Live
    Date Produced: 6/2/2010
    Two great Jesuits ask the question: “Can truth contradict truth?”

  3. Paul G

    I agree with you that this video is very much a popular “gee whiz” effort, but my memory of the 70’s is that cosmology was not as settled on the “same old same old big bang” theory as you say. In fact Fred Hoyle and others (Thomas Gold, Hermann Bondi) argued very strongly for the Steady State universe that had no beginning. Big Bang and Steady State were popularly thought of as the “religious” and “atheist” theories respectively, and it was a very open question about which was correct. Observations in the 70’s and 80’s eventually supported the Big Bang theory.

    Famously, Fred Hoyle finally denied his atheism when confronted with extraordinary physical coincidences that are required for the universe and life to exist.

    Thank you, David, for the link to the interview with Fr Spitzer. Not only is it more orthodox, it’s more detailed, rational and believable than the video. Fr Spitzer is making what seem to be very interesting books and TV shows, I hope the Discovery channel is willing to show them alongside their usual anti-god drivel by people like James Cameron.

    Another interesting book on the same subject is by Michael Heller “A Comprehensible Universe”. If I understand the argument correctly, Fr Heller (yes, he’s another priest!!!) does not say that the Big Bang was the act of creation, it is only a mechanism. The creation was matter and the laws of physics.

  4. R J Stove

    Gotta love Julian Huxley. When it came to career advancement, he could’ve given Julia Gillard lessons.

    Huxley championed sterilising the “unfit” for as long as he could (the British Eugenics Society had lavish commemorations of his birth’s centenary in 1987). The second that the Good Ship Eugenics started sinking in 1933 (having been commandeered by ex-corporal Hitler), Huxley jumped off it.

    Whereupon he found that Stalinist Russia was a place where Splendid Scientific Chaps like him were treated properly. Quelle surprise, once Lysenkoism turned Soviet genetics into a playpen for the under-fives, Huxley went around saying things like “I always had my doubts about Uncle Joe.” After that (talk about “there’s a sucker born every minute”!), he decided that the future of science rested with Teilhard de Chardin’s hippy-dippy New Age drivel. Then he found even Teilhard too Christian for his taste. So it goes. (Planned Parenthood retained his loyalty to the last.)

    For details about Huxley’s dealings with (how’d you guess?) Margaret Sanger – as late as 1948, a time when the more prudent eugenicists had more urgent priorities, such as going to South America and acquiring new passports uncorrupted by names like “Josef Mengele” – see here:

    Of course, of course, Huxley denounced Humanae Vitae when it came out. Apparently Paul VI had vacated the See of Peter in favour of Pope Julian I.

    Less predictably, when Indira Gandhi needed a useful Western idiot to defend her sterilisation programme, she found one in … Huxley. (“Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!”) No doubt, to Huxley, the formidable Mrs G seemed refreshingly masculine after all Oxford’s and Cambridge’s girly-men.

    If memory serves me, Indira herself said – not altogether without reason – that the West’s loudest secular critics of her programmes were invariably those Maoists who saw nothing wrong with China’s one-child policy. Huxley wasn’t altogether euphoric about Mrs G, though. He eloquently deplored her administration’s policy of giving the sterilised males a noisy transistor radio each.

    Oddly, in his day-to-day behaviour, by all accounts, Huxley was not at all a vulgar parochial pagan renegade of the Paddy McGuinness sort – such as would now be given taxpayers’ graft to edit (i.e. sabotage) antipodean “conservative” print media – but a decent and kindly chap. His marriage was long and, it would seem, mutually loving.

    “The mystery of iniquity” is almost tolerable when it affects the obviously depraved. It is downright scary when it afflicts those who by temperament are Christian gentlemen.

    Someone, preferably someone more qualified than myself, should write an article on Huxley sometime.

  5. R J Stove

    Thank you for your kind words, Paul G; you wouldn’t be Paul Gray (ex-News Weekly), would you?