CONSCIOUSNESS AND REALITY: OUR ENTRY
INTO CREATION by James N. Studer
We no longer experience the world as Plato and Aristotle did. The
new physics has seen to that. And its new epistemology leads to a new
theology -- one from which fresh truths emerge.
JAMES N. STUDER, a Benedictine priest, recently retired after
thirteen years on the pastoral care team in an acute care hospital in
Minneapolis, Minn. He is completing a book, The Mind and the Atom:
What is Real?, which deals with the first part of this article.
Our spiritual lives wait impatiently for the unity of matter/mind that
could simplify our idea of the divine presence. If we could grasp that the
God of the Creeds -- almighty, wholly other creator, transcendent, and so
far away -- is really only the ancient projection of the One (Deut. 6:4),
the God of our inner, personal experience, prayer might more often come
naturally and quietly in a unified and convincing way.
This essay places more emphasis than usual on how reason and faith work
together in an evolutionary universe to reveal how this unity could
happen. The evidence here begins with the difference between the way our
body/brain seemed to the ancients -- the ones who, in their idea of
brain/thought, wrote our Judaeo-Christian Scriptures and most of their
traditional interpretations -- in comparison to what our body/brain
Seeking how our blood flows, how our brains work, as well as the rest
of our body-processes, tells us how we think and work. In the
negative, how could blood flow, food digest, and brains work
without our having a magnificent body of a refined animalian kind?
Response begins with discovery of the electron a hundred years ago. This
is the "small particle" that does everything for us. As it flows
from our generators, it turns on our lights, runs our kitchen appliances
and elevators, and even more, operates the computers which now run our
world of communications. If the electron were to disappear, the dead would
pile up unknown in a week on the stairs and atop skyscrapers.
We take the electron for granted: we heed only what it does, not what
it means. Yet, we know that electrons (with other particles) make atoms.
Atoms make molecules. Molecules make cells of body and blood. Blood
circulates through heart, lungs, and brain to keep us alive and conscious
and aware of self-identity. The electron (from here on, it symbolizes all
subatomic particles), in brief, is the foundation of all material
things and their tenacious material integrity that allows us to
walk safely on ground and floors, drive cars, and sense the wonders of
This seventieth anniversary of the Heisenberg Principle gets us closer
to what the electron means. The principle says that we cannot measure both
the position of the electron and its velocity at the same time; the
electron is inherently uncertain, or more forcefully, intrinsically
indeterminate. It shows in the world only by what is called statistical
probabilities. Underpinning all higher-order connected sciences, it
concerns particles so tiny that we can only imagine them. Its nature in
ultimate mystery is taken here for cash, and will show what it does in
ordinary experience that funds spiritual life.
The pioneer physicists announced this bizarre principle only after
exhaustive experiment. Werner Heisenberg, baffled at the anomaly,
exclaimed, "I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature
possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?"
Niels Bohr replied that understanding could come only by creating a new
framework of meaning and language.(1) To cast its
influence "upward" into our material world, subatomic activity must
convert indeterminacy into determinacy. But how? As John
Polkinghorne says, this question has puzzled science for seventy years.(2)
Returning to how our bodies work: Science and our own experience
also show that our bodies can go awry and cause a myriad of bodily ills: a
fibrillating heart, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and cancers. Coherence of
thought says these illnesses must describe some dimension of the
nature of the electron, that subatomic activity reflects "upward"
into the material realm of molecules and our body/brains to cause illness.
The question then arises: How can the reliable material integrity of the
way ordinary "things" act, square with how electrons fail and cause so
Look at a bare reminder of how we know anything: We encounter "things"
by our senses. We touch, see, or hear them. They now come to mean
something to us. That is, we abstract metaphorically from the
concrete thing to a universal idea about it. We want to write a
note, so we pick up a pen. We feel pen in hand; this means we can write a
note; we do so. But suppose we are in a strange house, it is suddenly
pitch dark, and there are no lights. In a weak analogy,
indeterminacy sets in, and we cannot write. Yet, the electron, by
its essence and with the help of other particles, turns into
material things all the time.
Language that refuses to contradict itself says the process itself must
be intrinsically mysterious. If we seek coherent language to describe this
process, our only recourse is metaphor: subatomic activity "breaks
out" of the interior of the atom to its exterior. The process is a smooth
flow, a becoming -- not a clanking, piece-by-piece physical conjunction of
particles. If our sense perceptions participate foundationally in
indeterminacy, how can the world and the universe be other than mixed and
inchoate "stuff," without intrinsic meaning or reality?
My language, let me repeat, is metaphorical. No literal "finger" of
subatomic activity reaches out directly to a measuring instrument, or to
the universe, to change them materially. Bohr wryly contradicts the
popular phrase, "disturbance of phenomena by observation."(3) Statistical
probabilities do not refer to an uncertain single measurement but to an
aggregation of measurements in the same experiment. Therefore, the body
differs totally in its roots from anything the ancients knew. The
very idea of evolution that illustrates the validity of the Heisenberg
Principle could not have crossed their minds. Rather, they inferred from
their limited knowledge that this enormous body of "stuff," of "things"
and the universe -- was real all by itself, because created directly by
Yahweh-God, or the Aristotelian First Cause.
The ancients logically regarded their surroundings from an absolutist
standpoint, generating absolutist ideas about earth, sea, and sky and
about the causality of their massive "objective material reality." But now
science avers that the universe emerged from a dimensionless point or,
more lately, that it may have emerged from anywhere in what we informally
regard as "space." Now the coherent view of "things," the world, the
universe -- and the very idea of human expression of absolutes -- is
This evidence clarifies the growing uncertainty we sense as we enter
the third millennium, and the increasing breakdown in ordinary experience
of underlying principles of ethics and morality. We do not deal well with
obvious global conflicts, with continued possession of deadly armaments,
nor with seemingly lesser problems such as the possibility of terrorism on
a massive scale. Increasingly, the marketplace -- despite the
communicating power of its vaunted cyberspace -- ignores these ancient
These problems pose a general question: Has our physical and societal
dynamic so changed that a massive flaw in an underlying principle,
logically assumed historically to be valid, now fails radically in guiding
and empowering us? If so, how would we know, and with what faculty? In a
traditional static structure, some higher spiritual dimension would be
said to exist, the lower form of which was consciousness. But how would
such a power connect with our bodies, our behavior? Are we now finding
that the phenomenon of consciousness -- the most subtle yet incompletely
explored activity of the subatomic -- must somehow respond by identifying
it with ourselves through the power of local brain structure?
Where Does Consciousness Come From?
To respond to this question, the search turns next to the origin of
consciousness. In our own animalian body, must not our consciousness
and that of the lesser animals be rooted in the common power of
subatomic activity, of indeterminacy in action? The origin of both begins
to show in the story of Stuart Hameroff, a research anesthetist. Hameroff
has explored how consciousness is lost in anesthesia and then reemerges as
the patient comes out. He discovered that immobilizing part of the neurons
of the brain seemed to restrict electrochemical activity so that the
patient lost consciousness, while the brain remained undamaged. He also
suspected that a process, a "something," was occurring that went deeper
than this activity and was also immobilized as the patient lost
Realizing that the deeper process had to reflect a depth of subatomic
activity beyond his competence, he discussed the puzzle with physicist
Roger Penrose. Their discussion showed that the tiny "microtubule" of the
neuronal cell has a "slot" on its side, of micro dimensions, within which
an electron exercises its normal activity during consciousness. Loss of
consciousness immobilized the microtubule and the normal activity of the
electron as well. Against this backdrop, Penrose proposes the activity of
an electron as searching "countless billions of different patterns
simultaneously [emphasis added] on its way toward choice of a
'single' state." A "single state" could mean impact on a measuring
instrument or change in the uncountable combinations and shapes of
molecules of brain proteins.
Thus, loss of consciousness -- immobilizing the microtubule -- would
mean restricting activity of the electron. Cessation of the mysterious
electrical signal underlying normal electrochemical exchange, as Hameroff
had observed it, would show evidence of the restriction. Suppression of
the activity of the microtubule would cause both loss of consciousness and
suppression of the subatomic signal.(4) In brief, the
trail of sequential activity points to: (a) suppression of
consciousness by suppression of activity in the microtubule,
(b) associated suppression of a mysterious signal that corresponds to
suppression of its womb of nurture, the microtubule, and, therefore,
(c) suppression of the subtle and incomprehensibly great power of the
electron to play some role in consciousness.
This means that the electron would enable the action of consciousness
to change a protein (alter the shape of molecules of a microtubule)
that, in turn and still within the realm of action of the electron,
would augment consciousness. Might not repetition of this reciprocal
causality -- at incomprehensibly high speeds and in equally
incomprehensibly great quantity -- develop the ribbon of continuity that
we designate consciousness, the highest faculty and quality of life in
In this perspective, the reciprocal conversion of protein to
consciousness and back is metaphor in process, and is therefore
intangible. Consciousness is intrinsically bonded, however, to brain
protein (tangible) within which the billions of different patterns,
simultaneously explored, are based. In other words, indeterminacy
has to be based in determinacy (protein of neuronal tissue) as it
engages in reciprocal causality with it and reflects foundational energy
of the universe. Yet, energy is not a "thing." It is a process, as in
e=mc2, that transforms. "Process" is already inherently a
metaphorical term. This process would deliver us from functional
dualism of mind and matter.
The critical juncture here lies in Penrose's suggestion that
consciousness might result from the action of the electron in its function
in the brain. It is of the nature of the electron that it explore
those billions of different patterns simultaneously at incomprehensible
speeds on its way toward choosing a "single state" in the atom -->
molecule. In support of Penrose, physicist Murray Gell-Mann asserts that
"any particle can occupy any one of an infinite number of 'quantum
states,' " and that "the number of different kinds [of particles] is
In this light, a brief model for the origin of consciousness might take
this form: Subatomic activity makes brain tissue in the first aspect of
any frozen "moment," as atoms form molecules by, in the phrase of Linus
Pauling, "sharing electrons at their corners." The second aspect of the
same "moment" involves what Nobel chemist Roald Hoffmann calls
"gluing atoms together by a wave."(6) That is, the
electron acts as both particle and wave necessarily and
simultaneously according to a "complementarity" that is integral to
the foundation of quantum mechanics.
As the mutual action occurs to make tissue inside the molecule,
it still works within tiny space. Therefore, the action -- combining
energy of both first and second aspects of the same "moment" -- creates
the self-awareness we call consciousness as the result of
reciprocal causality within the process in a continuum. The
statements of Hameroff, Penrose, and Gell-Mann suggest the interaction of
microtubule and electron. The return to consciousness after anesthesia
returns normal function to both. Can the microtubule, as such, constitute
consciousness? Hardly. How could the intangible (consciousness) be
explained on a literally molecular (material) level alone? And why neglect
the mysterious power operating at once as both particle and wave? For
example, one relevant example of recent research shows how electrons can
be made to emit photons better. This process shows what physics calls
"quantum confinement." The process pens electrons "into nanometer-sized
spaces. Thus confined, they behave more like trapped waves than
How Do We Know What Is "Real"?
The question remains: How do we judge what is real in the context
above? How do we describe the relationship between the process by which
subatomic activity (indeterminate) builds the universe and
the result, the universe itself? Coherent language now declares: The
activity is its result. Language demands still more: A universe
built by an agency of mixed determinate and indeterminate elements cannot
escape being indeterminate itself. Language must then say that a
universe, as indeterminate, must be attribute becoming existent.
That is, "indeterminate," the adjective or attribute that characterizes
subatomic activity, becomes "indeterminacy," the noun or existent
referring to results of the action or process.
In contrast, when we are building a house, we do not confuse the
operation, "are building," with its result, "the building," that
results from the operation. But subatomic activity at the foundation of
existence both builds and is the built. In this one and unique instance in
the universe, language says that indeterminacy as process is
existent as it names the foundation of the universe, which -- with the
material "stuff" it creates -- constitutes the fullness of physicality.
The reverse is also true. The total existing entity is the action
or the attribute.
To look at the negative: If attribute at this foundational level did
not identify with existent, what entity -- real in itself -- could
exist in order for attribute (as indeterminacy) to characterize it?
Philosopher Bernard Lonergan reminds us that contrast with their opposites
clarifies ideas.(9) In addition,
Penrose's point suggests that the engine of indeterminacy creates the
material universe and, in a combination of the two levels of physicality,
produces our material bodies and our consciousness.
Consciousness in this view creates incalculable leads for cooperative
work between the sciences and the humanities toward a common epistemology.
Penrose, in later work, discusses some of these.(10) In a similar
connection, David Tracy comments, "With science we interpret the world. We
do not simply find it out there. Reality is what we name our best
scientists agree with this insight in their view of the objective cosmos
as a "psychophysical entity."(12)
These thinkers are saying that dynamic and changing subatomic activity
and energy ground "becoming," not "being." Becoming originated in the
instantaneous expansion of an entity or process called dimensionless. (Or,
more lately, it may refer to "becoming" from within anywhere in what we
informally call "space.") This entity -- by definition, "dimensionless,"
or an indefinite emergence -- precedes the ability of science to measure
and therefore, ultimately, to describe. Such a beginning neither affects
nor interests science, qua science. Inquiry into the nature and origin of
"becoming" is philosophical. Moreover, this means that cosmological
problems, with their uncertainties within quantity, do not, in some
reverse action, affect indeterminacy. These problems ride atop
indeterminacy in action, available to human involvement.
In this context, we need a new definition of "real." Tentatively, I
suggest: Becoming real means becoming present to and possessing Self, as
living and knowing, in the same act of involving one's world and
description of the Self does not point to a panpsychism or any other
previous "ism." It means that we involve a universe of "stuff,"
meaningless per se, in our judgment of what is real. It means that
the apogee of the universe, the self-reflective creature/community
(wherever in the universe), encompasses the universe. This full experience
of any moment necessarily centers first on the Self and then on the
Community in constant dynamic balance. We obviously do not make the
"stuff" of the world nor of our bodies. Yet, reality -- always a
philosophical question -- must come to a focus in this new self-reflective
This idea of reality senses "things," but imagines their
foundational source as well. We seek also the "inner qualities" of
things (Wittgenstein), not their mere appearances.(14) For instance,
trying to leap directly from the colorful quantity only of the
heavens to spiritual visions is like standing before sagebrush and
breathing in awe, "It's a cathedral!" In the way language works, we have
an incorrect "initial referent."(15) When we want
to make sense in saying in awe, "It's a cathedral," we go to the Muir
redwoods, not to sagebrush.
Just so, by analogy in a renewed sense of our transcendence, we no
longer limit ourselves to television, radio, and computer, to the powerful
cars, big houses, and land -- merely in their appearances and use -- as
the naked initial referent from which we may leap to their higher meaning.
Rather, we infer also that they teem with invisible particles, tumbling
over one another like tiny dynamos of energy, leashed but powerful -- and
then add the majestic mountain. From there, we ratchet the mountain up to
the farthest reaches of the universe. Thus, having summed up the present
stage of evolutionary environment, we integrate ourselves as creators of
the meaning and as judges of what is real of all this visible creation.
Then, our best subjective judgment of reality becomes
objective reality. Expression of this reality begins to suggest who
we are. In supreme paradox, the physical universe in this way both
produces us and, ultimately, participates in us to become real. The
self-reflective creature is the explanation of the universe, and growth of
consciousness increases the reality of both. This process of understanding
establishes the Community as the judge and the focus of reality,
metaphorical and real. Reality is homemade when we get our
Consequences in Meaning and Reality
This summary of what we are, and the beginning of who we
are, responds to the lament of physician-novelist-linguist Walker Percy in
the 197Os: We have no theory of humanity!(16) Histories of
the origin of the mind show it unable to get beyond a foundational split
between mind and matter. The ancients were chained to this matrix of
thought, generally, and succeeding generations have not been able to
improve upon it. But, language in this universe defines a self-identity, a
"who," because consciousness, shown in the particle and wave relationship
of subatomic activity, identifies its activity with the results of
its activity. The activity is its result, unity of matter/mind.
Might not both science and the humanities, in this light, consider a
new and higher level of reality that includes material "stuff" in the
ordinary integrity demanded by the scientific enterprise, while at the
same time uniting its imagined meaning and its fuller expression of
reality? This could be the source of a common epistemology for the
sciences and humanities and for elimination of the "god of the gaps," that
subtle obstacle which still cleaves them apart. Note that language must
begin and renew generally for us within the material universe just
as it did for the ancients. This must occur because only material things,
encountering our senses with their ordinary integrity, can enable initial
abstraction and constantly renewed concrete reference for both science and
Nancy Malone observes that "while the new physics dissolves the very
ground beneath our feet into particles and waves, we have no new
metaphysics on which to stand."(17) Response to
her challenge offers a description: "Here's the physics. Now, taking care
to guard ordinary material integrity, what does it mean, and how do we
judge what is real?" In this way, a meta[after]physics in an evolutionary
universe develops. This metaphysics of "becoming" would replace the
outworn static metaphysics.
In addition, in this higher reach of metaphor, would it become organic
to consider the plausibility of the emergence sometime of a "community
mind" that is, nevertheless, individually held in freedom and choice?
Space between individual and community is no longer an absolute of
distance. Space is an energy/medium. It is neither a vacuum nor "ether"
nor any other former idea of some kind of matter. "The observed properties
of an electron derive from an interplay between the particle and the
We make real what we experience. We discover "stuff," but we
create reality, as we realize our biological roots in the
indeterminacy of the electron and universe. The rest of the material
universe -- quasars that lie beyond astronomical discovery or trees that
fall in the forest without human witness -- is "stuff." Our conscious
creation of meaning -- from initial intuition of personal identity through
the warmth and suffering of fostering relationships to the creation of
beauty, goodness, and truth -- makes human transcendence flourish.
The premise invites another step in the development of reality. This
step rises to a higher level of metaphor, indeterminacy as such,
which abstracts from the indeterminacy in action that generates both the
universe and, ultimately, ourselves. The premise returns to the
foundational and perennial philosophical question that has preoccupied
some of the best minds in history: "Why is there something instead of
nothing?" Response, in the present context, describes its ultimate object
as the self-reflective human person. In addition, "the natural object is
always the adequate symbol (Ezra Pound)."(19) In contrast,
the existence of "being" -- grounded in independently real and
majestically stable, objective material reality, directly created by the
First Cause of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy -- could neither
recognize nor integrate its product, but had to appropriate it by magic.
Surely, a universe of becoming, initiated in far deeper mystery, holds out
greater horizons for investigation.
How Do We Become Ethical/Moral?
What we are is the foundation of who we are. The origin,
nature, and function of the "what" -- the body/brain of the self-aware
creature of the animalian world -- produces the nature and function of
"who" we are. We develop within the animalian world and inherit its
traits, with special emphasis on the drive to survival, as we become
self-reflective creatures. This new "who" becomes an "ego," a center of
human consciousness, charged by nature, if it is to become real, to foster
relationships from the narcissistic self-alone toward Self-Community. In
this great task, the Self counters its hostilities by offering gestures of
public civility as minimal groundwork for fostering relationships.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in a growing desire for
personal integrity. This adaptation of Augustine takes us first to
ordinary experience within which personal integrity is native to a
self-reflective creature. An old order of morality inferred that moral
behavior arose organically from direct religious command. Ancient
anthropomorphic conceptions of divine nature, that arose from "objective"
material reality and society's tribal and monarchical structures, mandated
direct command of ordinary experience to the ethical
But the total human experience arises in the evolutionary realization
as ordinary --> religious, not the other way round. Attempts to teach
ethical-moral behavior other than in this sequence distort reality. Within
an underlying but primary religious command to good behavior, we feel
increasingly dehumanized, while at the same time our longing increases --
within the adult version of childhood wonder -- for spiritual
experience. Repeated polls of spiritual life show this. Much of
contemporary confusion in ethical-moral behavior traces to this reversal
of actual experience. Moreover, human nature responds better to leadership
by lure and genuine "tough love" than to command.
Within the lesser animalian context alone, the individual serves only
itself as it rushes forward in gene propagation by which the species
survives. Ultimately, despite some appearances, there is no
lesser-animalian altruism. Evolution is not purposeful. Within this
heritage, we tend to revise, diversify, and selectively modify all our
animalian instincts. This tight phrase designates a highly complex
process. It must be traced all the way, at least by generalized threads,
from Jung's "collective unconscious" in our animalian and hominid
heritage, to conscious intent to become a responsible Self toward the
balance of Self-Community -- with the personal drive to survival trying to
ride shotgun all the way.
Until we devise a higher view of the dignity of the human person, as
such, the drive to survival can make us do virtually anything to avoid
blame -- yet claim the right to blame the other without limit for serious
aberrations. The immediate need says: If we accept the evolutionary
universe as indeterminate and perceive the marks of abuse on many
from childhood, will we not review our notions of culpability and
punishment? Posing "closure" for families of victims at a sentence of
execution causes the snarl, "Can there be anything more contemptible than
capital punishment as therapy?"(20) Yet, the
rights of others rightly commands incarcerating the person who seriously
breaches those rights.
In this context, the practical question becomes: Can the human species
survive without volitional care for the community by the individual person
beyond the person's own perceived interests? Current events suggest it
cannot. How else explain the human slaughter in Cambodia, Bosnia, and
Rwanda, with comparable threats elsewhere? The wretched of the earth still
must run and hide. Or, how even explain our own mysterious hostilities?
The thesis argues here that we are charged with the task of fostering
relationships in order to become real. Yet, each of us utters the same
individualistic, animalian cry, "me, me!" -- as primal and reflexive as
"the howling of a dog,"(21) -- by which
the universe achieved the very existence of humanity.
In this further context, must we not ask: What is the power and where
does it come from to oppose this self-centered character of the individual
in favor of community? If the thrust of life in this universe, until the
recent emergence of homo sapiens, depended upon individualistic focus --
by means of which the species survives -- this means that the universe
cannot be the source of such power. Life then faces the puzzle: How, when
the universe opposes individual volition, can there be a creature of
supreme significance who still needs power to foster relationships
volitionally in order for its species to survive?
Consequences for Theology
The notion of "objective" material reality splits ordinary and
religious experience, because it must retain the Cartesian categories that
split mind and matter. Such a notion inhibits intellectual curiosity and a
sense of human transcendence and stifles the marvel of an open-ended gaze
in faith at the divine. The ancients validly assumed the reality of things
totally independent of them, for no evidence existed to contradict their
solid-earth notion of reality. The idea of evolution and the inherent
indeterminacy of our evolutionary universe "could not have crossed their
For most religious people this notion endures, and impedes the
imagination, dampens the meaning of experience, and hinders use of the
concept of inherent indeterminacy to renew theology. On the other hand,
accepting the reasoning that we create contingent reality --
although it is the material aspect of the universe that gives us
life and returns our bodies to dust -- frees us to the inner spiritual
experience of the immanent God, who urges us on as we create reality in
this new universe.
In this universe, religious belief renews itself as imagined extension
of ordinary experience while avoiding contradiction of the material
aspect of reality that gives us bodies. In this renewal, dogma is the
enemy of evidence. It dampens initiative toward discussion, thereby
dehumanizing us. How can we coherently believe that we are made "in the
image and likeness of God" (and even add, "in intellect and will"), but
then forbid free inquiry? When we stifle intellectual curiosity, it
hinders entry into ordinary experience of foundational probabilities
required by combined quantum mechanics and Darwinian biology.(23) It fosters
the dualism of mind/matter.
In great irony, then, a system of orthodox, dogmatic religious belief
remains ultimately closed to evidence from the changing ordinary
experience it purports to respect. Such a thought process produces
ideology. These assertions attack the literal shift of ancient
reasoning to the present; they do not attack religious faith. Put
another way, belief in divine power physically manifest sets up a primary
obstacle to interpretation of the Scriptures. Divine revelation in an
indeterminate universe can neither be complete nor closed. As David
Hartman writes, "the very meaning of revelation is God's refusal to act
independently of the process of human experience."(24) Even
"refusal" does not fit the bill, for the concept of divine action,
concerning but independent of us and of material integrity, is
contradictory. The maligned "secular humanist" has much to teach us.
Hartman offers further insight by asking what difference there might
have been, in the role of revelation in most Western Scriptures and
theology, if the more philosophical context of the story of Abraham had
prevailed over the thunder-and-command view of Moses that emerged at Mount
Sinai. For Abraham, "prophecy was a natural expression of philosophical
excellence" that ignored a redemptive history in favor of "worship of God
out of love." Hartman's insight reinforces the implication of evolutionary
reality -- that our experience is by nature free and operates in
reciprocal causality with the religious experience of divine presence.
Imagination and reason work in tandem with faith.
A faith overloaded with directives cultivates childishness or inclines
to despair. Prophet and evangelist both organically held the notion of
divine "command" because of their limited way of knowing reality in a
static view of the universe. But does not the "command" tend to stifle the
"lure" of God (Hos. 2:14)? Is "reverential fear" an adequate substitute
for this concept of a divine love that pursues and allures us? Paul's
justification of the law in temporary place of the promise (Gal. 3:19)
emanates ultimately -- through the Mosaic command structure -- from the
notion of objective material reality. It suits tribal structure.
Traditional ideas of humility, which strengthen the hand of command and
"the obedience of faith," tend to force us into varying degrees of
servility. The evolutionary view urges release from the
Moses-on-the-mountain literal divine command (which is increasingly
disregarded in any event) and urges response instead to the divine lure of
God within. For the Christian, Jesus is the special conduit of this divine
love-power in the resurrection witnessed so powerfully by the disciples.(25) We need not
wonder why the early Christian church in a static universe yearned to
divinize Jesus literally, but in our time we can recognize the
greater opportunity for the incarnation of all self-reflective creatures,
while renewing the human role of Jesus. The "theocentric christology" of
Paul Knitter,(26) John Hick,
and others supports this argument.
Within a mentality that acknowledges the divine as lure, an "analogy of
becoming" then coherently interprets religious experience as re-creation
by the one conceivable and creating absolute, "God is love." Divine
re-creation does not connote material change. The "analogy of being" sinks
to insignificance. Along the route of this interpretation lie the broken
pieces of fallen "objective" material reality. Instead, we now coherently
conceive original divine creation of a fully mysterious "thing" or
"process" -- some proto-indeterminacy, metaphorical and real -- that
precedes in "time" the universe as material and measurable. Surely the
present material universe is but a mere shadow of the potential in meaning
and quality of that preceding entity or process. Moreover, it is beyond
the interest of science qua science. Scientists, in response to the
ultimate philosophical question, "Why is there something instead of
nothing?" do laudably speculate on the nature of these beginnings, for
this reflects their search for "meaning and intelligence in the
universe,"(27) however much
hidden. Physicist Steven Weinberg notes that big-bang cosmology describes
what happens after the origin of the universe, not before.(28) Awed human
reason combines with faith to ascribe divine action to the origin.
Praise rendered to God literally for the "gift of life" usually
denigrates the universe and its creativity. It assumes a directly
created visible universe vaguely connected in a quasi-magical way to
humanity. In fine, the preceding arguments do not attack religious faith:
they attack present reasoning that mistakenly brings ancient reasoning
forward literally under the banner of faith. Fostering this
contradiction constitutes the primary and hidden motive for withdrawal
from established religions. In contrast, in the evolutionary view, God
accepts and re-creates metaphorically in us what the material universe
produces. Imagination and reason work in tandem with religious faith in
this conception, without either of these dynamics compromising the other
or the innate freedom of the self-reflective creature.
Positive grasp of the universe, as evolutionary, reinterprets many
aspects of religious experience. Three major components of this experience
might be designated as (a) the divine covenant made from the
beginning of the self-reflective creature as a human person,
(b) divine empowerment to oppose individualistic, blind animalian
hostility in favor of the community, and (c) hope for transformation
at death to fulfillment of the Beatitudes beyond imagining:
Covenant. It is the universe that gives us life. Then, "the
Spirit of God, brooding on the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2) "finds us in
the wilderness" (Deut. 32:10). God "calls us by name" (Isa. 43:1), and
declares, "You are mine, and I love you" (Isa. 43:4). The initial move is
divine: "Here I am, here I am!" (Isa. 65:1). God never "withdraws." The
ascent of relationship then becomes: a divinely posted proto-indeterminacy
--> universe --> animal life --> humanity --> God. This ascent
responds to the ancient philosophical question, "Why is there something
instead of nothing?" Various descriptions below show this divine love. The
question/response ultimately connects philosophy and theology. John
Courtney Murray notes that it occupied the best minds in the Christian
church during the first six centuries.(29) We, and the
universe we encompass, become enabled to love in response to the divine
love that initiates creation.
Empowerment. The nature of our creation contradicts the need for
initial "salvation," a most unfortunate impediment to heeding the divine
lure. The notion of "hell," derived from centuries of literal scriptural
interpretation and strongly residual in many people, thwarts belief in God
as a loving creator. Hell derives ultimately from mistaken assumptions --
in the sense argued in this paper -- of objective material reality, direct
divine creation, and a literally infinite offense in the Garden of Eden.
These assumptions reflect misinterpretation of God's relationship to us.
They underlie a mistaken notion of "divine anger and punishment" and cause
fear and guilt for myriad people, subliminally even for many who are only
There is no distortion of human nature that leads to wickedness. We are
not a "fallen race" in any sense of "original sin." "God saw all that was
made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1:31), and it remains so. The
assumption that we are cursed with an "innate evil impulse," a common
belief in Paul's day, now must give way to the idea of impulses conceived
in a drive to survival, a drive that develops our animalian becoming.
Therefore, these are virtuous impulses and energy for good. Our
animalian drive for survival and security, energies of the universe which
created us and are hard to control, are available to divine conversion
because we can surrender to the love that is conversion. Should not
"salvation" refer to such a deliverance from bondage to an animalian
self-centeredness that harms my neighbor? Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was
not "a messenger from Satan" (2 Cor. 12:7) but the natural working of
his inner animalian cry, "me, me!"
This animalian heritage of blind hostilities cannot respond,
ultimately, to coercion and command. But these hostilities can
submit to the lure of God's love. How can the raw and consuming desire of
the animalian "me, me!" submit except to unfailing love? And how can such
love be known other than as lure? Augustine asked how anybody could be
good if not made so by loving. "Be it done to me according to your word"
(Luke 1:38) is a response not to command but to lure. God can only lure
and persuade, and we need but one petition: "Convert us, God, our savior."
Divine "command" belongs to objective material reality.
The case for lure shows why punishment does not work in the absence of
the selfless leadership recognized as "tough love." We may hide rebellion,
but we cannot change under the lash. We also know increasingly that the
struggle goes on in an unconscious produced by indeterminacy.(30) In this
light, Western religion -- still greatly in thrall to its God of the
primitive Hebrews, who saw God as a manipulator of forces, but just barely
-- could then know the God who ultimately empowers action in the Jungian
journey from raw ego to the balance of Self-Community.
The animalian drive to survival not only substitutes adequately for the
"innate evil impulse" but bounds upward in life as positive, not as
innately tainted. The Journey -- from the bare human ego, center of
identity and its "me, me!" to the Self who perceives that nobody is an
island, to the Self-Community -- would fire our imaginations and our
native thirst to learn the wonders of ordinary life never before
perceived. New openings would show in more available terms what the
mystics know: in the fullness of the Journey, the divine-human
relationship will focus us in Love as lure, not command. Lure can
then convert feelings of mutual hostility into combined immunity to the
hostility of another and dynamic compassion for the sufferings of all
Transformation. Our hope to live in happiness forever, which is
born within our transcendence, dares to oppose the universe that
birthed, but cannot by its own power complete us. The notion of objective
material reality hinders belief in life after death, the culmination of
divine work according to the fullness of human destiny. Imagination and
reason, working in tandem with faith, might now suggest that divine power
raises us upon death into full union with the one communal body of the
living we know, while our material bodies return to dust. This would mean
divine integration of our consciousness into our communities at death. Our
acceptance of the witness of the disciples of Jesus in the Scriptures is
what being Christian means. Do not the Muslims attest to this
salvation from the ordinary demands of the universe, as they respond in
their way to "Why is there something instead of nothing?"
Would the mystery of this conversion of individual consciousness at
death into union with the community be any more mysterious or "difficult"
than that traditionally believed? The latter envisions literal
"reconstitution" somehow of material bodies in a resurrection of the dead
in some "location" detached from the universe and from our experience. But
Perkowitz can already declare, "We create and carry fields of order
through an enigmatic cosmos,"(31) as he edges
into a neglected philosophy that could use such anthropomorphism licitly
in judgments metaphorical and real. Christians could now expand and
deepen Paul's body-of-Christ doctrine (1 Cor. 12:27) to describe in
limitless fashion our heaven on earth. The idea invokes both the
traditional "new heavens and a new earth" and a new concept of "the
communion of saints."(32) Belief in
this new heaven at death and in such a communion of saints is an
act of faith, but a faith no longer blind and unconnected to this
universe. Ancestor worship is distorted, but in what way?
The more free in spirit we are as human, the more the divine presence
can unite with us. We relate to this divine first as individuals, and
there we find that pursuing God without regard for self establishes full
personal identity and security. Divine empowerment can overwhelm all
exaggeration of ego. The Journey flourishes in eternal completion. In the
same identity in freedom, we counter hostility as we become enabled to
love and to serve neighbor. The God whom we identify in our inner
experience -- as well as in response to the question, "Why is there
something instead of nothing?" -- is the eternal Lover who responds to our
transcendent yearning to live forever in fulfillment.
God does not "deign to create us from on high" and then merely to
associate with us, albeit closely. We are God's love affair, and our
immortality is divine poetry. As the mystics know, we are "the throne of
God's glory," and when we lose ourselves in the divine, we become most
truly found. We have not wasted our studies in the nature and soaring
implications of incarnation. The original divine egg has hatched into the
self-reflective creature that can return the divine love given. God
"dreams for us much more," and the divine hope for creation becomes
1. [Back to text] Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The
Revolution in Modern Science (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), 42.
Niels Bohr, Essays 1933-57 on Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge
(New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1958), 67.
2. [Back to text] See John Polkinghorne, "The Quantum World," in Physics,
Philosophy, and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding, ed.
Robert J. Russell, William R. Stoeger, George V. Coyne
(Vatican City: Vatican Observatory, 1988), 336.
3. [Back to text] Niels Bohr, Essays 1958-1962 on Atomic Physics and
Human Knowledge (Woodbridge, Conn.: Ox Bow Press, 1987), 5.
4. [Back to text] See David Freedman, "Quantum Consciousness,"
Discover 15 (June 1994): 89-98.
5. [Back to text] See Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar:
Adventures in the Simple and the Complex (New York: Freeman, 1994),
6. [Back to text] In Malcolm Browne, "Seeking Beauty in Atoms," New York
Times (July 6, 1993): B9.
8. [Back to text] See Elizabeth Pennizi, "Piecing Together," Science
News 146 (November 5, 1994): 300. See also R. Lipkin,
"Device Goes for the Glow," Science News 148 (25 November 1995):
359. In addition, see I. Peterson, "Faster-than-light Time Tunnels
for Photons," Science News 146 (July 2, 1994): 6.
9. [Back to text] See Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human
Understanding (New York: Philosophical Library, 1970), 128.
10. [Back to text] Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the
Missing Science of Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press,
1994), 348-411, esp. 376.
11. [Back to text] David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics,
Religion, Hope (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987), 48.
12. [Back to text] See Win Sternlicht, in Robin Robertson, C. G. Jung
and the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (New York: Peter
Lang, 1987), xvi-xvii.
13. [Back to text] Many recent studies of the Self are helpful here, for
example, Eugene Fontinell, "The Return of Selves," Cross Currents
43 (Fall 1993): 358-68.
14. [Back to text] Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances (London:
Faber and Faber, 1957), 23.
15. [Back to text] See Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor:
Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning and Language
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977), 216-56.
16. [Back to text] Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle (New York:
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1975), 8.
17. [Back to text] Nancy M. Malone, "Spiritualities in a
Post-Einsteinian Universe," Cross Currents 46 (Winter
18. [Back to text] Steven Weinberg, "Before the Big Bang," New York Review
of Books (June 12, 1997): 17.
19. [Back to text] In Jane Kenyon, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems
(Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1996), 218.
20. [Back to text] Christopher Hitchens, "Dirty Stories," Nation 265
(July 7, 1997): 8.
21. [Back to text] Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free
Press, 1973), 6.
22. [Back to text] See H. J. Renckens, Israel's Concept of the
Beginnings (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964), 168-79.
29. [Back to text] John Courtney Murray, The Problem of God: Yesterday and
Today (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), 31-36.
30. [Back to text] James Hillman, A Blue Fire: Selected Writings, ed.
Thomas Moore (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), 44-45. See Hillman in
conjunction with Ann Belford Ulanov, "Christian Fear of the Psyche,"
Picturing God (Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications,