The New Universe Story

by Michael Colebrook

INTRODUCTION

We are the first generation of people who know that the universe has a history and that we, along with everything else, are participating in a very long and utterly marvellous story.

At the end of the last century human beings did not know that the stars are organized into galaxies, and they had not imagined that gravity could be merely an aspect of how space and time are arranged. They did not know how atoms or stars work, and they had heard of neither the quantum nor the atomic nucleus. Neither did they know that the continents move, or that genetic information is stored in DNA, and they had only the faintest notions of the history of life on Earth. Beyond this the idea that the universe has a history would, had they heard it, have seemed almost inconceivable. (1)

Indeed, at the turn of the nineteenth century, such ideas as there were about a cosmological history were related more to the future than to the past and were dominated by the second law of thermodynamics and the belief that the historical process was one of an inevitable increase of disorder leading to the final ‘heat death’ of the universe. There were visionaries such as Henri Bergson who were not satisfied with such a pessimistic view of reality and who postulated a creative force at work throughout the universe. But it is easy for us to forget just how recently it has been possible to put flesh on the bones of Bergson’s vision. Lee Smolin talks about the end of the last century. In fact, much of the synthesis of our increased knowledge into a coherent story has occurred during my lifetime. Our uncovery of the New Universe Story is far from complete and, of course, the story continues…

It is not the intention of this essay to tell the new story, this has already been done with great eloquence by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry (2), but rather to focus on what it means for the human condition. In view of just how new the story is, it is not surprising that we are still struggling with its implications.

KNOWING ABOUT THE STORY

In the beginning … whatever it was, it was not a Big Bang. Perhaps it was a small sigh, in which space/time emerged and all the matter/energy in the universe started creating itself.

‘In the twinkling of an eye’ the story of the Universe began to unfold, it is a story of ever increasing richness and diversity, the universe is ‘constantly bawling with newness’,(3) and as the story unfolds it creates possibilities for new kinds of unfolding.

It is a story unlike any other because it is self-contained. The story writes itself and makes up its own ‘language’ as it goes along. What we know about the real story is both incomplete and corrigible and a distinction has to be maintained between the real story as it unfolds and the story that we, as intelligent self-reflective beings, have tried to uncover and to tell in some comprehensible form. In the last analysis, however, all ways of knowing and feeling are part of the story. All those who have tried to find out about the story and to tell it – scientists, philosophers, artists – are themselves part of the story. As Max Plank put it, ‘science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of Nature. And it is because we ourselves are part of the mystery we are trying to solve’.(4)

The process of biological evolution is such that features can emerge and be selected that surpass the immediate advantages they confer. Such seems to be the case with the human mind. It is far more powerful than it needs to be to simply improve the chances of human survival. The emergence of the human brain, the quality of the human mind and with it the power of imagination is probably the biggest risk that the story has taken with itself throughout the fifteen billion years of its telling because the human imagination recognises no constraints, no limits to its activities.

There are two features of the human imagination that are relevant to our view of the universe story. Firstly, as Rabindranath Tagore (5) has suggested, in the face of our mortality humans try to create images of truth which are believed to be universal and eternal. There does seem to be an inherent drive to go beyond the known in a search, for the divine, for the realm of ideal forms, for a theory of everything. This drive provides the spur to find out about the story of the universe but there is always a temptation to see more in what we find than can be justified. Secondly, the human imagination has discovered the phenomenon of doubt. It is a sublime irony that the universe story has produced something that questions the reality of the story that created it. What can we know? What is real? Is anything real?

Noam Chomsky (6) suggests that without a system of formal constraints there is no creativity, there is merely change. The human venture of uncovering the universe story has to recognise such constraints and stay within the confines of a creative exploration: forever probing the constraints, but never seriously doubting the existence of a fundamental reality.

In a contribution to one of the more interesting sites on the Internet the American cosmologist Lee Smolin (7) envisages the rebirth of the tradition of natural philosophy based on a new picture of the world. He identifies three overarching themes to the new philosophy. Firstly, the idea that the world is not static, it evolves over time; and not only in the biological realm but the universe as a whole is in creative change. Smolin suggests that we are only beginning to realize the implications of this. The second theme is the growing realization that the universe in effect creates itself, it is essentially self-organising through the action of relatively simple principles, such as natural selection in biology. The third theme is that in a self-organising world all properties are relational. Everything happens within a context. It follows that in a universe interesting enough to contain stars and living things, complexity is essential, not accidental.

What Lee Smolin is proposing is a new natural philosophy, implying that it is derived from what we know about the universe story as opposed to being based on pure thought and abstract concepts. As such it has much to say about the relationships between humanity, the cosmos in general and planet Earth in particular.

It seems reasonable to begin the process of considering the implications of the Universe Story by looking briefly at each of the three themes.

THEME ONE : THE EVOLUTIONARY UNIVERSE

The first of Thomas Berry’s twelve principles ‘for understanding the Universe and the role of the human in the Universe process’ states that, ‘The universe, the solar system, and the planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being’(8) The Universe Story isthe story of the evolution and emergence of the cosmos.

The best current estimate of the age of the universe is about fourteen billion (14,000,000,000) years. The earth was formed around four and a half billion years ago. Modern humans emerged only a hundred and fifty thousand years ago. The Universe produced countless galaxies and stars, the earth produced continents and oceans and millions of species of living things existing in complex communities long before we humans appeared on the scene. The Universe got along very well without us for all but the few most recent moments of its history. More, on the earth it took at least two thousand million years for living creatures to create an environment in which humans could survive and flourish.

The evolutionary nature of the New Universe Story should tell us two things. Firstly, that all of how we became and all of what we are is completely contingent and an integral part of the Universe Story. Secondly, that we belong here: we are at home on the earth. We are not alien forms set here to do our best to survive in a hostile environment, but, neither are we totally autonomous beings. We emerged from the web of life on earth and we were and are nurtured by it.

Humanity represents a very significant step in the evolutionary story. The emergence of self-reflective awareness, the ability of conceptual thinking, coupled with the development of language and other means of symbolic representation, is a major event in the Universe Story: the emergence of beings whose quality of experience is such that they ask questions about it. But it led René Descartes to conclude, ‘I think therefore I am … I was a substance, of which the whole essence or nature consists in thinking; so that this ‘I’, that is to say, the mind, by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body’.(9) Descartes did not invent mind/body dualism but he is usually credited with the definitive statement of it.

From mind/body dualism it is but a small step to establishing a dualism between the human and the rest of nature and this has led to the development of an almost exclusively human centred sensibility, especially in European and Western cultures.

THEME TWO: THE SELF_CREATING UNIVERSE

The realization that the universe effectively creates itself has profound implications. Creativity implies the emergence of genuine novelty. The fact that this creativity is part of an on-going story implies that that which is created is contingent, dependent on what has gone before, but it is not predictable, ‘every step is a precarious step into the unknown’.(10)

The mechanistic world view which emerged during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries taught that reality resides in what is fundamental – space, time, matter and energy. While our understanding of the nature of these entities has substantially changed in the age of quantum mechanics and relativity theory, the earlier concept of what is fundamental has carried over into the twentieth century. There is still a tendency to hold on to the idea that physics is the home of fundamental reality. However, if the universe is genuinely creative then the products of the creativity are genuinely novel. They possess their own inherent properties and emergent laws which are fundamental to their being. Created wholes are more than the sums of their parts. Chemistry is not reducible to physics. Biology is not reducible to chemistry. The oak desk on which sits the computer I am using to write this isreally solid, because solidity is an emergent property. The tree that provided the wood was really alive because life is an emergent property. Solids and living things are products of the inherent creativity of the universe. It can be argued that all such phenomena and the emergent laws that govern them are as fundamental in relation to reality as are the so-called fundamental particles, forces and basic laws of physics (see, for example, Wes Jackson (11)).

This implies a dramatic change in the way we see the world. It is a world manifest as layer upon layer of emergent phenomena, all equally real, all equally fundamental, because none of them are reducible to or can be explained in terms of properties in any of the ‘lower’ layers. It is certainly true that ‘lower’ levels contain the potential for the emergence of the ‘higher’ levels, and the ‘stuff of the universe’, whatever it may be, has to contain the potential for manifestation as everything else. This is one of the mysteries of creation.

The means and methods of self-creation are currently the subject of much study. This is the part of the new picture of the universe that we know least about. One of the images that is useful is to see creativity in terms of the emergence of order out of chaos. We are learning that chaos is a much more complex phenomenon than we thought it was. And we are learning that given the right conditions, order can appear out of chaos quite spontaneously. It just happens.

Among the conditions for the spontaneous emergence of order are that the system be far from equilibrium and that it should be close to a critical state. Being far from equilibrium implies that something has to be happening to maintain the system in this state. Being critical implies that a very small perturbation can dramatically alter the state of the system. An example is a minute speck of dust in a saturated atmosphere acting as the locus for the formation of a raindrop that is orders of magnitude larger than the original seed. Systems in this state can be described as being ‘at the edge of chaos’.

THEME THREE: THE RELATIONAL UNIVERSE

Quantum theory indicates that at the level of the potential for the emergence of everything, it is not possible to derive a description of anything except in terms of its relationships with other things. At subsequent levels of emergence, a total web of relationship is an inevitable consequence of the origin of the universe as undifferentiated space/time and matter/energy and its subsequent self-emergence through an evolutionary unfolding.

Everything is relational because everything is contingent. At the same time, creativity involves the emergence of novelty. The universe of our every-day experience consists of separate and apparently independently existing things. It is possible to view the Universe Story as one of ever greater differentiation into ever more autonomous forms and structures. The process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead describes this apparent paradox, ‘The salvation of reality is its obstinate, irreducible, matter-of-fact entities, which are limited to be no other than themselves… That which endures is limited, obstructive, intolerant, infecting its environment with its own aspects. But it is not self-sufficient. The aspects of all things enter into its very nature… Conversely it is only itself by lending its aspects to this same environment in which it finds itself. The problem of evolution is the development of enduring harmonies of enduring shapes of value, which merge into higher attainments of things beyond themselves.'(12)

According to Erich Jantsch (13), emergent entities depend on patterns of internal relationships. Indeed, it is such relationships that are responsible for the emergent features and they play a key role in maintaining their integrity. The existence of enduring ‘matter-of-fact entities’, therefore, implies the existence of new and different forms of relationality rather than any break in the universal web of relationships. While such internal relationships may be necessary for stability, completely closed systems effectively shut themselves off from their surroundings and can play no further part in the creative process.

There is a large class of systems, which includes all living creatures, whose internal relationships are dynamic and require inputs of energy, and in many cases matter as well, in order to maintain their activities. These systems have to search for a balance between being closed in order to maintain stability and being open to input the energy and materials needed to maintain their internal relationships. By being open they are vulnerable to disruption, but at the same time their openness means that they influence their surroundings through their activities.

Entities do not evolve in a vacuum. They interact with their surroundings and this environment includes the evolutionary trajectories of other entities. Transpose this into what happens on the earth, with its myriads of living things existing within the systems of rock and water and air and continents and climates and we have a veritable feast of creativity, as all the processes involved in the dynamics of this vast web of being interact. It is easy to see why Whitehead considers the existence of ‘matter-of-fact entities’ as ‘the salvation of reality’. How else could such a complex system have any shape or form?

In the mechanistic view of the world, form and order were fundamental. In the New Universe Story they are emergent: they are the result of the interactions of an incredibly complex mass of processes happening on a enormous range of space and time scales. This is one of the areas where the telling of the new story is, as yet, incomplete. In place of a universe consisting of matter in motion determined by external laws, we have to think rather about a system constrained by and within its own context. In place of balance and equilibrium, we are faced with a universe of systems engaged in complex patterns of dynamics. The outcomes may be unpredictable, but they are not entirely free: in a relational universe, the future is always constrained by the now.

INTERLUDE

In a delightful short story called ‘God’s First Draft’ Stephen Dunstone (15) tells his version of the creation story. After three attempts to create a perfect world, all of which manifestly failed, God tried the idea of the level playing field…

“Time for the fourth attempt! Let there be light and – no hills or streams or woods or up or down, and let there be five hundred identical men and five hundred identical women; no birds or animals or insects in case they upset the balance, and no fish and no marrows or parsnips or any kind of vegetable, because there must be no hunger or cold or fear or any kind of desire… There… And God looked at his creation; his blameless creatures who stood without blemish, motionless, on this flat featureless world, untouched by any breath of wind. Changeless – eternal. He looked at this world and saw that it was perfect. He sat in his heaven in contemplation of perfection; and no seed of discontent stirred in the timeless silence. No cries of anger or pain or joy pierced the harmony of stillness. He looked and looked, and watched and waited. But nothing came to disturb the world. It was indeed perfect, and would last for ever. And God contemplated eternity. And he said to himself, ‘God, this is boring’. And it’s just as well that he did, because if he hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here today. With a contemptuous click of his fingers he consigned the perfect world to eternal non-existence. Gone. And not a trace of remorse or regret did he feel.

“God said ‘let there be light and dark and sun and moon and stars and dry land and hills and valleys and woods and streams and all manner of plants and insects and birds and animals and people; and let them fear and fight and feel pain but let them also feel desire and joy and love. Let the wind carry the sound of their suffering but let it also carry the sound of their laughter too, let them grow old but let them give birth, let them toil but let them dance, let there be sorrow but let there be ecstasy; let them work on the world but let the world work on them; let what may happen, happen. But above all let them learn from their mistakes.”

In God’s fourth attempt the ‘perfect’ men and women were created to be autonomous, they were complete and perfect within themselves and had no need to interact with each other (it was this that had been the problem with the three previous attempts). But, closed systems shut themselves off from the creative process, and this is boring. For a creative world there has to be variety and active relationships and interactions, but this implies vulnerability. There is an inevitable price to be paid for creativity. Relationships involve both the sweet and the bitter, fear and pain and suffering and death as well as birth and laughter and ecstasy.

We humans, with our powers of self-reflective awareness of suffering and death and joy and birth and having the gift of imagination, inevitably ask questions about what it all means. Why is there something rather than nothing? Does it mean anything? What does it mean to live in a world that learns from its mistakes? Does the story so far represent any kind of progressive process? Is it going anywhere? Clearly we are not standing motionless in a perfect world, but maybe we are stuck in some endlessly repetitive cycle. Most traditional creation stories imply at least some form of progress and many also point towards some sort of objective for the future. Does the New Universe Story as we now understand it throw any light on any of these questions? Specifically does the new story imply progress in the past and purpose for the future?

THE QUESTION OF PROGRESS

An evolutionary and self-creating universe necessarily implies that change takes place in a particular direction. The concept of progress assigns value to this process, it implies that what is new is, or may be, an improvement on what has gone before. According to Jacob Bronowski, ‘it is pointless to ask why evolution has a fixed direction in time… It is evolution, physical and biological, that gives time its direction… The progression from simple to complex, the building up of stratified stability, is the necessary character of evolution from which time takes its direction. And it is not a forward direction in the sense of a thrust toward the future, a headed arrow. What evolution does is to give the arrow of time a barb which stops it from running backward.'(16) If this is true then it implies that the Universe Story creates its own direction: the story is a narrative. But for Bronowski the question of progress has no meaning.

In the field of biological evolution the problem of progress has been hotly debated. Julian Huxley was a fervent advocate: ‘The scientific doctrine of progress is destined to replace not only the myth of progress, but all other myths of human earthly destiny. It will inevitably become one of the cornerstones of man’s theology, or whatever may be the future substitute for theology, and the most important external support for human ethics.'(17) On the other hand Stephen Jay Gould writes, ‘Progress is a noxious, culturally embedded, untestable, nonoperational, intractable idea that must be replaced if we wish to understand the patterns of history.'(18)

Both of these extreme views reflect powerful cultural influences; the enlightenment for Huxley and the post-modernist distrust of meta-narratives for Gould. The problem lies in the definition of progress. We tend to visualise progress in terms of some sort of ascent, in which the new, assumed to be better, replaces the old. We humans see ourselves at the top and we have then devised the ladder that we are at the top of.

Charles Darwin left a note to himself in one of his books: ‘Never use the terms higher and lower’. Darwin was, of course, thinking about biological evolution but the warning applies to the whole evolutionary process of the cosmos. What we see when we look at the Universe Story through new eyes is an unfolding. We see, as the story develops, an ever increasing diversity of things coupled with ever more elaborate patterns of relationship between them. To the extent that these qualities are regarded as values, then the Universe Story can be said to exhibit progress. The concept of progress can be applied to the biosphere as a whole, but it involves inter-dependence. The newer manifestations of biological evolution always emerge from, build themselves out of and intimately incorporate the earlier. The existence of humans is absolutely dependent on the activities of bacteria and all the other emergent layers of living things together with their interactions with each other and with the non-living environment. There is no doubt that we humans shine in the reflected glory of the progress of the biosphere as a whole, but it is questionable whether a council of all beings would share the view that humanity, as it is currently behaving, represents a progressive step in the Universe Story.

THE QUESTIION OF PURPOSE

This is related to progress in that if there is no progress there can be no purpose, but simply to demonstrate progress does not necessarily imply purpose. Again the problem of purpose is hotly debated. Jacques Monod probably speaks for many when he claims that ‘man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor his duty.'(19) Most religious traditions, on the other hand, believe that there is divine plan and a purpose in the form of an ultimate state towards which the universe is being directed.

The new Universe Story seems to be incompatible with both of these positions. If the universe is self-creating involving the emergence of genuine novelty, there cannot be a plan. At the same time there does seem to be a direction and one which implies more than Bronowski’s barbed arrow of time. The arrow of time does give the impression of pointing somewhere even though the where may be unknown and is probably unpredictable. This feeling about the arrow of time is expressed beautifully by Rainer Maria Rilke in one of his letters to a young poet, ‘we stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing … the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is not even there any more, – is already in our blood. And we do not learn what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered. We cannot say who has come, perhaps we shall never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters into us this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens.'(20)

Immanuel Kant speaks of, ‘Purposiveness without purpose… A purposive creation has its centre of gravity in itself; one that is goal-orientated has its centre external to itself; the worth of the one resides in its being, that of the other in its results.'(21) What we understand of the Universe Story suggests that we live in a purposive creation in this sense. W H Vanstone speaks of creation as being,’the realisation of vision, but of vision which is discovered only through its own realization.'(10)

Both Kant and Vanstone point to the tautology that lies at the heart of the universe. If the universe is essentially self-contained and self-referent, it is its own justification. Its worth ‘resides in its being’ and throughout its evolutionary history the universe discovers itself through its own unfolding.

THE QUESTION OF ETHICS

If there is no purpose to the world, it is possible to argue that there can be no ethics. What are the implications for ethics of a purposive universe whose worth resides in its being?

It is one of the cornerstones of traditional ethics that what actually happens in the universe has no connection with what should happen. This idea is generally stated in the form that one cannot derive values from facts. According to Freya Mathews, ‘contemporary philosophical thought … sees questions of metaphysics and cosmology as generally belonging to the realm of fact, and thereby quite divorced from questions of value.’ But, she continues, ‘I was never persuaded of this divorce. It has always seemed plain to me, intuitively, that the way we conceived of reality and of our place in the scheme of things was central to questions about the meaning and ends of life. Cosmology was the basis of our worldview, but our worldview was informed by value.'(22) She is implying that the Universe Story provides a view of the world that has a normative as well as a scientific dimension. Warwick Fox suggests that ‘making sense of the world is the key. This is what gets us going on the moral road.'(23) But making sense of the world in a moral context implies the existence of values.

So, where do values come from? In the context of the New Universe Story, values can be viewed from at least two perspectives. Firstly, they may be seen as emergent phenomena, as the product of the activities of human minds acting in concert, within the constraints of a particular culture. Secondly, values may seen as intrinsic to the Story itself and related to the nature of creation as a spiritual entity (see below). From both perspectives, values are derived from the realm of fact but they are not reducible to it.

The most significant implication for ethics of the Universe Story and the realization of human embeddedness in the story is that all the actors in the story and all the processes in the story have to be included within the scope of ethical concern. Simply by virtue of being, everything has intrinsic value. Such a view is all very well as a basis for the development of an ethical system but, as ethicists frequently point out, it is far too all inclusive to be useful in reaching decisions in situational ethics where, all too often, the need is to agree on priorities or to find a path through a maze of conflicting interests and freedoms.

It is clearly way beyond the scope of this essay even to begin to try to solve the problem of ethics. Wendell Berry has, I suggest, provided a valuable pointer, when he says, ”We might make a long list of things that we would have to describe as primary values, but the one I want to talk about, because it is the one with which we have the most intimate working relationship, is the topsoil.’(24) Not life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness; not truth, beauty or compassion; but the topsoil! Clearly, the topsoil on its own does not provide the basis for a system of ethics, but is also clear that any system that does not recognise the existence and value of the topsoil, and does not reflect how we make sense of the world in practical as well as conceptual terms is going to be inadequate. Wendell Berry obviously intended his statement to be provocative. It runs counter to just about everything anybody has said or thought about ethics in the Western world for at least the last five hundred years and it indicates the extent of the challenge posed by the task of developing a system of ethics pertinent to the New Universe Story.

THE QUESTION OF SPIRITUALITY

Lee Smolin’s plea for the rebirth of a natural philosophy leads inevitably towards thoughts about the rebirth or reassessment of a complementarynatural spirituality. Thomas Berry seems to suggest that given the New Universe Story such a spirituality is inescapable, ‘The natural world is subject as well as object. The natural world is the maternal source whence we emerge into being as earthlings. The natural world is the life-giving nourishment of our physical, emotional, aesthetic, moral, and religious existence. The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human.'(25)

All that can be attempted in this brief essay is to outline some of the parameters within which an appropriate sense of this sacred community may be developed. A natural spirituality has to honour and acknowledge the Universe Story and be relevant to an evolving, self-creating and relational universe.

First and foremost this means that spiritual concerns can no longer be considered to relate and apply only to humanity. In his much quoted essayThe Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, Lynn White voices the criticism that’Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen.'(26) Where the rest of creation is acknowledged, it tends to be in the form of an extension of human spirituality to embrace that of the natural world which is of concern to us. A natural spirituality relates to the universe, and within it the human is embraced.

The traditional way in which a natural spirituality has been expressed is in the form of the Argument from Design. This states that as the universe is so magnificent, awesome, intricate, coherent, apparently meaningful and possessed of purpose, it must be work of an external divine being who creates, sustains and guides it (see, for example, Keith Ward (27)). The recent realisation of the evolving, self-creative and self-organising nature of the universe, coupled with a new understanding of the implications of deep space and deep time, require a substantial recasting of the argument from design and a reassessment of the bond between the created order and the divine.

Throughout most of its history, the Christian tradition has recognised the divine as both transcendent and immanent. In particular the creation of the universe is seen in terms of an activity of God, shaping it from the ‘outside’ with a purpose and according to a plan. But God is also visualised as immanent and within the universe, particularly through the incarnation of Jesus.

The evolutionary and self-creative character of the universe implies a relationship between the divine and the created order that is essentially immanent; that is of the inside rather than from the outside.

Anne Baring and Jules Cashford claim that the earliest European societies believed that ‘Nature is spiritual and spirit is natural’.(28) This implies that in a very real sense this whole essay has been about the question of spirituality. And, throughout the ages there have been prophets and mystics who have recognised, and tried to communicate, the identity of the natural and the spiritual dimensions of reality. Many of them have recognised that the spiritual is most visible in the inter-connectedness of the whole of existence. In the words of Hildegard von Bingen:

‘O Holy Spirit,
You are the mighty way in which every
thing that is in the heavens,
on the earth, and under the earth,
is penetrated with connectedness,
is penetrated with relatedness.'(29)

Others, down to the present day, have expressed the same sentiment in the language of their own time.

The New Universe Story suggests that we should seek to recover and develop these insights. Clearly a key feature of this process is to learn about the story itself. As Sallie McFague points out, ‘you cannot love what you do not know.'(30)

EPILOGUE

In her near-perfect poem ‘On the pulse of the morning’ Maya Angelou (31)speaks of ‘A Rock, A River, A Tree’, the Rock cries out to us, the River sings a beautiful song and we hear the speaking of the Tree. Maya Angelou wants us to be aware of what is going on out there, all around us, because it matters to us – and to the rock, the river and the tree.

This is the heart of the message of the New Universe Story. We have to learn how to look and how to listen. We are within the story and we are not the only characters, the rock, the river, the tree are also there, together with countless others. Together we form the sacred community of the Earth and the Universe. And the story continues. . .

The Horizon leans forward,
Offering you space
To place new steps of change
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me
The Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes
And into your brother’s face
Your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope –
Good morning.

References and Notes

1. Lee Smolin. The Life of the Cosmos (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997), p. 157.
2. Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry. The New Universe Story (HarperCollins, 1992).
3. Annie Dillard. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Picador, 1976).
4. Max Plank. Quoted in John Barrow & Frank Tipler. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (OUP, 1986), p.123.
5. Rabindranath Tagore. The Religion of Man (Unwin, 1988), p. 34.
6. Noam Chomsky. in James Peck (Ed.) The Chomsky Reader (Serpent’s Tail, 1988).
7. Lee Smolin (http://www.edge.org), February 1998.
8. Thomas Berry. in Anne Lonergan & Caroline Richards (Eds.) Thomas Berry and the New Cosmology. (Twenty-Third Publications, 1988), pp. 107-108.
9. René Descartes. Discourse on Method and the Meditations (Penguin Books, 1968).
10. W H Vanstone. Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense (Darton, Longman & Todd. 1977).
11. Wes Jackson. ‘Hierarchical Levels, Emergent Qualities, Ecosystems, and the Ground for a New Agriculture’ in William Thompson (Ed.). GAIA 2. Emergence (Lindisfarn Press, 1991), pp. 132-153.
12. Alfred North Whitehead. Science in the Modern World (Free Association Books. 1985), p. 117.
13. Erich Jantsch. The Self-Organizing Universe (Pergamon Press. 1980).
15. Stephen Dunstone. God’s First Draft (Transcript of BBC Radio 3 Broadcast).
16. Jacob Bronowski. ‘New Concepts in the Evolution of ComplexityStratified Stability and Unbounded Plans’ (Zygon, 5,1970). Quoted in Connie Barlow. Evolution Extended (MIT Press, 1994), p. 125.
17. Julian Huxley. New Bottles for New Wine (Harper & Rowe, 1957).
18. Stephen Jay Gould. Quoted in Connie Barlow. Evolution Extended (MIT Press, 1994), p. 50.
19. Jaques Monod. Chance and Necessity (Penguin Books, 1997), p. 180.
20. Rainer Maria Rilke. Letters to a Young Poet (W.W.Norton & Co., 1993), pp. 64-65.
21. Emanuel Kant. Quoted in Cassirer, E. Kant’s Life and Thought (Yale University Press, 1981).
22. Freya Mathews. The Ecological Self (Routledge, 1991), p. 1.
23. Warwick Fox. From notes taken at a conference on Environmental Ethics, Dartington, 1996.
24. Wendell Berry. Standing on Earth. (Golgonooza Press, 1991), pp. 169-170.
25. Thomas Berry.’ Economics: Its Effects on the Life Systems of the World’, in Anne Lonergan and Caroline Richards (Eds.) Thomas Berry and the New Cosmology (Twenty-Third Publications, 1988), p. 18.
26. Keith Ward. God, Chance and Necessity. (Oneworld, 1996).
27. Lynn White. ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’ (Science. 155, March 1967), pp. 1203-1207.
28. Anne Baring & Jules Cashford. The Myth of the Goddess (Arkana, Penguin. 1993).
29. Hildegard von Bingen. in Gabriele Uhlein. Meditations with Hilgegard of Bingen (Bear & Co., 1983).
30. Sallie McFague. Super, Natural Christians (Fortress Press, 1997).
31. Maya Angelou. On the pulse of the morning (Virago, 1993).

Select Bibliography

In this paper it has not been possible to do more than touch on some of the more significant features of the New Universe Story and to hint at some of its implications for the human condition. The literature in this field is vast. The following book list makes no pretence to be complete but it will serve as an introduction to a fascinating and endless journey.

Thomas Berry. The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1990).
Fritjof Capra. The Web of Life (HarperCollins, 1996).
Robert Elliot (Ed.) Environmental Ethics (OUP, 1995).
Brian Goodwin. How the Leopard Changed Its Spots (Phoenix, 1995).
Erich Jantsch. The Self-Organizing Universe. (Pergamon Press, 1980).
Stuart Kauffman. At Home in the Universe (Viking, 1995).
Peter Marshall. Nature’s Web (Simon & Schuster, 1992).
Freya Mathews. The Ecological Self (Routledge, 1991).
Sallie McFague. The Body of God (SCM Press, 1993).
Sallie McFague. Super, Natural Christians (Fortress Press, 1997).
Diamuid O’Murchú. Reclaiming Spirituality. Gill & Macmillan, 1997.
Rosemary Radford Ruether. Gaia and God (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992).
Henryk Skolimowski. The Participatory Mind (Arkana, 1994).
Lee Smolin. The Life of the Cosmos (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997).
Charlene Spretnak. The Resurgence of the Real (Addison-Wesley, 1997).
Brian Swimme. & Thomas Berry. The Universe Story (HarperCollins, 1992).
Richard Tarnas. The Passion of the Western Mind (Ballantine Books, 1991).
Edward Wilson. The Diversity of Life (Penguin Books, 1994).