Did the Universe Begin with a Big Bang? — part 4, a Spiritual Alternative
This article follows on from part 1, part 2, and part 3. These were all extracted from a longer article on the theme of the reunification of science and religion, and then edited, for those readers who are only interested in this specific topic. I am now going to continue with further reflections not from that original article.
I’ve reached the point where, even though Big Bang Theory might be true — many eminent cosmologists believe it — I think I have shown that it is based on some very poor scientific thinking. The most obvious example of this is the claim that Edwin Hubble’s discovery of the redshift demonstrated that the universe is expanding when Hubble himself rejected this claim (as mentioned in part 2). Can bad arguments lead to a correct theory? Perhaps, but probably unlikely.
It’s now time to consider alternative ideas. According to various spiritual traditions there are several levels of reality in the universe; seven is the usual number given. The names given are not always the same, but the overall scheme is easily recognisable. Some of the levels in relation to humans have been called soul, causal, mental, astral, physical, and so on. (I’ve discussed this in two articles on my website¹. What follows is based on material from them.)
The source of these seven levels is an ultimate ground of being, and they are said to emanate from it. It is described as a void, emptiness, or nothingness which in another manifestation, paradoxically, is also a fullness, the totality of all that is, an ultimate oneness, which is creative. It then begins to manifest itself as these various levels, each one increasingly more dense, until it eventually becomes the material world, the lowest emanation, which emerges from the level immediately above it, usually called the astral.
It seems likely that such a process of unfoldment would be gradual rather than sudden, and would therefore render unnecessary any idea of a sudden explosion. It’s interesting to note, however, that Big Bang Theory is a kind of caricature or parody of spiritual thinking on this issue. Various early creation myths use the word ‘void’. This is surely a good word to describe the universe at the time of the singularity before the Big Bang. It is equally a good word to describe the moment when the divine creative principle is withdrawn completely within itself before the process of manifestation begins. Big Bang Theory also describes an ongoing process of manifestation from an initial nothingness, so seems to be on the right track, but lacks a spiritual perspective.
The text of Genesis 1 is very confusing, but nevertheless has pointers to the above understanding of a multi-levelled universe, and describes up to a point that process of creation, provided we do not take the words literally. For example, verses 6–8 say: “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day”.
It is hard to believe that the word ‘waters’ in this context means what we normally understand by it, so how should we interpret it? The dividing dome between the higher and lower waters is called Sky, which we can perhaps interpret symbolically as heaven; at the very least it is some kind of threshold, a distinct separation between the higher planes and the lower. There are waters above it, thus the higher realms of spirit, and waters under it, the lower levels of psyche (including what is known as the astral). This is said to have occurred on the second day, thus early in the process of manifestation.
Then at Genesis 1.9: “God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear’ ”. If we take the ‘dry land’ to mean the material, physical level of the universe, then we have a clear reference here to the emergence of the material out of a less dense, non-material, astral level. The text suggests that the appearance of the dry land is a consequence of some process happening in the lower waters. This is essentially what the modern revolution in quantum physics discovered, that matter, as we perceive it, is an illusion generated from another level of reality, and is actually non-material. This was an idea originally expressed by:
- Werner Heisenberg, “The smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense of the word: they are forms, structures, or — in Plato’s sense — Ideas”.
- Sir James Jeans, “The universe is looking less like a great machine, and more like a great thought”.
- Sir Arthur Eddington, “Matter and all else that is in the physical world have been reduced to a shadowy symbolism”. The material world “which seems so vividly real to us is probed deeply by every device of physical science and at bottom we reach symbols. Its substance has melted into shadow”.
and more recently by David Bohm in Wholeness and the Implicate Order², and Unfolding Meaning³, which is a very interesting title from a spiritual perspective. I take his concepts of Implicate and Explicate Orders in the first-named book to refer to the lower waters and the physical universe respectively. (It is interesting that one of the Greek pre-Socratic philosophers Thales seems to have understood this. He suggested that the earth rests on water.)
Max Planck added an explicitly spiritual dimension to this way of thinking: “There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter”.
I accept that there are other parts of Genesis 1 which do not easily fit with this interpretation. I can only speculate on the reasons for this: have there been editorial changes, meanings lost in translation, or am I reading too much into the text? I suspect, however, that when the original Hebrew version was written, it was, for whatever reason, more profound than the version that has been handed down to us. At the very least, the above interpretation fits more closely with what other spiritual traditions have to say.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
2. 1980, reissued by Routledge, 1995
3. a weekend of dialogue with David Bohm, edited by Donald Factor, Foundation House Publications, 1985