Harlow Shapley, we have seen, considers ultimate reality as five fundamental constituents of the universe – space, time, matter, energy, and cosmic evolution. He assures us that this latter term can explain the appearance of ‘protoplasmic life’ via a long chain from ‘mystical hydrogen’ without the need for supernatural forces or divine miracles. It is true that through cosmic evolution humans appear with an advanced brain that permits us to seek distant goals beyond individual fate, but social insects duplicate some of our mores, and life elsewhere may be more ‘perfect’ than Homo sapiens.

He then asks; “Where and why does religion come into the cosmic picture?”5 Referencing anthropology he notes that all human societies have religion of some sort usually to explain the logically unexplainable often with magic or an appeal to spirits. He asks us to advance our distant goals by appealing not to our animal origins, but the angelic or spiritual “in the broadest sense,” that is, by adopting a ‘religious attitude.’ He proffers a modification of Albert Schweitzer’s religion as the ‘reverence of life.’

To me it is a religious attitude to recognize the wonder of the whole natural world, not only of life… why not go all the way and avow reverence for all things that exist, all that is touched by cosmic evolution, and reserve the greatest reverence of all for existence itself”6

But reverence alone may not be enough, Hapley cautions, our creed should be “effective participation in universal evolution.” 7

“Would we be true to the galaxies and the stars, to the vegetation and animals, all of which evolve, if we willfully refused to participate?” 8

At last he brings us back to the domain of human action,

“It is a magnificent universe of incredibly glorious space, time, and energy. Let us go proudly along! Our social and spiritual evolution appears to be in our own hands; it does not await the slow flow or vast amounts of time, such as out bodies would require for a significant step in evolution.”9

Analogous to the fundamental entities of the universe are perhaps five fundamental entities in the cosmopolis of humanity – respect for human life, humility, charity and altruism, reverence for the grand phenomena of existence, and growth in knowledge and spirit. He thinks these parameters lead us to a lifetime of service, world citizenship, world-mindedness, a human bill of rights, and respect for the individual.10

Mr. Shapley’s metamorphosis is complete – no longer mere astronomer, he is both philosopher and theologian. His distillation of key facets of the universe as ultimate reality and his principle of ethics as cosmic are as cogent as any I have encountered.  Full stop.


5Shapley, Harlow, Beyond the Observatory. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1967. Page 121.

6Ibid., page 123.

7Ibid., page 171.

8Ibid., page 172.

9Ibid., pages 172-173

10Ibid., pages 173-178.

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