When I was a kid, I heard the Creationism story many times from my elementary school religion teachers. I thought that it was a cute story, and I compartmentalized it with the Greek and Roman legends. My take on it was “we were simple, ignorant people back then, so we had to invent a number of gods and tell stories in order to explain phenomena that we couldn’t understand”
When I was in my early 20s, I started hearing about Creationism again, and realized to my dismay that there were people in our society who genuinely believed in it – not children in the midst of their religious indoctrination, but fully-grown adults who have presumably received their full complement of education. I found this astounding, and a little sad.
Frankly, I’m surprised that Creationism has any traction at all in the 21st century, and that people are still debating the merits of evolution vs. Creationism. I also find it ridiculous that some parents want Creationism taught in schools, alongside evolution. In response to the expected resistance to their proposal, the Creationism adherents have now given their story a new name: Intelligent Design Theory. This is simply a lame and (in my opinion) insidious attempt to elevate the Creationism fairy tale to the status of a theory, merely by slapping a “theory” label on it. Theories are scientifically testable and have evidence to support them; Intelligent Design does not, so it doesn’t even qualify for the “theory” designation. Starting tomorrow, I suppose that I could start referring to myself as Sir Robert, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve been granted a knighthood. None of my friends will be fooled, and neither should you. Secondly, I don’t even think it deserves the “Intelligent” label. For example, what intelligent purpose do tornadoes serve? If I were designing the universe and could give planet Earth a metaphorical “software version upgrade”, then I would disable the tornado functionality. In fact, I’d even consider tornadoes to be a bug.
Creationism also bothers me because it’s a lazy person’s way of looking at the world. Our collective knowledge is incomplete, and there are still many things that we still don’t understand. However, we must keep plodding along and try to connect the dots. If I were faced with a seemingly intractable problem, I suppose that I could simply throw my hands up in the air and declare “I can’t explain it. Therefore, there must be some higher power behind it. This is a part of our creator’s Intelligent Design, and we just weren’t meant to comprehend it”. That’s the easy way out, because it means that I can stop thinking and stop adding to Humankind’s storehouse of knowledge. Here’s a recent, marginal example: Fermat’s Last Theorem was written in 1637, and had confounded mathematicians (and presumably the general public as well) for over three and a half centuries. However, we persevered, and it was finally solved in 1995. What if we decided to give up and say “Fermat’s pencil was moved by the hand of God – that’s why no mortal has been able to solve it”. Fortunately, we didn’t stop trying to solve it, and now we have the mathematical proof.
I really, really don’t want Creationism taught in schools as a serious alternative to evolution. Not only because I consider it a 2000-year-old fairy tale, but also because it discourages critical thinking and perseverance in the face of intellectual challenges. If the answer is not obvious, then it means that you need to keep learning – don’t assume that it’s “God’s plan” and that we just weren’t meant to understand it.
And now, the big question: Is there a model of the universe that will make both evolutionists and Creationists happy? Could a single theory encompass both points of view?
I think there is, and that’s why I decided to create my own Grand Unified Theory. Actually, it’s just a hypothesis, since I’m not in a position to offer any empirical proof. Before I shake your concept of the universe to its foundations, let me say first say that this is merely a light-hearted and decidedly tongue-in-cheek creative writing exercise, and is not meant to be taken seriously…
To be fair, this theory of the universe has been percolating in my brain over many years – I just haven’t written it down, or thought of using it to join together two disparate and (up to now) mutually-exclusive points of view.
The genesis of this idea can be traced back to high school. My friends and I were sitting in the cafeteria, engaged in a deep philosophical conversation over lunch. One of my friends then blurted out “For all we know, our entire universe could be a speck of food on somebody’s fork”. This just threw me for a loop, because I had never contemplated anything other than a single universe before, or multiple planes of reality.
While I’m not quite ready to embrace the concept of an entire universe being born and and developing on something as ephemeral as a speck of food on somebody’s fork, I can accept the following notion: to our creator, our planet is probably little more than an ant farm. If you used to own an ant farm as a kid, then the comparison will be obvious. To the inhabitants of the ant farm, you are essentially God, watching over them and seeing everything that they do. As far as the ants are concerned, you created their universe and everything in it. Furthermore, as far as the ants know, their universe extends only as far as the plastic housing of the ant farm. If there is another world beyond the plastic, then they can’t comprehend it. Also, if the ants were a little more evolved or self-aware, then who knows? They might even erect little sand monuments in your honour.
I revisited this idea when I first heard Stephen Hawking’s hypothesis on multiverses. Hawking speculated that ours isn’t the only universe; there might be hundreds or thousands of other universes, each formed by their own Big Bang, and each one may have different laws of physics. Ours just happens to have just the right laws of physics that allow matter to coalesce into stars and planets, and one that has the proper environment for life to emerge from the primordial soup.
While Hawking’s multiverse hypothesis may seem daunting at first – it’s hard enough to wrap your head around the enormity of even one universe, much less multiple ones – think of it as a reality television cooking show. The host gives each contestant the same task: bake a light, moist and delicious cake using the ingredients in the studio kitchen. As I’m sure you know, if you want to create a perfect cake, then you need not only the right ingredients, but they must be in the proper proportions and (usually) added to your recipe in a certain order. You need to apply heat at a certain temperature and for a specific duration. If you mis-calculate, then your cake won’t rise properly or you’ll end up with something inedible. If you’re technique is just a little bit off, then you won’t get the masterpiece you were hoping to create. The multiverse hypothesis is simply the cosmological equivalent of a television studio at the end of the broadcast – full of cakes, of varying levels of quality.
The metaphor I like to use for my hypothesis is a university science class. Picture the following: there is another plane of existence outside this universe, and it is inhabited by what we would consider superior life forms. Of course, to those who live there, it looks pretty much like our own world. There is a university there, with a science lab full of students. Each student has each been given the following assignment by their professor:
- Using the materials at your workstation, create a universe that starts from a singularity, and expands as a result of a Big Bang.
- Set the physics and gravitational parameters such that the matter will eventually coalesce into stars, then solar systems.
- Ensure that enough elements can be formed from the raw materials of your universe to allow life to form.
- Ensure that the environmental conditions on at least one planet remain stable long enough for life to evolve into complex organisms.
- Bonus marks will be awarded if humans can evolve into an entirely new life form, without first annihilating themselves with their technology, or rendering their planet uninhabitable by their pollution.
That’s my hypothesis – for all we know, our entire universe might be nothing more than a science experiment on some other plane of existence. Stephen Hawking’s concept of multiverses – different universes existing simultaneously, and each with their own laws of physics – also applies here. There may be an entire classroom full of these science experiments – each student creating a separate universe, with varying degrees of success. Our universe is merely one of many.
Now we have a hypothesis that will satisfy both the evolutionists and the Creationists. The evolutionists will be happy because everything they know about evolution remains unchanged and functions perfectly within this model. The Creationists should also be happy because our universe now has a creator. Naturally, the Creationists are going to have to make a few adjustments – going from the Big Bang to a planet full of human life in six days is just ludicrous – but if they choose to adopt my hypothesis, they can now say (without annoying the evolutionists) that our universe was created by a superior being.
Now let’s all try to get along.