Atheists and Agnostics Compendium

Celebrating Creation by Chet Raymo

Traditional religious faiths have three components: a shared cosmology (a story of the universe and our place in it), spirituality (personal response to the numinous), and liturgy (public expressions of celebration and gratitude, including rites of passage). The apparent antagonism of science and religion centers almost entirely on cosmology: ‘What is the universe? ‘Where did it come from? How does it work? ‘What is the human self? ‘What is our fate?

Humans have always had answers to these questions. The answers have been embodied in stories — tribal myths, scriptures, church traditions. But as a reliable cosmological component of religious faith they have been superseded by the New Story — the scientific story of the world.

The New Story is the product of thousands of years of human curiosity observation, experimentation, and creativity. It is an evolving story, not yet finished. Perhaps it will never be finished. It is a story that begins with an explosion from a seed of infinite energy. The seed expands and cools. Particles form, then atoms of hydrogen and helium. Stars and galaxies coalesce from swirling gas. Stars burn and explode, forging heavy elements — carbon, nitrogen, oxygen — and hurl them into space. New stars are born, with planets made of heavy elements.

On one planet near a typical star in a typical galaxy life appears in the form of microscopic self-replicating ensembles of atoms. Life evolves, over billions of years, resulting in ever more complex organisms. Continents move. Seas rise and fall. The atmosphere changes. Millions of species of life appear and become extinct. Others adapt, survive, and spill out progeny. At last, human consciousness appears. One species experiences the ineffable and wonders what it means, and makes up stories—of invisible spirits who harbor in darkness, of gods who demand worship and listen to our prayers—and then, rational thought takes over and makes a New Scientific Story.

The New Story has important advantages over all the stories that have gone before:
It works. It works so well that it has become the basis of technological civilization. We test the New Story in every way we can. We try to prove the story wrong. When the story fails, we change it.

It is a universal story. Although originally a product of Western culture, it has become the story of all educated peoples throughout the world.

It is a story that emphasizes the connectedness of all people and all things. The New Story places us squarely in a cosmic unfolding of space and time, and teaches our biological affinity to all humanity.

It is a story that asserts our responsibility for our own lives and the future of the planet. In the New Story, no omniscient deity intervenes. We are on our own.

It is a story that reveals a universe of unanticipated complexity, beauty, and dimension. The New Story [does not contain a God that is a] paltry personal projection of ourselves who attracted and bedeviled our ancestors. Only the New Story has the global authority to help us navigate the future. It is not the “true” story, but it is certainly the truest.


This essay is abridged and comes from Science and Religion, ed by Paul Kurtz

It is time to replace the old creation story with one more beautiful and wondrous.