It took the Catholic Church 350 years to admit they were wrong about Galileo. We now know the Earth is not at the center of the universe, and neither are we.
Science cannot disprove all the foundations of religion. But after centuries of upturning religious claims about how the universe works, science leaves an increasing number of people with an inability to believe in religions’ metaphysical frameworks—even if the moral groundwork and narratives of purpose they provide are still appealing.
The immense new vistas of the universe we’ve uncovered stand in direct contradiction to our arrogant sense of centrality and self-importance. But rather than despair at the images coming back from the Hubble space telescope, we ought to be both ennobled by our new knowledge and humbled by our newly-discovered position in the cosmos.
Rather than deny the evidence of our own nothingness with self-aggrandizing stories, special privilege in a deity’s bosom—or aspiring through technology to become like gods ourselves—we must learn to accept our new place in the universe. While no single atom matters supremely, neither is any atom inconsequential. In a universe that seems to have no center, all points become central. When eternity has no foreseeable climax, all moments are climactic.
If we ask the universe for a purpose that it cannot provide, we will continually be left bereft. But humanity has the miraculous ability to create purpose where there is none; to laugh when there is nothing to laugh about; to be at peace even when death grins in at the banquet.
Our age-old mystical traditions superimposed on the modern struggle for meaning can provide a vivifying and compelling view of Nothingness. Nothingness is not a cause for life-denying despair but rather a liberation from false fears and obligations, a vehicle to tranquility or transformation, and ultimately a way to level with reality and find for ourselves a proper new place among the stars.
This series is adapted from the podcast episode I produced for the Ministry of Ideas. Listen to it here.