Is the Universe God’s Design?

Much of the spiritual discontent in contemporary society is due to two things. The first is the rapid advance of science over the last two centuries, one that coincided with materialist philosophies and a sweeping rejection of religion. And the second cause of discontent stems from the backward views of mainstream religionists who not only reject legitimate scientific discoveries and the compelling evidence for human evolution, but also appear completely out of touch with the spiritual yearnings of a well-educated, younger generation.

The scientific philosophies that evolved in Western society proved to be a great boon to humanity—at least to a point. They helped to clarify our thinking about the material universe and encouraged a logical approach to scientific experiments. And although many philosophers have since discredited purely materialist approaches on various grounds, there can be little doubt that they served as important steppingstones to our discovery of truth.

In Europe, the decline in spiritual thinking began in the Age of Enlightenment, led by a resurgence of materialist philosophies. This decline was offset to some degree by innovative ideas emerging in the following Romantic era. But in this age and afterwards, many materialist theories were adopted as truth, and eventually they solidified as rigid belief systems, much like entrenched religions. And this human tendency to forcefully defend and promulgate one’s cherished ideas, led to an increasingly dogmatic approach to scientific thought that has persisted to this day, resulting in much confusion and strenuous debate.

The confusion mounts whenever we mistake philosophical theories for fact. Theories are often predicated on facts but they are still no more than educated guesses about the nature of reality. Empiricism, for example, is the theory that the origin of all knowledge comes through sensory experience. Rationalism, in its radical position, is the theory that reason is the only path to knowledge. And materialism, in its original construction, is the theory that matter is the fundamental substance in nature.

Scientific philosophies contrast with religious philosophies such as theism, in particular monotheism, which is the theory that all limited or finite things are dependent on one ultimate personal reality—God.

Nothing can be absolutely proved; both science and religion are predicated on assumptions. 103:7.10

– The Urantia Book

It comes as no surprise that materialist philosophies are popular in the scientific community; after all, science is the study of material reality. And while it is important to adhere to scientific method, problems arise whenever scientists adopt preconceived ideas about the nature of reality, ideas that effectively close their minds to the discovery of new knowledge or progressive ideas. Once again, the risk of such obstinate thinking is that scientific and philosophical beliefs become just as dogmatic as religious ones.

In the 20th century, a variety of materialist doctrines gradually seeped out of universities and drained into mainstream public thought, convincing many that there was a logical and reasonable excuse to separate God from reality, if not to entirely dismiss any notion of a Creator God.

Religious institutions did not help. Rather than acknowledging the important discoveries of science, many religionists repeatedly attacked the validity of these findings, not with evidence but simply because the facts undermined their own fixed beliefs, ones based on little more than antiquated myths and questionable interpretations of ancient literature.

The unfortunate result of these ongoing developments is that materialist and hyper-rational philosophies, in conjunction with the parochial thinking of religious fundamentalists, have only served to distract and curtail any concerted social effort to enhance spiritual perception or to expand cosmic consciousness and, in effect, have discredited the vital importance of religious experience.

But despite this disparaging trend, it seems the inherent spiritual drive of humanity cannot be stopped by philosophical or scientific theories, as evinced by the continual resurgence of spiritual movements over the millennia.

Truth and Reality

Reality is the state of things as they are, rather than as we imagine them to be. But reality is not limited to the material world. Consciousness, for example, is real but it is not a physical entity. Love is real and, while you may see its effects on personal relationships, it is not a material item. Spiritual ideals, such as truth and goodness are very much a reality in the spiritual and personal domains, although you cannot observe these ideals in material things.

Not only is much of reality intangible, but our perceptions of it are relative. The way we see the world as a child is not the same way we see it as a young adult, and our views change again as we approach our senior years. But these changes in our perception of the world do not alter the truth about the universe or the nature of reality itself. They simply reflect changes in the way we have come to see and understand that reality. And the same can be said about our advancing scientific perceptions of reality.

This brings us to the truth that all truth is relative in a finite world. But when viewed in a wider context, truth is also expanding and evolving. We invariably build on the knowledge and truths of the past, a process that not only accelerates scientific knowledge but also greater wisdom and spiritual growth. And all of it leads to our continually improving awareness of the truth about all reality.

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered—the point is to discover them.

– Galileo

Take, for example, the science and mathematics of the Middle Ages, which were progressive and beneficial for the time, setting the stage for later scientific developments. But now we discard much of medieval science as primitive or irrelevant, just as many of our current scientific views will be cast aside in the ages to come.

The way we perceive and evaluate the universe around us is constantly changing and improving, which is why it would be foolish to stop this ongoing train of development at any one point and then proclaim to have reached the end of the line. And yet this is what many organized religions do in their ongoing effort to advance inflexible and unreasonable ideas about religion, God, ritual, or prayer, or even by idealizing some mythical, golden era that never existed.

Christian teachers perpetuated the belief in the fiat creation of the human race, and all this led directly to the formation of the hypothesis of a onetime golden age of utopian bliss. 74:8.13

– The Urantia Book

What we know about the universe and about ourselves comes by way of observation, experiment, reason, and personal experience—all of which occur in the conscious mind. And since we cannot possibly know the limits of knowledge, we cannot close our minds to all possible explanations of reality, even spiritual ones.

While absolute truth must be infinite and eternal, the mortal mind is not. We should ask ourselves if it is at all possible for mere humans to know all there is to know about matter, mind, spirit, or the universe at large. Can we really understand everything? Can we reasonably conclude there is no reality outside of that which we can see, hear, or feel? The physicist and philosopher, Marcelo Gleiser, argues that it is presumptuous and naive to assume that the human mind can comprehend all things. 

The operation of mind is affected by multiple factors—chemical reactions in the body, the physical and cultural environments in which we grow, the knowledge we have gained, the experiences we have been exposed to and, to a significant degree, by what we have come to believe. The mind is particularly useful, but it is not infallible.

We strive toward knowledge, always more knowledge, but must understand that we are, and will remain, surrounded by mystery.

– Marcelo Gleiser

We do not have to look far to see the limitations of the human mind and its senses. We are incapable of perceiving the full range of sound or color. We cannot observe energy or thought. We cannot see microscopic substances or clean air. Granted, we can detect a wider range of this unperceived world with scientific instruments, but these too have their limitations. This inevitably begs the question about our ability to perceive all reality.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.

– Confucius

But the mind has abilities of perception not limited by the senses, nor by reason and logic. Moral and spiritual insights are human intuitions that reach far beyond the simple capacity to reason—they are more than an accumulation of scientific facts and knowledge—they are deeper perceptions of unexplored relationships, new combinations, new associations, and new possibilities. Scientists, inventors, philosophers, and religionists all benefit from these intuitive insights.

The Nature of Reality

Understanding the nature of reality, whether material or non-material, improves as we advance our knowledge of the cosmos and all that is in it. Such knowledge is advanced in three ways; scientific research, philosophical arguments, and spiritual insights. Science, philosophy, and religion are human endeavors that ideally have one common pursuit—the pursuit of truth.

The job of philosophy is to theorize about the fundamental nature of reality, but it is not wild speculation. The strength of any philosophical argument depends on the strength of its logic, on its validity and soundness which, in turn, all rely on the strength of its premises. Philosophy, therefore, makes intelligent guesses about the nature of reality based on a solid foundation of premises, observation, logic, reason, and fact—which is the same foundation used to formulate scientific theories.

Philosophical arguments and scientific theories are merely human efforts to explain the inexplicable, and we all entertain philosophical constructs that help us to explain, and cope with, the universe as we see it. But to a significant degree, philosophical thinking can also affect the way we see the world around us and the cosmos at large.

Our views of reality are often based on premises we rarely question. Indeed, the sum of our premises constitutes our belief systems, which are simply our acts of faith in the nature of reality. And while these premises provide a useful framework for our thoughts, they can often be groundless or misleading. One popular premise still touted in modern society is the outdated view that everything in the universe is made of matter or energy. This is the fundamental premise in the philosophy of materialism.

Materialist notions of reality persist to this day even though, almost one hundred years ago, both Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and Max Planck’s discoveries in quantum mechanics left the philosophy of materialism in serious doubt and disarray.

In his lecture, The Nature of Matter (1944), Planck claimed there is no matter as such, that it exists only by virtue of an (as yet) unknown force that holds it all together. The effects of this force are so patterned and deterministic that Planck is left with little option but to assume there is some conscious and intelligent mind behind it all, one he calls the “matrix of all matter.”

So rather than saying that the material world gives birth to consciousness, Planck, who won the Nobel Prize in physics, is saying that some greater consciousness holds together the entire material universe—a consciousness that is the essential matrix of reality.

In his thinking, Planck joined several other leaders in the scientific revolution, among them Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Blaise Pascal, Joannes Kepler, and René Descartes, all of whom perceived the hand of God in the perfection of the universe. And several contemporary physicists and scientists, such as Rudolf Peierls, Erwin Schrödinger, and Werner Heisenberg also shared Planck’s views, along with more current figures such as Stephen Hawking, Francis Collins, and Carl Sagan.

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.

– Carl Sagan

Sagan emphasized that the objectives of science and religion are nearly identical—they both pursue truth. Before the 1950s, it was common for scientists to be religionists. They saw little disparity between science and religion. Only in contemporary times have we developed the rigid view that science and God are incompatible.

Even Einstein, although he dismissed any notion of a personal God, still upheld a belief in some sort of cosmic religion.

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man.

– Albert Einstein

It is the job of science and philosophy to discover the truth wherever it may lead, which means that individual scientists should remain open to all avenues of inquiry rather than adopting a fixed philosophical approach. A true scientist searches for the truth instead of trying to create it. Her attitude of mind should be unbiased and free of all preconceived notions and prejudices. Whenever a scientist adopts an unwavering philosophical stance such as materialism or empiricism, she has betrayed the very essence of scientific research.

Atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method.

– Marcelo Gleiser

Just as there is a working relationship between science and philosophy, there is also one between science and religion, and another between philosophy and religion. In fact, all three modes of exploration are interrelated. There is no need for science to reject religion, nor is there any need for religion to reject science. The gulf between the two is bridged by philosophy. Indeed, it may be possible for logic and reason to harmonize the facts of science with spiritual insights if we really desire to follow the truth, regardless of the conclusions we may reach.

Science in Mind

Scientific experiments try to confirm the reality and nature of physical existence by means of observation and experiment. This process is known as the scientific method, or the empirical approach. The premise of this approach is that all reality is observable and measurable.

To ensure the validity of all experimental results, other researchers must be able to duplicate them in a similar experiment. In other words, all scientific claims must be testable. Such rigorous requirements have gone a long way to furthering our knowledge of the material world.

However, the empirical approach cannot explain all reality. The weakness of empiricism lies in its main premise—that all reality is observable. This shortcoming is obvious whenever we consider the essential role of mind in the construction of any empirical theory.

The inconsistency of empiricism and materialism is that human consciousness, which is the only medium used to construct and observe scientific experiments, can neither be observed nor measured itself, at least not objectively. And this holds true even if we believe consciousness has material roots. Consciousness, or the subjective awareness of mind, is neither an objective nor empirical reality, but few would deny it exists.

The very fact that a scientist has the mental ability to deny the existence of supernatural realities only serves to demonstrate the discretionary operation of a supermaterial dimension—even a spiritual dimension. Ironically, it takes a supermaterial consciousness, a sense of values, and intellectual insight to devise any concept of a materialistic universe.

Universal Laws

The universe has laws—it does not exist in a state of random chaos. In science, theories become laws only after they have been tested to the point where they are generally accepted as true. At this point, we call these consistencies natural laws, or universal laws.

A good example of a universal law is Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation. Throughout the entire known universe, without exception, we can observe and measure the phenomenon of gravity attraction in any object with mass. We may not fully understand why this is the case or how it works, but we observe the regularity of it. And this brings us to another important point—the laws of nature as we observe them are good at describing reality, but they do not necessarily explain anything.

The laws of nature are laws because they define the regularities of nature. They are widely accepted facts about the operation of the universe, ones no longer considered theories or figments of the imagination.

According to the British philosopher (and onetime atheist), Antony Flew, the regularities of natural laws are mathematically precise, universal, and connected. Flew’s insightful question is, “Who wrote these laws?” And his conclusion, like that of other notable scientists including Newton, Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, and even Hawking, is that it had to be a manifestation of infinite mind or intelligence, even spirit.

These great scientific minds arrived at this conclusion because the physical laws of the universe are systematic and deterministic, not random and chaotic. They are immutable and universal, not capricious and provincial. In other words, the evidence strongly suggests the regularities of nature were planned and designed, and that wherever we may go in this almost infinite universe, they will apply equally.

The same could be said about the designs of life. Several scientific experiments have been conducted on the premise that life originated as an accident of nature. The classic example in this regard is the Miller-Urey experiment, which tested the theory that life occurred as a spontaneous reaction after a spark of energy (e.g., lightning) struck certain chemicals or materials. Interestingly, this experimental interaction of electricity and matter produced several inanimate amino acids, some of which are the building blocks of genetics. But repeated experiments over the last sixty years have failed to instill the spark of life in this or any other material.

More recent theories claim that life started with self-replicating mixtures of RNA (ribonucleic acid) and other molecules, and that it arose, nurtured by sunlight, on or near the Earth’s surface. But the obvious weakness in such theories is the assumption that self-replicating genetic information (genetic code) emerges naturally and spontaneously. This is a convenient assumption that ignores reality.

Even if we conjecture that these dead organic compounds could, in some way, be infused with a spark of living energy, how would this apparent accident of nature suddenly create a complex genome with at least 160,000 functioning base pairs of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which is now considered the minimum required for the most basic form of life? 

Furthermore, if this first formation of life could not reproduce itself, it would have died out in a single lifetime. So how would this experiment or any associated biological theory explain the sudden appearance of inherent genetic programming for the self-replication and evolution of life?

Organic evolution is not a mere cosmic accident. 65:4.3

– The Urantia Book

The popular author, Perry Marshall, puts forth a number of compelling arguments supporting the view that life, as well as the ongoing process of the evolution of life, is neither a random affair nor a cosmic accident.

He summarizes by saying: “DNA is a code. All code is created by a conscious mind. Therefore, DNA was designed by mind.” As a challenge, he organized a private equity group to create the Evolution 2.0 Prize, which offers a $10 million reward to anyone who can prove otherwise.

Real-world biology doesn’t support atheism at all.

– Perry Marshall

Perry’s deduction is supported by another experiment performed by a multi-national team of biologists who tested the theory that the evolution of life is not a random affair. And indeed, they concluded that developmental evolution is not random—it has direction; it is deterministic and orderly. In other words, there is some built-in, or programmed, aspect to the process of evolution and mutation. This is not to say that God preordains every genetic outcome but instead that genetic reproduction is directed by an unknown (for now) set of universal laws, ones set in motion by an Original Source.

As Flew suggests, the very existence of this end-directed genetic programming demonstrates the existence of an “infinitely intelligent Mind.” Like Einstein, Planck, and others before him, he concludes that the universe must be purpose driven, even if we are unaware of the purpose.

I have followed the argument where it has led me. And it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being.

– Antony Flew

Logically, there is no need for creationism (a higher power created life) and naturalism (only natural laws and forces operate) to be at odds. They are not mutually exclusive. In any theory of life, we could just as easily speculate that the implantation of primordial life and its continuing evolution by means of genetic mutation and natural selection is an integral part of God’s creation plan—as a form of progressive creation over time.

Creationism (or intelligent design) is a term applied to any theory proposing that either the universe or life itself originated by means of supernatural acts of divine creation. But not all intelligent design theories are reasonable. And if I accept any particular theory, this does not imply I accept all creationist theories, some of which are no more than literal interpretations of creation myths, while others appear to be disingenuous attempts to mold the facts of science to agree with religious literature.

Those who search for spiritual truth do not deny the scientific facts, including the biological processes of genetic evolution, natural selection, the fossil record, the geological record, or dating methods—and there is no need to.

The Original Source

Since at least the time of Parmenides (515 BC), philosophers have argued that, for anything to exist, something must have caused it to exist. And if we follow this almost infinite string of causes back through time eternal, we inevitably come to the First Cause of all causes. As such, this Universal First Cause must be an eternal, primal, volitional, and intelligent—a Creative Agent. In philosophy, this is called the cosmological argument, and it has been a topic of debate for at least 2,500 years.

There cannot be any emptiness; for what is empty is nothing, and what is nothing cannot be.

– Melissus of Samos

The great philosopher and teacher, Philo of Alexandria, who was a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth, attempted to harmonize Greek thought with Judaic literature. He accepted the primacy of God as a philosophical absolute, even extending this primacy to the concept of time. “Since time is the interval of the motion of the heavens, there could not have been any such thing as motion before there was anything which could be moved.”

By the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas became the first (known) Christian to speak openly of God as the First Cause and First Mover of all things and, since his time, philosophical debates about the primacy of God grew increasingly heated.

But despite the serious assault against the cosmological argument, especially in the 18th century, a number of philosophers, past and present, have defended Aquinas’ arguments with sound logic and clear reason (e.g., W.L. Craig, R. Koons, A. Pruss, W.L. Rowe, R. Swinburne).

One popular retort to the cosmological argument is that the universe was not created—that it is eternal and self-existent—it always was and always will be. This is a fundamental belief of many Eastern religions, including Buddhism and Jainism, both of which reject any notion of a creator God.

But if the universe existed from time eternal, it would be dead by now. All stars in this eternal cosmos would be burned out, even though they can last for several billion years. We know that nebulae and galaxies are the incubators of stars, but even these are stabilizing over time from their initial period of creation, as we would expect. According to the second law of thermodynamics, the cosmos cannot be a perpetual motion machine. If it had always existed, and there was no external source capable of re-energizing it, it would now be completely dark and motionless.

Along the same lines, even the Big Bang theory cannot explain the eternal existence of a hypothetical, massive ball of energy-charged matter. Nor is there any agreed-upon theory about why, after an eternity of time, this ball of matter suddenly exploded (or expanded) a mere 14 billion years ago.

Nothing comes from nothing.

– Parmenides

Something cannot come from nothing. For anything to exist, some force must have caused it to exist. No matter how elaborate or contrived arguments may be in any effort to discredit the chain of causality, there must be an intelligent First Cause. Some Intelligent Power had to start the ball rolling—the initial Creator of Reality—and that same Eternal Power keeps it rolling.

No matter what manifestation of reality you can possibly imagine, God, by any name or description, is the First Cause of that reality—the First Source.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

– Genesis 1