Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist
The Universe

Einstein said that there was a relationship between energy, the mass of matter and the speed of light. He expressed it in his famous equation as E=mc2. This expression indicates that matter comes from energy and that matter can release energy, atom bombs being examples, as are nuclear power plants and the sun. Everything that exists is made of energy, and it is merely a case of what form that energy takes. In effect, the universe is the physical expression of energy. They are inseparable and do not exist independently since they are just different manifestations of the same thing. Since the universe was made from energy and energy comes from the universe, it means that comments about the relationship between energy and the universe are essentially circular.

Nobody is absolutely certain how the physical universe came about, although theoretical physicists have proposed some explanations. None have been proven. How it all began is a question that has interested people for millennia and throughout history there have been many explanations given as to how the beginning came about and how the universe, including our world, was formed. It is still not understood.

Many people have explained the existence of the universe as having been created by some “god”, usually understood to be a living personality more powerful than the universe itself and which can command things to come into existence. It is to this fundamental concept that atheists object, for gods, in this sense, do not exist. There is only the universe and the energy contained in it. In the sense of the ubiquitous nature of energy and the universe, perhaps they could be considered to be gods, although they are not alive, are not sentient, have no goals nor intent and have never indicated they want any life form to worship them, being just blind, unthinking forces.

Humanity exists and is a creation of the universe, so people’s thoughts are also creations of the universe. Explanations of the beginning are therefore also creations of the universe and deserve to receive respect. Over time understanding increases and may become clearer. Clarity in thought has brought the understanding that the universe and energy are different manifestations of the same thing and derived from each other. There is no other force involved, and there is certainly no other intelligent force directing events.

Mysteries are those things which we do not understand. It is possible that we may never understand some things. How the universe began is not understood, and while there is interest in knowing how the beginning came about, it is, perhaps, more useful to look towards the future and to cultivate further understanding and greater clarity of where we are and what we are, and what we may become.

Humanity did not make itself and is not the master of the universe. Humanity is subject to the universe and is bound by the will of the universe, if blind, random interactions may be referred to as “will”. From the earliest times that life began, it has been subjected to changes that the universe has brought. Many forms of life have developed over many aeons with some of them dominating the earth for a time, dinosaurs for instance, but all have fallen in the end. So will humanity fall in the end. Humanity is not the pinnacle of development, but just a phase on the way of life. Other forms will follow, perhaps more suited to our world, perhaps less suited.

What is clear is that the universe was formed from the matter that arose from energy. Over billennia this matter coalesced until stars and planets came to exist. As the matter in the universe interacted, the energy it contained made more and more complex forms until we arrived at the universe that now exists, with its laws governing how interactions between energy and matter can take place. Undoubtedly, these changes in the universe will continue on into the future for billennia.

These are the only natural laws, those unchangeable rules governing the interactions of energy and matter. Yet, even that is an assumption. We assume that these rules are constant and unchanging throughout the universe, but we do not know that. The significance of these blind interactions is that there is no intent in the universe. It was not made for a purpose, it just is. Any purpose that can be seen has been superimposed onto it by our own inclinations and emotional needs.

When we look back at human history it becomes apparent that we are not satisfied emotionally, i.e. spiritually, with an existence devoid of purpose. So in all societies purpose has been imposed, often through the medium of religious feelings or national identity. Frequently, these two parameters have been blended into one and the same. This has led to considerable turmoil and waste of lives, as one society imposes its concepts of purpose on another, often violently.

It would appear that humans want a “spiritual” life, one that has been given purpose by an external source. We are inclined to want something more than merely the necessities of life, but want to believe that we have an essential place in the universe, with an important function. We want to be able to appreciate beauty in all its forms, nature in its glory or the universe itself, even. That is, humanity wants some expression of purpose outside the individual as a collective aim or a collective approach to living a fulfilled life.

Since we are a product of the universe, this evolutionary inclination to need purpose is as essential and as valid a component of our being as the need to eat and eliminate. An atheist accepts that an external source capable of assigning such a purpose to human existence does not exist. However, being aware of our innermost desires, we are quite capable of assigning our own purpose, both individually and collectively. We can give our lives purpose because we choose to do so, not because we have been told to do so by dictates from earlier ages when the universe was not known and humanity’s comprehension was so much less.

Since the universe was made by blind interactions of energy and matter, there is no objective viewpoint from which to decide what is right or wrong, what is proper or improper, what is moral or immoral. These also must be assigned by us both individually and collectively. We may conclude that what is right and what is wrong are merely expressions of the rules which we use to govern behaviour between members of our societies, with the intent of providing individuals the opportunity to live their lives in a manner which satisfies them without interfering with the ability of other individuals to do the same. Objectively, no one person is more important than another, so every person should have the same opportunity. It follows that nobody has the right to reduce the opportunities of others merely to satisfy their own inclinations or to improve the opportunities that they have. Each must have respect for all others, because all are the same.

All are equal in the universe. All races are equal. All tribes are equal. All nations are equal. All individuals are equal. There is no man or woman, no male or female, no black or white, no yellow or red, no young or old. To the universe, all are the same. All come into existence, live and die. The start is the same and the end is the same. All decay and eventually return to the universe.

Humanity has only the same right that any other life has to exist. Humanity is not superior to, nor more important than, any other life in existence. In fact human life is dependent on other life because evolution has dictated that human life exists through the consumption of other life. In a similar manner, other life eventually consumes human life and lives because of it. The act of living itself has an effect on our world which may affect how life develops. The concentration of oxygen in our atmosphere may well have come about, at least partly, from biological activity of plants, which consume carbon dioxide and give off oxygen during photosynthesis. The biosphere as a whole may change over time, but evolution ensures that some kind of life will develop that can use the conditions existing at any particular time.

It is a common religious viewpoint that humans are the highest life form, the pinnacle of creation. It is deeply ingrained in humanity’s thoughts. It is not just Christian by any means, as those believing in reincarnation may also believe that evil lives result in reincarnation in the form of a less desirable life, a worm perhaps, or a dog. The inference is that these lives are less valuable than that of a human, but this is not the case. Some religions explicitly give humans dominion over all other animals, basing it on the story in the ancient book of Genesis, which says that the first human, Adam, was to have control over all of the animals, thus asserting humanity’s superiority.

However, neither animals nor any other life form arose as acts of specific creation, but developed by a long, slow process of genetic change lasting billions of years. We should keep in mind that the evolutionary paths of all life forms extant today, of whatever type, are equally as long. We are all derived from the same starting agglomeration of molecules, whatever that was, and have developed alongside each other to occupy some specialised niche in the world. That applies equally well to humans and trees as to amoebae and worms, or bacteria and viruses. All are the end result of billions of years of change and adaptation, and we are all the pinnacle of evolution so far, since we are all still extant species.

That does not mean that extinct species were not the pinnacle of evolution while alive during their own time period. They were, but the environment changed so they could not live in their evolutionary niche any longer. They were as much the pinnacle of their time and their evolutionary niche as we and our co-species are of our own. We should not feel superior in any way, because we are not superior. We are just an animal occupying a specialised evolutionary niche. We are adaptable, but we will almost certainly become extinct as a species when we can no longer function in an environment which deviates too much from our evolutionary niche, no doubt to be replaced by another species, perhaps derived from us, perhaps not, but certainly more suitable for the changed environment.

The universe is vast and beyond humanity’s powers of conception. We are told the universe is about 14 billion years old, according to astronomers. Its immensity is incomprehensible. The part of it that we can observe is globular, estimated to have a radius of about 46 billion light years. It is so massive that the radiation reaching Earth at the present time from the farthest points that can be detected was generated not much later than the beginning about 14 billion years ago, and reflects the universe as it used to be instead of how it now is.

The fact is that most ordinary people cannot understand the immensity of the universe. We see that it exists, but its existence is still largely a mystery, although it may not always remain so. What is surely obvious is that we must accept, as a matter of undisputed fact, that the universe controls our destiny and the destiny of everything and every life which it contains, for if the universe ends, so do we.

It would be foolish to assume that humanity and the life on our world are the only life in that great immensity. The sheer volume of the universe and the sheer number of galaxies, suns and planets in it makes it all but impossible for other life not to exist, because what has happened once can happen many times. Whether there will ever be intercourse of any kind between life on our world and life on other worlds is unknown. What the universe will allow remains to be seen.

Our world is a creation of the universe and a part of it. It is our home and we are most suited to live on it. We do not own the world. The world is part of the universe and cannot be owned. We may temporarily claim the use of parts of our world and call this ownership, but eventually we must die and our ownership cease as we are no longer able to use what we believed belonged to us. Eventually we will die and return to the universe to be reused by the universe. The universe owns us, we do not own it. The universe is not our property, we are the property of the universe.

Eventually, likely several billions of years in the future, the sun will cease nurturing the earth and all life on it will cease. That will not mean the end of life, of course, since it is inconceivable that the earth is the only world on which life has evolved. Since what has happened once can happen many times and, keeping in mind the many billions of stars with many billions of planets circling them, there are undoubtedly myriads of worlds on which life of one kind or another has developed, some of it undoubtedly as sentient as we are.

The size and complexity of the universe puts religious concepts in context. Many religions teach that there is a supreme god who is intimately concerned with the behaviour of all individuals. We are supposed to accept that a god who controls the dances of billions of galaxies, each of which is composed of billions of stars, planets and asteroids is incredibly upset by someone who says dirty words, or who engages in some form of sex with a loved one without first having a legal union endorsed by that god, or who eats one animal as opposed to another. Such beliefs are incredible, but there are many people who endorse and adhere to them, even though they sometimes conflict with each other.

Clearly, the physical universe is all there is and we should keep humanity’s place in it in perspective. In that great immensity new stars are born, exist for a time, then decay and die, sometimes violently, sometimes not. This began long before humans or any other life on our world existed, and will continue for long after we no longer exist. What is absolutely plain is that we are a tiny component of it and a rather inconsequential one, at that. We have no influence on how it functions but are subject to everything it does.

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