In the beginning ... what?
God made heaven and earth! How?
Clear your mind as best you can, and go back to nothing. Nothing at all. No time, no space, no mass, no energy, nothing. Then what? Something happened!
Or maybe not. Maybe there was no beginning. Perhaps the universe always existed in one form or another, expanding and contracting as some form of intelligence manifested itself and demanifested by turns. This is what many of the Eastern religions believe. Now some quantum physicists think so, too. They call it the Big Bounce, but does it really make any difference? We are here now.
It does seem to matter a great deal to many people. Some individuals are ready to die, and take others with them, over issues as esoteric and speculative as this. Don’t just think Islamic fanatics. Take a good look at Christian history, or for that matter, almost any other faith.
This is why the introduction of "intelligent design" in our school system is a really bad idea. It is nothing more than an attempt to get around court rulings that prohibit teaching Christianity in our public schools. In an increasingly diverse and interconnected world, governments must not promote a single religious view of any kind.
However, I am perfectly willing to embrace some form of intelligent design (God as creator) if we trace it all the way back to the very beginning. But in order to so we must also embrace evolution, the story of how we got from first germ of physical existence to the multitude of life forms we see around us today.
We can’t accept the gifts of science — modern medicine, all the benefits of biological research in other fields — and reject evolution, which is not only the scientific basis of these wonders, but profoundly religious as well because it says we are all related, all children of one divine mystery.
So let’s start with nothing, not even emptiness because in the beginning there was nothing around to be empty. Here the atheist also stands alone with nothing. When I asked a self-proclaimed atheist how we got from nothing to where we are today, he spoke vaguely of some sort of accident or something crossing a threshold. This is no answer. Intellectual laziness or disinterest perhaps, but not an answer.
Like it or not, some force, some form of intelligence, became manifest. We have no other word for this but God. The next question is, of course, what is the nature of God? And if God is all knowing and all powerful, how do you explain the suffering of the innocent?
Evolution deals with physical matter, and matter follows the laws of nature. Science examines, tests and describes these laws. We are made of matter, and when we are cut, burned, inflicted with disease or otherwise damaged, we feel pain. We suffer. This is the price we pay for being physical beings.
But we are also sentient beings with the capacity to form emotional bonds with other sentient beings. We not only feel our own pain, we can feel the pain of others. Apparently some animals can do this, too, but we are one step further along the evolutionary scale. We can do something about it. We are learning how to alleviate pain, something no other animal can do.
From a beginning shrouded in mystery, organized systems arose out of chaos and became increasingly complex. A positive force was and still is at work, but positive does not necessarily mean benign. How this force is described and how it is used is up to you and me. Evolution, however, is optimistic. Its laws allow for new and innovative systems that can improve life on Earth. There always will be a certain amount of physical pain in a physical world, but humanity need not suffer.
Evolution, change through time, is a fact of existence. It behooves us to understand what this means. What are its laws? How do they function, because everything evolves, everything changes: the earth, everything that walks, burrows or swims. The sun and the stars evolve. Even the galaxies evolve.
Evolution is simply a process, but it is a magnificent process that traces everything back to a single point. We are all of one substance; we are all related. In Christian terms, we all have one Father.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesville times.com.