What is the greatest story ever told? What is the greatest story you’ve ever told? Do they have anything in common?
For theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, the greatest story ever told — according to his new book with that title — is that of science.
“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded, and the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand,” he reportedly told a recent gathering. “It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust.”
Some would argue that Krauss, a professed atheist, may have missed the prequel.
The prequel was best told, in my estimation, by philosopher, priest and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, in his Mass on the World from 1923, “In the beginning was Power, intelligent, loving, energizing. In the beginning was the Word, supremely capable of mastering and molding whatever might come into being in the world of matter. In the beginning, there were not coldness and darkness: there was Fire.”
In earlier writing from 1916 he describes the creation in an even better way. He writes, “Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe.”
But how do you tell that story — the story of the universe that is — in a way that is true to science and to Christianity? It is difficult. It is a story that groups such as the American Scientific Affiliation are seeking to tell to youth and the public at large. In telling the group’s story this month, Executive Director Leslie Wickman writes of a unique group of Christians who were also scientists that wanted to cement their ideas as an organized group. This was conceived in the tumultuous years following the famous Scopes trial in the 1920s.
Another group seeking to better tell the story is the Religion News Foundation, which will likely give higher visibility to a variety of religion-and-science topics via a timely grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
A unique subset of academicians are theology and science scholars who are in a field of investigation that many, like Krauss, say is a conflict to be avoided. But every one of these scholars has his or her own reason for doing this. Some will speak openly about their story that is usually complete with concrete reasons for studying the intersection of faith and science.
The story that they tell is that of the human family. This story is changing rapidly today thanks to technologies such artificial intelligence and CRISPR and many are not so eager to tell the human story by integrating the faith and science perspective, which I would say encompasses awe, wonder and a bit of mystery.
I think the stories we are told when we are young are integral in how we view the world later as adults. What stories have you told about your experiences to your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and friends? Are they stories of faith? Scientific discovery? Curiosity?
These are the types of stories that are important to tell as people of faith. We need a little bit of that awe alongside respect for good scientific work. This storytelling that is related to science and the world around us should thrive within faith communities. After all, our churches will be home to future scientists, theologians and curious lay people alike.
You don’t think you are a storyteller? Let me assure that we all are. It is a distinctive human trait. We love to learn and learn to love through good stories. Just consider the parables of the New Testament. Jesus could have said “be generous,” “forgive often,” and just barked random commandments again and again, but stories help all of us to remember the key points.
What’s your story?