Allen Lane, 2018
Reviewed by Ian Mowll
This book is about the Universe Story – from the big bang, through the creation of the stars and galaxies, planet Earth and finally the evolution of life on Earth. But it covers more than the straight science. Christian understands the importance of origin stories in different cultures and how they shape such things as identity, meaning and purpose. He rightly says that the Universe Story is an origin story for our modern times. That this story is in its early days and it is yet to have the wisdom and depth of a whole culture to give it deep meaning.
He talks about seven thresholds – times when there was a great change and something new emerged; for instance, the last threshold was the advent of farming. Whilst he goes through the story from the big bang onwards, he spends more time than most commentators I have read, on human evolution from about 200,000 years ago to today. I like this approach as it helps me to understand the shape and trajectory of our human journey on this planet.
It is interesting to see the people he quotes or mentions: Carl Sagan, Lynn Margulis, James Lovelock and Joseph Campbell. He also mentions the nöosphere – the sphere of the mind – which is a concept probably invented by Teilhard de Chardin. All of this shows that the author is thinking deeply about the Universe Story and its meaning.
Unlike some other commentators on the Universe Story, he talks about the future and the need for sustainability. He talks about the current Anthropocene era where humans are affecting the biosphere and precipitating what is probably the 6th mass extinction. Not only this, he also talks about ending poverty with the redistribution of wealth and that GNP does not measure important aspects of our lives such as beauty. These value-based comments are compatible with a spiritual approach which seeks connection between science and meaning-making.
What do we need, to face the issues of today? He says that we need alertness, determination and hope as well as a vivid picture of a better world to motivate us.
It is so heartening to see people like Christian appear with such a deep interest in, and knowledge of, the Universe Story. As more and more people from disparate backgrounds are engaging with this story, I take this as a sign that the Universe Story is truly an origin story for our time.