The universe is the totality of interacting and relating things, which exists independently of ourselves. We stand in an interacting relation to the universe, and we can therefore inquire, study and come to have knowledge of the universe. We grasp the objective reality of the universe through both our experience and mind, and it is our mental workings which set us apart from the universe. The scholastic definition of man as a rational animal is a good one, I think – a rational animal created in the image of a rational, relational, personal and interacting God, created in a rational universe which we are able to comprehend. Our mental powers and ability to grasp the universe are remarkable, as Pascal noted: ‘Man is a reed, the most fragile reed in the universe, but he is a thinking reed – through thought he comprehends the universe,’ (paraphrase). While the universe we occupy has many aspects to it, aspects which will astound and perplex us (the quantum level of reality being a prime example), they all remain part of a coherent whole. The human mind’s ability to grasp the universe is profound – but it is not unintelligible or mysterious or paradoxical.
‘Just as this very same science cannot be understood without recognizing the existence of a mind able to hold within its reach the wholeness of nature and thereby be superior to it, the understanding which science gives of nature will fully satisfy the urge to understand only when that urge is allowed to carry one to the recognition of that Existence which is not limited by any singularity… With an inexorable urge that limited mind reaches out for the unlimited in existence which, precisely because it is genuinely unlimited, cannot happen but only be and is therefore most aptly called He Who Is. Without keeping him in one’s mental focus, those singularities will appear as that “inexhaustible queerness” which J.B.S. Haldane once cited as the main characteristic of the universe. Cosmic singularities severed from their creator can easily become something akin to that proverbial “mystic chant over an unintelligible universe”.’ (Stanley Jaki, ‘The Roads of Science and the Ways to God,’ p. 277)