"Many people do not like the idea that
Time has a beginning, probably because
It smacks of divine intervention."
A Brief History of Time
Any true and accurate account of the Cosmos, its beginning, its development, its structure and its mechanisms, must agree with known science fact. No one today would seriously consider supporting the theory that turtles, giant ones, stacked up one on top of another, support the Earth, which in turn supports the sky, which supports heaven. Yet, go back far enough and you could find people who were proponents of such a scheme.
Our mythogenic past has given us Creation accounts and cosmological architecture in great variety and abundance. How well, or how poorly, these various schema stand up to the truth of science fact may depend, for the most part, on the cleverness of the researcher attempting to relate his understanding of astrophysics to a particular set of mythic symbols. However, when reduced to generalities, when sifted for common elements, mythic creation does have a central theme: Pairs of forces (almost always opposites) combine in sequence to form both the material world and the super-physical entities who govern.
One who sees in this the first, primordial fusion of nuclei may conclude that the ancients knew (or were given) keys to understanding the machinations of a fledgling universe. However, until science learns how to resurrect ideology and philosophy from the burial sites, tablets and stoneware of ancient peoples (which pre-supposes that the thoughts of these people impressed themselves upon their items of daily use, and supposes that some method of retrieving and decoding them could be devised) we can't generate any empirical evidence to show that the primal waters of Tiamat and Apsu (of Babylonian myth) are in actual fact symbols for the forces at work during the primordial nuclear fusion event of some 15 billions years ago. We just can't.
Whether one tries to make the scientific model fit the mythogenic one, or vice versa, it usually takes a great deal of bending and twisting before anything resembling similarity between the two can be found.
In any case, we seem unable, as a people, to dismiss myth entirely. We cling to the idea that at the core of myth must be some deep and ancient wisdom. Do we believe that it's antiquity means it is closer to the source? More pristine? Why are we not certain that in our scientific age we could have a greater understanding than the ancients?
Jung believed that the fuzzy confidence we share regarding the myth of the ancients lies hidden in our collective unconscious. In those myths we have the foundation of understanding. It is that upon which we have built the traditions we have variously named Philosophy, Science, Magic, Mysticism, Theology and Religion. Because myth lies at the heart of all of the mental occupations of mankind, our interest in the symbology of what was once understood, in a long gone age, will never die out completely.
Our confidence in the validity of myth is, in fact, the reason we can place so much faith in the ancient texts that form the core of the world's religions. Unfortunately, none of those texts gives us more than the simplest schematic of creation. And, unfortunately, none of them is plausible in the light of science...at least, not if read literally. One wonders, though, if traditions grown from the garden of myth were meant to be read literally at all. Why should they be? The garden that grew them was Symbol. Thus, in our quest to know and understand, we are left wanting. Wanting, and in some cases, searching. We search again the myths, looking for clues to how and why.
On a slightly different tack, the Scottish author and esotericist R.J. Stewart wrote that the mystery of creation "…is not a problem to be solved either through dogma or logical or even evolutionary systems; it can only be approached through altogether other levels of consciousness." None of which could be examined in a way that would satisfy Comte's required sensory experience, nor any empiricist's need for some measurable, quantifiable thing upon which to hang "proof". Stewart's other levels may indeed offer some clues, some hope of finding answers to a great many of the mysteries and riddles with which man has wrestled over the millennia. But, how would we ever be able to verify anything obtained through other levels of consciousness? This leads to a problem.
In the absence of a single "truth", many of us feel that our own opinion is as valid as any other. It has been called the "layman fallacy". Where there is little chance of being proved wrong, as is the case when the topic is a mystery as old as mankind, the layman fallacy runs wild. Who's to say what is true, or even likely to be true?
All too frequently we hear uninspired commentary on the nature of "God" and of Creation prefaced by comments like: "Well, what I think happened is…" or "Here's my opinion…"
We each float about inside ourselves, ambling the inner spaces of what we believe to be our private worlds of thinking. We each develop constructs as basic or as intricate as we have time, understanding and inclination to do. Perhaps we believe, as the layman fallacy suggests, that our opinion is every bit as worthy of consideration as all others. This, simply, is not true.
Billy over here thinks the world is a dream in the mind of God. He read it in a really cool book, and he like it a lot. He's thought about it some. Evil, he says, is when God has a nightmare. Meanwhile, Ellen over there says, the physical world is the result of great cosmic collisions. In the high-energy states and intense heat resulting from those collisions, life and matter were fused together. She doesn't think for a minute that any part of any person survives death. When the animate matter dies, death is total and complete.
We as a people do not seem to have even the basics down pat. It is as if we have little capacity for clear thinking, and no capacity at all for communicating what we think.
I recently spoke to a man who said he was a reductionist regarding consciousness. "So, you think our thoughts are just electro-chemical activity in the cells of our brains?" I asked.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "Our thoughts, our minds, our consciousness, is like an energy field around us. Like an aura."
"Oh, well," I said, "that's holism."
"No," he said again, frustrated by my misunderstanding. "I don't believe in God."
The result is that our opinions are so varied that no amount of comparison and assimilation could yield any cohesive thread. No certain answer is discernable in this way. Yet, there's that layman's fallacy again: In the absence of a single truth… Who's to say any of these varied answers is "wrong"?
Here is one fact, at least. Most of the ideas generated in this fashion are but over-simplified interpretations of fragmented philosophies, tinged with the color of individual experience: Perhaps a snippet of Aristotle half remembered, coupled to a bit of Kant or Jung; tempered by a shred of Bible lore, basic physics, or even fluid dynamics. Each of us has our own experiences, and those experiences make up the perspective through which we interpret all new experiences. How else could we operate?
Yet, we will show as we move forward, that these mental ramblings have very little to do with Stewart's other levels of consciousness.
Be that as it may, it seems that without some guiding light, we either spend the night sailing endless circles in the harbor, never knowing if or when we've drawn near the landing. Or, we get turned completely in the wrong direction, and we sail out of the harbor entirely. Some do even worse. Some crash on rocks hidden at the bottom, and down goes the ship.
It has been our sad lot that the guiding lights we have found are often tragically misplaced. When we navigate by those lights, we are lead to certain tragedy. That's when the blind lead the blind… as the Christ said.
For instance, in the year 1642 of the common era, following a painstakingly thorough and detailed analysis of the Old Testament of he Hebrew Bible, the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University declared that the world was created at precisely 9 a.m. of October 23, 4004 BC. If ever a ship was beaten on the rocks and sunk, this was it. Science has proven the age of our little home planet at something over 4 billion years, so we're either missing some Bible books, or we don't know yet how to read the ones we have. And, this isn't the only wreck at the bottom of Folly's Harbor.
Once upon a time, "God" held court on a magnificent throne of jewel encrusted gold, somewhere in a Heaven that must have been just above the sky. He had fashioned beneath Him a dwelling for His most favored creature…Man. He placed the dwelling of Man at the center of a little Universe that man could see and ponder in awe, knowing that somehow man was of supreme importance to the All Mighty.
Rotating about the central dwelling of man were huge spheres of the purest crystal, to which God had attached various lights…such as Sun and Moon. Each sphere spun in place, in a fixed position, like hollow balls inside of hollow balls. In the center sat Earth. This is basically the cosmology of Ptolemy, one of the greatest of the ancient astronomers and geographers.
From time to time, this Father-like God made brief appearances to His "children", on the tops of mountains, or in lush gardens. He took time to instruct and to guide His beloved. He also performed super-natural feats of intervention, when so ever He determined that this or that group or person was worthy.
Man was set apart from the beasts of the world by virtue of his relationship with the Father God, and partook of the Creator's divine nature. Worthy of God's personal attention, man was beneficiary of a universe created for his observation and support. Dominion over the home planet was God's gift to man.
Man was important, and he knew it. He was the focus of (and the very reason for) the entire universe.
Yet, as we now know, that just wasn't exactly the case.
Eventually, the helio-centric (or Sun-centered) model of the solar system, put forth first by Copernicus, then later by Galileo, broke down the old geo-centric (or Earth centered) model. Never again would the Giant Turtle cross the expanse of forever with the Earth on its back. Never again would man look up from his little planet and think himself the center of it all.
Despite the fact that the Bible offers no detailed model of the cosmos, in Galileo's time the geo-centric model (sometimes called the classical model) was official Church doctrine. Great political and "spiritual" pressures were brought against Galileo for his teaching of "heresy". Galileo was made to recant. He was forced to renounce publicly his discovery. But, of course, it was eventually proven to be true.
Even more alarming to the classical model adherents was the fact that, with the Earth being pushed aside as the universal center, there was no reasonable expectation that even our sun was at the hub. Was man important at all?
It seems odd, regardless of the blow to doctrine, that the Church would struggle so mightily against the popularization of truth. One who believes whole-heartedly in the God of their faith should not fear truth. Moreover, if facts could be generated regarding the mechanisms behind the creation of the cosmos, or any other natural phenomenon, wouldn't that truth reveal the handy-work of God? What's to fear?
Even if the truth was somewhat at variance with accepted doctrine, whatever is true must be true, and so must be the work of the Creator.
The attempt made by the Church to suppress Galileo's findings is that odd type of cover-up designed to conceal the ignorance of the conspirators. Obviously, if Galileo was correct, the Church had gotten it wrong. The Church leaders certainly must have feared injury to their reputations (which strikes at the heart of their leadership). Perhaps they were also fearful that such a blow to doctrine would threaten the faith of the fold. We can at least hope that they had the reaction of the common man in mind. One wonders. Were they more concerned with their positions as leaders, or with the questions the average man would ask? If the universe exists as our own, why are we adrift on a middling planet, circling an average star at some remote galactic address?
How far might doctrine fall? What tenet might next come under the attack of the empiricist?
Because science and religion are supposed to be major players in the search for truth, one wonders how they can be diametrically opposed. And, when the two come into conflict, science seems to get the better of it over and over again. Whatever is true must be true. It's rough going when one sets about the task of fighting provable fact. But, why fight it? That's the mission isn't it? Truth? For science it is. Yes. But, for religion?
Actually it isn't. Not exactly.
If one wanted to play the role of heretic, one could generate an overwhelming amount of information to show that, from the very inception of "scripture", the priest-scribes of old were working to establish themselves as the intermediary through whom all others must go in order to have any relationship with God. The often denied (though absolutely provable) contradictions in the Bible occur most frequently when the various priest groups who wrote the varied and contradictory accounts (which were all brought together later into a single text) had the opportunity to subtly slander each other. The Bible authors are squabbling…fighting to monopolize the power and wealth of their unique class.
As regards the motive revealed in the contradictions of the text, in older traditions, in older cultures, other priests and shamans did much the same thing. It seems to have been a quirk of the class that factions within the class attempted to establish themselves as the exclusive source of wisdom and as the only possible link to Divinity.
Here I would refer the reader to the excellent book by Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible. It contains the most concise overview of the Biblical contradictions I've found. We won't go into it further here, because it is neither the purpose of this text (nor the desire of this author) to strip the Bible of its validity. Too harsh a judgement against that text could be damaging to the faiths of great many people, which I believe would be irresponsible.
Never the less, the authors of the Bible were not merely "winging" it. There were existing oral traditions that formed the framework of their text. They were not free to invent entirely new accounts of creation, the flood event, or any other well-known "sacred" tradition. Completely new versions simply would not have been accepted. Further, just as the authors were restricted by tradition, those who have followed in the footsteps of the ancient priest-scribes have been bound to the text that was written, collected and handed down to them. No search for truth on their part is implied. Supposedly, they are already in possession of truth.
Thus, the only search for truth in religion is by the common man. That man, the one who turns to the world's religions to guide him to truth, is under the impression that the priests, ministers, shamans, and so on, have the truth readily at hand. It is expected that those portions of truth they most need in their lives will be parceled out to them. Science, the seeker of truth, is rarely queried.
Why should this be so, if science is the seeker, still and always, while religion has quit looking? In fairness, it must be stated that some theologians are scholars of the arcane. There is, at least, some attempt at reconciling their sacred writ with established fact. Always, of course, within the framework handed down to them. Heresy may not carry the death penalty these days, but being ostracized from proper academia is threat enough to deter most from truly free expression.
Be that as it may, why is it we feel something has to be above and beyond what we can see, examine, measure, qualify and quantify? The obvious answer is connected to the undying inclusion of myth in even this that we call the modern world: We want to know the truth, and the answers we've gotten so far aren't enough. They do not ring in harmony with the keynote of myth.
Still, only an absolute fool would ignore truth when searching for Truth. A passable understanding of the known is basic to building a larger knowledge pool. And, as was said at the beginning, any true and accurate account of the cosmos, its beginning, its development, its structure and its mechanisms, must agree with known science fact.
It was only about 70 years after the collapse of the geo-centric model of the world when the existence of galaxies beyond our own was discovered. Suddenly, the estimated size of the universe increased by many millions. Then, just a few years later, in 1929, the first evidence of universal expansion was found. This was the famous red shift demonstrated by Edwin Hubble, which resulted from his spectrographic observations.
Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity had predicted that the universe should be either expanding or contracting. Although Einstein himself refused at first to accept the idea, there were theoretical physicists who did. One of those was Georges Lemaitre. When evidence of the expansion was found, he had already been reasoning that galaxies rushing away from each other as time moves forward must have been nearer each other in times past.
By following the reverse course of these galaxies backward in time, there must have been a time when they occupied the same space. They must, he reasoned, have been compacted into a single mass perhaps no larger than a single atom. Perhaps it may have been compressed into even a single point. And, by whatever mechanism it may have been so compacted, it must have exploded violently,
From his musings on the subject, Lemaitre wrote:
The evolution of the world can be compared to a display
of fireworks that has just ended; some few red wisps, ashes
and smoke. We stand on a cooled cinder and see the slow
fading of the suns, and we try to recall the vanished brilliance
of the origin of the worlds.
This was the beginning of what came to be called the Big Bang theory. Science had opened into the field of Creation Theory with stunning insight.
Some of the better understood wisps of smoke, which serve to support the Big Bang theory, are the facts regarding the expansion of the universe, and the background radiation spread out through all of space.
That the universe is expanding, which has far reaching implications, is not theoretical. It is fact. We know it to be so, because the light waves reaching us from other galaxies are "red-shifted", or stretched, by the increased distance covered by successive waves.
The science behind this is straightforward. Light waves coming to us from an object in space will reach us displaying exactly the same wavelengths that were emitted, unless that object is in motion either toward us or away.
Now, a light wave has peaks and valleys. The frequency of a wave is determined by how frequently it peaks in a given time. The length of time that passes from one peak to the next is called wavelength. High frequency waves have shorter lengths. They peak frequently. There is less length of time between peaks. And by contrast, low frequency waves peak less often. Their length is greater, because they take more time between peaks.
Keeping this in mind, when we observe the light waves from objects in space, we might expect to receive exactly the same wavelengths that the object emits. And, with objects that are stationary, this is true. But, when objects are in motion, either toward us or away, the wavelength we receive is shifted.
Objects moving toward us decrease the distance between themselves and us. That decreased distance reduces the time needed for the waves to reach us. The result is that the successive peaks get to us more quickly than they would if the object were motionless. The wave we receive from such an object is shortened by its motion toward us. We say that the waves are shifted toward higher frequencies.
Objects that are moving away from us increase the distance between themselves and us. The waves that they emit must travel further and further, which increases the amount of time needed for the waves to get here. The result is that the waves take longer reaching us than if the emitting object were stationary. The effect is that the wavelengths are increased. Successive peaks take longer to hit than if the object were sitting still. The waves are shifted toward lower frequencies.
The term "red shift", which is famous in connection with Edwin Hubble, and is so intimately associated with the proof of universal expansion, is rooted in the shifting we just discussed. The shifting takes place relative to the visible spectrum of light, which ranges from the high frequency blues to the low frequency reds. It is none other than the spectrum displayed when light is divided by a prism. All the blues and reds are there, and everything between. This is the spectrum in which the shifting takes place. Higher goes toward blue, while lower goes toward red.
This latter case, with increasing distance, is what Edwin Hubble found while examining the spectra of galaxies outside our own. That the universe is expanding was proven by these observations. It is not theory, but fact.
We mentioned background radiation as the other of our wisps of smoke that lead us to evidence that the Big Bang theory is correct. Stated very simply, a release of energy as staggeringly massive as that of the Big Bang is likely to have left some trace that we could locate. The theory itself "predicts" that such evidence is out there. Being the primeval occurrence, whatever form of evidence it left for us was expected to be uniform everywhere we looked. The expansion of the universe would have carried traces of the explosion to even the farthest reaches of space. Local spots of radiation from unknown sources certainly wouldn't qualify. This residue must be universal. On top of that, by studying the fusion of nuclei in stars (as in what gets made at what temperature) it was possible to determine that the residual energy from the primeval explosion should be a suffusion of photons. These qualities of the remnants of the Big Bang were known in the 1950s. All that was left was to find it.
A pair of physicists named Penzia and Wilson found it in 1965. It was a microwave radiation that was simply mysterious at first. Once it began to be studied and analyzed, it was found to be the last dying vestige of the heat of the universal explosion.
It was found to be basically uniform, as the theory predicted. It didn't matter which direction you looked; the background of space was radiating the remnants of primordial heat. A check of its structure revealed that it was in fact photon radiation, which sealed the deal.
Despite the proofs, and it would take volumes to list and explain all of them, the Big Bang theory is only theory. We can't ride Lemaitre's retreating galaxies back to what he called the "primordial atom". We can't stand inside the crushing pressures of the hyper-dense pre-bang universe to examine the properties of the "stuff" around us. We can't don super-safety suits and experience at first hand the moment of that initial bursting forth of all the energy of the cosmos. What's more, even if we got there, we couldn't know anything about the primordial atom anyway.
The reason is this: All the science we know is based on certain fundamental precepts, which we hold to be true. They seem, at least, to be immutable. We call them the laws of physics. Energy and matter act and react (excepting quantum effects) in very well understood ways.
To nut shell the idea, there are four forces in physics that are the arbiters of these laws of physics. Every type of phenomena we observe takes place in accordance with those laws, because of those four forces. One might say that these facts are the pillars of the entire modern scientific edifice. That they are consistent is essential to scientific inquiry of any kind. We would be disabled in our attempts to come up with meaningful experiments if we had no reason to expect that these laws hold true. And, that's the problem. In the radical conditions thought to exist in the pre-exploded universe, the laws of physics that form the pillars of scientific enquiry collapse. They could not have operated there.
If the Big Bang theory is correct, we track back to "the beginning" and find something enigmatic. Lemaitre, as we have said, called it the primordial atom. These days it is generally referred to as "the singularity", owing to the fact that it would contain all of the universe bound up in a single point.
All the forces, all the energy, all the matter would have been bound up in this one, single "thing". It would have been the super-dense, pre-exploded universe, wrapped up within itself in extreme compaction. In such a state, none of the science we know would be applicable. The four forces that rule the world we know would make no sense at all in the initial conditions of the singularity.
It isn't just the perspective of physics that yields nonsense when considering the singularity. Logic is also offended. Time, which we know is bound up in space and expansion, would not have been in operation inside the primordial atom. And, without Time, no human endeavor would be possible. From aspiration to simple growth, the absence of Time would leave us stultified.
Without a procession of moments leading to future conditions, change (which many have called the universal constant!) could not occur. We aspire to a variety of achievements, but we do so knowing that Time will march on. It is the march of Time that allows steps to be taken toward goals. We move from one set of conditions to another through Time - through a procession of moments.
Learning is not possible without Time. There can be no moment of understanding without a preceding moment of befuddlement. Knowledge is cumulative; it builds up layer by layer upon a foundation laid in basics. Yet, without Time, no such foundation could be put down, nor would there be a succession of moments during which increasingly specific layers of information could be built up. Fortunately, we were not brought to be in such restriction. There would have been nothing for us to do…nothing possible to us.
Philosophers from ancient times forward have argued all manner of points circling the idea of "God" in and out of Time. Because Time is specific to our universe, inseparable from its motion, the same arguments fit the question of whether God is in our universe or outside of it. Frankly, if He was bound up within the singularity, then He was born with the universe. He could have existed only as potential before the Bang, for the singularity was Timeless, hyper-dense and homogenous until it began to move. If He had been outside of the singularity (which in effect postulates the existence of yet another universe of unexplained origin) He would have been free to act in Time specific to some other existence…one that is entirely speculative and forever unreachable to us.
If we continue with speculation for a minute, we can say that our universe may be no more than a multi-dimensional bubble of space-time within a many times more dimensional multi-verse - or super-verse. If it were so, we would not ever be able to prove it. Nor can it ever be proven that no such multi-verse exists. Time as we know it is our own. It exists here as an integral part of space. In the bubble that is our Cosmos, Time is what it is to us. In some larger structure containing our bubble of Time, a different Time altogether may rule.
From the vantage point of that other place, one might see our universe burst into existence, expand, contract and disappear in a single flash of light. Time there would be relative to the movement and energy there. It could be very different than our own. For that matter, it might be remarkably similar. We have no way to know anything at all about a thing we can not prove exists.
We could as easily take the idea the other direction and conjure up little Time bubbles within our universe (who knows, really, what's inside a black hole?). Would Time as we know it have the least effect on these other systems? Perhaps only if our Time ended and the superstructure in which the other systems operated was destroyed.
There are clues in myth, which suggest answers to some of these questions, and we'll look at them as we move forward. But, first, we still have a universe to build.
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