A simple question, “If there is a spiritual world, Yeshua’s Kingdom of God, does it exist in what science defines as physical reality, or is it just part of human imagination and superstition???”
Gospel of Thomas Logion 3: Yeshua said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘Look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds will get there before you do. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ the fish will get there first. Instead, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the children of the living Father. If, however, you do not come to know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty, and you are that poverty.
Gospel of Thomas Logion 113: His disciples asked him, “When will the Kingdom arrive?” [Yeshua answered,] “It is not coming in a way you can see outwardly. No one is going to say, “Look, over there!” or “There it is!” Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.”
Yeshua had quite a lot to say about the Kingdom of God. Numerous times he states that the Kingdom is already here, yet it is still to come. These two logions from the Gospel of Thomas sum up some interesting concepts about this Kingdom of God. Logion 3 speaks of the Kingdom as not residing in the commonplace world, but rather, in the subjective consciousness of each individual. Logion 113 goes to the central idea of this post, that the Kingdom is here and we fail to see it.
The above picture of a Giordano Bruno woodcut from a 19th century science text, depicts the dilemma of a 21st century spiritual seeker functioning in the current scientific materialism worldview. Modern day seekers of the spiritual feel like they are living a dual, schizophrenic lifestyle. We live in a world where materialism and scientific objectivity rule, and the world of the spiritual is forever separated by a barrier that only a few mystics seen to be able to penetrate. Seeing beyond the veil to live in both worlds seems an impossibility. For most, the religious experience consists of going to church, hanging up our coats and brains in the narthex, then proceeding inside to receive our weekly dose of spiritual advice, afterwards we collect our coats and brains on the way out to spend another week in the “real world”. That hour of the spiritual can be very uplifting, but when the work week closes in a little voice in our head tells us it’s just not part of the “real world”. How can we possibly identify with the worldview of Yeshua, Sha’ul of Tarsus, Buddha or Krishna, where mysticism, mystery, and miracles are a way of life. Today “Bruno’s barrier” seems almost impenetrable and the other side of the barrier is cast in meaningless superstition.
The good news is that there is a way to restore the balance between these two material and spiritual worldviews, but is it possible to make Bruno’s barrier disappear? To do so we need to better understand the strengths and limitations of scientific materialism. Both science and spirituality have the same ultimate goal, to discover the Truth (with a capital T) about our reality, world, and self. So let start with science.
The purpose of this post is not to extol the superiority of one worldview over the other or even get “down in the weeds” of finding some common ground. I simply want to demonstrate that there is plenty of “intellectual room” in our current understanding of both worldviews for them to coincide and perhaps even to inform each other.
The Scientific Worldview
Today, in the USA, scientific theories take precedence over all other worldviews, including religion. They impregnate our life with so called proven “facts” that have challenged the spiritual worldview of many people. So lets take a look at the “legs” that scientific materialism stands on.
Science today has a double meaning depending on how you use the word. In one case it can refer to the information generated by the scientific method, statements of fact that appear in numerous textbooks; however, in a second, more important case, it refers to a rigorous method if investigation. The scientific method is a workflow for gaining information about the universe. It was “invented” by Galileo when he realized that the world could be investigated through the use of observation and measurement. In short, he would formulate a hypothesis (theory) and then test it with an experiment which involved measurements.
A scientific experiment always tries to disprove the hypothesis, never does it prove the hypothesis true. The most sacred statement in science is, an experiment can ONLY prove a hypothesis false, it can never, ever prove anything true. The most cherished scientific theories are always just one experiment away from being thrown in the trash can or modified to agree with the data. Any scientist stating that, “Science has conclusively proven that…..”, needs to find a new vocation.
That being said, a theory that has survived many experimental tests over a period of years gains the status of a “successful theory”; but even then these successful theories evolve over time to conform to new experimental test results. Regrettably, scientists are only human, and they tend to teach and promote successful theories as if they were unassailable “Science Given Truth”. It turns out that Bruno’s barrier is actually one of human ego, and not one of undisputed fact.
Many people see the proliferation of consumer products spawned by technology that was derived from numerous scientific theories. This gives people the false impression that the theories behind these product must be solidly proven and an accurate representation of reality. Not so! Lets consider two very successful physics theories that make statements about the metaphysics of reality. Consider Newtonian mechanics, excellent for making pool shots, targeting artillery, and understanding how objects in the universe move. Although still taught in schools, Newton’s theory was literally replaced, about 115 years ago with relativity theory and quantum field theory. Newton’s laws and theories are not wrong, we now just consider Newtonian mechanics a crude approximation of the far more accurate quantum and relativity theories.
These two successful theories, general relativity and quantum field theory, describe two very different philosophical realities for the universe. Newtonian theory has the universe as a clockwork mechanism that starts from a set of initial conditions and is slowly winding down, independent of any conscious observer, a rigorous slave to the equations until the final heat death of the universe. There is no room for free will, consciousness, subjectivity, spirituality, or creativity. Here the only role for God is as creator, the entity that winds the clock, sets the equations in place, and then retires to hospice care for the duration. A very depressing worldview. Quantum field theory, on the other hand, can accommodate all of the above and still have room for consciousness to play a necessary role.
Today scientific ideas take precedence over all others, including religion. They paint our worldview with so called proven “facts” and have replaced the spiritual worldview of many people. As a result of this many seekers have abandoned a spiritual mindset and are leaving religious institutions in droves. This is unfortunate and unwarranted.
Once more, and with feeling, the scientific method is incapable of proving anything conclusively true. Successful scientific theories are based on a preponderance of the data and can be overturned whenever enough new disproving evidence appears.
Scientific Faith Statements
The weakness of any worldview is in the assumptions that it must use to “bootstrap” the creation of it’s core ideas. The scientific method needs a metaphysical background in which it formulate it’s theories. These faith statements are a necessary set of assumptions that form the basis for hypothesis development. The primary worldview derived from these assumptions is Scientific Materialism. This science worldview is solely derived from five basic assumptions about reality and they are all difficult, if not impossible, to test by experiment. As such they are taken on “Faith” as a given. Yes, even scientists have their own set of dogmatic faith statements. Combine these five assumptions and you get the metaphysical framework that is the basis for all hypothesis development in the scientific materialism worldview.
- Objectivism – This assumption states that the only reality of significance, the objects we perceive as the physical universe, exists “out there” beyond human subjective minds.
- Metaphysical Realism – This assumption states that the objective universe “out there” can be known by the subjective human consciousness. The human mind is separate and not part of the material universe.
- The Closure Principle – The assumption which denies the possibility that anything other that material influences can effect any aspect of the natural world.
- Universalism – An assumption that declares that all rules and “laws” are universal in that they are the same in every location and aspect of the universe.
- Physical Reductionism – This assumption reduces all of the universe to physical entities and interactions that can be taken apart and dissected to the smallest level of measurement.
Assumption number 3 is the one always user to attack religion and spirituality as being impossible and absurd. Not many people understand that this linchpin of evangelical materialism is only an assumption (a Scientific Faith Statement). An even less known fact is that over the past 120 years, all five of these assumptions have been challenged by numerous experimental results.
While the materialistic worldview worked well under the Newtonian paradigm, inconsistencies and contradictions occur within modern quantum field theory. All five materialistic assumptions fall afoul of quantum theory, where there is no “world out there” and the conscious observer is an integral part of the system. Where space-time is not just a stage where things happen, but an actual medium permeated by the zero point field energy and numerous other quantum fields that, when “excited” by a conscious observer, create all the particles in the universe. In other words, matter is secondary because its only an excitation of a quantum field. Matter is an illusion caused by human senses and a conscious mind interacting with quantum fields. Physics is becoming spiritual.
It is not anti-scientific to question the established worldview, but actually central to the process of science itself. At the heart of the scientific method is a spirit of creative and open-minded inquiry. Ideally, science is a process, not a religion or a belief system. Individuals that preach scientific theories as undisputed, proven scientific dogma are making faith statements in the Religion Of Science. Whatever worldview replaces scientific materialism in the future will certainly have room at the table for the spiritual, thereby eliminating Bruno’s veil to make way for one unified and holistic universe, where the material and consciousness work together to define “Reality”.
The Spiritual Worldview
“The Spiritual”, it refers to the experience of connecting to a larger reality we believe exists. Spirituality is an experience, a sense of participating in something larger than ourselves, but the experience is shaped by what a person believes that larger reality is, so spirituality will be different for different people, therefor subjective.
For many, whatever the spiritual world may be, it’s not physical but supernatural. That is, its events don’t have to follow the laws of physics. If we assume this, then the answer to the question of whether a spiritual world exists in physical reality must be no. There could be no spiritual world except as an idea. However, if we accept that the spiritual world is real , it must follow the laws of physics. We could ask: Is it possible that in our universe of reality there is actually a spiritual realm?
Warning, if the spiritual world is a part of physical reality, it may not be what you expect!!
A visual aid will help set the stage. The figure above is the Sanskrit representation of the Hindu sacred word Om surrounded by an Uroboros.
Om is a sound and a symbol which is rich in meaning and depth. It represents the divine in each of us, as well as our inter-connectivity to the universe. It reminds us that we have the ability to move past our physical and mental states of consciousness and connect with the divine, both in ourselves and other people.
Uroboros: A symbolic representation of coming full circle. The Uroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. The name originates from within the Greek language; (oura) meaning “tail” and (boros) meaning “eating”; thus “he who eats the tail”. For thousands of years cultures around the world have independently chosen the uroboros to represent concepts of the Cosmic Divine.
While the above Uroboros/Om symbol brings to mind the infinite spiritual oneness of God, Universe, and humanity; we are about to use it in a very scientific way in order to understand the reality of the spiritual world.
The Kingdom Of God: Is It Just A Matter Of Scale?
From the scientific point of view the universe is very large but finite. It turns out that what is “real” in a physical sense, and what is “real” in a spiritual sense, may be simply a matter of cosmic scale. Perhaps the clearest way to understand the interplay between physical and spiritual that lets the spiritual world exist inside our universe, is through the Uroboros figure below. This unique “Cosmic Uroboros” represents the known universe from it’s largest structures, near the head, to it’s smallest, near the tail. On the body of the serpent are common structures in the universe corresponding to the size scale represented on the circumference of the serpent, where a centimeter, cm, is about two-fifths of an inch.
The head of the serpent represents the largest size science can know anything about, the size of our visible universe, about 1030 centimeters in radius, which is approximately 46 billion light-years in radius. In the other direction, there turns out to be a special small size that defines the minimum mass that quantum mechanics allows to be confined in any given region. That size, about 10-33 centimeters, and is called the Planck length. The serpent’s head is more than 1063 times bigger than it’s tail. That’s a one with sixty zeroes after it. An important item to note is that the scale of the universe is more than the human mind can conceptualize.
But the truly amazing thing is that all the universe’s exotically large and small size scales have now been discovered. In pure mathematics the powers of ten go on infinitely, but not so in the physical world. The Cosmic Uroboros is complete. We now know both the smallest size and the largest size possible in the universe, giving us a concept of the universe as a whole. The Cosmic Uroboros swallows its tail because tail swallowing represents the idea that gravity may be the link between largest and smallest; therefore, it may be the force that unifies the universe.
Where do we humans fit into this grand scheme of things? It turns out that people are almost exactly at the center of the universe in terms of our size. This means that there is just as much universe within us as there is outside of us. Is it a coincidence this matches Yeshua’s statement in Logion 3? Our central size location on the Cosmic Uroboros is the sweet spot for complex intelligence. It’s the size that’s big enough to be made of a huge number and variety of atoms, but small enough so that the cosmic speed limit, the speed of light, doesn’t interfere in the slightest with our internal communications, like thinking.
Of all the sizes possible in the cosmos, there is a size range that is special for creatures like us. This size range is depicted in the blue colored region in our Cosmic Uroboros seen above. This is the range of sizes, from the tiniest creature visible to the naked eye up to maybe the sun, that contains everything humans have always been able to see. Let’s call this size range “Home” to keep things simple. In this Home range of sizes our good old “Earth-based intuition” can be reliable. It is the Home of “common sense”. It is the cosmic size region that informs our perception about what is “Real”. It’s the narrow range of sizes that are familiar to us and that have shaped human consciousness and intuition throughout our evolution. It is this size scale that is “Home” to us as material, physical, and human reality.
But as our minds use complex technology based tools and instruments to explore outside our “Home” region, reality starts to become “strange”. The concept of “physical” becomes progressively more metaphorical where at very large and very small scales it loses its meaning entirely. Why? Because to explore these regions humans can not rely on their senses, we must use instruments to collect the data for us. Instruments such as telescopes, electron microscopes, satellites, and particle accelerators become our proxy senses.
Every size scale holds a different world. Every world, when you focus on it, appears to be not a size scale but reality itself.
A simple question from the realm of the very small illustrates the point: “Is an individual electron a physical object?” No informed scientist really wants to answer this question. Why? Because an electron is not literally a particle like a tiny marble, it’s a “quantum field probability” that something will happen. That quantum probability is what is confirmed by experiment with our proxy instruments; thus making the electron “real”. Can a quantum probability be a physical object? No one knows!
What we mean in ordinary discourse by the word physical turns out to be utterly irrelevant to most of the universe. In fact, the phrase “physical universe” is an oxymoron, since so much of the universe is not what we normally mean by physical, even though it’s governed by laws of physics. “Physical” is a clear and meaningful characteristic only of things in the size range humans call Home. It may well be the defining characteristic of Home.
So what is the rest of the cosmos if it’s not physical? The rest of the Cosmic Uroboros, depicted as black in the diagram above, is the spiritual realm to us. We can have no direct sensory contact with electrons or super clusters of galaxies, our sensory awareness works only in the size range of our blue colored Home. Indeed home is surrounded by the spiritual world. An important note however, God is not the objects depicted along the serpent, not the atoms, humans, stars, or galaxies; God is the conceptual framework that holds them together and gives meaning to our universe.
Most of the universe is spiritual, but only if we remember what those words mean. We live in the cosmos’ physical core, size wise, but the emerging God has made it possible for us to see the whole of how everything is connected.
Science and religion are on the same quest in the same universe. It’s all connected!