By Christopher Cudworth with original contributions and inspiration from Monte Wehrkamp
If you don’t believe in evolution, you apparently don’t believe in matter. It’s that simple. Evolution traces the history of all things back to that unimaginable moment when the universe and all the matter in existence got started in motion, and it’s still moving.
Moving through space and time, but also moving through the… space of itself. Charged particles are humming around inside your body and mine. The same kinds of charged particles are also humming around inanimate matter, even rocks.
It all feels so hard and real. We hit a rock with our bike tire or stumble over a rock on the trail and down we go, bodies racked and wounded. We are lucky at that moment the universe does not just suck us into the ground and be done with it. Because like none other than the Bible says, we are ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Why piss around with the time between? It’s so brief and delicate it hardly seems like it matters much what happens to anyone except God. Perhaps.
The Big Perhaps
That’s a big perhaps… because even God doesn’t seem to want to administrate much what happens in the universe. 99% of all species that once existed on earth are now gone. Kaput. Poof. The dust of history. The fossils of our fascination with what has gone before.
Random events and cataclysms are apparently are pretty cool in God’s eyes. They shake things up a little. God seems to like to see what settles out, what survives. Evolution is the strainer, that’s all.
And that’s what’s happening to you and me whether you care to admit it or not. Random crap like car accidents, stubbed toes, feet in mouth and liberalism are all part of the rancor of the universe and a test of our personal and collective consciousness and spirit. Welcome to the universe of Shit Happens.
Entries and exits
There is in fact a good case to be made that our religion and appreciation for God could not exist without the evolutionary forces that brought us into existence. Evolution directly reflects the nature of free will that gives us the opportunity to make choices; to pedal our bikes when the light is red or to run a marathon on a hot, hot day, and take our chances that our choices will not kill us off or otherwise snuff us out.
Then you might wind up in a box or an incinerator, which are choices as well. One leads you to rot until only bones remain. The other leads you to burn cleanly away, nothing left but ashes. Either way, none of that material stuff makes it to heaven, if you’re worried about that, because the universe reclaims us all. That much we do know for sure.
No use denying
You’re naïve as hell if you think it is any other way. To deny matter and free will and the evolution that produced it is a peculiar form of madness even if 50 or 60% of religious believers claim to abide by such thoughts. A crowd one day might yell Hosanna and the next day, Crucify. As it has been proven, none of that matters to the cosmos or to God. The plan is bigger than that. Bigger than your leather-seated Escalade and your bank account too. God’s not that fond of the materially rich. Did you ever hear that before? Are you getting the message on both the value and fruitlessness of material awareness yet?
If not, let us proceed.
This fellow we call Jesus Christ, who is not God to everyone but said a few wise things in his time. He especially acknowledged the organic roots of our existence by basing most of his most important parables on natural images chosen to communicate a direct link between the observable and invisible world we occupy. That’s a pretty sound foundation for truth, even if you aren’t a Christian. Because as a result, he was able to convey spiritual principles that we might otherwise never understand. That’s a gift even if you aren’t a believer. You’ll find a similar pattern in most other philosophy and religion.
Our material dichotomy
All great thinkers and spiritual leaders recognize the dichotomy between the intransigence of our existence and the fact that there is so much time that has come before and so much apparent time to reconcile in the future. So we must come to grips: we’re all just a bundle of spinning molecules with enough brains to get us through 80 or 90 years if we’re lucky. Then we find out what comes after, if anything.
Religion promises all sorts of great things beyond, but let’s keep our focus on the matter at hand, lest we lose our ability to conceive anything at all.
Because nothing exists if there is no matter. Philosophers and even scientists have argued that just might be the case–all that we perceive is a false reality. The space between, this thing we call life, may turn out to be an illusion, of course. So you’ve got this parallel existence going. Your life span is strictly relegated to the space you occupy. Yet we run and ride across this earth and feel transcendent, in a way. Why does such movement promise to change our perception? Make us feel more alive? Make us stop in wonder at the blue sky, the nightly stars or the twirling of dust in a whirlwind. We are staring at ourselves within a greater self. Our awareness is brought into focus by moving away from what we just were into what we will become. And guess what? That continues even after death.
The Great Beyond
Perhaps some day we’ll know in a new way. We’ll possibly confront the reality that our whole perception is actually inside out.
But for now, there are quantum scientists and physicists smashing tiny bits of matter together in particle accelerators to find what some (but not all) call the God Particle. W may soon know if matter is indeed the foundation of all things.
This fact is elusive because matter is both fixed and moving, light and dark in the same dimension. The concept of yin and yang, darkness and light is manifestly true and yet highly invisible.
It is the same with each of us. We are at once a person we fix in our imaginations and a person moving through time. Hang a medal around our necks for finishing a run of 26.2 miles and we call ourselves marathoners. Ride 100 miles and you’ve done a Century. Combine them all with a swim and suddenly you’re a triathlete. But what does it all mean? Really?
Think of it, we’re made up of atoms that have made up Earth for 4 billion years. The molecules we’re each made of have already been part of millions and millions of different living things – trees, insects, fish, dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, birds, bacteria. And we’ll go on and become a million other things again.
Someday, 7 billion years from now, when our sun-star begins to die, Earth (and Mars and Venus and Mercury) will be swallowed up as the sun expands into a red giant, growing in size 100 times over. Then we become plasma. Then as the sun goes supernova, we’ll be shot across the galaxy at the speed of light. Time will compress and one second for us would be equal to 22,000 years on earth. We’ll become new stars, new planets. Some of our atoms will be too late for the journey and will fall back into our sun, now a black hole, eating all matter, light, even time. A portion of us will become anti-matter, the missing 90% of the mass of the universe that’s needed to create gravity. An existence where time even ceases to matter, back to the origin of the big bang. Where God lives.
Of course, bodies in coffins go along for the ride, too. They’ll just miss out on being trees and frogs and grass and bumblebees for a few centuries or a few millennia. Pity.
A call to action
Tomorrow when you get up to run or ride, you’ll be fixing that moment in time, making your own little orbit in a world orbiting the sun in a universe rolling along inside a galaxy. If that doesn’t humble you and make you appreciate that there had to be a process to make it all possible, along with a cause, then perhaps you don’t deserve to run or ride at all.
You should instead just sit home praying you don’t just suck back into a cosmic void, because then your thoughts and your actions really don’t matter. You are literally praying yourself into a hole by convincing yourself that matter has no consequence, or that the free will it inherently implies does not exist. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but there may be plenty of believers in black holes as well. People whose faith is so great they can’t see ther way out of the black hole of unconsciousness they’ve prayed themselves into. And that’s sad. And unnecessary. You can believe with all your heart and not have to deny yourself the beauty, brilliance and miracle of a material creation built on random processes. It’s all so elegant if you let it flow. Or join it.
Denial of the facts does not constitute faith
Denial of material processes is an arrogance that insists the only thing in time and space that really matters is you. You’ve placed yourself above all the rest of creation as the most important damn thing to come along. In that position what you believe to be true is dismissive of all else.
Of course denial has always made itself out to be one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Even those who suppose themselves religious to the point of all righteousness do not seem to get the massive deception that lies at the heart of denial.
Denial is not knowledge. It is anti-matter. Some would even call it evil. Think about it: denying another person their rights as an equal human being is the ultimate sin of democracy and of faith, both of which are constituted on the construct of free will.
And if you study it closely, denial is what led to the earthly death of one Jesus Christ. When you deny something, you refuse to accept its existence, but you also blot out your own. Because the moment when you turn your denial into your religion, and by proxy, into a science of denial (like creationism of intelligent design) you cease to exist in some sense. The molecules that make up your brain and your heart might as well stop spinning, because you are literally trying to stop time by trying to deny the processes that clearly drive all of creation. We can see them. We can measure them. We can test them. We can replicate them.
And yes, there are miracles of many forms within these processes. Our own existence is a miracle of matter and evolution. We burst forth from these processes to own an awareness of a degree that produced language, science, medicine and education. So the notion that a miracle is required to break the material processes of time and matter is inaccurate. Our knowledge is valuable and our spirituality is evident in all the things we do, think, believe and trust.
But you can choose not to believe in these miracles, and stop moving altogether if you like, because denial pins you down in time. The anachronism of turning your back on progress is like trying to go back in time. It stops you from realizing that the purity of the moment is made from the absence of time. We cannot transcend our early existence if we cannot begin to comprehend it.
Those of you who insist God get all the credit for creation and everything that has happened since, down the micrometer of spinning atoms, essentially deny the question that begs our very consciousness into order, which is: “Okay, God created everything. Now what?”
If by choice you prefer to beg off answering that question on grounds of absolute providence, then please get out of the way and leave the practical decisions to the rest of us who actually care what happens day to day, and feel responsible for our actions. Because if you believe that everything is pre-determined and that God is the end-all, be-all when it comes to control freaks, you’ve practically signed off your right to have an opinion on politics, religion, the environment. You believe life is a form of Reality TV run by God, like the Truman Show. Or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. A pre-manufactured reality.
If you are a strong believer in God, the administrative reality of what happens in what we call “the kingdom of God” eminently requires our participation and decision-making capacities or else our choices are for naught. The Bible clearly indicates that God appreciates those who appreciate grace in both an active and cognitive sense.
If you still don’t get it, let us break it down for you, because this reality does not distinguish between people of any faith; Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist.
Grace in some form is a reality even it is turns out to be pure coincidence. Of course you can choose to ignore even your own good luck and happy coincidence, but that just means you’re both a pessimist and a sourpuss.
Furthermore, without action to benefit others as you have benefited, you’re a selfish jerk. Even humanists believe that. Some prefer to credit our good fortune to God, but then you must also credit your bad luck to God as well, and that puts you in a bind, doesn’t it. Does God cause bad things to happen? What kind of God is that?
Take God out of the equation and we all face the same cosmic algebra: how do we respond when bad things happen? If we accept the fact when bad things happen to us and do our best to recover, and choose to help others when they face troubles as well, then we can make life better for everyone. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule. Grace appreciated. The humanist motto. Call it what you will.
In any case, the human race has already decided that hogging your own good luck is bad form. Some believe karma will get you for that. It goes without saying that if you are a selfish sonofabitch who gets hit by a bus, no one will miss you.
Bridging the selfishness gap
The honest bridge between outright selfishhness and the capacity to give is going out for a run or a ride and coming home better prepared to deal with the world on its own terms. You may do each of those activities alone––or you may choose to ride or run with a group. The basic fact is that many people use that time out running or riding to get into a positive orbit. While you can call it selfish, there can be no mistaking its ultimate value. Running and riding, even swimming or walking are all fair attempts to orient ourselves to the universe. We move to understand.
Think about it. During your greatest, most transcendent moments as a runner or cyclist, you are moving through time in a way that makes you feel truly alive. You are tuning yourself to a universe that was born of movement and seems by its very design to appreciate and encourage movement down to the smallest particle of existence. From that movement comes self-awareness, acknowledgement of free will and for the ever-changing, ever-exchanging matter of which we’re all made.
Carbon fiber souls
In the end, you give yourself up to the cosmos whether you want to or not. Go ahead, try to deny that. It will never work. Denial never works. It only pins you down in your little corner fo the universe.
Better to choose free will, and grow with it. We run and ride because we can. Because we should. Because it teaches us that what matters is not our own limitations in space and time, but our humble efforts to transcend our limited understanding in active ways. To deny yourself that opportunity is, in a way, to cease living. It also denies the legitimacy of others who would seek the same transcendent existence. And as we’ve learned, to deny another person’s full humanity is a sin.
It’s that simple. Now go out and run and ride. And be thankful you don’t deny yourself the opportunity.