On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics

On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics

On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics

On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics


What is the ethical import of contemporary scientific cosmology? How does our understanding of the universe relate to our most pressing social concerns? How do the disparate fields of theology, ethics, and the sciences relate to each other? Murphy and Ellis offer a coherent construction of these relations and show how a particular moral vision- a "kenotic" ethic- is supported "from below" by the social sciences and "from above" by theology. The theological import of contemporary cosmology, they argue, points ultimately to an ethic that centers on self-sacrifice and nonviolence. In ambition, rigor, and scale, in its search for an integrated and coherent worldview at a time of unprecedented complexity and uncertainty, readers will find this volume daring and important.


The idea for this book began to germinate in the fall of 1991. We had just participated in a conference at the Vatican Observatory on quantum cosmology, the Anthropic Principle, and theology. At conference end, our thoughts turned to our respective political situations at home—the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the build-up to the Gulf War in the United States—and we asked one another what, if anything, the work of the conference had to do with these life-and-death issues.

In the following months we began to see connections between scientific cosmology (and particularly the anthropic issue), theology, and ethics; the latter discipline, in our view, is too often omitted from the usual theologyand-science discussions. We were eventually able to arrive, at least in outline, at a broad synthesis of these themes; this book presents that synthesis.

Our thesis in brief: the (apparent) fine-tuning of the cosmological constants to produce a life-bearing universe (the anthropic issue) seems to call for explanation. a theistic explanation allows for a more coherent account of reality—as we know it from the perspective of both natural and human sciences, and from other spheres of experience such as the moral sphere—than does a non-theistic account. However, not all accounts of the divine nature are consistent with the patterns of divine action we seem to perceive in the natural world. God appears to work in concert with nature, never overriding or violating the very processes that God has created. This account of the character of divine action as refusal to do violence to creation, whatever the cost to God, has direct implications for human morality; it implies a “kenotic” or self-renunciatory ethic, according to which one must renounce selfinterest for the sake of the other, no matter what the cost to oneself. Such an ethic, however, is very much at variance with ethical presuppositions embedded in current social science. Hence, new research programs are called for in these fields, exploring the possibilities for human sociality in the light of a vision modeled on God’s own self-sacrificing love.

So this book is an attempt to synthesize knowledge from a variety of disparate fields, as well as to provide a program for future research. As such, it is necessarily schematic; each chapter deserves to be expanded at least to book length. However, we hope to repay our readers’ patience with the inadequacy of our treatment of some issues by providing not only a coherent view of divine purposes displayed in the natural and human worlds, but also a basis for approaching pressing moral and political issues of our day.

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