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August 4, 2010
 

Section I I

 

3.  The Quasi-Religious Dimension
of Modern Physics

            In Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars, Margaret Wertheim provides a useful analysis of modern physics and she critically examines the physicists’ obsession to find the ultimate “Theory of Everything” (or TOE) which would explain all the laws of physics within one grand theory.   Why, she asks, do physicists assume the right to associate their endeavours with “God,” the “mind of God,” the ‘God particle’ and the like?  Physicists assume the role of the “high priests” of science and associate God with their favourite particle, higher dimensional superstring or Theory of Everything.  She writes:

 

            Stephen Hawking, Leon Lederman, and George Smoot–these are men at the heart of contemporary physics. ...  All these men have publicly associated the quest for a unified theory with God.  In drawing an association with contemporary physics and God, they are not alone.  Indeed, this kind of dialogue has become endemic among physicists–at least as far as their popular writing is concerned. ...

            But many physicists using the God drawcard are not engaged in serious theological or spiritual thinking.  Following a millennia-old tradition that has associated mathematically based science with divinity, they simply assume it is legitimate to present their activities in a quasi-religious light.  Despite the supposedly secular climate of twentieth-century science, some physicists are once again demanding that we see them as high priests, leading humanity “upward” toward transcendent, even divine knowledge of the world.  (1997, pp. 221-222)

 

            Stephen Hawking provides the most unusual paradoxes in his writings and philosophy.  Most people—even many who have read A Brief History of Time—think that Hawking embodies a religious or spiritual attitude in his search for the ultimate quantum gravity theory.  However, this is far from true and in interviews, Hawking readily dismisses the belief in God, afterlife, mysticism and the like–believing instead “in science” and ‘natural laws’ instead of ‘supernatural laws.’

            Wertheim examines the paradoxes of Hawking’s public image and his inconsistent underlying attitude: 

 

TOE physicists themselves are associating a unified theory with God.  The most famous in this camp is Stephen Hawking.  In the introduction to Hawking’s international best-seller A Brief History of Time, Carl Sagan alerts the reader that: “The word God fills these pages.  Hawking embarks on a quest to answer Einstein’s famous question about whether God had any choice in creating the universe.  Hawking is attempting, as he explicitly states, to understand the mind of God.  The implication throughout his book is that a unified theory transcends space and time and somehow exists “beyond” the realm of material manifestation–a feat traditionally attributed to God alone. ... (p. 217)

            The immense success of A Brief History of Time–it has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide–and Hawking’s personal success in the public arena, are, I believe, in part attributable to the quasi-religious tone in which he presents the enterprise of contemporary physics. Although his reference to “the mind of God” actually occurs at the every end of the book, it opens the film of the same name.   As the filmmakers rightly recognized, in an age when many people are hungering for a rapprochement between the spiritual and the scientific, the concept of the physicist as high priest is immensely appealing.  And, like Einstein, Hawking is very convincing in the role. He too has assumed an almost mystical aura, which in his case is compounded by the extreme disjunction between the power of his mind and the lameness of his body. … Hawking may be confined to a wheelchair, but his mind soars.  Not even many physicists understand the concept of “imaginary time.”  He is a being seemingly poised at the junction of the human, the subhuman, and the superhuman—and many people long to believe that this disabled physicist might just take us to God.

Ironically, it is Hawking himself who has suggested that his relativistic-quantum cosmology might obviate the need for a “Creator.” But he seems to want to have it both ways—at the same time pushing God out of the universe although invoking him as a constant subtext of his work.  It is not at all clear from A Brief History of Time whether Hawking genuinely believes in a god, or whether he is just indulging in self-aggrandizement.  Unlike Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton (and even Einstein in his own way), Hawking is not a serious theological thinker ...  Yet, whatever Hawking’s true feelings about God, many people have come to see him as a scientific high priest, the inheritor of Einstein’s mantle.   (pp. 217-219)

 

The use of the words God, the mind of God, the God particle, and the God like Superforce are endemic to popular science writers and TOE theorists.  However, the underlying attitude is usually that we no longer need God, now that we have modern physicists, as high priests, to answer the ultimate questions about cosmic origins. 

            Hawking is hoping to fill in the last “gap” in contemporary science, trying to exclude God from the universe by accounting for creation events in purely mathematical and physical terms, thereby explaining away the Big Bang singularity.  Of course, to Hawking, there would be nothing “mystical” about singularities, quantum theory or the quantum vacuum.  Carl Sagan similarly bandies about the name of God, admitting God only if we define “him” as the sum of all the physical laws, but not accepting any of the traditional attributes of God–that is, as an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent Being. 

            Scientists often regard science as the new religion and want to metaphorically see into the mind of God but they do not take to heart the deeper mysteries of what that quest might entail. Scientists leave themselves, their own consciousness and being, out of the equation.  Furthermore, scientists simply do not realize the extent to which their own theories are beginning to vindicate mystical teachings –because of the pervasive lack of familiarity and appreciation of what such occult teachings entail.

            Indeed, what is it that leads scientists to conclude that there is nothing ‘mystical’ about singularities, superstrings, the nothingness and plenum of the quantum vacuum, or other emerging ideas in physics?  It is just as ‘mystical’ to have the singularity eventually smeared out, beyond the level of the zero point into imaginary time and the infinite, as for it to appear as a point source at all.  Dr. Hawking does not even consider that such zero points, aethers, space and higher dimensions, the void and the plenum, have been the domain of occultists for hundreds and thousands of years. In fact, metaphysical expositions of creation bear profound relationships to modern theories.

            Certainly, Dr. Hawking’s logic or ‘reasoning’ in dismissing a Creator because of advancements in physics is quite irrational and a leap of faith on his behalf.  His logic is about as rational as Dr. Sagan’s, who states that there is less and less for God to do now that science can explain how the sun, phototropism and plant hormones cause the opening of morning glory flower.  Now that we can explain these dynamics and other phenomena of nature in scientific terms, Dr. Sagan assumes we no longer have reason to invoke God, spirits and souls, as causal explanations.   Dr. Sagan states that no one has seen God talking to the flowers, “Saying, hey, flower, open,” and consequently, there is no reason to consider that God might “micro-intervene” in the laws of nature.  Of course, Dr. Sagan himself did not know of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine and her explanations of how the Gods and other invisible powers clothe themselves in bodies based upon zero point sources!  Ironically, Blavatsky offers the ultimate model of “divine micro-intervention” –all through what Hawking labels as those “badly behaved points!”   

            We should be as sceptical of Dr. Hawking’s interpretation of quantum gravity theory, as we are of Dr. Carl Sagan’s assurance that: “As we learn more and more about the universe, there seems less and less for God to do.”  In fact, as we learn more and more, we find deeper and deeper enigmas and mysteries.   In the same lecture in which he describes God’s universe as contracting, Dr. Sagan does note, by the way, that there are many unresolved mysteries in science: “ What is the origin of the human species?  Where did plants and animals come from?  how did life arise?  the Earth, the planets, the Sun, the stars? Does the universe have an origin, and if so, what?  At the same time that Dr. Sagan is about to dismiss God as being irrelevant to understanding nature, he notes that all of the central questions concerning origins are not resolved!  Thirty years after Broca’s Brain, scientists still do not understand how life and human beings arose, how the earth, moon, planets and Sun were formed, nor the galaxies and super-galaxies, nor what is before the origin of the universe, nor many other issues in physics concerning all of the fundamental nature of matter and energy, time and space.  The number and sheer complexity of the mysteries and enigmas confronting science are such that the question of the existence of God certainly does not hinge on whether or not the singularity can be smeared out—despite what Stephen Hawking suggests.  Indeed, the existence of a singularity is not even inconsistent with religious and mystical perspectives but supportive of them, validating the mystical claims!  Further, the advances in modern physics and cosmology, when properly understood substantiate many other of Blavatsky’s claims and concepts. 

            In the 1970s and 80s, astronomer Robert Jastrow was comparing the big-bang scenario to the Genesis account of creation and noting certain similarities.  All major religious and esoteric teachings depict creation as having occurred once upon a time and this basic idea was confirmed by the discovery of the big bang.   Jastrow noted further how the idea—that God willed that there should be ‘light”—made sense in terms of trying to depict early creation events, as energetic photons can create material particles.  However, thirty years later, scientists have advanced from the big bang scenario to singularities, vacuum states and higher dimensions, we must consider how these concepts have also been articulated by occultist Blavatsky as within other esoteric teachings.

            The search for unity itself arises out of the Judeo-Christian tradition of monotheism and the faith that all things are unified and part of one super-force or Divine Being.  Although modern physicists associate their theories with the search for God, this is not usually accompanied by any serious spiritual search or informed mystical understanding.  References to God and physics may help to sell books but they can obscure the basic mechanistic and materialist philosophy underlying scientific theories.  Dr. Hawking feels that there might be something to the heart, something beyond his physics.  On the other hand, with his mind and intelligence, Dr Hawking “believes” that when he dies, that’s it.  He will cease to be and there will be no simple retreat into mystical unity, God or heaven—not even a black hole.

            Madame Blavatsky (1888) noted that: “the occult side of Nature has never been approached by the science of modern civilization.”   Although Blavatsky wrote this over a hundred years ago, she would likely not change her attitude if she were familiar with the TOE theorists’ speculative philosophizing about the mind of God, or Stephen Hawking’s quantum gravity theory.   Scientists are arriving at a knowledge of the profound depths of creation, but because they subscribe to a simplistic mechanistic outlook, they do not recognize or appreciate the mystical and metaphysical dimensions of their own theories.   Blavatsky embodied the truly scientific attitude in her recommendation: 

 

The Secret teachings ... must be contrasted with the speculations of modern science.  Archaic axioms must be placed side by side with modern hypotheses and comparisons left to the sagacious reader.  (SD I, p. 480)


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