Crypto-religious. adj. The belief that mankind occupies a special or divine place in the cosmos.
A new scientific theory suggests there’s hope for humanity after all. Drew Turney investigates…
After 150 years of scientific advancement, we’re a spiritually barren species. We’ve been shaken from our position at the pinnacle of nature, reduced to what Stephen (A Brief History of Time) Hawking called ‘a chemical scum on the surface of the Earth.’
But as anyone who’s seen the educational policies of the US federal government knows, Creationism is making a big comeback. And if the conservatives ever want a scientific rather than a dogmatic argument, here’s one for a guiding hand at work, be it the Blind Watchmaker of Charles Darwin (via author Richard Dawkins) or the sentient, loving beings of our many religious faiths.
Us. We shouldn’t be here.
The cosmos opened the tiniest windows of opportunity for so many of the crucial steps between the big bang and the first Homo sapiens.
Author Paul Davies describes in his latest book The Goldilocks Enigma (Allen Lane) the all-too convenient state of the universe being ‘just right’ for the rise of humanity against all the odds, like Goldilocks’ third bowl of porridge. Human bodies are made of the same fundamental particles as rocks, cars, planets and ice cream. To Davies, the key is that ‘what makes life special is not the stuff of which it is made, but the things it does’.
First, there are the incredible coincidences of chemistry themselves. If the big bang had been a micron stronger, gravity wouldn’t have been enough to overcome the sheer velocity of the early universe and matter would never have formed. A hair’s breadth weaker and the newborn cosmos would have been crushed back in on itself.
Then there’s the second law of thermodynamics, which says that all energy disperses or spreads out. Think of ice melting in your glass, causing the molecules of water to spread throughout the drink chaotically. Like the ice, every natural process moves inexorably towards a state of disorganisation… except one. Organic life.
Biological evolution is the only example of spontaneous organisation toward a more complex state. We started as single-celled organisms in the ocean and ended as homo sapiens when it should have been the other way around. Instead, our ancestors became increasingly complex and specialised.
Something is making us more complicated as we evolve, but it’s not time to panic and go to confession just yet. What we have here isn’t proof God exists, but a teleological principle built into the universe.
Put simply, teleology is the idea that something happens with a goal in mind. Scientists don’t like it, however. According to The Goldilocks Enigma; ‘The core idea of Darwinism is that nature cannot ‘look ahead’ and anticipate what may be needed for survival At the level of atoms interacting with other atoms, causation is right there in the interaction, and makes no reference to any sort of destiny’.
Much like the media’s reporting on cross media ownership laws, teleology feels to many just a little too rigidly controlled. It’s usually lumped in with the ‘guiding hand’ principle.
But Davies, in The Goldilocks Enigma, raises the possibility that we might indeed be special because of a fundamental ‘life principle’. We just might be looking in the wrong direction.
Since Einstein’s theory of relativity, the concept of time has been radically redrawn. It’s not the all-pervading, constant ticking of a cosmic clock we feel as we go about our lives at a steady pace on the constant gravity of Earth’s surface. Extremes of velocity, temperature and mass can affect time’s passage, which is why you often hear (somewhat incorrectly) that Einstein proved time travel was possible.
So when you accept that particles and energy (at both supra-galactic and microscopic levels) behave in freakishly bizarre ways, the idea of a process manifesting backwards through time isn’t so hard to believe.
Maybe the life principle (it might be a field of particles or a shudder of energy we simply haven’t identified) is indeed heading away from a state of complexity… backwards. In the reverse order everything else (including us) is going.
The universe is likely to be full of such processes we can’t even imagine. So while we’ve barely scratched the surface of astrophysics, the Creationists have one huge salvo to fire into the fray; it’s right there in any mirror.