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In the past century, science has completely overhauled the entire concept of the macrocosm in cosmology—as well as the microcosm, in particle physics.  

In previous essays in this series, we’ve covered the major steps in the evolution of particle physics in its study of refinement. Major discoveries have also taken place in the evolving field of cosmology and astrophysics, radically altering the scientific view of refinement as we consider an ever more expansive universe capable of mimicking the properties of spiritual reality in its own way.

For example: the theory of the “Big Bang” was conceived in the 1940’s, became somewhat confirmed in the 1960’s, and became more scientifically entrenched in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. According to this theory, the observable universe began with a massive explosion which made it expand rapidly, has now sped about fifteen billion light years away from us in any direction, and grows bigger by the nanosecond. Regressively speaking, then, we might conclude that the universe is obviously some fifteen billion years old. Or is it?

To name and to quantify is an anthropomorphic device for attaining cosmological comfort, even, perhaps, for gaining a sense of superiority or control. The vanity of science virtually requires this of its adherents so that they might persevere in the face of what would otherwise seem an unapproachable reality: a cosmos so vast, mysterious and unknowable that it becomes tantamount to a metaphysical realm.

All scientists encounter this one stark message as they search for some final encompassing entity or form in the macrocosmic view of creation—that however sophisticated we may in the future become in our capacity to study the universe, it will ever be beyond any final or complete human analysis or comprehension.

Now while this verity might discourage some scientists and even scientific thought itself, it is perfectly logical in the context of a physical creation whose very existence emulates in metaphorical form the pre-existent ideas, forms, virtues, and verities in the non-composite metaphysical reality of the world of the spirit. Therefore, if we can learn about one reality from the other, given the tenuous speculations about the nature and origin of the cosmos, we would do well to turn our discussion to a brief examination of some of the problems with contemporary theories of cosmology and how these can be informed, if not resolved, by the spiritual verities set forth in the Baha’i teachings.

The most obvious problem with the big bang theory from a Baha’i perspective is that most versions of this theory hypothesize a single point of beginning, whereas the Baha’i teachings affirm repeatedly that material reality has no point of beginning:

Know that it is one of the most abstruse questions of divinity that the world of existence—that is, this endless universe—has no beginning.

… absolute non-existence lacks the capacity to attain existence. If the universe were pure nothingness, existence could not have been realized. Thus, as that Essence of Oneness, or divine Being, is eternal and everlasting—that is, as it has no beginning nor end—it follows that the world of existence, this endless universe, likewise has no beginning. … – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 207-208.

The universe, then, as Baha’is understand it, has existed eternally in the past, regardless of how infinitely it has evolved or changed in form.

For instance: the age of the universe is calculated by some as having begun roughly ten billion light years ago. However, certain stars have been calculated to be at least sixteen billion light years old. Clearly something is amiss.

But a more mundane question also arises: If it happened, what precipitated the big bang? If it was something physical, then something physical must have preceded that point in time. If it was metaphysical, then we suddenly introduce into science the existence of metaphysical reality and, even more disturbing to some scientists, a causal relationship between the two realities. What is more, if we allow that such a causal relationship occurred once, then could it not occur twice, or constantly, or infinitely?

Furthermore, could there have been another “bang” which preceded this one, in which matter collapsed back on itself until it reached a point of critical mass and exploded again? In other words, could we be witnessing Big Bang Number Twenty-Seven? If so, then the universe could still be infinite in time. As such, if viewed from a timeless reality or with a time-lapse lens, the universe would appear as a vast heart pulsing in the matrix of—of what?

Possibly the big bang theory has had its fifteen minutes of fame, eclipsed since Stephen Hawking published his Brief History of Time in 1988. But we now have the “cold big bang theory” to explain how all this particulate matter that expanded in the first second or so formed into solar systems and galaxies.  We have the “inflationary theory” to explain how an expanding universe creates space (instead of having space already there in which matter can expand). We have “superstring theory” which adds a complex of other dimensions to Einstein’s meager four dimensions.

Of course, the idea of a finite universe or “closed system” has never been universally accepted. To presume that the universe is limited to what we can presently observe would be totally arbitrary and needless, as well as the grossest sort of hubris. Certainly the Baha’i writings make clear that such is not the case, that the solar systems are infinite:

Just as particulars are infinite in number, so also the vast universals and the great realities of the universe are without number and beyond computation. The Dawning Places of Unity, the Daysprings of Singleness and the Suns of Holiness are also sanctified beyond the bounds of number, and the luminous spiritual worlds are exalted above limits and restrictions. In like manner the worlds of bodily existence the mind of no man can reckon nor the understanding of the learned comprehend. Consider the following well-known tradition and examine its meanings indicative of the vastness of the cosmos and its awesome limitless expanse: “God, exalted be He, fashioned one hundred thousand, thousand lamps and suspended the Throne, the earth, the heavens and whatsoever is between them, even Heaven and Hell—all of these in a single lamp. And only God knows what is in the rest of the lamps.” The fact that philosophers and sages have posited limits and restrictions for such matters is to be explained by the limitations of people’s minds and perceptions and the blindness of the followers of allusions, whose natures and intellects have been rendered dull and inanimate by the interposition of many veils. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Tablet of the Universe, provisional translation, p. 3.

If, then, the physical “worlds” or systems are beyond comprehension or limit, as are the “Dawning Places of Unity, the Daysprings of Singleness and the Suns of Holiness” (the divine messengers), then why should we even consider trying to study the macrocosm?

Here again, the answer is the same as the reason why we should study the microcosm—if the physical world in all its properties is an outward mirror, sign or metaphor of the unseen world, and a complete expression at that—much as the body and actions of the human being give evidence of the soul’s reality and condition—then the fundamental principle by which knowledge of the unseen reality can be obtained is to begin with the premise that to understand the operation of a particular part of the Chain of Being or a particular ingredient in universal composition is to gain insight into all the other levels on the chain of being and all other compositions, since universals explain particulars and particulars explain universals:

Know then that those mathematical questions which have stood the test of scrutiny and about the soundness of which there is no doubt are those that are supported by incontrovertible and logically binding proofs and by the rules of geometry as applied to astronomy, that are based on observations of the stars and careful astronomical research, and are in conformity with the principles of the universal themes expounded in the divine sciences. For it is by applying the outward world to the inner, the high to the low, the small to the large, the general to the particular that, with abundant clearness, it becometh apparent that the new rules arrived at by the science of astronomy are in closer accord with the universal divine principles than the other erroneous theories and propositions …. – Ibid.

We can see in this concept of refinement, whether we descend into the realm of particle physics or ascend into the realm of vast celestial cosmology, that the Creator has fashioned an infinitely complex classroom for our training, a classroom whose lessons will never become tedious because they will never be completely or finally understood. They will constantly challenge humankind on whatever planet this special being lives, and at whatever stage of evolution this fruit of creation may be.

Therefore, while physical creation is clearly the product of and subordinate in station to the unseen spiritual reality which it manifests, we grievously err to value it solely as a breeding ground where souls take on identity and receive a simplistic or foundational education to prepare them for the next stage of their potential growth in the realm of the spirit. Clearly the physical world is not merely a shadowy metaphor of spiritual reality. In its capacity to manifest even the most refined expressions of metaphysical reality, it is indeed the “exact counterpart” of the spiritual world, and it co-exists with that reality in an infinite, ceaseless, integrated, and organic enterprise. Physical reality, in short, has inherent divine significance in itself, because every created thing bears the spiritual sign or imprint of the Creator. Consequently, each created being and each and every composition of created beings is unique in its expression of divine reality.

45 Comments

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  • Michael A. Russell
    Feb 28, 2019
    Prof. Hatcher, with all due respect for his contributions to Baha'i apologetics, is not professionally qualified to opine on the validity of the Big Bang Theory. Relying here on unrelated academic credentials raises a question of professional ethics. Abdul-Baha, Himself, states that reliance on Religion in the face of scientific evidence is superstition. As He instructs, Baha'is must be prepared to re-evaluate their understanding when these come into conflict. Doing so demonstrates the depth of our faith. Doing the opposite is embarrassing. Lastly, Abdul-Baha didn't have, nor made a claim to, scientific expertise. He accepted the, now roundly debunked, luminiferous ...aether theory. Relying on Him to "refute" a scientific question will fail.
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  • Chris Beckett
    Jan 29, 2019
    That's what I was thinking
  • Michael Duane Hartman
    Jan 25, 2019
    Bahai philosophy always impresses me compared to others. It's interesting to compare ideas about what the Truth and truths about reality are, and iron out the subtle details where we would differ. Christians agree with many points of Babai, except for the uniqueness of Christ. Where many perspectives talk about Oneness, Christian theology talks about Holiness. Holiness is not specifically understood even by most Christians, and is often boiled down to basic concepts of chastity and temperence. But it is primarily about the unique identity of the self, including a God who referred to Himself as "I Am", who "was ...and is and is to come". And he claimed to create "in the beginning" (of physical reality) "the heavens and the earth".
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  • Owen Allen
    Jan 21, 2019
    A bit clunky. I found myself not agreeing with the description of the science that I am left being unsure what argument was being made. Likewise I am not in agreement with some of the assertions made about baha'i teachings based on the selections here. For example, the big bang theory, so far as i understand, is not a theory asserting that there was nothing preceeding it, just that, in itself it originated beyond boundary conditions of human comprehension from which time and space themselves came into being. Scientists talk of universe as the phenomenal contingency. There is no reason ...scientifically or spiritually to believe that the phenomenal universe is more than just a degree of reality although for some it is big enough. Etc.
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  • John Hatcher
    Jan 14, 2019
    Dear Friends, thanks for all the feedback. There are more parts to this discussion forthcoming which will be better edited by me so that I don't make gross mistakes like implying that light years is a measure of time instead of distance. To conclude a very general reaction to the comments on this part of the discourse, my understanding of the term "universe" means not a segment of the created world, but the totality of creation. Ergo, by definition there can be only one universe. Secondly, While materialist orienting thinking is loath to accept infinity as applied to matter, time, ...or space (it would seem to imply a metaphysical reality), there is no reason to think that the universe has not always existed. (more later)
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  • Bryan Donaldson
    Jan 14, 2019
    I have been interested in this topic for a long time. My personal investigation of the evidence for the big bang led me to think that we have incredibly limited data and we're trying to figure out the most fundamental questions of existence. The big bang theory seemed to be a grasp at explaining the universe that caught on because there was nothing better. For most of my life classrooms taught with certainty that the expansion of the universe was decelerating, implying that it would eventually stop, then gravity would turn everything into a singularity eventually. In 2011 a Nobel ...prize was awarded to people who proved that the expansion was accelerating, the exact opposite, opening up another puzzle to explain the dark energy involved.
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    • Michael Duane Hartman
      Jan 25, 2019
      Everything is not moving away from everything at tbe same rate. As far back as the 1930's it was already known that the farther away a galaxy is from the observer, the faster it is moving away. Hubbell proved this for Albert Einstein using astrophotographic plates exposed periodically over decades.
    • Bryan Donaldson
      Jan 14, 2019
      Two other things of note: everything appears to be moving away from everything else at the same rate, implying that there is no "center" to the expansion, and black holes are not the one-way street for matter that everyone used to think, thanks to Stephen Hawkins explanation. Overall I think the evidence suggests that we're missing enormous pieces of the puzzle. It could be tens or hundreds of thousands of years until we can explain the origins and shape of the universe.
  • Judith Behrendt
    Jan 13, 2019
    I read most of the commentary and see Dr. Hatcher proposed sending our emails and interest to continue the conversation to Bahaiteachings.org but see no way to do this. Help??
  • Judith Behrendt
    Jan 13, 2019
    I love this so much but wanted it to continue! Amazing thought and expression as usual Dr. Hatcher, thank you but want more! A question: are there any scientific models who propose the theory of an infinite number of continuous Big Bangs?
  • David Young
    Jan 09, 2019
    Time is not measured in light years, distance is. Therefore, the known universe cannot be 16 billion light years old. That said, it is unknowable which iteration of infinite expansions we're experiencing now.
  • Andrew Scott
    Jan 08, 2019
    John's final point in this article is that while this physical world can indeed be seen as a classroom to train our souls, it should not be limited in our understanding to this, and that a deeper and closer study of matter as it is allows us to approach a better comprehension of underlying reality. This is something I find personally really beautiful. To mark the foundation of the Armagh Observatory, a commemorative coin was struck, which was stamped with "THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD". I could not have put it better myself. Thank you, John, for this ...insightful article, and I look forward to more in the series. Don't be put off by hasty initial reactions. (Part 8/8)
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    • Judith Behrendt
      Jan 13, 2019
      My comment above was meant to be in reply to this comment not David's.
    • Judith Behrendt
      Jan 13, 2019
      Ditto! Love your comments!