The Greek philosopher Thales had an idea that was right and wrong. He thought there must be one thing from which all others were made, and decided this was water. It’s one thing, yet it can be solid, liquid or gas, and it’s essential for life – dead things dry up. That was a reasonable guess for its time, though now known to be wrong. It is the case, however, that Science now tells us everything is indeed made of one thing – energy – even though we don’t know precisely what that is.
Genesis 1 is the second, and later, account of the beginning of the universe. Genesis 2 is earlier, and quite different. The Genesis 1 version isn’t, strictly speaking, creation from nothing, since something already exists, even if it’s “formless and desolate”. Nonetheless, there is a stunning beginning when God says, “Let there be light”, and light blazes into existence, where all before had been in darkness. What a moment!
In our over-lit, technological world, most of us have forgotten what ‘real’ darkness is like. When I was a minister, I occasionally stayed in the manse on the Island of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides. One totally cloud-covered, starless night, I stepped outside of the kitchen to enjoy some fresh, island air. There was no paved area, only rough ground with lots of mounds and potholes demanding watchful care. Someone inside the house saw the kitchen light on, but the kitchen empty, and switched off the light!
I suddenly experienced the almost terrifying, instantly disorienting, experience of total blackness. I had to guess the direction of the kitchen door, tread with the utmost care, and feel with outstretched hands for anything solid and familiar. Eventually finding the door, then the light switch, and turning it on, was to experience the miracle of light in an instantly new and different way.
The phrase in Genesis 1, “and there was Light”, invariably reminds me of that never to be forgotten moment. Where there had been total, palpable blackness, light suddenly began to shine. That’s some beginning! Much to the discomfort of some scientists, who instinctively react against the smallest prospect of a back door opening for religion, Science is having to face the possibility that our universe is not ‘eternal’ but had a beginning.
The mathematics can be read as suggesting that, as in Genesis 1, there was ‘something’ there! All the matter and energy that currently exists, was crammed into a dimensionless ‘singularity’ of inconceivable density which suddenly, and inexplicably, ‘exploded’ and initially hyper-inflated. It took over 300,000 years for the ‘smoke’ or ‘fog’ to clear away but, as soon as it did, a blazing eruption of light spread outwards in waves in every direction. What a moment!
So the writer of Genesis 1, like Thales, was wrong and yet, in a way, ‘right’. Perhaps the human imagination, in poets, novelists, dramatists, painters, composers, mystics and scientists, can sometimes make contact with what the analytical psychologist Carl Jung called the deep-seated, collective unconscious in the human psyche which ‘knows’ so much more than our everyday conscious minds.
The problem for me is not any ‘opening of a back door’. Science and Religion must both be about the search for, and openness to, whatever is real and true, whether we like what we find or not. Science sometimes has to go back to square one, and Religion must be willing to do the same. If we ‘let God back in’, what matters to me is what we mean by that word.
To me, it denotes a transcendental reality which is neither a he, she nor it. It’s by definition, beyond human description. It isn’t an all powerful, all seeing, all beneficent Mega-Being somewhere ‘out there’. It might be something like ‘Mind’ (without a definite or indefinite article) that’s the source of ever-evolving intelligence, information and design, and of the miracle of consciousness, perhaps as an irreducible ‘given’ from the elemental simplicity of the sub-atomic particle, to the staggering complexity of the trillions of inter-connections within the human brain.
In the beginning there was Mind ! – and if so – Let there be Light !