As you may have guessed, I’m not a religious man. I think about religion the way I think about classical music, only more so. That is: I’ve heard it. I’ve played it. I know what it’s all about, but it’s been done to death. I know some people still love it, but to me it seems antiquated and irrelevant.
I don’t worship a God of any sort, but nor would I call myself an Atheist. Atheism is a reaction to religion. Atheists renounce religion, and with good reason, I think, but I’m not about to deny the existence of a force greater than myself in the Universe when science makes it so plainly evident.
Anyone who accepts Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, buys the basic premise of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and can agree on a definition of “organism” would have a hard time arguing against the existence of, if not God, then at least something like God, or something that might have been called God for a very long time, for lack of a better word. I don’t have a better word either, but if you have a moment, and don’t mind stretching your mind a bit, I’ll introduce you, and you can decide for yourself what to call it.
We’ll start with the hardest thing to get your mind around: Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Everyone recognizes the formula E=MCsquared, and knows that atoms are packed with energy, and that’s why we can build nuclear bombs.
That’s not the really interesting thing about relativity. The really interesting thing about General Relativity is that it demonstrated that space and time only exist in relation to an observer.
Einstein wasn’t the first person to figure this out, by the way, the first physicist, perhaps, but not the first person. Immanuel Kant deduced the same thing, about 200yrs ago, logically, based on the a-priori nature of math and geometry. Einstein did the math and geometry and arrived at the same conclusion.
If you want to check Einstein’s math on this, you are welcome to do so. I know I’m not up to it, but I have read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and it seems like an airtight case to me.
This is a very different way to think about space and time than we are used to. To us, space and time appear unified, inexorable and absolute. We think of ourselves as inhabiting space, and passing through time.
I live in Ettersburg, East of Shelter Cove, South of Eureka and West of Garberville, I’ve lived here since the turn of the 21st Century. That is how I would ordinarily orient myself in space and time. Abe Lincoln, on the other hand, lived in Washington, DC during the 1860’s. So, it appears as though Abe Lincoln and I are separated by space, some 3,000 miles, give or take, and by time, 150 years or so.
General Relativity tells us that we don’t inhabit space and time so much as space and time inhabit us. In other words, I live in a very special place called “here” at a time called “now”, and in my experience, Abe Lincoln is a character from the distant past. During his life, Abe Lincoln also lived in a place called “here” at a time called “now”, but in his experience, I did not exist at all.
Abe Lincoln and I both perceive space and time, as the central character in our own experience of here and now, but the idea of a larger space and time in which we both exist at different times, and in different places, is just that, an idea. Ideas, like space and time themselves, do not exist outside of our perception of them. That’s what Kant and Einstein told us.
Space and time only exist within observers. That’s not how the world looks to us, and we cannot even imagine what existence outside of space and time is like, but that’s how it is, and that’s where we live. Still don’t believe me, take it up with Einstein or Kant. I recommend Kant’s The Prolegamena to Any Future Metaphysics for a good first step. If you’re still with me, try to stretch your mind around that for a moment.
You can’t really comprehend anything outside of space and time, but that is where you live, weird as it seems. You secrete space and time in order to make sense of your experience, and you build a concept of the world based on what you experience. So, space and time, as well as a concept of the world, in which you, and every other creature on Earth, inhabit space and time, only exist in relation to the observer who experiences them, namely, you.
OK, that’s the hard part. Let’s take the definition of “organism” next:
An organism is a complex system of interdependent parts, such that the structure and function of each part is determined by it’s function within the whole, and the whole of an organism is always greater than the sum of its parts.
That seems pretty straight forward to me. A cell is made of many parts, but they all function together as one organism. Many cells can function together to form a larger organism, like a plant or an animal. Many organisms can function together to form a still larger organism, such as an ecosystem. Organisms are not objects, nor are they machines. Organisms are alive. Organisms live.
And finally, What’s the gist of Darwin’s Origin of Species?
In the tiniest nutshell, I would say that the crux of Darwin’s biscuit is that all of the organisms that have ever existed on Planet Earth, are related to each other. Does that sound right? There’s a lot more to biological evolution than that, but for our purposes, that’s enough.
Now, imagine all of the organisms that exist on Earth now, and have ever existed in all of history. Imagine the 7 Billion+ humans living now, plus every human who has ever lived, all of their pets, all of their livestock, all of their ancestors, all of the wild animals that have ever lived, all of the dinosaurs, every fish, bird, insect, plant, and mushroom, and don’t forget all of the tiny microscopic organisms like yeast, protozoa, and bacterium. Don’t leave anyone out.
All of those organisms, Darwin would expect us to believe, are related, by birth, to every other organism, including those of you now reading this essay. Now go ahead and throw in all of the organisms that will exist in the future, even though we have no idea what they will look like or how many of them to expect. We’re talking about a lot of organisms now.
What separates this collection of individual organisms from each other? The answer is space and time, of course. Some of these organisms come from the past, others from the present, still others from the future. Some come from Africa, others from Asia and still others from Australia, and so on. No two organisms can occupy the same space and time. This you remember from geometry, and it corresponds to your experience of space and time in the real world. So, all of these organisms, though related, remain separated by their positions in space and time.
What were we just saying about space and time? We went over how Einstein demonstrated that Kant was right when he deduced that space and time do not exist outside of the observer who perceives them. What does that mean for all of those organisms? It means that outside of our perceptions, all of those organisms are not separated. Outside of space and time, where perceiving organisms actually exist, all life on Earth remains undivided. In other words, every organism on Earth, past, present and future, are, in some incomprehensible, but very real way, parts of a single organism, that exists outside of space and time.
What did we just say about organisms? “An organism is a complex system of interdependent parts, such that the structure and function of each part is determined by it’s function within the whole, and the whole of an organism is always greater than the sum of its parts.”
So I ask you, “What would you call an organism made up of every single organism on Earth, such that the structure and function of every single organism on Earth was determined by it’s function within the whole, and the whole of that organism was even greater than the sum of its parts?”
Thanks to Kant, Darwin and Einstein, we know this organism exists. Without it, we wouldn’t exist. We know that we are a part of it, but what should we call it? Gaia?, The Big Organism?, God?, Bruce? Does it matter what we call it? You are never going to mistake it for anything else, and you’re never going to be able to talk about it any more coherently than this, so maybe it’s best not to call it anything. Still, I don’t think it makes sense to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
In fact, I don’t understand why we don’t teach this in schools. The Critique of Pure Reason has been around for over 200 years. General Relativity has been around for most of a century. We teach evolution, and we teach relativity, at least to the degree that most teachers understand it, but but they never quite put it together. Instead, they teach that civilization, the economy and the “rule of law” is what unites us …against the rest of nature.