Cosmology and Eschatology

When a Christian stands and proclaims his belief in Jesus Christ as Savior, and that his god is the only Way, Truth, and Light, he is proclaiming not only an eschatology, but also a cosmology. In the first place, his eschatology is revealed: there is a god; there is an afterlife; there is a path in the afterlife; there is a judgement; there is a place where people go who pass and fail the judgement; etc. Moreover, he is at the same time declaring a cosmology, for now heaven and earth are linked in a multitude of relationships all of which have eternal consequences. Suddenly, every human action now comes with a moral imperative. God now is omnipresent, existing in every place man occupies, and the structure of the universe is not just some mechanistic, grand clock-work but a stage upon which the real drama of the cosmos is performed–the drama of human relations and moral intelligence. All this is a philosophy of the cosmos and the human race’s involvement in it. All this is a cosmology.

When an atheist stands and proclaims his belief in the Scientific Method, and that reason, experiment, and objective observation is the path to true enlightenment, i.e. is the only Way, Truth, and Light, then he too is proclaiming an eschatology rooted in a cosmology. The rationalists eschatology is in fact an earth-bound utopia of reason and science predicated upon the positivist theologic point of view: human intellect can unriddle anything; nature can be codified by laws of reason and observation; nature, not god, is the thing to discover; and above all, man is the measure. This is the eschatology. It is birthed from the ultimate paradigm of relatedness between man and nature–the cosmology. Modern cosmology is not even heliocentric, if we are to employ the strictest sense of the term. In fact, the modern universe has no center. There once was a singularity, so says the meta-narrative, which expanded in a Big Bang creating the universe; but no one is certain where that was, or why it was, and none of it matters anyway. The relatedness of the cosmos in modern terms is addressed with such words as “randomness,” “chaos,” and above all “evolution.” All this is a philosophy of the cosmos and the human race’s involvement in it. All this is a cosmology.

Perhaps we are unfamiliar with associating the theologian with the word cosmology, as we are as unfamiliar with associating the secular scientist with the word eschatology. Modern sensibility has so severed the ideas of science and religion, and eschatology from cosmology, that this latter term is almost always used in the modern context as a mathematical if not theoretical construct of macrocosmic physics. Besides, science became science when it separated itself from eschatology; just as religion became modern religion when it separated itself from cosmology.

Despite the safe separation in the modern mind between these two fields of knowledge, the truth is, in practical terms of human experience, there is no separation at all. It turns out that human beings are interpenetrated with ideas of ultimate causes and ends which provide a philosophy of relationships and ethics which in turn have their own consequences of causes and ends. I suppose this is a wordy way of saying the universe is so big, and the questions it poses to us so infinite, that our reason and logic, in contrast to the endless horizon of inquiry before us, simply runs out too quickly. We are left doing the only thing we can do: projecting ourselves into the universe to make sense of it all. It should not surprise us, then, to find that our attitudes of the universe are reflected in the ideas of ourselves. Our metaphysics gives birth to a cosmology that is self-fulfilling, and this explains why a change in a culture’s cosmology is so hard to come by. In short, there can be no cosmology without eschatology; nor eschatology without cosmology. Furthermore, there is no real separation between religion and science; there are only varying degrees of cosmology and eschatology within a single system.

This is no idle prattle. It is the eminent historian and philosopher of science, Karl Popper, who indicates that cosmology is not only a central, human concern, but also centrally involves humans in its conceptions. Popper asserts, “I, however, believe that there is at least one philosophical problem in which all thinking men are interested. It is the problem of cosmology: the problem of understanding the world–including ourselves, and our knowledge, as part of the world. All science is cosmology, I believe, and for me the interest of philosophy, no less than of science, lies solely in the contributions which it has made to it” (Popper xviii, italics his).

Popper has got it right, and herein our modern dictionaries have failed to make a critical point in their definitions. Cosmology is not just the study of the macrocosm–stars, galaxies, Big Bang, and the lot. No. Cosmology is also, and perhaps principally, a study of the microcosm– “including ourselves, and our knowledge, as part of the world.” In this respect, the Hermetic saying “as above, so below” is as a good starting point for a definition of cosmology as any, for the universe cannot be separated by its inhabitants trying to describe the universe. Moreover, the universe is reflected in its inhabitants, so that the study of one should say something about the idea of the other. Man and Cosmos are synonymous, and modern cosmologists therefore must include all people investigating human relatedness within the world. It is uncomfortable for some to admit, but philosophers, theologians, economists, psychologists, anthropologists are also all cosmologists.

For Popper, not only is all science cosmology but all cosmology is metaphysics (14-16). This bold assertion is exactly what I have been discussing. It is an idea that challenges the modern tradition that science is a strictly objective method of logic and reason predicated on observations and measurements “reducible to elementary (or ‘atomic’) statements of experience […]” (12). Indeed, Popper challenges the very notion of the inductive method as the basis of scientific knowledge. Popper quotes Moritz Schlick, who observes, “The problem of induction consists in asking for a logical justification of universal statements about reality […]. We recognize, with Hume, that there is no such logical justification: there can be none, simply because they are not genuine statements” (14, italics his). Popper concludes: “This shows how the inductivist criterion of demarcation fails to draw a dividing line between scientific and metaphysical systems, and why it must accord them equal status; for the verdict of the positivist dogma of meaning is that both are systems of meaningless pseudo-statements” (14). 

Again, all this is a wordy way of saying that while the inductive method of science insists that scientists can make observations without a theory in mind, if this were the case, then all such observations would be rendered meaningless. In fact, all observations are already tied to a series of presuppositions, most of which are not scientific, but philosophical. “I am inclined to think that scientific discovery,” continues Popper, “is impossible without faith in ideas which are of a purely speculative kind, and sometimes even quite hazy; a faith which is completely unwarranted from the point of view of science, and which, to that extent, is ‘metaphysical’” (16). One modern cosmologist puts it this way, “Maybe more so than in any other field of physics, cosmologists construct fantasy worlds which they hope may have some bearing on what we observe” (Ferriera 10). How can this be justified from a strict, scientific point of view? Our modern cosmologist continues, “The hope is that, like Albert Einstein, by stretching our imaginations but at the same time remaining firmly entrenched in basic principles, it will be possible to explain many of the unanswered questions in cosmology” (Ferriera 10).

Here lies the essence of cosmology. The positivist focuses only on the “firmly entrenched basic principles” which are made up of formula and proofs and says all the universe can be explained in this way. Of course it is not so. For all those “firmly entrenched basic principles” have to be strung together in a dot-to-dot construction that encompasses a wider area of ideology that itself may not be justified by those basic principles. They are strung together into “fantasy worlds.” It is the construction of a theory, especially a cosmological theory, that turns science into metaphysics. For indeed, in order to create a fantasy world one must already have a cosmology in mind. This means modern cosmology is a product of a cultural cosmology already firmly established.

A civilization’s ultimate framework of cultural imagination is its own cosmology. How we think about the universe is reflected in how we think about ourselves, and vice versa. Moreover, how we think about the past is also tied up in our cosmological constructions. This is why Popper considers cosmology a central human concern that encompasses not only science but also philosophy, and oft times there is no difference. In the end, cosmology is the central human concern about which everything else is an addendum. If we are to study myth and the mystery religions then perhaps we should consider the cosmological mainframe in which they grew? But from what position shall we consider that framework? From our own cosmology? It turns out, ever since Darwin, our conceptions of the past have been projections of modern cosmological constructs. As they say, we look through a glass darkly. Not only is our seeing glass murky, but its focal point is fixated on the wrong target. We have much to see anew.

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