About the Universe

Let us start with the material universe, or rather, the little we know of it.  Since I was in the sixth grade, physics has been a personal hobby.  When I was younger, the leading scientists struggled to make sense of the discovery of hundreds of new particles created by new cyclotrons and linear accelerators.   Today, I see that it as little changes as we struggle with the multitude of new dimensions and their possible configurations predicted by string or M-theory.   One differences between then and now is that then, in the early sixties, we suspected that we could someday “understand” the implications of our theories.  Today, we have largely given up on “understanding.”  We to find predictive value and use our theories, but we recognize that the universe that they describe is well beyond our comprehension in any sensual, materialistic way. 

The famous statement by Einstein, another of those benighted believers in a Supreme Being, was that he did not believe that “God played dice with the universe.”  He saw the exploration of science very much as an exploration of the mind of God, and the randomness of quantum mechanics didn’t fit well into his view of the divine, but what he discovered is that his view of the divine was simply too limited.  This is, of course, true for us all. 

Strangely enough, the idea that God was not needed in science originally came from the "clockwork" idea of the universe.  It was once thought that if we knew the laws of physics and the initial conditions of the universe, we could predict everything that happens.  This mechanical view seemed to leave no room for God as a supernatural force affecting reality. 

We now know that this mechanical (godless) view of the universe is quite wrong.  Most of what happens is truly unpredictable by the laws of physics.  We can say what happens statistically, but actual events are random to a marvelous degree.  At the quantum mechanical level, almost anything is possible.  We can see those events as controlled by "blind" chance or decided by God.  The choice is ours, both explanations are valid. 

Another important aspect of quantum mechanics is the importance if gives to the subjective participation in reality.  According to the quantum theory, God doesn’t only allow randomness in the universe, but that the nature of what we observe is largely determined by how we observe it.   If we test light looking for particles, we will find particles.  If we test light looking for waves, we find waves.  We can set up tests that prove that light can’t possibly be a wave, proving conclusively that can only be a particle.  We can set up other tests proving that light can only be a wave and absolutely not a particle.  Nature answers all of these tests “yes." The objective nature of reality is highly subjective.

 Interestingly enough, Gödel, the famous mathematician was the first person to work out the mathematics of Einstein's theory of general relativity.  (He was also a good personal friend of Einstein's.)  Gödel felt that the best solution  for his equations showed that the entire universe revolves around each individual observer.  This is not an illusion of perspective, but the reality of the mathematics.  In other  words, there is no "objective" movement in the universe.  How the universe is moving depends upon who is observing it. This is corresponds almost exactly with our self-awareness (see the next essay), but, since it doesn't seem possible, we choose to disregard it.  Despite its strangness, the universe can be explained subjectively on both the micro (subatomic particle) and macro (galactic) scales.

Science hasn’t resolved this problem.  On the contrary, more such “problems” are discovered with the continuous advance of science.   Something can and does arise from nothing, more or less constantly.  The “nothingness” of space has enough something in it to fill up black holes and evaporate them.   Most recently, we have discovered that there is a “dark energy” acting in the universe that seems to be counteracting the force of gravity.   The new science of chaos theory, studying the emerging (arising from no known feature of their parts) properties (symmetries and patterns) of complex system suggests the hand of a “divine designer” much more strongly than any traditional science.  The fact that order arises spontaneously out of complete chaos itself deeply affects everyone who studies it, but, unlike that stars of our ancestors, too few people today are exposed to these mysteries.   In all of this, nothing is wrong with nature. 

Something is very wrong with our materialistic view of the universe in which we think “everything” can be “explained” by science. 

So, where has science brought us?  We understand a lot more about nature, but we are no closer than our most primitive ancestors in understanding nature.    All that has happened in that modern society has created a shield that insolates most people from the deeper mysteries of nature.  We have mastered nature well enough that course of are lives are not largely determined by disease and weather, but we are no less at the mercy of nature.  A comet or large asteroid could wipe out humanity as easily as it destroyed the dinosaurs.  We may live longer, but every one of us is still certain to fall to one disease or another.  Science has given us better descriptions and weapons against nature, but, in the end, nature is still an awesome, possibly fatal mystery for us all.

The power, beauty, symmetry, and mystery of the natural world are a starting point, if not for faith, at least for the suggestion that science has not ended the mystery.  The only people that think that it has are those who know little of modern science.  Of course, the knowledge mastered by modern science in already thousands of times larger than can be mastered by any individual.   Even within a narrow specialty, individuals are challenged to keep up with every potentially significant development. 

What is Supernatural?

What is the “supernatural?”  The normal definition is something that goes beyond our normal scientific explanations of the world.  Strangely enough, this definition is outmoded at least to the degree everything, down to the existence and behavior of the smallest particle (if such a thing can be said to exist), acts beyond our current understanding of science.   Indeed, the “rock solid reality” that the common person considers “scientific” is itself an emerging property of a chaotic system.   There is no “scientific” connection between the Newtonian world that most “materialists” think that they live in to the quantum dynamic reality from which it arises.  Does that make quantum dynamics "supernatural" for a materialist? 

Would most serious scientist accept that idea that there are forces at work here on earth that we cannot detect in the universe?  Any physicist knows that such forces and even possibly  “places” absolutely exist.  The latest, dark energy (“dark” because we have no idea what it is) which may exist as a repulsive force countering gravity aside, extremely common particles such as neutrinos are more phantasmal than any ghost.   Like spirits, these particles exist in our “material” universe without coming in contact with it.  They simply pass through “ordinary” matter.  Are there other such particles?  Almost certainly.  Can they carry information?  Almost certainly.  Can they interact and combine into complex forms?  By their nature, we cannot ever say.    If "worlds" and complex creatures ( “spirits”) were made of neutrinos (and other phantasmal particles ), we would have no way of detecting them.  The idea that we don't have a soul because we can't detect it scientifically is as outmoded scientifically as a the water clock. 

(As an interesting side-note, we cannot scientifically explain why matter exists.  Theoretically, the big bang should have created as much matter as anti-matter and they  should have cancelled each other out.  One of the newest theories on the imbalance depends upon--you may have guessed it--that phantom neutrino.  The theory is called neutrino-genesis.)

Even  more intriguing are the latest super string theories which indicate that our universe has at least ten and possibly eleven dimensions.  We can only perceive four of these (three of space, one of time), but the other seven or eight are just as real, but “rolled up” in a way that makes them inaccessible to us.  Quantum superstrings move through or at least “vibrate” in these dimensions, but we have no way to penetrate them in the normal sense. 

So, if we ask the basic question: is there more to nature than meets the eye?  The answer is yes.  Is there a “supernatural” (in the sense of above or beyond nature) world existing around our own that we cannot detect?  Again, the answer must be yes.  Does it affect the “real” world in which we live?  Again, the answer is yes. This “supernatural” world is the foundation of our “real” one.   

To paraphrase Shakespeare, there is much more in the universe than is dreamt of in any philosophy.  Anyone who tries to hide in science as a refuge from the mystery of existence is sadly misinformed.  Historically, this idea that science explains or can explain the physical universe is actually a nineteenth century concept, addressing the universe of Newton and Darwin, not the universe of Einstein and Bohr.

Mystery of the Creator

So there is still plenty of mystery in the universe.  We are still in more or less in the same position as our ancestors, gazing at the stars in wonder.  Does this mean that there that God, that a prime mover exists?  Not necessarily.  It only means that there is more than enough room in the universe for God and wonder and, beyond any doubt in my mind, that there always will be.  In trying to understand the universe, humans are running in a race in which we will always make astounding progress only to discover that our progress has moved the goal further away.  Our learning more of science, that is, the rules by which the universe was organized (learning divine law) will continue to increase our power and abilities in the universe, but it doesn’t bring us any closer to understanding the nature of any Creator.

For me, science has always increased my faith in a grand Planner and a grand Plan.  Everything that we have learned points to it.  Even when some piece of knowledge seems to point away from the divine, further learning always points us back.  When it comes to the Big Bang, the creation point of our universe, all scientists agree that all scientific understanding breaks down and that we can never know what caused that creation.   By definition, that creation had to be a “supernatural” event simply because no laws of nature accessible to us can ever explain it.    (For more about all the ways that modern discoveries support ancient beliefs, read Quarks, Chaos, and Christianity by the eminent scientist John Polkinghorne.)

This creation point is a metaphor for all of deeper science.  The closer we approach an end point, the more our simple understanding of the universe breaks down and more and more possibilities open before us.   We can understand much what was happening a second after the Big Bang when helium formed, but as the fractions of a second actually approach the moment itself, nothing makes scientific sense to us anymore. 

As we learn more about the deeper nature of the universe, we discover that many of the cosmological constants needed for the evolution of a universe that supports life are totally arbitrary.  Strangely enough, we discover that all of the universe's structure, including the formation of galaxies, life cycles of sun, and on and one, are required for life to evolve anywhere in the universe.   The precise behavior required of starts and galaxies to generate life depend on very specific  relationships between forces, such as the electricity being exactly 1036 times more powerful than gravity    Other arbitrary relationships include everything from the amount of matter and energy in the universe to the exact amount of charge between two particle.  Change any one of them, even slightly, and a universe and life as we know it can never emerge.  All of these physical constants are the exact amounts that they need to be to allow human life to eventually arise and have been since the day of creation.  (For more detail about these variables, you can read a book call Just Six Numbers by Martin Rees which explains the six most important variables in much more detail.)

The only explanation of this  amazing "coincidence" is *other than a divine one) is an anthropomorphic one: if the universe hadn’t emerged to create people, we wouldn’t be here to notice it.  This infers that this happened either by chance or that, in that realm beyond the first moment of the Big Bang, that realm which we can never understand or penetrate, an infinite number of creations have taken place, thereby, eventually creating the one type of universe that supports us.  Since we can know nothing about the plan of existence at which creation takes place, any anthropomorphic explanation that puts us at the center of creation seems to me, just as silly as the “science” that first put the earth at the center of the universe.  

The Choice of Two Gods

This is a tough choice for Occam’s razor.   What is the simplest explanation for our universe?  Which is simpler: a greater reality that creates an infinite number of such universes until it created one in which human life is possible or a greater reality that intentionally creates a universe in which human life is possible?  Actually, we can call the greater reality of these choices God.  The first is the impersonal, almost mechanical Brahman of the Hindu while the other is the conscious, personal God of Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition. 

Both of these choices represent infinite power. Both are equally beyond time and beyond our ability to test for them. We can only choose between them with a leap of faith. There can be no physical proof for either, except we know one must exist because the itself universe exists.

However, one God is conscious and has purpose. He gives meaning to existence. The other god just exists and has no meaning beyond existence. If the source of the universe has meaning and purpose, we personally have meaning and purpose. If the source of the universe has no meaning, we have no meaning or purpose beyond existence. 

Why do some people choose to believe the source of existence has no purpose? Why do people want to believe that the source of the universe is unconscious when the source of their choice is consciousness? Do they place no value on consciousness or do they want to believe that they are greater than the universe?