by P.J. Reczek
Summary of Class Discussion - 3/22/99 by Robyn Vockrodt
This session featured P.J. Reczek and his discussion of theories of creation. Despite the concepts we discussed, concepts that are certainly difficult to grasp at times, the debates were lively, and even humorous.
P.J. started out by stating a tendency of Western societies to assert that SOMEthing must have started everything. We have sought to understand this "something" for ages. We know that the universe is not infinitely old because of Olber's paradox. If the universe were old, the light from an infinite number of stars would shine upon us, and the sky would not be dark. So, there must've been some type of beginning
Nowadays, many of us accept the Big Bang theory as an explanation of the beginning. But what started the Big Bang? What was before that initial singularity? There are several theories, said P.J. Perhaps there was some type of energy fluctuation in an imperfect vacuum. It is a widely held belief, that space and time began with the Big Bang and before space and time, there was no matter. Thus began our interesting discussion on the concept of nothingness. P.J. defined "nothing" as "the absence of everything." Professor Möbius asked us to contemplate this definition. "Is it satisfactory?" he inquired.
Professor Brockelman then told us of "nothing" according to Parmenides. "Nothing," asserts this ancient philosopher, can not be thought of so, stop thinking about it! "Nothing" can't BE!
The Mystics' conception of God was brought into the discussion. Said one classmate, "God is nothing, and this means that God is everything. There's our singularity!" Paul voiced the problem he had with this statement. "Rather than saying God is nothing," he begins, "it should probably be said that God is undefinable, he is transcendent. When the Buddhists say that the ultimate reality (God, if you will) is empty, they are not implying any kind of nihilism " The student clarified her statement, " I didn't mean to say that God is nothing He is everything. He is not just one thing." God is not one particular thing we all seemed to agree with this interpretation.
P.J. asked us how we can talk about the cause of the Big Bang since time and space had not existed before singularity. Could God be the force before creation that flipped the switch? Can we even speak of a "before?" A discussion of absence, dimensionality, point, and how exactly we wish to define these terms followed then it was on to the motion of galaxies. P.J. pointed out our tendency to think of galaxies as rushing away from each other. We do not think of the space between the galaxies as expanding space. But let us think about it that way if the space can expand, it can also be compressed. If it keeps on compressing, it will ultimately disappear space and time will disappear. The laws of physics apply to the realm of time and space. If time and space disappear, the laws of physics disappear as well. So, we can not purport to know anything about the great "before!?" Eberhard commented that he liked this hypothesis.
Another theory, said P.J., is the Steady State Theory. According to this theory, there was no beginning. It all simply exists. The universe expands, and as a result becomes less dense. More particles are needed to "fill in the gaps." So, new particles arise. The theory that matter can not arise from nothing is nullified (there's that silly "nothing" again!).
The discussion shifted quickly to quantum mechanics after P.J. mentioned the theory of Creation Without Creation, a theory which states that the universe is a result of a quantum fluctuation. Eberhard told us a little something about the big QM. According to quantum mechanics, we can not know anything PRECISELY we can not know if there is anything that is equal to zero (zero being a very precise number indeed).
The subsequent discussion of "quantum foam" and "quantum froth" led Paul to delve into a certain aspect of Western religion. In general, we have thought of God as a hypothesis, the CAUSE He has become the God of the Gaps. If science can't account for it, it needs another explanation! So, why not stick God in there? This isn't right, said Paul. This is not a hypothesis. He is an experience. He is undefinable. So, we use metaphors. God is a womb, for example. Or, God is the earth (from earth all things grow and to earth all things return). There are thousands of metaphors, all of which express this mysterious undefinability of the universe. Quantum froth is a metaphor! When we speak of this froth and foam, from which the universe arose, we are speaking of metaphors for something that is unnamable. ("The fellows in the lab are saying, 'Thank goodness we don't have to worry about God anymore, but this foam sure is interesting!'" I had to stick that quote of Paul's in here it struck me as very funny.)
Paul went on to say that many people tend to think of someone as standing in the way of science and acting like a total idiot if he or she acknowledges God and the mystery of existence. This is certainly not right! A student responded that we can only learn if at first we do not understand we don't know everything! And that is why we DO science and religion! It was once thought that science could explain everything, therefore everything is determined therefore WE are determined. In a way we are. Does this mean that we are not free? Does it preclude human creativity? Hardly!
P.J. briefly explained one more creation theory, the Mother and Child Theory ("Metaphor! Metaphor!" screamed Paul). According to this theory, there is a mother universe, which spawns "little baby universes." The mother universe is expanding, spewing out baby universes that will eventually spew out their own baby universes. Thus, there is potential for infinite creations. However, this theory still leaves us with a big question: Where did it all begin? Where did the mother universe come from?
"Why are we so hung up on beginnings?" someone asked.
Good question! Religions always attempt to explain the BEGINNING. People want to know about origins because origins locate them, give them ground to stand on, and help them to orient their lives. What we are looking for is more than an explanation. We seek not so much to understand cognitively as to find origin and meaning. Where did we come from? What are we doing here? Where are we going? How ought we to live
P.J. ended with some quotes from his book about the ancient Maya. "God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere " This, I believe, is one of the most interesting, thought-provoking ideas he read to us.