Evolve. the Search for Truth.

Theories of Origin

 

The Unseen: Making Sense of the Invisible

Let’s consider gravity as an example of an “invisible” force.  The universe was created in accordance with certain laws, and gravity is among them.  The universe continues to be sustained by these laws, including gravity, even over the course of billions of years.  And yet, even though we see the effects of gravity (for example, rhythms of movement in the heavenly bodies or simply falling to the ground), it was only in the last five hundred years that any human understood this tremendous law of nature.  It is only recently that we began to understand and explain gravity.  It is only recently that we began to explain the universe and foundational laws (like gravity) that allowed the universe to be created and now sustained in existence.  

Amazing that we had to wait so long to understand or explain gravity!  But this is partly because gravity, like wind or air, is “seen” in its effects.  It is not seen in itself, like a tree or chair.  Gravity is seen via evidence.  And unlike wind, we don’t feel gusts of gravity come upon us suddenly.  The wind blows where it wills, and we can hear the sound it makes, and feel it as it comes upon us and hits us in the face, but it is not the same with gravity.  We do not hear gravity suddenly come upon us.  We don’t feel gusts of gravity hit our face.  We are not aware how we feel gravity, it’s such a common aspect of our everyday lives.  We feel the force of gravity without realizing we feel it.  If we want to feel a force of gravity different to our everyday experience, we have to travel on a roller-coaster, airplane, or into space.  Otherwise, humans don’t notice the forces of gravity.  We just obey them blindly always.  We always obey the laws of nature.  And so, while gravity has existed since the creation of our universe, it has only recently been “discovered” by humanity.

This is the difficulty with some unseen realities of this world.  We often only see the unseen by seeing the evidence, not the thing itself.  We see the invisible forces through how they influence our world.  We “see” it and don’t realize we are seeing it, like when we see the sun rise but don’t realize it is the earth rotating.  The earth’s rotation makes makes the sun appear to rise.  With gravity, there aren’t visible ropes keeping our bodies anchored to the earth.  As an invisible force, we don’t see gravity pull apples down from trees, we simply see apples fall.  As an invisible force, it has gone unnoticed for so much of human existence.

But by understanding gravity, we are able to calculate orbits, fly across the world, and land on the moon.  We send satellites to space and ping invisible signals across the world and create visible images on handheld devices.  Moreover, mankind is always obedient to the laws of gravity.  We never transgress this law of nature.  We only learn about the law of gravity and use that knowledge of gravity and other laws of nature, like energy, to appear to escape gravity.  But we are not escaping gravity, we are only using our understanding of the laws of nature (like gravity and energy) to see more of the universe.  It is greater knowledge and obedience to the law which gives us greater freedom to understand our universe.  We never violate the laws of nature, our freedom comes from living in accordance with these laws.

Gravity is a good example of how to make sense of the invisible for a few reasons.  One, the invisible is seen through understanding the evidence.  We see gravity through eyes of faith.  And these eyes of faith explain how the universe works, including the orbits of heavenly bodies.  By understanding gravity we have better explanations for how the universe exists and was created.  In a very real sense, gravity is proved because it makes sense of our universe.  Two, science is slow in discovering gravity, but since the discovery of the law of gravity, a great many advances have occurred in a relatively short time period.  Our faith in gravity is well placed.  We use our knowledge of gravity to predict the future.  For example, we can plan where planets and stars are going to be because we know how gravity will influence their movements.  And so, as we continue to understand the depth of the laws of nature, we continue to have greater freedoms to explore and know the universe, even where heavenly bodies will be in the future. 

This last point brings up something important to consider as we move forward.  We are slow to understand truths about our universe.  This is because many great truths are not easily perceptible.  In the case of gravity, our eyes deceive us and so we need theories that attempt to make sense of all the evidence.  And so, even if it is counterintuitive to our natural eyes that the earth orbits around the sun because we see the sun moving across the sky, we use our eyes of faith to know that it is the earth rotating that makes the sun appear to move across our sky.  The sun’s movement in our sky is an illusion, gravity makes it appear that way.  Great truths, like the sun’s central importance in our solar system, take shape over long periods of time, but once humans understand the truth, we are able to make great leaps forward in short periods of time.  And so, something that existed at the creation of our universe, like laws of gravity and energy, may go unnoticed for billions of years, but once understood, children can explain gravity and within centuries humans are flying beyond the earth’s atmosphere and into space.  Pretty amazing.

As a scientist, these thoughts confirm that truth is veiled.  Truth must be sought, and in seeking we find answers.  It took billions of years for someone (Sir Isaac Newton) to discover gravity and share this knowledge with the world.  It’s not our work here to go deeper into gravity, gravity is simply a helpful example of invisible forces in our universe.  We could just have easily talked about air, wind, sound, music, wireless signals or a litany of other things to discuss how we make sense of the invisible.  Our focus here is only to understand a practical example of how unseen forces are seen in this world through the eyes of science.  These eyes impact how we understand reality, even if they contradict what we see with our natural eyes.  Science uses eyes of faith to make sense of facts, evidence, and truth.  It is through the eyes of faith that we see the unseen and make sense of the invisible.

Let us return to laws of energy, because ultimately our goal is not simply greater insight into laws of gravity, but a coherent worldview (for the atheists among us) and endless energy (for all of us).  We need an infinite energy source.  Let us begin with understanding how energy works on our earth and see if we can make any conclusions about energy based on facts and evidence in the light of truth.

It all starts with the sun.  The sun is our light.  We are in a system centered on the sun.  The earth flies through space while orbiting around the sun.  And it is the light of the sun which provides energy for our planet.  As the ancients said, “let there be light,” for the light of the sun is the source of life.  Let there be light, and there will be life. 

The process of photosynthesis (a combination of two Greek words, ’phos’ which is “light” and ‘synthesis’ which is “putting together”) allows plants and other organisms to take the light of the sun and transform it into chemical energy to be used by living organisms.  Because of the sun and our atmosphere, the earth was able to bring forth vegetation, all kinds of plants with seeds and fruits with seeds.  By certain processes, not fully understood but involving evolution and adaptation of organisms, this earth became a planet not only filled with all kinds of plants and fruits, but also teeming with all sorts of living creatures, from birds that fly in the sky, to fish that swim deep in the sea, to all sorts of creatures that creep and crawl on the ground while others walk, gallop, trot and run on the earth.  Because of the sun, our earth is filled with life.  What came to be through our sun was life.

And even though the earth is filled with life, by the time humans came into existence, the earth was also filled with death.  All living creatures die.  That is a fact.  That is a universal law, the law of death.  Everything that lives one day dies.  Some animals might live for a day, some flowers might bloom for an afternoon, while other animals live for a century and some trees live for millennia.  But whatever the length of time, the fact remains, all that lives dies.  Life on this planet spans the gamut from brief seconds, minutes, and hours to much longer time periods like years, centuries, and millenniums.  But even thousands of years is little time when compared to billions.  A thousand years is nearly nothing when compared to eternity.  One conclusion we have about life on this planet is that all that lives dies.  We are born to die.  That is a universal truth.  Everyone comes under the law of death.

And yet, there is hope.  For on our earth, sustained by the sun, death gives way to new life.  Dying and decaying organisms are the nourishment and fuel for living and breathing organisms.  Living creatures eat plants and animals for energy to power our lives.  Living creatures inhale all sorts of other creatures, whether dead or alive.  Plants and fruits and flesh provide energy to live.  Life feeds on dead, dying, and decaying organisms for energy, nourishment, and to produce new life.  And even the waste products of this feeding process becomes the nourishment to fuel other organisms.  On our earth, there is a true cycle of life.  Scientists and poets note the same facts, everything that lives must die and death leads to new life.

Shakespeare, ever the funny philosopher and poet, comedically addresses the cycle of life in his great play, Hamlet.  In the first Scene of the final Act, Hamlet walks through a graveyard with his friend, Horatio.  In the scene, Hamlet says, “Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returns to dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam — and why of that loam, whereto he was converted, might they not stop a beer barrel?  Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay, might stop a hole to keep the wind away.  Oh, that that earth, which kept the world in awe, should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw!” 

In the early 17th century, Shakespeare pontificated how the particles that once made up Alexander the Great’s body might now be used in such a noble manner as to possibly plug a beer barrel.  Shakespeare was aware of the impermanence of our physical bodies and created a hilarious example of how a great and stately ruler — one that had conquered much of the world by the age of thirty-three — could possibly be used today as a patch that seals beer barrels.  Shakespeare knew we are simply made of dust and to dust we shall return.

And in the 20th century, science came to an understanding of the impermanence of our physical bodies than even Shakespeare might not have known.  Atomically speaking, our bodies are replaced every year!  That’s right, through all that we breathe, eat, and drink, we replace more than ninety-eight percent of our atoms every year.  Atoms — the basic unit of a chemical element, the smallest part of ordinary matter, the smallest physical components of our bodies — these atoms that make up our physical bodies are so interchangeable that we replace almost all of them every year.  Literally, we are new atoms every year.  Yes, from dust we came and to dust we shall return, but until then, atoms will come and go.

And yet, even though the material components of our bodies are renewed every year, we often still feel like the old atoms.  We feel like old atom.  The impermanence of our bodies, which science confirms in such an extreme manner that even the ancient philosophers did not know, shows that there is something much deeper that accounts for who we are than simply our material makeup.  We are not simply a collection of atoms, nor are we simply common chemicals of the galaxy or simply just a handful of dust.  How are we to make sense of this?  

A strong argument could be made that no person should ever have to serve a jail sentence longer than a year.  For that person’s defense would easily be, “that was my old atoms.  I’m new atoms, and as the new set of atoms, I shouldn’t have to pay for what the old atoms did.”  But we all instantly know that argument is utter foolishness.  Even if scientifically accurate, we understand there is more to us than the handful of dust of which make up our body’s composition.  Otherwise, we’d have to track down whatever beer barrel that our old atoms took hiding in and send those atoms to jail.  In the end, no matter how ungrudgingly, we acknowledge what matters is more than our matter.  

The end result of understanding the remarkable impermanence of our bodies is to see that even science points beyond itself once again.  For the scientific argument would be to lock up the beer barrel which contained the atoms of the crime, not the person who is now new atoms.  Our everyday lives are guided by concepts and knowledge outside of science, and to rely chiefly on science would end practically in foolishness.  And then the wisdom of the wise would be utter foolishness.

20th century science confirms there is something much more important that makes us who we are than the physical components of our bodies.  Yes, our bodies are important, because they help us live in the world, but they are frighteningly impermanent, as seen by such easily interchangeable atoms.  If we were to make a computer analogy, it’s as if the hardware is easily replaceable and what truly mattered is the software.  And so, even though one day we will sleep the sleep of death, until then, we are literally dying to ourselves daily as our body feels “the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”  And so, the universal law of death is taking place in our bodies daily until our final death.  If we can survive through so many smaller deaths, could we not survive a bigger one?  If we are constantly replacing the atoms, could we not replace the body?  What we need is to conquer death in our bodies.  What we need is to inherit not new atoms that get replaced and decay and die away still, but a new body that remains forever. 

As an atheist, studying and learning science is continually bringing up facts that were counterintuitive to my materialistic understanding of the universe.  Finding out that the universe had a beginning means that I need to find an eternal energy source.  Noticing that all living things die means that I need to conquer death.  The impermanence of our bodies means that their is more to our bodies than the material, and the possibility of conquering death by inheriting a new body.  But however we conquered death, we needed to tap into an eternal energy source.  The result of diving deeper into science was to find that science pointed elsewhere.  The more science I understood, the more of life’s eternal questions remain glaringly unanswerable through science.  

Moreover, science was great at finding facts and data points, but not in offering meaning.  Science offered facts, not meaning.  Meaning had to be interpreted from the facts, and the interpretation could go in a variety of directions depending on the core values or beliefs of the scientist.  The two biggest scientific facts in my mind, that the universe had a beginning and that all living things die, had to mean something.  And yet, science could not offer that answer.  Science simply confirms that the universe had a beginning and the law of death is universal.  None are excepted from meeting the grim reaper.  But science could not get to why there was a beginning and why there was death. 

And so, the limitations of science started to become glaringly apparent.  I realized I needed to consider religious and philosophical writings to see if they could make sense of these questions which science confirms but does not explain.  I chose to begin with the writings of Hebrew prophets, specifically Moses, for a few reasons.  

One, he is revered as a great prophet in three of the world’s most influential religions (with Muslims, Christians, and Jews).  Christians have a savior and saints which Jews do not recognize as holy.  Muslims have a prophet which neither Jews nor Christians recognize as a true prophet, and so but remaining with Moses we have a prophet common to more populations of humanity.  

And two, I couldn’t start with the writings of Greek philosophers because, first of all, they were wrong about the origins of the universe.  At least the Hebrews had gotten it right that the universe had a beginning, even if I didn’t accept their explanation.  Secondly, and more importantly, the Greeks are respected, but not revered.  The Hebrew prophets are revered.  Maybe the respect of the Greeks was for their great example in how to pursue and seek truth, while the Hebrew prophets were revered for actually having the truth.  If so, then Hebrews are to be revered as truth-tellers while the Greeks are respected as truth-seekers.  But, this is yet to be known. 

The next step in my pursuit of scientific answers was to approach these investigations using various principles taught to me through science.  One, get to the root of the idea.  Two, understand how that idea developed over time.  To do this, I had to go to Moses and begin to understand his writings to see what they reveal about the mysteries of the universe he so accurately predicted thousands of years before science was able to confirm it as fact.