Sunday, July 28, 2013

Light Versus Darwin

Earlier this month, Kathy and I (now feeling somewhat like grandparents in our movie choices) watched the Blue Sky production Epic. It is a fun story of a beautifully animated forest caught in the struggle between the powers of light and the destruction of an evil (and dark) destroyer of life. I enjoyed it – especially the creative animation of the hummingbirds and walking sticks.

But mostly it has given me much to think about. This is because I have come to recognize that one of the great scriptures of the Restoration is about light. In part of what is called the Olive Leaf (Doctrine and Covenants section 88: 7-13) it states that:

“Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and the is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; and also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; and the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; which light proceedeth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space – The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things…”

The story of a lush forest full of life, and the threat of a privation of light that causes death, is really not so very different from this doctrine of the “light of Christ”. And; interestingly, this all pervasive energy is also the theme of one of science’s greatest pursuits: the truth of the beginning of the universe.

As physicist Gerald Schroeder explains: “How can we explain that a bundle of “inert” energy – simplistically stated, superpowerful rays of light – became alive, other than to assume some nonphysical, that is metaphysical, input was involved?”

Of course, this is a debated issue. Or rather it is the unspoken possibility hovering over current discussions about the origin of the universe and of life. It is also a very obvious counter-reality to the modern creation myth that monopolizes our educational institutions: I mean Darwinian naturalism.

The Olive Leaf tells us that life is dependent on light. And, in fact, this is our own day-to-day experience of reality. The sun shines down upon the earth in such abundance that there is not room enough to receive it all. Just a small fraction of this solar output ever gets captured by plants and converted into living things.

Of course this is not the only form of sunlight that we, as living beings, depend on. Our bodies are made to function between a narrow range of temperatures, and the sun (because of its optimum distance from the earth) allows for this. Sunlight peruses our world, filling it with an energy that catalyzes innumerable transformations in every dimension. Truly “the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare” (Doctrine and Covenants 104:17).

Yet this is not the message we get when we look at the world through a Darwinian lens. Competition for limiting resources is here the rule of the day. It drives natural selection where only the best competitors are able to survive. This is the world of painful lives, of scheming and domineering neighbors, and of meaningless or soiled beauty. It is a limiting world that pays virtually no attention to light.

I don’t mean to imply that Light and Darwin are exclusive realities – that the contrast between abundance and death are either/or choices. Clearly we live in a world of both.

I do, however, mean to point out the contrast and to place it in front of a colorblind (or shall we say “myopic”) world. After all, light to most of us is warmth and optimism. It shines when we are awake, and softens when we wish to pause. It reflects a rainbow after our many storms.

But to a materialistic science it is hardly more than energized subatomic particles proceeding primarily from a star (in our case, the sun). It is theistically (and optimistically) neutral. Why bother, it argues, with such abundance. It’s just the way the universe happened to be. It’s just a matter of chance.

And yet, ironically, this “chance” of the materialist just happens to be a miracle itself. In fact it is the quintessential example of what the materialists themselves define as a miracle. The remarkable stories known as miracles – the ones handed down to us from sacred texts - are one-time events. Science refuses to address them because they are not reproducible. There is no way for science to understand causes and effects. Repetition is how science proceeds.

But when it comes to origins, science has decided to ignore this restriction. The origin of the universe is traced to the Big Bang singularity. The origin of life is traced to a primordial “soup” and a few strikes of lightning. These events seem to be miracles that even science seems to be unintentionally acknowledging. They are, after all, non-repetitious events.

Perhaps this denial occurs because light allows us to see what is (both literally and etymologically) obvious. And the materialist cannot accept a divinity that fills our very existence.

I love the story of Jacques Lusseyran. As a young boy in France between the World Wars, Jacque became blind but refused to let this diminish his life. During the second World Ward, he organized a youth resistance movement to Hitler; and later, as a prisoner at Buchenwald, he helped motivate his fellow inmates.

In his autobiography, And There Was Light, Lusseyran tells of the remarkable discovery he made soon after an accident left him blind. He at first began stumbling around – bumping into things. Then he discovered a light within himself and, “immediately, the substance of the universe drew together, redefined and peopled anew. I was aware of a radiance emanating from a place I knew nothing about, a place which might as well have been outside me as within. But radiance was there, or, to put it more precisely, light. It was a fact for light was there. I felt indescribable relief, and happiness so great it almost made me laugh… I found light and joy at the same moment, and I can say without hesitation that from that time on light and joy have never been separated in my experience. I have had them or lost them together.”

Like so many other truths about life, this relationship between light and joy is clarified by the experiences of a handicapped child. But I want to make it clear that this relationship is not a Darwinian imperative. Organisms can survive in a competitive world without joy just fine. It doesn’t come by being better than others – or more successful. A Darwinian pride my make us self-satisfied, but this is a very different thing than joy.

Joy comes from light – from that divine radiance that fills the universe with its overflowing abundance. Yes it is true that mortality can be limiting. This is our mortal Darwinian heritage. But it is also true that eternal joy depends on our refusal to live with this constraint.

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he states that, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory” (I Corinthians 15:41).

It is sad that light and life are taken so much for granted. Instead, so many of us fixate on the stresses of a fallen and tenebrous world. And yet it precisely the contrast of darkness and light that helps us to see more clearly. The fallen world with its absence of light is merely a temporary backdrop set against the eternal radiance of God’s glory. The sun is awesome, but it is truly magnificent in the colored contrast of the looming night or the coming dawn.

For now, the important choice before us is quite clear. We are phototropic (not thanatotropic) beings. In order to be true to our nature, we need to choose the light.

Schroeder’s quote comes from page 21 in God According to God, published by Harper One, 2009. See Schroeder as well for the discussion on miracles (starting from page 16). Lusseyran’s And There Was Light was published by Little, Brown and Company, 1963. My quote come from pages 16-17.

Monday, July 15, 2013

There Is a Way

There is a way with words that pray
Themselves into the heart

On misty afternoons so full
Of atmosphere that even

God himself observing from
His rainbow seat apart

Will stop to measure every single
Drop before it falls