Are We Alone?

Universe Today summarizes a study that concludes that we are probably the only “advanced” civilization in our galaxy.

The result is reached under assumptions of materialism: intelligence is an emergent quality of large brains. Large brains arise from biological evolution, which requires certain chemical conditions on the host planet (water, minerals and carbon in narrow proportions) and stability of the star about which it revolves.

Of course, what I propose here is that intelligence is the play of ideas between souls, and the brain is only an interface. On vastly larger scales, galaxies are civilizations. They just evolve new forms more slowly than we do – which makes us incredibly dangerous.

But galaxies “think”, and store experience. I trust that we’ll know whether we’re alone when we’re mature enough to receive the answer.

AMPed

I went out to San Dimas this weekend for the AMP (Apologetics-Mission-Partnership) Conference. Four speakers presented on Friday night, with six more on Saturday. For an Evangelical gathering, the speakers were surprisingly diverse. Several were unapologetic in their religious chauvinism, targeting Islam as well as “marginal” Christians. Others were surprisingly liberal, most markedly the scholar who asserted that between Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22, the Bible was a testimony to human error. This struck me because the organizing agency, Reasons to Believe, upholds the purpose of proving the inerrancy of the Bible.

The most stimulating talk was Dr. Ross on the geological processes that stabilized the climate long enough to allow homo sapiens to cover the earth. One chart in particular was mind-boggling: it turns out that prior to the Laurentian, temperatures oscillated in a 24 F range around the mean. The oscillation is driven by the gravitational dynamics of the solar system and the wobbles of Earth’s rotation, and is large enough that large-scale agriculture is impossible. But when the last Ice Age ended, temperatures settled into a 3 F band. No scientific explanation is known, but that stability allowed humanity to cover the planet and then turn its attention to religious and scientific inquiry.

Given my intentions out at Love Returns Ministry, the most valuable part of the event was the opportunities that I had to talk with young adults. A young man in high school walked up on Saturday morning to ask me whether I understood Dr. Ross’s reference to “large and small dimensions.” I don’t know why he imagined that I would be able to answer the question, but he got a survey of the problems in the reigning model of fundamental physics. He chased me down during the morning break, eager for my opinions. As the conversation unfolded, he revealed that he had taken the evolution side of the creation debate in class. When I suggested that Genesis was evolution, he was taken aback until I made the connection between photosynthesis and “Let there be light.”

Then there were three young adults, two caught up in conversation during breaks and one that I searched out to supplement the response she had been given by the presenter of a talk on how as a Christian to talk to youth about sex and relationships. I focused on two messages: first, that Islam was merely a compression of the Hebrew tutelage to faith, with a shift from history to psychological analysis of the Old Testament heroes. Secondly, I emphasized that the presence of love in the heart was the best guide to our relationships, with the ultimate goal of becoming “spiritual engineers.” I found myself doing most of the talking, but when I stopped to apologize, they all responded with variations of “No, thanks for sharing.”

Far better to receive that than the attentions of the scholars at RTB. They are all so terribly certain of the truths they propagate. What’s important to me, however, is that the future manifest new possibilities – the possibilities allowed by hearts and minds that commit themselves in service to Unconditional Love. A positive reception by the participants in that future (our young adults) tells me that I’m doing the right thing.

God’s Plan: A Love Story

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Translation: Combining science and the Bible, we know that it took a billion years before any living creature was capable of loving the entire world (the Garden of Eden). Unfortunately, animal behaviors are strong. The most powerful animals dominate through fear and anger, which cause the brain to degrade, so today the world is ruled by angry vegetables. When they’ve finished making a mess, the rest of humanity will join with the angels and other living creatures to cover the world with love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Gentler Atheism

When planning my trip to Portland, I envisioned walking in snowy woods. The view of the city from the plane did not disappoint – it was covered in a pristine white blanket. It was only when riding downtown on the MAX that I learned what a disaster this was for the residents. Portland rarely sees snow, and the city has been practically shut down for the last ten days.

I did get my walk in the woods out at Breitenbush, in between sessions of the Wild Grace workshop facilitated by Paula Byrne. The experience was refreshing, although challenging. I found myself revealing far more about my journey than I had intended. After my walk in the woods on Monday morning, however, I closed my eyes to offer my gratitude before breakfast, and when I opened them the two new friends at the table said “Thank-you for that.” I found acceptance among them.

Today was my first day driving over the ice and snow. The Dollar lot was kind enough to put me in an Impreza. I don’t know what would have happened without the 4-wheel drive. I was going to go down to the OMSI, but I needed a silk swab for my flute. I ended up bouncing around NW Portland, picking up some books at Powell’s to fill in the mornings and afternoons until heading out for the dance events that drew me here. And well that I did: the rain started this afternoon, turning the roads into an icy slushy mess, and prompting cancellation of tonight’s full-contact improv event.

I picked all my selections at Powell’s from the nature shelves. I’ve been paying far too much attention to the problems people have created for themselves, and feel a strong need to see the natural world through the eyes of people that cherish it. So I find myself with books on bees and nesting.

But I started with Frans de Waal’s The Bonobo and the Atheist. The author is a primate behavioral scientist, focusing on chimpanzees and bonobos (most similar among all the apes to our primate ancestors). Without dwelling on it, de Waal makes clear his preference for the matriarchy of the bonobos, whose casual sexuality supplants fear as social glue. But in both societies, primates evidence empathy, compassion and a sense of fairness that are often upheld by philosophers as markers of “moral” conduct. de Waal extends this attribution, through brief vignettes, to other species in the mammalian order.

Laced throughout the book are reflections on the work of the Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch, famous for his apocalyptic visions. Motivated perhaps by recent works that characterized Bosch as a deviant, de Waal reinterprets the artist as a humanist, noting that there is no representation of God in Bosch’s paradise. The artwork serves as an interesting device in the narrative: de Waal references it in drawing parallels between bonobo and human behavior.

As a work of moral philosophy, the book is weak. de Waal asserts that the cooperative socialization of apes proves that morality is innate, rather than learned. But this is the morality of the tribe that suppressed intellectual innovation for so much of human history. That is not always a bad thing: nerve gas and atom bombs are tools that we probably should do without. But it is the human capacity to innovate that creates social disparity that eventually sunders tribal bonds. I remark that the Greek root – religio – means “to bind again.”

Ignoring this problem, de Waal asserts that religion exists only to claim authority over our moral energies. This is accomplished by generalizing and abstracting the moral impulse. Without demonstrating deep religious insight, de Waal suggests that any such system of moral reasoning divorces us from the physiological and emotional roots of our natural morality. Paradoxically, he observes that natural morality applies only to individuals familiar to us, which leads to gross abuse of the rights of the “other” = whether of different cultures or different species. The book closes with an appeal to broaden our moral attachments – in effect, to repeat the sins of religion by generalizing and abstracting our morality.

Unlike his more intemperate peers (such as Christopher Hitchens), de Waal does concede the benefits that religion confers upon the believer, among them longer life, social amity and a sense of meaning. He believes, furthermore, that as our moral impulse is rooted in emotional experience, any attempt to reason people away from faith is misguided. Religion is to be tolerated.

At this point, of course, de Waal has joined the camp from which I am now seeking to disentangle myself. Every human culture brought forth the concept of the soul from its tribal past. It is the most obvious mechanism for explaining the sympathy felt between intimates when one is hurt (mirror neurons having been proven to be a fiction). Taking the existence of the soul as a given, religion is then best interpreted as an institutionalized orientation toward spirituality, and the ground staked out by the atheist (de Waal among them) subsides in the tidal surge of love that originates from the divine source.

“Man” and “Woman”

The driving motivation for the writing of The Soul Comes First was a reading of the Book of Revelation as just what John said it was: a visit to the Holy Mind in which the angels revealed their relationship to and experience of Christ. The difficulty of the writing is that the insights are like the M.C. Escher drawing of hands drawing each other. Genesis makes sense only if you’ve read Revelation, which makes sense only if you’ve read Acts, which depends upon the Gospels, the chain continuing to a dependency on Genesis.

We have to grok it all at once. I’m afraid that I didn’t succeed very well with that problem.

But the insights continue to trickle in.

Genesis 2:7 says [NIV]:

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

This has been interpreted literally as meaning that Adam was the first instance of the species homo sapiens sapiens. There are those that take a different tack: that Adam and Eve were the sole human survivors of a geological catastrophe such as a major volcanic eruption. But the continuity of the archaeological record undermines all of these interpretations.

Revelation 4 starts where Genesis starts [NIV Gen 1:2]:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

This is the scene that John encounters: the “Spirit of God” being the corporate body of the angels united under the guidance of Unconditional Love. In John’s vision, there are twenty-four of the former – described as “elders” – gathered around the “one on the throne.” We should understand the latter to be Unconditional Love, which is warded by fearsome beasts that prevent the approach of the elders.

So this is the initial state of Heaven before the investiture of God in the Earth. What comes next in Revelation is the sequence of that investiture: a scroll with seven seals is opened, and selfishness is given dominion over the Earth. Then from among the twelve princes of heaven, twelve thousand are sent from each down to Earth. These are the masculine angels that generate change; the feminine angels are held in reserve until a measure of safety is created.

Paleontology tells us that it took approximately a billion years before that safety was attained. Finally, in homo sapiens sapiens, God recognized a species with the potential to express love.

Genesis 2 starts with God’s reflection on that process. The species “man” was created from the dust of the ground, rising up only through an enormous commitment of intention and attention to the manifestation of the potential for life to receive love. If done too early, the gift would have been wasted: it would have been corrupted by selfishness. So love was held in reserve when the 144,000 were sent down from heaven, and remained aloof for a billion years.

God having spawned homo sapiens sapiens as an animal with the potential to elaborate love, Unconditional Love then breathed itself into one such animal, Adam, making him Man. Love was joined to biology, making it possible for us to escape the brutal practices of natural selection as described by Darwin. Recognizing that Adam should not be alone, Unconditional Love then sought for a mate to share the stewardship of spreading love throughout the world. Thus was one female animal imbued with love, creating Eve – the first Woman.

This is what we celebrate when we call them “First Man” and “First Woman” – not the material superfluity of their physical forms, but the transformation that comes with becoming imbued with Unconditional Love.

How did this make Adam a “living being”? Because one of the forms of selfishness is death. Through the link with Unconditional Love, Adam was freed from that captivity. He acted with fearless generosity. It was in seeking to become God’s equal that our thralldom to selfishness was reimposed.

In reflecting on all the evil we have committed since, I have called it “the great working out through the flesh of our dependency on sin.” Each generation becomes a little stronger, and with Jesus to light our way as an exemplar, eventually love will have its way with us.