There is a unifying principle in the universe. Physicists seek it in a Grand Unified Theory (or Theory of Everything) and the clergy seek it in God. Therefore, the topic of unity in the universe seems to be a reasonable area where science and religion can begin to have a meaningful encounter with each other. I would even go so far as to say that to the extent to which science and religion cannot be unified one must hold their theories and theologies under suspect. This is the premise I take in my future book, entitled “Proving God.” So, for the purposes of this mini-discussion, I would like to provide a few examples of how existence is founded on relationship.
In the current scientific model of atomic structure everything is held together by an exchange of photons, gluons and quarks. In the human body and other forms of bio-complexity in nature, everything is held together by an exchange of labor. Human society is also held together through an exchange of labor and sharing our special talents as well.
Human cognition involves recognition of ratios and proportions, which are relationships (out of which springs mathematical reasoning). Neuroscience is moving closer to the idea that human affection focuses our attention and shapes our memory by forming new relationships between thoughts and ideas (which lead to creative imagination and abstract thinking).
Marriage between two people is a most intimate sharing of each other’s lives.
It seems that for anything new to come into existence, previous (a priori) things must coexist, that is, form relationships.
Love is relationship. Religion can be looked at as a lawful strategy for taking the unifying dynamic operating in the universe even further. Loving God and the neighbor represents the epitome of relationship forming. Scripture teaches us that all the law of the prophets hangs on these two expressions of love. (I cannot imagine a legitimate religion that is not founded on those two tenets.)
If there be a unifying principle in the universe, LOVE would make a good one! Here’s why. First of all, love is psychical and operates within the human mind. The mind cannot be said to operate in space. Therefore, love gives us a unifying principle of agency that can exist as a special initial condition of a pre-natal universe when time equaled zero (t = 0). Having its domain in pre-space, we are given a unifying principle whereby every created thing can be non-locally connected simultaneously—towards an eternal goal.
Love is the one force that absolutely necessitates the constants of law and a fine-tuned universe because it creates through self-similarity. This self-similarity (correspondence) finds its ultimate expression of unified relationship in the bio-complexities of living organisms and finally the human race through God’s covenant. Love also offers a new way to view top-down causation in a way that preserves self-consistency through discrete operations.
The manifest universe emerged out of a conscious living force. Physics (classical and quantum) has to be reformulated to reflect this principle or it will fail to find the answer to the nature of agency in the universe. Religion also needs a paradigm shift.
A big obstacle in unifying science with religion comes from the point of view that science deals with facts and religion deals with values. They each address quite different topics so some people feel there is no need to waste time trying to forge them together. Let them each do what they do best.
My new book project entitled “Proving God” will challenge this assumption. In my previous post I pointed out that the laws of physics somehow emerged from of a non-local and non-temporal void (that is, if you believe, like most scientists and theologians, that the universe had an actual beginning).
What is most conspicuous about the creation of the universe is that it not only entailed a distribution of energy and momentum but an ongoing process of self-organization. This organization of the cosmos continued to increase in the complexity of biosystems that ultimately led to the human brain. Whether this happened by design or chance scientists know that it is a fact that the manifest universe and organic life could not have come into existence unless the constants of nature met very tight tolerances. Did this “fine-tuning” of the universe, which allowed for the increase of intelligence and consciousness to emerge, have its origins from a creative principle operating in the pre-space void?
In the neo-Darwinian synthesis, which includes microbiology and genetics, evolution occurs from the ongoing strategies of genes to ensure reproduction under the pressures of a changing external environment. New species are the result of these survival strategies. However, the evolutionary trajectory has led to the human race, which enjoys first-person phenomenal experience. So evolution has a complex creature where values are very important.
All human values are derivatives of love. Affection, emotion, appetite, and intention all give focus to human cognitive function and steer it towards some valued goal. This is where religion enters into the picture of evolution. The human mind, which does not operate in space, can continue to develop and raise its level of complexity by adopting a more universal and noble love. What we love defines how our thoughts and ideas are put into some corresponding order and structure. In the same way that a human ear has evolved to be a subject for sound, human ideas represent the higher-ordered forms and subjects of our affections. Our thoughts and ideas are the non-material forms and bio-structure of what we love and intend. This creates our spiritual body.
Religion, which serves as a guide for choosing the optimum values for living, can therefore be looked at as a Divine strategy by which humans can extend evolution and bio-complexity into a non-physical domain. We call this realm heaven.
It is rational to think that the constancy and fine-tuning of laws in the universe is a faithful articulation of first causal principles. If the universe is self-consistent then the perfection of bio-complexity will more perfectly express the first principles of creation. Humans who raise their hearts and minds to spiritual love and its inclusiveness have successfully created a complexity of spirit that mirrors Divine Love. The ultimate scheme of creation and evolution is to create angels from the human race. This completes the dynamic and holistic process of creation emerging from an eternal non-physical reality and merging back into it. What do you think?
Nine-eleven was al-Qa’eda’s deliberate humiliation of the West. Such a cruel thing to do. I remember saying ‘Evil begets evil’, and so I am not surprised that this act of barbarism was followed by what I consider to be disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other recent examples of being cruel
I would suggest that the brutality of some powerful people in the West can be heard in the voice of those politicians like US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld who said “There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan…We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around.”
Can human cruelty not also be seen in the action of President Bush who tossed aside the civilised principle of habeas corpus by setting up Guantanamo and other torture centres?
History of man’s inhumanity to man
These recent acts of human cruelty are part of a long history of man’s inhumanity to man. The massacres, looting and capturing of slaves by forces led by Attila the Hun in 5th century eastern Europe; the unrestricted bombing of civilians living in cities like Gunernica during the Spanish civil war; the starvation, brutal treatment and extermination of Jews, and other victims of persecution in the Nazi concentration camps.
Ordinary life is full of small acts of cruelty
Human cruelty of course goes on all the time perhaps in less dramatic ways and in a much smaller scale than these. Malicious gossip can destroy a personal reputation; spiteful actions can result in huge distress; nasty comments within close relationships can cause longstanding wounds.
We can all succumb to anger but why do some people feel contempt, or want revenge and act out their feelings in these ways?
Reasons for contempt and revenge
One answer that impresses me is to do with a common tendency towards self-orientation rather than concern for others and a materialistic rather than an ethical focus in our thinking. Depending on the way the individual chooses to live life, these two innocent inclinations can actually amount to self-centredness and preoccupation with bodily pleasures and possessions.
Prioritising number one means seeing things only from ones own selfish point of view rather than trying to understand the predicaments of others. Thinking in terms of physical things means neglecting the ethical dimension.
When people with this state of mind cannot get what they want, I would suggest they are likely to feel contempt towards those who do not favour them and revenge towards those who thwart their desires. Such hostility is the seed of cruel behaviour. When these feelings dominate and people believe they can get away with it, are they not more likely to do mischief, cause injury and act cruelly?
Not everyone thank goodness allows such ugly feelings to determine their actions. But some do. This is not to argue that people will not vary in their behaviour. Some are sometimes spontaneously cruel when experiencing strong feelings of scorn or wanting to get their own back on someone. Some people can make a deliberate plan to intentionally cause hurt. And yet others actually take sadistic pleasure in seeing inflicted pain.
Adolf Hitler is an example of the last of these who took great delight in repeatedly watching the film of the cruel deaths of those who had plotted to overthrow his regime. It’s all a matter of individual choice.
Danger of selfish anger
The main religions all warn against the dangers of this kind of selfish anger that can go wild like a forest fire. In his book Essential Spirituality Roger Walsh quotes a famous Zen story to dramatically makes this point.
A Japanese warrior approached a Zen master to request answers to some questions that had been troubling him. ‘What is it you want to know?’ queried the Zen master.
‘Tell me sir, do heaven and hell exist?’ ‘Ha! Snorted the Zen master in a tone that was half-laugh half-sneer. ‘What makes you think that you could understand such things? You are only an uneducated, brutish soldier. Don’t waste my time with your silly questions.’
For an instant the warrior froze in shock. No one, but no one ever speaks to a Japanese warrior like that. It meant instant death. ‘Are you too stupid to understand what I said?’ roared the Zen master. ‘Stop wasting my time and get out of here.’
The warrior exploded with rage. His hand flew like lightning to his sword and swept it aloft for the kill. But in the split second before the sword descended to crush the monk’s skull, he heard the words.
‘This is the gate to hell.’
Again the warrior froze in astonishment. His own rage brought hell to him and those he attacked. And the master had risked his life to make this fact inescapably clear. Breathing deeply, he slowly replaced his sword and bowed humbly in awe and respect.
‘And this,’ smiled the Zen master, ‘is the gate to heaven.’
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems