Monthly Archives: August 2023

Cosmogenesis et al. vs The Universal Christ

From very early times mankind has wondered about the origin and nature of the universe and our place in it. Many theories have also emerged over the years about the origin of life and where it can be found. Let’s examine some of these theories.
Early man looked at the movements of the sun, the moon, and the other stars and planets and concluded that the Earth was at the center of the universe and these all revolved around it. They believed the Earth was essentially flat and if you could travel to the extreme edge of it, you would fall off. This belief was challenged once sailing ships which ventured far enough from shore were observed to sink below the horizon only to rise and reappear as they returned to shore. Gradually the belief grew that the Earth was a sphere like the heavenly bodies observed. Thie evolved to the point that, in 1492 A.D., Christopher Columbus set sail towards the west to find a route to India which lay east of Europe, discovering the American continent instead. Then in September 1522 a remnant of the crew of Ferdinand Magellan, although he had died along the way, completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth, proving conclusively that Earth was a sphere.

The next big change came in the middle 1500’s A.D. when the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus proposed that the planets, including Earth. have the Sun as the fixed point around which they orbit. This representation of the heavens is usually called the heliocentric, or “Sun-centered,” system. Needless to say, the idea that Earth was not the center of the universe caused great consternation in religious circles and fostered a surge in scientific investigation of the nature of the universe.
Sir Isaac Newton, an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, alchemist, theologian, and author, was a key figure in the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment that followed. In his pioneering book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), first published in 1687, he formulated the laws of motion and universal gravitation that formed the dominant scientific viewpoint for centuries. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the mechanical worldview developed from the work of Newton, René Descartes and Francis Bacon, saw the universe as a great machine put in place and set in motion by God, the master technician, which ran itself with a precision such that the movement of its parts could be calculated with great precision.

Then Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity (e=mc 2) in 1905, which described the relationship energy and matter. Ten years later (in 1915) he published his general theory of relativity, which postulated that gravity might not be a force like the other physical forces, but a result of spacetime’s curvature. Einstein’s field equations, published in 1916, predicted the expansion of the universe, but he initially believed that the universe as a whole did not change, thinking he had made a mistake somehow in his equations. By 1922 Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman had shown Einstein’s equations allowed three different solutions, one of which was the model of the universe expanding through time, and he tried to convince Einstein of this. But direct evidence of this theory was needed, which came when observational cosmologist Edwin Hubble observed through the telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory in California that the cosmological red shift showed the universe was expanding at a calculable rate. It was Georges Lemaître then, the Belgian mathematical cosmologist, who in 1931 invented the theory that the cosmos was expanding from a powerful explosion at the beginning of time, i.e., the Big Bang theory. Working backwards from the current state of the universe, scientists have theorized this all began roughly 13.8 billion years ago, which is thus considered to be the age of the universe.

So, the universe was once again seen as a vast machine with predictable movement of its parts, as previously envisioned by Isaac Newton, René Descartes and Francis Bacon, except this time it was dynamically expanding, rather than remaining static. This theory worked quite well on the macroscopic level with large objects which could be observed, and which could have their characteristics and movements precisely calculated. The study of quantum mechanics, however, beginning around 1900 and progressing throughout the 20th century, deals with microscopic or subatomic particles, and it began to change our understanding of the nature of the universe.

Quantum mechanics differs from classical physics in which energy, momentum, angular momentum, and other quantities have discrete values which can be accurately measured. In quantum physics, objects have characteristics of both particles and waves (wave–particle duality); and there are limits to how accurately the value of a physical quantity can be predicted. Superstring theory, which emerged in the 1980s, added the suggestion that the microscopic landscape is suffused with tiny strings whose vibrational patterns orchestrate the evolution of the cosmos, which appears to resolve the conflict between general relativity and quantum mechanics. It also suggested the existence of additional dimensions beyond the four we are familiar with, bringing the total up from four to ten or eleven, possibly including more than one dimension of time. One thing is absolutely clear from all these discoveries. There is much more to the physical universe than meets the naked eye.

So much for the current status of an evolving universe. Although we now believe we know how and when the universe began, the question remains: What set off the Big Bang that started it all and why? Many scientists have realized that the way in which the universe has evolved had to be exactly as it has been in order for the unfolding of life on the Earth, the only place in the universe where we have found it so far. Based on what science has discovered, three main schools of thought have formed. Each of these agree that the expansion of the universe is extraordinarily elegant. The first focused on the idea of a multiverse of many different universes, one of which (ours) evolved exactly as needed to produce life. The second suggested it was all somehow by design, But whose? And the third focused on the inner ordering dynamics of the universe, without saying how that came about.

There is no way we on Earth can verify the existence of other universes than the one in which we reside, so let’s stick with the other two approaches. The design approach requires an entity with the ability to not only conceive, but also execute, the design. Christians believe that entity is God, but many others dismiss the idea that God exists. We’ll return to that later. The third approach suggests the universe has a mind of its own. Let’s explore that idea a bit. Many authors have written about this. Eckhart Tolle, for instance, a German-born spiritual teacher and self-help author, in his extensive writings, offers a very contemporary synthesis of Eastern spiritual teaching. He claims there is no ultimate distinction humans, God, and Jesus. He urges us to keep in touch with the deepest source of our Being, a term he uses to describe the universal essence he says we all share. When asked if he was talking about God, he replied: ‘The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse…The word Being explains nothing, but nor does God…Nobody can claim exclusive possession of Being”.

Carl Sagan, the American astronomer, planetary scientist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, science communicator, author, and professor, said: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”
And: “The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding… They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival”. And as to human life he said” “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” He makes no effort to explain how and why the cosmos came into existence, only that it does and that as it evolved it produced life.

In his book “Cosmogenesis; An Unveiling of the Expanding Universe” Brian Thomas Swimme begins by saying he wanted to discover “the mathematical structures of a cosmic primordial intelligence that knew we were coming.” Scientific discoveries over the last four and a half centuries, he says “have enabled us to discover our cosmic genesis, which can be summarized as: the universe began fourteen billion years ago with the emergence of elementary particles in the form of primordial plasma, which quickly morphed into atoms of hydrogen, helium, and lithium; a hundred million years later, galaxies began to appear and in one of these, the Milky Way, minerals arranged themselves into living cells that constructed advanced life, including evergreen trees, coral reefs, and the vertebrate nervous systems that humans used to discover this entire sequence of universe development.” His conclusion is that the universe began structuring itself from the beginning with the objective of creating life in an environment that was perfectly suited to harbor and maintain it. And he seems to imply that the universe did this of its own accord.

On the other hand, design scientists, such as William Dembski, pursue the idea that the universe is just right for life because an outside divine agent has designed things that way, which is in keeping with Isaac Newton’s belief. They regard the design approach to be philosophically superior because it provides an actual explanation of why the universe is the way it is, going beyond the bare fact that it is. For those of us who believe in God, the Bible offers much to support this theory. To start with , the first book of the Bible tells us that in the beginning of time, God created the universe, sun, moon, stars, the planets, and then all living things, including human beings made in his own image and likeness. And these were placed on Earth, one of the planets, in an environment that was perfect to nourish and sustain them. That is still true today, in spite of all our misbegotten efforts to deface and destroy it. And it will remain so until God replaces it with a new and better Earth, in spite of our fears of nuclear annihilation.

To answer the questions of the origin of the universe and particularly of life, the Apostle John wrote:
“From the first he {Christ} was the Word, and the Word was in relation with God and was God.
This Word was from the first in relation with God.
All things came into existence through him, and without him nothing was.
What came into existence in him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
(John 1:1-4 The Bible in Basic English)

So although Jesus in the form of human flesh was born and lived, died, and rose again during a specific period of time, Christ was present in the beginning.
Jesus himself said: Truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into being, I am.
(John 8:58 The Bible in Basic English)

In his book, “The Universal Christ” Richard Rohr says:
“The revelation of the risen Christ as ubiquitous and eternal was clear affirmed in the Scriptures (Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, John 1, Hebrews 1) and in the early church when the euphoria of the Christian faith was still creative and expanding’.
But, he says:
“When the Western church separated from the East in the Great Schism of 1054, we gradually lost this profound understanding of how God has been liberating and loving all that is.”
He continues:
‘A cosmic notion of Christ competes with and excludes no one, but includes everyone and everything (Acts 10:15, 34) and allows Jesus Christ to finally be a God figure worthy of the entire universe.”
“Everything visible”, Rohr says, “without exception, is the outpouring of God.”
And “God loves things by uniting with them, not be excluding them.”
Rohr goes on to say:
‘What I am calling in this book an incarnational worldview is the profound recognition of the presence of the divine in literally ‘every thing’ and ‘every one”.

This agrees somewhat with what Eckhart Tolle, Carl Sagan and Brian Thomas Swimme postulated, but instead of an amorphous Universe, Rohr says this is the very person of God in Christ. So what is God’s purpose in creating all this? The Apostle Paul told the church at Ephesus:
“God has allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: He purposes in His sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Him.” (Ephesians 1:9, 10 J B Phillips translation)

So the universe and everything in it, including us, was brought in being through Christ and will culminate in Christ. That is the whole story, pure and simple.

Diversity and Inclusion

I have recently realized that God has been teaching me about his perspective on diversity and inclusion. If you take a good look at God’s creation you can’t help but notice the immense diversity of it. Stars, planets, galaxies and right here on Earth, grasses, trees, flowers, insects, birds, animals and human beings of all shapes, sizes and colors make it obvious that God loves diversity. And God calls us to love and care for all of his creation, not excluding anything or anyone, but including everything and everyone in our circle of love and care.

God began teaching me about this early in my life, giving me a love for his creation and over time a love for the people in it. My life began in an era of rabid segregation, separating people of color from polite white society. Fron an early age, I remember signs in public places designating white and colored restrooms and drinking fountains and requiring blacks to ride in the back of buses and streetcars. There were white churches, black churches and Hispanic churches (mostly Roman Catholic) and people in those had little if anything to do with those of different ethnicities.

All of my friends were white, and I never associated with anyone of color until I got to junior high and high school. That was when I began to experience diversity and inclusion. The schools I went to bordered on a part of Dallas called Little Mexico, an Hispanic enclave that no longer exists, having been now displaced by the Uptown Dallas area as part of the drive for urbanization. However, in the mid to late 1950’s Little Mexico was a thriving community that preserved Hispanic culture and mores. And, as a result of its proximity to Little Mexico, about one-third of the students at North Dallas High School were Hispanic. Most of them were second and third generation American citizens, born in the United States, who spoke English as fluently as us white folks. I developed friendships with many of them, taking classes together and participating with them on sports teams and in social clubs. I still keep in touch with some of them today, more than 60 years later. I accepted them as equals, having no qualms about their ancestries or the fact I was a Protestant, while they were Roman Catholics. I discovered that we had much in common, including our core religious beliefs.

However, because of the segregation laws in force at the time, it was much later that I began to have any interaction with blacks. As a matter of fact the first black man I ever met and made friends with was while I was in the M.B.A. program at what is now the University of North Texas. We were in a management class together and were assigned a joint work project requiring a lot of research and report writing. We met outside of class, sometimes at his apartment, and got to know each other well. We became a good team and got a good grade on our work product. His name was Ernest P. Boger. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, who had been the valedictorian of Blake High School in Tampa, Florida and became the first African American student at the University of South Florida. He graduated in 1965 with a degree in psychology, with minors in Russian and music. He later earned an MBA from the University of North Texas and a Doctor of Management degree from the International Management Centres Association (IMCA), of Buckingham, England.
In 1984 he became the first Black professor in what is now known as the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at the University of South Carolina. Boger went on to become head of the Department of Hospitality Management at Bethune-Cookman College. He then moved to a role as tenured professor and hospitality and tourism management department chair at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, retiring from that position in 2020. A very talented individual with a distinguished career. Meeting and working with Ernest when I did dispelled any notions I might have ever had about racial inferiority. And in the years since I have had the privilege of becoming good friends with many men and women of color.

As a young man my friends and I knew very little about the workings of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes joked about so called “holy rollers”. But in January 1970, near the peak of the Jesus Revolution, my wife and I came into contact with young people our age who were filled with the Holy Spirit and were passionate about sharing their love of Jesus Christ. We were awed by their joy and enthusiasm and decided we wanted that for ourselves. So we did as they suggested and jointly committed to following Jesus wherever he led us. God then baptized us both with his Holy Spirit and we began to manifest the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. That led us eventually to membership in charismatic Methodist and Presbyterian churches, as well as an Assemblies of God church, where we witnessed and participated in many moves of the Spirit and learned more about what God was calling us to do with his guidance and empowerment.

As a youth my friends and I also joked about homosexuals, jokingly calling each other “queers”. It wasn’t until more recently that I came into contact with actual members of the LGBTQ community and was surprised to learn that included some of my friends and family members of other friends. Then I met a dynamic young woman about my daughter’s age who had experienced a rather traumatic childhood, having been abandoned (given up for adoption) by her birth father and mother and abused by her alcoholic foster father and mother. She developed a very strong relationship with God to overcome her circumstances and has become a passionate advocate for changing the business world by calling for individual entrepreneurs and businesses to focus on the ways in which they can make a positive contribution to society, rather than on just maximizing their profits without considering who might be negatively impacted by their actions.

She and I shared some of the same passions and we became good friends to the point that I became one of her (unofficially) adoptive fathers. It wasn’t until sometime later that I discovered she was gay when she wedded a same sex partner. I have since met her wife and have come to love them both. My own daughter and her husband have also met them and formed a bond with them.

My appreciation of the LGBTQ community reached another milestone when I helped chaperone a New Years Eve celebration for LGBTQ youth at our church, including some of our own youth members and 40 or 50 others. They were mostly very quiet and seemingly shy at first, but as midnight approached began to show more excitement and enthusiasm. We all ended up having a great time together. And a number of their parents who were there commented on how much they appreciated having a safe place for their children to enjoy themselves without fear. This party has held in the youth room of our church, which has a large sign over one of the doors declaring; “All of God’s children are welcome here’. So much for ending any homophobia.

Then a few years ago a group of men from our church were invited to a Ramadan prayer service and evening meal at an Islamic Center in Carrollton, Texas. We were welcomed ss honored guests and placed at the head table on a raised platform and our names displayed on a video screen. We attended the evening prayer service, standing quietly at the rear of the men’s section and silently praying. After that we joined with all of the congregants in a sumptuous meal. Some of us spoke briefly to express our gratitude at having been invited and our hopes for improving relationships between our communities. So much for Islamophobia. They were people with hopes and concerns for their families and community just like ours.

Most recently I have had the opportunity to meet and share with homeless people for the first time. I have participated with friends from my church and also First Presbyterian Church of Plano, along with the Streetside Showers ministry, at the Assistance Center of Collin County in Plano. Some 80 to 100 homeless persons showed up to take showers in a mobile trailer with three shower stalls, and to receive a change of clothes (shirts, pants and shoes), as well as sharing a meal provided by a rotation of local churches. Grace Presbyterian Church members provided coffee and chairs to sit in for those who wanted it. I spoke with several of those who came to receive help and learned that they were no different than anyone else I knew, except that for one reason or another they had fallen on hard times and could use a helping hand. So much for disparaging the homeless.

To summarize, God has gradually, but persistently, exposed me over the years to many people and situations I had never experienced before and knew little to nothing about. He has shown me a lot about the diversity of his creation and his desire for me to include all into my circle of love and care. And because God’s creativity is so boundless and his love so all inclusive, I am certain that he has much more to show me. I eagerly look forward to it.