The title I gave to my fourth collection of poems is Between Silence and Silence. I have always thought it sad, and occasionally a matter of momentary despair, that each of us emerges from oblivion into life, without permission given, and after a really very brief period of existence is hustled back into oblivion. The time between, full of alarums and excursions, doesn’t make much sense, when you come to think about it, in the context of infinite personal oblivion on either side of this short appearance. For God’s sake, if one may be allowed a small blasphemy, what is it all for?
In an interview, Peter Minshall, the great creative genius of the Trinidad Carnival costume band, was asked out of the blue: “Is there a God?” Startled, he replied off the cuff, “Well, I certainly can’t take credit for all that I do.” Belief in God, and the belief in some kind of personal immortality which flows from belief in God, is based on the disbelief that the existence of anything, the universe and eventually human life, can emerge out of nothing. Creation requires a Creator who will not in the end forget His creatures. That is the hope in the backs of the mind of many people and certainly all those professing the Christian faith. It is a comforting hope and gives some protection against the angst caused by contemplating the prospect of death and final oblivion.
However, one modern way of looking at God and the Universe was recently expressed to me by a friend as follows: “For me, the universe as described by particle physics, cosmology, and evolutionary biology counters the biblical version at every step, so that I see no place for a God of Love in the scheme of things. If some kind of deity did create the universe 12.5 billion years ago, then I see no evidence that He has had anything to do with it since, or that He has ever had any concern for humans who are supposed to be his special creation. When the Earth was believed to be a few thousand years old, it was possible to believe that Jesus was God Incarnate, sent to redeem humanity from its sins. But when you know that our species existed for about 400,000 years before Jesus, and that other human species once existed and co-existed with us (Homo erectus survived for 1.8 million years), and when you realize that the vast majority of humans who ever lived never heard the gospel, one can’t help thinking that either God was incredibly incompetent, or that the story of the Incarnation and all that followed from it is religious myth, no different from the myths of all other religions – an attempt by humanity to find consolation in a harsh world.”
Such a view in effect questions any need for God. So it does not come as all that much of a shock to me that scientists are proposing exactly how and why everything can perfectly well emerge out of nothing at all without a hint of Divine intervention. Here in precis is how the universe can come into existence out of nothing.
In Einstein’s famous equation E = mc ², the E stands for energy, the m for mass and the c for the speed of light. It shows that energy and mass are different aspects of the same phenomenon. Einstein’s general theory of relativity also shows that they are both affected by gravity. Because everything is attracted to everything else by gravity, gravity is acting, in effect, as negative energy. Sum up the negative gravitational energy in the universe and the positive energy in all the mass of the universe and the result is zero.
So given that the universe actually consists of nothing at all (shades of Edgar Allan Poe: “All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream”), explaining its existence becomes quite easy. The separation of the nothing into energy and gravity is a result of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. One of the phenomena predicted by this principle is called quantum tunneling. In ordinary, pre-quantum physics, an object confined by a barrier stays confined. However, the uncertainty principle means that the object’s position is actually indeterminate. It may, sometimes, therefore, find itself on the other side of the barrier. In effect it has tunneled its way through. This strange observation is not mad conjecture. It is well established experimentally and is, in fact, exploited commercially in electronics. The barrier need not be physical. It can be energetic – such as going from nothing to a mixture of positive and negative energy. So the theory is that the universe simply quantum-tunneled its way out of nothing into existence in a Big Bang producing something about the size of a sub-atomic particle. There then took place a million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion-fold increase in volume to the size of a grapefruit in a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. More sedately since then it has been expanding for 15 billion years which is where we come in, as it were, without benefit of clergy.
In such a universe, what room is there for God? The watch does not need a Watchmaker. The theologians need to explain how He fits in to confront and offset the increasingly convincing case that scientists make that He does not need to be fitted in at all and that everlasting, cold, exact equations are quite enough to explain everything. The litanies of faith need to be brought up to date to balance the litanies of science which increasingly hold sway. The repetitions of ritual and rote, the dependence on traditional teachings and holy books, are not enough. I suppose the simple, ultimate answer to the scientists is: Who do you think thought up the equations in the first place? But people yearn, or at least I do, for an explanation with more intellectual and spiritual depth than that. The need to hope that pure oblivion does not surround our brief lives is very strong.
So far, I keep that hope alive. The title of my book of poems is Between Silence to Silence not Between Nothing and Nothing. There is a large difference. The oblivion that exists on either side of our short and puzzling lives sends no clear message or explanation that I can hear. But the silence may not be forever. That, I suppose, is where faith comes in and where science does not tread.