As I’ve made clear in previous posts, I believe we really need to get over the willfully ignorant notion that life is solely biological. I’ve written about the problem from various angles, including scientism and intelligent design, but I’ve avoided discussing religion for a number of reasons. Foremost among those is how religions disagree, both within their own scriptures and with each others’. My premise is that religions offer us a merely human concept of the divine, which means they’re unreliable and aren’t qualified to take part in a rational inquiry about the nature of existence. Today, I want to look into that a little more deeply, and my last post’s focus on cosmic scale got me thinking.
Geologists describe geologically active planets as ‘alive’, but perhaps it isn’t just a metaphor. There’s no particular reason to reject the idea that planets may themselves be alive, and stars would be the same (we know stars do ‘die’, so that means they may also be literally alive). And if planets and stars qualify as life forms, then we’d be remiss to ignore galaxies and galaxy clusters and indeed the universe as a whole.
There’s no particular reason to reject the idea that planets may themselves be alive…
The universe might be alive by its very nature…making it a ‘life ecosphere’.
This idea implies the universe is an ecosystem of life, with life occurring at each of its many levels. It might actually be an organism of its own, but what matters here is to begin considering the universe as alive by its very nature. Life may occur at every level within it, making it a ‘life ecosphere’. So let’s do something unusual; let’s structure it according to our current understanding:
- Fundamental string (theorized ‘binary code’ behind matter)
- Quanta (quark, etc.)
- Atom (element)
- Functional molecular chain (protein, DNA, RNA)
- Cell (systemic cell, bacterium, etc.)
- Organism (person)
- Ethnic group (black/brown/red/white/yellow)
- Species (human)
- Kingdom (animal/plant)
- Ecosystem (planet)
- Macrosphere (solar system)
- Stellar neighborhood (Sol’s local stars)
- Galaxy (Milky Way)
- Local group (collection of Milky Way’s immediate neighbors)
- Galaxy cluster (Virgo supercluster/Laniakea mega-cluster)
We’re neither the most nor the least. About all we can say is that we’re in the mix.
Admittedly, we could eliminate or combine a few of these, but whether we do or not, we find the human race at or near the middle of the size spectrum. This means we’re neither the most nor the least. About all we can say is that we’re in the mix. So why is this meaningful? Well okay, here we go…
In every hierarchy there are levels of authority. All animals act according to a hierarchy of some kind, and we even see this at the cellular level. Therefore, we can surmise that hierarchical authority is intrinsic. Also, since we’re assuming life operates at each of these various levels, then hierarchical authority is involved at each level. And here’s why all of that matters:
Hierarchical authority is intrinsic. Assuming life operates at each of these various levels, then hierarchical authority is involved at each level.
When religions speak of deities, they fail to make clear distinctions about which hierarchical level this or that deity operates at. Take Hinduism, for example. We can deduce from the description of Brahma that this deity operates at the universal level. But then, do Brahma’s direct offspring operate at the galaxy cluster level? It seems unlikely, given that beings at such an expansive level wouldn’t be aware of Earth at all, or even the Milky Way for that matter (I really, really despise that name for our galaxy, btw). So for example, why would Shiva, an authority at the galaxy-cluster level, be intimately involved with the human race? Well, he wouldn’t. So we’re forced to rethink Hinduism’s grasp of the hierarchy, aren’t we? Perhaps Brahma isn’t actually the universe-level deity. Or perhaps Shiva claims direct lineage from Brahma when in reality he may be a planetary deity putting on airs. This would be understandable, given that the ancient human scribes had no concept of there being more domains than Earth. Any higher-level being presenting itself to our ancient relatives could easily claim it was the universe-level authority. How would our primitive forebears know any different?
Any higher-level being presenting itself to our ancient relatives could easily claim it was the universe-level authority. How would our primitive forebears know any different?
So, either Brahma isn’t actually the universe-level deity; or if he is, then his children (Shiva, Vishnu, et al) aren’t the universe-level deity’s direct offspring. If hierarchy is ubiquitous throughout existence, then one of these statements — and perhaps both of them — is true.
The same logic can be applied to Christianity. Is Christ’s father (like Brahma) a universe-level authority, or is ‘he’ merely the sun-level authority for our solar system? Is Christ a galaxy-cluster level authority, or is he a planet-level authority? Or maybe he’s specifically a human race-level deity. We don’t know. Christ presents himself as the authority over life, but does that mean all life in the universe, or only life on planet Earth? Again, we don’t know. But it seems extremely unlikely that a universe- or galaxy cluster-level authority would even know of Earth, let alone engage with individuated life upon it.
Christ presents himself as the authority over life, but does that mean all life in the universe, or only life on planet Earth? We don’t know.
Take this example:
A private in the army is at the lowest rung of authority. When he/she needs orders or instructions, does he/she go directly to the general? Absolutely not. In fact, the general has no idea who this private is; nor does the colonel, nor even the major. The highest level of authority who might be aware of the private by name is the captain, or perhaps only the lieutenant. But even lieutenants don’t give privates direct orders except in special circumstances; standard orders come through the private’s own sergeant, who is several levels of authority beneath the lieutenant. So this is how hierarchy works. We appeal to our direct superior, not the ultimate superior. We do this because we require the interaction of someone who actually knows us and can guide us based on our specific abilities and needs. A general has no idea what each individual private is specialized for or ought to be doing, and so forth. This is chain of command, and it applies within every hierarchical organization, whether familial, social, communal, corporate, military or governmental.
So from a Christian perspective where we’re told to approach Christ directly, we could view Christ as more like our sergeant or lieutenant than a general. This suggests Christ would be a planet-level authority rather than a galaxy cluster-level authority, which further implies that his father would be a solar system level authority rather than a universe-level authority. So we now have this structure:
Human being > Human race > Christ (Earth authority) > Father (Sun authority)
This fits the cosmological understandings of the age in which these religions arose. Back then, there was only guesswork regarding the nature of other planets and no knowledge whatsoever about galaxies, galaxy clusters or really anything beyond Earth, Moon and Sun. The rest were just mystical lights in the sky, some brighter and faster than others. At that time, the sun was worshiped by all primitive cultures, reaching its zenith of appreciation with the ancient Egyptians (and we know there are massive similarities between the story of Jesus and the myth of Osiris, Egypt’s most human-centric god).
So religion presents a hierarchy that doesn’t mirror what we now know about the structure of existence. Are our religions portraying universal gods or local ones? They don’t know, so we don’t know. And this is one of the main reasons why religions can’t contribute to our rational search for truth.
Religion presents a hierarchy that doesn’t mirror what we now know about the structure of existence. This is one of the main reasons why religions can’t contribute to our rational search for truth.
Meanwhile, it may be that the sun has a metaphysical authority which governs the solar system, and from whom each planetary authority receives its charter. Sure it’s far-fetched, but so is an endless array of multiverses, each the result of membrane collisions that come complete with differing laws of physics. Come on now.
When it comes to cosmogony, both religion and science fall back on mysticism, but where religion points to deity, science points to deep time and probability.
When it comes to cosmogony, both religion and science fall back on mysticism, but where religion points to deity, science points to deep time and probability. These are equivalent paradigms, but at opposite ends of the spectrum. Both are unlikely and probably inaccurate. This is not a ‘one or the other’ situation; they’re only two out of a spectrum of possibilities. So when religion says “god” and science says “no god”, they could both be wrong. The truth is likely a third option.
There are almost always more options than the two extremes being offered.
Polarization leads people astray. Polarization is a carefully cultivated form of thought control that seeks to divide people into warring factions. This divisiveness is how rulers maintain control, because they can’t risk a unified population that’s able to overthrow its government. But that’s their problem, not yours or mine. The plain truth is, there are almost always more options than the two extremes being offered. This is just as true for chocolate vs. vanilla as it is for science vs. religion. Have you ever noticed that neither team in a tug-of-war contest gets anywhere? The only way to make progress is to move beyond ‘either/or’ thinking.
Michael is author of the Soulstice Saga, a transcendental ‘spacetime’ opera. He’s observed that reality is polarized against logic and governed by unrelated rules. While frequently disorienting, this situation provides an abundance of quandaries to occupy his restless mind.