The Story Doesn’t Have to Be Soulless

By Mary Evelyn Tucker
New York Times
August 16, 2013

As has been clear for some time, evolution and an aesthetic and spiritual sensibility about the beauty of nature need not be separated. Whether we start from a scientific or spiritual angle, if we arrive at a large-scale evolutionary perspective of deep time, it can only enhance our sense of wonder and awe at life’s complexity and value.

The evolutionary concept is only about 150 years old, and we are still struggling to understand how it changes our sense of ourselves, both as a species and as individuals. We are just beginning to see ourselves as part of the vast unfolding processes of galaxies, stars and planets that have birthed our blue-green Earth teeming with life. This discovery of our lineage has the potential to change our sense of our role and purpose. So it is understandable that there are intense arguments over the nature of evolution and its implications for human identity.

It's not an either-or choice. We understand evolutionary processes through science, and we appreciate them through art and spirituality.

We need not, however, enter into simplistic debates that lead to endless conflict. Rather, we can bring science and the humanities together to explore a new synergy of scientific fact and human values. Recognizing that we are now understanding these evolutionary processes through science and appreciating them through art, poetry, literature, music and spirituality gives us an opportunity to discover our own role in this unfolding story.

In 1978, the cultural historian Thomas Berry suggested that we needed such a “New Story” that would integrate science and humanities. He felt that our environmental, social and political challenges required such a story to inspire human attitudes and behavior for the flourishing of the Earth community. The key for Thomas was story – namely, a narrative telling of the dynamic unfolding of the universe and the Earth, with an emphasis on how we fit into this larger history.

Inspired by Thomas, three collaborators – Brian Swimme, John Grim and I – have tried to create such a story in our “Journey of the Universe” project, which includes a book, film and series of conversations. It is our hope that this will enable us to engage more fully in the transformations needed to create a future that is worthy of our children and theirs.

Mary Evelyn Tucker is a senior lecturer and senior research scholar at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Yale Divinity School. She is a co-creator of "Journey of the Universe," a film, book and series of conversations.

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