International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Wayfarers in the Cosmos: The Human Quest for Meaning

by George V. Coyne , Alessandro Omizzolo

Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman

Wafarers in the Cosmos is not a reflection on the human condition in the vastness of space. It is a bird’s eye view of astronomy from historical and philosophical perspectives. The symbolism behind our gazing at the skies is “an acknowledgment of insufficiency, of the need for something or someone out there” [3].

Coyne and Omizzolo start with a description of how the ancients viewed the cosmos. For them “the sky was the home of the gods, and only a few, especially fortunate, humans could hope, upon dying, to live there” [11-12]. We read about Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hebraic cosmologies. The last of which sought “meaning in the universe” [22]. In Greek endeavors in astronomy “nature herself seems to be taking on a new face in that she shows herself to be modeled descriptively by geometry” [27]. Here began an approach which was “philosophical and scientific” [35].

With the advent of Christianity came “a fundamental belief in a unique Creator of heaven and earth and, therefore, a firm denial of many gods and spirits …” [41]. We read about medieval scholastics and the influence of Islamic scholars. This is followed by a chapter on the Copernican revolution – Tycho Brahe and Kepler, as well as something on Hubble and Einstein. From Brahe and Kepler on, “empirical evidence is becoming important, in fact, determinative of what is really real” [70]. The authors explore the story of Galileo and the birth pangs of modern science, i.e. Galileo’s conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. And the book emphasizes the public role “that Galileo played in the inevitable march toward the birth of modern science…” [71]. Here we find an insightful discussion on the science-theology conflict. The authors underscore “respect for the freedom of responsible individuals to seek the truth” [93].

A chapter on rationalism deals with Descartes and Newton. Here we are reminded  of Newton’s view that “it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical laws could give birth to so many regular motions” [102], and that “the certainties born of the scientific method  gave birth to the desire for identical certainties as a foundation for religious belief” [104]. This radically misplaced desire, we are told, is the root cause of misunderstandings between science and religion. We are reminded again of the Christian conviction that the universe has meaning.

There follows a series of discussions on stars, their birth and death, the synthesis of heavier elements, etc. This chapter talks about galaxies, the expanding universe, isotropic radiation, describing “a universe of such immense richness, variety, complexity, and grandeur…” [151]. In the final chapter on this “Journey Without End” we read about the many ways of knowing and about questions without answers, and also about the Biblical view of God and the universe, the mind of God, and the coincidence or the planned emergence of the universe. Whatever the case, the universe “has brought us a sense of fulfillment, of joy, and of gratitude that we have the capacity to enjoy the beauty if the universe, a beauty made richer by our scientific knowledge of it” [172]. This slender volume packs many insights and much information.