Physical Reality

Cosmology and the World Order

Lester Allyson Knibbs

Is Reality Physical?

A few years ago, a lovely little Christian lady said to me, "Reality is physical." She said it with astonishing force and conviction.

I was happy that she said it.

I was raised as a Christian. But I had stopped calling myself a Christian one day during my seventeenth year when I realized that I did not believe, and had never believed, that a man was God.

Every since, I have never ceased to be amazed and confused by the things that Christians claim to believe.

The idea of an incarnate God, and beyond that, of a Trinity, implies that there is a reality other than physical reality. Various statements attributed to the son of Mary seem to refer to a non-physical reality. For example: "My kingdom is not of this world."

Yet, on an everyday basis, Christians make plain their belief that, as the little lady said, "Reality is physical." I like it when people say things plainly.

I remain convinced, however, that it is impossible to believe that the Bible is the word of God, that its every word is true, and to believe that reality is physical. As best I can tell, the vast majority of people believe in their hearts that reality is physical, and say that the Bible, or the Qur’an, or some other book, is "the Word of God" as a matter of religious dogma. They don’t actually believe it.

E = mc2

In the English language, the word "truth" and the word "tree" come from the same root.

Originally, the word "tree" was about the rock-hard solidity of the tree-trunk, as distinguished from bushes, vines, grasses, and other plants. When the Anglo-Saxons first settled in the land now known as England ("Angle-land"), they had no tools strong enough to cut down the trees. They established small kingdoms such as Essex (east-Saxon-land), Sussex (south-Saxon-land) and Wessex (west-Saxon-land) in the open spaces between forests. A tree was a hard thing.

Truth as physical solidity is embedded in our language and in our world-view, both conscious and unconscious. Truth is a "cold, hard fact."

Einstein’s formula, E = mc2, is a summation of physical reality as currently understood. Energy (E) equals mass (m) multiplied by the speed of light (c) multiplied by itself (squared, as represented by the superscript number two). Speed is distance, a dimension of space, divided by time.

In short, this equation represents physical reality as consisting of energy, mass, space and time.

Most of us don’t believe this.

What we believe is that mass is real. We believe that mass in its concentrated, solid form is the most real of all, the "cold, hard fact" of reality.

We have learned, especially in the last century, to accept energy as physical reality. Not only energy that we can see as light, or feel as heat, or get knocked around by in a hurricane, but energy that is invisible, such as radio waves, X-rays, and magnetic fields, we have learned to recognize as being physically real.

Almost all of us, including many (perhaps most) scientists, believe that mass and energy exist within a framework of space and time.

But Einstein’s equation says otherwise. In this equation, and as explained in the General Theory of Relativity, mass and energy and space and time are interactive aspects of physical reality. For example, in the vicinity of a concentration of mass, space contracts and time slows down. We observe and experience this as gravity.

Einstein’s concept of gravity as a curvature of space and time differs from Newton’s concept of gravity as a force in several predicted details. Repeated observations have proved Einstein’s concept to be correct.

The Big Bang

The theory of the Big Bang is that billions of years ago, all mass and energy was concentrated in a point no larger than a proton. (A proton is a trillionth of a trillionth the size of your fingertip.) Such a concentration of mass and energy would necessitate a similar concentration of space and the cessation of time. This concentration of physical matter exploded outward (the "big bang") to become the universe as we know it today.

There is considerable evidence for the Big Bang. The microwave background – a slowly fading electro-magnetic aftershock to the initial explosion – is one bit of evidence. The observed motion of distant galaxies moving away from us in every direction, at enormous speeds – the greater the distance, the greater the speed – speeds up to 700 miles per second and beyond, is another bit of evidence. The relative absence of a simple and fragile element, lithium, is a third bit of evidence. In the early universe, the simplest elements, hydrogen and helium, were formed in great abundance. According to theory, the third most simple element, lithium, was also formed in great abundance, but lithium is easily destroyed by radiation. According to the Big Bang theory, the early universe was a concentrated soup of intense radiation.

I believe that the Big Bank theory is an accurate description of how the physical world came into being. That is to say, I believe that time, space, mass and energy all came into being several billion years ago.

Nothing Comes from Nothing

The problem with this idea is this: Nothing comes from nothing. If physical reality (time, space, mass and energy) is the only reality, then either the Big Bang is not the beginning (as some scientists believe, but for which there is no evidence), or nothing exists.

I believe that physical reality is not the only reality. I believe that there is a higher reality, referred to as "heaven" or "the heavens" in the Bible and the Qur’an, and beyond that, there is a Creator. The Creator created the higher reality and the lower reality. He created time and space, as well as matter and energy. He does not exist within time and space; he created them.

I refer to the Creator as "he" because this pronoun is the general referent (as distinguished from "she") and does not necessarily imply biological gender, and because I believe that the Creator is alive and conscious (and therefore not properly referred to as "it").

I do not believe that the Creator is a being of thought or intelligence, as we commonly understand those terms, because thinking and intelligence are only required when one’s knowledge is limited. Because the Creator knows everything, he does not need to think or have an operative intelligence. He doesn’t study or figure things out. He simply knows.

I also believe that the Creator is a being of absolute and unlimited power. When he wants something to happen, he simply wills it and it happens. He created the entire vastness and complexity of the heavens and the earth by saying, "Be!" – and here it is.

Universe, or Heaven and Earth?

"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

This is a statement about reality. It is true or it is not true. It is a statement about astronomy and physics. It is a statement about history, about human affairs and human consciousness – about the World Order.

Over three thousand years ago, when people first collected and wrote down that body of writings referred to as the Scriptures, the world was viewed as a humongous temple. The flat earth was spread out below and the great curved vault of heaven was high above, supported by pillars so far away they could not be seen. The phrase, "heaven and earth," had a simple and obvious meaning.

Beginning about two thousand years ago, many people came to view the earth as a globe at the center of the world with the heavens encircling it. This conception of physical reality is far larger than the "temple" concept, but preserves the clear distinction between heaven above and earth below.

Then came the so-called "Copernican Revolution."

(I dislike the focus on Copernicus. He proposed an idea that was not original but almost two thousand years old at the time, he proposed the idea for the wrong reasons (to preserve perfect circular motion of heavenly bodies), only one aspect of his idea was true (it is not true that the sun is stationary at the center of the world, or that the planets move in perfect circular orbits), and he was so hesitant to propose it that it was not published until he was on his deathbed. Galileo should be more honored – for giving credit to Copernicus, for striving to find truth regardless of philosophical notions ("perfect circular motions"), for establishing methods of observation and experiment that verify truth and expose error, and for publishing his work on a continuing basis while he was alive. In addition, Galileo published his work in Italian, which the common people spoke; Copernicus had published his book in Latin, which only a few of the few literate people could read.)

An interesting thing about the heliocentric (sun-centered) concept proposed by Copernicus and Galileo is that it obliterates the notion of heaven and earth as a literal reality, and yet no one seems to have noticed.

If Earth is a planet, moving in an orbit in space, then where is heaven? If I point to the moon, it is a smaller planet in orbit around the larger planet Earth. If I point to those points of light called Venus, Mars and Jupiter, they are planets which orbit the sun, as Earth orbits the sun. Where is heaven? We have landed people on the moon, and probes on Venus and Mars. We have seen images of dirt and sky – earth and heaven –transmitted to us from all three bodies.

If reality is physical, there is no real distinction between earth and heaven. Our planet Earth is gliding along in heaven, and planets in heaven are merely other versions of Earth.

Not so, in my view.

I believe that the Creator is sending us to school. In kindergarten, we believed in the world as a great temple. In first grade, we believed in the geocentric (earth-centered) world. In second grade, we believed in the heliocentric world. In third grade, which we graduated into only about a century ago, we discovered that there is no center, that the sun is in orbit around a galaxy which is itself in motion. We have lost faith, so we don’t notice that the phrase "heaven and earth" has become meaningless.

In my view, in the Scriptures, the word "earth" refers to physical reality, and the word "heaven" refers to the higher reality. Reality has a dual nature. The word "universe" implies that reality has a singular nature, a physical nature. This is simply untrue. Reality is not a universe. Reality is heaven and earth.


So, what’s the point?

This is the point: We are locked in titanic struggles. On the battlefield, gaining control of the higher ground is key to victory.

First, the age-old struggle between priests and prophets continues. The lines are not always clear, but in general men and women of science (such as Galileo, Einstein, and Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, on the dangers of pollution) have inherited the mission of the prophets. Religious institutions have inherited the role of the priests. The Creator and his prophets, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the son of Mary, Muhammad, and many others, did not establish religion. The priests established religion. Ezra established Judaism. Paul established Christianity. This is a struggle for the soul of humanity. Basic issues of justice and peace, compassion and mercy, charity and hope, are decided here. How should human life be organized? According to the materialist philosophies of capitalism or communism? According to Faith – even if only dimly perceived through the smokescreen of Religion? This is fundamental.

Second, the Age of European Domination is coming to an end. Starting in 1415, with the capture of the peninsula called Ceuta on the north coast of Morocco in Africa, the Europeans moved out in an astonishing campaign of exploration and conquest, culminating in the conquest of Africa following the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. The European conquest included exterminations unequaled in history – over 20 million in the conquest of Mexico in the 16th century, over 20 million in the rape of the Congo between 1885 and 1900, tens of millions in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As a result of slavery and conquest, Europeans became the dominant group on Earth, achieving an astonishing concentration of wealth and a breathless rate of industrial and technological growth. Most European nations have lost their empires, but the leading European nation – the United States of America – continues to fight a devastating rear-guard action. In the Vietnam War, the United States exterminated over 4 million people.

Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a struggle."

You can turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to this struggle, but you cannot escape it.

War is strategy. In this struggle, the forces of greed and oppression control the vast powers of physical weaponry. The key to victory is gaining control of higher ground.

Human society is based on ideas. Change those ideas, and the society changes. Undermine those ideas, and the society crumbles. Rome could not conquer Christianity; Christianity conquered Rome.

The higher reality of ideas – of truth, of justice and peace, of compassion and mercy, charity and hope – will overcome the lower reality of greed and lust for power. No amount of physical weaponry can change this. "The pen is mightier than the sword."

August 4, 2003