The Universe

Most of us are familiar with the big bang theory of the creation of the universe, that from nothing came the spark and the vast and continuing expansion of the universe. Galaxies are still shifting away from galaxies, the very boundary of the universe is expanding. But, in billions of years, the energy of the expansion will finally be overcome by the gravity of the matter of the universe itself, and the universe will then begin to contract, and keep doing so until it ends up as the singularity we might imagine as the infintesimal smallness that it was as at its very beginning.
This process of expansion and contraction also happens in individual stars. When the nuclear energy of a star is burnt out, it begins to collapse, and so much does it collapse as a black hole that it becomes a singularity where all known ordinary rules of physics of time and space vanish into uncertainty.
One of the newest ideas centred around this kind of observational and mathematical paradigm of understanding the creation around us is the idea of there existing many parallel universes. Some scientists suggest that the collapse of stars into the quantum physics of the infintesimal singularity can lead not simply to new stars but new universes. After all, our universe came from such a singularity. Such may be caused not just by a collapsed universe but also, and this is the important point, a collapsed star.
We can end up, therefore, according to this view, with a large number of parallel universes, although we can only observe the one we are in. Some universes will have little energy and collapse before they get going; others will fly out of control with insufficient gravity to form matter, unable to produce galaxies, stars, planets and the chemicals that form life.
We thus reach a theory of a Darwinism of the universes, that the universe which survives the best is the fittest. Such universes are the ones that grow, form centres of matter, produce stars and more black holes and even new universes still.
What might such a theory say for religious belief? It is common for people, when confronted by the big bang theory to ask, 'Well, what happened before the big bang?' The question does not interest scientists because there is no "before" as time itself is a product of the matter and energy of an existing universe and not outside it. But some people say, if not before it, God is in the universe because it is so regular and has physical laws. Indeed that regularity may be called beautiful, and surely God and beauty go together.
But with this new theory, that possibility is seriously challenged. In a Darwinism of the universes, the success of this universe is simply because it works, at least for a time before it collpases, whilst others in their own internal dynamics of time, may not be so successful. Just as in Darwinian biology, this cosmos needs no God to explain its apparant success, its laws and its beauty.
It seems to me that there are two implications for this. First, theologians have often warned about believing in a God of the gaps. God retreats in the face of scientific theory and knowledge, and gap after gap is filled by science. The Darwinism of the universes even fills the God within the successful regularity of creation. As I see it, and I may only speak for myself, believers in the strand of historical faiths - faiths where time begins, God intervenes, and time ends at the Last Judgement, these being the faith of Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Muslims and, in a revised fashion,  Bahais  - believed and usually still believe in a God of the gaps. The problem with the God of the gaps is that the gaps get filled up.
When the creed believes that God created heaven and earth, or the Zoroastrian narrative relates creation and resurrection, the fact is that we hear statements of pre-scientific peoples of a rich interactive human created cultures. We hear a Judaism informed by Zoroastrianism, a Christianity informed by both, an Islam that desires time to be described by words and a Bahaism that attaches itself out of Islam to Western Christianity and humanism. There is nothing wrong in these, but they each give a God of an enormous gap, a gap now almost completely filled up by the scientific narrative. Of course, most churches, and most people in them, would like to believe the creed as given, but I think we must get God out of this mess because the scientific narrative is rooted in observation, testing and mathematics. It is a narrative that always wins because it sets the rules of judging between narratives.
Of course you may say this theory of many universes is junk. But beware: the same problem for religion also happens with one universe and several false starts and collapses before the one good big bang - or with a good old fashioned fluke. I believe that we must still avoid having a God of the gaps.
So the question is whither God? Here is the second implication. I think we have to stop and look at the nature of scientific language and relate it to the nature of religious language. Scientists will admit that there is a high degree of narrative and story telling in their theories. Theories are indeed theories. There are a lot of good observations and apparant facts, but such must be joined together in the narrative of the scientific story of creation. For me, religious language, including the language of God, is another kind of narrative.
For me, today, my answer is to say that to speak of God is to speak of the sum of values I choose to find and do find in dialogue with the inherited historical faith traditions. Specifically Christian values are not easy to meet: they are demanding; some of them, however, must be criticised and possibly attacked, like the patriarchy of the language and its dreadful problem with sexuality. However, it is a narrative, and to speak of a creator God is, for me, simply to be asked to think again and reorientate myself to the creation using this language. For me, a God of the narrative relates to religious ritual by which we ask ourselves who we are and how we should relate to all that is around us. We do this in relationship with other people; we do the same in relationship with all creation. What we do is use our social language to add value to the world, to believe in it, to say that it is good, to want it to go on and succeed, to build itself through its own processes of addition and decay. This is my view, at least. Amen.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful