We no longer experience the world as Plato and Aristotle did. The new physics has seen to that. And its new epistemology leads to a new theology -- one from which fresh truths emerge.
JAMES N. STUDER, a Benedictine priest, recently retired after thirteen years on the pastoral care team in an acute care hospital in Minneapolis, Minn. He is completing a book, The Mind and the Atom: What is Real?, which deals with the first part of this article.
Our spiritual lives wait impatiently for the unity of matter/mind that could simplify our idea of the divine presence. If we could grasp that the God of the Creeds -- almighty, wholly other creator, transcendent, and so far away -- is really only the ancient projection of the One (Deut. 6:4), the God of our inner, personal experience, prayer might more often come naturally and quietly in a unified and convincing way.
This essay places more emphasis than usual on how reason and faith work together in an evolutionary universe to reveal how this unity could happen. The evidence here begins with the difference between the way our body/brain seemed to the ancients -- the ones who, in their idea of brain/thought, wrote our Judaeo-Christian Scriptures and most of their traditional interpretations -- in comparison to what our body/brain is today.
Seeking how our blood flows, how our brains work, as well as the rest of our body-processes, tells us how we think and work. In the negative, how could blood flow, food digest, and brains work without our having a magnificent body of a refined animalian kind? Response begins with discovery of the electron a hundred years ago. This is the "small particle" that does everything for us. As it flows from our generators, it turns on our lights, runs our kitchen appliances and elevators, and even more, operates the computers which now run our world of communications. If the electron were to disappear, the dead would pile up unknown in a week on the stairs and atop skyscrapers.
We take the electron for granted: we heed only what it does, not what it means. Yet, we know that electrons (with other particles) make atoms. Atoms make molecules. Molecules make cells of body and blood. Blood circulates through heart, lungs, and brain to keep us alive and conscious and aware of self-identity. The electron (from here on, it symbolizes all subatomic particles), in brief, is the foundation of all material things and their tenacious material integrity that allows us to walk safely on ground and floors, drive cars, and sense the wonders of the earth.
This seventieth anniversary of the Heisenberg Principle gets us closer to what the electron means. The principle says that we cannot measure both the position of the electron and its velocity at the same time; the electron is inherently uncertain, or more forcefully, intrinsically indeterminate. It shows in the world only by what is called statistical probabilities. Underpinning all higher-order connected sciences, it concerns particles so tiny that we can only imagine them. Its nature in ultimate mystery is taken here for cash, and will show what it does in ordinary experience that funds spiritual life.
The pioneer physicists announced this bizarre principle only after exhaustive experiment. Werner Heisenberg, baffled at the anomaly, exclaimed, "I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?" Niels Bohr replied that understanding could come only by creating a new framework of meaning and language.(1) To cast its influence "upward" into our material world, subatomic activity must convert indeterminacy into determinacy. But how? As John Polkinghorne says, this question has puzzled science for seventy years.(2)
Returning to how our bodies work: Science and our own experience also show that our bodies can go awry and cause a myriad of bodily ills: a fibrillating heart, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and cancers. Coherence of thought says these illnesses must describe some dimension of the nature of the electron, that subatomic activity reflects "upward" into the material realm of molecules and our body/brains to cause illness. The question then arises: How can the reliable material integrity of the way ordinary "things" act, square with how electrons fail and cause so much sickness?
Look at a bare reminder of how we know anything: We encounter "things" by our senses. We touch, see, or hear them. They now come to mean something to us. That is, we abstract metaphorically from the concrete thing to a universal idea about it. We want to write a note, so we pick up a pen. We feel pen in hand; this means we can write a note; we do so. But suppose we are in a strange house, it is suddenly pitch dark, and there are no lights. In a weak analogy, indeterminacy sets in, and we cannot write. Yet, the electron, by its essence and with the help of other particles, turns into material things all the time.
Language that refuses to contradict itself says the process itself must be intrinsically mysterious. If we seek coherent language to describe this process, our only recourse is metaphor: subatomic activity "breaks out" of the interior of the atom to its exterior. The process is a smooth flow, a becoming -- not a clanking, piece-by-piece physical conjunction of particles. If our sense perceptions participate foundationally in indeterminacy, how can the world and the universe be other than mixed and inchoate "stuff," without intrinsic meaning or reality?
My language, let me repeat, is metaphorical. No literal "finger" of subatomic activity reaches out directly to a measuring instrument, or to the universe, to change them materially. Bohr wryly contradicts the popular phrase, "disturbance of phenomena by observation."(3) Statistical probabilities do not refer to an uncertain single measurement but to an aggregation of measurements in the same experiment. Therefore, the body differs totally in its roots from anything the ancients knew. The very idea of evolution that illustrates the validity of the Heisenberg Principle could not have crossed their minds. Rather, they inferred from their limited knowledge that this enormous body of "stuff," of "things" and the universe -- was real all by itself, because created directly by Yahweh-God, or the Aristotelian First Cause.
The ancients logically regarded their surroundings from an absolutist standpoint, generating absolutist ideas about earth, sea, and sky and about the causality of their massive "objective material reality." But now science avers that the universe emerged from a dimensionless point or, more lately, that it may have emerged from anywhere in what we informally regard as "space." Now the coherent view of "things," the world, the universe -- and the very idea of human expression of absolutes -- is self-contradictory.
This evidence clarifies the growing uncertainty we sense as we enter the third millennium, and the increasing breakdown in ordinary experience of underlying principles of ethics and morality. We do not deal well with obvious global conflicts, with continued possession of deadly armaments, nor with seemingly lesser problems such as the possibility of terrorism on a massive scale. Increasingly, the marketplace -- despite the communicating power of its vaunted cyberspace -- ignores these ancient founding principles.
These problems pose a general question: Has our physical and societal dynamic so changed that a massive flaw in an underlying principle, logically assumed historically to be valid, now fails radically in guiding and empowering us? If so, how would we know, and with what faculty? In a traditional static structure, some higher spiritual dimension would be said to exist, the lower form of which was consciousness. But how would such a power connect with our bodies, our behavior? Are we now finding that the phenomenon of consciousness -- the most subtle yet incompletely explored activity of the subatomic -- must somehow respond by identifying it with ourselves through the power of local brain structure?
To respond to this question, the search turns next to the origin of consciousness. In our own animalian body, must not our consciousness and that of the lesser animals be rooted in the common power of subatomic activity, of indeterminacy in action? The origin of both begins to show in the story of Stuart Hameroff, a research anesthetist. Hameroff has explored how consciousness is lost in anesthesia and then reemerges as the patient comes out. He discovered that immobilizing part of the neurons of the brain seemed to restrict electrochemical activity so that the patient lost consciousness, while the brain remained undamaged. He also suspected that a process, a "something," was occurring that went deeper than this activity and was also immobilized as the patient lost consciousness.
Realizing that the deeper process had to reflect a depth of subatomic activity beyond his competence, he discussed the puzzle with physicist Roger Penrose. Their discussion showed that the tiny "microtubule" of the neuronal cell has a "slot" on its side, of micro dimensions, within which an electron exercises its normal activity during consciousness. Loss of consciousness immobilized the microtubule and the normal activity of the electron as well. Against this backdrop, Penrose proposes the activity of an electron as searching "countless billions of different patterns simultaneously [emphasis added] on its way toward choice of a 'single' state." A "single state" could mean impact on a measuring instrument or change in the uncountable combinations and shapes of molecules of brain proteins.
Thus, loss of consciousness -- immobilizing the microtubule -- would mean restricting activity of the electron. Cessation of the mysterious electrical signal underlying normal electrochemical exchange, as Hameroff had observed it, would show evidence of the restriction. Suppression of the activity of the microtubule would cause both loss of consciousness and suppression of the subatomic signal.(4) In brief, the trail of sequential activity points to: (a) suppression of consciousness by suppression of activity in the microtubule, (b) associated suppression of a mysterious signal that corresponds to suppression of its womb of nurture, the microtubule, and, therefore, (c) suppression of the subtle and incomprehensibly great power of the electron to play some role in consciousness.
This means that the electron would enable the action of consciousness to change a protein (alter the shape of molecules of a microtubule) that, in turn and still within the realm of action of the electron, would augment consciousness. Might not repetition of this reciprocal causality -- at incomprehensibly high speeds and in equally incomprehensibly great quantity -- develop the ribbon of continuity that we designate consciousness, the highest faculty and quality of life in human experience?
In this perspective, the reciprocal conversion of protein to consciousness and back is metaphor in process, and is therefore intangible. Consciousness is intrinsically bonded, however, to brain protein (tangible) within which the billions of different patterns, simultaneously explored, are based. In other words, indeterminacy has to be based in determinacy (protein of neuronal tissue) as it engages in reciprocal causality with it and reflects foundational energy of the universe. Yet, energy is not a "thing." It is a process, as in e=mc2, that transforms. "Process" is already inherently a metaphorical term. This process would deliver us from functional dualism of mind and matter.
The critical juncture here lies in Penrose's suggestion that consciousness might result from the action of the electron in its function in the brain. It is of the nature of the electron that it explore those billions of different patterns simultaneously at incomprehensible speeds on its way toward choosing a "single state" in the atom --> molecule. In support of Penrose, physicist Murray Gell-Mann asserts that "any particle can occupy any one of an infinite number of 'quantum states,' " and that "the number of different kinds [of particles] is actually infinite."(5)
In this light, a brief model for the origin of consciousness might take this form: Subatomic activity makes brain tissue in the first aspect of any frozen "moment," as atoms form molecules by, in the phrase of Linus Pauling, "sharing electrons at their corners." The second aspect of the same "moment" involves what Nobel chemist Roald Hoffmann calls "gluing atoms together by a wave."(6) That is, the electron acts as both particle and wave necessarily and simultaneously according to a "complementarity" that is integral to the foundation of quantum mechanics.
Physicist Sidney Perkowitz would support the model; he observed recently that "an electron travels through empty space as a wave, but when it encounters an obstacle it blows up into a multitude of particles"(7) (an analogy: faxing a message to Paris). As the mutual action occurs to make tissue inside the molecule, it still works within tiny space. Therefore, the action -- combining energy of both first and second aspects of the same "moment" -- creates the self-awareness we call consciousness as the result of reciprocal causality within the process in a continuum. The statements of Hameroff, Penrose, and Gell-Mann suggest the interaction of microtubule and electron. The return to consciousness after anesthesia returns normal function to both. Can the microtubule, as such, constitute consciousness? Hardly. How could the intangible (consciousness) be explained on a literally molecular (material) level alone? And why neglect the mysterious power operating at once as both particle and wave? For example, one relevant example of recent research shows how electrons can be made to emit photons better. This process shows what physics calls "quantum confinement." The process pens electrons "into nanometer-sized spaces. Thus confined, they behave more like trapped waves than particles."(8)
The question remains: How do we judge what is real in the context above? How do we describe the relationship between the process by which subatomic activity (indeterminate) builds the universe and the result, the universe itself? Coherent language now declares: The activity is its result. Language demands still more: A universe built by an agency of mixed determinate and indeterminate elements cannot escape being indeterminate itself. Language must then say that a universe, as indeterminate, must be attribute becoming existent. That is, "indeterminate," the adjective or attribute that characterizes subatomic activity, becomes "indeterminacy," the noun or existent referring to results of the action or process.
In contrast, when we are building a house, we do not confuse the operation, "are building," with its result, "the building," that results from the operation. But subatomic activity at the foundation of existence both builds and is the built. In this one and unique instance in the universe, language says that indeterminacy as process is existent as it names the foundation of the universe, which -- with the material "stuff" it creates -- constitutes the fullness of physicality. The reverse is also true. The total existing entity is the action or the attribute.
To look at the negative: If attribute at this foundational level did not identify with existent, what entity -- real in itself -- could exist in order for attribute (as indeterminacy) to characterize it? Philosopher Bernard Lonergan reminds us that contrast with their opposites clarifies ideas.(9) In addition, Penrose's point suggests that the engine of indeterminacy creates the material universe and, in a combination of the two levels of physicality, produces our material bodies and our consciousness.
Consciousness in this view creates incalculable leads for cooperative work between the sciences and the humanities toward a common epistemology. Penrose, in later work, discusses some of these.(10) In a similar connection, David Tracy comments, "With science we interpret the world. We do not simply find it out there. Reality is what we name our best interpretation."(11) Some scientists agree with this insight in their view of the objective cosmos as a "psychophysical entity."(12)
These thinkers are saying that dynamic and changing subatomic activity and energy ground "becoming," not "being." Becoming originated in the instantaneous expansion of an entity or process called dimensionless. (Or, more lately, it may refer to "becoming" from within anywhere in what we informally call "space.") This entity -- by definition, "dimensionless," or an indefinite emergence -- precedes the ability of science to measure and therefore, ultimately, to describe. Such a beginning neither affects nor interests science, qua science. Inquiry into the nature and origin of "becoming" is philosophical. Moreover, this means that cosmological problems, with their uncertainties within quantity, do not, in some reverse action, affect indeterminacy. These problems ride atop indeterminacy in action, available to human involvement.
In this context, we need a new definition of "real." Tentatively, I suggest: Becoming real means becoming present to and possessing Self, as living and knowing, in the same act of involving one's world and communities.(13) This description of the Self does not point to a panpsychism or any other previous "ism." It means that we involve a universe of "stuff," meaningless per se, in our judgment of what is real. It means that the apogee of the universe, the self-reflective creature/community (wherever in the universe), encompasses the universe. This full experience of any moment necessarily centers first on the Self and then on the Community in constant dynamic balance. We obviously do not make the "stuff" of the world nor of our bodies. Yet, reality -- always a philosophical question -- must come to a focus in this new self-reflective Community/Universe.
This idea of reality senses "things," but imagines their foundational source as well. We seek also the "inner qualities" of things (Wittgenstein), not their mere appearances.(14) For instance, trying to leap directly from the colorful quantity only of the heavens to spiritual visions is like standing before sagebrush and breathing in awe, "It's a cathedral!" In the way language works, we have an incorrect "initial referent."(15) When we want to make sense in saying in awe, "It's a cathedral," we go to the Muir redwoods, not to sagebrush.
Just so, by analogy in a renewed sense of our transcendence, we no longer limit ourselves to television, radio, and computer, to the powerful cars, big houses, and land -- merely in their appearances and use -- as the naked initial referent from which we may leap to their higher meaning. Rather, we infer also that they teem with invisible particles, tumbling over one another like tiny dynamos of energy, leashed but powerful -- and then add the majestic mountain. From there, we ratchet the mountain up to the farthest reaches of the universe. Thus, having summed up the present stage of evolutionary environment, we integrate ourselves as creators of the meaning and as judges of what is real of all this visible creation.
Then, our best subjective judgment of reality becomes objective reality. Expression of this reality begins to suggest who we are. In supreme paradox, the physical universe in this way both produces us and, ultimately, participates in us to become real. The self-reflective creature is the explanation of the universe, and growth of consciousness increases the reality of both. This process of understanding establishes the Community as the judge and the focus of reality, metaphorical and real. Reality is homemade when we get our folk-philosophy straight.
This summary of what we are, and the beginning of who we are, responds to the lament of physician-novelist-linguist Walker Percy in the 197Os: We have no theory of humanity!(16) Histories of the origin of the mind show it unable to get beyond a foundational split between mind and matter. The ancients were chained to this matrix of thought, generally, and succeeding generations have not been able to improve upon it. But, language in this universe defines a self-identity, a "who," because consciousness, shown in the particle and wave relationship of subatomic activity, identifies its activity with the results of its activity. The activity is its result, unity of matter/mind.
Might not both science and the humanities, in this light, consider a new and higher level of reality that includes material "stuff" in the ordinary integrity demanded by the scientific enterprise, while at the same time uniting its imagined meaning and its fuller expression of reality? This could be the source of a common epistemology for the sciences and humanities and for elimination of the "god of the gaps," that subtle obstacle which still cleaves them apart. Note that language must begin and renew generally for us within the material universe just as it did for the ancients. This must occur because only material things, encountering our senses with their ordinary integrity, can enable initial abstraction and constantly renewed concrete reference for both science and humanities.
Nancy Malone observes that "while the new physics dissolves the very ground beneath our feet into particles and waves, we have no new metaphysics on which to stand."(17) Response to her challenge offers a description: "Here's the physics. Now, taking care to guard ordinary material integrity, what does it mean, and how do we judge what is real?" In this way, a meta[after]physics in an evolutionary universe develops. This metaphysics of "becoming" would replace the outworn static metaphysics.
In addition, in this higher reach of metaphor, would it become organic to consider the plausibility of the emergence sometime of a "community mind" that is, nevertheless, individually held in freedom and choice? Space between individual and community is no longer an absolute of distance. Space is an energy/medium. It is neither a vacuum nor "ether" nor any other former idea of some kind of matter. "The observed properties of an electron derive from an interplay between the particle and the vacuum."(18)
We make real what we experience. We discover "stuff," but we create reality, as we realize our biological roots in the indeterminacy of the electron and universe. The rest of the material universe -- quasars that lie beyond astronomical discovery or trees that fall in the forest without human witness -- is "stuff." Our conscious creation of meaning -- from initial intuition of personal identity through the warmth and suffering of fostering relationships to the creation of beauty, goodness, and truth -- makes human transcendence flourish.
The premise invites another step in the development of reality. This step rises to a higher level of metaphor, indeterminacy as such, which abstracts from the indeterminacy in action that generates both the universe and, ultimately, ourselves. The premise returns to the foundational and perennial philosophical question that has preoccupied some of the best minds in history: "Why is there something instead of nothing?" Response, in the present context, describes its ultimate object as the self-reflective human person. In addition, "the natural object is always the adequate symbol (Ezra Pound)."(19) In contrast, the existence of "being" -- grounded in independently real and majestically stable, objective material reality, directly created by the First Cause of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy -- could neither recognize nor integrate its product, but had to appropriate it by magic. Surely, a universe of becoming, initiated in far deeper mystery, holds out greater horizons for investigation.
What we are is the foundation of who we are. The origin, nature, and function of the "what" -- the body/brain of the self-aware creature of the animalian world -- produces the nature and function of "who" we are. We develop within the animalian world and inherit its traits, with special emphasis on the drive to survival, as we become self-reflective creatures. This new "who" becomes an "ego," a center of human consciousness, charged by nature, if it is to become real, to foster relationships from the narcissistic self-alone toward Self-Community. In this great task, the Self counters its hostilities by offering gestures of public civility as minimal groundwork for fostering relationships.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in a growing desire for personal integrity. This adaptation of Augustine takes us first to ordinary experience within which personal integrity is native to a self-reflective creature. An old order of morality inferred that moral behavior arose organically from direct religious command. Ancient anthropomorphic conceptions of divine nature, that arose from "objective" material reality and society's tribal and monarchical structures, mandated direct command of ordinary experience to the ethical and moral.
But the total human experience arises in the evolutionary realization as ordinary --> religious, not the other way round. Attempts to teach ethical-moral behavior other than in this sequence distort reality. Within an underlying but primary religious command to good behavior, we feel increasingly dehumanized, while at the same time our longing increases -- within the adult version of childhood wonder -- for spiritual experience. Repeated polls of spiritual life show this. Much of contemporary confusion in ethical-moral behavior traces to this reversal of actual experience. Moreover, human nature responds better to leadership by lure and genuine "tough love" than to command.
Within the lesser animalian context alone, the individual serves only itself as it rushes forward in gene propagation by which the species survives. Ultimately, despite some appearances, there is no lesser-animalian altruism. Evolution is not purposeful. Within this heritage, we tend to revise, diversify, and selectively modify all our animalian instincts. This tight phrase designates a highly complex process. It must be traced all the way, at least by generalized threads, from Jung's "collective unconscious" in our animalian and hominid heritage, to conscious intent to become a responsible Self toward the balance of Self-Community -- with the personal drive to survival trying to ride shotgun all the way.
Until we devise a higher view of the dignity of the human person, as such, the drive to survival can make us do virtually anything to avoid blame -- yet claim the right to blame the other without limit for serious aberrations. The immediate need says: If we accept the evolutionary universe as indeterminate and perceive the marks of abuse on many from childhood, will we not review our notions of culpability and punishment? Posing "closure" for families of victims at a sentence of execution causes the snarl, "Can there be anything more contemptible than capital punishment as therapy?"(20) Yet, the rights of others rightly commands incarcerating the person who seriously breaches those rights.
In this context, the practical question becomes: Can the human species survive without volitional care for the community by the individual person beyond the person's own perceived interests? Current events suggest it cannot. How else explain the human slaughter in Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, with comparable threats elsewhere? The wretched of the earth still must run and hide. Or, how even explain our own mysterious hostilities? The thesis argues here that we are charged with the task of fostering relationships in order to become real. Yet, each of us utters the same individualistic, animalian cry, "me, me!" -- as primal and reflexive as "the howling of a dog,"(21) -- by which the universe achieved the very existence of humanity.
In this further context, must we not ask: What is the power and where does it come from to oppose this self-centered character of the individual in favor of community? If the thrust of life in this universe, until the recent emergence of homo sapiens, depended upon individualistic focus -- by means of which the species survives -- this means that the universe cannot be the source of such power. Life then faces the puzzle: How, when the universe opposes individual volition, can there be a creature of supreme significance who still needs power to foster relationships volitionally in order for its species to survive?
The notion of "objective" material reality splits ordinary and religious experience, because it must retain the Cartesian categories that split mind and matter. Such a notion inhibits intellectual curiosity and a sense of human transcendence and stifles the marvel of an open-ended gaze in faith at the divine. The ancients validly assumed the reality of things totally independent of them, for no evidence existed to contradict their solid-earth notion of reality. The idea of evolution and the inherent indeterminacy of our evolutionary universe "could not have crossed their minds."(22)
For most religious people this notion endures, and impedes the imagination, dampens the meaning of experience, and hinders use of the concept of inherent indeterminacy to renew theology. On the other hand, accepting the reasoning that we create contingent reality -- although it is the material aspect of the universe that gives us life and returns our bodies to dust -- frees us to the inner spiritual experience of the immanent God, who urges us on as we create reality in this new universe.
In this universe, religious belief renews itself as imagined extension of ordinary experience while avoiding contradiction of the material aspect of reality that gives us bodies. In this renewal, dogma is the enemy of evidence. It dampens initiative toward discussion, thereby dehumanizing us. How can we coherently believe that we are made "in the image and likeness of God" (and even add, "in intellect and will"), but then forbid free inquiry? When we stifle intellectual curiosity, it hinders entry into ordinary experience of foundational probabilities required by combined quantum mechanics and Darwinian biology.(23) It fosters the dualism of mind/matter.
In great irony, then, a system of orthodox, dogmatic religious belief remains ultimately closed to evidence from the changing ordinary experience it purports to respect. Such a thought process produces ideology. These assertions attack the literal shift of ancient reasoning to the present; they do not attack religious faith. Put another way, belief in divine power physically manifest sets up a primary obstacle to interpretation of the Scriptures. Divine revelation in an indeterminate universe can neither be complete nor closed. As David Hartman writes, "the very meaning of revelation is God's refusal to act independently of the process of human experience."(24) Even "refusal" does not fit the bill, for the concept of divine action, concerning but independent of us and of material integrity, is contradictory. The maligned "secular humanist" has much to teach us.
Hartman offers further insight by asking what difference there might have been, in the role of revelation in most Western Scriptures and theology, if the more philosophical context of the story of Abraham had prevailed over the thunder-and-command view of Moses that emerged at Mount Sinai. For Abraham, "prophecy was a natural expression of philosophical excellence" that ignored a redemptive history in favor of "worship of God out of love." Hartman's insight reinforces the implication of evolutionary reality -- that our experience is by nature free and operates in reciprocal causality with the religious experience of divine presence. Imagination and reason work in tandem with faith.
A faith overloaded with directives cultivates childishness or inclines to despair. Prophet and evangelist both organically held the notion of divine "command" because of their limited way of knowing reality in a static view of the universe. But does not the "command" tend to stifle the "lure" of God (Hos. 2:14)? Is "reverential fear" an adequate substitute for this concept of a divine love that pursues and allures us? Paul's justification of the law in temporary place of the promise (Gal. 3:19) emanates ultimately -- through the Mosaic command structure -- from the notion of objective material reality. It suits tribal structure.
Traditional ideas of humility, which strengthen the hand of command and "the obedience of faith," tend to force us into varying degrees of servility. The evolutionary view urges release from the Moses-on-the-mountain literal divine command (which is increasingly disregarded in any event) and urges response instead to the divine lure of God within. For the Christian, Jesus is the special conduit of this divine love-power in the resurrection witnessed so powerfully by the disciples.(25) We need not wonder why the early Christian church in a static universe yearned to divinize Jesus literally, but in our time we can recognize the greater opportunity for the incarnation of all self-reflective creatures, while renewing the human role of Jesus. The "theocentric christology" of Paul Knitter,(26) John Hick, and others supports this argument.
Within a mentality that acknowledges the divine as lure, an "analogy of becoming" then coherently interprets religious experience as re-creation by the one conceivable and creating absolute, "God is love." Divine re-creation does not connote material change. The "analogy of being" sinks to insignificance. Along the route of this interpretation lie the broken pieces of fallen "objective" material reality. Instead, we now coherently conceive original divine creation of a fully mysterious "thing" or "process" -- some proto-indeterminacy, metaphorical and real -- that precedes in "time" the universe as material and measurable. Surely the present material universe is but a mere shadow of the potential in meaning and quality of that preceding entity or process. Moreover, it is beyond the interest of science qua science. Scientists, in response to the ultimate philosophical question, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" do laudably speculate on the nature of these beginnings, for this reflects their search for "meaning and intelligence in the universe,"(27) however much hidden. Physicist Steven Weinberg notes that big-bang cosmology describes what happens after the origin of the universe, not before.(28) Awed human reason combines with faith to ascribe divine action to the origin.
Praise rendered to God literally for the "gift of life" usually denigrates the universe and its creativity. It assumes a directly created visible universe vaguely connected in a quasi-magical way to humanity. In fine, the preceding arguments do not attack religious faith: they attack present reasoning that mistakenly brings ancient reasoning forward literally under the banner of faith. Fostering this contradiction constitutes the primary and hidden motive for withdrawal from established religions. In contrast, in the evolutionary view, God accepts and re-creates metaphorically in us what the material universe produces. Imagination and reason work in tandem with religious faith in this conception, without either of these dynamics compromising the other or the innate freedom of the self-reflective creature.
Positive grasp of the universe, as evolutionary, reinterprets many aspects of religious experience. Three major components of this experience might be designated as (a) the divine covenant made from the beginning of the self-reflective creature as a human person, (b) divine empowerment to oppose individualistic, blind animalian hostility in favor of the community, and (c) hope for transformation at death to fulfillment of the Beatitudes beyond imagining:
Covenant. It is the universe that gives us life. Then, "the Spirit of God, brooding on the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2) "finds us in the wilderness" (Deut. 32:10). God "calls us by name" (Isa. 43:1), and declares, "You are mine, and I love you" (Isa. 43:4). The initial move is divine: "Here I am, here I am!" (Isa. 65:1). God never "withdraws." The ascent of relationship then becomes: a divinely posted proto-indeterminacy --> universe --> animal life --> humanity --> God. This ascent responds to the ancient philosophical question, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" Various descriptions below show this divine love. The question/response ultimately connects philosophy and theology. John Courtney Murray notes that it occupied the best minds in the Christian church during the first six centuries.(29) We, and the universe we encompass, become enabled to love in response to the divine love that initiates creation.
Empowerment. The nature of our creation contradicts the need for initial "salvation," a most unfortunate impediment to heeding the divine lure. The notion of "hell," derived from centuries of literal scriptural interpretation and strongly residual in many people, thwarts belief in God as a loving creator. Hell derives ultimately from mistaken assumptions -- in the sense argued in this paper -- of objective material reality, direct divine creation, and a literally infinite offense in the Garden of Eden. These assumptions reflect misinterpretation of God's relationship to us. They underlie a mistaken notion of "divine anger and punishment" and cause fear and guilt for myriad people, subliminally even for many who are only vaguely religious.
There is no distortion of human nature that leads to wickedness. We are not a "fallen race" in any sense of "original sin." "God saw all that was made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1:31), and it remains so. The assumption that we are cursed with an "innate evil impulse," a common belief in Paul's day, now must give way to the idea of impulses conceived in a drive to survival, a drive that develops our animalian becoming. Therefore, these are virtuous impulses and energy for good. Our animalian drive for survival and security, energies of the universe which created us and are hard to control, are available to divine conversion because we can surrender to the love that is conversion. Should not "salvation" refer to such a deliverance from bondage to an animalian self-centeredness that harms my neighbor? Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was not "a messenger from Satan" (2 Cor. 12:7) but the natural working of his inner animalian cry, "me, me!"
This animalian heritage of blind hostilities cannot respond, ultimately, to coercion and command. But these hostilities can submit to the lure of God's love. How can the raw and consuming desire of the animalian "me, me!" submit except to unfailing love? And how can such love be known other than as lure? Augustine asked how anybody could be good if not made so by loving. "Be it done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38) is a response not to command but to lure. God can only lure and persuade, and we need but one petition: "Convert us, God, our savior." Divine "command" belongs to objective material reality.
The case for lure shows why punishment does not work in the absence of the selfless leadership recognized as "tough love." We may hide rebellion, but we cannot change under the lash. We also know increasingly that the struggle goes on in an unconscious produced by indeterminacy.(30) In this light, Western religion -- still greatly in thrall to its God of the primitive Hebrews, who saw God as a manipulator of forces, but just barely -- could then know the God who ultimately empowers action in the Jungian journey from raw ego to the balance of Self-Community.
The animalian drive to survival not only substitutes adequately for the "innate evil impulse" but bounds upward in life as positive, not as innately tainted. The Journey -- from the bare human ego, center of identity and its "me, me!" to the Self who perceives that nobody is an island, to the Self-Community -- would fire our imaginations and our native thirst to learn the wonders of ordinary life never before perceived. New openings would show in more available terms what the mystics know: in the fullness of the Journey, the divine-human relationship will focus us in Love as lure, not command. Lure can then convert feelings of mutual hostility into combined immunity to the hostility of another and dynamic compassion for the sufferings of all others.
Transformation. Our hope to live in happiness forever, which is born within our transcendence, dares to oppose the universe that birthed, but cannot by its own power complete us. The notion of objective material reality hinders belief in life after death, the culmination of divine work according to the fullness of human destiny. Imagination and reason, working in tandem with faith, might now suggest that divine power raises us upon death into full union with the one communal body of the living we know, while our material bodies return to dust. This would mean divine integration of our consciousness into our communities at death. Our acceptance of the witness of the disciples of Jesus in the Scriptures is what being Christian means. Do not the Muslims attest to this salvation from the ordinary demands of the universe, as they respond in their way to "Why is there something instead of nothing?"
Would the mystery of this conversion of individual consciousness at death into union with the community be any more mysterious or "difficult" than that traditionally believed? The latter envisions literal "reconstitution" somehow of material bodies in a resurrection of the dead in some "location" detached from the universe and from our experience. But Perkowitz can already declare, "We create and carry fields of order through an enigmatic cosmos,"(31) as he edges into a neglected philosophy that could use such anthropomorphism licitly in judgments metaphorical and real. Christians could now expand and deepen Paul's body-of-Christ doctrine (1 Cor. 12:27) to describe in limitless fashion our heaven on earth. The idea invokes both the traditional "new heavens and a new earth" and a new concept of "the communion of saints."(32) Belief in this new heaven at death and in such a communion of saints is an act of faith, but a faith no longer blind and unconnected to this universe. Ancestor worship is distorted, but in what way?
The more free in spirit we are as human, the more the divine presence can unite with us. We relate to this divine first as individuals, and there we find that pursuing God without regard for self establishes full personal identity and security. Divine empowerment can overwhelm all exaggeration of ego. The Journey flourishes in eternal completion. In the same identity in freedom, we counter hostility as we become enabled to love and to serve neighbor. The God whom we identify in our inner experience -- as well as in response to the question, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" -- is the eternal Lover who responds to our transcendent yearning to live forever in fulfillment.
God does not "deign to create us from on high" and then merely to associate with us, albeit closely. We are God's love affair, and our immortality is divine poetry. As the mystics know, we are "the throne of God's glory," and when we lose ourselves in the divine, we become most truly found. We have not wasted our studies in the nature and soaring implications of incarnation. The original divine egg has hatched into the self-reflective creature that can return the divine love given. God "dreams for us much more," and the divine hope for creation becomes our own.
1. [Back to text] Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), 42. Niels Bohr, Essays 1933-57 on Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1958), 67.
2. [Back to text] See John Polkinghorne, "The Quantum World," in Physics, Philosophy, and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding, ed. Robert J. Russell, William R. Stoeger, George V. Coyne (Vatican City: Vatican Observatory, 1988), 336.
3. [Back to text] Niels Bohr, Essays 1958-1962 on Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (Woodbridge, Conn.: Ox Bow Press, 1987), 5.
4. [Back to text] See David Freedman, "Quantum Consciousness," Discover 15 (June 1994): 89-98.
5. [Back to text] See Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex (New York: Freeman, 1994), 124-39.
6. [Back to text] In Malcolm Browne, "Seeking Beauty in Atoms," New York Times (July 6, 1993): B9.
7. [Back to text] Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light: A History of Discovery in Science and Art (New York: Henry Holt, 1996), 43.
8. [Back to text] See Elizabeth Pennizi, "Piecing Together," Science News 146 (November 5, 1994): 300. See also R. Lipkin, "Device Goes for the Glow," Science News 148 (25 November 1995): 359. In addition, see I. Peterson, "Faster-than-light Time Tunnels for Photons," Science News 146 (July 2, 1994): 6.
9. [Back to text] See Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York: Philosophical Library, 1970), 128.
10. [Back to text] Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 348-411, esp. 376.
11. [Back to text] David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987), 48.
12. [Back to text] See Win Sternlicht, in Robin Robertson, C. G. Jung and the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (New York: Peter Lang, 1987), xvi-xvii.
13. [Back to text] Many recent studies of the Self are helpful here, for example, Eugene Fontinell, "The Return of Selves," Cross Currents 43 (Fall 1993): 358-68.
14. [Back to text] Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances (London: Faber and Faber, 1957), 23.
15. [Back to text] See Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning and Language (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 216-56.
16. [Back to text] Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975), 8.
17. [Back to text] Nancy M. Malone, "Spiritualities in a Post-Einsteinian Universe," Cross Currents 46 (Winter 1996/1997): 435.
18. [Back to text] Steven Weinberg, "Before the Big Bang," New York Review of Books (June 12, 1997): 17.
19. [Back to text] In Jane Kenyon, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems (Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1996), 218.
20. [Back to text] Christopher Hitchens, "Dirty Stories," Nation 265 (July 7, 1997): 8.
21. [Back to text] Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, 1973), 6.
22. [Back to text] See H. J. Renckens, Israel's Concept of the Beginnings (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964), 168-79.
23. [Back to text] Lonergan, 132-34.
24. [Back to text] David Hartman, Harvard Divinity Bulletin 24 (1995): 5-6.
25. [Back to text] See Paul Ricoeur, Essays on Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 119-54.
26. [Back to text] Paul F. Knitter, No Other Name? A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes toward the World Religions (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985), particularly chap. 8.
27. [Back to text] See Dennis Overbye, "The Cosmos according to Darwin," New York Times Magazine (July 13, 1997): 27.
28. [Back to text] Weinberg, 16.
29. [Back to text] John Courtney Murray, The Problem of God: Yesterday and Today (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), 31-36.
30. [Back to text] James Hillman, A Blue Fire: Selected Writings, ed. Thomas Moore (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), 44-45. See Hillman in conjunction with Ann Belford Ulanov, "Christian Fear of the Psyche," Picturing God (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1986), 5-23.
31. [Back to text] Perkowitz, 91.
32. [Back to text] See Charles Wright, "Homage to Paul Cezanne," The World of Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990), 3-10.