Today, cosmology is the scientific study of the universe. It seeks to understand how the universe was formed, how it evolved and what it will become in the future. According to the accepted 'creed' of science, the physical universe may have existed for some 13.7 billion years, even though for most of this time, there may have been no intelligent, sentient life to perceive its existence. However, there has never been consensus on this view, not now and certainly not in the past. However, let us first try to characterize the scope of the general debate:
Is the universe infinite or finite?
Is there purpose or design in the universe?
These are profound questions in the sense that human intelligence cannot readily comprehend infinity, while a finite universe in time implies a point of creation and therefore raises the question of a creator. However, we shall table this sort of question just for the moment, for when early man first started to appear, it is more likely that his questions about the universe took a far more basic form:
What's going on around me?
In all probability, early man would have been far more focused on a finite universe bounded by his senses. It would have been a universe in which life was driven by one primary goal: survival. However, even at this early stage, there may have been a sense that there was an extension to everyday life in the earth below and the sky above. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to think that these regions would have been thought of as domains beyond the reach of mortal man and therefore the domain of deities, i.e. the gods, in all their various guises. Of course, subsequently, the perception of the universe evolved to accommodate the influx of new ideas triggered by the ability of science to look ever further into the heavens. However, despite all the `paradigm shifts` in thinking, the idea that the universe cannot just be described in terms of its physical dimensions still persists and, as such, the finite world of our earliest ancestors became a universe of infinite speculation, limited only by our collective imagination and the acceptance of a given society. Therefore, in the context of the present discussion, many may argued that science cannot prove the non-existence of a metaphysical universe and, as such, the debate has to be expanded to accommodate the 'truth` in more than one dimension:
At this stage, any classification of the physical and metaphysical universe is only meant to provide an initial frame of reference and should not be taken too literally. At one end, we have a universe created by supernatural forces in which humanity appears to play a central role. While, at the other, we have a universe built of atoms guided by the laws of physics, with humanity reduced to insignificance amidst the cosmic grandeur of over 100 billion galaxies. In the context of these extremes, we may have to accept that our perception of truth about the real nature of the universe may always be restricted by the limitations of our human intelligence and senses. To put this comment into better perspective, the following quote, taken from a book called 'Why We Feel: The Science of Human Emotions ' is highlighted:
Most of us believe that the world is full of light, colours, sounds, sweet tastes, noxious smells, ugliness, and beauty, but this is undoubtedly a grand illusion. Certainly the world is full of electromagnetic radiation, air pressure waves, and chemicals dissolved in air or water, but that non-biological world is pitch dark, silent, tasteless, and odourless. All conscious experiences are emergent properties of biological brains, and they do not exist outside of those brains.
Of course, this statement is anchored in the scientific perspective, which theology might argue must always be constrain to the physical universe and ultimately to the will of God(s).
Note: Various deities have been proclaimed over the thousands of years of human history. So while there may only be one true 'God', it is estimated that Hinduism alone may account for over a billion 'gods'. On a more realistic assessment, it is estimated that more than 2,500 deities existed in earlier polytheistic societies, e.g. Hittite, Sumerian, Mesopotamian through to the contemporary gods of the major monotheistic religions, i.e. Yahweh, God and Allah. Of course, this may not fully account for all the gods of Africa, pre-Islamic Arabian, Aztec, Babylonian, Buddhist, Canaanite, Celtic, Egyptian, Native American, Etruscan, Germanic, Greek, Roman, Persian, Polynesian, Shinto.....etc.
However, even accepting
the assumption that some questions may remain forever unanswered by
science, this does not mean that the theological perspective remains
beyond the duty of inquiry. As such, the remaining discussion will proceed
based on the assumption that assumed knowledge may have been built on 'non-truths'
and that this possibility must apply equally to the devout as well as the