by Anthony Laverty
From the dawn of time man needed to believe in a God or Gods. History has shown us that virtually all civilizations tried to explain the mysteries of the universe by inventing the concept of God or Gods in some form or another. Everything good, everything bad and anything in between has been assigned to God. Lightening, floods and famine all come under God’s jurisdiction. God was also the great get out clause. “My crops have failed. I have angered God.” “My children are starving. It must be Gods will.” “Why is the sky blue? God knows.” “David Cameron is Prime Minister and Boris Johnson is the Mayor of London! God knows how that happened.”
The traditional way to discover God is to join a group of like-minded and equally confused people, usually within your local area. Thrash out a belief system which has a set of hard and fast rules to live by and which are then referred to as ‘Holy Law’. Next, everyone attempts to live by those rules. Or at least they strive to be seen to live by those rules, because as we all know, rules can be bent, broken or reinterpreted as required.
Belief in a higher being has benefited mankind in innumerable ways. Religion gives us guidelines, a code of ethics, a form of education, a positive direction, comfort in the chaos of our lives and a reason to go forth into the darkness with hope and without fear. You don’t crawl out of your cave to wrestle a woolly mammoth to the ground for food without the vague hope that The Gods are on your side; that would be stupid. Here we have another side to the belief in a higher being. It sometimes requires a measure of stupidity, because as we all know, another thing history teaches us is man can be inherently stupid.
We march into wars against each other with God on our side. We pit ourselves against all odds of survival because God is with us. Faith rules over common sense every time. Even when both sides have God on their side they tell themselves, “They follow the wrong God.” or “Our God is the greater God.” Across the Middle East, the negative aspect of God is still doing good trade; believers are still up in arms fighting tooth and nail to uphold their beliefs, conveniently ignoring the parts of their doctrine which relate to the rights of their fellow man and the sanctity of life. It would seem belief in God has a lot to answer for.
So now in the twenty-first century, where are we with this God thing? In the western world, if you look at church attendances and our open criticism of organised religion, God is on the ropes. For a while, if numbers are anything to go by, it looked like we valued shopping more than religious faith. In the last thirty years, retail parks and shopping centres sprung up everywhere and were the new cathedrals of our time. While church attendances were in decline, shopping centres became the places you could go to, to chill out, spend time with your family and make yourself feel happy with your lot. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
But now even our faith in capitalism has been shaken. It appears that all that money we were blithely exchanging for happiness didn’t really exist either and just like our Gods it has become elusive and illusory. The money we were happily spending like it was going out of fashion, never really existed or so we are told. We were spending something that was only ever an idea, a concept. It certainly felt real when I was working for it; spending thirty seven hours a week earning it, but now when I think about it, I realise that I never actually saw most of it. Maybe they are right. The money didn’t really exist! The evidence I had was a bunch of numbers on a computer screen telling me I had money to spend but I never had it in a box under the bed. I never touched it or smelt it. If someone said to me “Show me the money” I would have struggled. I could access the green stuff out of an ATM in modest amounts but even then I only borrowed it long enough to buy beans or bread and it was gone again. So what is there left to believe in now? If we have lost our belief in God or in organised religion, and the comfort of capitalism is quickly receding, what can fill the void?
The answer comes from an unexpected direction. It seems that in the twenty-first century we are all suddenly quite taken by the idea of quantum physics of all things. If we are looking for answers to the great mysteries then this task seems to have fallen on the shoulders of a small number of youthful, fresh-faced and enthusiastic physicists populating the best-seller lists in book stores and the prime-time TV schedules. Popular scientists including author of The Elegant Universe Professor Brian Greene and Oldham’s very own Dr Brian Cox have suddenly taken centre stage to try to answer the big questions like “Why are we here?” , “Where did we come from?” and more importantly “Where are we going?”
On a recent TV programme Professor Brian Cox proved that according to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, if he rubbed a large diamond between the palms of his hands for a few seconds he could raise the temperature of every female viewer in the universe by a couple of degrees. Having said that, one can’t simply dismiss this new interest in particle physics as the result of floppy hair, dimples and a winning smile. Projects like the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson particle have captured the imagination of people the world over. Physics is pulling in major TV audiences all eager to come to grips with Special Relativity, the Weak Force and the Theory of Everything. Some people even believe that Mary Gale was simply testing out Schrödinger’s theory when she dumped that cat in a wheelie bin in August 2010. She was merely misunderstood.
The human race has always needed to believe in something complex and unfathomable. This is where religion came in. So is science filling the void left by organised religion in the twenty-first century? The answer could be yes. Or is there now a blurring between the search for the Theory of Everything and the search for God?
Look at the Observation Problem for example: the closer we look into the infinitesimal world of quantum physics and sub-atomic particles the more elusive the little beggars get. The very act of trying to observe them makes the expected wave function of a particle appear to be in a single state. For the uninitiated the mere act of observing sub-atomic particles changes not only how they act but where they are expected to be. To some people this simply confirms that the closer you get to the truth of creation the more God is going to mess with your head.
If you think faith is on the decline just look at how much money has been spent at CERN on the Large Hadron Collider, the largest machine ever built. Faith is doing very well. To a great many people science now occupies the same territory that religion did. Questions about God and “The Theory of Everything” come up with the same type of frustrating answers. One way of looking at this is that, yes – God is still around, alive and kicking: he’s just wearing a different hat and coming to us via a different medium.
You can see God in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or in a butterfly’s wing; in the music of Mozart or in a child’s first smile. God is in a picture of the Eagle Nebula from the Hubble Telescope or even in the resolution of a complex equation. Because as long as you have mankind then you will have God; whether you are blaming God for all the wrong in the world or thanking God for all that is beautiful. Whether your God is the vengeful defender of your own personal faith, or simply the first name on your lips when you stub your toe on a rock; even in, and perhaps especially in, your darkest hour. God is everywhere. Keep looking.