Samples from the Book

Introduction: The Test, the Teacher and the Beginning
1. In Search of the Beginning
2. Naturalism on the Beginning
3. A Critique of the Naturalistic Beginning
4. Pantheism on the Beginning
5. The Teacher on the Beginning
6. A Critique of the Biblical Beginning
7. The Way to the Beginning
Appendix 1
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Select Bibliography

But if natural science cannot meet our need, what of philosophy? Surely in this time-honored discipline we have an excellent candidate for the Teacher of ultimate truth. Surely it can tell us something important about the beginning. After all, what are philosophers supposed to do if not supply us with solid answers to the great questions of life? And yet, amazingly enough, it appears they cannot.

Anecdotal evidence abundantly confirms this painful conclusion. A story is told, for example, of pessimistic German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who, while visiting a greenhouse in Dresden, became so absorbed in contemplating a plant that his peculiar behavior elicited the concern of an attendant. “Who are you?” the attendant asked suspiciously. Schopenhauer replied, “Sir, if you could only answer that question for me, I’d be eternally grateful.”

Similarly, someone once asked English philosopher Bertrand Russell if he would be willing to die for his beliefs. “Of course not,” Russell replied. “After all, I may be wrong.”

Such stories would be funny if they weren’t so sad. How is it that the greatest of the greats in the world of philosophy seem to fail so completely in their mission? Are the postmodernists right after all? Is the chief discovery of the “lovers of wisdom” that wisdom is not discoverable at all?

When we think of life as a test set before us by an “unknown god,” we begin to glimpse the answer to these urgent questions. The test perspective teaches us that man is indeed imbued with the philosophical spirit: sooner or later all of us want to know the truth about the questions of life. But it also teaches us that the answers we seek are not innate. That is, they do not reside in our hearts by nature from birth. The history of western philosophy only confirms this self-evident truth, for there we find most of the key players continually (and contentiously) recycling the three basic worldviews: naturalism, pantheism, and speculative theism—unless, of course, they have succumbed to skepticism, cynicism, and despair. Yes, even in the realm of philosophy, there is nothing new under the sun.

For seekers, the implications of all this are clear: if indeed there is an unknown god, he has not caused the answers to the questions of life to be discoverable from within, presumably because he desires us to seek them from without. In other words, the failure of the philosophers suggests that we are likely meant to find our answers at the feet of a divinely authorized Teacher, a person or group of persons through whom the unknown god has been pleased to reveal his truth. This means, of course, that we can no longer turn to philosophy—or at least not to any philosophy that spurns divine revelation. Rather, we must acknowledge the wisdom of G. K. Chesterton’s words, who said that the mind is like a mouth: it is meant to bite down on something hard. That something is revelation. Revelation is the philosopher’s true food. Just as the natural scientist was meant to feast on nature, so the philosopher was meant to feast on revelation. He can try to bite down on the world of nature, or on the contents of his own mind and emotion, but it will only hurt his teeth. What’s more, if he continues to do so, he will starve. Here, then, is the philosopher’s true wisdom: feast on revelation and live.

In Search of the Beginning

Nor did I abandon evolutionism during my post-graduate years, when I attached myself to various pantheistic religions. I did, however, experience a fundamental change in the way I looked at it. By moving from a naturalistic to a pantheistic worldview, cosmic evolution suddenly took on a new and exciting meaning. Now there was nothing “random” or purposeless about it at all. Now, after so many eons of time, the hidden plan of Big Mind (the god of pantheism) was coming to light. Now, in man—who is the cutting edge of the evolutionary thrust—Big Mind was finally becoming conscious of itself as god!

This sudden conversion to evolutionary pantheism did not alter my basic understanding of the beginning. To my mind, the beginning simply remained shrouded in the distant past, most likely connected to a Big Bang. Had I paused to give this new view some serious thought, I would soon have realized that reconciling Big Mind with a Big Bang requires a Big Leap of faith! Indeed, as we shall see later, such a reconciliation is impossible even to conceive, let alone to demonstrate. But so great was my excitement that I did not pause—either to consider the metaphysical and ethical problems of evolutionary pantheism, or the slim and controversial scientific evidences supporting the Big Bang, or the troubled history of modern cosmology, or the fledgling debate as to whether cosmic evolution had occurred at all. No, I simply trusted my pantheist friends and teachers, who assured me that the marriage of Eastern religion and Western evolutionary cosmology was a good one, a match made in Heaven. Besides, why get entangled in the arcana of science and philosophy when all such reasonings are actually obstacles to the supreme goal—a mystical experience of the ultimate reality that lies completely beyond the reaches of word, image, and human thought itself?

So once again—this time as a newborn pantheist—I embraced cosmic evolution. Now, however, I gladly saw myself as part of it. True, I still could not form a clear picture of the beginning. But no matter. The future was beckoning, and that was far better. My friends and I were sons of the Age of Aquarius. Now was the appointed season in cosmic history when tired old humanity, led by visionary youth such as ourselves, would make an evolutionary leap into divinity itself.

But what, I anxiously wondered as I began my catechism in 1971, would Father Barry have to say about THAT?!

Naturalism on the Beginning

All of this brings us at last to a brief statement of the modern, naturalistic cosmogony. According to most modern naturalists, the cosmos, in one form or another, is eternal. About 13.5 billion years ago it existed as a super-condensed “singularity” containing all the time, space, and mass/energy of the universe. For reasons not as yet understood, it exploded. Or rather, it suddenly (and unimaginably) began to inflate like the surface of balloon, so that henceforth all the evolving material objects embedded in expanding “space-time” were moving away from each another at higher and higher speeds. After a very rapid initial inflation—perfectly timed so as to make the subsequent cosmic evolution gravitationally possible—the lightest elements (i.e., hydrogen and helium) began to form from energy and subatomic matter. By gravitational attraction, these gradually coalesced into primitive stars and galaxies . . . Finally, in a climactic triumph over the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the whole process produced planet Earth, a primitive atmosphere, water, life, and man, whose unspeakably complex brain chemistry exuded the mystery of consciousness. And so, quite apart from the activity of an intelligent creator, the universe was now able to look upon itself and think about the beginning. With characteristic literary flair, the late Carl Sagan expressed it this way:

We are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins. We are star-stuff pondering the stars! Our ancestors worshipped the Sun, and they were not that foolish. It makes sense to revere the Sun and the stars, for we are their children.

Importantly, Big Bang cosmology is currently embraced not only by naturalists but also by many pantheists and theists, as well. This is hardly surprising since the existence of the primeval particle, its delicate composition, its sudden explosion, its perfectly timed inflation, and the inexplicable development of raw energy into a complex, orderly, and seemingly purposeful cosmos all cry loudly for the participation of an intelligent and powerful supreme being.

Nevertheless, the strict naturalist does not (or will not) hear the cry. For him there is no god, no spirit (whether animal, human, or angelic), no spiritual realm, and no life force—in short, nothing supernatural. Nature, in one form or another, is all there is, eternal and uncreated. Accordingly, behind its evolutionary development there is no divine intelligence, purpose, plan, or activity. Rather, the material universe—by a fortuitous combination of explosion, mere chance, rigorous natural law, and (in the case of life) spontaneous generation, random mutation, and natural selection—somehow shaped itself into the orderly cosmos that we observe and contemplate today. It is a miracle without a miracle worker; the product—in Richard Dawkins’ famous phrase—of a “blind watchmaker.”

Naturalists freely admit that this view strains credulity, that it has worthy opponents, and that it is not without serious theoretical and observational problems. They even concede that we, who were not present in the beginning, can never really be certain whether it is so. But since they know there is no god, they also know that something like this must have taken place. And until they can come up with a better explanation, they are pretty much agreed in presenting this one to the world as the truth.

Given the pretensions, popularity, and problems of this cosmology, it clearly behooves every seeker of cosmological truth to evaluate it with the utmost care.