Sometimes I use references to Christianity to make a point – and that bothers some people. I was raised in the Christian tradition (Anglican, I think; I never remember, much to my mother’s dismay), and am not Christian or religious now. I do believe there is a God, although my definition of it is hardly traditional. Perhaps even some atheists would accept it.
The reason I use Christian references is because there are a lot of us among the “English-speaking peoples,” as Winston Churchill referred to us, who were raised in the Christian tradition. Regardless of what you are now, if you were raised in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, or any of the latter’s former colonies, you will likely ‘get’ Biblical references like “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” The meaning of the saying is clear enough, but what gives it some moral authority for Christians is who said it. And even for those of us who are no longer Christians, we understand the intent.
But what is God? Clearly it is not some white-bearded guy in the sky. But equally clearly there is a power of Creation, a rather miraculous one. That anything exists proves the power of Creation. Creation created the universe and all in it, from stardust to us. Looking at the spectacular beauty of the universe…it is an awe-inspiring thing. What Creation is, however, is beyond our current comprehension.
Is Creation conscious in some way? Are the laws behind the universe designed with a purpose, or is it all just random? That is a question our puny human minds are going to take some time to discover. As far as science knows now, there is no consciousness behind any of the non-living universe. But…we know so little of ourselves and our Earth, never mind the universe with its black holes and dark matter and other fantastic mysteries.
It is tempting to believe there is some purpose or design, because most of us seem hard-wired to want some deeper meaning in our lives, to believe in this grand scheme. Even if that desire exists simply because it provided (or provides) some evolutionary advantage, if everything is random then why is there any organization whatsoever in the universe? I don’t mean just life, which clearly counters entropy, the tendency of things to decay to randomess. Many inanimate objects are clearly highly organized, from rock crystals to galaxies. If all was random, what are the odds that the universe is actually organised into stars and galaxies, and that there are rules that the physical universe follows? Shouldn’t it just be energy zinging around, occasionally combining in apparent organisation, but most of the time randomly distributed?
Would We Know God If We Met Him/Her/It?
There is also the question whether we would recognize a much higher level of consciousness if we encountered it. We expect things to be made in our image, but who knows?
Think of a shark encountering a human; the shark does not, as far as we can tell, recognise that the human is a higher life form that has something the shark lacks: Self-awareness. Now imagine an earthworm encountering a human. Look at the difficulty we have recognising levels of intelligence and abilities to communicate in dolphins and other beings. Would we know God if we encountered it?
One ‘consciousness,’ if you want to call it that, is Earth herself. For millions of years, Earth has kept oxygen levels, temperatures, and other factors within ranges suitable for life. Even when external events have had a massive impact, such as the meteor that wiped the dinosaurs out, or huge volcanic eruptions, or ice ages where most of the northern hemisphere was buried under kilometres of ice, the Earth has maintained temperatures and other conditions conducive to life.
James Lovelock called this the Gaia Hypothesis, and he now says it should be upgraded from a hypothesis to a Theory because it is rather obviously true that the Earth is acting as an organism to maintain homeostasis. Lovelock sees no consciousness behind this, and explained rather brilliantly why none is needed. I summed it up in Daisyworld. The Earth maintains homeostasis through the cooperation of all the species on the planet without communication between them or central direction.
One of the reasons humans need to stick around, to evolve up a step to sustainable beings, is to explore the wonders of the universe and the mysteries of Creation. One day, of course, we will need a new home, unless we figure out some way to control the Sun. That is a gift to leave your children, a vision. Live and love on this planet, and reach out to the stars.