Questions of Cosmology

The great religious traditions of west Asia, on the one hand, and south and east Asia, on the other, approach the mysteries of the cosmos and human history from very different starting points.

Published on: June 18, 2014
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  • Dan

    Great post — a fascinating contrast that serves to highlight the distinctives of the monotheistic vs Eastern religions. Also a solid rebuttal to the increasingly common claim that the worldview and practices of Eastern religions are compatible with Christianity or the other monotheistic religions.

  • Curious Mayhem

    As far as anyone knows now, and has known since the 1920s, the universe as we can see it now will continue expanding forever.

    However, not enough is understood about the large-scale physics of the universe to elucidate weirder possibilities, like an eternal “metaverse” perpetually giving birth to “big-bang-style” baby universes, or our own universe doing the same. That’s at the frontier of cosmological speculation.

    There are metaphysical and mystical ideas in Greek, medieval, and Jewish thought about other universes and realities. It’s not unique to Eastern religions, although the prominence of uniqueness is unique to Near Eastern/Western religions. Eastern religions are centered on liberation from self and the apparent illusion of uniqueness.

  • Loader2000

    “If the universe is a creation, it must make sense everlastingly, and so ultimately it must be redeemed from transience and decay.” Why not.

  • LarryD

    Specuation about other sentient beings is an academic exercise, a distraction from woring on our own character and redemption. Nonetheless Christian and Judaic theleogians engaged in such speculations centuries ago, if ETs landed today, the Jewish and Christian worldview wouldn’t even hiccup.

    Genesis tells us the universe is Gods creation, and had a beginning. That it has some king of end is implicit, the predjudice against this is just people kicking against the vision of our home not being eternal, which means our species cannot be eternal either.

    • InjunTrouble77

      The Christian worldview would not hiccup? I think it definitely will. According to Christianity, man is the center of Creation. If advanced ET’s landed this view would be devastated. Several serious questions will need answers: Is Jesus the Son of ET as well as the Son of Man? Do ETs have original sin? Does Jesus redeem them too? Or do they have their own savior? And was he crucified like Jesus?

      • stefanstackhouse

        We would see their robots long before they ever showed up themselves. Indeed, I very much doubt that any truly intelligent being would bother making the trip themselves. If they were truly intelligent, they would realize that there are far better things to do with their limited time alive than to be buzzing through the void of space inside a metal can.

        • InjunTrouble77

          Why do you think anthropologists keep visiting primitive tribes all the time? Because there are no better things to do? The ETs visit us for exactly the same reason – they are curious and want to study us, primitive humans.

      • LarryD

        A few centuries ago, the Natural Philosophers of Western Civilization thought the known planets and the moon both inhabitable and inhabited. In short, they believed ETs existed, and near by. All of the serious questions have already been considered. Since we have no revelation on ETs theological state, all questions are academic until contact. But we recognize that any ETs will be fellow creations of God, just as we are, whether they are fallen, redeemed, untested, or unfallen.

        While contact would finally offer the chance to answer several theologically interesting questions, the notion that man is the center of Creation has been naive since Copernicus. Discovering that We Are Not Alone will not shock our ego, the notion of other sentient life is now old and familiar, predating even the oldest science fiction.

        At this point, it would be more daunting if we knew we were the only sentient species in the universe. Or the first.

        • InjunTrouble77

          All of the serious questions have already been considered? So tell me, do the ET’s have their own Son-of-God or is Jesus the One for all aliens as well? If Jesus is the One and only, did he then have to go to each planet and get crucified?

  • MarcusRegulus

    Two interesting speculations.
    It should be terrifying to the Western Asiatics to think humans may be the only species in the entire Universe in need of redemption, and what that says about us.
    For the Eastern Asiatics, if reincarnation is not back into THIS Universe, but some other one (but very similar), would that not argue in favor of social/political action in the one we happen to be in?

  • fredx2

    “The latest research shows that the universe’s expansion is accelerating, so there is no reason to expect a collapse from cosmological observations,” Krog said. “Thus it will probably not be Big Crunch that causes the universe to collapse. “The Danish physicists said that while their new calculations predict the collapse of the universe is now more likely than ever, they also said it’s possible it won’t happen at all.”

    I think the most recent science is decidedly against the idea of things collapsing in on themselves.

    “Recent experimental evidence (namely the observation of distant supernovae as standard candles, and the well-resolved mapping of the cosmic microwave background) has led to speculation that the expansion of the universe is not being slowed down by gravity but rather accelerating. However, since the nature of the dark energy that is postulated to drive the acceleration is unknown, it is still possible (though not observationally supported as of today) that it might eventually reverse sign and cause a collapse.”

    • lukelea

      Right. But there is an interesting wrinkle. The expansion of space does not apply to our Galaxy or the one next door (Andromeda), which will continue to exist in their present form long after all the other galaxies have disappeared over the horizon. It has to do with the fact that they are gravitationally bound. Likewise atoms are electromagnetically bound, so they too will continue to exist. Thus there will still to be stars in the sky. And even though earth will be long gone there may be other planets like it even then.

      This is according to mainstream physicist Leonard Susskind. Here is a link (I hope it’s the right one):

      • Curious Mayhem

        Yep, that’s the accelerating expansion, in a later phase, when the causal horizon gets smaller than distances between galaxies that are not gravitationally mutually bound. (Technically, galaxies and anything smaller bound together locally are not separating from the “cosmic flow” on larger scales.) Our universe, the causally connected patch of spacetime we now observe, will fragment into mutually non-communicating, non-connected patches. (Sort of like American politics 🙂

        This might have already happened once in cosmic history, in the very early inflationary epoch. So there might be a larger “metaverse” of patches now beyond our causal horizon, but once inside that horizon. Evidence for inflation from the very early universe might include evidence for these once-connected regions, now inflated beyond sight.

    • Curious Mayhem

      Exactly. We don’t understand enough of large-scale cosmological physics to rule out weirder possibilities. But if you just take the gravitational theory (general relativity) and present observations, the universe will keep expanding forever, full stop. There’s no evidence it will do anything else.

      The weirder possibilities are speculative and maybe someday, someone will find that they’re realities, not just possibilities. But for now, they’re just speculations.

  • stefanstackhouse

    There might be life on other planets. I suspect that almost everywhere, if life does exist at all it will usually be something not much different than our own extremophile bacteria. Sin and redemption doesn’t seem to really enter into the picture with those. It is quite possible that such micro-organisms might be the only life that exists outside of our extremely rare earth. It may be that we alone had the perfect conditions not only for life in its minimal form, but also for the cambrian explosion into the hugely diverse array of multi-cellular creatures that we have had for over 500 million years.

  • nupuramail blog

    Very good article on a difficult and less understood subject.

    However, Is a debate really required ? Jerusalem is a controversial place. India is a mystery. I am not sure if Brahmins are illegal in India – sure they exist just as corruption, but they don’t lead many organized efforts on classical thoughts.Foreign invasions, Colonial rule, followed by socialism has been brutal.

    “held in the palm of one hand” – This is not correct- You have to think over it for years, It is far more revolutionary and unthinkable proposition.

    “reincarnation (samsara)” – samsara is not reincarnation. Samsara is world. Reincarnation is the path of Jiba.

    “perhaps more properly called the wheel of death,” – if it is called wheel of life, perhaps it is proper to call so. ” because it is a notion full of horror: one dies over and over again” – Death is considered involving pain, and there is futility in indulgent. But where did people discuss Karma ,meaning and Ananda ? So more understanding is required.

  • Gary Novak

    Berger notes the compatibility of Hindu cosmology with modern physics. The Vedas recognize cosmic cycles and simultaneous universes, while modern cosmology postulates “multiple universes.” The question is whether one can recognize “the vastness of time and space” without reducing humanity to insignificance. Berger’s interviewer of some years ago was seemingly nonplussed when Berger mentioned that vastness as a key contribution of the East in the East/West dialogue. Without knowing where the interviewer was “coming from” (theologian, scientist, big-hair news anchor?), it is difficult to know quite what to make of his surprise. But we do know that one of the places Berger is coming from is Alfred Schuetz’s phenomenology of “multiple realities.”

    People find themselves moving between various “relevance structures”– art, science, religion, for example– each with its own “cognitive style.” Science (including its seemingly unfalsifiable metaphysical speculations about multiple universes) inhabits ONE “finite province of meaning.” Each province claims jurisdiction over the whole of reality– every knee shall bow before the consensus of climate science– until one blinks and finds onself in another province, where “certainties” are reversed. The point is that one need not deny the possibility of other relevance structures in order to affirm one’s “go to” structure. When one exits the religious or artistic relevance structure after a religious or aesthetic experience, one cannot say whether one is returning “to” or “from” reality without exercising Berger’s “heretical imperative.” Hopefully, one’s choice of a “philosophy of life” will be thoughtful and not arbitrary, whimsical, or reactive. But it cannot be algorithmic. One of the worst features of modern education is the tacit assumption that “educated” minds will judge alike.

    Perhaps Berger’s interviewer felt that the vastness of Hindu time and space– incompatible with an Abrahamic view of reality– is too intimidating not to be denied instead of acknowledged. But are not multiple universes powerless against a smile that renews the world?

  • PaddyO’

    Interesting article, but I disagree with the authors last assertion that the Abrahamic view is incompatible with modern physics. The Big Bang is an event very compatible with the Genesis description of creation. The Hebrew word for created is “bara” which means bringing into existence something new, something that did not exist before. No fewer than 11 verses talk about the heavens being stretched out. (Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; 48:13; 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; and Zechariah 12:1. Job 37:18). Romans chapter 8 specifically talks about the entire creation being subjected to the law of decay. (2nd law of thermodynamics.) Regardless whether science tells us that we are in for a big collapse, or if we will expand forever, the Bible tells us that He who created the universe will remake, or renew His creation when His Son returns. (Rev 21.) The entire system is under bondage (or decay) because of sin, but it will be renewed in the end. That is the good news of the gospel! ( The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God – Romans 8)

  • jbugs68

    The key point in my view is that God made man in His own image. Therefore, are we particularly chosen of God above all other alien beings out there? It is this point which might cause many Christians to believe that aliens must therefore be demons, I mean, if one is to believe the many abduction experiences, they do not seem to be compassionate or loving (the Greys especially). In fact they seem more like extremely intelligent machines, and therefore lack the spirit of God (or image of). I don’t think that aliens are actually part of our particular universe dimension, but come from another dimension entirely able to pop in and out of our dimension at will, without having to travel millions of light years to get here. This personally leads me to think that they are indeed what we would call ‘demons’ – and therefore the current invasion of them into our dimension only spells trouble and deception for mankind. Just my thought (non-academic though it might be!)

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