The Pope, Durkheim,…and Quantum Physics

Reducing Human Importance

Animal, Natural, Small and Insignificant:  the Cry of Humankind

Pope Pius XII supported the Big Bang theory. Bowler and Morus said, “In 1951, Pope Pius XII delivered an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in which he explicitly appealed to the big bang theory of the universe as a scientific endorsement of the Catholic Church’s position.”[1] I learned about this in Catholic class {I converted to marry but cannot “believe”}. Father Robert said that the big bang does not disprove God but actually backs up the Catholic belief. What he meant was that the Catholic God speaks to His people in many methods. For the majority, the lessons in the bible are enough, but for the questioning mind that searches for proof religious parables do not supply adequate information. Fr. insisted that faith came without proof, and that Catholics are not dependent on the signs present in the Old Testament. At the time, I shrugged it off, thinking that Catholicism had to make room for the big bang because the scientists found the organic beginnings of life and religion could not deny the truth of fact.

However, I read Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life for HUMN 571 Individuals, Societies, and the Spirit, and now…what Fr. said makes more sense. The overall message of Durkheim’s text was that religion was actually the motivator for society, but not in the way a religious person would initially expect. First off, discard all elements of belief, myth, and promise. Religion in primitive society, specifically the Australian Aboriginal in 1912, orchestrated the basic needs of life and created a mutual system in which people could set rules and continue existence. Durkheim said, “[Religion] is not simply a system of signs by which faith is expressed outwardly, it is a collection of means by which it is created and periodically recreates itself.”[2] See, religion is adaptive, just like human beings, and it will shift into a substance that supports society…because it is society. For primitives, religion is daily life and expressed through the negative and positive cult; for the Ancient World, religion governed through feasts, celebration, and lamentation; for the Medieval World, religion developed chivalry and legend; for the Renaissance, religion began to be more personal as more people learned to read and write; for the Reformation, religion turned its back on luxury because the clergy morphed into a second monarchy; for the Scientific Revolution, religion began to absorb science because society looked for empirical evidence; for the Modern World, religion went into the rectory and licked its wounds, trying to find away to conform to the needs of the people; and for Post-Modern World, here we sit, consciously working our understanding to allow room for science and religion in our vast concept of what life really entails. Religion is adaptive, she has been shifting ever since the beginning of recorded history, and there is little reason to assume that she will stop. After all, as Durkheim noted, we are religion, we are the coming together of many energies in efforts to make one universal note. We are an orchestra of life, and that must include symphonies of each human expression.

{Peer} wrote: “the Earth and humans went from being the center and most significant part of the universe to a very small part, place in an insignificant corner of a very large and apparently expanding universe “

I think much can be said for perspective. On one hand, it is humbling to go from being specifically created by God to an organism reacting to one’s environment, and then to top it all off with Earth not being the center of the universe but just a planet in a system – then that system not being special but one of many universes. Yes, I see…it makes a human feel small and rather unimportant, but what if we shift the perspective without changing any of the fact. This is a beauty of quantum theory – many possibilities happen and are possible. Out of all of the known universes, we are still the only existing form of life (not just humans, but you follow) that we know of…to me, that does not say that there is no other life, but that we are not aware of it. {meaning other characteristics of life like light, radio waves, protons/neutrons, tiny particles of matter – I am not referring to little green men, or Star Trek heros} It was only the 1970s when science came onto this notion, that was not that long ago and I feel there is still room for advancement. Before Einstein, humanity did not know about the atom, and modern science is just beginning nanoscience – the extremely small universe. There are more answers, science must first be able to form the questions.




Bowler, Peter J. and Iwan Rhys Morus. Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press,2005.

Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans. Carol Cosman. Ed. Mark S. Cladis. Oxford, New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 2008.

Picture c/o:

[1] Bowler and Morus, Making Modern Science, p. 291.

[2] Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, p. 312.