March 21, 2004
In the beginning of his book Science and the Search for God, Rev Gary Kowalski, a UU minister in Vermont quotes astronomer James Jeans:
Fifty years ago the universe was generally looked on as a machine… Modern science gives but little support to such materialistic views. When we pass to extremes of size in either direction – whether to the cosmos as a whole, or to the inner recesses of the atom – the mechanical interpretation of Nature fails. We come to entities and phenomena which are in no sense mechanical. To me they seem less suggestive of mechanical than of mental processes; the universe seems to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine.
Kowalski goes on to explain that both of the major revolutions of 20th century physics acknowledge consciousness as a potent force within the universe. The Special Theory of Relativity asserts that the measurement of time and space varies according to who is doing the measuring and is not a strictly objective exercise. Quantum theory has proven that at an atomic level, perception plays an important part in determining what is perceived.
Kowalski asserts that we can no longer separate ourselves, our perceptions, and our consciousness from the working of the universe.
In a chapter called Star Dust, Kowalski examines our interconnectedness to the very beginnings of
All of us are products of the Big Bang, giving us a truly luminous past. Thirteen billion years ago, according to the current best estimate, everything that exists erupted into being, bursting forth from a singularity smaller that a proton but containing all the matter and energy (as well as all the time and space) that would later spread across countless eons and light-years.
Those scattered remains eventually formed new stars, some with planets like our own. In our case, the iron would find its way into the hemoglobin of our blood. Plant or animal, all life would be built of the same components-oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon. Ninety-nine percent of the vital parts of every living organism, from the blue whale to bacteria-are made of these four atoms. ….Our bodies and our brains are the offspring of the radiant outpouring. And consciousness is a natural outgrowth of this same unfolding.
We all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun!
The book goes on to describe some of the many remarkable occurrences in the creation of the universe.
Stephen Hawkings (a bestselling Scientist author) points out that “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million it would have recollapsed before it reached its present size.” Similarly, if the rate had been a tiny fraction higher, the universe would have expanded too rapidly for stars or planets to condense out of the dust. Says Hawking, “the odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications.”
The odds were not on creation’s side. What other components need to be examined?
The book looks into the very smallest components of life with Quantum theory:
According to the most common interpretation of quantum mechanics events at the subatomic level are nothing more than waves of probability until an act of observation collapses the wave into actual particles with position, velocity and all the other aspects of reality.
The image I get of this theory is of a cartoon - where one character, say Bugs Bunny, is making all these weird faces and moving around all crazy positions, pulling out huge cannons or elephants or whatever when Elmer Fudd is not looking. But as soon as Elmer turns around to look at Bugs Bunny, Bugs Bunny freezes and that position that Bugs Bunny is in at that moment, is Elmer Fudd’s reality of Bugs Bunny.
Kowalski takes the theory further and says:
…it follows that the universe could never have gotten started, unless at some point in its development it was going to produce observers to see it all happen. If quantum theory is correct, mind is not just an afterthought in the cosmos, but an essential ingredient in the creation of the world. In Wheeler’s words, we live in a “participatory universe.” Which implies that human beings are something more than mere spectators enjoying the show. In a curious way, we also appear to be actors in the play and the authors of the script.
WOW!!! What perceives the world, is creating the world, is alive in this world. And it is us….
and everything else.
Kowalski next chapter tells us how matter is not what we use to think it was. That physicists will now ask why a proton “chooses” to manifest in one location rather then another. He uses this excerpt from QED, a play about Richard Feyman, a renowned physicist to illustrate
Take the surface of glass. You see me because light is coming through the glass and hitting my face, but you also see yourself because some of the light is reflecting back. At this angle, for every 100 photons hitting the glass, 96 go through the glass and 4 hit the glass and go back to you. How does any individual photon make up its mind which way to go?
Nobody ever taught me in school that the laws of nature had room for choice. Sounds a bit chaotic when we think about it. Things become more volatile and probability is a more likely scenario then certainty. How UU is that!
Kowalski’s own opinion is this:
“that a new view of matter will entail a fresh understanding of God as well. The Creator can no longer be envisioned as entirely separate from the creation – an Unmoved Mover or transcendent first principle. For whatever the world is made of, stuff appears to contain a generative and self-organizing principle.
He asks his readers:
Would it be going to far to speculate that the universe came into existence because at some preconscious level it chose to exist? That along with necessity and determinism, will and freedom need to be taken into account in any explanation of cosmic origins?”
If a photon, a tiny particle of light, can choose a path, certainly we are capable of determining our own destiny within any given moment. We do this by choosing, whether we are aware of it or not.
In a chapter called Gaia and the Great Mother Kowalski discusses the Gaia hypothesis. This theory .”views the earth as a single organism, in which life collaborates to regulate the temperature of the oceans and the amount of oxygen in the air, much as we regulate our own body heat and maintain the balance of our own internal chemistry. Gaia brings on ice ages when the planet needs to be cooled, just as we reflexively shiver or break into a sweat if we get too hot or cold. The Gaia theory moved into the scientific mainstream in 1988 when the Geophysical Union met to discuss it.
Lovelock, the scientist most credited for the Gaia theory, does not feel equipped to deal with question of faith, but does say that “thinking the Earth as alive makes it seem, ….., as if the whole planet were celebrating a sacred ceremony.”
A beautiful sunset will produce this same feeling in me. It is as if the heaven and earth are creating a beautiful, living, temporary work of art for the sheer exquisite pleasure of having someone to appreciate it.
Kowalski puts himself in the Process philosophy camp. “Process philosophy holds that materialism is mistaken. What constitutes our universe is not an assortment of lifeless particles but an ensemble of interrelated and dynamic happenings. ….Try to pick out one piece of the universe to study in isolation, and you discover that it’s connected to everything else.
He gives a description of the world as seen from a Process philosophy viewpoint.
Reality in all its manifestations is subjective as well as objective. We see how modern science confirms this. Consciousness appears to be finely woven into the fabric of creation. The same mind that impels us to ask how the world fits together seems to have been at work within the universe itself, offering intelligible answers.
The universe has a mind of it’s own!!! And it changes it’s mind just like any other woman alive.
At some incipient level, everything is alive. Atmospheres, oceans and continents for example are all vital organs within the larger body of Gaia.
The earth is alive and everything in it is infused with Life.
The whole defines the parts. Human beings are not distinct from nature in such a world. As star dust, we have grown out of this cosmos and are inseparable from all that is.
We all shine on like the moon and the stars and the sun.
Relationships form the matrix for our mutual becoming. Lives intermesh, thoughts and feelings intermingle. The relationships we share are like the bits of color in a painting, each of us a point of light, our own coloration affected by all the surrounding hues.
No man or thing is an island and everything including feelings, thoughts, perceptions influences everything else.
He goes on to say:
For there is nothing supernatural about the God proposed by process thought, nothing otherworldly. God is in the cosmos, though not completely identified with the cosmos, surpassing it as the Whole exceeds the parts…..In a participatory universe where all have a role in the construction of reality, God is the one who participates in all life and every act of creation.
And Kowalski’s own belief is:
For better or worse, we make our own destiny, and through a multitude of decisions large and small we shape the course of our own evolution. God is involved in that process, not as commanding or coercive presence, but as a persuasive lure, the promise of richer, more rewarding experiences to those who chose wisely and well.
[Pause and ask everyone to take a second to think about this image of God]
In a chapter called “Elephants All the Way Down” Rev Kowalski explores the nature of scientific inquiry and again quotes Stephen Hawkings ….even if he and his colleagues should one day succeed in their quest for a Grand Unified Theory – a single mathematical formula that would encompass all the laws of nature – we would still have no idea of why the universe goes to the bother of existing.”
The miracle of existing at all. Something we don’t think about - the miracle of existing - when going about our daily routine. But when we do contemplate existence the why cannot be escaped or answered by science alone.
In his final chapter The Future of Faith he quotes astronomer Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington:
We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprint. And Lo! It is our own.
What is our role in the creation of life on this planet? Are we merely observers, going through the motions dictated by some unknown universal law? Are we the pawns of some all powerful god separate and distinct from us? Or are we an integral part of the creation of the mysteries we strive to unravel with science and religion?
Rev. Kowalski concludes his book with this paragraph:
In the human mind, the universe is growing in awareness of itself. And as science progresses, that mind has begun to resolve a vision far more wondrous…. than the creaking machinery of an eighteenth century clockwork. Far from being finished, the journey of faith may be just beginning. And if we have the courage to follow it, the truth will set us free.