Monday, March 27, 2017

Saint Thomas’ God

Somewhere in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas is the suggestion that when one follows reason as far as it can go, that is a finger pointing to God. Over the past several years, I have been considering what the existence of consciousness, modern cosmology, quantum physics and relativity can say about the origin of consciousness, life and the universe. This has led me to some conclusions, including that consciousness may be primordial, that there may indeed be a “ghost in the machine,” and that the creation of the universe seems to have happened according to laws written into the act. My way of summing all this up has been to accept the notion that the universe is a product of conscious intent and that we all share in that same consciousness. I have come to think of the “creator” as a kind of Shakespeare who wrote a cosmic script setting the stage full of interesting processes, happenings and beings and dumped itself into it in order to experience its creation first hand. (Each “I” is part of that consciousness.) Another way to think about this might be to imagine an all-powerful being who designed the most amazing multi-level, multi-player computer game to play – to alleviate a really cosmic case of boredom? – by downloading itself into it to play every role.

As a former Catholic, however, I had trouble with the concept and notion of “God.” Cleary the God of all three religions of the Book – the Hebrew, Christian and Muslem – was too anthropomorphized. The concept of God comes with baggage I could not accept. A transcendent being like some sort of super human that loves us as a parent and deserves worship is simply a reflection of our own collective lack of psychic maturity. There is also no evidence for such a being that judges us and will hold us accountable for our actions, right and wrong. Given the fantastic and unlikely beauty of a universe that seems just right for us, there is no reason to suppose that there must be a heaven beyond it. Given our experience of the various forms of evil, historical and current, there is also no reason to suppose the need for some other hell. It seems clear to me that the universe as it exists is ungoverned by any morality beyond what we humans bring into it.

But recently, sitting in the Bishops Garden at Washington’s National Cathedral on a sunny, early spring morn, I made my peace with the word God. Listening to the gentle sound of a burbling spring and basking in the warmth of the sun, I considered the process by which the millions of photons showering down reached me. The sun’s energy comes from a myriad of fusions of two hydrogen atoms into one helium in the sun’s core. It takes thousands of years for the energy produced by each single fusion event to reach the surface of the sun. Then it takes just eight minutes to travel the 93 million miles to earth. The physical laws governing our universe are just right to allow this font of endless free energy sitting in the middle of an expanse of nothingness to bring to life our planet and all the creatures on it.

Some might say that that conditions may seem just right because else wise we wouldn’t be here. Just a happy accident out of an infinity of possible combinations that don’t work for conscious life forms. But that seems to violate Occam's Razor. Why suppose an infinite number of random fluctuations just to come up with one that has us? Much more direct to suppose that the one that contains us was meant to do so. And besides, the fundamental questions remain why is there anything at all rather than nothing and how could something arise out of nothing. Much more logical to recognize the likelihood of a First Cause. And one might as well call that God. Not one to worship, follow or depend upon for any kind of salvation but one to wonder about. Accepting the existence of St. Thomas’ God opens, at the most basic level, the door of wonder.