The more I read about cosmology and biology the more I am utterly dumbfounded by the interplay between the material universe and consciousness. For example, it’s well known that certain fish (gobies, moray eels, and clownfish) can switch sexes in a single sex environment. How do relatively primitive creatures make such fast adaptations and rewire their reproductive systems? Obviously, there’s no higher thinking involved. They’re not consciously making such decisions. Their cells are doing it for them, but how? Is it possible some level of consciousness pervades even the cellular level of these creatures? If so, perhaps this explains evolution better than just the blind mechanism of natural selection.
Some biologists believe that natural selection alone can’t explain the level of complexity and precision we see. In other words, the eye couldn’t have developed through trial-and-error and countless failed versions. It’s possible the cells themselves were deciding which adaptations and technology would work best for their environment. But how is this possible? Are individual cells conscious and intelligent in ways we have yet to detect? Perhaps! The fact is, we don’t understand the nature of consciousness and how our brain cells create it. Some neuroscientists believe that it may be the result of what’s taking place on the quantum/subatomic level within our brains. Thus, consciousness may have as much to do with physics as biology.
This could explain the observer effect and the famous “double-slit experiment” where photons (light particles) behave differently when someone measures or observes them, even when the methods used do not physically interact with the particles in any known way. Why does the material universe respond to consciousness and life like this? Such questions don’t just give me a deep sense of awe and wonder but a suspicion that the properties of consciousness pervade every aspect of the universe.
My suspicion is only enhanced by the metaphysics (thought without evidence) within cosmology today. The most advanced theories (i.e., the multiverse theory, string theory, dark matter/dark energy) sound more like theology than science. These popular theories are about domains we have no idea how to access. Thus, theory has detached itself from experiment (credit: Cameron Freeman). Science is now making statements of faith and passing them off as plausible explanations for reality. Meanwhile, advances in artificial intelligence and virtual reality are making us question more now than ever the nature of reality and perception. Tech pioneers like Elon Musk actually believe that we are probably living in a simulated world created by an advanced civilization. This begs the question – what’s the difference between believing the world was made by aliens or God(s)? What does it mean when so many of our greatest luminaries and intellectuals are practically mystics?
I don’t know where all this is leading but I know it has led me and many others into a crisis of doubt. We’ve already had our crisis of faith where we’ve deconstructed our religion and theism, but now we’re having a crisis of doubt where we’re reconstructing a kind of mysticism. Perhaps reconstruction is too strong of a word but it’s close to what I mean. To be clear, this is not a return to the classic God of religion for me, or what’s called the supreme-being view of God. The evidence is quite lacking for a loving, all-powerful being that strangely doesn’t do much about the suffering in the world. To believe in such a supreme being causes supreme problems. Rather, I am talking about Paul Tillich’s ground-of-being God or the hyper-being God of the medieval church (i.e. Meister Eckhart, Anselm of Canterbury).
In short, this view suggests that God is the ground of our being and what we mean when we speak of the depth of our being and existence. God is not a being or an object like us but a being beyond being – both transcendent and imminent. This view is close to panentheism which is defined as, “the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond time and space.”
What are the practical implications of this view? For starters, it’s a way for me to stay balanced and humble. Sometimes I feel like all I talk about is doubt and deconstruction. This is understandable since I, and so many of you, were raised in arrogant and rigid traditions that had little or no tolerance for such sins. Our exodus from fundamentalism has been life giving for most of us and has led us into a more humble and healthy Christianity. One could say that doubt hath redeemed us. That being said, sometimes I think talking about doubt and deconstruction can seem all-consuming or even become a new kind of metaphysical certainty. That’s why I needed to write this and talk about how I doubt my doubt. The truth is, I find myself in both a crisis of faith and doubt. Like so many of you, I live in this tension and while it’s often confusing and difficult, it’s also exciting and a source of hope.
Doubting my doubt is a way of doing justice to the beauty and complexity I see. It’s a way of doing justice to the awe and wonder I experience. It’s a way of taking seriously the interconnectivity of everything and everyone. Doubting my doubt doesn’t provide me with any certainties but it brings me a sense of depth, ultimacy, and joy. It gives me a deeper appreciation for this life, even if this life and world is all we’ll ever know.