A friend sent me a reference to a series of books by Ilia Delio, which he said seemed to echo some of my ideas and which he thought I might like to read. So I checked Delio out on Amazon and saw that the introductory quote in one of her books was Einstein’s “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”
No. I am among that group of scientists, including Stephen Hawking who believes that we will never reduce the universe to the totally comprehensible – that there is an infinity which we will never exhaust.
I find a deep and profound peace in that acceptance. I don’t have all the answers; I never will. I live surrounded by mystery. Somehow I am immensely comfortable here. That knowledge and that peace is probably the single most important contribution to my coming to terms with my childhood socialization as a Roman Catholic. There were several other significant steps as well.
One was the realization that the concept of matter as totally inert had been exploded with Einstein’s equation e=mc2 – the equation that demonstrated that energy and matter are two forms of the same thing. We know now that matter is not a passive blob sitting there until something else pushes it along. Matter is a seething mass of movement and energy at its very core.
Why is this so exciting? Well, for me, it brought the problem of the emergence of consciousness into the scientific world. Even today, in my opinion, the single most important unresolved question for science is the fact that we have no idea how the brain produces something as seemingly immaterial as consciousness. Consciousness in all of life is totally dependent on a functioning body. Today through MRI scans, we are even learning some of the minute pathways in the brain that are activated by various kinds of consciousness. But we do not have a theory about how this conversion takes place. It is a parallel problem to the one we had when we used to think, less than two centuries ago, that matter and energy were two completely different things. I do not have the answer to what many philosophers call “the mind-body problem” but I am convinced now that the answer lies in the natural world.
In other words, we do not have to have recourse to Plato’s “spiritual” world which Christianity eventually adopted as “heaven” and “hell,” populated by spiritual beings including God, the angels, and the souls of those who have died before us. I remember the almost ecstatic feeling I had when I realized that I was already home in this universe. I am not living in exile. For all its pain and trouble and difficulties, I am already where I belong. And whatever happens after death, I will not be spirited away into some another plain, to some ethereal heaven or fire of hell. However it will happen, what I am will continue to evolve as part of this natural universe.
Another giant step in my coming to terms with Roman Catholicism was the discovery that the original meaning of “faith” as understood by the Hebrews and the early Christians did not reflect adherence to a strict set of doctrines, but is more accurately translated as “faithfulness.” “Faithfulness” does not require that every one in the community always agree, or always accept the same doctrines. This switch to belonging to the community based on faith as unquestioning acceptance of universal dogmas did not occur in the Christian church until the 4th century. Until then, the essence of the Christian message was that “the greatest of these is love,” that “we are no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female; we are all one.” In other words, we are all — all — in this together. All of us in the human family.