2.What Do Astrophysics and Space Exploration Contribute to Theology?
2.1.How Do Religions and Theology Interpret Our Existence?

All religions in all cultures refer to three basic questions of humans who seek help, observe, or search for explanations:

ÞWhich forces caused Creation and, mainly, which forces direct the natural phenomena, fate or destiny?Which forces can help or hurt us humans, or which forces judge us?What happens to us when we die?Why do evil and suffering exist?From these questions result the concepts of gods or of the one God and the concepts of an afterlife in a world to come.

ÞHow can humans derive favors from those divine forces, at least not irritate them, and live correctly?What is good for people?What rules of behavior or what Laws result from this for us humans? 

ÞWhy do we exist?What shall we strive for in this world beyond survival and the satisfaction of our basic needs?Does Creation, possibly also our own life, follow a plan?That is the question concerning the meaning and direction of existence and of human life.

The Question of God and Afterlife

There were always two different, often interrelated paths for humans searching for the knowledge of God: 

*Intuition, visions, or divine revelations

*Observation of Creation – of the world as it is and of destiny as it evolves

All human creative thought is combinatorial (see the essays “Creative Thought” or “Mental Creativity” by H. Schwab).Starting from what one once learned or recognized, new recognitions, observations, or own thought are used to build ever higher or more complex systems of thought.Founders of religions perceive, convey, or produce their higher or different doctrines also corresponding to their own cultural preconditions or recognitions.All founders of religions or theologians refer also to the observation of nature in order to justify their teaching – to Creation and destiny.They often do so selectively.Christ did so, too. 

Followers of a doctrine often refuse to think or observe beyond the teachings of the founder of their respective religion, and thereby to evolve the doctrine further.Some religions, however, do go through “reformations” and arrive at new doctrines or one that can lead further.

All theology has to respond to five basically different questions regarding God:

1.The question regarding the origin of creation, the origin of the existence that we are placed in, the question regarding the original force, regarding God the Creator.

2.The question regarding the course of the world and of natural events, the evolution – mainly, the question regarding the course of destiny, the question regarding the active, living, still-acting God, the “Divine Agency Within Creation”.[1]

3.The question whether we can call to God for help in distress or to give thanks, the reachability of God, the personal, responsive, and merciful God.

4.The question whether and how God judges us humans, the judging God, and thereby the question of a human existence after death, an afterlife, a next world to come.

5.The question regarding the evil, uselessness, and suffering occurring in the world, their origin and meaning, the question regarding God’s tolerance of the evil, useless, and suffering, the issue of “theodicy”.[2]

The Creator

There is only one God in the Judeo-Christian doctrine, without origin or beginning, who once created the world as it now is, out of free will and without known reason or purpose.

The Still-Acting God

The Bible saw the once-created, natural world as static.Through interpretation (exegesis, hermeneutics) of the 7-day Creation story, theology opened a modest accommodation with the scientific doctrine of natural evolution.The Bible says nothing whether or to what extent God directs the natural events or interferes with the further development of the universe and of Earth or with the natural evolution of life in nature.Nor does the Bible say whether God leaves any further development solely up to the laws of nature as they were once created by God and to probabilistic events as also provided for in Creation.

According to the Bible, however, God quite often interferes with the course of human destiny.This happens mostly in order to punish, to reward, or to save whole nations or only some individuals or families, occasionally in response to prayer.The Bible thus sees catastrophes or miserable lives as punishment for individuals for their transgressions or as trials in which to prove themselves (from Job to the Christian martyrs).Good events or prosperity are seen as coming from the mercy of God or as rewards.

In practical life, of course, this is seen quite differently, even by Christians.There, unfavorable events or bad behavior inflicted by other people are seen by those concerned as undeserved sorrow or as the result of events in accordance with the laws of nature or of inadequate own behavior.On the other hand, exceptional advantage is seen by the recipients as undeserved good luck or as resulting from circumstances or personal initiative and qualified performance.Thereby, the attitude toward life changes from a passive acceptance of destiny from the hands of God to an active, personally responsible interference with the course of the world and to the forming of one’s own path through life.

The Personal, Merciful God

Following the Judeo-Christian faith, God is seen as a loving father and can be appealed to by everybody at all times.God seldom answers verbatim those appeals, but actually does react from time to time to some of the appeals, to others not.

The Bible reports, however, only about appeals to God by the Jews – later by the Christians – and only about God’s responses to those.It probably is assumed in the Bible that not-Jews or not-Christians appeal to their own gods – or do they all call and cry out unheard into emptiness? 

This biblical presentation of selective personal connections between God and mankind requires a theological and religio-historical clarification, enlargement, or correction as our Earth becomes “global” (when did, or possibly will, God talk to whom on Earth), especially in preparation of religious thought related to cosmic space.It is not tenable that God talked in thousands of years of human development (and billions of years of development in cosmic space) only to the Jews of the Old Testament on Earth and last to Christ and Paul. [3]

The Judging God and The Soul’s Existence After Death

Christian doctrine (and others, too) sees every human being as morally not perfect, afflicted with shortcomings, and, in a Christian sense, sinful.Thus, Christian doctrine perceives life primarily as a period of trial and probation.At the end of life comes God’s judgment.

On account of human fallibility, every human being would necessarily have to be condemned.The Bible now shows two different ways out of this predicament.On the one hand, the merciful-loving God-Father can graciously forgive.On the other hand, Christ’s sacrificial death is required in order to compensate for the sins of humanity, as if, otherwise, God would not forgive.Faith and good deeds are required to obtain God’s mercy – or only faith, in the opinion of some Christians.

God’s judgment leads to eternal life in “heaven” or in “hell”, or, temporarily, in “purgatory”. 

Therefore, the significance of the divine judgment is not only in the approving or rejecting consideration of the individual’s faith and conduct of life, but mainly in the subsequent compensation for the life on Earth through an afterlife in the next world.Whoever has innocently suffered here can expect great joy in heaven; whoever had a pleasurable life in evil will have to suffer eternal penitence in hell.

God’s Tolerance of Evil

Why do good people often lead such miserable lives on Earth?Why do evil people often go unpunished and do so well on Earth?How can one combine this observation with the image of a merciful God-Father?If not from God’s hand, where do evil and suffering come from in this world?The Christian faith and other religions explain all this with a second, God-opposed, evil force also of transcendental nature.If not another god, then it is at least a renegade angel – Lucifer, or the devil.To this devil the power is given to impose trials upon human individuals and to offer benefits to the evil ones among them.If the trials are passed successfully, rich compensation can be expected in the next world.If people succumb to the temptations and enjoy the fruits of evil, heavy punishment will follow in the next world.

The concept of a God-opposed evil force, a “devil”, relates mainly to moral temptations in life.It does not explain, however, why small children suffer already from bodily and mental afflictions and have to die, why adolescents suffer heavily from birth defects, diseases, accidents, or psychological mistreatments, and why many old and weak people have to pass through a painful death not in accordance with their merits, but in statistical probability (and almost arbitrarily).It does not explain either the death of many millions in the Holocaust and of about 40,000 people (mostly women, children, and the old) in Dresden, of the many innocent victims of terrorism, and all the other cruel events that annually or almost daily shake the world.The talk about “imposed trials”, the necessity for repentance, and “signs for others to see” totally fails here, irrespective of whether those afflicted by the profound suffering are Christians, Jews, or other people who have never heard of the Christian doctrine.

A theological explanation is also needed for the premature death of valuable individuals, the mindless destruction of cultural values (beyond a possible punishment of the involved individuals), or the wide-ranging destruction that occurs in nature, mainly in the major extinctions[4] in geological time, but also in the many events observable everywhere in our own time.

The Law

What rules of conduct or laws apply to us humans in order to attract the favors of those forces that control Creation and destiny, to not render them irate, to live correctly?

All religions require sacrifices to the gods in order to dispose them favorably or to reconcile them.These sacrifices to the gods are transformed in the course of history into sacrifices to the temple, ultimately to the priests or monks.That’s the way it also was in the Christian church.In the further course of history, the sacrifices are redefined as social contributions in a humane society or as moral exercises of voluntary privation or discipline.

Ritual became equally important as sacrifice, defined and supervised by the priests, mostly demanding their presence.It is interesting to see how, in all religions, the ritual – the prescribed motion, dress, or action sequence – becomes an essential part of the human effort to please the gods or the one God. 

In addition, ritual became partially reinterpreted as a moral exercise of self-discipline, whether genuflection, prostrating, or carrying of a specific piece of dress on some part of the body or specifically not (hat, scarf, shoes).

All developing religions add to the rules for sacrifice or ritual additional rules for cleanliness or the behavior of humans among themselves.Hence, the behavioral rules adopted in any culture correspond to the request of some of their gods or the order from the one God.Therefore, the virtuous life pleases these gods, while the non-virtuous life angers them.And therein lies the transition from a cult of sacrifice to a force that shapes society and its laws.

Inversely, priests presented those laws that they themselves had recognized as necessary or recommendable for society as desired by the gods (see the Ten Commandments or the Koran).A basic reason may have been the fact that in early times a person’s own good “ideas” for such laws were felt by that individual to be divine inspirations.It may also be (as in ancient literature), that attribution of authorship of the laws to the gods may have resulted in greater effect and personal prestige for the lawgivers (see the origin of Deuteronomy [5]).

Judeo-Christian doctrine sees the foundation of its laws in the Ten Commandments, which determine the adoration of God and a practical, tolerable way for people to live together.The Ten Commandments do not contain any indications for charity.The laws in the books of the Old Testament that go beyond the Ten Commandments are either more detailed extrapolations on the given ideas of human communal life, or they are of a practical-hygienic or ritualistic nature, and are somewhat arbitrary, at that.The former were further elevated through Christ and brought to their essential meaning by him.The latter were declared as overcome and were abandoned by the Christians when they accepted converts from among the heathen of diverse cultures.

Christian doctrine emphasizes brotherly love, rejection of power, wealth, or pleasure, and following the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law.With its emphasis on brotherly love and the attention directed toward the meek, merciful, clean of heart, peaceful, poor, and suffering, in preference to the rich and powerful, Christian doctrine rose above the thinking of its time and distinguished itself among all other religions – bringing a breakthrough of cultural development of human civilization.Christian doctrine thereby opened a new dimension and new values to human thought and feeling, elevated above the practicality of communal life – along with new contradictions in practical life.Sacrifice to the gods and rituals are no longer at the center of religious life; in addition to the humble prayer to God, the fellow human being and feeling are at the center.

Modern ethics (or moral philosophy) evolved as a branch of philosophy, in practice, becoming the successor to the doctrines of law and morality of religions.In its present expression, ethics originated after the renaissance, reformation, and enlightenment.Detached from its roots in divine will, ethics searches for a rational foundation of its doctrine.Ethics finds it in the benefit or utility for society and for the individual (or in personal “happiness”).But what is lacking is an in-depth analysis of what constitutes human happiness [6], and how to balance the various dimensions thereof.[7]

Priority for utility has led to remarkable abuse (see the Nazis, but not only them).This has led back to a desire for absolute, humanely acceptable maxims for moral doctrine.New theories (see John Rawls) attempt to minimize such abuse by reversing the utility preference to a preference for minimizing the risk for the weakest members of society, demanding the inviolability of each person’s life.This can provide protection for the underprivileged and suppressed, but does not sufficiently consider the hopes and aspirations that all people harbor.It also neglects large areas of human values in emotions and culture.

Lacking in philosophical ethics is also the unequivocal resolution of the dilemma whether moral rules must apply to all human action or are voided by the moral desirability of the goal or end-result (recent example, terrorism in order to reach freedom and torture or killing of many innocents in order to prevent expected major terrorist activities).

What remains is the desire for absolute, humanely acceptable directives for the moral conduct of our own lives, family life, industry, and government.But the academic-intellectual philosophy of ethics leaves the questions of conscience or human feeling unanswered, especially since psychology analyzes all emotions relative to their causality or, more recently, relative to their purpose in evolution. 

The formulation of (God-pleasing) rules of conduct with validity for all people of all cultures remains as the most important task for the religions in our time – more so in the course of globalization on Earth (see Hans Küng’s “Yes to a Global Ethic” and other writings).It becomes apparent in this process that the rules of conduct related to God (as well as to ritual) increasingly move into the background as the rules for conduct related to fellow humans move into the foreground.Thus, the religious laws should become a guiding principle for the well-being of people on Earth (with an occasional look over the shoulder whether God feels adequately adored).In practical terms, the concern for well-being relates mostly to the people of the same nation, ethnic group, or religious denomination, only in a translated way also to all humans, but not to the respective enemies.Those enemies become endowed with sanctions, harassments, terrorism, and even torture, whether they are political adversaries or neighborly tribes in territorial disputes (for instance, inthe Middle East).

In consequence, religious laws find themselves increasingly in parallel to the political and mainly to the sociopolitical guidelines and rules of human society.This leads to the question whether the growing political maturity of people will lead in their social rules to the same laws as those of the principal religions, or who has to learn from whom and what differences will or must remain.Furthermore, a global, multicultural society may want to free itself from relating to the rules of conduct or proclamations of a singular god or a single religion.

The increasingly visible problems of the social welfare state and international aid show the practical limits of the old religio-idealistic moral doctrine.Whoever does not show personal accomplishment and discipline will now receive less support.These limits on the practicality of aid are also recognized by practical psychology and by pedagogy.For example, parents are advised to leave something for their children to want, in order to let them mature thereby.Parents of drifters and addicts are advised to deny them help until they reach a real low, at which point they are hoped to begin to help themselves.

Once society has arrived at this point, the danger exists that the door is open for arbitrariness and prevalent fashion of political correctness or psychology in interpreting the saying “love your neighbor as yourself”.The Christian neither wants a world of the raw utility doctrine, nor the prevalent fashion in politics or psychology.Thus, one searches the foundation for a world of warm humanity and doing good in the simple fundamentalism of old religious doctrine.

As people increasingly follow modern thought and as their faith in the all-controlling rule by God diminishes, they find themselves increasingly with the responsibility for personal action and the personal responsibility for the consequences of their actions in life. 

Religious laws, moral doctrine, and ethical philosophy relate mainly to human weaknesses and solutions to problems; only secondarily are they directed toward an increase of utility, “happiness”, quality of life, or reaching of individual or communal potential as possibly offered by life.Consequently, there are no directives, religious laws, or concepts of ethics that have the goal of promoting human strengths and capabilities (there only are public laws compelling school attendance) or the use of opportunities and possibilities for the development of the individual and society, or growth over time (leaving the latter to free-market considerations).Only in modern times have nations begun to demand the definition of goals from their intellectual or political leaders and strategies to reach them (as has been common for some time among business leaders).Already, for a long time now, the education of our children and adolescents, up to the college level, has aimed in that direction – toward the promotion of strengths and capabilities, as well as the utilization of opportunities and possibilities.

Is there some catching up to do in the development of religious thought and in theology? 

The meaning or plan of existence and of human life

Why do we exist?Is existence in this world based on a divine plan?Does God direct our lives in accordance to a plan?What shall we aim for in this world once at least our survival is assured and our basic needs have been fulfilled?

Judeo-Christian doctrine indicates no reason why God created the world, what God intends with the world, or to what purpose it was created.The Bible only says that God was satisfied with His Creation.This leads to the conclusion that the whole world, including us, exists only for the pleasure of God.

Since the Judeo-Christian doctrine does not know of any evolution of Creation, one cannot talk about any goal in the further development of Creation or of human cultures.Only the doctrine of the church sees a divine plan for mankind and for each individual in our turning toward God and in the final redemption through Christ for eternal life in the next world. 

What shall we aim for in this world?Humans did not receive any orders for the development of their civilization or for personal development upon being driven out of Paradise or anywhere else later on in the Bible.Christian doctrine speaks only about the future expectation of Paradise or the “eternal Jerusalem”, which means a better world in the future, possibly after apocalyptic calamities.Judeo-Christian doctrine provides only some indications for a humane conduct of life in the form of directives about how we must live.One finds the following statements:

  • God’s words: “Multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1,28)
  • God’s words to Noah: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9, 6). 
  • The Ten Commandments
  • A number of statements by the prophets to remain loyal to the faith
  • Formulations concerning admission to the temple in Jerusalem; see Micah 6, V. 8, depending upon translation: “He has told you, oh man, what is good and what the Lord expects of you, namely to act justly, to love mercy (compassion, loyalty to the covenant), and to walk humbly with thy God”; and more explicitly in Psalm 15: “He who walks uprightly, and does what is right (with righteousness), and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; in whose eyes a vile person is condemned; but honors those that fear the Lord. He who keeps his oath, even to his own disadvantage, and changes not. He that puts not out his money to usury, nor takes reward against the innocent.” 
  • Christian moral doctrine (already anticipated in the Old Testament), see Matth. 22, 37-39: “Thou shall love your God above all and your neighbor as yourself.” 
  • The important “beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount, Matth. 5 – to be meek, merciful, clean of heart, and peaceful – and the numerous parables among the teachings of Christ
  • The parable to put the entrusted “talents” to use (Matth. 25, 14-30)
  • Sayings about the Last Judgment and the subsequent eternal life in heaven or hell
Consequently, the content and meaning of our lives is given not by “for what purpose” we live but by “how” we live.Reaching Paradise remains as the only goal.This results in the church’s doctrine as already outlined by Paul [8]: the course of human life proceeds from original sin through trials and probation in faith of God and in love of your neighbor, to judgment; then follows either redemption, facilitated only through Christ’s sacrifice, or condemnation – which means either eternal life in heaven or in hell. 

In all these statements, theology always proceeds from the Sacred Scriptures.Science in its method, however, always proceeds from observation.Why can or should theology not also accept in its thoughts relevant observations concerning God’s Creation and its history?

[1] See the “Christians in Science Conference”, LondonSeptember 28, 2002, specifically the papers by Graham McFarlane and Howard Van Till.
[2] See the Webster definition of “theodicy” as “the vindication of the ways of God with a theory as to the existence of evil”. 
[3] And how about Mohamed and J. Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church?
[4]Five major “extinctions” occurred already since the beginning of the grandiose diversification of multi-cellular life on Earth about 600 million years ago, as evidenced by fossils.The extinction that occurred about 450 million years ago must have wiped out 99% of all species and some interesting anatomical plans of organisms that never appeared again.The next extinction occurred about 350 million years ago.The double extinction 250 to 200 million years ago wiped out the then dominating Trilobites and with them 95% of all species.The most recent among the very large extinctions, 65 million years ago, wiped out the dinosaurs and with them about 80% of all species.The “population” loss (number of individual living beings) may be different, since one does not know the number of individuals that constituted each species. 
Only two of those extinctions can be seen in connection with random meteorite impacts.Every one of those extinctions, however, was connected and most likely was caused by enormous bubbles of highly liquefied basaltic magma that were rising up at random intervals from the D” or other layers deep within Earth (see McLean, VA Polytech., Jason Morgan, Princeton, and Courtillot, Paris).As these upsurges perforated the surface of the Earth, they caused enormous explosions and the delivery of very large quantities of poisonous gases (sulfur and carbon dioxide), some reaching high up into the stratosphere of the Earth, destroying the whole ozone layer, and causing copious acid rain.Then followed the formation of large cracks on the surface of the Earth, many hundreds of miles long, some perpendicular to each other, leading to the fast distribution of the highly liquid basalts over very large areas and the delivery of more gases.This occurred in dozens of individual ejections over some time – each one possibly occurring within days and quickly running up to hundreds of miles in distance.Due to related geological events, the surface of the oceans dropped by up to 800 feet, destroying the most abundant, remaining aquatic life in the shallow waters that was not destroyed by the poisonous gases and the consequent acid rains.

The most famous basaltic deposits resulting from those events are the “Deccan Traps” in India, about the size of France and more than 5,000 feet thick in some places, connected with the dinosaur extinction.Equally important were the very large “Siberian Traps”, connected with the earlier extinction of life of the trilobite era.The Palisades along the Hudson River and an area along the Columbia River are minor basaltic deposits.

It appears certain that more catastrophes of this sort will occur at random time intervals in the future.Would mankind and its civilizations survive?What direction could evolution take after mankind’s demise?

[5] See R. E. Friedman, “Who Wrote the Bible”, Harper & Row, NY, 1987,ISBN 0-06-097214-9.
[6] For a discussion of the variety of human emotions, see the essay “Brain, Mind: Human Personality” by H. Schwab, chapter 2.1 and others. 
[7] Post-modernist philosophy“deconstructs” this approach, too, but without wanting or being able to present another one in its stead.
[8] See specifically Paul’s letter to the Romans.