By Philip Quirke
The story of the universe as it is told through the insights of modern science can evoke the same wonder and awe which the Psalmist expressed in Psalms 8 and 103. ‘When I see the heavens, what are we that you [Yahweh] should keep us in mind ?
The unfolding of the universe over 13.8 billion years, and of our solar system over 4.6 billion years, is verified by observation, prediction and experiment. The emergence of life on planet earth was an evolutionary process, still continuing. The Human is a shape which nature has taken, eminently significant because the Self-reflexive Consciousness of the Human now is capable of directing the ongoing process of universe and planetary development. This is our time to take responsibility for our universe.
The evidence of the trials of Mother Earth, is that Humans are making a poor job of our inheritance. We, as a species, in the most recent 300 years of our time here have knocked mutually dependent forces out of balance, and cut damaging gaps in the web of living things. This has been the era of industrial and technological expansion, through the harnessing of the resources of the earth, with great improvements in living conditions for many, but to the point of depleting the planet’s systems as a whole. There is an obvious need for a re-set of our attitudes to technological ‘advance’, and to bring human endeavour and the resources used into balance.
In the pursuit of more and more, which is still a strong feature of capitalist culture, we forget that the universe and the planet did quite well enough without us for most of its time of existing. We are a recent arrival, at best 5 million years ago, and more likely about 2.3 million. Modern humans [ homo sapiens sapiens ] with speech are as recent as 50,000 years ago.
If we burn ourselves out, poison our water, obscure the sun, perish by plague, famine or war, the planet will reconcile itself to our disappearance. Some other shape in nature will emerge. And because our powers of creativity will die with us, our demise will be a great loss to the planet.
The Christian challenge, the Catholic challenge, the challenge to all religious systems is to reignite a deep respect for the created world of which we are a part, and to harness our creativity to the creativity of all living things in order to restore what has been lost.
The writer of Psalm 8 ends by saying that Yahweh has put all things under our feet’, that is, has given us power over the created world. Our exercise of power has been exploitative since the industrial revolution in the western world, and when other countries become industrialised the same dynamic operates. We now need to see that power as a power for stewarding our planet away from exploitation, disposability and waste, to a more balanced relationship between all the living systems. It is in our own interest that we work towards such a relationship.