What is the Universe?

In his new book, The Return of the God Hypothesis, Stephen Meyer discusses three fundamental scientific discoveries in support of Intelligent Design. First, the cosmological discovery that the universe had a beginning in the “Big Bang”; second, the discovery that the physical laws of the universe are exquisitely “fine-tuned” for the possibility of life; third, the biological discovery that large amounts of information are encoded in DNA gene sequences.

For Meyer, this all amounts to strong evidence for a classical theistic God who created the universe and who can interact with it. This is the traditional Christian view. The atheist view is that the universe came to being by some kind of mysterious material process and then proceeded to evolve by sheer fortuitous accident. The extreme statistical implausibility of this view is mitigated by postulating an infinity of universes, among which ours was the “lucky” one.

So what is the universe? Is it the “Creation” of Judeo-Christian belief? A kind of artifact made by a Divine Architect who periodically tinkers with to make sure it doesn’t fall apart? Or is it a kind of miracle produced by Cosmic Accident with no rhyme or reason other than that projected onto it by its funny little conscious bipedal accidents?

Or is it something else? If we accept that the universe had a beginning, then we must accept that there was a moment of “creation” and that this “creation” must come from somewhere (as King Lear reminds us, “nothing comes of nothing”). But maybe “creation” is the wrong word. Creative people create things. For all their excellence and beauty, these things (like the Mona Lisa) are still things. We create works of art, artifacts and machines. When we look at the universe, it’s natural to think of it as a something like that, because it looks like an objective thing, a “creation”, something we would make if we could.

Another way of thinking about a beginning is not as a “creation”, but a “birth”. In chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu writes,

“There was something formless and perfect

Before the universe was born.”

But if the universe was born rather than created, then something or someone must have given birth to it, something “formless and perfect” (at least from our point of view). Lao Tzu continues,

“It is the mother of the universe.

For lack of a better name,

I call it the Tao.”

For Lao Tzu, the Tao is the “Mother”. For Christians, it is the “Father”. For lack of a better name, they call it God.

Either way, the implication is that the universe is not like a piece of furniture created by a master craftsman, but like a child born of a parent. The “evolution” of the universe is then simply the “development” of the child, the universe “growing up”. In this scenario there’s no need to fret about the “fine-tuning” of the universe or the information rich “signature in the cell”. These are just the characteristics of the growing God Child. There’s no need for God to design anything or intervene in the inner working of the universe, because the nature of the universe is already intrinsically God-like.

But perhaps the word “born” is not quite right either. No one is born instantaneously out of nowhere. Humans need nine months gestation in the womb before they can be born. A better word for the origin of the universe is therefore “conception”. In which case it may well be that the universe has not been born yet, but is still at the embryonic stage of God Child development. If that’s the case, imagine what the actual birth will be like!

This organic as opposed to mechanistic view of the universe as a Super Organism, conceived 14 billion years ago and slowly developing into a fully grown baby Super Organism is difficult for a sober human mind to wrap itself around. For a psychedelic human mind, on the other hand, it’s easy, as easy and obvious as looking at yourself in a mirror, not darkly, but face to face.