Note: I wanted to begin this book with an overview of skepticism rather than just diving directly into the subject matter because one of the impediments to gaining an insight into spiritual matters is the constant tendency in virtually all modern media to discourage, or even stamp out, popular belief in anything but material values. The skeptics are wrong! There’s nothing stupid about believing in God.
This chapter contains a thumbnail sketch of modern scientific ideas which are much more thoroughly examined and explained in the first book of this series: Science, Math and God.
Science took a great leap forward between the birth of Galileo in 1564 and the death of Isaac Newton in 1727. Newton’s classical physics paints a picture of the universe as a gigantic clockwork mechanism operating as a self-regulating machine, each part interacting with all the other parts in a never-ending cascade of events. According to Newton, the atoms that compose all matter interact like billiard balls bouncing around eternally on a universe-sized pool table. The movements of every atom in the universe at any given moment was determined by the state of the atoms in the preceding moment. It was all very cold and tidy.
The “Enlightenment” was the scientific revolution’s intellectual counterpart. Prior to the enlightenment, God was at the center of the universe. Newton’s universe left no room for God. The most striking feature of the Enlightenment was its rejection of dogma and tradition in favor of the rule of reason in human affairs. This sea change in philosophical attitude was largely in response to the publication of Newton’s masterwork, The Principia. This was Newton’s “Theory of everything. It laid out the physical workings of the universe and became the foundations of classical physics..
This was an incredibly important event because it seriously undermined the authority of the church which had been a coequal branch of government since Constantine legalized Christianity when he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. By the eighteenth century (the 1700’s) the Catholic Church had matured, as all foundational religions do, into a corrupt bureaucratic autocracy. Everyone, rich and poor alike, had bitter memories about the horrors of the religious wars and the Inquisition. The elites were especially ready for a worldview that didn’t include God, and especially one that eliminated popes, bishops and bibles. They found what they were looking for in the philosophies of Diderot and Voltaire who argued for a worldview of uncompromising materialism based on Newton’s new physics. It was assumed during this era that in a few years, religion and belief in God would die out and be replaced by an age of reason.
Classical (Newtonian) physics assumed that the entire universe was constructed of atoms that resembled the billiard balls mentioned above. They believed that all the atoms in the universe engaged in a never ending dance of collisions beginning when the universe was first created and continuing uninterrupted to the present and beyond. One atom strikes another, each strike imparts a new momentum to both atoms, and these, in turn, strike other atoms in a never ending cascade of events. The atoms are said to be “causally connected” because the behavior of each atom is “caused” by its earlier interactions with other atoms. The changing momentum and position of each atom in the universe could technically be calculated if one had a super computer that could keep track of every atom and its motion in the universe.
In other words, according to classical physics, the complete history of the physical world was determined for all time when the universe first came into existence. After Newton, scientists, as well as the elites of the day came to believe that if an omniscient observer could know the mass, position and velocity of every particle in the cosmos at its first moment, he could calculate the future with perfect certainty. Every state of the universe is causally connected to the state that preceded it. This is why the philosophers who studied Newtonian physics saw the universe like a gigantic clockwork, each atomic gear turning against other atomic gears; each atomic movement caused by the movements of all the other atoms working in unison.