Identify the Metanarrative: COSMOS

Every worldview has a metanarrative—a story about origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. That metanarrative is so fundamental that people often simply assume it is true. In the “Identify the Metanarrative” series, I want to invite you to identify the metanarrative in different media clips / articles and then explain how that is different from the Christian metanarrative.

Not every piece of material will include origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. For example, to me this one only includes origin, meaning, and destiny. Do you agree? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

To start off with, National Geographic is revamping Carl Sagan’s COSMOS. I’ve put the trailer below.

origin: What does this trailer say about where we came from?
meaning: What does this trailer say gives us meaning as humans?
morality: What does this trailer say makes an action moral?
destiny: What does this trailer say about the destiny of humanity?

How do these differ from Scripture?

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To me the video seems to convey the idea that our origin is in wilderness, in mystery. Our purpose is to explore this wilderness, to seek our and explore this great mystery. Our destiny is to ever seek our new sources of adventure and exploration.

It is a rather romantic idea. One with which I was fascinated as a young child. To be honest, I am still enamored with the idea today. The idea of striking off into the unknown and to discover. But, to what end? Is life just like a good book where we get wrapped up in the characters and story? What happens when we get to the end? What is the point of it all? Do we just move on to the next great read? How can we when this universe is “all there is?”

I am all for discovery, but not for discovery’s sake. Discovery without purpose or meaning. Discovering creation. Now, that is a different adventure entirely. Now as we learn and uncover, we learn more about the creator. We see the mind and widom, the power and majesty, at work behind creation. Now, after finishing the book we get to sit down and discuss with the author the complexity of the ideas wrapped up in his story. It is the author which gives his characters in his story meaning and destiny. They have their origin in his mind, his logos. Perhaps, that is where we find ourselves. As characters in the greatest story ever told by the Author of all authors, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords.

Or something like that.

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@Joshua_Hansen Great thoughts :slight_smile: Yes, we are not just creatures with a will to survive and a delight in exploration. We are made to seek the Author of all things and to go further up and further in to His country.

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Well, I think it assumes a view of history that is also very presumptive. That we are progressing in some kind of linear fashion to some kinds of goals, even if not one particular goal.

As Christians, we certainly would affirm linearity to the historical process, but we also assume a definitive end point to that process. Of course, this kind of thinking is not part of our current “social imaginary” if you will. The secularist cannot speak of a culmination, just a series of discoveries. However, it is unclear whether any of those discoveries will ever shed any light on the fundamental questions we have about our nature, and our existence.

A recent movie that seems to suggest it will not was Ad Astra with Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. In this film the point was pretty clear: there is nothing “out there” to really help us solve our problems. The stoicism of Pitt’s character is contrasted with the enthusiasm of Tommy Lee Jones’ character (who plays his father). The father’s enthusiasm, and hope at a finding an answer leads him to go insane, while his son returns home to try and rebuild his marriage, i.e. focus on that which would seem most important if there is no transcendent answer to our existential crises.

As Christians today I wonder if it might not be more conducive for us to try and put the brakes on this idea of historical progress, and instead of looking forward, remind both the Church, and our culture, that many of our existential needs may be best answered by looking back in time; back to ancient cultures and the wisdom of the past. History may be linear on an eschatological timeline, if Christianity is true, but there is also a cyclical aspect of history. There is, as Qoheleth wrote sometime in the 6th century BC, “nothing new under the sun.”

in Christ,
Anthony

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@anthony.costello Indeed, the myth that somehow technological progress equates to progress at the level of meaning or morality is an alluring one, but can be shown historically to be false. And I think you are right in pointing out that our society, in some ways, has moved beyond the idea of objective meaning. The whole YOLO movement is much more like “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” than it is like the optimism of modernism. Discovery becomes one more way to self-actualize in a universe devoid of purpose.

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I’m reminded of a book by CS Lewis called the screwtape letters. In one of the conversations and I can’t remember whether it was wormwood or screwtape, the mentor of the younger demon says the key is to keeping the mind of his human away from God is by being always in the future or the past but never in the present. For it is in the present that the enemy ( i.e. God ) does His work.
The trailer does exactly the same thing it’s a vague reference to the past with no concrete point of origin Just an insertion into a point in the story. Then an immediate jump into the future with absolutely no look at the present.
In terms of your questions on the point of origin it gives a false narrative. In terms of meaning it assumes that greatness in and of itself has value. Without talking about what kind of greatness and certainly not greatness of the soul measured by an ultimate moral law. Morality is not discussed it all. And destiny is so ambiguous that it really describes nothing.
Genesis 1:1 in the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth a little further on he creates man a little further on he gives man a moral command a little further on man breaks the moral command and suffers the consequences of a spiritual death and a slow physical death and then begins the process by which God reveals himself slowly in parts and pieces then much further on God inserts into history his plan from before the foundations of the world in the form of his Son who taking on the likeness of sinful flesh died to sin so that we could be United with Him in his death and life and thereby we have died to sin and have been United with Him in his life being brought to life spiritually and now able with the help of God from the inside out to fight sin in our mortal bodies with the promise of being glorified with Jesus. This is our ultimate destiny. One last quote “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

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@rpage Good thoughts :slight_smile: I like the Lewis reference—it is true that if we can be kept constantly busy or occupied we may not have the time to really search our soul and ask the deep questions that can lead us to salvation.

Mr. Hansen, I agree with much of your summation. I am not
sure any of the questions are directly answered. I do think we are born with a
sense of wonder. Most of us like to understand how “stuff works”. We
give the discoveries meaning by how our understanding changes how we think and
interact with the world.

The original “Cosmos” series was influential in developing my understanding of the nature of science. Although I am a retired science teacher, I still find the world almost as interesting as when I started out becoming a science teacher.

The difficulty comes with how many believers interpret the Bible. I could not abandon my faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I did shift my understanding that the Bible is not a science textbook nor is it a complete history of humans. The joy of discovery is very satisfying; even if it is merely an understanding of what has been discovered. The Bible offers the same kind of ecstasy when you understand it answers the greatest “why” questions that no scientist can answer from experimentation and descriptive observations. While I was teaching science, I shied away from asking why questions. The reason for this is illustrated when a colleague in his first year teaching 8th-grade classes made an assignment for his student to answer “Why is the sky blue?” I had been teaching for ten years and he came to me when the students answered, “The sky is blue because God made it that way.” I could have told him that would have the outcome. In the same situation, I would agree with the students and would ask what happens to make the sky appear blue or sometimes red? So many times, the truth is I can’t answer the why question. If a student asked, “Why did my mother have to die?” The student may want to know what the causes of death were; but, the individual wants to understand a reason on a deeper level. I can do my best to comfort and not attempt to answer for God.

The trailer says “…we humans are capable of greatness.” That is true, but it is a value statement. Who can say it is great or not great? If Germany won the Second World War, would historians proclaim that Hitler’s policies brought greatness to Europe and the World?

From reading and watching Dr. Sagan’s works, I can hypothesize his answer to each question. He said, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be." That is the essence of his world view. His hope was in the greatness of people; our hope is in the greatness of God and what He promises.

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I totally agree with you. The Bible is not a science textbook and to try to exegete scientific principles out of scripture, to me, is unfruitful and distracting from what God is actually trying to communicate to us through Scripture.

I too share an awe and a wonder at the world. When I was young I wanted to be an astrophysicist. I still carry that with me. I often find myself standing in the driveway staring up at the night sky. I love reading science and watching documentaries. To me, the more I learn the more I wonder at the world around me.

I especially appreciate your summation here:

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