CSC Header Graphic
Printer Friendly Version
Dotted Line
Concerning First Origins
By: Wolfgang Smith
The Quantum Enigma
January 1, 1995

There exist of course origins resulting from a natural process, a chain of events subject to the kind of efficient causality with which our sciences are concerned; and these are evidently origins amenable to scientific explanation. The natural process itself may be conceived in terms of "necessity" or "chance," which is to say that science is conversant with means of analysis adapted to either case. For centuries, as we know, it was assumed that necessity constitutes the primary mode, relegating chance to a statistical plane; but with the advent of quantum theory this view has been abandoned by most. Yet, regardless of whether the physical universe is ultimately deterministic or not, the fact remains that both necessity and chance allow scientific modes of explanation which together encompass the scientific domain. But it is also clear, at least on the ordinary level of understanding, that there exist origins which can not be thus explained; in particular, neither necessity nor chance seem to account for the productions of human art. The question presents itself, moreover, whether there exist material formations even in the natural domain which similarly defy scientific explanation. And is there perhaps an objective criterion by which one is able to identify formations of this kind, a criterion which detects "design" of whatever provenance? The remarkable fact is that science itself has been able to provide such a criterion. I am referring to the work of William A. Dembski, founder of the mathematical theory of design, which constitutes, in my opinion, one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of our time. Given that science is concerned precisely with things which can be understood in terms of necessity or chance, it is indeed astonishing that science itself is able to identify things which can not be thus explained. One is reminded of Goedel's theorem which startled the scientific world in 1931, and of the quantum revolution, results by which science has entered the postmodern era. My point is that Dembski's discovery is of a similar kind insofar as it is a case of exact science becoming cognizant of its own bounds, its own inherent limitations.

The scientific discovery of "bounds" has of course philosophic implications; Dembski's theorem alone disqualifies our customary Weltanschauung, the reductive cosmology which conceives of the so-called physical universe as a closed and autonomous system. In the wake of such discoveries it has become necessary to re-think the philosophical foundations. Two courses present themselves: a descent into postmodern nihilism, on the one hand, or a return to the metaphysical traditions. These in essence are the options; and for my part, I am committed to the second alternative. It is time, I believe, to reconsider the traditional metaphysical doctrines: the very disciplines which came to be rejected centuries ago in the name of a Promethean science oblivious of its innate bounds. Today, with the scientific recognition of such bounds, the picture has changed. The erstwhile rejection of the metaphysical traditions has now been visibly disqualified, and it can in fact be argued that the very discoveries of contemporary science call for the restitution of a pre-Cartesian ontology. We need once more to realize that not everything in the objective domain exists in space and time, and not all things which do exist in space can be ascribed to a temporal process (which is what I mean when I speak of "first origins"). What is thus required is a bona fide metaphysics of time and eternity; and happily, such a metaphysics has existed since the beginnings of human history, and has in fact been espoused, in one form or another, by every major civilization-- with the notable exception of our own. As Huston Smith has pointed out, the post-Christian West is the first society ever to view the physical universe as a closed system. The object of the present paper--which consists of the final chapter of my book, The Quantum Enigma*--is to present the rudiments of this perennial metaphysical doctrine in a context dictated by contemporary physics, a science conversant with two instances of first origins: the initial singularity or so-called big bang, namely, and the phenomenon of state vector collapse. Following this presentation I propose to say a few words regarding first origins in the domains of art and of biology, in both of which "design" is paramount.

One of the greatest achievements of contemporary physics is the discovery that the universe did not "always" exist. I am referring, of course, to the so-called big bang theory: the well-known doctrine which affirms (roughly speaking) that the universe came to birth some fifteen billion years ago in a stupendous explosion.

But why, first of all, should we concern ourselves with the big bang theory at this point? Or to be somewhat more specific: does the fact that the universe did not "always" exist have a bearing upon quantum theory and its central enigma, which is state vector collapse? I maintain that it does, though the connection, admittedly, is far from obvious. Let us therefore proceed. I will begin by recounting the salient facts which have led to the general acceptance of the big bang hypothesis.

On the theoretical side that thesis derives its support from Einstein's general theory of relativity. The latter made its appearance in 1915, and has since been vindicated by an impressive array of sensitive experiments. In recent times it has even found technological applications: it is used in the design of advanced navigational systems in which the predicted influence of gravitational fields upon the rate of clocks needs to be taken into account. And one might add that the theory commends itself as much by its conceptual simplicity and mathematical elegance as by its empirical prowess; it stands thus on very solid ground. Moreover, unlike the Newtonian theory of gravitation (which could be described as "incurably local"), Einsteinian relativity lends itself to considerations of a global kind, which is to say that it enables one to investigate the space-time continuum as a whole. Thus, with the advent of general relativity, the tools for global inquiry became at last available, and within a period of two years, as it turns out, a Dutch astronomer, named Willem de Sitter, arrived at what has since proved to be the decisive result. What de Sitter found, to everyone's surprise, was that the new theory leads to an explosion-generated universe: a cosmos in which (initially, at least) space expands like a balloon, and everything is flying apart.

At about the same time an American by the name of Vesto Melvin Slipher had chanced upon the first concrete evidence suggesting that the galaxies in the observable universe are in fact receding from one another at enormous speeds. And thus it came about that the prospect of an expanding universe was raised, suddenly and unexpectedly, from two independent directions. And it is not without interest to add that hardly anyone was pleased, and least of all Einstein, who resisted the notion as long as he possibly could. De Sitter's result, in fact, was consigned to oblivion--only to be rediscovered, around 1922, by a young Russian physicist named Alexander Friedman; but once again the result was ignored. It was only five years later, when a Belgian Jesuit by the name of Georges Lemaitre had made substantially the same discovery, that the scientific community began, reluctantly, to take note.

Meanwhile the pioneering work of Slipher was being refined and perfected by Edwin Hubble, another American astronomer, whose prodigious efforts have amassed an abundance of empirical evidence in support of the thesis that the universe does indeed expand. At the same time strides were being made on the theoretical side in deducing the salient physical characteristics of the early universe, when all matter must have been concentrated at temperatures and pressures which dwarf even the magnitudes prevailing at the center of an exploding hydrogen bomb. Among the fundamental insights, moreover, to which these studies have led, there is one that needs especially to be mentioned: the theoretical discovery, namely, of the so-called cosmic fireball, a result obtained in 1948 by Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman. What their calculations have shown is that the early universe must have been filled with an intense electromagnetic radiation, which moreover must still exist today in a greatly weakened and red-shifted form. And this brings us to the decisive event in this scientific saga: the finding which at last overcame the general skepticism and disbelief regarding what has since come to be known as the big bang. What finally convinced a reluctant community of scientists was the accidental discovery in 1965, by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at the Bell Laboratories, of the ubiquitous "background radiation" which Alpher and Herman had predicted in 1948. What Penzias and Wilson picked up on their huge "horn antenna"--what thus in a sense they have actually "seen"--appears to be none other than the primordial fireball.

One more result needs to be mentioned by way of recounting the scientific basis of the big bang tenet, and that is the singularity theorem of Hawking and Penrose. The point of the theorem is this: what de Sitter, Friedman, and Lemaitre had found are particular solutions of the Einstein field equations, based upon certain simplifying assumptions (which appear of course to be reasonable, at least as a first approximation); what Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose have proved in 1970, on the other hand, is that these assumptions are not in fact needed: so long, namely, as the equations of general relativity hold, and so long as the total amount of matter in the universe is remotely within the range established by the experimental evidence, there must exist a "big bang" or so-called initial singularity, out of which the universe has seemingly emerged.

I have recounted these more or less well-known facts regarding the big bang tenet in order to indicate its scientific content, and to stress the fact that it constitutes a well-founded and altogether reasonable theory.1 It happens, however, that the theory is generally misunderstood, generally misinterpreted; for one is prone to conceive of the so-called big bang as an initial event, an event that took place, so to speak, at "time t = 0." But as I shall presently show, there is no such event; that possibility can in fact be ruled out on irrefutable grounds. Meanwhile it is clear from the preceding account that the scientific theory has to do--not actually with an initial event which supposedly marks the beginning of the universe--but with what may be termed an early universe, and a development or evolution from that early condition of the universe to its present state. The theory deals thus with such things as the cosmic expansion which Slipher detected and Hubble observed with meticulous care, or with the celebrated "fireball" which Penzias and Wilson accidentally picked up on their antenna at the Bell Laboratories. Hard science, on the other hand, knows nothing of an initial event, a "big bang" that supposedly took place at t = 0. Instead, what appears on its maps, so to speak, is an initial singularity: a point, on the boundary of the space-time continuum, which no longer corresponds to any spatio-temporal reality. One could say that the initial singularity has a formal but no physical significance. What it signifies, in fact, is that there can in reality be no corresponding state or "initial moment." And that is of course the reason why this point is called a singularity: it is a singularity because the space-time continuum cannot be extended that far. The initial singularity represents, therefore, not an event, but precisely the absence of an event. One does not however need to refer to the latest physics in order to realize that the universe did not "begin" at some point in time. What, after all, does it mean "to begin"? We speak of a beginning with reference to a living creature, a social entity, or an artefact, for example, meaning thereby that the entity in question came into existence at some specified time--not instantaneously, to be sure, but yet in a more or less "localized" manner. Thus, to say that something "began" at a given time t can only mean that there exists a "small" positive number * such that, at time t-*, the thing in question did not exist, whereas at t+* it did. What "small" means cannot, of course, be specified once and for all; it depends evidently upon the kind of thing we are talking about: whether it be the formation of a molecule, the birth of a living creature or of a nation, or the formation of a star. In each particular context, on the other hand, the order of magnitude of the stipulated * is fairly well understood, and may vary from a microsecond to a million years. The concept of a beginning, in any case, entails thus a reference to the past: to a time when the thing in question did not yet exist. And that is the reason, precisely, why the notion cannot be applied to the universe as a whole: for indeed, to say that the universe "began" is to imply that there was a time when the universe did not exist. But that is absurd--seeing that time refers to events, and thus to something that transpires within the universe. In the words of St. Augustine: "Let them see that without the creature there cannot be time, and leave off talking nonsense."2 Meanwhile it appears that for the most part the votaries of the big bang continue to perceive this stipulated happening as "the birth of the universe." One thus conceives of this "birth" as an event--very much, in fact, like the explosion of a firecracker. One seems not to notice that this notion entails, first, the idea of a metacosmic space, and secondly, the idea of a metacosmic time, which moreover joins up with cosmic time at the moment of the big bang. But it is needless to say that this metacosmic space and metacosmic time exist nowhere but in our imagination; and so, consequently, does the so-called big bang.

However, it can hardly be denied that the scientific facts relating to the early universe do call to mind the idea of creation. When a top scientist can discourse upon "The First Three Minutes"--what else are we to think? It is no wonder, therefore, that many have come to perceive the vindication of the big bang hypothesis as "proof positive" that the world was in fact created by God so many billion years ago. Scores of clergymen have understandably voiced this belief, and even so conservative and cautious a figure as Pope Pius XII has said as much in an address before the Pontifical Academy of Science in 1951. Meanwhile it is also presumably on account of this apparent biblical connection that atheists and pantheists of various stripes have been visibly disturbed by the big bang discovery, and that not a few have opposed the theory tooth and nail. To those, moreover, who had fondly imagined that just about everything can be explained in terms of "matter" alone, it must have come as a rude shock to be told that matter itself came into existence a few billion years ago by way of an inscrutable explosion. As the astronomer Robert Jastrow has put it: "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; and as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."3

One difficulty, however, remains even after one has surmounted "the final rock": one needs still to understand what exactly the theologians--the ones, especially, who have been "sitting there for centuries"--have to say in regard to creation. Now the crucial point is this: "Beyond all doubt, the world was not made in time, but with time."4 The act of creation, therefore, cannot be localized in time. One cannot say, for example, that the world was created fifteen billion years ago--or for that matter, six thousand, as some of the faithful are wont to think. Nor can one even say that the act of creation took place "before the world began"--because, in the first place, the world did not, strictly speaking, "begin" at all. The flux of time, one is forced to admit, has neither a temporal beginning nor a temporal end--which is to say that the true bounds of time are not in time.5 The temporal continuum has thus perforce the character of an open line segment or interval, from which the endpoints have been excluded. And this means that in a sense the Greeks were right after all when they spoke of the universe as "endless"; but so were the Christians, when they insisted that the world was created by God. It is written that God created "in the beginning"; and it cannot be denied that from biblical times to the present day, believers and unbelievers alike have understood these words in a temporal sense. Nor is this way of conceiving the matter entirely amiss; one might say that the text serves then the purpose of a myth in that it expresses a difficult truth in a suitably concrete form. But all along there have also been savants to interpret the biblical "in principio" in a metaphysical sense, which is indeed "beyond all doubt." * * * We have come to understand that, strictly speaking, there is no "first moment of time"--for the true beginning resides "outside" the cosmos, and thus beyond the temporal sequence. Time "begins" in eternity. And that "beginning," needless to say, is not within scientific reach. But there is indeed an early universe; and it does, after all, make sense to speak of "the first three minutes"--even as it makes sense to speak of the length of an open interval. And that early universe, moreover, is accessible to the physicist. The scientist is able, in other words, to pursue the universe backwards in time, right into the blazing conflagration of the primordial fireball; but in so doing he comes up against an invincible limit. Assuming that the equations of general relativity retain their validity throughout this expanse of near-infinite gravity, that limit takes the form of an initial singularity, the inevitability of which has been demonstrated by Hawking and Penrose. But if, beyond some point, the "classical" theory breaks down--as indeed it must, seeing that quantum effects are bound to come into play--then the limit may manifest in some other form. It could happen, for example, that the resultant "initial value problem" turns out not to be well posed;6 but it is in any case to be expected that the process of extrapolating backwards in time must sooner or later come to a halt.7 Not that one arrives eventually at a state of the universe beyond which one cannot proceed; for every actual state has evidently a past and can consequently be traced backwards. There is in reality no such thing as a first or initial state of the universe. What ultimately limits our backward extrapolation, therefore, is not an initial state, but a transcendent bound; and that bound is indeed the Beginning.

But not, of course, in a temporal sense. The universe has in fact no temporal beginning--no beginning in the ordinary sense--as I have said. Yet it has nonetheless a Beginning--an ontological beginning, one could say. And that Beginning is not in the past; for what is in the past is ipso facto situated within the temporal sequence. Nor can it even be said that the Beginning stands closer to the primordial universe than to the presently existing world; for inasmuch as it does not lie within the spatio-temporal continuum, the Beginning is not in reality separated from any point therein by a spatial or temporal interval, be it long or short. It is thus in a way "present" to every empirical "here" and "now"--but not, to be sure, in an empirical sense.

The Beginning may thus be conceived as the center of a symbolic circle, of which the circumference represents the spatio-temporal universe in its four-dimensional totality. The radii represent then what might be termed the "vertical" direction, which has to do, not with spatio-temporal, but with ontological relationships. They represent thus a "dimension" overlooked by those who regard the spatio-temporal world as the sum-total of reality. There is obviously no room in the reductionist world-picture for "vertical radii"; but by the same token, a "geometry" of this kind can indeed be entertained once the reductionist premise has been relinquished. One is able then--with surprising ease!--to conceive of a universal Center "around which the primordial wheel revolves" (punta dello stelo a cui la prima rota va dintorno), to put it in Dante's words.8 And one is able, moreover, to understand that even though that Center is nowhere in space or time, it is yet in a sense ubiquitous: it is "where every where and every when are focussed,"9 to quote Dante once more.

Such, in brief, is the "geometry" of the true Beginning, as it has in fact been envisioned throughout the ages.10 And let us note without delay that this perennial doctrine disqualifies the evolutionist outlook: the cherished notion that the world was created "long ago" (if indeed one admits that it was created at all) and has since been "evolving" on its own. For in light of the metaphysical doctrine it appears that the Beginning "acts," not by causing an initial state--which then, supposedly, gives rise to all the rest--but by a kind of "vertical causation" which brings all things into existence in a single instant, as it were, in accordance with the biblical verse: "He that liveth in eternity created all things at once" (Ecclus. 18:1). It is true, of course, that, empirically speaking, things come into existence at different times; but this does not mean that they are created at different times--for indeed, creation does not take place "in time." And yet, created they are: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made," as St. John affirms. And one might add that according to the punctuation which has now become customary (and which places the "quod factum est" at the end of verse 3 instead of at the beginning of verse 4)11 John 1:3 reads in fact: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made." The "quod factum est" may thus be interpreted as referring to what was truly made, the implication being that not all "making" is on a par. There is thus a temporal "making" that is predicated on what God has made. One can say that in addition to the "vertical causation," which acts "along the radii" and "instantaneously," there are also various modes of "horizontal causation," which act "tangentially," or "along the circumference," and play a secondary role. The pre-eminence of the Beginning, therefore, is based, not upon temporal, but upon ontological priority.

By virtue of the fact that the Beginning is not in time, it appears that the early universe has lost its privileged position. No longer can it be viewed as having in some special sense descended "directly from the Hands of God"; for as we have seen, the primordial cosmos actually stands no "closer" to the Beginning than any other portion of space-time. And yet it can hardly be denied that in some sense it does represent "the beginning of the world." From a temporal point of view, of course, the early universe seems indeed to be situated "near the beginning"; but this impression proves to be chimerical, for it happens that there is nothing--no "beginning" corresponding to t = 0--to which the early universe could in fact be "near." For as we have noted repeatedly, there is no temporal beginning. There is, however, an ontological beginning, which constitutes the metacosmic Center of the universe. The question arises, therefore, whether the early universe could in some special way be indicative of that true Beginning. We shall try to answer this query with the aid of a biblical symbolism: the symbolism of "clouds." What, then, is the general significance (in both Testaments) of clouds? They serve, first of all, to obstruct human vision--as in Acts 1.9: ". . . while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight." But on further examination one finds that clouds serve, not only to obstruct, but also to transmit--as in Exodus 16:10: "And, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud." Their double function, then, is that of a somewhat transparent veil, which can both hide and partially reveal what stands behind. Implicit in all of this is the notion of ontological discontinuity: there are two ontological planes, one can say, and the veil or "cloud" marks their boundary. It is important to note, however, that the "cloud" is invariably situated on the hither side; it belongs, so to speak, to the nether realm--as its topmost layer, if you will.

The basic idea is very simple. Existing as we do, within a given universe, our natural sight is limited to the things that belong to this domain. We cannot see beyond our world into another; and yet, at times, our sight seems to reach, as it were, to the very edge. And this is what the symbolism of clouds expresses so well: a cloud, after all, though it belongs yet to our terrestrial world, floats high in the sky, and seems indeed to touch the vault of heaven. And if it be thin enough, moreover, it not only touches heaven but also manifests its light.

One more point before we terminate these cursory indications on the subject of "clouds": both Hebrew and Greek does in fact distinguish between "thick clouds," which are presumably opaque, and "thin clouds" (Heb. anan, Gk. nephele), which are potentially light-bearing. Most of the time, moreover, the Bible speaks of "thin clouds"--and this includes the instances cited above.12

Getting back to our cosmological query: It is now easy to apply this symbolism to the early universe. All one needs to do is replace the vector pointing "up" (from earth to sky) by the negative "arrow of time" (which points into the past); "high above" becomes thus transformed into "long ago." And with this understanding, the primeval universe does in fact present itself as a kind of "cloud" in the far distance, past which we cannot see. Situated, as it were, near the edge of time, it marks the furthest reach to which our human (and in this instance, scientific) vision can attain; "beyond" this lies the metacosm, which no man has seen.

But the primordial universe constitutes evidently a "thin cloud"; for it does indeed transmit "the glory of the Lord"--in the form of a blinding light, a radiance beyond compare.

The question arises whether the initial singularity itself can be interpreted in light of metaphysical doctrine. We know that this "point" does not correspond to any spatio-temporal reality; it thus represents a "hole," a "void" wherein there is nothing at all--nothing physical, in any case. Now, to be sure, such a "hole" or "void" is metaphysically suggestive. It calls to mind the Buddhistic sunya and the Christian ex nihilo,13 and especially a verse from the Tao Teh Ching: "Thirty spokes of a wheel, uniting at the nave, are made useful by the hole in the center, where nothing exists." Metaphysically speaking, could one say, perhaps, that the initial singularity represents indeed "the hole in the center, where nothing exists"? Let us consider the question.

Now, in the first place, the "wheel" of which Lao Tze speaks--like Dante's prima rota--corresponds to our symbolic circle, the circumference of which represents the spatio-temporal universe. And so too "the hole in the center" must correspond to the transcendent Center, also known as "the Beginning." Our thesis, thus, comes down to this: The initial singularity refers in truth to the metacosmic Center, and constitutes a bona fide reflection, on a scientific plane, of that Center itself.14

What reasons, however, can one adduce in support of this interpretation? Simply this: that the initial singularity presents itself as an "incurably transcendent" point, from which, seemingly, the entire universe has sprung. Could anyone conceive of a more accurate characterization of the transcendent Center in scientific terms? It is undeniable that physics deals with the cosmos; but it is also true that the cosmos points beyond itself, which is to say that in various ways it reflects the transcendent First Cause. In traditional parlance, the cosmos is a theophany, an icon, if you will; and that is why "good physics," as I have said before, is invariably "correct" from a symbolic or metaphysical point of view--even though the physicist himself may often be the last to recognize this fact.

But let us go on. If the initial singularity is indeed an image of the Center, it is in a sense a global or "macrocosmic" image, for it relates evidently to the cosmos taken as a whole. There should also, however, be local or "microcosmic" reflections of the same Center--reflections "here and now"--as the symbol of the cosmic circle itself suggests by the fact that the center is replicated in the intersections of the radii with the circumference. The question arises, therefore, whether physics is conversant as well with such "localized" manifestations of the transcendent Center. Now, I contend that this is the case, and that these "microcosmic manifestations" are in fact none other than the instances of state vector collapse.

We know from our earlier considerations that this collapse is associated with an ontological transition from the physical to the corporeal plane, and thus with a certain passage from potency to manifestation. The collapse must therefore be attributed to an action of natura naturans, the "naturing" or "form-bestowing" principle. But one knows that natura naturans acts "radially," and thus by way of "vertical" causation. Normally, to be sure, the action of natura naturans is masked, as it were, by secondary modes of causation, operating "in time" and thus continuously. What is special about state vector collapse, on the other hand, is its instantaneity, which renders the phenomenon inexplicable in terms of "tangential" causality. In a sense the collapse takes place "outside of time," and constitutes thus, not a temporal, but indeed a "radial" phenomenon. One could go so far as to say that by its irreducible discontinuity the collapse of a state vector "renders visible" an action of natura naturans. The instantaneity of the collapse, I submit, manifests the "instantaneity" of the true Beginning, and mirrors the "punctuality" of the metacosmic Center itself. In speaking thus I am of course expressing myself in metaphoric terms. It is to be understood, first of all, that the so-called metacosmic Center and true Beginning refer to the creative Act by which the universe is brought into existence. And when we speak of the "punctuality" of the Center, of the "instantaneity" of the Beginning, we are affirming the unicity of this Act, in keeping with the biblical doctrine: Qui vivit in aeternum creavit omnia simul ("He that liveth in eternity created all things at once"). God's Act is unique and indivisible; but this Act, single and unbroken though it be, gives rise to all things: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made." The entire universe, thus, replete with its immense multiplicities, constitutes in truth but the continuing effect of that one "instantaneous" Act. However, this must not be taken to mean that the universe was created "long ago" and now remains as a "continuing effect." We need, in other words, to remind ourselves, once again, that the Beginning does not reside in the past, and that in a sense "God makes the world and all things in this present now," to put it in Meister Eckhart's words.15 But it goes without saying that we are generally oblivious of this crucial ontological fact. Whether or not we admit that the universe has been created, we take it for granted, in any case, that physical or corporeal entities now exist and function simply on their own. Or at best we turn holistic, and attribute self-existence, not to individual entities, but to the cosmos, conceived as a whole. But that view, I submit, is likewise mistaken. The fact is that the cosmos, in its four-dimensional immensity, is no more self-subsistent than a single electron, or a grain of sand. God said to Moses: "Ego sum qui sum" (Exodus 3:14). And this means that in reality "being" belongs to God alone. So far as cosmic existents are concerned, it is found that they are in a state of perpetual flux, a ceaseless genesis or "becoming," which could more properly be called a quest after being than being itself. And yet these "entities" exist: for they "participate in being," as the Platonists say. Or as St. Augustine has beautifully said: "An existence they have, because they are from Thee; and yet no existence, because they are not what Thou art."16

Still, the fact remains that we generally cling to the illusion of cosmic self-sufficiency as long as we possibly can; which is to say that it takes, as a rule, a preternatural phenomenon of some kind to jolt us out of our customary ontological complacency. Now, on the level of physics, the collapse of a state vector does in fact constitute a preternatural event; for as we have seen, that collapse exhibits an action of natura naturans.17 The marvel of state vector collapse lies in the fact that it "detects" the radial action of natura naturans, and thereby "picks up," if you will, the creative act itself. The cosmogenetic act, in other words, can in a way be observed "here and now" by means of a transition from a sub-existential plane to the corporeal, by virtue of the fact that such a transition--which is perforce instantaneous--cannot be attributed to a secondary cause. What confronts us here is an instance of "vertical" causation, the mode which acts "outside" of time and derives directly from the metacosmic Center. In a word, we are witnessing "an act of God." We must however remember that God acts "but once," as Meister Eckhart points out; which is to say that multiplicity pertains, not to the transcendent Cause, but to the created effects, precisely. Once again: Qui vivit in aeternum creavit omnia simul. And thus, what we are in a sense witnessing is not simply "an act of God," but indeed "the Act of God": the unique and indivisible Act of creation. And therein, finally, lies the miracle of state vector collapse.18


Thus ends the final chapter of Quantum Enigmamonograph which has to do, principally, with the nature of physics and the puzzles of quantum mechanics. However, the metaphysical doctrine enunciated in that final chapter has relevance also for the theory of design. What is the connection? It lies in the recognition of verticality, in the fact that the metaphysical doctrine affirms the existence and the primacy of vertical causation. The causality operative within a temporal process comes thus to be viewed as a secondary mode, implying that the categories of explanation with which empirical science is conversant are supplemented and superseded by a mode of causation beyond scientific reach. Now, it is precisely this primary mode of causation, I say, that accounts for the material formations which science has come to recognize as instances of design. Let me be clear: I do not say that vertical causation invariably gives rise to design; I contend, rather, that design, wheresoever it may be found, is derived from an act of vertical causality: a mode of causation which does not operate in time.

Let us first consider the production of artefacts in the widest sense, from primitive crafts to modern industry. Is it not obvious that the artefact is invariably produced by means of a temporal process? In a sense this is of course true. I do not deny the necessity of temporal process; what I deny is its sufficiency. My contention is twofold: first, that the critical factor--the sine qua non of human art--is an act of intelligence, and that such an act, moreover, is not reducible to a temporal process. Few, I suppose, would object to the first claim; it is the second that troubles us. The difficulty stems from the fact that we tend to temporalize the act of intelligence by identifying cognition with thought. We take it for granted that cognition occurs within thought--within a psycho-somatic and temporal process, therefore--whereas in fact thought is only a means, a movement, if you will, in quest of cognition: a movement, therefore, which must cease the moment its object has been attained. To put it in traditional language: cognition is an intellective as opposed to a psycho-somatic act. As Aquinas observes: "the activity of the body has nothing in common with the activity of the intellect."19 And this in itself suggests very strongly that intellectual activity does not take place "in time." The crucial point, however, is that the act of knowing cannot take place in time, for the simple reason that temporal dispersion is incompatible with cognition: we cannot know "bit by bit," because to know is necessarily to know one thing. This conclusion cannot be obviated, moreover, by adducing memory as a means of presentifying the past; the fact remains that the cognitive act must be "instantaneous" and hence supra-temporal. The intellect, therefore, whether conceived as a "third principle" or (Thomistically) as a power of the soul, must be inherently supra-temporal as well. Getting back to the production of artefacts, the following has now become clear: If intelligent agency is indeed a sine qua non of human making, it is ipso facto impossible to reduce the formation of the artefact to a temporal process. It is true, of course, that mechanized manufacture is a temporal process; but one must not forget that the machinery involved in this process carries design, which is then transmitted to the resultant artefact. To avoid infinite regress (given the design-theoretic recognition that design does not originate by chance or necessity) it is needful that the antecedent temporal process be supplemented and affected somewhere down the line by acts of intelligence. And I would add parenthetically that if one were to think of this affection as an instantaneous redirection of the temporal process, the resultant scenario would indeed be reminiscent of state vector collapse.

Human making, thus, is allied to God's creative Act by virtue of the fact that it entails vertical causation. It can be said that the human artist imitates the divine, and "participates" to some degree in God's creative prowess. "Art imitates Nature [in the sense of natura naturans] in her manner of operation," says Aquinas; and elsewhere he specifies that the human artist works "through a word conceived in his intellect" and thus in imitation of the Holy Trinity.20 It is no small thing, therefore, that transpires in even the humblest instance of human making, which indeed is worlds removed from a mere "temporal process." No wonder that this difference can be detected in the artefact by way of a distinctive signature indicative of design.

So much for the domain of human art. Before going on to consider the biosphere, I must remind the reader that for Dembski the hallmark of design is to be found in what he terms specified complexity; and I would add that the power and genius of his theory resides primarily in the concept of specification, the formalization of which appears to be entirely his own.21 The connection with biology, moreover, is very direct, for it happens that biological organisms are constituted by specified complexities. This is most conspicuous in the case of the cell, the proverbial "unit of life," which not only contains but is constituted by a specified complexity of staggering proportions in the form of its DNA. What design theory permits us to conclude--with mathematical rigor, no less!--is that these specified complexities could not have originated by chance or necessity, nor indeed by some combination of the two modes. The Darwinist account of biogenesis and speciation has therefore been undercut and needs to be amended.

One would like, of course, to go a step further: to catch a glimpse, at least, of how the primary things themselves were made. But in this we are generally hampered by the limitations, not so much perhaps of man as such, but certainly of our human condition; for as we know well enough, we are rather stringently confined, in both thought and imagination, to the spatio-temporal domain. We would like thus to picture that elusive "making" as a temporal process in physical space--which is precisely what it is not, and cannot be. There exists indeed a Patristic doctrine concerning first biological origins--the doctrine of ratione seminales elaborated by St. Augustine in De Genesis ad Litteram--but that teaching is incurably metaphysical and fails to satisfy our appetite for the spatio-temporal, the corporeally concrete. Instead, the doctrine alludes to a vertical descent: a progression, if you will, from the metacosmic Center to the cosmic periphery.22 It appears that the scientist is in fact "coming in" near the end of the story! Confined, as he generally is, to an exclusively horizontal perspective, he misses the "vertical action" which ontologically precedes manifestation on the spatio-temporal plane (even as he misses the vertical action of that human intellectual activity which "has nothing in common with the activity of the body"). It is the great fallacy of evolutionism to suppose that the mystery of origins can be resolved within the spatio-temporal domain: at the felly of the cosmic wheel. One forgets that authentic evolution is indeed an unfolding, an evolvere, and thus an outbound kind of motion. Where there is an outside, however, there must also be an inside, an interior. And let me hasten to add that we must not psychologize this "inside": the bona fide interior of an organism is not a matter of "consciousness," but is rather the ontological ground from which consciousness can arise. Everything, in fact, that pertains to the plant or animal--after it has "evolved"--derives from that ontological source. The integral organism itself (like the integral cosmos) may therefore be conceived in terms of a symbolic circle, whose center represents its "innermost point," the true ratio seminale, of which the visible creature is the outward manifestation. We need, I believe, to familiarize ourselves once more with this perennial metaphysics, which appears to hold the key to the enigma of evolution.


1. And this remains true despite recently publicized difficulties (relating to the formation of "giant" galaxies) that have prompted some scientists to question the validity of the big bang hypothesis.

2. Confessions, 11:40.

3. God and the Astronomers (New York: Warner, 1978), p. 3.

4. St. Augustine, De civita Dei, 11.6. At the risk of stating the obvious, let me point out that this assertion is no more "Augustinian" than it is "Thomistic"; for indeed, the Angelic Doctor has said very much the same: "God brought into being creation and time simultaneously" (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 35:15).

5. I have discussed this question at some length in Cosmos and Transcendence (Peru, IL: Sugden, 1984), pp. 60-65.

6. We are referring to a "backward" initial value problem: given a state at some "initial" time to, the problem is to determine the state for t < to. An initial value problem, moreover, is "well posed" if it admits a unique solution. And this, to be sure, is not always the case.

7. Efforts are presently under way to devise a "closed" (and hence singularity-free) model of the universe, and Stephen Hawking, for one, has been intensively engaged in the pursuit of this goal. We certainly agree with him that such a model--if it were to prove successful--would have "profound implications for the role of God as Creator" (A Brief History of Time, Bantam Books, 1988, p. 174). But for this very reason we surmise that the enterprise will never succeed. One can say on metaphysical grounds that every viable cosmological model must exhibit something akin to a boundary or singularity. For the spatio-temporal universe happens not to be closed or self-contained, and this fact cannot but manifest itself even on a scientific plane. Good physics, it seems, is invariably "correct" from a symbolic or metaphysical point of view.

8. Paradiso, 13:11.

9. Ibid., 29:12.

10 See especially Ananda Coomaraswamy, Time and Eternity (Delhi: Munishiram, 1988), as also the lecture on "Eternity and the temporal order" in the 1981 Gifford Lectures by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, republished under the title Knowledge and the Sacred (Albany, NY: SUNY, 1989). A comprehensive survey on "time and eternity" in the Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions can be found in Richard Sorabji, Time, Creation and the Continuum (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), presented, however, through the lenses of contemporary analytical philosophy. Mention should also be made of Paul Helm, Eternal God (Oxford University Press, 1988), a work representing the same analytical point of view, which rebuts some of the customary objections to the idea of timelessness.

11. The second punctuation seems to have been common in ancient times, and is still to be found in some of the earliest English Bibles.

12. On the other hand, when Lucifer declares boastfully: "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds" (Isaiah 14:14), it happens (very appropriately!) that the clouds above his head are of the thick variety.

13. The objection is likely to be raised that in contrast to the Buddhistic sunya the Christian nihil ("out of which" God created the world) is to be understood simply as "nothing" in the ordinary sense. However, one should remember that according to the alternative punctuation of St. John's prologue verse 1:4 reads: "What was made, in Him was life." Cornelius a Lapide, moreover, assures us in his Commentary on the Gospel of St. John that both punctuations are legitimate (even though they correspond evidently to different points of view). It appears, therefore, that the nihil must also admit of a second interpretation, more profound in fact than the first. One could say that it can be interpreted as a "no-thing," which seems also to be very much the point of the Buddhistic sunya.

14. From a somewhat different point of view it could also be said that the initial singularity marks the "navel" of the universe; and let us not forget that "navel" and "nave" are derived from the same root, which brings us back to "the hole in the center, where nothing exists." Students of Western antiquity, moreover, will recognize in the initial singularity an exemplification of the Janua Coeli, the central "aperture" of the universe, likewise exemplified, in sacred architecture, by the circular roof-plate atop a traditionally constructed dome. Or again, in the three self-perforated bricks (svayamatrinna) of the Vedic fire altar--and, closer to home, even in the "chimney" by which Santa Claus descends, bearing gifts! All these traditional symbolisms, moreover, the metaphysical significance of which has for the most part been forgotten, relate to the Center.

15. Meister Eckhart (C. de B. Evans, trans., London: Watkins, 1924), Vol. I, p. 209. One might add that Meister Eckhart's "present now" is none other than the Scholastic nunc stans ("the now that stands still"). According to traditional metaphysical doctrine, time is not made up of "present moments"--even as the Euclidean line is not made up of points. In reality, there is only one "present now," of which time is indeed a "moving image," as Plato says. On this profound and difficult subject we refer especially to the Coomaraswamy and Nasr references cited in note 10. See also Cosmos and Transcendence, op. cit., ch. 3, where I have dealt with this question in some depth.

16. Confessions, 7:11.

17. We need to remind ourselves once more that the terms "Nature" and "natural" have come, in our day, to be understood exclusively in the sense of natura naturata.

18. To forestall a possible misunderstanding: I am not suggesting, certainly, that the physical constitutes the nihil "out of which" God created the world. The mere fact that physical systems are defined by way of specification (and consequently presuppose the corporeal) suffices to put that thesis to rest.

19. Opusculum, De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, iii; quoted by Joseph Rickaby, S. J., in Of God and His Creatures (Westminster, MD: Carroll Press, 1950), p. 127n.

20. Summa Theologiae, I, 117, 1 & I, 45, 6.

21. See William A. Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Dembski's concept of specification is of course to be distinguished from "specification" as I have defined the term in The Quantum Enigma.

22. The doctrine is not only Patristic but seems also to be biblical, as attested in Chapter 2, verses 4 & 5, of Genesis. On this question see my monograph, Teilhardism and the New Religion (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1988), pp. 16-20.

Copyright 1995, Wolfgang Smith. Reproduced by arrangement with the original publisher, Sherwood Sugden & Company, 315 Fifth St., Peru, IL 61354.

The work of Discovery Institute is made possible by the generosity of its members. Click here to donate.

Discovery Institute Logo
Discovery Institute — Center for Science and Culture
208 Columbia St. — Seattle, WA 98104
206-292-0401 phone — 206-682-5320 fax
email: Also: