Religious and Scientific Views of Cosmogenesis

The fundamental thesis of the religious view, as implied in Vedic utterances, as stated in the Book of Genesis and as amplified in the opening to the Holy Qur’an, Man plays a central role as a purported end-product (indeed intended goal) of Creation. The will and guidance of an omnipotent and omniscient Creator are implicit in all religious cosmologies.

It was difficult to reconcile this after the scientific revolution of the 15th/16th centuries, which erected a framework in which inexorable, and mathematically precise laws operate without pause or exception to keep the universe rolling in time. This instigated a new vision of God as an omnipotent Creator of physical laws, who left the vast machine tick away like a well constructed clock: smoothly, precisely, and interminably. Some were prepared to admit that if and when the mechanism needed fixing, this Creator of the cosmic clock would intervene to set it right again. Its two advantages were this: It prevented science from sliding into atheistic materialism, and it made God more rational than whimsical, more respectful of rules than of arbitrary behavior. But its serious disadvantage was that it made God no more than a First Cause, who, after the first and only act (Creation) receded into eternal inaction, becoming what the French called le dieu fainéant (the do-nothing god). More seriously, it was only one more step to dispense with even this God.

Indeed, in the current scientific framework, the universe stumbled into existence on its own, because of some mishap in a silent and latent symmetry, intelligible only to the initiated (in group theory and high energy physics), blowing away as matter every which way, creating space and time in the process. As a result of the co-nascent laws of nature which included a few fundamental interactions, matter and radiant energy such as we know came to be, stars and planets were slowly formed by gravitational enticements, heavy elements were synthesized in the crushed core of super-hot supernovas.

After eons of mute and mechanical routine, mindless matter in elliptical orbits, rugged rocks and slime and sand and things like that, there occurred in this tiny speck in a cosmic corner we call the earth, and quite by accident too, a most remarkable event: the bonding of the first self-replicating molecules igniting biogenesis. This started the unpredictable slide down the giddying path of biological evolution. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, Homo sapiens emerged from apes, and began roaming around in the wilds of Africa. Then there was thought and language and agriculture and culture, and what do you know, thinkers were arguing about how it all began.

This picture was not painted overnight. Nor did it arise from the meditation of a serene sage, the proclamation of the wise man of a clan, or revelations from an archangel. Rather, it has developed from the search and struggle of countless people doing experiments, gathering data, formulating and weighing possibilities, mutually critiquing, revising, reviewing, verifying, rejecting, and finally accepting those ideas that seem most plausible. What matters here is not the correctness of the picture painted, or the sanctity in the source, but the reasons and routes by which one arrived at conclusions.

Some people find this account to be at least as interesting as what our distant ancestors came up with. They also find it persuasive because it is fortified by charts and data and mathematical theories to boot. It is more conjectural conclusion than solemn declaration. Those who are inclined to scientific cosmology grant that there is, as there always will be, something tentative in the scientific vision, but the reasonable coherence in it makes it more appealing to them. After all, if explain you must, then you better pay attention to detail and the deductive mode.

On the other hand, to those who are conditioned to scriptural authority and revealed truths, scientific cosmology is one drab and dismal story in which human beings are mere byproducts, accidents or worse, like some inconsequential mushrooms that sprout in the wilderness and perish. All the grandeur of a magnificent universe with splendid stars in the firmament is reduced in the scientific picture to tenuous hydrogen gas pervading all over and concentrating here and there, to dying stars with nuclear fire at the core, galaxies running amuck every which way like swarms of frightened fowl, sea salts cooking into animalcules. And then, one gives the cold shoulder to God Almighty, there is no room for reverence, no one to laud, sing hymns or be thankful to. All this, from the perspective of traditional religion, is not so much poverty of thought, as mischievous materialism, haughty in its cocksureness, lacking in humility, ignorant of the Divine, and pale when compared to the power and poetry of a glorious God-engendered Creation sanctified by meaning and morality and purpose. Cosmologists, like Laplace, may not need a God-hypothesis, but, like Lagrange, many find it to be beautiful and soothing too.

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